Monday, December 21, 2009

Brittany Murphy

Actress Brittany Murphy died yesterday.

The media is calling her cause of death "natural causes", although one can hardly call death at 32 natural. How sad and senseless.

Whatever her cause of death -- and I'd hazzard a guess that she may have had a heart attack as the result of an eating disorder, given some of the scarily thin pictures I've seen of her -- I'm pretty sure that she didn't go to bed thinking, "Hey, bet I won't wake up tomorrow morning."

I wonder what she would have two days ago, yesterday, last week, or this year, if she knew that yesterday was going to be her last day on earth.

What would you do?

What would I do?

For the most part, we take the miracle of life for granted. Death is something that happens to other people. Our own death, if we happen to contemplate it at all, is something for far in the future at a time when, hopefully we won't even be there for it.

We fill our heads with such nonsense. We complicate our lives. We clutter instead of simplifying. We perpetuate chaos -- rarely awakening to the truth, which is that each moment we have on this little blue-green planet is a gift to be used wisely. Not squandered.

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

Time's up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Flaming

I saw the Olympic Flame this morning. It was closerthanthis. The flame that started its journey in Greece passed over the Bloor Viaduct while I was making my way to work. It was thrilling.

Yesterday, it passed right by where I work at Yonge and Bloor -- carried by Ivan and Jason Reitman, Roberta Bondar and some big deal Bollywood guy who flew specifically for the relay.

This morning the guy carrying it was busting with pride. I think he was just a regular guy who was having the most extraordinary morning of his life. He had a grin as wide as the Don Valley Parkway. He looked at me with a "Can you believe this?" look on his face.

I have to say, I teared up a little.

Despite the fact that I've lived outside this country for prolonged periods of time, I'm 120% all-vegetarian-beef Canadian. I love this country to my very marrow. I couldn't be prouder to carry a passport with a maple leaf on it. And I couldn't be prouder that the flame is making its way west and that the rest of the world will see the place we call home.

Go Canada -- our true north strong and free.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Boss Day

After nearly eight years at the helm, the GM of my division has decided to call it quits.

Her departure didn't surprise me too much. While she's always put on a brave face, it's been a tough economic year. Financial stresses and the pressure to downsize can wear a person down.

Many people find themselves, at the end of 2009, doing parts of jobs that didn't really belong to them at the beginning of the year. I know what they're talking about. I could probably moonlight as an Account Director if the need arose.

Anyway, the new boss (who weirdly shares the old GM's surname) starts today.

I was thinking about her as I got ready for work this morning. Having a new boss is like having a new job. You pretty much need to prove yourself all over again.

But I bet she feels the same. The first day at a new place is a little like the first day at a new school. Everyone already knows each other, and you're the one trying to find someone to play with. And like most new schools, the first person who runs up to you and tries to be your friend is probably the person you need to avoid the most. The lessons we learned in the school yard can pretty much be applied to work in general.

So I did a Lovingkindness Meditation for the new boss -- wishing her well, so that she has a good day, feels welcome, and can make a positive impact on our work place.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Take that, 2009

Our agency Christmas card went out yesterday. It's pretty awesome.

We sent all our clients an '09 pinata filled with candy (complete with mask and pinata stick). Anyone sick and tired of doing more with less in this limping economy is invited to beat the living shit out of the pinata. And, in case you're wondering where we found an '09 pinata, you'll be amused to know it's actually a 60th birthday pinata...reversed. See, I told you we were creative.

You can play with the online version yourself right here. See, don't you feel much better.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Finding money

If you see change on the street, do you pick it up? Does it depend on the denomination?

I wasn't raised by Depression era babes for nothing. I am genetically programmed to pick up anything I find -- pennies included. Not only that, but I can't help reciting this little verse at the same time:

Find a penny
pick it up
and all today
you'll have good luck.

I found a penny on the sidewalk on my way to work this morning and as I bent to retrieve it, I amended my little ditty to this:

Find a penny
pick it up
and all today
you'll have H1N1.

Please come and visit me in the iron lung.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Good night, Jim Bob

Call me crazy, but I think the time is ripe for a Walton's revival.

While waiting for my beautiful desk to arrive, the clicker got stuck on Vision TV and I watched an episode from the series that ran between 1972 and 1981.

It's the one where the kids get together to send Mama and Daddy on the honeymoon they never had when they got married 20 years previously, and Grandpa sells his civil war penny to make up the difference.

While John and Liv are enroute to Virginia Beach, all hell breaks loose at home.

A skunk gets in the house, the youngest two girls develop colds and John Boy gets a dislocated shoulder. Moreover, Mama can't really relax because she actually loves being a Mama so much that she's itching to get home. The clincher is when she calls store owner Ike Godsey to find out how everything's going and he spills the beans about John Boy.

I'm not ashamed to tell you that I cried when Mama got home after driving through the night, took one look at the mess in the kitchen, slapped her apron on and got to work.

I think the Great Recession of 2009 could use a TV family to teach us a few moral lessons about sticking together.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Birth Announcement: Mama's got a new desk






















I finally bought a new desk on the weekend.

With any luck, it will be delivered and assembled (thank you, baby Jesus) in two to three weeks.

I love that I don't need to learn how to read Swedish hierogylphics in order to assemble it myself.

I haven't had a proper desk since moving into my place. In fact, I've been working on an awkward and fairly awful semi-circular table while sitting on a chair that's pretty much a magnet for lumbar damage.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Bliss is Back

The hardest part of a silent meditation retreat is easily the day it ends. Re-entry is tough. After a week of relatively little stimulation in a scent free environment, it's like the whole world is one particularly loud Lush store.

So I breathe in and out.

One of the lingering effects of my mindfulness retreat is this: I haven't had a cup of coffee or any kind of caffeinated beverage for over a week and a half.

Surprisingly, I didn't have any headaches coming down off the stuff and, while I really do love the taste of coffee, my body feels a lot calmer without it.

I'm not sure I'll keep off it. Coffee is such a pleasure...and frankly, it's pretty much a necessity in the business I work in. How else am I going to pull the late hours on numerous deadlines?

But for now, I'm enjoying being caffeine free. Like that new Coke.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Tomorrow is my birthday, but I fear I won't be able to post. You see, I have 3 client meetings, a vacay download, and a lunch to fit in to an 8+ hour day.

That's okay. Because you know that vacay feeling? It can carry you through pretty much anything.

I was thinking earlier about what, if anything, I wanted for my birthday and I really couldn't think of a thing. Okay, I lie: maybe the Glee soundtrack. But other than that, I have everything I need -- physically and spiritually.

It feels like a good birthday, this year.

I'm happier, more contented and more "me" then I've ever been.

If this is what aging means, I'll take it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Okay, who came up with the idea of multi-tasking anyway

This morning I was nearly run over by someone who was walking and reading a book.

How can that be possible? Or even desirable?

Reading seems to be something that happens in a sitting position or maybe even a standing position while holding on to a transit pole. But walking? How could that be any fun? And how much would you actually retain.

It reminds me of the guy I saw biking and texting this summer. Both activities individually have their merit. But together? It really seems to invite some kind of accident involving a double back handspring over a car hood.

It has me thinking about how we (yes, me too) don't ever seem to be satisfied with doing a single thing at one time. We need MORE things at one time to feel like we're actually accomplishing something.

Like eating and watching TV. Or talking to someone and checking my Blackberry at the same time. Or going for a stroll while listening to music through my headphones.

