Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happiness is...

Happiness isn't getting what you want.
It's wanting what you get.


It's taken me four decades on this little blue green planet to figure out the wisdom in these words. I've spent a lot of years trying to mold situations and people into my image of them.

Didn't work. Never will.

So I started detaching more. Became less invested in the outcome that I decreed, and became more in tune with the miraculous moment by moment play that is this precious, individualized life we're given.

Listened more. Talked less.

Enjoyed the moment. Trusted that the universe was looking out for me. Slammed fewer doors.

And holy cow. Something incredible happened. Happiness rang my doorbell and came right in.

Not every day is fa-la-la-la, but most days are. And the ones that aren't, well....they pass.

So that's my wish for you, this holiday time. Whatever you celebrate, and with whomever you're with, may you have peace today and always.

And when happiness rings your doorbell. Let it in.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Roses are Red

I took a taxi home from a lovely Christmas party on Friday night. When I got in the taxi, the driver asked, in heavily accented English, whether I'd like to hear a poem he'd written.

"Well, actually," I said, looking at the snow covered streets, "I'd prefer it if you concentrated on the road."

"It's okay," he said, "I memorized it."

So he proceeds to recite his poem, which went something like:

Your eyes are like two pools
Your mouth is like pillow

"Is it pillow or pillows," he asked.

"Pillow," I responded, getting into the spirit of the thing.

He continued:

Your heart is like the blanket that wraps around me on a cold day.
Your hands are soft like the air.


"Nice use of simile," I intoned from the back seat.

"Your voice is like the sound of angels in the sky," he continued.


"What do you think," he said, after rhyming off a few more stanzas.

"That's great," I said, encouragingly, imagining the positive response he'd get from the subject of his poem. "If you don't mind me asking, who's it about?"

"Nobody," he said.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shuffle

1. Put your iPOD on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER HOW SILLY IT SOUNDS!
4. Tag 10 friends who might enjoy doing this, as well as the person you got it from.


IF SOMEONE SAYS "IS THIS OKAY" WHAT DO YOU SAY?
Bella Donna -- Stevie Nicks

WHAT WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY?
Come in from the Cold -- Joni Mitchell

WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL?
You Can't Get a Man with A Gun -- Ethel Merman

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE'S PURPOSE?
Love Comes Quickly -- Pet Shop Boys

WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO?
I'm Losing You -- Kate and Anna McGarrigle

WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU?
Wrong to Love You -- Chris Isaak

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VERY OFTEN?
Defying Gravity -- Wicked

WHAT IS 2+2?
Like Someone in Love -- Bjork

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND?
Radio Song -- REM

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Mean to Me -- Crowded House

WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY?
Music -- Madonna

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
Moratorium -- Alannis

WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE?
Po' Lazarus -- James Carter and the Prisoners

WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU?
Kiss You Off -- Scissor Sisters

WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING?
Written in the Stars -- LeAnn Rimes

WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL?
Folsom Prison Blues -- Johnny Cash

WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST?
Fare Thee Well Love -- Rankin Family

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET?
Shadows -- Rufus Wainright

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS?
Big Spender -- Shirley Bassey

WHAT'S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN?
Love Changes -- Stevie Nicks

HOW WILL YOU DIE?
High Flying, Adored -- Sondtrack to Evita

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU REGRET?
Hello Mr. Heartache -- Dixie Chicks

WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When Two Worlds Collide -- John Prine with Trisha Yearwood

WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
Girlfriend is Better -- Talking Heads

WILL YOU EVER GET MARRIED?
Beautiful Child -- Eurythmics

WHAT SCARES YOU THE MOST?
Sexy Single -- Anastacia

DOES ANYONE LIKE YOU?
Dirty Little Girl -- Elton John

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?
Sweet Hour of Prayer -- Iris Dement

WHAT HURTS RIGHT NOW?
Only One and Only -- Gillian Welch

WHAT WILL YOU POST THIS AS?
Lose My Breath -- Destiny's Child

What's Hot in Britain


I'm pleased and proud to be your source for all things hot and not in Britain.

Hugh Grant. HOT. He's everyone's favourite tousled Brit. Every night I was in the UK, a different Hugh Grant film was playing on the telly. I re-watched About a Boy, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Love, Actually. Surely there must be another actor in Britain?

Mincemeat Tarts. HOT. Quite inexplicably, there is no meat in mincemeat. Rather, there is an assortment of chopped, dried fruit, packed into tiny tart shells. Isn't that a little like making Fruit Flan from pork sausage?

X Factor. Simon Cowell must be richer than God. His UK edition of the reality talent search X Factor ended the night before we arrived. Alexandra Burke was the winner. Her version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is the top selling single and download in the country.

Drunk Tents. NOT. A sure sign of Christmas at busy commuter stations in London is a drunk tent. No kidding. So common are public displays of inebriation, that they regularly set up field hospitals to deal with the truly inebriated.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pip Pip and All That

My flight from London was delayed for three hours, so I arrived home at 3 a.m. this morning. I turned up to work bright and early, too, because we had some bad news while we were away. Thirteen more of our colleagues were let go in the latest downsizing exercise.

A week before Christmas.

Yup.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Convent of Too Much Fun

There's a wonderfully kitschy bar on College Street with an infamous midnight drag show. It's called El Convento Rico. Translation: The Convent of Too Much Fun.

That pretty much sums up what my weekend is going to be like.

Fun and frantic.

I'm leaving at noon today to pick up my Mother and my Aunt.

My Mother comes from a small northern Ontario city. My Aunt is coming from an even smaller, even more northern town.

It's bright lights, big city. A whistle stop at Over-Stimulation Station. Woo Woo!

We're spending the afternoon at the mall, and tomorrow we're going to see The Sound of Music on stage. It's my way of expiating all my negative karma in this lifetime.

There's nothing that card-carrying members of the Catholic Women's League like more than a spirited version of Sound of Music. I've already primed them: 1) Do not sing along with the performance 2) Those people can actually hear you, when you talk about them.

Ah yes, these are a few of MY favourite things.

After the play, we'll grab a bite to eat, then I have to drop them back at the bus, rush home, grab my suitcase, and head out to Pearson.

I'm off to London -- England, not Ontario -- where I'm celebrating the holidays by contemplating the finer points of legacy giving for a major international development charity.

I'm planning to come back with an accent. Just like Madonna.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The best medicine

David Sedaris was funny. Really funny.

And from our spot in the fourth row, centre, we could see him smile wryly as he read. He's got the shy, observant neurotic down pat.

Massey Hall was full. It has a seating capacity of 2,800, so that's a lot of people to come out to see a humourist.

At the end of the reading, he took some questions.

What I really wanted to ask him -- and I didn't -- was whether he'd come to work with me today and pretend to be my best friend. That would have been the best. Could you imagine me going from office to office saying, "Ya, um, just wanted to introduce you to my best friend. Maybe you've heard of him. He's DAVID SEDARIS!"

Ya. Don't think I'm cool enough to pull that one off.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Neurotica

Tonight David Sedaris is reading at Massey Hall. I got my BFF tickets for his birthday but it's one of those under-handed presents that I'll probably enjoy more than he will.

Sedaris is a master of sardonic wit and, from what I can tell, has an eternal love-hate relationship with the human race. Mostly love, though.

