Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Goals Change

Soccer goals

This time of year people seem to spend a lot of time thinking about their goals. Must be that looming January 1st coming up. A new opportunity, for sure, a fresh year. But also a moment when you need to face what you achieved in the past year, and what you didn't. The Resistance generally has a field day with the latter. We are so good at breaking ourselves down; if anybody else talked to us the way we talk to ourselves we'd run a mile in the opposite direction.

Somebody on Facebook asked whether we were where we thought we would be 10 years ago. Being a young 'un, she is only 10 years out from high school - in my case, it's been over 30 years. Gulp. What were my goals then, and what have I achieved?

There is no question that I have achieved one of my major goals, although I might not have articulated it that well at the time. I have a husband and three lovely children, all of whom are bidding fair to become people I'm going to want to know when they are adults. Not something to be taken lightly, I assure you. I made a couple of false starts on the marriage front, and I'm very glad I didn't make any innocent bystanders in those circumstances.

When I signed up to study physics in 1983 it was a very wrong choice for me, made for all the wrong reasons. I can't believe I made it all the way to a Ph.D. Just because I'm smart and capable of doing something didn't mean I had to do it. My health suffered along the way as all the wrong reasons went straight for my gut. I'm still paying the price for that. I would never have finished it without the support of my wonderful husband. It is also true that I would never have met him if I had not gone through the agony of trying to become a physicist. Maybe that was the purpose of the exercise?

After we came here,  I became a research scientist for a few years. Not the right thing for me, either. Again, I'm smart and capable and I did quite well, but I didn't like it. So I became a university instructor for a few years. I did well, but the university was looking to increase its research profile, so there was no job for a person who didn't want to do physics research. Onwards.

I went back to university and got a Bachelor of Education degree. Now I am a certified teacher, and I do enjoy teaching. I'm also slowly pursuing a certificate in Technical Communication, because writing seems to be one of the things I do best, and is also most compatible with spending time with my children and taking care of my health. Sleep deprivation, in particular, can be problematic for teachers, especially relatively new ones, and my health depends quite crucially on getting enough sleep. It's an issue.

Regardless of where I end up with the teaching, there is no question that the B.Ed., like the Ph.D. before it, was not a waste of time. When I need to advocate for my children, I get a whole different level of respect and cooperation from the teachers, because I speak their language and understand their perspective.

So many twists and turns in the road, and the show ain't over yet. I was talking with a friend today about putting together a resume as a technical writer, and she told me to put in every piece of software I ever worked with. Oh, the memories of using WordPerfect in the 80s, of programming in FORTRAN and C and C++ in the 90s. So many things that had their uses in the past, and may turn out to be unexpectedly useful in the future.

Goals are great to have, but they do tend to shift with time ... how have yours twisted and turned and shook themselves while you weren't looking?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Fear

Fear Filled Bathtub

Funny, how that fear works. Something looks like an opportunity, and we are paralyzed. The chair of a volunteer group I'm involved with is going to Florida for a month, and she wants me to be the point person for a huge event we're putting on. Eeek. My first thought is to take up the position of the unfortunate in the picture, mittens and all.

Then I remind myself that I am nominally an adult. In fact, I've legally been an adult for a very long time, well over half of my life. It's a scary thought. There really is nowhere to hide, if you want to present yourself to the world as competent and worthy of respect.

Luckily, there is my friend Holly Jahangiri, whose words of wisdom never fail to calm me down. Eating the elephant one bite at a time is always a good thing to do, and expecting immediate perfection is foolish.

How about you, are you paralyzed by opportunity? How do you make the Lizard Brain shut up so you can go about your business as the competent adult you know you really are?


a guest post by Holly Jahangiri

Silver Lake and Crystal Lake

I was telling one of my blogging buddies, today, what drove me to enter Weblogbetter’s Surviving the Blog Contest. “I had every intention of buying front row seats in the Peanut Gallery and heckling the contestants through comments and blow-by-blow commentary on my own blog. I was finally going to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming the next Simon Cowell!”

“Aren’t you mixing your reality TV metaphors?”

It’s true. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, here. I was getting excited about this contest, though, because it was going to be something new and unique – not the usual blog contest format. It was going to run a full ten weeks; anyone who has disciplined herself to blog regularly and consistently understands that’s likely to be a worthwhile challenge. And the prize package? When it got up to $1000 plus ownership of the blog itself, plus some blogging goodies like premium themes and such – well, I have to admit, the temptation was almost more than I could stand.

But that’s not why I entered. I entered, because there in the last week before the signup deadline, there weren’t enough participants signed up to hold the contest at all.

I’m going to admit something here that I haven’t admitted until now: That made me a little angry.

I see so many people making excuses, day in, day out. “Oh, I could never do that. I’m too [busy, lazy, untalented, unskilled, inept, stupid…] but it looks like a real blast! Good luck, everyone!” Or, “Looks intriguing. I don’t have enough info. Maybe next time.” What? You don’t have enough information? Then ask questions.

If you want to win at anything, you’ve got to get yourself into the game. I started out just wanting there to be a game, because you can’t play Simon Cowell or throw peanut shells at the contestants or whatever, if there isn’t any game to begin with.  And I think seven contestants had signed up. The deadline was fast approaching – you’d think, with $1000 at stake, more people would at least try. I imagined how disappointed those first contestants would be if the contest got cancelled due to lack of participation!  On August 26, shortly after the contest was announced, I had officially “voted myself off the island” and tried to avoid temptation – but on September 18, I threw my hat in the ring. Actually, I threw it in the ocean and a shark ate it – so if you ever wonder why I’m working so hard to win this thing, it’s because I know there are sharks around the island, and they’re hungry enough to eat hats.

The truth is, once I’m in the game, I’m driven. Several people have remarked on my “intensity” these past few weeks. The only way to explain that is to tell you what my parents told me, growing up: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”

I see writers who don’t submit their work for fear of rejection. What is that, exactly? You fear rejection, so you reject yourself, first – before a publisher can do it to you? What have you got to lose but a little misplaced pride? The writer who risks their pride by sticking a manuscript in the envelope, addressing it to a publisher, and sticking enough stamps on is eventually rewarded. The one who refuses to get in the game can never be.

Are you driven? Or does fear of rejection cause you to reject yourself before you get in the game?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

On losing


Of  course when you take part in a competition, you run the risk of losing. I sent off little pieces to two competitions recently, and in both of them, I didn't even get an honourable mention. I have no idea where I ranked because they didn't say. I'm hoping not too near the bottom.

On the one hand, I'm not surprised. I've only just recently taken up this writing gig again, and I have a long way to go. It was actually helpful to be shown just how long that way is ;-).

Still, it's never fun to lose. Having got everything I'd sent to people up until then at least published (mind you, mostly for free, but still), I was beginning to get a somewhat inflated view of my skills. It hurts to be deflated, even when it is good medicine.

This is where my friend Holly's blog post comes in handy. Very encouraging to those of us who might be tempted to give up when things get rough (although G-d knows I have no intention of giving up just yet!). I just need to learn how to improve.

What do you think, what are you perhaps a little discouraged about?

Sunday, December 4, 2011


 Isn't it amazing how we use busy to avoid doing real work? You will not believe the amount of time I have spent today on busywork. But what have I achieved?

To be fair, I have tackled a few tasks I've been procrastinating on. There are some jobs I will do today (like changing the sheets on everybody's beds) that will greatly contribute to the comfort and health of my family. But really, when it comes to writing my eulogy, will anybody care?

I struggle with balance. My husband, bless him, has been working hard to make beautiful wooden floors for our house (thereby removing my last vestiges of River Heights envy). If I let dust bunnies collect in the corners of those gorgeous floors, what message does that send? But how much time should I devote to chasing dust bunnies? If I spend all day on my laptop trying to write while ignoring my children, what good is that? But if I spend the day with them and try to write by night and destroy my health, have I improved matters at all?