But the trouble is, when you do more things at one time, you actually don't give anything thing your full attention.

So if you're reading and walking, you might get where you're going, but you have no recollection of the journey.

The Zen masters said it best.

When you sit, sit. When you eat, eat.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pet Peeves


The topic today is Pet Peeves.
Overcoming them, not basking in them.

So go ahead. Why don't you:

Eat with your mouth full.
Talk during the movie.
Smack your gum.
Tap you finger on the desk.
Move back and forth on the squeaky chair.
Not return my call.
Return my call at an inopportune time.
Squeeze that.
Pick at that.
Arrive late.
Clear your throat.
Not use a tissue.
Make more noise.
Eat off my plate.
Make me late.
Arrive while I'm still getting dressed.
Not invite me.
Cancel plans.

Because even if you stop doing these things, I'll just find other things to get irritated about.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tyrone

The guy at the front of the line at Cabbagetown's Tim Horton's was big. But his friend was even bigger.

They were both wearing bomber jackets that said SECURITY in big red letters across the back. They were easily 6' 6".

His friend looked like he could have bench-pressed me without breaking a sweat. His bald head glistened. I might have crossed to the other side of the street if we'd met after dark.

Yet when front of the line guy turned to his buddy and said, "What can I get for you, Tyrone?", Tyrone said, "Peppermint Tea."

"Anything else?" his friend asked.

"A bran muffin," Tyrone replied.

I thought my heart was going to burst out of my body.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Toxic Avenger

Toronto audiences are in for a real treat. I saw a preview performance of the quirky, fun and madly entertaining The Toxic Avenger at the Danforth Music Hall last night.

I didn't know what to expect. I knew almost nothing about the musical and I was actually going under duress. It had been a sleepless night and I was dying to go to bed early.

Boy oh boy I'm glad I sucked it up and went to the theatre.

Easily one of the most entertaining nights I've spent at the theatre in a long, long time. And a cast of phenomenally talented world-class performers.

I'd go again. It's that good.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What my brain needs

What my brain needs: sleep.

What my brain got: a night of tossing and turning and mulling over every idea in the sun.

This is the price I paid for too many projects, with not enough time to do them. And concern for a friend who needs some love at the moment.

Today, I can already tell that my brain is going to need a caffeine cattle prod.

Send me positive vibes. And a Tim Bit.

Much obliged.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Countdown to Buddhist Camp

I have ten more working days before I go on silent meditation retreat.

My body is craving the silence, although I've been trying to train for the inevitable physical effects of actually sitting for prolonged periods of time.

On one of the Zen meditation retreats I went on, the abbot would actually walk behind the sitting meditators and, if requested, whack us on the shoulders (kind of like violent shiatsu) with a long stick to help release some of the tensions from sitting. It worked. You'd be surprised how much you look forward to that kind of thing if you've been sitting for a long time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

This Is It

Entertainment Weekly has dubbed the new Michael Jackson documentary: Dead Man Moonwalking.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Devil Creates The September Issue


Doc Soup opened with The September Issue -- the story of the creation of Vogue's behemoth fall issue of the magazine.

The woman at the helm is, of course, the darkly famous Anna Wintour. She was famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada -- and justly famous for her severe pageboy haircut and the fact that she often wears dark sunglasses indoors. She eats her minions for breakfast.

But the emotional heart of the magazine, and of RJ Cutler's insightful documentary, is Vogue fashion editor Grace Coddington.


Coddington and Wintour started at Vogue on the same day twenty years ago, so the film is as much about their sometimes respectful, sometimes adversarial relationship as it is about the creation of the product. It's a relationship that probably makes the final product as good as it is.

If you're an art director, or someone who appreciates the nuance of styling, you'll love watching Coddington work. After 40 years in the business, she's still as passionate and fiery and excited about the artistic process as we presume she was on day one. When Anna rejects one of her spreads, it's as if she's reached in and tugged Grace's heart clear out of her body.

We've all been there.

The filmmaker RJ Cutler asked for and received unprecedented access to the hallowed halls of Vogue, along with complete creative control.

Even if you only ever shop at Joe Fresh, you'll love this movie. In the end, it's about how you keep something fresh and exciting and relevant, year after year and issue after issue.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bay City Rollers

If you don't remember the Bay City Rollers, you can stop reading this now. You are too young for me. I want to drink your blood and suck out your youthful life force.

The truth is that I remember the Bay City Rollers all too well.

They were the Jonas Brothers during my pivotal and emotional spin through Grade 8. The best thing to come out of Scotland since deep fried Mars bars, single malt whisky, and emotional unavailability.

They were the reason I wore jeans lined with tartan.

This morning at Starbucks, the barista recounted how she'd cracked a rib climbing over the barricade at CHUM, while trying to maul the objects of her desire. The Bay City Rollers were bigger than Scottish Jesus. They were the next best thing to sliced haggis.

My sights were set on handsome lead singer, Les. I loved him best of all.

Handsome. Smiley. An excellent speller. He was all my pimply teenage heart could imagine as a perfect partnership.

Where is Les now, you might ask?

Well you probably wouldn't be surprised to hear that after 30 years of living a secret gay lifestyle, Les checked into rehab. His bill was footed by a reality show. I think he's sobered up now.

If you're not doing anything on July 23 and 24, 2010, we can take a road trip to the official Les McKeown Fan Fest in (wait for it) Savannah, Georgia.

According to his fan site, the weekend will include a buffet dinner, a raffle, and a full length concert featuring Les and his legendary band.

Please come with me. Here's a teaser of what you might hear.

Monday, October 19, 2009

O Christmas Tree

I'm planning to put up my first Christmas tree this year. My first all-by-myself Christmas tree. If you play your cards right, I'll invite you over to help me decorate it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Blurring the Lines

Twice this week, my Spidey senses have tingled at something I've seen in the media.

The first was a joyful little viral video in which a group of suspiciously good-looking office workers in a boring day at the office used their laptops (and not just any laptops -- APPLE laptops) to do a group rendition of that BSB classic "I want it that way".

In case you're up in the air like Balloon Boy and haven't seen it yet, you can see it here.

I'm not 100% sure -- but I'd put money on this being a viral marketing stunt.

Office 2009 for MAC was released this week. What better way to get some good-natured attention than showing a bunch of cute twenty-somethings having fun in their windowless office? (Really...watch the video. What kind of work could they possibly be doing there? Even call centres give their workers the dignity of veal fattening pens.)

The second stunt proved me right within hours.

Yesterday, mid afternoon, every news source was abuzz with the story of an escaped weather balloon that may have contained a six-year old boy named Falcon. (First clue!) It was too bizarre to be true.

As the afternoon unfolded, facts about Balloon Boy's parents began to emerge -- notably that they were high-adrenaline storm chasers and that his Mom had appeared on Wife Swap.

And when the balloon came down in a farmer's field (minus Balloon Boy) the child magically appeared after apparently hiding in the attic all afternoon.

Then, last night on Larry King Live, Balloon Boy's family appeared and the little lad accidentally spilled the beans.

"We did it for the show," he said. You can watch the interview here.

I don't know what this says about us as a society -- aside from the usual "we're going to hell in a handcart". But it certainly makes me question the source of the messages I'm receiving.

To leave you with something "real" but no less incredible, check this out. It really happened. A baby survived after being run over by a train. It's incredible.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

Happy Blog Action Day, Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day.

The issue: climate change.

