Tuesday, August 31, 2010

look what i made!

along with my recent laptop purchase, i bought aperture, apple's photo editing software and it is so much fun!  i have been playing around with it and these are few of my favourites from my recent hiking trip.


i am affectionately referring to this past month as the beginning of the home stretch.  29 has not been my favourite year so far and although i have faith that it is going to clean up its act for these last months, i am still looking forward to saying adios to my 20s and with it, the deceptive 29.

1 - conquer my anxiety, or at least win a few battles against it.  this goal has become almost boring!  i haven't really figured how exactly how not to feel anxious and it normally pops up (as it always has) when i am in new social situations and have to make conversation, but all i can think of is 'say something, say something, try and relate, try and relate, say something, something, anything.'

there were certainly a few of those moments this past month.  one where i solved (?!) the problem by drinking wine and then some more wine.  i think i followed that up with a ceasar and then maybe, a beer.  as you can imagine, this was not exactly the solution i should have been looking for and i ended up that girl without her shoes on, barefoot on the side of a busy road while her date hails a cab.  pretty much, my finest moment of 29...

but i find that getting enough sleep and connecting with people who are also struggling with a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging helps a lot in the anxiety battle department.  and reminding myself that even if nothing seems to make sense right now, there is probably something a-brewing that will materialise shortly.

2 - be more thoughtful of others, especially around special occasions.  still ok.  still not fantastic.  but working on it.  in fact, i bought cards and gifts for upcoming events.  so there.  but still a distance to go to win this one.  sadly, i have been so self-absorbed in my funk i don't think i have given this goal enough of my energies.  lame.

3 - continue making visiting family and friends a priority.  my plane ticket to cape town is booked and paid for!  sadly, the visits i was looking forward to where friends from my past, international life were going to be stopping into the yyc were dashed and i am still longing for trips to cities in eastern canada and the us, but i must be realistic and acknowledge that they likely won't happen during 29.

but 30 looks like it might have a trip in store for me.  a 30th celebration trip, in fact.  a 30th celebration trip with my best friend.  but the details are yet to be worked out.  just a daydream at this time.

4 - nail down some sort of short-term career goals.  errr...  i could sum up a lot of my frustrations over the past few weeks and months by struggling to come to any sort of answer on this one.  so far i have got as far as 'i don't want to be doing what i am doing for too much longer.'  and i guess knowing that is better than not.  but still, is it so hard to know what you want to be when you grow up?!

although it has been a constant thought on my mind, in the past few days i have felt closer to knowing.  nothing yet to divulge to the universe (and it isn't even clear enough in my own head to attempt to put down in coherent sentences yet), but somehow, someway, i am finding clarity around what i want to be doing in a year's time.

these past two years working in the private sector have been wonderful experience and i now see a career path that i didn't even know existed previously.  i don't see exactly how it twists and turns or where it leads, but i was recently asked what advice i would give to someone who would like to be where i am now and my answer?  to allow the path to take you where it will and to always be flexible, accept challenges, and figure out the details later.

perhaps it is time to take my own advice (um, hello?!  are you so blind?!  this seems rather obvious!) so that is how i am approaching the second half of 29.  a little faith, more hard work, and confidence in the journey.

5 - lay a nest egg to accompany my nest.  eesh.  that is all i have.  not an i-can't-pay-my-mortgage eesh, but just an eesh.  maybe an i-could-really-use-a-budget eesh or even an can-i-pay-someone-to-get-handle-on-incoming-and-outgoing-cash eesh, but certainly no where near an i-am-irresponsible-with-money eesh.

6 - eat more balanced, regular meals.  this slow cooker is doing wonders for my nutrition!  i eat at home more often and have meals full of vegetables (and meat, because it turns out that a lot of slow cooker recipes call for meat...).

but i did have chocolate cake and coffee for dinner this evening...  and because i ate a lot of lacklustre, light weight, dehydrated meals on my hike on vancouver island, i have been 'rewarding' myself with my guilty pleasure of cheeseburgers more often than is healthy.

i feel as though with the changing of the seasons and the impending cool down of autumn, i will be in my kitchen and entertaining more often meaning i will be eating well and sharing food with family and friends.