I think I need to re-immerse myself in Flylady, to get those routines going so my house will practically clean itself. I know it is possible because I have been there in the past. Spend 15 minutes and it is amazing how much you can get done. It's just so hard to get up from the darned laptop.

Housework and childcare are not really the voice of the Lizard Brain, although the LB can definitely use them to fill up the time. See, it says, you don't have time to write anything worthwhile because you are so ... BUSY.

What do you think, how does your Lizard Brain ensnare you?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

More blog love

After the fun of my 7 Links post, of course many more bloggers flooded my mind. So I'm going to write a post about some of the bloggers I enjoy reading, without any regard to that 7 Links challenge. Of course, if anyone wants to take it up, all the better!

First and foremost, my dad writes not one but two blogs - Pollyanna about things that make him glad, and Titan for rants. If you are at all interested in science, human rights and the situation in Israel, he's the one for you.

Then, there's my friend Hadassah Sabo Milner, who writes a very cool blog called In the Pink. Mommy stuff, from a sassy, smart and drop-dead gorgeous Modern Orthodox lady. Oh, she's a first-rate foodie, too. Always worth reading.

Talking of Orthodox Jews, their communities can be a little secretive. This fascinating blog is written by a guy known only as Dov Bear. He is very knowledgeable, iconoclastic, level-headed and relentlessly logical. With all of that, he appears to live and thrive in a very right-wing, dark-ages black hat community. No wonder he keeps his identity a deep, dark secret.  I'm just so glad he shares his thoughts with the rest of us.

Another blog I like to read, although it only appears sporadically, is in over your head, by Julien Smith. If you listen to the audio book of Trust Agents, he's the guy with the charming French-Canadian accent. All about being the best you can be in the brave new world of the Intertubes.

If you are interested in life with a person with special needs, you might want to read Fumbling About in the Dark, by a woman I know only as MissShuganah. Following her on Twitter as she struggles to advocate for her silent daughter has been a true education for me.

There are more, but I'm going to stop now. Let me know what you think so far.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 7 Link Challenge

Links by Clips

OMG, my friend Holly Jahangiri, the author and blogger, has nominated me for the 7 Link Challenge. Given how many blogger friends she has, I am humbled and amazed that she thinks I can do this. The least I can do is give it the ol' college try, as they say.

Here are the rules - you should especially pay attention if your name/blog are at the bottom!

So I went back and read all my blog posts. I started back in August, and here it's the end of November already. They have definitely become less tentative as time went on and the Lizard Brain got a little quieter. But let's see if I can find some for each of the categories.

My most beautiful post? I think it is probably the one I wrote about the first snow of the year. I just love that first snow - although, as Hawksley Workman said, by February our thoughts on snow will be contrary!

How do you gauge the most popular post? Looking at which post had the most comments, I ended up with this one on choosing a day of rest. Well, there's one with more comments but that's mostly a conversation with my sister ;-).

I don't know that I've written too many controversial posts. I think I may go with this one about the connection between type 2 diabetes and lack of self-care in women, specifically my mother.

Most helpful? Oy vey. I hope to be helpful one day, but so far I don't know that I have been, particularly. Of course, there's the post that I wrote to help my friend Holly win a blogging competition. Yeah, I'll go with that one ;-).

A post whose success surprised me was the one about Jack Layton. Not that it got read by many people, but my friends said such nice things about it.

A post that didn't get the attention it deserved was probably this one about treating young people with respect. Kind of ironic but there you go.

So far I am definitely most proud of the latest one, about G-d, the universe and everything.

There, that's done! Now to come up with 5 bloggers whom I dare bother with this ... I'm just going to put my favourites and hope for the best. These are mostly blogs I've come to know through Flylady, who has changed my life (for the better) beyond recognition. Marla herself has a blog but hasn't updated it since August, so I suspect she has given up on it. She does send wonderful essays out to her followers.

Jimmy Moore's Livin' La Vida Low Carb blog
Leanne Ely's Saving Dinner blog
Leslie Gonzalez's MissusSmartyPants blog
Sarah Fragoso's Everyday Paleo
And finally, the only blogger whose name I don't know, who writes the Comfy Tummy blog.

If you are reading this and you are a blogger whom I didn't name, I ask your forgiveness and ask you to consider yourself invited! Leave me a link in the comments and I promise to read your blog ;-).

So, any thoughts, friends?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Logic and Wonder - the How and the Why


A friend of mine recently asked me to talk to her teenager about believing in G-d while also believing in science and logic. He's trying to figure things out for himself and she thought a few role models of intelligent, educated people who worship the glory of the Universe, whether they personalise it into a G-d or not, might be a good thing to have.

I was honoured that she asked me, of course, but now I have to figure out what to say. It's always difficult to articulate such things, but I will give it a try.

I have a complicated relationship with the Management, given that whoever is in charge of the Universe doesn't seem to do the best job sometimes. At least, that's how it looks from our perspective when a child or a young parent dies for no reason that anybody can fathom. A lot of people conclude at that point that there is, in fact, no reason and no Management and the Universe is completely random and probably hostile. That was my mother's opinion and she had some basis for it in her life, maybe.

My life has been very different. I've made mistakes, of course, some quite bad ones that I hope my children will not duplicate - it's up to them to make their own mistakes, after all. But I have definitely had times in my life that I knew I was being pushed in a certain direction, that things were falling into place like puzzle pieces and I was being steered. There is no logical explanation for that feeling, for the inevitability of certain actions and choices. Maybe my brain was playing tricks on me, or maybe it was real. I don't know. Flylady calls it a G-d breeze, the Midnight Editor filling her sails. Julia Cameron calls it the Life Force. At the very least, the universality of the experience tells me that it is a powerful effect, regardless of its origin.

I do believe that science can and should be the way to find out how the Universe functions. There should not be any leaps of faith in explaining the movement of planets, the migration of animals, even the weird and wonderful world of subatomic particles where causality and other cherished notions seem to go by the board. It still can all be captured in the math, and not quite as described below.

 (Copyright Sidney Harris, 2006).

I don't believe in the G-d of the gaps. That G-d gets smaller and smaller and more irrelevant as we understand more and more about the miracles of Creation. Newton thought that the orbits of the planets would be unstable without G-d to keep them where they belonged. Now we know there is a much greater miracle - those orbits work very nicely all by themselves, without any fine-tuning. I don't see a need for so-called Intelligent Design. I don't know whether there was a Creator or just a blind explosion behind the Big Bang. I think that people who spend their precious brain cycles trying to reconcile the literal words of Genesis with the latest scientific ideas about the early universe are missing the point. Our appreciation of the miracle of Creation does not depend on a literal interpretation of a set of stories. As the great mathematician and astronomer Laplace is alleged to have said, we have no need for the G-d hypothesis to explain the how.

Don't get me wrong. The stories are beautiful and thought-provoking, regardless of how well they happen to fit with current scientific thought. I believe that the Torah (can't speak for the books of other faiths) is a blueprint for a good life, and that it is good for me to follow it whether Moses literally wrote it down or not. I believe that something happened at Sinai, even if I don't know whether G-d spoke to the people from the mountain or they just imagined it. As Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge. That imagination has come down to us through the generations to lead us into a life that has meaning beyond the mundane.