The heat is on our troubled little blue green planet and as world leaders gather in Copenhagen in December to discuss a global response to climate change, the time has come to take bold action.

Actually, the time came a long time ago. But we're just now listening to it. We're slow learners that way.

If you're like me, and wonder what little old you can do to make a big impact on the world as you know it, try out some of these ideas I lifted from Mr. and Mrs. Clever Pants over at "Scientific American". (Now there's a group where you wouldn't expect the Chicken Dance at their Christmas party.)

They're simple and they can make a difference.

Move Closer to Work—Transportation is the second leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (burning a single gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2). But it doesn't have to be that way. One way to dramatically curtail transportation fuel needs is to move closer to work, use mass transit, or switch to walking, cycling or some other mode of transport that does not require anything other than human energy.

In the "yay me" category, I drive a 2001 Suzuki Swift with 30,000 km on it. I walk to work every day of the year or take the TTC when the temps dip to -25C or below. On the "boo me" front, I love airplane travel.

Consume Less—The easiest way to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions is simply to buy less stuff. Whether by forgoing an automobile or employing a reusable grocery sack, cutting back on consumption results in fewer fossil fuels being burned to extract, produce and ship products around the globe.

Unplug—This is an easy one. Believe it or not, U.S. citizens spend more money on electricity to power devices when off than when on. Televisions, stereo equipment, computers, battery chargers and a host of other gadgets and appliances consume more energy when seemingly switched off, so unplug them instead.

Be Efficient—A potentially simpler and even bigger impact can be made by doing more with less. Citizens of many developed countries are profligate wasters of energy, whether by speeding in a gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicle or leaving the lights on when not in a room.

In the "boo me" category, I sometimes leave a light on in my bedroom while I'm watching TV in my living room. That's going to change.

Good driving—and good car maintenance, such as making sure tires are properly inflated—can limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from a vehicle and, perhaps more importantly, lower the frequency of payment at the pump.

Similarly, employing more efficient refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances, Such efforts can also be usefully employed at work, whether that means installing more efficient turbines at the power plant or turning the lights off when you leave the office.

By the way, if you have a Blog and you haven't signed up for Blog Action Day, it's not too late. Do it here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The power of prayer

Do you feel better if you know that someone else is thinking about you?

How about praying for you?

Another of the little tidbits I picked up from my weekend reading was this: patients who are prayed for (whether they know about it or not) get better faster than those who aren't. Or at least that's what David Shields believes.

The author cited a 1988 study as the basis for his hypothesis.

But I did a little searching this morning and found the scientific results questionable.

Some later studies suggested no change in clinical outcomes for patients who were prayed for. Sceptics claimed that prayer made no difference whatsoever.

But, as someone noted, "The contribution that hope and belief make to a personal understanding of illness cannot be dismissed so lightly." There's positive thinking again.

And what is prayer, if not whispered hope?

Dr. Chairmaine Griffith from the British Heart Association concurs that, "Further evidence is emerging that people who have a more positive outlook appear to be less affected by stressful events, such as surgery."

I'm thinking about prayer because I attended 7 a.m. mass at St. Michael's this morning. Not for me, but for a colleague's father who is undergoing open heart surgery this week.

I'm hoping it helps. It can't hurt.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The thing about life

I picked up an engaging little book last week and devoured it over two sittings. It's called, "The thing about life is that one day you'll be dead."

It's a meditation on life, aging and death, with equal parts scientific fact (what happens to our bodies as we age) and biography thrown in for good measure.

The author, David Shields (who, among other things, has written for the Village Voice and therefore springs from that New York Neurotic school which I love) explores the human animal's fate here on earth while trying to make sense of his complex relationship with his 97-year old father and his deep love for his athletic daughter.

It's a page turner -- and somewhat sobering -- because you're confronted with your own attitudes to your aging self on every page.

Because let's face it. We're not getting any younger.

This well-researched little tome collects quotes from other of life's meditators -- everyone from Cicero to Woody Allen. What philosopher hasn't pondered life and death?

But one of my favourites was this one attributed to Jackie Kennedy Onnasis. She said, "If I knew I was going to get cancer at 65, I wouldn't have done so many sit-ups."

I like that. It never gets old.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Gratitude

Things I am thankful for today:

1) A gorgeous sunny day.

2) A perfectly foamy latte from Second Cup, served to me by the girl who always tells me I smell good.

3) Smelling good.

4) The end of a hard fought week, where every woman in my department (if not the entire agency) appeared to have been stabbed with the PMS hormone pen.

5) The glow of Glee.

6) The thrill of a plane ride tomorrow, over the autumn bright tree tops of northern Ontario.

7) The possibility of more travel.

8) Feeling sure that everything's going to be alright, even when it's not at any given moment.

9) Being okay with powerlessness.

10) The prospect of moving to a brand new office on a different floor with an amazing view.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

WWND

I'm having lunch today with a woman who has been very instrumental in my life and in my career choices. I often think about her when I'm faced with a difficult decision or asked to solve a problem involving complex personalities at work.

WWND. What would Nancy do.

There are a few phrases I associate with Nancy.

One is, "I don't read minds." Talk about a simple and effective way to communicate to your staff that if they have a problem they need to communicate to you, it's probably a good idea that they come and talk to you directly rather than trying it in the court of public opinion.


Nancy is also a big proponent of the "full and frank exchange of views", despite the fact that she's schooled in the fine art of diplomacy. She has an unshakable moral code.

She's suspicious of the the next big wow new thing, too, because she comes from sturdy Protestant stock and has a good grounding in the classics. To this day I always laugh when I hear the Unitarians mentioned in conversation. I can almost hear Nancy's voice calling them "the Church of what's happening now."

I've travelled in Africa a few times with her. She always has gin in a little flask and manages to find tonic wherever she is. For the malaria, of course.

She is one of the smartest and warmest and most caring women I know. She was successful in business at a time when few others were. And she's generously shared everything she ever learned with every woman who ever worked with her.

I gush. But I love her.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's all about We

I spent yesterday celebrating We Day with 16,000 of my closest friends at the ACC.

We Day, if you don't know, is the brainchild of those uber energetic Kielburger kids.

Craig Kielburger started the organization Free the Children when, as a boy of barely twelve, he read a newspaper article about a child his own age who'd been forced into child labour and brutally murdered. His brother Mark is no less impressive. He's a Rhodes scholar and counts a couple of honourary doctorates to his name.

Their parents must be back-slapping each other a million times a day at the thought of spawning two kids with such extraordinary humanitarian leanings.

Both boys are hovering around thirty now, which is posing an interesting dilemma for an organization that hinges on being run by and for youth.

The philosophy of the Me to We Movement, which the Kielburgers champion, is quite simply this: if you stop thinking about yourself for a change and channel your energy into the greater good, there's no telling what we can accomplish together.

What they're saying isn't new, but it's never really been packaged in this way and delivered to youth in exactly this fashion.

I like to think of it as Buddhism Light. Social activism with a little Oprah, Degrassi and Jonas Brothers thrown in for good measure.

Yesterday's We Day was the biggest one yet.

I was there the first year, but missed last year, so I was astonished at how large it has become. And I have to say that I'm growing just a titch concerned about corporate involvement.

Fancy that, an advertiser growing concerned about corporate involvement!

The event -- which lasted from about 9 to 3 -- featured a series of inspirational speakers and a few (too few, if you ask me) musical acts and entertainers.

