Saturday, January 30, 2010

commit, already!

have i mentioned that i have a cold?  a cold that won't commit and comes and goes and sometimes, like this morning, i wake up with a stuffed up nose, constant sneezes, and a nose that needs to be blown at regular intervals.  it has been here for 2 weeks now and i really wish it would either knock me on my ass or go away already.

but it hasn't stopped me from having a lovely saturday morning.

i have caught up on pvr'ed episodes of my television boyfriend's show, dirty jobs.

i have used my new egg poaching pan that was a christmas gift to make eggs benedict (but without hollandaise because i was not that organised to have the proper ingredients).

i have hung hangers for my aprons so they have a space in my nest.

i have done my ironing.

i have spoken to a local theatre about hosting a film screening.

i have had a chat with an old high school friend who wants to get into international development work.

pretty productive so far, even with a kleenex permanently attached to my nose...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

deciphering un speak

i got an email that requests me to send in all my vaccination information... and gives me a list of things that i would need to bring... and a list of contact details of the people on the ground and the geneva head office... and a sign off saying 'wishing you a good trip!'... and a list of medical risks... and instructions on how to get to the border from the capital of the dominican republic...

i have no idea what this means.  am i going?  what would i do?  am i prepared to live in a tent?  can i possibly only pack 15kg worth of stuff?

it feels strange to be mildly (or extremely, if i am being honest) excited about the prospect of going to haiti.  and terrified because i do not speak french.  but what does that message mean?!

Monday, January 25, 2010

it's magical!

over the past month, i have been becoming accustomed to the iphone, a magical, magical device that replaces my old blackberry.  my berry worked just fine, but i had mistakenly left my itouch on a plane while on my way back from toronto in december and i was able to get an iphone for the same price as a new itouch.

and let me tell you, this thing is magical.  i know that it can do a plethora of things, but so far i have found the following characteristics of my iphone and its aps magical:
  • listening to cbc radio live at my desk
  • watching ted speeches, performances, and presentations
  • reading updated texts from last night
  • browsing the internet (which is much more user-friendly than my berry)
  • notifications that i have received a facebook message or other facebook-related activity
  • making reservations through open table
  • looking recipes up on all recipes
  • the ability to gps my location and then make a map to where i want to get to
  • listening to any song in my itunes library, because the whole thing fits on my iphone
there is also a running application that i will likely get that will map all my routes.  i don't typically carry my phone with me when i run as lately i have been running with other people and not listening to my tunes (and using my garmin to track my distance), but that sounds like something fun to play around with too.

oh, the magical possibilities!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

sunday sense of accomplishment

i have had a full weekend and it was nice to have a weekend packed full of fun and rewarding things.  here is a list of all that i managed to accomplish:
  • a date with a tall, accented gentleman
  • ice fishing with my brother-in-law, where i proved not to be the best fisherwoman as i caught nothing (but neither did anyone else)
  • my first double cheeseburger.  it was delicious.  totally worth all that saturated fat.  and, i'll admit it, maybe even better than a single cheeseburger.
  • a lovely nap on my sister's couch
  • an impromtu stir fry dinner for two
  • a completed application to be called to work in emergencies, such as haiti
  • an 8km run (even though i was only mentally prepared for a 7km run)
  • shopping at mec for a new jacket (sale!), a new pair of mittens, a new pair of wool running socks, and a new running shirt (sale!).  not sure why i felt the need to clarify that all those items were NEW...
  • a trip to buy new runners only to find the shop was closed
  • coffee with my best friend of over 10 years
  • coffee with a new friend who will undoubtedly be a friend for a long time
  • shopping for 2 skirts at the gap that cost me all of $16, bring on the lucky lady deals!
  • shopping for 3 shirts at jacob that cost me nothing as i had a gift card
  • a quick trip to the grocery store for soup ingredients
  • leek and potato soup
  • dishes done
  • a viewing of The Hangover, which did not make me laugh out loud.  not even once.  even though everyone and their dog claims it is hilarious.  verdict?  not hilarious.
  • reading research on 'sex buyers,' otherwise known as johns.  for work.  yes, i read this stuff for work.  if you are interested, you can also read it online.
and now, to tackle the ever-growing pile of laundry that is on my floor, both dirty and clean.  and then maybe a bath.  or a read.  or an early night.  because that is how i roll (or how i am trying to).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

haiti fatigue?