When I saw him at a local book store a couple of years ago, he took time to meet and talk to anyone who had the patience to stand in line. He was a smoker at the time, so he'd periodically apologize to the crowd, nip out for a butt, and return to his place at the table.

I waited patiently for him that night. Probably a couple of hours. But it was worth it. We had a moment.

Everyone was given a sheet of paper on which to print our names, to expedite the process of inscribing our books. I'd written my ex's name on the sheet.

"Are you 'L'," Sedaris asked me, when my turn came for the audience.

"No," I admitted. "I'm Franny. "L" is my partner, and...well...we had a fight. It was my fault, so I'm getting this book signed as a gift."

"Whenever Hugh and I have a fight," he said, referring to his boyfriend, "I feel awful for days afterwards."

"I know how you feel," I said.

We exchanged a few other pleasantries, while Sedaris signed the book. Then he gave it back to me.

As I was walking away, I opened it up to the inscription.

He had written:

To "L"
Franny fucked up.
David Sedaris

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

No Accidents

Have you wondered about the role that fate plays in the people who populate your world?

Here in Canada, for example, leadership of the Liberal Party is being duked out by two fellows who just happened to be roommates in university. They were best friends. Now bitter rivals.

What force put them together, and intertwined their fates for years to come?

I've been getting to know a new friend with a bright and shiny heart recently.

Last night, over dinner, we discovered that we'd both been at a Michael Palin reading on the U of T campas, maybe 6 or 7 years ago.

It was a fairly obscure event, not particularly well-advertised and not even particularly well-attended. Yet me and this person who has come to populate my world, were both there at the same time. And we were both similarly dumb-struck in front of our comedic idol.

And then there's the Rickie-Lee Jones concert I attended with my best friend at Massey Hall back in the 80s. We were both in university at the time. Fast forward more than twenty years and I discover that my ex was there, too. Also sitting in balcony. Similarly awed by an incredible performance.

Lesson?

Maybe it's pay attention to the people who circumnavigate your personal globe. They're here for a reason. Treat them kindly. Learn from them.

Someone -- not you -- is in charge of the master plan.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Little Gems


I love writing for Canadian Tourism because when I do, I get to talk about some of the hidden gems you only know about when you actually live in a city. Places like Urban Herbivore.

For the vegans among us, Urban Herbivore in Kensington Market is one of those places you only dream about. You can eat ANYTHING on the menu. And it's served up, with love, by folks who look like they really couldn't work anywhere else, except maybe a record store. Guys who have ear plugs like a Masai warrior, and girls covered in full body tattoos.

It's one of my favourite places to go on winter weekends, because they serve up a killer Sweet Potato and Date muffin, and a cup of ginger green tea, with tons of real ginger floating in it. If I get there before the sweet potato muffins come out of the oven, I can be fairly happy with the Apple Walnut, as well.

After that, it's only a short walk down the street to The Blue Banana. This is shopping at its finest. Dozens of tiny shops under a single roof. I bought the cutest boiled wool wrap skirt there a couple of weeks ago, made entirely from recycled fabrics. If you like the One of a Kind Show, you'll like The Blue Banana even more, since it's year-round and free to browse.

But you'd be remiss for leaving Kensington Market without poking around one of the areas many vintage clothing stores. I've always had a lot of luck with Exile, but I think that's because the staff is incredibly friendly, and I feel like I'm having a visit, and not just shopping.

I was in on the weekend, because I'm putting together an outfit for our Christmas Party this week. The theme is old and new Hollywood, and I was looking for a crinoline to match my vintage 50s cocktail dress. Not only did I find one, but it's hot pink and matches the hint of pink on the gown. Score!

Friday, December 5, 2008

And another thing...

The next time I have my teeth cleaned, would you remind me not to apply lip colour before I go in. Otherwise, I might end up looking like Carol Channing again.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Canadian Political Leadership is an Oxymoron


I've been hiding my eyes and cowering behind the settee as our ridiculous politicians duke it out for the role of school yard bully.

I say, fire them all. And I have a few suggestions for who could replace them.

Ann Murray. This Canadian songbird understands the Canadian identity (think "Snowbird"), plays a killer game of golf, and has East Coast roots, which probably means she'd stop to help us start our cars if they stalled in winter. A vote for Ann Murray is a vote for Canadiana.

Michaelle Jean. Sure she's our Governor General, but she's a lot prettier than the other candidates in the pool, and she's proven she likes a good documentary. Jean was just one of the reasons I watched The Passionate Eye with a certain amount of religious fervour.

Steven Page. This lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies, who was unfortunately busted for cocaine possession about the same time his children's album came out, would at least have the manufactured energy for the job. Plus, who can get his "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" song out of their heads.

Pierre Trudeau. Do you actually have to be alive to be Prime Minister? I don't think so. Have you seen Stephane Dion recently?

The Jonas Brothers. Want leaders that will get the kids excited? Marketing idea: a kissable ballot.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

First things first

There's no getting around. Christmas is coming, whether you're ready for it or not.

This morning, my office building hosted their annual Thank You breakfast. As testament to our city's multiculturalism, Santa weighed 90 pounds and hailed from Ho Chi Minh City. God, I love this town.

Like you, I have a billion things to do before the holidays.

There seems to be a party every other night and the projects on my plate have really ramped up recently. Plus, I just found out I'm travelling for work again -- which really cuts into my present-buying time.

I know from experience that competitive deadlines can make me a little crazy. While my first instinct is to rush wildly in a million different directions, I really just need to breathe deeply and do one thing at a time.

Focus. Practice mindfulness.

It's not the activity that makes the difference. It's my attitude to the activity.

Ho. Ho. Ommmmm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fairytale of New York


Part Christmas Carol, part cautionary tale, here's a song that not only makes laugh, it makes me want to floss. You won't find the Pogues lead singer's ugly mug in The Big Book of British Smiles anytime soon.

Happy Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Observing World AIDS Day

Since today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, "Happy" would definitely be the wrong greeting to put in front of the title.

HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus -- the virus that leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

HIV attacks the body’s immune system, our defense against infection and disease, and weakens it over time. A person who has HIV gradually loses the protection of his or her immune system and begins to experience health problems. These may be fairly small problems at first – skin problems or yeast infections – but over time the illnesses become more serious. The amount of time that it takes HIV to begin to affect a person’s health varies widely from one individual to another.

When a person is diagnosed with one of the serious illnesses or cancers which are “AIDS-defining,” the person is then said to have AIDS.

Since the early 1990s, the rate of new HIV infections has declined among men who have sex with men and among injection drug users. This is good news.

But in contrast, infections arising from heterosexual contact have risen steadily, from 13% in 1993 to 43.8% in 2003. And the greatest increase in new infections has been among young women, aged 15 to 29. At present, heterosexual transmission accounts for nearly 75% of all new infections in women.

Physiological differences between females and males – sex - place women at greater risk of infection. But social roles and cultural expectations - gender - are critical factors in women's heightened vulnerability to HIV infection. Because women often have less power - social, economic, political - than men in our society, it can be difficult or even impossible for many to refuse sex or negotiate safer sex.