Is the aurora art? Does the fact that I believe it is caused by charged particles striking the upper atmosphere make it less beautiful and inspiring to look at? Why do I find it inspiring? That, I believe, is where a belief in something larger than yourself (whatever you want to call it) enlarges your soul. You can believe it is concerned with your affairs and you can talk to it; or you can consider it some kind of abstract, indifferent universal force. It doesn't matter. What does matter, to me, is that people think and imagine beyond their everyday affairs, to the beauty that lies beyond.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Ants for Competitive Picnicking

Humans are funny creatures. Some of us just can't leave well alone, and feel a need to measure ourselves against others. Take my friend Holly Jahangiri. She's in the middle of an exhausting blogging competition that won't even let her do NaNoWriMo properly. This on top of her day job as a technical communicator and a wife and mother. Why do we do this to ourselves? This is pretty much a case of the pot calling the kettle black, though. While I'm not killing myself like Holly, I have entered a couple of writing competitions, just to see where I'm at and to give myself a deadline to work against. See, I'm a master procrastinator (this is apparently common to writers - it was even in the instructions for one of the competitions I entered). If I don't have to get something done by a certain date, it tends to fall off the edge of my world. Calendars and reminders help with this, but only somewhat. How about you, do you need competition to get you off your duff?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The First Snow of the Year

Nobody can express the excitement of the first snow of the year like Muskoka-born musician Hawksley Workman.

It has been the summer to end all summers – warm, sunny, no mosquitoes. It has been the mother of all autumns – warm, sunny, dry, and most importantly, long. 

I remember my first Halloween in Winnipeg, October 1995. The snow was so deep the few intrepid kids who came to our door were wading through it. We concluded that was normal to our new home, although in most years since then the snow has not been quite so deep in October. This year we whined over a few drops of rain. How quickly we forget.

This year, September turned to October turned to November, and the amazing, double-digit temperatures went on and on. We began to think, somewhere deep inside, that maybe it would stay like that. The leaves turned gold and then dropped, but we didn’t believe it. It was still warm, wasn’t it? Maybe this year, things would be different. Maybe this year, the inexorable logic of life above the 49th parallel would relent. Wasn’t there some massive climate change going on? Bad news for the polar bears, but maybe good news for us.

The tease went on. Our local meteorologist displays the most impressive accuracy I have ever seen in weather forecasting – almost certainly because he lives here rather than looking at satellite pictures in Edmonton. He told us that the Colorado low coming up would mostly just give us rain on Sunday night, with maybe just a sprinkling of snow on the city. Western Manitoba was going to get it, as usual – 15 to 30 cm, those lucky people who live near those big, beautiful, overflowing, not-yet-frozen lakes. 

Sunday reminded me of life in Western Europe – grey, drizzly, warm. My family went out to visit friends Sunday evening and drove home in the pouring rain and sleet. Snow? We didn’t want to think about snow.

Monday morning it was finally here. Only a couple of centimetres in the city, but oh, what a picture postcard. The roads were black, but all the trees, boulevards and roofs were a gorgeous, virginal white. I wanted to pick up the city and shake it like a snow globe. It’s quiet like a snow globe, too, when the snow dampens the sound of traffic.

Of course, the driving was abominable. Every year the good citizens of Winnipeg act like they’ve never seen snow before. It takes a day or two before everyone remembers what this place is like for six months of the year; they start keeping their distance and slowing down well ahead of intersections. But there are always a few spikes in the accident rate beforehand, usually minor, fortunately.

Welcome, snow. We will curse you by February, but for now we’ve forgotten those unseasonably high temperatures from last week in the joy of your beauty. Time to go dig out those mitts and tuques – I know I’ve got them around here somewhere …

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Being Edited


I am now happy to say that I am a published author! I got to see some of my words in print. It’s only a little community newspaper that comes with our local rag every Wednesday, and I’m afraid there’s been no talk of monetary compensation as it’s a “readers’ column”. But I got to see a piece I wrote printed on dead trees! It also brought home to me quite forcefully that I need to get some decent headshots taken. Note to self: contact lovely photographer who did such a magnificent job on son’s Bar Mitzvah pictures. But I digress.

So why am I whining about being edited? Because I had the unpleasant surprise of seeing some of those words I had so lovingly crafted … altered. Changed to formulations I consider pedestrian or even ungrammatical, or cut altogether. I was well within the word-count limit I was provided, so length is unlikely to have been a factor. Somebody just went to town on my words, because they could. How dare they!

I really shouldn’t be surprised. The CBC did that once while I was blogging for them, I complained vociferously and after that they didn’t alter a single comma. But my sig tag in recent weeks has been a quote from H.G. Wells: “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.” I have edited and cut with little mercy in other people’s copy. So why am I so upset about taking my medicine? I think I would have been completely fine with it if I thought the column actually improved from the editing. As is probably already abundantly clear, I don’t think so. But don’t take my word for it, as they say; judge for yourself.

Compare the published article with the original. It’s not a bad article as it stands, really it’s not. Many people have read it and expressed kind words to me. I am just exceedingly frustrated because I think my original was better. Maybe I’m being arrogant and elitist, but I really do. I’m trying to figure out how to express my feelings to the editor without alienating him to the point of never writing for this particular group again.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter! 

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Wochedikke Shabbos

Shabbat lights

Most residents of North American and Europe are currently taking deep metaphorical breaths as they prepare to plunge headlong into "the holidays". It's a time of food, decorations, gifts, family, travel, maybe church.Expectations and stress levels are headed sky-high, and levels of depression increase as well.

For those of us who take Judaism seriously, that period has just ended. Coming up tonight and continuing through Saturday night we will finally have what my grandfather used to call a "wochedikke Shabbos" - an everyday Shabbat. That is of course a contradiction in terms, as Shabbat is by definition different from the days of the week, but everyone who has rejoiced and slogged in equal measure through the past month can immediately relate. The challah is braided again, and will be sprinkled with salt, not dipped in honey. The Torah scrolls are back in their regular mantles, as opposed to the white ones they have sported since late September. In Israel, even those who are completely uninterested in the religious aspects acknowledge the mythical period of "acharei hachagim" - after the holidays - since during the period of the holidays it is pretty much impossible to have your car repaired or any kind of government document issued. Come back, they will tell you, acharei hachagim and we will see what we can do. Universities don't even start their semesters until acharei hachagim, although regular schools do start in September (and achieve very little until acharei hachagim - which is also true of the Jewish school my children go to). Now that the holidays are over and the sukkah is put away, we can take a deep breath, square our shoulders and start life again - going back to the gym, starting on serious projects.

Strictly speaking, this Shabbat is not entirely "wochedik". It is Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, the beginning of the month of Heshvan - a month also known as Mar Heshvan, or Bitter Heshvan, maybe because it doesn't have any holidays in it (to make up for the overdose in Tishrei, maybe?). There will be special Torah readings and additions to certain prayers. Rosh Hodesh has been traditionally considered a women's holiday, because of their refusal to take part in the sin of the Golden Calf. But it's only a semi-holiday, not of the calibre of the ones we have just come through. We can handle this.

For those who think that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas, trust me, it's nowhere in its league in terms of importance and therefore stress. The real Jewish holiday season has just ended.

Wishing all who celebrate a peaceful Shabbat and a blessed month of Heshvan, and to all who are heading into holiday madness, I wish you strength.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Anniversary, Unobserved

October 18th would have been my parents' 58th wedding anniversary, had my mother not died on the Ides of March 2003, five months before her 70th birthday and seven months before their 50th anniversary. Hers was a preventable death - nobody with an education and a middle-class income really has to get adult-onset diabetes and die from its complications. She survived breast cancer and an unrelated tongue cancer (highly ironic as she was a psychotherapist - and that irony was not lost on her). Cancer is a disease that you go to doctors for, and they do things to you to fix it - surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, although thankfully she only had to endure the first two. I have come to think of type II diabetes in adults as the disease of self-love, as the result of unresolved anger and self-loathing, especially among women. To a large extent, it is something you do to yourself. I am not blaming the victim here - I do not think it has anything to do with lack of will or discipline, or any kind of moral deficiency. I think it is a way that women kill themselves, slowly.

This is hardly an earth-shaking conclusion - FlyLady has spoken very eloquently about the connection between depression and self-care, or lack thereof. I must confess, with shame, that I don't know enough about my mother's life to be able to speak with any kind of confidence about the reasons she did not take good care of herself. There was much anger - about choices she could not make as a young woman, about neglectful parents and children who could not fix that need, about babies who died and an adopted child whose own terrible void no one could fill. Her marriage with my father had its ups and downs about which I am certainly not qualified to speak, and I would not breach his privacy here if I could.