there has been so much media coverage since the devastating earthquake in haiti over a week ago, but i wonder if people's will to give and their concern will fade after this sudden burst of interest in the poor, caribbean country?

and i know that parentless children is one of the worst parts of this disaster, but i am not sure exactly why the media continues to focus on that.  right now, there are families, single adults, children, and the elderly living in makeshift camps and they will all need help.  and my concerns about supporting orphanages in africa rather than the community could likely be transferred to haiti if the wealthy countries continue to think that all that needs to be done is babies and children need foreign families rather than focusing on what the unhcr likes to call 'durable solutions,' solutions that are longlasting and have an overall positive impact.

or maybe i am just too cynical?

but canadians raising almost $70 million to go towards the relief efforts is pretty cool.  i am really curious how that money is going to be distributed and if it will be given to the un to distribute through its flash and central emergency relief fund (cerf) system?  or if it will all go to the red cross, which is typically the lead agency in disaster management and relief.  i can't help but wish i was a part of it.

had i paid more attention in those french classes, i might be.  but i have a small amount of hope that one of my contacts within the system will call and need my assistance or 'expertise.'  at this point, all i can do is ask, which i have done.  and now i patiently wait.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

backing up my strong opinions

i found a new york times article that supports my thoughts on volunteering in orphanages in africa.  it takes a macro view of institutionalisation and how funding orphanages ultimately negatively affects the community.  instead of giving the money and other in-kind support to extended families, it is poured into orphanages staffed by 'strangers.'

read the article, it is much more articulate than i can be on this topic.  i have already forwarded it to friends who have expressed an interest in volunteering in africa.  they might be sick of hearing me go on about this in attempts to encourage them to revise their travel plans, but i really do feel strongly about it.

let me know what you think, i am curious to know if i am in the minority on this one.

Monday, January 18, 2010

eight for twenty eight - monitoring and evaluation

1 - get enough sleep.  oh, i took this to a whole. new. level. before christmas and i think that a change in medication and a vacation managed to get me back to sleeping like a normal person and not like a zombie (zombies sleep during the day a lot, right?).  i think that i kept my health and my sleeping priorities throughout 28 and it resulted in a lot happier and astute me.  i think now the challenge will be to find ways to keep my energy up throughout the day and to get to bed a decent hours so i don't feel like i need to sleep an extra hour before heading into work (and this is one of the many reasons why i love being a consultant!).

2 - buy a home. i think it is safe to say that i rocked this goal right outta the water!  my nest continues to be a home and i continue to love it.

3 - reduce my level of anxiety. overall, i am doing really well with this.  i still have moments where i can feel my breath quickening, but now i recognise what it is and take steps to bring my anxiety to an acceptable level.  i don't think i will ever completely overcome anxiety that comes with taking the bus, new social situations, or when life decides to overwhelm you, but i surely have developed some pretty good coping and identifying skills, which will continue to help keep me sane.  literally.

the proof that i have achieved this goal is that i am not worried about the future and am instead confident that although i have no idea what is coming in 2010, in 29, or the next decade, i sense that it will be pretty damn good.

4 - take better photos. i think that i learned a lot through my course, a lot of the technical side at least.  however, i am not completely confident with my ability to now apply it to my photography practice.  i took a lot of photos in ireland (and would have taken a lot more had it not been for frozen fingers and the lack of fingerless gloves), but i kept my camera on the green idiot box and didn't really test out my knowledge.

in the spring there is a follow-up course that i am going to take that is all about taking photos on location with an instructor and that hands-on learning will likely solidify a lot of the knowledge currently buried deep in the recesses of my cerebral lanscape.

this goal is linked to #2 as well because i have printed off a number of my photos from all over the world, framed them, and hung them.  nothing like unique and homemade artwork to make a nest nestier!

5 - become financially confident.  so i bought a file folder.  with an accordian-like filing system.  i will file my receipts in this.  maybe one day i will graduate to actually making an investment or contributing to my rrsp.  this was a bit of a failure as far as 28 is concerned.  but i bought a house, can we talk more about that?!  because that is sort of like financial confidence, right?  sort of?!

6 - be happy where i am. i am.  simple as that.  not wondering where i will head next.  not complaining about where i am, the state of my career, or why i haven't achieved more.  happy.  content.  excited as i think of the future.  done and done.