7 - sleep an appropriate amount.  i have really been enjoying my sleeps lately, which is so important as there is nothing better than being out on a saturday night and just looking forward to coming home, crawling into bed, and doozing off knowing no alarm will be waking you.  and in the morning, when i am not exhausted and can get up and at 'em instead of needing a few extra minutes (about 10 times) because i don't wake up rested on a sunday morning because i have been overtired all week is a triumph.

clean sheets, a hot bath (with epson salts courtesy of my mama), and a good book has been just the ticket.  and much needed as i have overcome some rather trying days at my day job in the past few weeks.

8 - maintain my priorities.  really, this should just be all the previous goals wrapped into one.  if i could stay on top of all the last 7, then this one would come naturally.  unfortunately, that wasn't really the case this past month.  and part of it was because i was absolutely tuckered right out at the end of a work day that i didn't want to do anything afterwards and that included doing fun things or social things or educational things.  so i became sort of boring and lazy.  but i have had some lovely, low-key weekends (both at the cabin and in the city) and i managed to refocus and am rounding out the month on a high.

9 - keep asking for what i want.  come to think of it, i haven't asked for too much this month.  thrown a few more job applications into the mix and sent some good vibes to the universe, but haven't articulated exactly what i want.  but part of that is because i am not exactly sure that i know.  or i haven't had the confidence to state what i want.  but i am getting there and once i do, i might just come knocking on your door with a request.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

ted talk recommendations

i have spent my morning cleaning, doing laundry, ironing, and listening to ted talks, which is such a wonderful website about 'ideas worth sharing' and if you have not already taken a perusal through their wonderful videoed lectures (there is an iphone application too for when i am at work!), here are a few talks that struck a nerve or a chord with me this morning, take a look if you have some free time.


i have never been a fan of wwf, but its vp who deals with corporate social responsibility and sustainability makes a number of good connections and conclusions about third party verifications, the challenges of putting the decision on sustainable consumption on the consumer, and highlights some success stories of how changes have been made in industries without our even knowing.

i recently went to a lecture by alan knight of the virgin group (of richard branson fame) around third party verification in the forestry industry and what the oilsands of alberta can learn from that experience.  and this was a really nice compliment to that information and is something, to a very brief degree, contend with in my day job.

jason clay: how big brands can help save biodiversity


steve jobs gave a commencement address at stanford in 2005 and i absolutely love his message and the story of how he got his start and then kept moving.  i did not realise that he was an adopted child and that he had been publicly fired from apple years ago.  moving and inspiring and a great reminder not to dwell on negative even if it is difficult to suspend judgement in the moment.  (and something i direly need to be reminded of in 2010.)

steve jobs: how to live before you die


new york senator diane j savino makes the case for the legalisation of same sex marriage and while i don't necessarily agree with her perspective that even same sex couples should have the right to be as miserable as everyone else as i believe that it doesn't matter what the result of a marriage, all consenting adults should have access to the institution (although i do understand that this line of argumentation might be a line that resonates the best with those whose opinions in the senate she was attempting to influence), i completely agree with her take on the role of government in marriage in a democratic state.

diane j savino: the case for same sex marriage


two people speak about choice and they both have really valuable insight into how western developed countries can be improved and deteriorated by the powers associated with choice.

malcolm gladwell speaks to an audience about how to ask the question of what people want in different ways to get more accurate information with the intent of keeping people happy by offering them more choice.

malcolm gladwell: spaghetti sauce

alternatively, and more to my line of thinking on this concept, is barry schwartz who wrote a book entitled the paradox of choice, which i have been meaning to read for years.  he speaks to the idea that the more choices we have, the less satisfied we are with the selection with ultimately make.  i know that this is true for me - when i go to a restaurant with a huge menu i get overwhelmed and am never happy with my final choice because what could it have been like if i picked something else.  for this reason alone, i like eating at fancier restaurants who dictate the menu and refuse to allow substitutions.