I started writing this blog post on October 18th. Between the Jewish holidays (now over until the spring, thank G-d) and the difficulty I am having with these thoughts, it has taken this long for me to write two paragraphs. I think I will stop now, and possibly continue this theme in a series of posts. For one thing, I need to disentangle my own anger at her no longer being here for me and my children, from my thoughts about type II diabetes. I know I've used strong words about it, and I think it is a debate worth having.

I would love to know what you think, so far.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My 15 Seconds of Fame

Assiniboine River Flooding

This post is adapted from my final blog on the CBC website, which you can view in its full glory. While all of those posts are now the property of the CBC, I can't imagine they would object to my paraphrasing some of it here - I'm not Arianna Huffington just yet. There are a lot of names which will mean nothing to my non-Manitoban readers - I've included links where available. The important thing to know is that I'm the kind of geek who thinks the Executive Director of the local food bank is a rock star. I hope you love me anyway.

Wow. I think that one word sums up my experience of election night. I was very fortunate to be one of the invited guests in the CBC’s reaction room, where I was sporadically visible on TV throughout the evening. I am a huge fan of Marcy Markusa, so to be allowed to work with her for over three hours and watch how a live show is produced was a privilege. Alex Freedman, resplendent in a gorgeous tie, was the guy in charge of social media and did an excellent job, despite not putting up any of my son's tweets. Terry McLeod was on the other side of the studio with a panel of commentators. I got to lean on a table with David Northcott and chat with other people I read about in the paper or hear on the radio. I met the amazing young people who participated in the tweetup with Larry Updike a while back and heard their jubilation as Kevin Chief was voted in. All in all, I was like a star struck teenager. My only regret is that I didn’t get to meet Ismaila Alfa, who is also one of my favourite radio personalities.

What to say about the election itself? We all went in expecting a neck-and-neck horse race, and instead, aside from a couple of close ridings, the whole thing was decided in forty minutes. As somebody remarked on Twitter, this looked like an extremely expensive and complicated by-election for the Interlake, where several years of severe flooding could have (but in the end, didn't) cost the NDP the seat. Every single NDP cabinet minister who ran for re-election got in. The NDP was given an unprecedented fourth term and a huge majority. I hope they use it wisely and govern for all Manitobans, as I heard Premier Selinger promise on the radio the morning after the election. The first-past-the-post system can lead to some severe inequities - the opposition PCs got nearly half of the popular vote, but only garnered 20 seats (out of 57).

I was thrilled to see that James Beddome, leader of the local Green Party, got over 20% of the vote in Wolseley, definitely a landmark. My own Green candidate, Alon Weinberg, did not garner as much support but came in third place, more than respectable in a neighbourhood that routinely sends a Conservative to Parliament, a New Democrat to the Legislature and Ross Eadie, who defies pigeonholing, to City Council. It was only right and proper that Jon Gerrard held on to his seat, but I’m sure a leadership review is coming up as the Liberals ponder their future in Manitoba (and their financial prospects on failing to receive 10% of the abysmally low vote).

The resignation of PC leader Hugh McFadyen was swift, but not unexpected. The reaction room was shocked but most of us were not surprised. A few PC supporters said that he should have stayed on to build a strong opposition party that could do better in the next election. Others said that he should resign, but maybe not on the night. My own opinion, which I was fortunate enough to air at the 02:42:50 mark or so into the broadcast, was that he was wise to pull out before the knives came out.

If you managed to slog through all this local politics, I thank you for staying the course. This particular adventure is over (and I even got paid for it! Does that now make me an official published author?) and now I move on to the next one. Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm baaaack ...

Blow the Shofar Horn at TechCrunch50

So many things have happened since my last blog ... sorry I've been so busy, I've neglected my faithful readers! But I will try to make amends. So many things going on, such as my blogging for the CBC, which is now at an end. I'll write more about that later.

One of the things that has been keeping me busy, of course, is the High Holy Days - Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In the next paragraph I am going to throw a large number of Hebrew terms at you - each of them has a Wikipedia link but you are absolutely forgiven if you don't bother looking them up. Let's just say that I was busy.

I am fortunate that my family is part of an alternative, participatory minyan and that I often get asked to do things - last year, for example, I led Kol Nidrei, Musaf and Ne'ilah - all the major stuff. It was very exciting but a huge amount of work. This year the guy who usually does those was back, but I got to lead Shacharit on the first day of Rosh HaShanah and Mincha on Yom Kippur. At least, those were the services I actually prepared to lead. Then the Kol Nidrei guy asked me to do one of the repetitions of Kol Nidrei (my husband was already doing one) on a few minutes' notice! I took a deep breath, got my gown and somehow remembered it from last year ... what a rush.

Then our rebbetzin, not only the rabbi's wife but the director and executive producer of the whole service, ended up in the hospital and was not released over Yom Kippur. Our rabbi manfully ran the service by himself but we all pitched in to help. As one of the singers in the group I found myself singing songs and melodies that are normally her domain. We missed her so much and are praying for her good health.

I was also occupied by a 12-year-old with tonsillitis and an 8-year-old who managed to throw up at Junior Congregation on two of the three days. On the positive side of children at services, my 15-year-old attended Kol Nidrei with us for the first time (now that we have a second babysitter in the house) and it was such a great experience to share it with him. Next year I hope to bring all three.

Of course I also ran the 5K Run for the Cure ... but that's a subject for another post. Stay tuned. Thanks so much to all my generous donors! Can't believe I raised over $1000 ...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sitting at the Adult Table

Angel Table

This past Shabbat my synagogue had a guest speaker. He spoke in the morning during services, led a discussion afterwards and had a final session in the evening, when we gathered for S'lichot, the penitential prayers we say the week before Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year.

Michael Soberman, Director of National Initiatives for the Next Generation at UIA Federations Canada, was talking about the future of the Jewish community in Canada and elsewhere. He was very funny and articulate, and had many shocking, entertaining and interesting things to say. One of the most enlightening, to me, was the statement: “I like working for the Jewish community because, at age 45, I’m considered young.” He talked about how younger people, not students but young professionals in their late twenties and early thirties, are not taken seriously or allowed into the inner circles of power in the community. As he put it, they are made to sit at the kids’ table and discuss “youth issues”, but not participate in any kind of real decision-making. I have no doubt that other ethnic and religious communities are no different – the baby boomers have the power firmly in their hands and have no intention of sharing it anytime soon.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must tell you that I am technically a baby boomer myself, having been born in 1962, right at the tail end of that massive generation. I am just about old enough, at age 49, to be inducted into the corridors of power at the institutions where I work and volunteer. The large majority of the leaders are in their fifties and sixties, everywhere we look in our society. Their priorities are the priorities of all of society, just as they have been all their lives. Schools were built for them, then universities, then the economy expanded to give them all jobs. Now they are beginning to retire, and the contraction of the life stations they have left behind continues. The expansion of the future is going to be in geriatrics, retirement homes and health care. Not that the latter is not important to younger people, but it appears to be of particular fascination to the older generation, and it seems to have taken a position front and centre in this election's discourse. More doctors, more nurses, more access to hospitals and new technology. More hips and knees and diabetes clinics.

This past Friday a televised leaders' debate was held here in Manitoba. I was very taken with the performance of James Beddome, leader of the provincial Green Party. While he is unlikely to be elected this time around (although in Wolseley, Winnipeg's granola belt, all things are possible), it is wonderful to see a 27-year-old banging on the doors of power, demanding to be let in. In a society that is focused on the needs of the aging, the young will have to speak loudly and clearly to be heard. The boomers have never had to consider anyone’s needs besides their own, which is why Gen X has had such a terrible time of it in their shadow. If the Millennials want a place at the adult table, they are going to have to push very, very hard. It would be wise of us to welcome them. As the old adage says, be nice to your kids, they will choose your nursing home.

