Thursday, June 30, 2011

Give a Little Access to Care for Those Suffering With HIV/AIDS

I've been reading one of those books that are so engaging and thought provoking that you just can't put it down. My daughters gave me An Imperfect Offering by James Orbinski, and oh what a gift it has been!

James is a former head of the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and shares stories from his decades of service in Russia, Somalia, Afghanistan and Rwanda. As fate would have it he was in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide - his “undoing”- and he struggled with the horror he has witnessed. He shares  personal insights on the human toll of political and social disasters and his frustration at not being able to prevent that which he felt to be preventable (immunizations and life saving treatments that are cost prohibitive). He accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for Médecins Sans Frontières in 1999 and in 2004 launched a new organization with James Fraser, Dignitas International to implement community-based care programs in developing nations for people living with HIV/AIDS.

He has become a hero to me and joins the ranks of my personal panel of changemakers and inspirational people that include of Stephen Lewis, Romeo Dallaire, Craig Kielburger - all of whom are (coincidentally) Canadian.

With tomorrow being Canada Day, and today being my Thursday "Give a Little", I am donating to Dignitas International and celebrating a man - James Orbinsky, and an organization that exemplifies what I hold true to what it means to be truly Canadian.
Read about my Thursday's Give a Little Challenge and other posts. I have to give ongoing props to Wendy Smith for her inspiring book, Give a Little. Consider giving it a read.

The Time is Nigh

It's the wee hours (12:20 am) of the morning - the eve before my dad's surgery on his lower spine. He has been anticipating it for months, preparing for weeks and now it is upon us. My sisters and I headed over to his place for a pre-operation visit, only to find him busily watering the lawn and organizing the garage. The last few days he made like a whirling dervish,  installing sturdy railings on his stairways and a new, higher toilet in addition to preparing his gardens. He keeps insisting that he still has lots to  do before tomorrow --

We stayed a few hours, chatting about everything under the sun, odd snippets about the surgery loosely interwoven  with teasing, joking and reminiscing. We laughed alot and tried to ignore the elephant in the room. But what is left to be said - good wishes such as good luck, or take care? Or dispensing advice such as don't worry, sleep well or citing predictions of outcomes - you'll be fine, or you'll be up and about before you know it. Instead we pocketed any anxieties or concerns, kept the goodbyes light, planned our carpooling and honked as we drove off.

My stepmom told me not to worry, and I told her that I am not a worrier; I'm a warrior. Dad's corner is crowded and tomorrow his tribe will fill the waiting room and try not to torment the nursing staff.
We'll resist the urge to tease him or comment about suspicious tubing or bags.

I just know he is going to set the bar high and once he awakes on the other side of the procedure, all energy and thoughts will be dedicated to recovery. So tonight, the night before, I am sending my dear dad (from Peering Through a Porthole) all the pink healing light I can muster, and all the love I have in my heart.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transitions and Milestones

It's been a long, emotional day; one part "transition" and one part celebration - but both involved milestones. MIH and I moved her 98 year old mom from a long term care facility that had all of the trappings  of a "nice place", however they were all cosmetic. After weeks of falls, bruises and finally a fracture, MIH got the call that after being wait listed for three and a half years, a facility that is just 10 minutes away from her had an immediate opening.

We packed Nana up and drove the hour and half across the city to the little town that MIH lives in. I had Nana in the passenger seat beside me, with a white knuckle grip on the arm rest (her, not me). She kept asking me over and over again how long it would be, and commenting "it's a long trip". She was nervous with the cars on the highway whipping past, and she muttered "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" repeatedly under her breath. I responded,"C'mon Nana - my driving isn't that bad".

Nana has lost most of her memories and she can't name her daughter, but that doesn't stop her from kissing her, pulling her close and saying "I love you". Nana can feel the love and kindness her daughter delivers and once in a while she blurts out her name. Today she exclaimed to the recreation coordinator, "I'm a mother!"

But with her Alzheimer's, she is trapped in a limbo state with no recognition, minimal communication ability, and no way to to tell us what she is truly feeling. She is in a labyrinth of her own mind.

After hours of assessments, foot care, medical exams,  interviews and unpacking, we left Nana in her new environment to start the process of adjusting. It reminded me of the first time I left my daughters in daycare  and left quickly without looking back (well, maybe just a peek). She smiled weakly but her eyes were somewhat blank and confused.

MIH talked about how these next few days will not be easy ones for Nana as she settles into a brand new environment, but there is peace in knowing that she will be cared for by people who smile and call her name; who seem to understand what it means to honour our elders; and that she will be safe.