Gender roles and stereotypes also hinder women's ability to manage HIV and AIDS-related infections. Women diagnosed with HIV tend to, according to Health Canada "have a lower survival rate than men" in part due to "late diagnosis and delay of treatment because of misdiagnosis of early symptoms; exclusion from drug trials and lack of access to antiviral treatment; lack of research into the natural history of HIV in women; higher rates of poverty among women and lack of access to adequate health care; and the tendency of many women to make self-care a lower priority than the care of children and family."

While women as a group are more vulnerable than men to HIV infection and AIDS-related illnesses, some populations of women face significantly greater risks. For example, HIV affects more than twice as many Aboriginal as non-Aboriginal women in Canada. As elsewhere in the world, women in Canada who are most disadvantaged and marginalized are also most vulnerable to HIV.

On the whole, policies and programs aimed at HIV prevention, treatment, care, support and impact mitigation have not focussed on, nor - in some cases - even taken account of the differential needs of women and the gender dimensions of the epidemic.

If you've made it this far, I'd encourage you to observe World AIDS Day by seeking out and supporting an organization committed to providing support for some of the more marginalized members of our society.

In Toronto, three excellent organizations that I know of are: Voice of Positive Women (www.vopw.org), The Teresa Group (www.teresagroup.ca) and Casey House (www.caseyhouse.com).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hot House for Consumer Confidence

I asked for a meeting with a big boss the other day.

He'd come to one of our regularly scheduled status meetings to give us a state of the nation address and he told us if we had any ideas about how things should be done differently, to come and see him.

Well, I had an idea.

So I pitched it to the big boss, and he liked it.

The idea is pretty simple -- no one understands the hearts and minds of consumers like advertisers. Our gift is our curse.

But maybe we can use our power for good. By gathering the collective intelligence and creativity of the agency, maybe we can help jolt a bit of consumer confidence into the economy. Grease the wheels. If people feel hopeful, they'll spend their money rather than horde it. And if they spend their money, not as many people will lose their jobs.

Things might still be bad....but they won't be as bad as they could have been.

I proposed we do it Hot House style -- write a simple Brief, and then get teams to power brainstorm ideas about how to make it happen. They don't have to be client specific. Who knows, we might even end up with a Ministry of Happiness, like our friends in Bhutan.

But the idea has another purpose, too.

People throughout the agency are scared as hell. Holding a Hot House for Consumer Confidence will help everyone around the agency move from feeling victimized by the economy and the looming threat of job loss to feeling positive and empowered.

If we're all moving powerfully in the direction of doing good, I know for sure that good will come of it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

There will be blood

I'm joining a gaggle of girls from my office for a screening of Twilight tonight.

If you haven't read or heard about the Twilight phenomenon, you've been in a sensory deprivation tank.

It's all anyone between the ages of 11 and 17 can talk about. And, apparently, between the ages of 17 and 47.

Why are we all so preoccupied with vampire love stories these days? Is it because we feel the markets are sucking the life out of us?

I like to get on board for these things, because there's something oddly soothing and reassuring about being a part of something. Even if that something isn't particularly good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, American Friends

In honour ...or rather I should say "honor"... of Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share some of the things I'm grateful for today.

I'm grateful that I'm in good health. I'm reading Philip Roth's novel, Everyman, in which his protagonist (an aging advertising type) grows older and more infirm. Roth explores illness with chilling precision. It's made me exceedingly grateful that I can wake up in the morning, leap out of bed, enjoy a full breakfast and take a vigorous walk to work. These simple pleasures are denied to so many folks.

I'm grateful that I have a job I love to do. While it lasts, I'm going to enjoy every minute of it.

I'm grateful that I'm enjoying my forties even more than my thirties. I like myself better now then I ever did....which is great, since I can't seem to escape me no matter where I go.

I'm grateful that I'm not a turkey.

I'm grateful that I work in an environment where we laugh loudly and heartily at least once a day. Usually way more than that. And usually not always at me, which is great.

I'm grateful that our neighbours to the south chose a leader who ran on a platform of positivism. Despite all the negative press about the economy, don't you just feel better knowing Obama is heading to the White House?

What are you grateful for today?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If...


If I suddenly grew an extra arm, the first thing I'd do is use it to hold my blow dryer.

I bet my hair would look fabulous every day, then. Although I'd probably have a hard time buying sweaters.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Metta

Boy oh boy did I find the perfect weekend antidote for time spent with mostly tortured advertising types: a Buddhist retreat with Sharon Salzberg.

I spent a good part of the weekend deep in the practice of metta meditation.

Metta is from the Pali world for "loving-kindness". There's a real structure to the way the meditation happens but it involves love without attachment. Love without dictating the outcome.

In my experience, it can be a transformative practice. Interestingly, one of the long term impacts of metta meditation is that it's thought to be an antidote to anger and fear.

I've been lucky enough to have had several instructions in metta meditation over the years -- including another by Sharon, herself -- and it never fails to make me feel better.

It seemed to work the same kind of magic on the group, too, who you might of guessed were the usual rag-tag group of Birk-wearing hippies and Bu-jews, the affectionate name for the Jewish Buddhists.

One person reported that after weeks of insomnia, she slept peacefully through the night on Saturday.

There's something about letting go that can do that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Be not afraid

So, as usual, it turns out there was really nothing to be afraid of after all. Funny how the anticipation of fear is worse than the fear itself.

The assignment calls for heart -- something that the largely male teams are struggling with -- so, by virtue of possessing a pair of ovaries apiece, we're already ahead of the game.

Despite the pressure and the lofty expectations and the big shoes to fill, my partner and I have managed to produce some good work, in a limited period of time, for a large and lovely iconic brand.

We even managed to survive a meeting with one of the greats in the industry yesterday. One of the real Mad Men. A true legend.

I think I'll need to sleep for a week when this is over.

Keep sending the good vibes. They're helping.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Freedom from fear

I'm up early this morning because I have that sick, uneasy feeling that comes from believing I'll never have a good idea ever again.

If nothing else, I hope fear is a big calorie burner.

I welcome you to send me your ideas, no matter how big or small. They don't even have to fit the Brief. Anything would look better than a blank page at this stage.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elevator Doors

I arrived at work at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

I was balancing my purse, computer, suitcase, mittens, ear muffs and coffee. I was feeling a little over-heated and frantic. Then something magical happened.

Someone held the elevator door open for me.

I like to see this as a metaphor for life. When I'm feeling overwhelmed, some divine presence reaches down and holds the door open for me. Or lets it close, because I wasn't meant to ride that elevator to begin with.

It's a good lesson to learn as we jet off to Chicago this afternoon.

Not feeling as frustrated now. Just grateful.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Job Opening: Catholic Church Spin Doctor


I took my Mother to mass at the Cathedral this weekend and found the following advertisement in the Church Bulletin.
November 25th. The Cathedral's young adult group (26-39 years) invites you to participate in faith formation, community service and socials. Guest Speaker for the next meeting is the rector of the parish, Father Mike. Topic: Suffering: Drinking the Cup of Christ.

I had to laugh.

I don't know Father Mike. He's probably a great guy. Well-intentioned. But OH MY GOD, does he really expect anyone to show up for this?

And the kids that do....bet they're right this minute ordering Proactiv off an informercial. Not to mention -- when was the last time anyone referred to the 26-39 year old demographic as young adults?

I think Father Mike could use my help, so I'm going to propose some titling alternatives. Take them or leave them, I think they'll be a bit more appealing to his target.