The thing is -- and this is where I'm growing concerned -- is that every one of the major sponsors got a few minutes to address the kids with their own Me to We message.

So Heather Reisman got a change to let the throngs know that they could buy Elie Weisel's book at Indigo, the book store chain that she owns. And a few other profiteers got to deliver their own messages while their logos were projected bright and large on the jumbo screen behind them.

I don't know about the kids, but I was beginning to feel that a large part of this event seemed to be designed to appease the sponsors.

Look, I know that it's REALLY expensive to put on an event like this. And I know that it's virtually impossible without the partnership of caring companies, but...bigger isn't necessarily better.

While most of the sponsors seemed to be nice people, genuinely interested in doing some social good, I'm not sure there particular brand of philanthropy was really suited for a group of high schoolers.

It was as fair as pre-Christmas toy advertising to the Saturday morning cartoon set.

The high schoolers responded to the "real" leaders -- the Pinball Clemens and Elie Weisel's who, despite their age, matched the youth in their energy, enthusiasm and open-heartedness.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fight Back


My Father died three years ago today on what would have been his birthday. He had cancer. Lymphoma.

This week, my agency launched a campaign (the creation of which I had a small part) for the Canadian Cancer Society. You can see it here.

If you've got the heart for it, I'd suggest you scroll down to the right of the site and watch the TV spot called Fight. It's 2 minutes and 40 seconds long, so it's not going to get a lot of play on air, but we're hoping it'll make the rounds virally.

The important thing to note is that no one in that Fight spot is an actor.

Every single person who appears in any one of these spots is an ordinary Canadian whose life has been touched by cancer. With 2 of 5 Canadians developing some form of cancer in their lifetime, they aren't hard to find.

We put out the call and people came. Some of them came straight from their chemo appointments. Others had to be helped into the audition rooms. There were mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. There were patients and physicians, researchers and kids barely out of high school.

Even I auditioned for that spot. It was one of the few times I've ever told the story of the day my Dad died. When I was done, I went back to my car and cried like a baby.

The two burly creative guys who worked on this spot are crazy talented. They're more accustomed to selling credit cards and motor cars, then creating a movement against cancer. Yet both of them have said their lives are permanently changed by the experience of staring cancer straight in the eye.

I know I can say the same.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Word to your Street Mama


One of the reasons I love documentary filmmakers (aside from the obvious: I have a thing for forgotten and lost causes) is their dedication to a subject despite any kind of support or financial compensation. A belief that a story deserves to be told.

For every Michael Moore out there, there are a thousand struggling filmmakers with a shakey handheld and a pocket full of principles.

It's the same with authors.

For every book that manages to make it on to the shelves at Indigo (and make no mistake, making it on to the shelves at Indigo is akin to winning the lottery, if you're a bookie) there are, I'd venture to say, millions of others who are filling notebooks with their writerly musings, waiting for the day when they can share their story with the world.

That's one of the reasons why I love Word on the Street, Toronto's annual book and magazine festival.

It's not just the chance to see the big names -- literary divas like Margaret Atwood and Bonnie Burnard -- it's an opportunity to open a window into a contemporary literary scene that includes the smallest niche magazines and the poorest self-published authors.

I'll be honest -- some of it is crap -- but some of it sings with the voice of angels.

And whether you love it or hate it, everyone's there for the same reason. Our lives have been changed or enhanced because of something we've read. And we're venturing it can happen again.

Dylan Thomas was talking about poetry but he could easily have been talking about any kind of literature when he wrote:

A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him.


That's why you'll see people at Word on the Street that you won't see at other festivals. Quieter people. Librarians. People who get lost in bookstores. Scrabble champions. People who are alternately sceptical and excited about the "Where the Wild Things Are" movie. My people.

I've been out of town for the last few festivals, so I was happy to be back. Word to your mama.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A little musical interlude

Close your eyes. Wishing you peace and harmony. So I give you this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Changeover

I have a summer purse and a winter purse. This morning I changed over. I feel like I'm committing to fall. Well....at least I'm committing to something!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The cupboard is bare

Due to travels out of town this past weekend and being out for dinner the last two nights, my cupboard is bare.

Really bare.

So I've been snacking on things with questionable expiry dates and grateful for the frozens that I stored when my bounty was fuller. You know you've reached a new personal low when you eat rice cakes smothered with tahini for breakfast.

While I was able to MacGyver together a reasonable lunch for today -- leftover chili, the last of the frozen mango, the lone remaining single serve yoghurt and a handful of dried apricots -- it all went horribly wrong when the bottom gave out of my lunch bag on the way to work.

My chili spilled all over the street, like there had been a gangland killing.

It would have been funny. Especially if it was happening to someone else.

For the first few seconds after it happened, I vainly tried to salvage some of the remnants. Then, thinking better of it, I just scooped it up and threw everything - tupperware included - in someone's garbage can.

I guess I'm buying my lunch today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Big time sensuality

"It takes courage to enjoy it.
The hardcore and the gentle."

So sings Bjork of Swan dress fame. Courage is an interesting word for it.

I've been thinking a lot about sexuality recently - my own and other people's. And thinking is probably what's getting me in trouble.

Maybe I should do it more and think about it less.

I watch with awe as many of my close friends romp with abandon. Yesterday I had two conversations with two entirely different people about their freewheeling sexual escapades.

I want to go to there. I don't judge them. I'd actually like to be them.

I wish, wish, wish I could feel physically free enough to have casual, consensual sex but I feel physically and emotionally blocked when I even think about it.

I don't know if it was repeated viewings of Audrey Hepburn in A Nun's Story as a child, the Scottish Presbyterian influence of my albino great grand parents, or that I'm just one of those animals in the zoo who mates for life.

I'm about as likely to become polyamorous as I am to become a professional hockey player/serial killer.

The thing is that once you do get me in bed, I'm all yours. 110% of flaming Scorpio passion. There's nothing I won't try.

But getting there means I need to trust you emotionally before I let you in.

This kind of nips one night stands in the bud.

The couple of times I've tried it without the emotional connection was about as erotic as doing it with a bug zapper.

I'm actually thinking that I might do well with taking one of those "Learn to strip so you can do it for fun and profit" courses at some safe space like the Women's Bookstore.

It couldn't hurt to unlock my inner passion. Plus, they'll probably serve tea and sandwiches and let me keep my Blundstones on.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Secret Sale of Bananas


Swine Flu isn't the only thing going viral these days.

Yesterday someone forwarded me an email announcing a two-day only 40% off secret sale at Banana Republic. So I stopped by, on my way to my last film festival movie -- a cruelly long, self-indulgent Portugese film called To Die Like A Man. Don't see it. Ever.

Anyway. Back at Banana. The mayhem!

The line-up for the cash register rivaled Boxing Day. I could barely get in the door. In fact, there was almost no stock remaining on the shelves.

I wonder if this many people would have turned up if they'd simply bought a print ad -- which they did today. Announcing 30% off.

Was it the percentage off or the tactic?

It's hard to know. I think people like to think they know stuff that other people don't know. I also think they hate to pay full price...especially at over-priced banana.

In case you're wondering....I didn't buy anything. There are only few things I'd stand in line that long for -- the second coming of Christ, an audience with the Dalai Lama, or a new flavour at Baskin Robbins.

Forget Banana. I'm going to Joe Fresh.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cleaning House

One of the guilty pleasures I forfeited after my buying my own place was the services of a cleaning lady.