MIH has been in turmoil over the treatment of her mom and the phone call that signaled the change was nothing short of miraculous in its timing. I hope MIH can rest easy now knowing she has done her very best for her mom.

Part two of the day was our famjam to celebrate my niece's graduation from university. We are so proud of her tenacity and accomplishment and we gathered as a tribe to celebrate her milestone. As a close family, we share the joys and pains - when one of us hurts, we all hurt. And likewise, when there is an achievement,  it is the success of all. My niece glowed with the love that filled the room to overflowing. She is low key and often has to share the spotlight so tonight was a refreshing opportunity to make the night all about her.

Final Note: In my true to forgetful nature ... I almost forgot that it was my sister's wedding anniversary. And if my memory serves me correctly (don't count on it) it is creeping up to the 20 year mark. Congratulations Mich and Dar; you show us how a marriage can survive and thrive with determination and work. : )

The day was long, but oh so satisfying! So many changes but so many things to celebrate. Life is good, and tonight it is even better!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Uninterrupted

So it's been a week since my last post, but don't be fooled - the last seven days have been bursting and stuffed full of living.

Kidlet started her internship at our favourite change making organization which translated into calls about the transit routes, emails about her first impressions and laments about how she they could give her more and better things to do. Regardless, I think there is lots to be learned by working an eight hour day with an hour commute to boot!

My two amigas joined me mid week at the cottage for some girl time. Hubby sent me a screen shot of the weather forecast for Wed through Sat showing rain and thunderstorms each and every day with a note saying he hoped it would change. It didn't.

All plans of us dockside slumped in Muskoka chairs, cold beverages in hand soaking up the sun were dashed! Thankfully my gal pals are their own bundle of sunshine so we made good use of our time out. We chatted the damp out around a cosy fire; we cooked delicious, elaborate meals (risotto is a decadent time sucker) and munched on fresh fruit. Best of all -- we laughed until our sides hurt.

With the girls' departure came hubby and the new dock for the cottage. The rest of the weekend was spent connecting the dock to the ramp to the shore. The scent of the cedar was strong and fresh, a testament to its newness. Throw in a couple of Muskoka chairs and the scene was set for the summer, and  I predict many hours of leisure will be spent on that dock.

Hubby and I sat on the dock last night just as the sun was setting. It was still overcast and misty but the rain had relented for a few hours. We watched a family of beavers, our new neighbours, swim about full of purpose. We heard the haunting calls of the loons and saw the blue herons take flight. We marveled at our good fortune to have these fleeting, precious moments immersed in nature - weather be darned!

This morning as we packed up the tools and readied the cottage for lock up, the sun appeared in all her glory. She was a convincing hostess so we stayed an extra hour to enjoy her company.

So I am back to the city after a peaceful mini vacay ready to face the week ahead: we are celebrating my niece's university graduation; we are moving our 98 year old grandmother to a new home; and my far away sister is coming down to be with us as Dad is has his spine operated on. We'll fit working in and amongst the important life stuff. Celebration, change, transformation and family -- that is what this week will be about. And before I fall asleep tonight, I will think to myself, Life is good.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Just squeaking this in before Father's Day rolls over. For the first time that I can remember, I didn't spend the day with my Dad. My traditional brunch BBQ gave way to a weekend with hubby at the cottage. Although it sounds decadent, it was anything but idyllic; we worked our tacos off! Having this little piece of paradise doesn't come without costs - of all kinds. But that is another post for another day.

One of my first thoughts this morning was that it was Father's Day ... and the thought clung to me throughout the day. As I enjoyed my coffee this morning, leaning back in my Muskoka chair wondering where the birds had gone, I thought "I'll have to ask Dad about this. He'll know". I hear his voice in my head when I spot something beautiful in nature; his enthusiasm for spotting a red tailed hawk or a cardinal rivals that of a rock star sighting.  I was clearing brush and I could hear his advice - don't leave those little stumps there for someone to trip on. It went - and goes - on and on.

When you are as intertwined as we are with our father, his very presence is woven into every day. After half a century of accumulated life lessons dispensed by a father who achieved much, set the bar high, expected alot of himself and kids - and believed in us even more, and modeled living life fully, it is only natural that he would be my hero. He takes up big real estate in my heart and life. I love saying that my greatest teacher was/is my dad.