Jesus says, "Come in. Drinks are on me."

When life gives you a Vente cup of suffering, Christ'll make it a Tall

Suffering 911: Let Jesus be your 24/7 Emergency Operator

You think you've got it bad. Have you seen the guy on the cross?

The actors from that Twilight Movie are here and they want to talk to you about suffering.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hot House


I'll be in the Windy City for most of next week. I'm participating in something called a Hot House.

Barb, my great friend and best partner, and I know this exercise as Creative Fusion. We were involved in something quite similar in the Netherlands a few years ago.

It actually doesn't matter where they hold them, since you rarely see the light of day for these things. It's actually kind of cruel to organize one somewhere you'd actually like to visit.

The idea behind the Hot House is this: you bring creative teams together from different cities, give them all the same Brief, and then watch them go to town.

They Brief. We power brainstorm. We present. They cull the best. Then we go away and develop, develop, develop until there's a winner.

It's pretty stressful. It's a breeding ground for neurosis. But it's also really interesting.

As a creative team, you rarely get a chance to see how other people interpret the same Brief. It's fascinating to watch everyone try to solve the same problem.

When we did it in the Netherlands, there were maybe 100 ideas from 5 teams and no two were the same. That's pretty incredible.

Sure there's the occasional, "Wow, that's dumb." But there are also dozens of, "Wow, wish I'd thought of that." Bastards.

I fully expect to leave Chicago on Friday night feeling like I've been put through one of those old ringer washers.

Maybe I'll just have to go hang out in front of Obama's house for a little inspiration.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

See, this is what I'm talking about



Picture one was on the front page of The Globe and Mail's online edition when I came into work this morning. The headline read: Developed world in recession. Cue frazzled broker with head in hands.

I want to take the editor of every newspaper in North America, along with the wailing coyotes from CNN, and bang their heads together.

You're not helping!

Scaring people will only make it worse.

People are scared of: losing their job, keeping their job, losing their house, watching their house devalue, losing their retirement income, never being able to recover from this economic downturn and it goes on. And that doesn't even include the other scary things like global warming, rising cancer rates, and the Guy Ritchie and Madonna divorce proceedings.

And we all know what fear does. It immobilizes.

Remember how, immediately following 9/11, they repeatedly showed that horrific image of the second plane hitting the World Trade Centre? They did it for a couple of days until someone finally clued in and said: "Okay, we get it. But concentrating on the horror isn't going to fix anything. It just makes us afraid to leave our houses."

So here's what I'm going to do today.

I'm going to give some money away. Not a lot. But enough that I know I'm giving it.

You see, I've found that the more I give out, the more I get back. Funny how that happens.

Charities are the first to feel the pinch of discretionary spending cuts, so I'm sure I can find one that needs my money more than I do.

I'll bet you it works, too. I'll bet you that it comes back to me.

But you know what -- if it doesn't, that's okay too.

You see, I'd rather be a smiling kitten than a stock broker any day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Performance Appraisals


I got my formal performance appraisal yesterday and it was good. Seriously good.

So good that it got me to thinking: are they nuts?

I guess no one can tell that every time I get a Brief -- every time -- I think: what if my last good idea was just that: my last good idea.

So I work like hell to overcome it. Maybe that's what makes me good at what I do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More things I know for sure


It's easier to believe the bad stuff. Anyone with a voice box is calling themselves an expert on the economy these days. "Oh it's going lower," they'll say with absolute certainty, "and soon we'll all be pushing apple carts and riding the rails." No one knows what's going to happen and everyone is scared as hell. But what's the first lesson we learned during our Grade 3 fire drill? Don't panic. In fires, as in the economic downturns, survival depends on being the person who has the presence of mind to put wet towels around the door, instead of flinging the door open and running straight into the inferno.

Negativity requires less effort than positivity. Positivity means you need to invest in the solution, instead of blaming the past.

Molten chocolate lava cake is the best invention since the polio vaccine. If, or rather when I'm on Death Row, this will definitely be on my hit list.

Raisins are nature's candy. My office mates mocked me when I brought my mini-boxes of raisins to work. Then they all started eating them. Next up on the agenda: cat food.

Nothing is as good, or as bad as it seems. Buddha was really on to something with his whole "middle way" approach. Maybe that's why he was Buddha.

Scrub your iPOD of Tori Amos music. Unless you want to start cutting yourself with a rusty blade, there's no good reason to be listening to Tori Amos. Try ABBA instead. Your happiness-o-meter will go up exponentially.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Things I know for sure


If possible, be kind. It is always possible. I picked up this little chestnut from your friend and mine, the Dalai Lama. I figure if you can still be spouting off positivity like that after you've lost everything and your country's been stolen, maybe I can let the Cavalier pull in front of me without leaning on the horn like a psychopath.

Don't carry a balance on your credit card. The bank does not love you. They do not recognize you as a valued customer. They only raise your credit limit when you're getting close to it because they want you to carry a balance from month to month. Likewise with balance transfers. Interest charges are how they make a lot of money on you.

Beverley Hills Chihuahua isn't as good as the trailer makes it look. Surprise. Despite what you might think, there are no singing and dancing chihuahuas on the steps of Chichen Itza anywhere in the movie.

No matter how many times you go over it, you can't change the past. I know it's tempting to re-live the hurts of the past -- the thing you should have said, the thing that should have been said to you -- but truth is you can't change it. No matter how many times you go over the same scenario in your head, it'll work out the same way.

Happiness is an inside job. No one can give you what you don't already have.

You'll always run into your ex when you're having a bad hair day. It's one of the ways the universe helps us not take ourselves too seriously. You can help your case by promptly throwing out underwear with bad elastics, and not wearing anything that an entire other person could fit in with you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I heart my mortgage broker

I'd like to personally thank my mortgage broker for talking me into a variable rate mortgage.

My cautious and risk averse nature made me a natural for the fixed rate mortgage. If I'd listened to my fears, I'd be paying nearly 6% now.

Instead, my current interest rate is 3.1%. That's right. 3.1%!

I'm thinking of canceling the depressing, world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handcart, nay-saying newspaper and pumping the extra money into my mortgage.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday.

Thank God for Facebook. It's turned everyone's birthday into a giant love-in. You need never feel forgotten or unloved again.

Anyway, here are my wishes on my birthday.

1) That I will always remember what a great and wonderful life we are given to play with. That I won't needlessly create problems for myself. That I will choose happiness and serenity over offense and discord. That I'll just relax and enjoy the ride.

2) There's a place for doing good work but work, too, can become an addiction. I wish for balance in all things.

3) That the Yes We Can attitude sticks around for a bit. What a relief it is to feel like the world as we know it is has substituted fear and isolation for openness and possibility.

4) That I remember that it's more important to love well (and that includes loving myself) then to look for someone to love me.

5) That I remain healthy, happy, and at ease. And I wish this for everyone else, too.

6) That there are more great books to be read over the year. The geeky part of me is never happier than when I have a good book on the go.

7) That there are more vistas to explore and more countries to discover. Where next? Bhutan. Nepal. Tibet? Back to Australia.

8) That we have peace in our time. In honour of my birthday, I joined MSF's (Doctors without Borders) monthly giving program with a small monthly donation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can!

Don't you love it when the good guys win?