When I moved into my last rental unit, the departing tenant mentioned that his cleaning lady was really good and reasonably priced. He offered to introduce us. For about $60 every two weeks, she'd come in while I was gone and I'd arrive home to sparkling countertops and floors free from pet dander. It was divine.

But, despite never having had a cleaning lady before (the exception being whilst living in Africa, but that's another story) I very quickly went from "oh the miracle of cleanliness!" to criticism of a job well done. I began to focus not on the many small things she did well, but on the very few things that she did poorly.

It's weird how that happens.

My mind would focus on the thing that was lacking rather than celebrate the many joys associated with a tidy abode. How many other things in life are like this?

I'm becoming increasingly more conscious of my mind's tendency to stray into the oncoming traffic of negative thinking.

Now don't get me wrong. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of positive things. But believing it and practicing it are two entirely separate things.

Case in point. My BFF has been struggling with what he wants to do when he grows up. Finding a full-time gig that ticks all his boxes has been a bit of a challenge. This week he got the happy and miraculous news that he got a great job.

It's spectacular news. The best. And what did I think? After my initial joy and celebration, I thought, "Wow, he's going to have a hard time getting to his job because it starts really early in the morning. I hope he realizes that."

Oh my god. I mean, really, oh my god. Thank god I didn't open my cake hole and say anything to him. Talk about wet blanket thinking.

So today I'm holding the steering wheel tight and keeping myself on my side of the street. Destination: Positivity Ville. Population 1.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Up in the Air

I have a PHd in Loyalty Programs.

Last winter I bought $30 worth of Knorr Soup at Sobeys because of the promise of 500 Club Sobeys points. I accumulate Shopper's Optimum Points with the same fervour that pre-Reformation Catholics accrued indulgences. I regularly transact simply to earn reward miles and If I could, I'd probably marry my CIBC Aerogold Infinite card.

So imagine my delight when I saw a film at the Toronto International Film Festival which deftly weaves loyalty in its many forms through seven strong subplots.

Up in the Air is directed by Jason Reitman (late of Thank You For Not Smoking and Juno) and stars hottie George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing specialist.

Clooney is the guy on the other side of the table holding the compensation package that you're getting not because you're "fired", but because you're standing on the precipice of new opportunities. His dispassion for the emotion of his job is turned on its ear when his own high-flying life is threatened...pointedly when he's on the cusp of achieving an incredible frequent flyer milestone.

It's almost impossible to separate the cinematic Clooney from his public persona. But make no mistake. He's too good an actor to give a performance that isn't nuanced.

He's at his best when matched with strong women. Who can forget his onscreen chemistry with Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton? In Up in the Air, he's at his best with Anna Kendrick as Natalie - the fresh faced new recruit whose hiring stands to ground Bingham -- and Vera Farmiga as Alex, one of the strongest female characters to come along in years. Farmiga is Bingham in female form. She holds up a mirror to his commitment issues. And her independence is to be revered.

Up in the Air is worth a viewing. Even multiple viewings. I'd even go so far as to say that Clooney might get a nom for his performance. A film with a script this tight really deserves an audience.

Sadly, Clooney was a no-show at the Sunday morning screening of the film. I guess he couldn't commit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leave this Grass

My candle burneth at both ends these days.

By day I fight crime (or rather, sell people things they don't need) while by night I attend screening for films that may or may not change the world.

The cast has been in attendance at some of the screenings. Some major wattage, depending on your perspective.

Last night, Edward Norton (who is very tall) showed up for his movie Leaves of Grass, along with co-star Felicity (Keri Russell -- who, I'll admit it, I'm a little enamoured by). Rhea Perlman and Danny Devito were there to cheer on their daughter Lucy, who played a small but pivotal role in the film. Other stars in the film who didn't show included Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss.

Too bad the film sucked. A lot.

I guess "uneven" is a good word for anything that involves Greek tragedy, Walt Whitman, marijuana grow-ops, fish gutting, orthodontists, death by cross bow, an exploration of anti-semitism and the Jews of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Norton played two roles -- identical twins with different characters. He's a supremely talented guy. But don't mess with perfection. Hailey Mills did the twin thing in The Parent Trap a long time ago.

There was generous laughter and applause from the crowd. Not surprising since at least half the theatre was taken up by insiders. The other half - stony, confused silence.

Anyway, my guess is Leaves of Grass won't make it to theatres in its current form. And if it does, its audience might wish that they were a twin -- the one who stayed home.

Friday, September 11, 2009

It is what it isn't

Can I just go on record as saying that I hate the expression: It is what it is.

It isn't.

It is what you think it is. With our thoughts we make our world.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Life's little balancing act

Over the years, I've struggled with both over and under-extending myself.

I either get so deeply involved in a job or task that I completely ignore everything else around me. Or I hermit myself away in sometimes happy solitude.

There's often no middle ground.

The over-extending myself bit happens when my body fails to give the "enough" signal. It's like when there's a bowl of ju jubes around and I unhinge my jaw like a snake and eat them until I want to throw up.

But the "enough" rarely has to do with food. It usually has to do with energy.

The over-extension can manifest itself in workaholism. Or in over-programming my social time. Committing to too much volunteering. Or spending too much time talking on the phone. (This last bit, you'll note, is a real problem for me. The phone is for me what the Dementors were to Harry Potter.)

Where I struggle is often in recognizing true fatigue when it comes along.

Because I know that I have an innate love of solitude and a tendency to isolate, I'm aware that most social events come with a an element of discomfort...at least for the first few minutes. The challenge is realizing when the discomfort is a true signal to slow down, take stock and re-energize.

It's knowing your tank is empty before you truly run out of gas.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Time to go on a literary diet

Okay, the time for eating candy is over. But what a time it was. I decided to usher Labour Day Weekend in with a couple of frolicksome reads.

The first bit of candy actually had some nutritional value. Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever, by Joel Derfner, is a wickedly humorous and keenly insightful look into contemporary gay male culture. It is at once light and airy, and poignant and heartbreaking. Think David Sedaris, if Sedaris had graduated from Harvard and was working in musical theatre. You don't have to be gay or even male to find insight in what Derfner writes. He's tapped into what makes us the big ball of human insecurity that we all are.

Don't judge me. Okay, go ahead. But I actually ended the summer the same way it began -- by reading the latest installment from our favourite 90210 friend, Tori Spelling.

Mommywood is Tori's account of giving birth to her two children with Canadian wife cheater Dean McDermott and how she plans to do things entirely different than her own Mom, whose name (not coincidentally, is really Candy). It's a real page turner.

I actually like Tori a lot -- even though (or especially because) she's the Queen of TMI.

In Mommywood we learn that when she and Dean met, they used to have sex three times a day. Now, with the kids, they're lucky to have sex three times a week. We learn that when Dean's away, Tori's best friend (the man she refers to as her Gay Husband) sleeps over, on Dean's side of the bed. And we learn of the unfortunate demise of Mimi La Rue, her beloved pug, whom Tori insists actually enjoyed dressing up in frilly outfits every day.

You can borrow them if you want. But I'll tell you -- they're best enjoyed when the sun's beating down and you're happily enthroned on a lawn chair. As for me....I'm breaking out the classics.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Michael Bryant's really bad week

Michael Bryant is having a really bad week. In the same week we buried Ted Kennedy, the former Ontario attorney general is facing his Chappaquiddick.

Bryant is now facing criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle charges, after an angry clash with a cyclist on Bloor Street on Monday night.