And for a man who is so pivotal and important in my life, we need more than a day to celebrate him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Give a Little So She Can Be the First

Girl talk; girl power; girls everywhere – in the media – or so it seems. And it’s about time! The chatter and coverage has largely to do with the challenges and issues facing girls (and women) around the planet, and “the lack of …”

It's hard to fathom how many girls are lacking the essentials to a healthy, safe productive life, such as:
• access to education
• accessible, clean water (which directly impacts their access to education)
• health and maternal care
• sanitation

She’s the First is helping girls worldwide be first in their family to graduate from school. If I had been on time with my Thursday "Give a Little", it would have been in time for The Day of the African Child. I donated to the Girls Who Rock $11 for the Class 2011 campaign who are taking up the challenge to help sponsor 42 girls in Uganda “be the first”.

As a mother of three daughters, I can’t help feeling that purely by the luck of birthplace, my girls enjoy a life of abundance and opportunity, without physical suffering. I want that for everyone – and especially those who are marginalized by their gender and geographic placement. And that's why I used to start every morning with my girls, arms raised in a group cheer "w o m e n     p o w e r ", and that's why I gave a little...
Read about my Thursday's Give a Little Challenge and other posts. I have to give ongoing props to Wendy Smith for her inspiring book, Give a Little. Consider giving it a read.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I Surrender

It's all rolling around in there: shiny shrapnel shreds of memories, reminders, opinions, worries, questions, desires, disappointments, and hopes. My mind is a congested, overpopulated, uber-active, busy place these days.

Life is funny like that ... feast or famine; times when things are firing on all fronts and you are torn in a dozen directions, stretched to the limit - and then lulls that take you to the banks of boredom. Admittedly, some times those lulls are much needed respite, welcomed with open arms, but they are rare.

I am getting really good at surrendering to that over which I cannot control, or which I have no time to tackle. I am just doing my very best, taking the time to enjoy every moment and making people my priority. The garden will have to wait as will the trip to the dump, the basement organizing, the laundry room and the weeds poking through the patio stones. I am opting for a weekend at the cottage, cocooned in the peaceful greenery of our lakeside retreat. It's not a difficult choice.

Off to bed to coax quiet into a sleepy head and to surrender to a restful night's sleep please.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Picking Up

Sis, Dad, Me and Debbie at our cottage a hundred years ago!
We hadn't talked in years and our communication had been sparse spare but the sporadic exchange of Christmas cards. Yet when I called her last week to express my condolences on her father's passing, all time and space evaporated and we simply picked up where we had left off.

And that is how it is with those whom we have a lasting bond. Debbie and her brother were the cousins I grew up with; our parents were best friends and as families we shared many adventures and weathered the trying times that accompany young couples with families just starting out. We lived across the street from one another when I was very young however my memories of that time are very clear. Our fathers pursued their academic degrees while raising their young families and juggling full time jobs. Our mothers pooled their pennies for cigarettes and found solace and companionship in one another. For me, it was a wondrous, innocent time with my best friends living right across the street -- my instant playmates. Debbie was my partner in crime (although she was definitely the sweeter and more compliant of us) and her brother was my hero. Even after years passed and we moved to another town, we spent many family holidays together.

I was 9 or 10 when I found out that they actually weren't my first cousins, but rather, our parents were first cousins. I estimated that they were probably my second or third cousins ... and I recall asking my mother if third cousins could marry!

Debbie and I spent time in the city together as we pursued our education and our relationship has always remained constant ... and unconditional.

We lost our beloved mothers within months of one another and we were able to commiserate over the change in our lives. Now her father - my "uncle" - has passed and there is yet another little hole frayed into the fabric of her life. We talked about those holes and spaces and as we chatted, I realized that other reasons we are important to one another, are the memories we carry of one another;  the pieces of our history we hold.

And no matter what changes come our way, the moments we have created and shared, the memories we have made; the love we hold dear remain the same. And we can always pick up where we left off.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Give a Little Education to Kenyan Girls

It was hard work: pushing wheelbarrows of mortar, carrying heavy stones, and mixing rocks, clay and cement. But it was a labour of love for all of us who were there, out on the Mara in Kenya, bound by a common purpose, to help build the first high school for girls in the region - Kisaruni Girls High School. The setting was spectacular with the classrooms, each their own little building, nestled on a rolling hill, with a panoramic vista of mountains in the distance and a mosaic of lush grazing grounds and the red clay of Kenya. As my friends and I carefully stacked the stones that would become the walls of the school, I couldn't help but think how inspirational the setting would be for the girls who would come to learn in this place of peace and safety. I made my heart full to see the results of the work that Free the Children does in developing nations.
It's been almost a year since our little group from all over Canada and the U.S. met as strangers in Kenya and departed as fast friends. Many have continued to work to find solutions to help our Kenyan friends in their efforts to maintain a robust, self sustainable, healthy community. And that brings me to my Thursday Give a Little Challenge. My friend Megz from our trip went home to Arizona and rustled up some educational software to be used in the computer lab - and some staff from Intel to travel to Kenya to install it and educate the staff on how to use it. Now she is working to raise the remaining 4,000 to populate the lab with computers. So  this week, in the spirit of being the change, I made a double donation (to make up for the fact that I missed last week) to the Power of a Girl PC Lab campaign.