I can't remember the last time I felt this positive about where the world was going.

God Bless Barack Obama for wanting what is clearly one of the biggest, toughest and most thankless jobs in the world. And for embracing it with pride and dignity. And God Bless the real John McCain, who conceded with more grace than I have seen in a politician in a long time.

One of the art directors I work with is one of those glass half empty kind of dudes. Always pointing out what can go wrong. Even he, on this fine history-making morning, came in to work with a smile on his face saying, "I don't know. I kinda believe change might be possible."

Wow. Talk about harnessing your wagon to a star.

With our thoughts we make our world.

And while Barack Obama was winning a victory in the US, there was a contest of another kind going on in a tiny little area of our city. An advertising awards show.

Many of my colleagues from throughout the city were there. And many of them -- talented folks, all -- walked away with some awfully pretty and shiny awards.

But there were two that I'm really happy about, that I share with my good friend and best partner, Barb.

We won for UNICEF in the not-for-profit category. But we also won something bigger -- Best of the Best. A real surprise.

Although Barb couldn't be there -- because she was sitting on a beach in Hawaii, no doubt listening to election results -- she'd be happy to know that I screamed like a school girl, held hands with the account director, and skipped to the stage to collect our award.

Anything is possible. For the children of the developing world. For me. For you. Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's been the "white" house long enough.

In case you haven't heard, there's an election going on.

Our neighbours to the south are voting today. I don't think I've seen this much engagement from an electorate since the first full and free elections in South Africa. Hope they've got as many election monitors on the job, as well.

For your reading pleasure, I've excerpted one of the great speeches of all time. Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, we're free at last.

***

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."²

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!³

Monday, November 3, 2008

Rufus on this Monday Morning

There's no ambivalence with Rufus Wainwright. You either love him, or you cringe at the sound of his voice.

I love him. And I especially love this song: The Consort. Here are a few of the lyrics, along with a link to a shakily shot video of him performing it in concert.

Happy Monday. Be good to yourself, and each other.

Entrust in me
You're not alone
Even though my throne's slightly smaller than yours
Beautiful queen
Together we'll wreak havoc you and me
Together we'll wreak havoc you and me
Together we'll wreak havoc you

Prepare your things
Dissolve your mind
'cause I'm your consort beautiful queen
Of seventeen

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Favourite Aunts

The children's hospital that I do work for acknowledges a particular marketing segment called "favourite aunts".

These are women who don't have children of their own, but are deeply invested in other people's children. These are the people who take their Lean Cusines and disposable income and shop at Baby Gap. The baby's Mother, on the other hand, usually shops at WalMart.

I get favourite aunts because I am one.

My pseudo-baby is nicknamed Bub, and we spent a glorious Hallowe'en together.

Bub is a little over two and a half years old and she has a barrel full of personality and a shocking head of wildly curly hair. She seems to be learning about 100 new words every a day.

Her parents won the lottery with her. You couldn't design a better kid.

After a tense week, there's nothing better than arriving at a place and having an energetic toddler squeal and come running towards you with her arms uplifted. Nothing better.

So we took Bub out trick or treating for the first time.

Her parents live in a spirited neighbourhood -- no pun intended -- where every house competes to outspook the next.

There were front yards transformed into graveyards, a neighbour who'd hauled his electric piano out on to the front porch and was playing a decent version of Tubular Bells, and one house in which all the occupants were dressed up as characters from horror movies -- complete with a smoke and light show and a chainsaw (minus the chain).

It was a little overwhelming for a little Bub.

But it wasn't getting candy that impressed Bub. It was the giving that really tickled her fancy.

While somewhat shy and reserved as we went door to door, she turned into a carnival barker when we got back to their house.

She pulled her tiny chair on to the front porch and started screaming, "We have candy," at the top of her lungs.

The other kids came running. Dozens of princesses, a Ginny Weasley, a baby chicken and my favourite: a kid dressed like Bacon.

Dressed in her Curious George costume, Bub made monkey noises as she dished mini chocolate bars into waiting bags.

Later, as we all ate dinner, she fell asleep in her high chair. It's exhausting to have that much fun.

As I left on Friday night, I turned to her parents and said, "Thanks."

"What for?" her Mother said.

"For having Bub," I said.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Hobo Code

Welcome to the Great Depression done up all 2008 style.

In times of economic strife, marketing budgets are the first things that get cut.

The soft things -- things like building a company's brand -- get pushed to the back burner. Downward spiralling marketing budgets somehow reduce a company's appetite for the fun things in life, like paying a million bucks to watch a chimp bang a drum for E-Trade.

In publically held companies like mine, that means that showing a profit often means shaving the workforce. It's everyone's favourite way to show fiscal responsibility.

So, there were layoffs at the agency yesterday.

Ten people from different departments were let go. Two came from our group.

It's a surreal, sickening experience.

When 10 people are let go, it needs to be a well-timed exercise. And the HR gurus and the lawyers always reccomend that those on the receiving end of layoffs be "walked". They're afraid of corporate espionage.

So the shocked and disappointed workers are escorted out of the building like criminals.

But that's not even the worst part.

The Prez -- who's about as popular around here as George W., and has unleashed about as much carnage -- called a staff meeting in the middle of it all...before our people had even been told.

And then he did something even worse, he read out of the name of someone from another department who had lost his job. A gentle, wonderful soul.

Thing is, this friend from another department hadn't been told yet, either. He was on holiday. He found out that he was fired when his friends started text messaging him with the message, "Sorry to hear, Dude."

"Sorry for what," he said.

And that's how he heard.

Back in the days of The Great Depression, hobos developed a system of symbols -- often marked in chalk or coal -- that would provide information and warnings to other hobos.

A cat indicated that a kind lady lives here. A square missing its top line indicated that it was safe to camp in this location.

A box with a dot in the middle meant: danger, brutal man.

If I had any guts, I'd go mark the area outside the President's office.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Here's one for my gratitude list

I had a meeting with M, a Planned Giving officer at a major children's hospital, yesterday.

He spends his days talking to donors about leaving a gift to his charity in their wills It's not a job for everybody.

What makes him uniquely qualified to do this job is his personal situation.

He and his wife had a child with a rare genetic condition. She was treated at the hospital. Sadly, she passed away at only 7 months old.

Before he started fundraising for the hospital, M was a six figure executive in the auto industry.

Today he's devoted his life to honouring his daughter's.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And now for something no one's talking about: the economy


Okay, if I see one more picture of a broker with his head in his hands looking at the crashing stock market, I think I'm going to scream.

Can't they think of another stock image to show us that our retirement savings are entirely depleted? I know, how about a box of sad looking kittens? Or that scene from Jaws where the shark leaps up on the boat?

Like most people, I've been caught up in the tornado swirl of bad news and have been examining that little thing called: discretionary spending. Starbucks. Restaurant meals. The magazine I become engrossed in in the check out line.

No thanks, I think I'll pass. I'm Amish.

I read somewhere that one of the great early indicators of a declining economy is the rise in lipstick sales.

Why?

Well, it would seem that women, when unhappy, like to buy themselves something pretty. And when Manolo's are out of the question, a $10 tube of lipstick tends to do the trick.

Ten bucks you can justify.

Stock market tip #1: invest in L'Oreal.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

S.A.D.: AKA, it's only October and already I'm sick of winter

I don't think I'm ready for winter.