What do you think?

Note: a shorter form of this blog will appear tomorrow on CBC Manitoba's website.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Underestimating the stride

Snow stride

As you are all getting tired of hearing, I'm training to run a 5K, using Robert Ullrey's wonderful podcasts. I'm now in week 9 and running for 30 minutes at a time. It feels good and really improves my confidence, as well as my health and appearance. There was just one problem - according to my pedometer, I was running nowhere near 5 kilometres. Seemed like I just couldn't run a 5K in 30 minutes, maybe it was going to take me 40 minutes.

I mentioned this problem to my husband, and also described the route I had taken (from our house up Scotia Street to the playground in Kildonan Park and back, for the locals). He frowned. We have walked that route many times, and it is at least five kilometres, probably more (the podcasts include 5 minutes of warmup and cooldown as well as the actual running). What was wrong with my lovely Omron pedometer? It was clearly shortchanging me in the length of my runs.

Nothing, as it turns out. The short circuit, as so often happens, was between my ears. The pedometer, of course, only counts steps. You have to tell it the length of your stride for it to know how far you've actually walked or run. Can you see where this is going?

I'm a short person. 152 cm tall, to be exact, or five foot nothing for you Imperialists. Good things come in small packages and all that, and I had estimated my stride at about 50 cm, or about 1'8" for my USAmerican pedometer. It was too much trouble to go out and actually measure it. But finally, the other day, my husband and I did exactly that. It is so much easier with two people.

Guess what? My running stride is more like 85 cm. That's nearly 3', or almost two-thirds of my height. I cover a lot more ground when I'm running than I think. I've easily been running 5K already, all the while worrying about whether I'd be able to do it on the day.

How often do we do this to ourselves? Especially women, although I know plenty of men who can tear themselves down like demolition experts. We can do so much more than we think. The realisation that I could run a 5K tomorrow is so liberating, I'm already starting to think about maybe moving on to a 10K when I'm done with this one ... anybody got some good podcasts for that?

How have you been shortchanging yourself?

Monday, September 19, 2011

On Birthing

"Birth of the Messenger" by Viktor

Today, a blog about life instead of death. The province of Manitoba is opening a new birthing centre in Winnipeg. The interesting thing about it is that it is not part of a hospital, or even very close to a hospital. It will be run by the Women’s Health Clinic through a contract with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and staffed by provincially regulated and licensed midwives. It is across the street from an ambulance station in case something goes wrong, and is accessible only to women who have been carefully screened to make sure their pregnancies are very low-risk – in fact, these are women who would likely have a home birth, with all the inconvenience to their families that that entails, if the birth centre weren’t available.

I listened to a CBC radio host today whom I generally admire. She was interviewing the provincial Health Minister, and her voice kept rising as she asked repeatedly about the dangers to mothers and newborns. Why wasn’t the centre built in a hospital, or at least near a hospital? Back in 1996, the previous birth centre (at a hospital, I might add) was closed after the tragic death of a newborn. An inquest was held at the time and a number of recommendations were made, which apparently were not followed in the establishment of the new centre. The reason given was that the new centre was built according to the wishes of the mothers and midwives who would be using it, not those of the medical establishment.

I can understand the radio host’s panic – after all, the death of a baby is a terrible thing that none of us should ever have to experience. The counter-argument, calmly voiced by the minister, was that birth is a natural process, not a disease. Sometimes there are issues, and then the birth is not eligible to take place in a birthing centre, but must be subjected to the full weight of the medical world. For most healthy women, birth is a process that they should be able to go through with the support of their midwives, in a peaceful environment of their own choosing. In fact, said the minister, the women had really wanted to put the birthing centre in a rural area or in the middle of a forest, to make sure it was peaceful enough. The chosen location in South Winnipeg was a compromise.

As a woman who has undergone three highly medicalised births, I greatly appreciate that the system was there when I and my babies needed it. Still, I am highly envious of those who have their babies in a natural manner, surrounded by music rather than beeping monitors. One of the characteristics of our 21st century society is that we are rediscovering natural ways of living (giving birth, farming) that were discarded by our parents and grandparents in favour of better living through chemistry. The obesity and cancer epidemics testify how well that worked. I am delighted that the province is opening this centre, and have great hopes that this trend will continue.

What do you think?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another one gone

Roses "Eclat de Haute-Bretagne"

This afternoon I am going to another funeral. Too many, this year. This time, not a grandfather in his late seventies, sad as that loss was. A mother in her forties, leaving teenaged children. That's the third one we've lost this year. A veritable epidemic of young women, taken all too soon, by the same disease. Why?

There are a lot of people out there who rail against the preeminent position of breast cancer research among all the other diseases of our affluent society. There is a real problem with pinkwashing, there is a real need for research money for other cancers. Colorectal and prostate cancer, as well as skin cancers of various kinds, are on the rise. Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. But this is the disease that robs us of young mothers. Nobody, to my admittedly limited knowledge, writes children's books called "My Mommy Has Heart Disease".

But why? What is it about our environment, our genetics, our diets, that allows this scourge to take out so many young people? I can understand that smokers are more likely to get lung cancer, and that colorectal cancer may be connected to fibre intake (although this is apparently controversial). But what the heck causes breast cancer, and why are so many young mothers in this city, in this school, dying from it?

If anyone can answer this, I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Picking nits


So … my kids started school and promptly came home with lice (of unknown origin - probably not school. But the VP got all stressed out). All together now: eeeeeuw. I shouldn’t complain too much, we’ve been doing daycare/school for over fifteen years now, and this is our first time. But it’s a pretty overwhelming experience, to put it mildly.

We went out and got the shampoo, thoroughly poisoned all our scalps, did many loads of laundry and banished the beloved stuffies to a plastic bag. Now we are at the stage of picking nits. It’s a long and arduous process, with plenty of time for thinking about things. The school asked us to have the kids’ heads checked by a doctor before they came back – last year the lice were incredibly persistent. There was just one small problem.

I couldn't get a doctor’s appointment for my kids.

We are very fortunate to have a paediatrician whom we can see if we book an appointment well in advance. If somebody is at death’s door, you can come and sit there for hours and you will eventually be seen. If I phone the office at nine o’clock in the morning (that is, phone many, many times as I can’t get through), then they might, by grace and favour, be able to squeeze us in at the end of the day. A day of school lost because the doctor is overbooked. I ended up going to the walk-in clinic, where I got excellent service, but waited about an hour for the doctor to look at each of their heads for two minutes.

There's an impressive shortage of health care workers in Manitoba - largely because past governments, in their infinite wisdom, decided we had too many and drastically cut the number of spots in the training programs. Now, of course, we are scrambling to catch up.

And the rest, dear friends, you can read on my CBC blog.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Blogging for the CBC


This blog is going on a brief hiatus until after the provincial election, because I have the honour to be chosen as a citizen blogger on the CBC Manitoba website! I'm so excited.

The executive producer has asked me to blog about health care, probably because of all the breast cancer stuff on this blog ;-). I'm not a professional, of course, but I definitely have opinions on many topics in this area (are you surprised?).

I will try to post here on occasion so you don't get bored, and of course I will post links to my CBC blog. But I don't know how well I'll be able to keep both going, with the High Holidays coming and all. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Team Pink Couch Potato Lizard Brain

Happy couch potato girl

I am the luckiest girl in the world. The writer Holly Jahangiri is my friend and soul sister. Holly recently underwent a radical mastectomy and DIEP reconstruction. She has not quite finished the process - she says she currently has Barbie boobs. She has more surgery scheduled in October to make her look like a human woman again. All of this while working full-time, writing children's books and raising a family.

Tonight on Facebook, Holly graciously invited her myriad followers to donate to my cause, and also gifted me with a name for my team - Team Pink Couch Potato Lizard Brain. While I cannot use this lovely name this year, as I am already a member of the somewhat more staidly named National Council of Jewish Women team, I am looking forward to printing pink business cards next year, with which I will undoubtedly lure thousands.