7 - visit friends who live in other places. when i first made this goal, i had some pretty specific places in mind to visit.  that list would include chicago, washington dc, ottawa, and maybe even alaska.  where did i end up travelling and visiting friends?  toronto, sheffield, cobh!  not exactly as i had expected, but i did get to visit old friends who recently relocated, a dear friend from grad school, and a new friend who i had actually never met face-to-face, but who i 'knew' through a previous working relationship.

i think that i can put more effort into this goal in the future and make sure that i get to see those people and places that i mentioned above, along with taking other opportunities as they arise.

8 - make the best dating decisions for me (the goal formally known as sort out my relationship).  i think that i have achieved this goal in both its former and current incarnations!  i sorted out my relationship (good riddance to bad rubbish is a saying that comes to mind) and i made a lot of decisions about dating this past year and all of them were the best that i could have done for me.
i went on blind dates, i allowed myself to be set up by friends, i tried online dating, i ended things when they no longer suited my needs, i allowed my thoughts and assumptions to be challenged, i got to know A LOT of very eligible bachelors, i made a few new friends, i have been sent gifts from foreign countries, i have made a lot of new facebook friends, and i am still single.  not to say that this is a failure of any sort because i think that as my goal was to make good dating decisions, i have done just that.
it will be interesting to see what 29 holds in terms of dating and relationships, but i think as far as goals go, all i can do is what is under my control and that is continue to make the best decisions for me!
now, i still have a few more weeks of 28 left, but i am making the assumption that nothing is going to change so drastically in the coming weeks that would affect the way that i see my eight for twenty eight goals over the past 50 weeks!

a few good links

i found a few good articles that i thought i would share, if anyone else is as obsessed with this topic as i am.

first, my current favourite academic and writer Dambisa Moyo (of Dead Aid fame) has a piece about why the world continues to treat africa as a charity case and whether or not this is a very effective philosophy to go about executing development work.

the second, and from the same magazine by the name of Good, is about delinking development from the non-profit sector, an idea and theory that i think is worthy of exploration and investigation both academically and in the field.

acting locally

i was asked to write a letter supporting a non-profit agency's nomination of my company for a volunteer calgary award and below is what i came up with it.  i liked it, so i thought i'd post it here (sort of like that beyonce song!  sort of) with a few minor changes to make it www-proof.

January 15, 2010

To Whom It May Concern:

My profile is not typical amongst oil and gas staff in Calgary. I have a liberal arts education, professional experience with non-profit agencies and the United Nations, and before I started at CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere, I had no idea how the oil got into the ground, let alone how we managed to get it out.

But since I began working at this company, I have been continually impressed with the culture of volunteerism and community investment that seamlessly matches my own values. In my relatively short time here (I began in November 2008), I have managed to merge my professional life with my community involvement with ease.

For example, it wasn’t difficult to convince my supervisors to allow me to volunteer for CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere’s 2009 United Way committee, under the auspices of which I took on the challenge of planning our Days of Caring project (a complete renovation of the exterior of one of a youth residential facility) as the Project Co-Coordinator. We named it the Beautification Project and my role was to organise and prepare the company volunteers for their shifts. Each morning, I hauled t shirts, train tickets, and nametags down to the building lobby and awaited the arrival of the day’s volunteers. It didn’t matter how exhausted I was, my spirits were consistently lifted by the volunteers, who brought an incredible spirit and enthusiasm to the project. I was genuinely touched with how our staff and contractors were so proud to be able to give back to their community through volunteering.

My experience coordinating the two week volunteer project and my days spent at the site, getting my hands dirty and wielding a paint brush, forced me to re-evaluate my stereotypes of the energy sector. Indeed, I walked away from the experience believing that it is possible to foster a sense of volunteerism within a company from the top down as CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere gives staff two paid days per year to devote to volunteering. And to be sure, all the costs of the supplies, equipment rental, and catering involved in the Beautification Project were covered by a fund earmarked for such endeavours by the CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere Community Investment department.

I still feel great about the positive impact CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere and our people were able to have on the residents of the facility, the non-profit agency and its staff, and the community that now has a historic building to be proud of. The amazing thing about volunteering is that it doesn’t stop when you’ve laid down your paint brush and the spirit with which the work was done continues long after the project ends. One clear way that this has been accomplished with the abovementioned project is that relationships were developed between our staff and the beneficiary agency that have resulted in future computer donations, interest in their other programmes, and financial support of the organisation.