I'm trying really hard. I even bought a couple of coats on the weekend to prove it.

But not even fashion can keep the screaming meanies from the door. The shiver-me-timbers weather is getting me down.

You wouldn't expect this kind of reaction from a northern girl.

We're bread for ski-doo suits and muk-luks. Our childhood included at least half a dozen snow days every year. We're the last person you'd find with our tongues stuck to a frozen slide.

But I admit it.

I'm powerless over winter.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Counter Attack


It's in and it looks beautiful!

My Uruguayan friend -- whose partner lovingly calls "the slowest man on earth" -- slowly and painstakingly installed my new countertop yesterday.

There was the odd epithet decrying the Madonna, but all in all, it went seamlessly.

The spiffy new faux black slate laminate replaces the ugly, stained off-white, looks- like-it's-always-dirty laminate.

The result is pretty spectacular.

I can't stop wiping it off. Or looking at it under various lighting conditions.

Isn't it funny how we live with disagreeable things for so long, when a simple fix can make all the difference in the world?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Air Canada talks turkey to vegetarian


As I mentioned in a previous post, my flight from Hong Kong was punctuated by the unfortunate delivery of a turkey sandwich to replace the vegetarian meal that I'd ordered.

And, as you probably know, eating is about all you have to look forward to on these long haul flights.

You could easily watch 8 movies during this 16 hour flight -- and God knows you need the diversion to detract your attention away from the embolism that is forming thanks to your 2 inches of personal seat space.

During the second meal service, the flight crew accidentally delivered my lilliputian-sized veggie sandwich to another person.

Oops.

Accidents happen.

But here's the thing -- I wasn't even that fussed about it. I wasn't actually that hungry, and I knew there were easily two more meals to follow it.

I was sadder that I now had 8 more minutes of flying time to fill.

But it was the way they handled the mistake that made me bristle.

If only the offending flight attendant had owned up to it. If only she'd said, "Hey, this is what we did...and here's what we're doing to fix it," I would have been fine.

But attitude is everything...and the offending deliverer wasn't remotely sorry. Not even close.

She treated me like it was my fault. And she was rude.

It took another member of the flight crew to find me a small waldorf salad and a packet of cookies. Not exactly balanced nutrition, but the best they could do.

I'm normally not much of a formal complainer, but I took the initiative to write to Air Canada about it when I returned.

I told them that my Dad worked for Air Canada for 37 years and that I was actually flying on a reward ticket -- so clearly I bore no grudge toward the airline.

I told them what happened. And I told it without malice.

And you know what happened?

I got a really nice letter of apology from Air Canada, and 1,500 Aeroplan Points!

Wow!

So there. Saying my peace really worked.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

And then what?

While I was away, one of my high school friend's lost a family member. He died of a heart attack at just 51 years of age.

As Jack Kornfield says, "The trouble is, you think you have time."

All that planning for the future...when the only thing we really have is today.

Choose happiness. Choose serenity. Don't sweat the small stuff. Because you never know.

Life is short. Eat dessert first.

Staying in tune with this fact helps keep me focussed on the things that matter, without getting too caught up on the things that don't.

And God knows there are lots of things that don't.

I'm lucky. I spend more than 50% of my time on not-for-profit clients. I genuinely love my job. But traveling in Asia has reminded me of how much I enjoy living abroad and how happy I am when I'm working full-time for a cause I believe in.

"When I leave here," Don Draper said on Mad Men, when he was been lured by a competitive firm, "it won't be for more advertising."

I know how he feels.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's 4:30 a.m., what's for dinner?

I am Queen of the Jet Lag this week. At the mercy of the 12 hour time difference.

I crawled into the bath tub with my book about 7 p.m. last night and woke up as the pages were going under. Thank God for the quick save.

A recent study in hamsters showed that sildenafil (known commercially as Viagra) aided in a 50% faster recovery from shifts comparable to eastward travel experienced by humans and was effective starting at low doses.However, this use has not been tested in humans and is considered an off-label use by the drug's manufacturers.

I'm holding off on the Viagra for a bit.

I eked out an extra half hour of sleep from yesterday, though, so I figure I'll be sleeping through the night by the weekend.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vacation Memories


Favourite product spotted on vacation: Hello Kitty skin whitening cream.

Things that make you go "Huh?": The proliferation of teeth whitening salons in Bangkok catering to foreigners. Also, the advertisement on the front page of The Bangkok Times offering breast enhancement (about $1,000) and a sex change operation (about $1,600). Or you could probably get a deal if you do both.

Favourite Beach: It would have to be Koh Hong beach. On a deserted island, off the coast of Krabi. Deserted until the Indian film crew showed up to shoot a Bollywood dance number. I feel absolutely blessed to have been there!

Favourite new fruit: Dragon fruit. I don't know how I ever missed this, since I lived in Japan for two years, but dragon fruit really rocks my world. It's red and bumpy on the outside (like an artichoke gone bad) but inside the flesh is white, with edible seeds. It takes a litle like a kiwi. Delicious.

Favourite airline: Thai airlines. Thai and Singapore Airlines regularly battle it out for the world's best airline, and you can see why. During our two and a half hour flight from Krabi to Bangkok, we had more inflight service than our 16 hour Air Canada flight from Hong Kong to Toronto. Not to mention, the food on Thai was spectacular -- while Air Canada accidentally gave away my vegetarian meal and tried to slip me a turkey sandwich.

Best book read on vacation: The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux -- a stereotype-shattering novel about the experience of American travelers in India. I bought it in a book store in Bangkok after finishing the other three novels I'd brought with me, and what a page-turner!

Favourite purchase: A dress for this year's CMA Awards. For years I've admired the work of Japanese designer, Issey Miyake but balked at the price tag. His work easily commands thousands of dollars. Trust the good people of Bangkok to have knocked off the design...but at a greatly reduced price. It's now the most fashion forward number in my closet.

Most over-used Thai word: Ka. If they eliminated this word from spoken Thai, no one would say anything.

Favourite new royal family: the King and Queen of Thailand. Their picture is everywhere. If you haven't seen it, you haven't been to Thailand.


Where to next?
Bhutan. Nepal. Tibet. All on the hot list.

Monday, October 20, 2008

12 hour time difference

It isn't possible to feel any dumber, after my nearly 30 hours in transit yesterday. This morning I put a load of laundry in and realized, only after it was done, that I'd put a feather pillow in the wash.

I think I just figured out why the people on the Amazing Race make dumb decisions after they've been traveling for awhile.

Update is coming. But only after I've had more sleep

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Just another day for you and me in Paradise

I can't get that Phil Collins song out of my head.

Every morning I wake up to brilliant blue sunshine, look out at the ocean and hear the words, "Just another day for you and me in Paradise."

I suppose there are worse songs to have in your head.

One of them would be Celine's "My Heart will Go On," which was what was playing on the radio before we got on our boat to Ko Phi Phi island yesterday.

Just a note to boat operators everywhere...probably not a good idea to play the theme song from the Titanic before engaging in any kind of seafaring activity. It's a little like showing Castaway or Airport '99 on a plane.

Happily there was no capsizing -- no icebergs for thousands of miles. Just more incredible Thai scenery. Heaven on earth, folks.