schwartz connects the reduction in satisfaction with higher levels of depression and anxiety and i certainly know this is the case for me.  i feel as though there is so much i could do, but where do i start and how to pick what to do?  he uses the example of young people getting married and the selection of a mate, which also resonated with me for the same reasons as the lengthy menus as how we cherish and respect freedom not for what it gives us or what it can allow us to do for ourselves, but simply because freedom in and of itself is valuable.  and i am not always so sure this is the case.  watch it and see what he says about shifting the blame in the medical community and why we might not always be the best person to make decisions for ourselves.

barry schwartz: the paradox of choice

Sunday, August 22, 2010

ready for fall

it seems i am in the habit of confessions lately.  and here is another one: i am done with summer.

and what is more, i am ready for the cooler days of autumn and the changing of the seasons.

i am sick of waiting for summer to arrive.  it is the third week of august and i had my furnace on this past week!  ridiculous, i tell you.

as much as i am sick of waiting on the weather, i am more excited for the slowing down of my social calendar that comes with september as schedules become more rigid and the pressures of being out and about on any given day decrease.

i have felt such pressure (and certainly, brought on entirely by myself) to MAKE THE MOST OF IT this summer.  although i am sometimes at a loss as to what IT is.  and as much as a walk in the park, a drink on a patio, or a hike in the mountains sound like a lovely way to pass an afternoon, doing it alone is not always as thrilling as doing it with someone.

and while i am being miserly, let me also add that all these festivals and events throughout the city during the summer months are never as good as you expect.  i found myself at the calgary folk fest for the first time this year and every year i always think, 'that always looks like so much fun, why don't i go?'  well, i did go and it was a lot of people in my space, a lot of chaos, and a pain to organise a group of people to meet up and stay in the same area.  all of these events seem to be the same - lots of people (including those dudes with their dogs that insist on taking their shirts off as soon as the thermostat reads 20 degrees), overpriced food, and crowds heaving in the heat/rain/miserable calgary summer weather.

on that note, i am ready for september.  ready for the trees' leaves to change colour and fall.  ready for sweaters, soup, and hot cups of tea.  ready for my schedule to calm down and ready to spend friday evenings at home without any guilt that i should be DOING SOMETHING with bonus points if it is a FUN THING.

i'm ready.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

dirty little secret

here's a dirty little secret - i didn't donate anything to the relief efforts in haiti after the devastating earthquake this past january.  yes, i wanted someone to hire me to go there, but i didn't donate.  call it karma, but i sort of felt as though costs associated with the response would be covered because of the incredible news, pop culture, and celebrity coverage the disaster got.  this is likely not the best way to judge whether or not humanitarian efforts need any additional financial support, but there it is and that is how i made my decision.

in keeping with that same thinking, ever since i heard of the floods in pakistan a few weeks ago, i have thought that it is so interesting that a natural disaster that has displaced an estimated 3 million people has warranted little more than a mention on the nightly national news and have found myself wondering if this is at all correlated with how much money has been donated by private citizens like me.

and it wasn't long before this line of thinking was covered by a popular aid blog, aid watch, and after reading it and thinking 'what the hell am i waiting for?,' i just donated to islamic relief.

i picked islamic relief because (and how is this for good donorship...) i knew a girl who used to work there before i met her when she worked for another international relief ngo.  she didn't even have fantastic things to say about her working experience there, but nonetheless that is how i picked one of the agencies i know are on the ground in pakistan.

this will be rather interesting to watch play out because perhaps donors are fatigued, perhaps richies like me (and you, most likely) in the developed world don't have such a connection to a country half a world away, or perhaps freedom loving people are afraid that they will be funding terrorism and the like by giving to pakistanis, but i don't feel confident that it will be such the groundswell of donations as haiti was.  i could be completely wrong, however, as many muslim ngos and networks are incredibly well funded using a completely different donor model and they might teach those of us participating in a more western and, dare i say, mainstream response a thing or two.

coincidentally, today is also world humanitarian day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

one good story

before i opened Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, i was in dire need of a good book.  a good story to take my mind off the stresses associated with my own life story at the moment.  and this was a book that i know i will be recommending and thinking about for quite some time.

marion stone is the main character, one half of a set of identical twins whose indian nun mother died during his birth and whose father, a top british surgeon working in the mission hospital in addis ababa where he was born, ran away immediately following his birth.