It is my hope that the spirit of volunteerism remains alive at CompanyThatWillRemainUnnamedHere, but I have no reason to doubt as I trust it will only continue to grow and expand.

i hope we win!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

thoughts on consolidated emergency response

it is sunday and i will get up to go to work tomorrow morning.  i will listen to the news about haiti and i will wish i could do more.  or just do something.

and throughout this, i understand what the humanitarian workers, that are no doubt flooding port au prince at this very moment, are feeling.  some of them will be exhilerated (rightly or wrongly), this is what they live for.  some of them will spend every waking moment thinking and planning and budgeting and proposal writing and liaising in hopes they can streamline the aid, money, food, water, volunteers, and other parties that will be flooding into the region.  and some will work their hearts out and spend their sunday afternoons at a pool because that is what they will need to do.  i know, because i have done it.

you wake up each morning, wondering what happened overnight, how many people died, how many people were displaced, and what the hell you can do to make one lick of difference in the grand scheme of things.  you realise that all you can do is what your role dictates and if you do that well, it might end up helping someone down the long line of humanitarian aid.

haiti is devastated, without a doubt.  but the reason it is so devastated is because even before this earthquake, there would have been a complete lack of infrastructure, governance systems, and sustainable economy that could withstand such a threat to its very existence.

part of me wishes that people cared as much as they do now on other days when people throughout the world are living day to day in poverty, finding ways to make it through and maintain their livelihoods.  i am not implying that people are unhappy or miserable or that their quality of life is linked inherently to their standard of life, but i am saying that i wish that people cared as much about others as they do right now.

i have considered giving to the haiti relief effort, but have decided against it.  not because i don't believe that the efforts will be effective or because i think my dollars will be squandered, but because i am going to devote my pennies and time to somethings that others might not be thinking of right now.  spreading the net, supporting local agencies building strong communities, and advocating for those who have been forced into work or sex that they never agreed to.  because i think that canadians and other country's nationals will be giving a lot right now and i am going to keep on the paths that i believe are worthy today and other emergency-free days.

but i would be lying if i said that a small part of me doesn't wish i was sitting in some sweltering office in the caribbean, writing project proposals that would be circulated throughout the donor community through the united nations consolidated appeals process or the emergency relief funds earmarked for such disasters as this.  because that is what i can do.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

the emerald isle

oh ireland.  how i loved ireland. 

i loved irish boys, irish beer, irish radio, irish scenery, irish hospitality, irish restaurants.  i didn't love irish weather though.

cold, cold, cold.  that was all i felt for two full weeks although it only ever got to -3.  but it didn't take away from venturing to the following places:
  • dublin - staying in a fancy hotel, wandering the streets on christmas day, introduction to irish pubs, invitations from strangers, window shopping at clarks, guinness!
  • kilkenny - a lovely castle, a really large bar that would have been fantastic had there been more than one bathroom in the entire place, a hotel room above a pub, my first true irish breakfast (sans black and white puddings), graveyards, long walks, fish and chips, smithwick's ale, learning that it is pronounced 'smithicks'
  • cobh - staying with a 'new' friend, sharing bottles of wine until the wee hours, talking and talking and talking, fresh fish, mulled wine, sharing ideas about development, careers, and relationships, rock of cashel, murphy's stout, boot shopping
  • kilarney - green rolling hills, gorgeous national park, fantastic clam chowder, a lovely little b & b, friendly people
  • cliffs of moher - stressful driving at dusk, gorgeous coastal towns
  • galway - happy new year!, charming company, oak bars, fresh oysters, more guinness, more boot shopping, extra long walks along the sea, warm cups of tea, my favourite irish city, italian boots
  • derry - no-fun protestant north, fascinating history, fresh ira grafitti, city walls, best b & b hosts ever, more irish breakfasts, funny accents
  • giant's causeway - photo shoots on the rocks, best weather of the entire trip, the ocean, beaches, surf shops, views of scotland
  • belfast - terrifying history, stunning queen's university campus, even more phenomenal meals, black cab tour of the protestant and catholic areas that suffered most during the troubles, scouring marks & spencer shelves.
driving on the left was far easier than i thought it would be and we couldn't help but laugh as everytime we listened to the radio (constant lady gaga, take that, and jason derulo...) or watched tv all they could talk about were the 'trecherous conditions' and really, they weren't that bad at all.  the roads were relatively clear as it was christmas holidays and only crazies like us decided to tour around ireland in the dead of winter.