We visited the incredible palm tree dotted white sandy beach where they filmed The Beach. Bad movie, but possibly the best beach ever.

And we snorkelled in some incredible coral reefs, where the fish were plentiful and friendly...attracted, perhaps, by the small pieces of watermelon that our boat operators were throwing over the side of the boat. Who knew fish liked watermelon?

Incredible.

This afternoon we're booked for a Thai cooking course.

We spent the first part of the afternoon learning, and the second part doing and eating. Sounds like a good deal.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hello from Paradise

I've been in some beautiful spots over the years, but I don't think I've ever been anywhere more beautiful than where I am right now.

We arrived last night, so I woke up this morning to the bluest sky I've ever seen and a view of a series of small, offshore islands dotting the horizon. All from our tiny veranda.

Our hotel is spectacular.

It's the last place on a mostly deserted stretch of white sandy beach on Tub Kaek Beach, about 40 minutes from Krabi.

Because it's technically the rainy season and a few governments have issued travel warnings about Thailand, the resort is operating at less than half of capacity.

The normally attentive Thai staff are even more attentive, if that's possible. All I need to do is raise my eyes from my book for half a second, and someone descends on me with an icy jasmine-scented towel, a jug of ice water or a fresh fruit plate.

Life is good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Best day ever!

Yesterday is one of those days that I hope will flash in front of my eyes when I die. I would certainly welcome the chance to re-live it again and again.

Here's what I did yesterday:

Drove into the mountainous region surrounding Chiang Mai. Incredibly beautiful.

Met the 34 rescued elephants that live at the sanctuary and heard their stories. They are heartbreaking -- injured by landmines, blinded, abused.

Each elephant has been brought back from the brink of death by the care and love of an amazing spitfire of a woman who they call "Lek". It means "small" in Thai.

Today the elephants are thriving...and Lek is an international advocate for animal rights.

I got to feed the elephants, walk beside them as they went down to the river, and get into the river beside them and scrub their backs as they rolled around.

Read this last sentence over again. What more can I say?


Oh ya...and I played with a baby elephant. If I wasn't me...I'd want to be me.

Today...off to the beaches.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Going Steady

Thailand and I are so in love. i think I want to marry it.

Seriously.

The entire country is full of smiley, happy people.

Smiling seems to be the national pasttime. I'm even smiling while writing this.

Don't have much time to post as I'm about to head off to an elephant sancturary where they rescue abused and orphaned elephants.

These are elephants who have been used for logging or who have been injured by poachers. The volunteers there give them a safe and happy place to live out their days.

Our friends in Bangkok told us about it. This sanctuary has been featured on the National Geographic channel.

Apparently we get to observe them (the elephants, not our friends) in their natural habitat, feed them their dinner, and even help wash them during bath time.

This is about as close to nirvana as I think I can get in this lifetime.

I'm thinking the elephants are going to freak when I pull out the 6 or 7 moves I still remember from Thriller!

Friday, October 3, 2008

I'm dancing as fast as I can!


Michael Jackson is a crazy mo-fo, but that boy can dance!

Here are some of the lessons learned during our Thriller dance off yesterday.

1) If you want the boys in the department to participate, hire a female teacher with a smoking hot body. Not only will they dance, they'll dance in the front line.

2) Doing something really hard and making it look easy (cue life lesson here) is a skill worth mastering.

3) While I was eating Wagon Wheels and watching 7 hours of TV a day in grade 7, I should have been taking dance lessons.

4) A few people got really hung up on how well they were doing, thinking that everyone was watching and critiquing their performance. Another big life lesson here -- you're not that important! Everyone else was too busy trying to learn their own routine to care!

5) You never know who can pull a butt shimmy out of their back pocket and blow you away.

6) The world needs more 80s music.

7) Physical activity is the best stress reliever there is. I slept like a baby last night.

***

I'm off on vacay, starting tomorrow, and will have limited access to the internet. I'll try to post periodically, to give you a taste of Thailand. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

TEAM OFFSITE SPOILER ALERT

Probably because I lack the dexterity to look away fast enough, I ending up on the planning committee for the office off-site.

The job of sourcing a venue and a secret team building activity fell to me.

Anyone whose been employed for longer than ten minutes has probably been to one of these.

Most of us don't just watch The Office, we live it.

In the past, you may have trustingly fallen backwards into the supportive arms of your co-workers. You might know that you're an ENFP. Or you may have learned how to take off your analytical hat and put on your creative hat.

Well, after tomorrow, my co-workers will have learned a a new skill to rival any of these.

Because you put me in charge, we're learning something we can really use.

I've hired a dance instructor and we're learning the Thriller dance.

There's actually some method in my madness. Bringing a group of people together -- especially a group with wildly divergent talents and skill sets -- is a bit of a dance to begin with.

Learning Thriller is a way to work as a team toward a common goal.

The strong will help the weak along. The "managers" will realize that the real talent lies in the corp. And we'll have fun and laugh like hyenas the whole time.

God I wish Barb was going to be here for this.

Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Choosing Serenity

As Dr. Phil says, "Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right all the time."

I've become acutely aware of how capable I am of creating more trouble for myself, so I've instituted a simple little procedure that seems to be working for me.

Whenever I'm faced with a choice or difficult situation, small or large, I ask myself, "What decision can I take that will lead to serenity."

It's remarkable how this clears the way.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You don't know Jack

I live in Jack Layton's riding.

Andrew Lang, the Liberal candidate in the riding, is a first time candidate. He worked for many years in Bill Graham's office. Graham was popular and smart...smart enough to stay out of the fray in the last Liberal convention.

I have a feeling that Andrew Lang might be taking it for the team in this election.

Jack's a popular candidate, and my riding -- Home of the Big Carrot -- is full of lefties. Rich lefties, but lefties nonetheless.

I think Jack'll win pretty handley.

I had a great and frank discussion with a Liberal canvasser the other night.

This guy practically admitted the Party had made a mistake with Dion. Suggested that Ignatieff was waiting in the wings to take up leadership after this election.

This is the blah-est election in history.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Consumer Confidence

My Dad would have loved this economic free fall.

He predicted the next Great Depression for as long as I can remember. He didn't just react to bad economic news, he went searching for it. It justified his fear.

The lesson was: if you're feeling good now, don't get used to it. The end is nigh.

I've been thinking a lot about my Dad these past few weeks because the anniversary of his death is coming up, and the pathetic fallacy of the Wall Street turmoil seems an apt vigil.

As for me, I tend to stay away from the news these days.

Maybe it's a little denial, but I really believe in that thing called "consumer confidence". If people think everything is okay, it'll be okay.

That doesn't mean you should buy a $500,000 home with 50 cents down and no money in the bank. It just means that you need to move beyond the immobilizing force of fear.

Attitude is everything: in life and in economics.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Songs for a Desert Island

Periodically while on long car trips or biding time in airport departure lounges, I'll turn to my traveling companion (who is hopefully someone I know) and ask him or her what songs they would take to a Desert Island if they only had a few choices.

I like to limit the choices to five, but I'll push it to six if the other person appears to be experiencing undue duress in narrowing down the songs.

We generally don't discus the reason for banishment to a Desert Island, although this topic in itself would be an interesting enough way to pass the time.

I've played this game with a lot of people over the years, and heard some really interesting choice.