The cyclist, a bicycle courier named Darcy Allan Sheppard, spent his last few minutes on earth clinging to the side of Bryant's Saab, before being flung into a mailbox and dying in front of the Bloor Street Sephora.

My heart goes out Sheppard's family. It's a tragic and ridiculous way to die.

But I don't think there's a driver in Toronto who doesn't have some heart for Bryant. Who hasn't come close to hitting a cyclist at some time or other? Who hasn't felt some rage when a cyclist darts out in front of your moving vehicle or feared for your own life or the life of the cyclist when you hit the brakes in order to avoid them?

The particular stretch along Bloor where the altercation happened has been torn up, rerouted and narrowed all summer long.

There may even be a mitigating factor -- media reports today are suggesting that police spoke to Sheppard earlier in the evening after an altercation with his ex girlfriend. Alcohol may have been a factor.

But that's no excuse, really. Along with the legal responsibility of driving a motor vehicle comes the moral responsibility.

Bryant might not serve any time, but his career died on that sidewalk along with Sheppard.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

King Tut

This will be short because I'm on my way to a doctor's appointment. I'm also watching my fridge perform a spectacular Wicked Witch of the West number (ie. "I'm melting").

But thought I'd share a little nicety with you.

Part of my beloved membership at the AGO (which is really the best $90 I've ever spent -- I have to tell you) is a free ticket to the upcoming Tutankhamun Show, starting in November. What a steal. My membership paid for itself by the second month, since I regularly stop by the gallery for periods of a half hour or less when my soul cries out for Emily Carr, Lawren Harris or my personal fave, Kurelek.

The Surrealist show (which I think is still on) was terrific -- and even had a a great, rather pertinent advertising component.

But King Tut. That's something kind of special. He's our favourite kind of honky.

So I leave you with this. Click on he title above.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bookstores I have loved



I visit bookstores the same way that some people visit cathedrals. It's rare that I leave one without some religious experience or other.

So imagine my delight when I found another candidate to add to the list of bookstores I have loved.

McNally Robinson, at the newish Shops at Don Mills is a divine undertaking. It's a family-run independent bookseller with stores in Winnipeg and Saskatoon and believes in the values of community bookselling.

The 20,000 square feet of space is a hive of activity, too. There are regular author readings, live music on Fridays and Saturdays, and a wonderful looking restaurant called Prairie Ink that tries, as much as possible, to source local produce. You can join Stuart McLean, host of the Vinyl Cafe, there for brunch on September 29th.

Almost as soon as I discovered it, I started fearing for its demise. Please shop there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Make Me A Supermodel

Full confession.

Another of my summer guilty pleasures was Make Me a Supermodel, hosted by the preternatually hot, Tyson Beckford and so modelicious she can barely move her lips, Nicole Trunflo. Unlike America's Next Top Model, this show takes models who are already working in the industry and helps them up their game.

It was candy. But good candy that doesn't get stuck in your molars.

There were tantrums. There were tears. And there was beauty. Lots and lots of beauty.

Nearly every week, one of the kicked off models would cry because they "wanted it so bad." And the other phenomenally beautiful models would hold them, without moving their faces. It was extraordianry.

The winner (spoiler alert) was an 18 year old (not this guy) from Oregon. This guy above was a model-ballet dancer. Possibly the best body I've ever seen. Except for the other guy who also got kicked off.

God, I can't wait for the next season.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kiss the Cook

Oh the irony. I had butterless popcorn for dinner while watching Julie and Julia last night.

The film was an homage to love and all things culinary.

A bow to butter. An elegy to lobster. A brava to boeuf bourguignon.

Judging from the reaction of the mostly female (and she-male) crowd, most of the audience was as charmed by the food porn as they were by the performance of Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

Food = comfort and the fact is we're hungry for well made food in this country. Twenty minute suppers have replaced the slow and loving preparation of a good roux.

Back in the eighties, during my brief but stellar Martha Stewart period, I was a big proponent of the slow food movement. I made my own pasta from scratch. Ground fresh tomatoes within an inch of their life to make the most perfectly piquant tomato sauce. Pressed shortbread into molds to form perfect cookies. I was a machine.

Today I've lost all that and my life is all the more bereft for it. Truth is I'd be nothing without pre-washed salad greens. I can't remember the last time I put butter on my bread. I think chocolate mousse is an African Canadian land animal.

I need to find me some slow food. Fast.

Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dharma Friends

I really should learn to trust that the Universe is looking out for me.

It never ceases to amaze me that the right people seem to turn up at the right place and the right time. Just when I need them most.

Last week, while doing two things that scare me -- driving on the highway and infiltrating a group where I knew not a soul -- I was assigned a passenger for my little red Suzuki Swift (Lady Bug) by the group I was infiltrating.

It could have been a horror. But it decidedly was not.

I liked him on sight. He was sweet, gentle and an excellent conversationalist. He also couldn't read a map to save his life, which endeared him to me immediately, since this is also a skill that I have failed to master.

Despite directions that said, in all caps, IF YOU'RE IN ORILLIA, YOU'VE GONE TOO FAR, we went to far.

We were fortunate enough to lose our way and end up in the parking lot at the Stephen Leacock House. I've never been there. Now I have.

Anyway, not long into our trip, we discovered a remarkable commonality. We've both been lifelong meditators. Dharma friends, if you will. His proclivities fall to the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, while I've done more work in the Tibetan and Burmese traditions. We shared some Zen experience, as well.

Throughout our week together, we met many times and even meditated together one morning. On our return journey, he invited me to an upcoming meditation retreat.

I hope I don't forget this. "The gift of the Dharma surpasses all gifts," as that old Dhammapada says. It really does.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One time at Gay Camp

Yes, it appears that Madonna was summering in Haliburton last week.

For more fabulous shots, and to book a photographer that can make anyone look good, go here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In spite of ourselves

Love is in the air. So I'm sharing one of my favourite love songs of all time. Click here to listen.

And here are the lyrics, in case you need to sing along.

She don't like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She's my baby I'm her honey
I'm never gonna let her go

He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
He's my baby
And I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

She thinks all my jokes are corny
Convict movies make her horny
She likes ketchup on her scrambled eggs
Swears like a sailor when she shaves her legs
She takes a lickin'
And keeps on tickin'
I'm never gonna let her go.

He's got more balls than a big brass monkey
He's a wacked out weirdo and a lovebug junkie
Sly as a fox and crazy as a loon
Payday comes and he's howlin' at the moon
He's my baby I don't mean maybe
Never gonna let him go

In spite of ourselves
We'll end up a'sittin' on a rainbow
Against all odds
Honey, we're the big door prize
We're gonna spite our noses
Right off of our faces
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.
There won't be nothin' but big old hearts
Dancin' in our eyes.

(spoken) In spite of ourselves

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

That work-life balance thing

Advertisers are like hillbillies. Once you work at one agency for any length of time, you'll find that through the laws of natural attrition, you've got kin at most agencies in the city. They wear a lot of black and they even look like you.

I had dinner with a three agency types last night.

Two of us still work together but the other two are now elsewhere.

One's a big mucky muck, high-powered type. She collects a big salary, but it comes with big expectations. The other could be Prime Minister of Canada and still find time to coach little league. She's that organized. She talks faster than I can think. Last year she closed the door on advertising and went client side, to a major domestic charity.

Once we'd exhausted the inevitable topics - who's sleeping with who, and who's been caught sleeping with who -- our talk turned, as it often does, to that elusive work-life balance.