marion's story, along with his twin brother shiva's, parallels the story of ethiopia since the second world war and as marion leaves childhood behind and becomes a man during a repressive political regime and amidst the secession politics and attempted coups, his adoptive parents foster in him a love of academic study and medicine.  but it is the relationships that he has with those around him and how they evolve that is most fascinating and well described in the book.

i love a good historical novel, one that weaves facts and history into an engaging story, offering the opportunity not only to be entertained through storytelling, but also to get a unique perspective of a time and place.

along with the story of ethiopia, this book also is the story of surgery and the passion that doctors bring into that field of work as well as an exploration of why they choose medicine.  as someone who knows very little about the inner workings of the medical profession, i did not get lost in the language and along with learning more about ethiopia, i also had a glimpse into the life of expat doctors both in east africa and the us.

it is also a tale of deceit, trust, forgiveness and an example of how families are often not the ones you are given, but the ones you choose.  the author doesn't scrimp on details and many of the plot twists are completely unexpected, making it a book i wanted to get back to whenever i had put it down and one that offers enough depth to make it a true telling of a very rich story.

in some ways, it reminded me of Camilla Gibb's Sweetness in the Belly in its description of Ethiopia as someone's home and not as a visitor passing through would see the country.  both great books to read and if you do, i'd love to hear what you think!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


things i have done alone:
  • eaten in a restaurant
  • visited museums
  • seen a movie
  • sipped coffees in cafes
  • travelled on trains, planes, buses, and in cars
  • ran some runs
  • moved to new cities
  • rode my bike
  • travelled to new cities and countries on vacation
things i have not done alone:
  • hiked
  • gone out dancing
  • attended a live music show

slum tourism is not for everyone, in fact, it shouldn't be for anyone

Jina Moore has highlighted an op-ed in the new york times by Kennedy Odede, who grew up in kibera, which is potentially the largest slum in africa located smack in the middle of nairobi, my former home.

i think anyone considered any type of voluntourism should read this piece.  to the point, eloquent, honest, and a great voice on why you take a piece of people's dignity when you travel through their home to 'understand poverty.'

i have been to kibera.  i didn't spend much time there and would never claim to understand the community nor why exactly my work took me there, but i did see foreigners wandering around with their cameras out and i heard on local radio (through my rough understanding of kiswahili and my colleague's helpful translation) that there is a running joke that kibera residents are like zoo animals as the visitors pass by, looking at them from an arm's length and taking photos to bring home.

for anyone interested in life in kibera, Uwem Akpan has an excellent short story about a family in kibera in his book Say You're One of Them.

Monday, August 09, 2010

the upside of obsessiveness

i have cooked beef stew, pasta sauce, and vegetarian chilli in the past 4 days and there doesn't seem to be any letting up.  i am eating better than i have in weeks and am excited to have people over to share in my amazement of my slow cooker!

Friday, August 06, 2010

cleaning house, literally and figuratively

it is time to get organised!

i have hired a housekeeper and have forgiven myself for not being able to stay on top of my housework and given myself permission to contract that part of my life to a professional.  but (but!), i will now have to stay on top of keeping things tidy and do a deep clean before she arrives in a week's time.  but this is much needed and overdue.

in other organisational news, i am still learning the ins and outs of my new mac book pro and how to best manage my photos and files and this thing is really is a wonder, but i am still learning and find myself wishing there was a right click button as well as page up and page down buttons.

although it is not entirely linked to organisation, i am right this very moment using my slow cooker to make beef stew for the first time.  and i must say, cutting up the raw beef and browning it in a frying pan was completely manageable!  and i am certain i will not poison anyone if they choose to sample my stew, which is sure to be delicious.  but are you supposed to lift the lid on a slow cooker?  i can't seem to find the willpower to just leave it and want to keep checking on it, but maybe this defeats the purpose of the slow cooker?

any hints on how to get the campfire smell out of clothes?  i have already washed them on the highest setting on my washer and with extra soap, but they still stink and they are my running clothes so i don't very well want to be stinking up the pathways or smelling smoke as i run my buns up a hill.