i wish i could give a further breakdown of my trip, but i am sort of sick of recapping it for anyone and everyone that asks.  but i will soon be uploading my photos to facebook so keep a look out for them there.

would i go back?  yes.  would i go again in winter?  no, but only because i would love to see many of the places in the summer not because going in the winter was a bad idea.  would i like to spend more time in fewer places?  yes.  would i like to get to connemara next time round?  yes.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

easing back into it

before i even begin to talk about the wonderful trip i just returned from (and try to gloss over the horrendous flight delays, cancellations, and airlines i had to contend with to get back home), i thought i would do a relatively easy review of a few books i read on my trip that i must discuss (have i mentioned i need a book club to join?!).

Two Lives (Vikram Seth)
i had seen this book before and perhaps i didn't attempt it as i didn't get even halfway through the author's A Suitable Boy (which i know some people have raved about), but i picked it up in the dublin airport in case i made it through the other books i had with me and it is a good thing i did.  in my time at airports and hotels alone i finished all 500 pages of this beauty and i wholeheartedly recommend it.

the story is a true one and covers the relationship between a young indian man and his future german bride, all the way from when they both must leave germany before the first world war to his stint in the british army to her tracing of her jewish family's fate to the life they rebuild in england and his dental practice (with one arm!) and their relationship with numerous friends and family.

i was mesmerised with this book and gobbled it up.  i loved the transcription of letters that were written between all the 'characters' in the book and it made me think that it truly is a lost art.  the language that was used, the honesty with which they spoke to one another, and the incredible subject matter that they were required to discuss.  imagine writing to your friends about the nazis, the holocaust, the fate of your sister and mother, the betrayal of friends, and the state of post war europe in your own handwriting and language.

this seemed like such a rare story, the interracial and interreligious relationship between two people in the first half of the century and yet, as you read it, it makes perfect sense.  i sincerely insist that you pick this book up, a great way to learn more about our shared history, love, and why it is important to know where we come from.  fantastic.

The Good Mayor (Andrew Nicoll)
i finished this book begrudingly.  i didn't much care for the characters or their decisions and wasn't really sure where the 'love' in this love story was to be found.  i had to find out what happened though, so i finished it.  in the fictional town of dot, there are things like lust, obsession, and abuse, but not much love as far as i was concerned.

i have never been one for fable-like stories and this seemed one of those, something not entirely believable and not deep enough to really have a sense for who the characters were or what their intentions were.  so i was a bit disconnected throughout.

i read it, but i wouldn't recommend it.  not when there are so many fantastic books out there!

Something to Tell You (Hanif Kureishi)
after watching an interview with Kureishi, i picked up his book having never read anything he had written and not knowing what to expect. well, was i ever in for a whirlwind!

the story is largely about the search for pleasure (or at least that is what i took away from it).  it takes places in london and london is a character unto itself in the story (which is something i always love).  the main character seems to be at a crossroads that he never expected and is looking backwards and forwards to find out how to tie his loose ends while at the same time searching for something that will make him feel 'good.'  as you would expect, where he expects to find pleasure and contentment is not where he manages to find it and the twists and turns in the story are taken by the the main character, a psychoanalyst, in stride as they parallel the same search that is going on by those around him.

i am really not sure how i feel about this book apart from it really made me think and the characters are still alive within my mind.  and yet, did i enjoy it?  not particularly.  i liked the story, but i didn't like the experiences of the characters or what they were searching for.  and yet, it brings to light the fact that when anyone is seeking pleasure (and everyone does) that what they find often looks a lot more like pain, emotional or physical, but sometimes that is exactly as it should be.  and perhaps that is why i was uncomfortable with the story at times, because it was real.

i know i will be thinking of this novel for a long while, so in the meantime, if i have not done it justice, check out some other reviews at the guardian and the independent.  and if you wouldn't mind, could you please read this book so we can discuss it?!

and in this research, i found out that Kureishi and i went to the same uni in england!

Friday, January 08, 2010

action, not awareness

i liked the message at blogher regarding the current facebook trend to say what colour your bra is on facebook as a attempt to virally raise awareness of breast cancer via social networking sites.

as an aside, i was never tempted to do it myself as it was pretty amazing to realise that very few other women wear nude coloured bras with as much frequency as i do.  maybe it is time to go undie shopping...