The school opend its doors in January to 41 young women. Marc Kielburger (co founder of Free the Children) gives a really cool virtual tour, with our Maasai Warrior friends Jackson and Wilson.

Read about my Thursday's Give a Little Challenge and other posts. I have to give ongoing props to Wendy Smith for her inspiring book, Give a Little. Consider giving it a read.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Oh Happy Days

The days roll by and suddenly five days have passed since my last post. It's  been busy - life; living. Hubby and I headed up to our cottage to watch Miami Vice -- I mean, enjoy the great outdoors. To minimize the risk of boring you to tears, here's the Reader's Digest version of the past little while:
  • Doris is test driving a senior residence, trying it on for size while Dad and T are in Florida for a quick visit. Popped by to have lunch with her and the rest of the golden silver girls in the new digs. Hardest choice of the day --- strawberry pie or chocolate cake. Doris had both! She sent me off with a huge lump in my throat as she stood in the window waving goodbye.
  • Highlight of the  hour trek to the cottage was seeing a very large huge black bear on the side of the highway AND then a very Canadian beaver swimming in the swamp right beside the dirt road leading to our place. I swear I heard him humming the national anthem. Or maybe it was the hummingbirds we heard; we saw dozens of them all weekend. Night of woodland wildlife ended with the bandit raccoon rearranging the furniture on the deck.
  • Awoke to thunder storms that lasted all day - thus the Miami Vice marathon, copious amount of tea, and cosy fire. I also finished my book, Letters to my Daughters.
  • Sunday was just that -- sunny, hot and perfect! Kidlet arrived back safe and sound from the Dominican Republic and popped by the cottage. I didn't swim but I reveled in the sunshine and stillness of the lake. I snapped a nice shot of the HUGE dock spider that has taken up residence in the leaky punt.
  • I didn't make my weekly donation due to time restraints so this Thursday will be a double whammy. Suggestions?
  • Monday night I sprung Doris and we headed to the Dairy Queen (my nickname when I was nursing) for some grill and chill; I did the "grill" with a burger and Doris did the "chill" with a butterscotch sundae.
  • I received my new solar lantern from OneMillionLights,org and just in time! I apparently left my keys in the ignition (just shoot me now) and my lights on???? What the heck?! Anyway our flashlights are all at the cottage and hubby couldn't see to hook up the charging cables soooo we used our solar lantern to light the way. Life is funny ...
So that is it in a nutshell: I am losing my mind but thankfully retaining all of my belly fat (God forbid I should lose any of that),  am still pinching myself in disbelief at my good fortune to have a little piece of paradise and am looking forward to the summer ahead.

A few visuals in case you just want to skip the verbose descriptions:

Hubby - labour of love
Supervisor Fritz

View from the deck
Dock spider ... relative of Charlotte?

Rocking my TOMS on the dock.
New solar lantern from

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good Day

Today is going to be a good day. I can just feel it. It started with this morning when I made it to the car without having to dash back inside for something I forgot (like my lunch, keys, phone, purse, my mind ... you get the picture...). Then I found a loonie glistening near the gas petal, so I was assured of a morning drive thru (and a large double cream, single sugar) at the local Tim Hortons. If I'd had any cash on me I would have paid it forward in the drive thru line. next time   It's that kind of day.

The sun was blinding and warm on the face despite the 9 C temp. It's been a long time coming, this gorgeous sunshine. Everything is finally starting to dry out after weeks of relentless rain and thunderstorms. This is the weather we Canadians fantasize about during the dark, frigid months of winter hibernation.

Today I am embracing the light! And it is embracing me right back, bringing out my best intentions and making me feel like today - everything is possible! We'll find out --

On a completely different note: I have a pedometer strapped to my pants as part of our healthy workplace program. We are divided into teams to walk as much as possible and then log the steps. We're a competitive bunch my colleagues and I my boss and I just had a "stand up" walking meeting in her office (we're on different teams). She worked up quite a sweat and had to remove her jacket. I figure if I walk as much as I talk - and even as fast - we've got it sewn up. It's game on!!