The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure uses as its logo the somewhat ungrammatical but highly poignant question: Who are You Running For? Suppressing the unworthy desire to vandalise the pretty picture I am currently using as my Facebook avatar, there are many people for whom I am running. First and foremost is my own mother, who went for a free mammogram on a whim at the age of fifty and discovered an encapsulated tumour in her left breast. She had a lumpectomy and radiation, and eventually died of the complications of diabetes instead. That is a whole 'nother blog post. There are quite a few young (thirties and forties) mothers in my community who are struggling with this disease, and a couple of them have lost the fight. Few experiences are more heartbreaking than watching children follow their mother's casket, and thinking of all the milestones she will not see. While many people have railed against the dominance of the pink ribbon among all the different cancer research foundations and the evils of pinkwashing, seeking a cure for breast cancer remains a worthy cause. Maybe my next run will be for diabetes or for ovarian cancer. But for now, this is my focus and my friend Holly is the undisputed queen of Team Pink Couch Potato Lizard Brain.

If you were running on October 2nd, for whom would you run?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Labour Day


I learned how to blog from a master, Chris Brogan. Chris has an unfailing framework - think of a topic, find a Creative Commons picture on flickr, and take it from there. While I can't pretend to be in his league as far as useful posts are concerned, at least I can follow his framework. So far, I like it - let me know if you don't, and if not, why not.

So I went looking for a picture about Labour Day. I found lots of lovely beach and barbecue photographs, which I guess is how most North Americans spend this day. I was hoping to find a picture of the massive march that took place in Toronto today, honouring Jack Layton, but no such luck. Since I only use Creative Commons pictures, I was a little stuck. Then I found this picture, of a sign with no workers. Bingo.

A few years ago, I was very excited to read Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat". It's a hymn of praise to globalisation, to the commodification of labour. Any job that can be automated, will be, or else it will be outsourced to a cheaper worker in a Third World country who can (and will) do the same work for much lower pay. The response of the West has been to turn to those things that cannot be automated - design, analysis, the creative work. As Daniel Pink says in his book "A Whole New Mind", the MFA is the new MBA. All very exciting for those creative, right-brain types who have been struggling in a world designed by left-brain people. (This is a fun test to see which one you are!).

But what about the millions of people who are still being churned out by early-20th-century schools, prepared for work in factories that aren't there? While it is true that some manufacturing appears to be coming back, given that they don't make cheap Chinese labour like they used to, these dark Satanic mills aren't going to provide the kind of pay and perks that used to follow from a Grade 12 education. So nowadays everybody has to go to post-secondary education and load themselves down with impossible levels of student debt. When they come out, four years older, they may or may not find a position that will allow them to pay it off.

If they are smart, they go into "high-touch" professions such as nursing or cooking. Nobody has yet figured out how to outsource changing an IV bag or putting actual food on a plate. While the radiologist who analyses your MRI might be in another country, the technologist who puts you in the machine has to be in the same room with you. Both the dentist who repairs your teeth and the hygienist who cleans them have to be real people in physical contact with you. The plumber who unplugs your toilet and the roofer who fixes your ice dams cannot do these things from India. For these professions, the future does not look as bleak. While all these jobs could conceivably be automated, it is debatable whether people would want them to be. While many of us dream of a robot maid like Rosie, few of us are looking to have our teeth cleaned or our appendix removed by robots.

So, what's the answer? If I could predict the future, I wouldn't be worrying about funding my retirement. Given the breathtaking rapidity with which the world has been changing, I would not presume to predict the kind of professions my children might be looking at - there are many jobs now that did not exist ten years ago. The tragedy is in the mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and those required by the employers. A whole generation is being laid off and declared redundant. This is an incredibly dangerous and volatile situation. If our governments do not have the wisdom and resources to deal with it, the riots in London and Vancouver will only be the beginning.

What do you think? What kind of schooling will save our generation, and the ones that follow?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Waiting for the G-d Breeze

summer breeze

I have been a FlyLady fan (or FlyBaby) for many years - I can't even remember when I joined or who pointed me towards her website. She has been an incredible blessing to me, and I encourage all who struggle with ADHD, diagnosed or not, to explore her site and let her comforting, down-South voice replace all the negativity in their heads. While FlyLady's mission is ostensibly to help you declutter your home, she knows that it's the clutter between the ears that is the real issue. My home is still pretty cluttered, especially with the kids home for most of the summer, but I know that much of the strength to pull myself out of the holes of my own making has come from her support. FLYing means to Finally Love Yourself, and that is so hard for many people, especially those of us who have lived under the weight of huge expectations all of our lives. FlyLady doesn't use the concept of the Lizard Brain, but she knows all about hateful voices in our heads.

One of the tools that FlyLady uses to deprogram her FlyBabies from their defeatist attitude is a series of essays she sends out by email - as she has remarked, she was a blogger before blogging was invented. As a devout Christian, she attributes the inspiration for many of these essays to her Midnight Editor - dreams, snatches of song, any idea that comes to her, usually in the night. Her husband refers to these inspirations as G-d Breezes - put up your sails and go! I feel that this is a concept that anyone who believes in a higher power can accept, whether they call it Allah or the Life Force.

Lately, G-d Breezes have been blowing at me, too. I was running in the park yesterday and I saw a woman walking a dog. She was wearing a Manitoba Marathon shirt with the proud word FINISHER on the back. Yes! I need to be a finisher!

I have tried to become a runner so many times, but this time, I will succeed, because I set myself a clear goal and silenced the Lizard Brain. The Run for the Cure is taking me in a new direction. I am humbled by the over $500 my friends have pledged to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I am excited by my ability to carry out the Couch to 5K program - yesterday I ran for 25 minutes without stopping, and yes, I can do this. I know I will be able to run the 5K. I don't expect any medals, but I will be a finisher, and that is all that matters. The G-d Breezes are carrying me there.

With the passing of Jack Layton, I have been feeling G-d Breezes pushing me to try and make the world a better place. So far the Lizard Brain has been finding objections to every plan, but I am pretty sure that I just need to find the right thing. When I do, I will feel a great swoosh in the back, just as I have with the running. I just have to keep looking for the goal that will get me moving.

Which way are your G-d Breezes blowing?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Fallen Tower of Strength

Tower of Strenght

Tomorrow I am going to a funeral. It is not unexpected - the older gentleman in question had been in palliative care for some time. When last I saw him, he was very frail, his bones weakened by multiple myeloma. A particularly cruel diagnosis for a man whom I have always thought of as a tower of strength. I did not know him well, for he was not a communicative man; but I had the honour and pleasure of serving with him on a board of which he was President.

Physically tall and powerful, he was the volunteer all non-profits dream of. He did not enjoy long meetings or impractical chatter, so any meeting he chaired was likely to be short and result in useful action. While he was often impatient of dithering, his old-fashioned courtesy rarely faltered during the meeting itself, although what he said afterwards might be another matter. He made unpopular decisions, where necessary, with courage and carried them through with determination. He never allowed politics to blind him to the good of the community, and he achieved much for us in a relatively short time, shepherding us through difficult transitions with grace and humility.

I am grateful to have known him and to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labour. May his memory be a blessing.


Update: I met the bereaved mother in the gym again, and had the opportunity to apologise. She was very gracious and kind. A classy lady. Thanks to all who absolved me of guilt.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I beat the Lizard Brain!

rooster statue
I know such victories are fleeting and the battle must be fought every day, but each time my frontal lobes manage to shut down my amygdala, I feel the need to crow from the rooftops like a rooster.

So, today is Wednesday. As most of you are getting tired of seeing on Facebook and Twitter, I'm doing the Couch to 5K program, and I'm mostly running Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Drop the kids off at camp, change into my outdoor running shoes, pack up my paraphernalia (water bottle, iPod with headphones, hat, oy vey) and head OUT THE DOOR. No compromises. It's just what I do on Wednesday mornings.