and i have placed my amazon.ca order for the cape town lonely planet book and you know what that means - trip planning is about to begin!  i love planning a trip and this should keep me busy for the next few weeks before departing to rsa in october.

and next up - a weekend of running errands and getting my life back in some semblance of order!

juan de fuca - do it!

it is sort of my style to be worried and anxious before a big event and hiking the 47km juan de fuca trail was no different.  a friend and i had planned to do it over 4 days over the august long weekend and when i was doing my researches on the interwebs, i kept coming upon sites saying 'it is really hard' or 'don't kid yourself, this hike is TOUGH,' or other doomsayers going on about how hard it would be.  this did nothing for my confidence that i could not only handle the hike, but actually enjoy it too.

but (but!), i was absolutely fine, the hike was certainly challenging at parts and there was a lot of elevation gain over the course of the 4 days, but listening to the ocean and camping at some gorgeous sites made all those heart rate rising hills worth it.

this was my itinerary (because this is what i wanted to know before i did it):

day 1 - botanical beach to little kuitche creek campground (14km)
  • this day was by far, the toughest for me.  it was 14km to the campsite and i felt like i had to have a little chat with my legs each time i wanted them to take a big step up a rock.  there are a lot of boardwalks and fun bridges made out of the trees, but man, some of them are BIG steps for short legs.
  • i also had a bit of a shriek when we came across a garter snake that didn't even have the courtesy to get out of my way when i nearly stepped on it, eek.
day 2 - little kuitche creek to chin beach (12km)
  • this day was more challenging, but i didn't feel like i had to motivate my legs to keep moving, they just did.  camping at the beach was stunning and my hiking partner was absolutely exhausted by the end of the day (and with a sore knee after a fall on the slippery rocks) so we spent our evening sitting in the gorgeous evening sun, watching the water and staying out of the wind by sitting amongst the driftwood.
  • and we saw sea lions!  and they were cute!  and rather awkward when trying to move along the rocks.
  • it was so nice to wake up in the morning and take our time making coffee and breakfast over the stove before strapping our backpacks on and heading out along the beach.
day 3 - chin beach to bear beach (12km)
  • listed on the government issued map as 'most difficult,' there were a lot of switchbacks and hills as you dance along the coastline, but again, i felt strong and capable of the cardiovascular and muscular fitness even though i was fretting about how difficult 'very difficult' would be.
  • i have to say, we were both thrilled to see the sign for 'bear beach' when it appeared and we knew there were no more switchbacks in our future, yippee.
  • out campsite on bear beach was beautiful and quite secluded, which was great.  we named our site doreen after a buoy that had washed up nearby and had a campfire as we sat by the ocean.
day 4 - bear beach to china beach (9km)
  • back to 'moderate' difficulty, this day was a breeze and i felt a little disappointed when we reached the final kilometre marker.  it was the only day when we saw a lot of others, mostly day hikers, but i felt proud that we were carrying all of our gear and had the filth and dirt to go along with 4 straight days of hiking.  and we managed to reach the west coast trail bus pick up point with a few hours to spare and time to eat the remaining food that we had.  but i must say that i packed well and estimated the right amount of food.
a few other thoughts on this hike.  i wouldn't want to do it without the absolutely perfect weather that we had.  i suppose even if you couldn't have the benefit of the beautiful sunny skies that dry weather would be a minimum to make it really enjoyable.  i had hoped to see more sunsets, but we were often on the side of a point that blocked the sun setting over the water.  and besides, we were in bed before 9 each night!

there are lots of streams to collect drinking and cooking water and campsites were not over crowded and apart from one bear cache malfunction and many tries before successfully hanging out food, we had almost no issues.  a few minor blisters that 2nd skin took care of and some taped toes and we were good to go!

it was so nice to be out in the middle of 'nowhere' without mobile phone reception and not a care in the world past finding drinking water and estimating how much fuel we had left in the stove.  being sweaty, dirty, and without a shower for 4 days on end was just what i needed to gain some clarity and confidence and i am thrilled that i did this hike and can't wait for an opportunity to do something like this again.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

prop 8's demise?

proposition 8 really chapped my ass, so this is most welcome news: a judge in the us determined it was unconstitutional!