One of my choices is always Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights, based on the novel of the same name. She wrote it and recorded it at only 19 years old. When this rose to #1, Kate Bush became the first female in the UK to top the charts with a self-composed song.

Every time I listen to this song, I hear something different. Some nuance that I missed the first time. Truth is I'd rather listen to it than watch it. Kate Bush is marvelously enigmatic, but is a bit witchy poo to watch for very long.

If you don't believe me, check out the awkward Don't Give Up video with Peter Gabriel.

Wondering what your songs would be?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Frolicking with Dinosaurs


I recently finished Carol Shields' first novel, Small Ceremonies.

It's a little gem of a book. A great, tightly woven story.

At the heart of the book is Judith Gill, a noted biographer, who is desperate to write fiction. In her failed attempt at creativity, she plagiarizes an idea.

Later, feeling remorse, she opts not to use it...only to discover that the only person who read her work in draft form -- a successful author (Furlong Eberhardt) suffering from writer's block -- has ripped off the idea that she's stolen.

Judith is incredibly affronted by the theft of her second-hand idea. So much so that she turns her analytical biographer's eye on the successful author, attempting to turn up some bit of dirt with which to publically humiliate him.

Now this is where the novel feels rooted in another era, even though it was only published in 1995.

Where does Judith go to dig up dirt on Furlong? The library.

That's right. It's 1995 PG. Pre-Google.

It struck me, as I was reading, how long it has been since I've actually sifted through real books to find information.

When I need information for my job -- oh, about 300 times a day -- I just open my browser and go.

I can find pretty much everything I need in a couple of clicks.

Back when I was working on my thesis and sifting through the uncollected short stories of JD Salinger, I knew the librarians by their first names.

We had to send away for the stories I needed. It often took weeks -- particularly since Salinger tried to block me from receiving them. (Claim to fame.)

They'd arrive either on micofiche or still in the magazine in which they were printed, and I'd pore over them while sitting at a desk in the library.

It really was another era.

There's a lyric in Jim Stafford's country classic, "I don't like spiders and snakes." It goes:

I think of that girl from time to time,
I call her up when I got a dime.


After hearing the song, my friend Catherine said, "You know, there's a whole generation of people alive today who've never experienced the ten cent phone call."

Yup. Cause they all have cell phones.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Winter Watch 2008


I saw a gaggle of Canada Geese flying in formation over the Bloor Viaduct this morning. Someone else in the office saw a few leaves turning brights shades of red and yellow.

It would seem, despite my fervent prayers to the contrary, that summer may well be over.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quotable


"After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon."

~ Perfume expert Tanya Sanchez answers the query, "What scent drives men wild?"

Friday, September 19, 2008

House and Garden Thai V


These days, when I'm not trying to sell people things they don't want or need, I'm planning an upcoming trip to Thailand.

My BFF and I have been planning this trip for awhile. We started talking about it a couple of years ago, and we booked our seats easily eight months ago in order to take advantage of reward mile redemption.

It's a landmark trip for us. A celebration of sorts.

But somewhere toward the beginning of September, there was a shake-up in the first democratically elected Government in Thailand since the military coup in 2006. Thailand's Prime Minister Samak Sundaravey was forced to step down.

The reason: he appeared as a celebrity chef on a cooking show.

The court decided that the PM's appearance on the show breached a conflict of interest law that forbids moonlighting.

The ongoing political crisis has seen a state of emergency imposed and then lifted, key airports shut down for short periods, and some half-hearted demonstrations that have been reported as "carnival-like".

It's hit the economy, and the tourist industry in particular, quite hard.

My BFF and I are so far undeterred.

Our friends in Bangkok assure us that it's business as usual in the capitol, and our own experience living and travelling in Africa (both through the Somali and Rwandan refugee crises) has refined our Spidey senses for danger.

We tend to avoid huge crowds of demonstrators anywhere.

I think everything's going to be okay. Maybe it's just denial.

Anyway, in case you're wondering what the Prime Minister made on the cooking show, here's one of his recipes:

Pigs' legs in Coca-Cola

Ingredients (serves five):
Five pig legs
Four bottles of Coca-Cola
Three tablespoons salt
Fish sauce
Garlic, chopped
See-uan (a sweet, dark sauce)
Four to five cinnamon sticks
Coriander root
Ground pepper
Five tablespoons "pongpalo" powder
Shitake mushrooms

Method:
Place the pig legs in a large pot. Pour over the Coca-Cola and bring to the boil. Add the coriander root, garlic, pepper, salt, fish sauce, "pongpalo" and cinnamon sticks.
Add sufficient water to cover. Cut the stalks off the Shitake mushrooms and add hot water to soften. Then add to the main pot. Bring to boil and simmer or at least three hours. Make sweet sauce with see-uan. Serve chilli and vinegar sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

St. Patrick

Have you ever met someone with whom you had an immediate spiritual connection? An unexplainable understanding? Someone with whom you just fit.

I am fortunate to have a few of these people in my life.

One is a guy I've known for nearly 18 years. I see him on average about once every couple of years. He often turns up during periods of change in my or his life.

Sometimes we see each other weekly during that period.

We get together and have completely intense, open, honest, frank and funny conversations. Then we go off to live our lives until next we meet.

He's someone I could call at 3 a.m. and I know he'd come running. He's got my heart's back.

The last time I saw him was at the airport. I was coming back from the east coast. My father was dying. He was heading to the east coast. His father-in-law was dying.

These parallels in our lives no longer surprise me. I just know, whenever I see him, that there's a reason. Something's up...and we need to talk about it together.

He contacted me again a couple of weeks ago and we had breakfast this morning.

We always go to the same place, and pretty much always order the same thing. He has the big, greasy eggs and sausage special and I have a warm-from-the-oven bran muffin.

We usually barely touch our food, because we can't stop talking.

Today was no different.

Anyway, here's to the agents of grace who exist for all of us...and to one of mine. Thanks for breakfast.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Well then do it your own damn self, then

In my personal life, I've made considerable progress in staying out of people's business. Not interfering when someone could and should be doing something for themselves.

It wasn't always that way.

Used to be that every bird with a broken wing was target for saving. Just a glimmer of helplessness or whiff of struggle and I was at your doorstep ready to help -- well, take over and do it for you.

It wasn't very helpful. Not helpful for the little bird and definitely not helpful for me.

The little birds never learned how to fly. How could they, with Mama Bird hovering so menacingly overhead shouting instructions? And Mama Bird (that be me if, if you're following the metaphor) just grew more resentful that all this well-meant assistance wasn't followed to the letter.

Well I told you how to do it and you didn't listen to me...what's wrong with you?

Sound insane? It was. And it is, periodically.

You see, while I've made considerable progress in my personal life, I sometimes struggle with this same phenomenon in my work life.

I have an entire department of little birds to manage. Some are more frequent flyers than others. Some are nursing a broken wing or a an ingrown claw.

In the dance I do between being a worker bee and a manager, I sometimes need to be directive about what needs to be done. I need to give flying instructions.

It's my least favourite part of the job, because it triggers my saving instinct.

If I see a little bird about to fall out of the nest and take the rest of us with him, I need to say something.

It's not always possible to let someone learn for themselves on the job.

So I ponder this question: When the little bird is chirping "helpless" but doesn't take the assistance that's given...what do you do then?