This morning the Lizard Brain was in full whiny force. It kept listing all the reasons for me to stay in the gym and do something less strenuous, and I had to keep squelching it like a game of whack-a-mole. The conversation went something like this.

LB: I need new shoes.
Me: True, but these still have a few runs left in them. I'll get new ones before the 5K, I promise.

LB: I hurt my foot on a broken curb yesterday.
Me: True, thank you for nothing City of Winnipeg, but it's not that bad. My running shoes give much better support than sandals and I think it will be OK.

LB (full-bore whine): But I'm TIRED!!!!
Me: Well, um, you know, if YOU would let us get to bed before midnight once in a while instead of staying up doing Facebook and succumbing to carb cravings ... whatever. We're going to do this.

But the final blow to the Lizard Brain, and one that I'm very glad I added to my arsenal, was the following.

I've got nearly $500 worth of people who believe I can do this. I can't believe how much money my rocking group of friends and family have raised in three days. I'm humbled and blessed and everything else. Of course it's a good cause, but there are lots of good causes and lots of ways to contribute to this one, and you chose to support ME.

I went out and did my run, my foot was fine, I feel less tired than before, and I love you all. Thank you for believing in me, and helping me believe in myself.

What has your Lizard Brain been complaining about? Any way you can improve your defence against it, too?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Perils of False Intimacy


He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. Proverbs 21:23

I should listen to King Solomon, the wisest of men, more often. I inadvertently rubbed salt into a stranger's wounds today.

It's a funny thing about women's locker rooms. I don't know how men's are - I suspect people don't talk to strangers there. But most good gyms try to make the women's changing rooms, at least, homey and cheerful. Soft lighting (except by the mirrors, where the lighting tends to be brutally honest), nondescript carpeting, innocuous music. There we are, in various stages of undress, carrying out all kinds of rituals we normally perform at home in the privacy of our bathrooms. Some of us actually know each other - maybe our kids go to the same school, or we take some exercise classes together. The water aerobics groups are quite notorious for their raucous chatter, both in the locker room and later in the restaurant.

Those of us who don't know each other, have a choice. We can ignore each other, or we can act on the false intimacy of hanging out in the same space in our underwear. If I am in a good mood, I tend to do the latter. It is usually quite harmless. We talk about our children or our health as if we were old friends. If we see each other often enough, sometimes it becomes real. There are some older ladies who keep tabs on me and scold me if I don't come often enough. I've given the odd word of advice to a young mother who can't see beyond the rigours of life with a toddler. It's generally fun.

This morning, I was there with a woman in her late forties whom I had seen a few times before, but I don't know her name and I didn't know anything about her. I had occasion to phone my teenaged son and had a conversation with him that amused me. When I hung up, I chuckled and said to this woman (just because she was there), "Isn't it amazing how funny kids are? It's a good thing, too, or we would probably kill them."

She nodded silently, clearly not amused by my sentiment. Rebuffed, I turned back to my locker. She seemed to be having difficulty getting her things together. As she left, she encountered the locker room attendant, who asked her solicitously how she was. She said, "Every day is a sad day, for now. But I'm getting better."

Once she was gone, I could not resist asking what was wrong with her - she was clearly distraught. The attendant told me that her 25 y/o daughter was killed in a car accident last week.

Oh. My. Effing. G-d.

I couldn't even apologise - she was gone. I hope I get to see her again, although I'm not sure what to say. "Sorry I was an insensitive idiot who had no idea ..."?

Have you ever caused pain by thoughtless, ignorant speech? What, if anything, did you do to make amends?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Running for the Cure

2007 CIBC Run for the Cure

I've been trying to become a runner for quite a few years now - pretty much every summer I pull out my old running books and try to get myself going. I run a couple of times a week for a few weeks and then life interferes and I'm done. Also, I found that I couldn't pace myself properly and ended up either injured or frustrated or both.

This year I've been doing the Couch to 5K program from coolrunning.com, using podcasts made by a guy called Robert Ullrey (ullreys.net). My pacing problem is now taken care of by his calm, competent voice. The music is not what I would have chosen but hey, it gets me moving and I'm very grateful to him for making these podcasts. The program starts very gently, with 30 second runs and 90 second walks, taking you to the ability to run for 30 minutes straight (which would be about 5 km) in nine weeks.

I started in May and made it up to week eight (25 minute run!) before taking a vacation hiatus for five weeks. So I have now moved myself back to week five (just finished it this past week) to get back into the swing of things. Since I am currently in the mode of setting myself goals to achieve, I have just signed up for my first 5K run - and for an excellent cause, too!

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure:

All being well, the above link should take you to my Personal Page at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's website, where you can donate some money for this cause if you so desire. The run is on October 2nd so I have plenty of time to get myself ready. It's the Fast of Gedaliah - the first weekday after Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year - an excellent time to start a new, healthier lifestyle! Yes, one could have quite the conversation about whether I should be running a race on a minor fast day, but I think I can swing it - it's not a marathon, after all.

I'm going to leave it at that for this blog post, although I definitely have thoughts about the symbolism of the name "Running for the Cure". Stay tuned.

Support me? Thanks!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's all about Jack

P1090638 Harbord Street Tribute to Jack Layton

This week, Canada has been swept by a wave of grief for the untimely passing of Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party and of L'Opposition Loyale de Sa Majesté. He passed away early Monday morning after a courageous fight with cancer, only a few months after leading his social democratic party to an unprecedented 103 seats in Parliament.

Reams have been written in the last two days about his illustrious career, beginning as a Toronto city councillor (sometimes serving as deputy mayor and acting mayor of Canada's largest city) and continuing as the Member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth and leader of Canada's social democrats, crowned by his amazing near-sweep of Quebec (unfortunately, the Conservatives very nearly swept my own province of Manitoba. Maybe I should move). He was a musician, a gentleman whom his opponents are proud to honour this week, a father and a friend. But that is not why I am writing about him now.

I just want to talk about one paragraph, in one letter, and what it means to me.

Before he passed away, Jack (and I never knew him, but that is whom he has always been, to me and to thirty-three million other Canadians) wrote a letter to his party, his caucus, fellow cancer sufferers, to young Canadians, and to all of us. He concluded with the following paragraph:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the last federal election, I voted for the Greens (mostly because I knew and liked their candidate, and had never even met the others - and I knew the Conservative candidate would win anyway, sigh). In the last provincial election, I voted for the NDP because I liked Gary Doer. Not very good reasons for choosing a party, one might say. I am an incorrigible social democrat, a feminist, a believer in the perfectibility of the world. The personal is always very political, to me.

But I do have a reason to be fired up, to want to change the world, to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. I never met Jack Layton, much to my regret. I think he's the best Prime Minister Canada never had, and now never will have. He was cut down with his work unfinished. The Mishna says the following in Pirkei Avot, a blueprint for an ethical life that we study on Shabbat afternoons:

Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either" (2:16).

I don't yet know what I can do to make the world a better place, but I do feel that it is incumbent upon me, and upon every person who is grieving Jack Layton's untimely passing, to do whatever we can to increase the light in the world, now that such a bright light has gone out.

How will you help make the world a better place?


Monday, August 22, 2011

Wearing tefillin while female

When I was growing up in Israel, my father went to the local (Orthodox - there was nothing else at the time) synagogue on a regular basis. My mother, sister and I only went on the High Holy Days because we were not welcome at other times - the women's balcony was uncomfortable, the sight lines were terrible and the acoustics were worse. We were certainly not expected to participate in the service in any way. I was allowed into the business part of the synagogue until I turned twelve, and that was that. Not feeling that the synagogue in any way facilitated my relationship with G-d, I drifted away.

