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.