High mucky muck was checking her Blackberry periodically through the evening. Why? Because her agency corporate culture encourages over-work. It's not unusual, she said, to receive and respond to work emails at 10 p.m. at night. In fact, she told us, one of her direct reports had responded to one of her messages (nothing urgent, even) at 2:30 in the morning.

As someone who has been at the bedside of someone who took their last breath, I can say this with complete confidence: No one, on their deathbed, ever thought, "Hey, I should have worked more weekends".

That's not to say that you don't give a solid day's work for a day's pay. Or that you show up on time and give it everything you've got.

But really -- is that all that there is?

I sure as hell hope not.

I know people who are logistics specialists for international development agencies. In huge refugee migrations of tens of thousands of people, my friends are responsible for calculating and ensuring the fair distribution of rations. If they don't do their job right, people will die.

That sounds like something that should keep you up until 2:30 in the morning. But selling tampons? Or packaged soup? Or cell phone plans?

Please!

Addiction to work is every bit as damaging as addiction to other substances.

Okay, that's it. Back to work.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Putting Six Feet Under to Rest

After a marathon viewing session over the past two weeks, I finished watching the final season of Six Feet Under last night and I feel bereft.

It's like saying goodbye to my TV family.

Those of you who know me know that I'm an early-to-bed early-to-rise kind of girl. So you'll be surprised to know that I stayed up until midnight watching the series finale, and a few extras that came with the DVD. I also had myself a good cathartic cry, which made for some deep, dream-filled sleep.

I doubt that there's anything on TV today or ever that could surpass the writing quality of Six Feet Under. It has a power to delight, intrigue, and challenge. It never takes shortcuts or takes the viewer's intelligence for granted.

And while it's a show that began every episode with a death, it was clearly and profoundly about life and about living your own perfectly flawed truth.

I love the seamlessness that watching the series on DVD affords. But now that I'm through, I'm looking for another series to follow. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Ultimate Co-Dependent Love Song

Someone I dated gave me this song on a mixed tape. I think it says a lot about the energy that draws us and repels us from people who circle our orbit. It's called Gravity.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Phoning it in

I hate talking on the telephone.

Ironic, perhaps, for someone who worked on advertising for Bell for nearly four years, early in my career.

What I've noticed, is that most people decidedly do not dislike talking on the telephone. They seem to enjoy it. I envy them.

I wonder what it would take to help me enjoy talking on the telephone, too. If you've got any tips, let me know.

Truth is, it would help a lot.

I have friends all over the country and the world. Keeping in touch with them via email is one thing, but actually hearing the inflection in their voice while they tell a story is quite another. God invented Skype for exactly that reason.

My friend C in Ottawa is a professional phone talker. She thinks nothing of having an hour long conversation on the phone. In the past, during calls she initiated (of course), the battery on her hand-held would inevitably die mid-sentence -- much to my relief. She consider an hour to be a short call.

Other friends are quite good at it, too.

My friend Barb can talk on the phone, prepare graphic files for studio and bread a schnitzel all at the same time. She's an expert multi-tasker and great at staying in touch on the phone.

I actually find talking on the phone quite awkward. I feel like I need to fill the pauses with something, and I can never think of anything to say. It kind of stresses me out a little.

If I'm talking to someone who lives in the same city as me, I'd much rather make a plan and meet them somewhere for coffee.
It feels far more natural to me.

Anyway, maybe this is why I take to silent meditation so easily. Hold all my calls.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Next up on the summer reading series

If David Sedaris was a girl (and some might argue, with conviction, that he can be a most fetching one) he'd likely be Sloane Crossley.

I recently finished I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a series of essays on modern life -- most particularly Sloane's modern life.

She is a sometimes columnist for the Village Voice and has appeared in various publications like the New York Times and Salon. Her book is an often hilarious collection of musings from a self-proclaimed neurotic. It's part Sex in the City and part Mary Tyler Moore.

It's her first book, so there's some unevenness in her prose, but there are a few selections that will have you shooting coffee out your nose. They're that funny.

In particular, I loved her story about amassing a sizable collection of plastic ponies (you need to read it to find out why) and her account of being hunted down by a childhood friend to stand as her bridesmaid.

This is the perfect summer beach read or while being held hostage on the Go Train during rain storms. Sloane is cute as a button and she's going to be really famous one day. This book is in development as a series for HBO. You can tell everyone who loves the show that you read the book ages ago.

Less satisfying, I'm afraid, was Augusten Burrough's A Wolf At My Table.

I love Augusten for precisely the same reason why I like Sedaris -- for his humorous take on sensitive and often serious subject matter. But Augusten's tale of his abusive father hasn't been tempered with the passage of time. His was no Leave it Beaver childhood but, up until now, he's managed to eke out some humour from the situation. But here he seems to have grown even more bitter over the years -- so much so that it's difficult to read. Not recommended, I'm afraid.

Instead, pick up Sellevision if you want something fun and frothy to bring to the cottage with you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Always wear clean underwear

I thought you might like a secret peak at my drawers.

I discovered this local underwear maker at the One of a Kind Show a few years ago. It's called The Candi Factory. The designer has both a degree in philosophy and a degree in fashion design from the Parsons School of Design in New York. The result is, quite naturally, some of the cutest underpants on earth.

I'm wearing some now.

All the underpants are made right here in Toronto, and by some miraculous feat of construction, the colour never seems to fade and the elastic seems never to sag. They fit perfectly. And they look really cute when you take your slacks off at the end of the day.

Cost per pair is a reasonable $20, but here's the thing. If you join their email list, you'll periodically get an offer (which I did) with some special price attached.

Do it. It's nice to support local artists.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Things I'm Grateful For Today

A sunny weekend without any humidity.

A clean house.

Last night's delicious dinner of homemade Thai Red Curry.

The invention of ginger ice cream.

A four day work week.

Finishing The Time Traveller's Wife -- an engrossing and compelling read.

Making my way through Season Five of Six Feet Under -- one of the best written shows on television. Ever.

The end of the garbage strike.

Cracking the spine on a fresh, new book.

The fact that Lady Bug is getting her exhaustpipeectomy today, and she'll be good as new.

My co-worker gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on Thursday and everyone is happy and healthy.

My health.

Eight work days until my next vacation. Woo hoo.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The End

My uncle passed away last night. He was 69.

He shared the cause of death with my father. Cancer.

In the final days, as with my Dad, the end was long and slow and painful.

Cancer takes no prisoners. It isn't pretty. It doesn't play fair.

Cancer takes the person you loved and wrings them from the inside out. It takes all the things they loved, everything that was important to them and everyone in their orbit, and renders it insignificant. It strips them of their dignity.

When I go, I pray to God that it's not cancer that gets me.

I'd far rather have a giant ACME safe fall from sky on to my unsuspecting head, then suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous cancer.

I'd rather die in my sleep with my hair fanned around my pillow.

"I'm not afraid of dying," Woody Allen said, "I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Hug the people you love today. Extra tight.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unfeeling

I've atoned for my summer reading sins.

Just finished Unfeeling, a spectacular first novel by 28-year old Ian Holding.

The novel take place in modern day Zimbabwe, after President Mugabe passes a law advocating the seizure of white-owned farm lands.

Though it's called Unfeeling, the novel is anything but.

It's gripping, hard to put down, yet difficult to read at points.

It reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, perhaps because of the desperate realism and the starkness of its poetry. If you could appreciate Sunday by the Pool in Kigali, you'll like this novel.

It follows 16-year old Davey, who hides in the attic as his parents are brutally murdered and their farm seized. Then it explores his complicated, brave and desperate journey for retribution and to confront the new "owners" of the farm.

The story is compelling not only because it's expertly told, but because stories like it have happened all over Zimbabwe.

Highly recommended. Not soon forgotten.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Practice makes perfect

I did a 6:30 a.m. yoga class this morning and I discovered some interesting things about how I relate to my body.

The first is how angry I can get at it, when it doesn't do what I want. The other is how attuned to it that I decidedly am not. In a practice where gentleness and going at your own pace is encouraged, my tendency can be to make it a competitive sport.

The best poses come, of course, when I give in and allow my breath and my body to take over.

I had a nice exchange with another participant on the way to the TTC this morning. She looked like a highly trained professional during our class but she admitted to feeling anxious, tired and sore while doing downward dog. She admitted she hated yoga in the beginning. Now she can't live without it.

There it is. Hope comes and it's wearing lycra.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lobsterpalooza

I thought you might like to know what I had for dinner last night.

First Course
Lobster, lime and cocount bisque.

Main Course
Poached Lobster with
Summer vegetable and chanterelle mushroom risotto.
Tomato pistou with salad verde.

Dessert
Passion fruit, vanilla and mango ice cream cake with blackberry compote.

It certainly beat my usual fare, which is opening a can of tuna over pre-washed spinach.

The good people at Scaramouche even noted my BFF's birthday on the reservation and, despite no second mention from me, delivered his dessert with a single lit candle and a tasteful Happy Birthday in chocolate around the rim.

A lovely evening was had by all....except, perhaps, the lobsters.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Day After

It's taken some time for the news to sink in about Craig.

I was in touch with two overseas friends yesterday. One telephoned from Australia. Danni was the third friend at the table during our infamous first and only visit to Hooters. At the time, she was living in Toronto, married to a Canadian, and delighted to welcome a fellow Aussie traveler to Canada. Danni and Craig had gone to school together in Canberra and we'd -- all three -- worked together at CARE.

We talked a lot about Craig and what made him so special.

She reminded me of the time in Canberra that we all arose spectacularly early (I think it was somewhere around 4:30 a.m.) to attend the dawn service on Anzac Day.

Even at this early hour, Craig was bright as a dollar. He'd carefully organized a breakfast, securing a hard-fought table to accommodate our ragtag group. He'd also smuggled some Anzac biscuits into the restaurant to tide us over until our bacon and egg rolls arrived.

Craig was a party waiting to happen.

The second person I chatted with was Gail. Although living in Bangkok and working on HIV/AIDS policy now, she and her partner lived and worked in Indonesia for four years. She was based in Jakarta, speaks fluent Indonesian, and counts innumerable Indonesians among her closest friends.

She knows that this type of extremism doesn't at all reflect the ideology of ordinary Indonesian citizens, and can only negatively impact an economy that is already suffering.

Here's part of what she wrote to me:

I was very relieved to know that no current CARE or FHI Indonesia staff or their families were directly affected, but this news really brings it home, doesn't it? It really can be anyone, any time. I know Indonesia is higher risk than some places, but really, it can be anywhere and if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time...all my Indonesian colleagues are devastated that their country is once again stained with this image of extremism when it is such a small fringe - and Noordin Top is Malaysian.


This is the second tragedy I can remember that befell someone I knew through CARE Australia. In 2004, CARE country director Margaret Hassan, who'd lived and worked in Iraq for more than 25 years, was kidnapped, held hostage, and then murdered. Several of my colleagues had worked with and for her in Jordan for many years.

So there's a lesson here, I guess.

It's to remember that every, every moment is a precious gift. If today was your last day -- and let's hope it's not -- but if it was, would what you're thinking about really be that important?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Craig Senger

The only time I've ever been to Hooters in my life was with this man.

Craig Senger was one of the jolliest people I know. He could get you to do anything.

I hired him to be on the donor team at CARE Australia, but he was always better than the job. We both new it, but we really enjoyed working together.

Craig was always up for a party. It was because of him that I met the entire Australian Olympic rowing team.

He visited me twice here in Canada. He was that rare export from a terminally hot country -- a snowboarder. On his second visit, he'd spent nearly 6 weeks in Whistler, learning his craft. Like most things, he was so good at it that it looked effortless.

The second time he visited, he told me about his soon-to-be wife, Kate. They'd been friends -- best friends for years. Craig had been posted to Milan, and he spent the entire time in this beautiful city pining for his friend. One day the switch flicked and they started looking at each other differently. He was gooey. I'd never seen him that way. Love, as you know, is friendship on fire.

They'd married, and his ascent at Austrade continued. He'd been posted to Jakarta, together with his beautiful wife.

This morning I received a message from other friend in Australia.

Family pays tribute to Australian killed
July 19, 2009
The family of Canberra Austrade official Craig Senger, who was killed on Friday's bomb blasts in Jakarta, say he was a wonderful husband and father and a beautiful friend.

Mr Senger was one of three Australians killed in the co-ordinated suicide bombings on the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton hotels in central Jakarta on Friday.

A statement issued by the Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs (DFAT) on behalf of his wife, Kate Senger, and other family members has thanked family and friends for their support.

"We are devastated by the sudden passing of Craig who was not only a wonderful husband, son and brother but also a beautiful friend," the statement said.

"We would like to thank Austrade and the Australian government for the wonderful opportunities and ongoing support provided to Craig throughout his career.

"Craig greatly enjoyed his life in Jakarta. He performed a rewarding job that he loved and he really valued the many friends that he had made there."

Mr Senger was sent to Jakarta a year ago to help oversee the expected expansion of overseas investment into Indonesia's booming mining industry.

The 36-year-old had expressed hope that Australian businesses could exploit reforms due to liberalise Indonesian investment laws.

With huge international experience, Mr Senger was also previously instrumental in bringing Indian mining giants such as Tata Steel to Australia to buy technology and services as well as liaising with Russian officials.

His family has thanked DFAT, Austrade, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, the Australian Federal Police, and the federal government for their continued support.

"We would also like to thank our dear friends and family for helping us to deal with the extraordinary shock and loss that we are feeling," the statement said.

Perth businessman Nathan Verity, 38, and Brisbane man Garth McEvoy, 54, also died in the blast that killed at least eight people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Mr Senger was the first Australian government official to be killed in a terrorist attack.

"The Department of Foreign Affairs advises me that to the best of their knowledge, apart from military officers and police officers, this is the first Australian government official to be killed by a terrorist attack in the line of duty," Mr Rudd told reporters after attending church in Canberra on Sunday.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith had spoken to Mr Rudd from Jakarta on Saturday night, where Mr Smith had contacted Mr Senger's wife and the family members of Brisbane businessman Garth McEvoy, 54, who was also killed in the attacks.

Mr Rudd, who said he spoke to Mr Senger's mother in Canberra on Saturday night, said it was a very sad time for the family.

Just one month ago, Mr Senger delivered his father's eulogy, Mr Rudd said.

It is therefore a sad day for the Australian official community, given his loss, Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd, who had convened the national security committee for a third time on Saturday, said officials went through a series of "operational matters" concerning the government's best continuing analysis of those responsible for the attacks.

"Can I also say that the Australian government will leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice the perpetrators of this violent, barbaric act of murder," he said.