Fast forward to Winnipeg, mid-nineties. My husband and I joined a local Conservative synagogue which had recently become egalitarian, after a bitter battle. The new rabbi was a strong believer in women's right to be counted and participate in the service in every way. One of the ways in which he encouraged such participation was by teaching women how to lead services. I was already fluent in Hebrew, so I only needed to learn the tunes, which I quickly mastered. I enjoyed helping with the Shabbat services, and my father, who had abandoned the Orthodox synagogue with much relief once a Reform congregation appeared in his town, bought me a tallit. All was lovely and fulfilling. Feeling connected with G-d through my religious community, I increased my observance and now keep Shabbat, a kosher home, and as many more of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot as I can.

Then I was asked to help with the daily minyan. Since we had recently begun counting women, suddenly the other half of humanity was available to make up the required ten adults (over the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah) for a prayer quorum. I began going one morning a week, and noticed that many of the men wore tefillin. So did two women whom I greatly admired. So the rabbi taught me how to lay tefillin, and I have been wearing them for morning prayers ever since.

I have been leading the Sunday morning minyan for quite a few years now, and have worked hard to encourage other members of the congregation to learn how to chant the prayers. Many are very intimidated by the Hebrew words and the tunes, but after they have mastered those, they are even more intimidated by the idea of wearing tefillin. One of my regulars, a woman of great courage, has learned to lead the first part of the prayers, and now she has done me the honour of asking me to help her learn to lay tefillin. So, being the geek that I am, I went to find an instructional video for her to use at her leisure, and found this Wrap Rap.

It's not a very good rap, I know. But it shows the wrapping very clearly (although there is some dispute about the placement of the head boxes), and so I sent it to her. I did not pay much attention to the comments, which contained some of the usual rabid (and badly spelled) response to women taking on religious behaviours that were previously exclusively reserved for men (although there are no valid reasons for the exclusion - Rashi's daughters are said to have laid tefillin). In particular, a reference was made to the superstition that women should not touch the Torah (the boxes contain words of Torah written on the same kind of parchment with the same kind of script) because they may become impure (i.e., they might start menstruating) and supposedly make the Torah impure. My friend was very upset by these suggestions. The Talmud is quite clear on this being complete nonsense:

"'Is not My word like fire? says the Lord' (Jer. 23:29) — Just as fire does not become impure, so too, words of Torah cannot become impure." (Berachot 22a)

Wearing tefillin is a scary act for any Jew who was not brought up in an observant fashion, and wearing tefillin while female is doubly so. I am fortunate to wear mine in an environment where my devotion is not only accepted but encouraged and admired. My hat is off to all the pioneers whose struggle led to my comfort, and to all who dare take this step in their own search to become closer to G-d.

Do you do scary things in your search for meaning? If not, what is holding you back? The Lizard Brain?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fighting the Lizard Brain


One of my favourite Internet people is Seth Godin. I follow his blog faithfully, am a member of his Domino Project and have bought more than one of his books. Without those steady years of brainwashing, I doubt I would ever have started this blog. Phrases like "Don't wait to be picked - do the work" have pushed me out of my passive stance and into doing something - anything - not waiting to be picked. Although, of course, I am waiting to be picked. Waiting to be read, noticed, picked up by somebody who matters more than I do in the Internet world.

One of the concepts that appeals to me in Seth's writing is the Lizard Brain. It's that part of our brain that is the Resistance. that is afraid of change, of doing anything new. It makes us want to sink back into our comfortable rut and read Facebook instead of thinking, writing, doing whatever it is that we think we should be doing to be picked, to stand out, to make art or something else that is worthwhile (although aren't all things that are worthwhile art, in some form or another?).

So here I am, I've written a few blog posts. My dear friends and family who love me and actually care what I have to say have read and a few have even commented. I've put it out there on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn (with much trepidation!). It's even been picked up by the Manitoba Educators Daily, much to my surprise. I'm going to assume that it is because it is summer and Andy had no real news to put in there. Or is that the Lizard Brain talking?

My first reaction when I saw that my blog had been picked up in this little Twitter newsletter was fear. Oh no, now I'm going to be read and judged by people who aren't my nearest and dearest ... well, I'm going to hope that they are all at the lake anyway. Or do I really hope that?

I have no doubt that my writing will improve with time and practice, and that there is no reason to assume that people outside my inner circle are going to dislike it even before then. But why do I immediately cut myself down? When I read people's summaries on LinkedIn they are all excellent, experienced, they know everything there is to know about this business. Does the Lizard Brain not whisper in their inner ear? Or are they shouting to drown it out?

I know the Lizard Brain talks to you, too. What do you do to make it shut up?

Why A Coat of Many Colours?

I have always loved Carole King, but of course I never understood the lyrics of this song until I actually had some warp and woof in that Tapestry ... and while trying to understand who I am and what I like to do, I found that phrase "a coat of many colours" recurring in my mind. I have always been very envious of people who know what they are passionate about from a young age, take steps to follow that dream and build a career around their strengths. But for me - there are so many things that excite me, so many strands I want to follow. I have lived so many lives already, loved so many people and places, learned so many new things.

I am hopeful that writing is a way I will be able to develop my strengths and finally grow into whom I was meant to be. I hope my coat of many colours does not lead me to be sold into slavery instead!

Do you have a visual metaphor that keeps intruding on your self-description? What is it telling you?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

After Havdalah

Havdalah Candle

I didn't make it into Blogger yesterday - it was a busy day, spent, among other things, holding ten-week-old twins and preparing for Shabbat (fortunately, not at the same time).

Shabbat is a subject I am passionate about. I came to Jewish observance in my early- to mid-thirties, mostly under the influence of our then-rabbi and his wife. They demonstrated to me that it is possible to be modern, egalitarian, ambitious, connected, and also to set one day a week aside with no driving, no writing, no cooking, no phone calls and no Internet. What at first seemed awkward is now a haven, although I will admit that as soon as the Havdalah candle is extinguished and we are separated from the sacred, I run to satisfy two of my addictions - Internet and freshly brewed coffee. In the intervening years since we began to keep Shabbat I have learned to lead services, to spend time studying, and to increase the quality of that strand in my life I call my Jewish neshama, or soul. While we pray every day, in the presence of the Shabbat Queen we have a neshama yeteira, an extra helping of holiness.

My children have grown up with Shabbat observance and have never known us to do otherwise. It has been fascinating to watch as they mature from hating the day-with-no-electronics to appreciation of the time to read, play board games, talk and go to the park. My fifteen-year-old puts away the ubiquitous texting and seems truly relieved to be out of touch for twenty five hours. My twelve-year-old is in transition, and my eight-year-old still completely hates it, although she does enjoy the social aspects of dressing up and going to shul. The availability of adults who would otherwise be staring at a screen is also not to be underestimated.

 Do you set time aside to attend to your soul and your family? If not, why not?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old friends

old friends

It seems like every blog post that I make leads to the next one to clarify or muse on something that I said. So far I think that's a good thing, at least until I have some kind of conversation going on here, which I hope will eventually happen.

In yesterday's blog I said that I had no friends from kindergarten. I lied, however. Not long after I made this statement, I got tempted into the following Facebook meme:

Of course, as soon as I'd posted this I remembered that Eliyahu (then known as Alan) and I did indeed go to kindergarten together, back in 1966 or so. Our parents were friends then and are friends now. Their connection has kept ours alive when circumstances of life would otherwise have severed it - since we moved away from that place when I was six, I do not even remember the names or faces of anybody else I went to kindergarten with.

We have led very different lives, but we do have in common a constant searching and questioning, leading us to wander through places, religious commitments and friendships, proverbial and literal mountaintops. As we approach the half century mark, still searching and questioning, who knows what we will become when we finally grow up?

I am glad that Facebook has made it easy for us to reconnect. Watching those whom I knew when they and I were younger (not only Eliyahu, but my friends from university in the Netherlands, my beloved March96 family and others) as they grow, mature and become more and more themselves, is a precious gift for which I am very grateful.

What old friends are you grateful for?