In search of Poinsettias…or so I thought….

“There’s a lady on Church St with the loveliest poinsettias at good prices” she offered.

I was looking for fluffy, good looking poinsettias that wouldn’t  break the bank and a colleague at work tried to help. She too wanted some and we agreed to pay this downtown Kingston vendor a visit. She reassured me that I would get parking (in the JPS parking lot…she had business to do at JPS so we wouldn’t be lying) and that she would direct me.

So at the appointed time, we removed our jewellery (Downtown Kingston, DUH!), grabbed our tiny purses (no need to advertise) and headed out in my car. Traffic was heavy going up Duke St. The commercial district that is Downtown Kingston was a bustle with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. On a regular day, Downtown is a bargain hunter’s paradise. So everyone and their mother trying to maximize their Christmas spend was out in the brilliant December sunshine in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The traffic was sluggish and I decided to make conversation as we slowly made our way up the road. You see, my passenger/guide is my co-worker but we’re not close friends, if you understand what I mean.

“So what are your plans for Christmas dinner?” I enquired. Food is always a great place to start as far as I am concerned.

“Well…” she hesitated…“We would normally go to my in-laws, but for the past two years we’ve done nothing.”

There was an awkward pause. But not for long. I sensed a story.

“How come?” I pushed.

She sighed. “Two years ago my sister-in-law was rude to me at dinner, Kelly. I was hurt but I held it in. And I decided that I didn’t need to put up with that ever again.”

As I listened, I sensed that she was conflicted, that she responded the only way she thought she could have, but that she wasn’t comfortable with her own decision.

“So how do your hubby and your kids feel about your decision? Don’t they miss the jollification and family togetherness?” I asked gently.

Another sigh. “I’ve encouraged, I’ve begged them to go without me, Kelly, but they don’t.”

I explained to her that as mothers WE are the nucleus of the family, that everything revolves around us, and that if we aren’t happy, no one else is really happy. Then I felt led to share a story with her.

I told her about my friend Rachel Cunning. I met Rachel on Twitter. She was a thirty something professional who was suffering from Lupus when we met. She was a lively and engaging tweeter, posting links to interesting topics and offering witty comebacks up and down my timeline. She tweeted in passing that she was spending Christmas alone. Immediately I perked up. No one should be alone at Christmas unless they choose to, is my belief, handed down to me by my own mother. Now let me confess, I am not the most sociable person. I am no social butterfly who loves to entertain. Not me, no Siree. But Christmas has always been a time for family and food and fellowship and so I reached out to her. She immediately accepted my invitation to dinner. It was a bit of a logistical challenge for me as she was not mobile and she lived all the way in Portmore, miles and miles away from my Coopers Hill home. But I planned around it, picked her up early, and warned her that she would have to watch me cook and prepare and just spend the day with me. I got a bedroom ready for her in case she needed to rest and took out blankets and socks since Coopers Hill is delightfully cool at this time of the year. I fussed for nothing. Rachel fit right in with the family and we all embraced her immediately. Our other guests came later in the day and December 25 2016 was another warm, enjoyable, fun time.

One Wednesday in early October I spoke to Rachel. She was in hospital but was upbeat that she would be discharged on the weekend. I was supposed to call her that weekend to make arrangements to get something to her later that week or so. I didn’t call her. The weekend passed and on the Monday morning heading out I remarked to Nick that I had to call Rachel “today today today.” Imagine my horror when I saw “RIP Rachel” on my twitter timeline later that Monday morning. Two phone calls later confirmed the worst: Rachel had passed away in hospital the previous evening. 

“Life is short” I told my colleague. “At the end of the day, is whatever you’re holding on to really worth it?

By this time, we had parked and exited the car. All the nice poinsettias were sold off. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had the distinct feeling, almost certain knowledge, if you will, that the drive out for poinsettias was not really about poinsettias, but more about the delivery of a well needed, perfectly timed message to my colleague that could potentially impact her life and her family’s life for the better: something infinitely better than potted plants for my home.

This morning she came in late and came straight to my desk. She was beaming and bubbling as she pulled up a chair.

“I know you were disappointed about the poinsettias, Kelly. But I have to tell you, I think the reason for our little outing was bigger than poinsettias.”

She shared how late into the night she wrestled with the challenge I offered her. She felt compelled to reach out to her sister-in-law to resurrect family dinner on Christmas day. She had discussed it with her husband and children and they all eagerly encouraged her to reach out. They were in full support. She eventually Whatsapped her sister at 7:30 this morning and almost immediately her phone rang. Sister-in-Law was on the other end, happy and eager to pick up where they had left off two years ago. My colleague told me that she felt a great weight off her shoulders and lightness in her heart. She was excitedly working out menu plans and best of all, the family was going to be together for Christmas. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had done the right thing. I have a feeling that this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for that family.

Is there a fractured relationship that you need to address? Christmas is as good a time as any to deal with it. 

Is there a lonely person in your circle that you can include in your plans? Christmas is a great excuse to intrude. 

Are you the lonely one? Are you the hurt one? I am sorry for your pain and hurt. I encourage you to reach out. You’d be surprised at the welcome waiting for you at the end of that call or text message. 

Here’s to an abundance of love and happiness this Christmas. 

Courtesy Marion Ann


 

Ever heard of Conversational Intelligence?

NOTE: Today is my penultimate working day of 2017 (Yay!) and I wanted to share some learnings that I’ve found useful in this last quarter of the year. “Conversational Intelligence” by Judith Glazer is a must read, and the following is merely my own takeaway from her stellar work. This was meant to be a LinkedIn post, but all truth is parallel, they say, and the same principles that we can apply in a professional context to improve relationships are applicable in our personal life. So I’m sharing here. Feel free to take and apply whatever you need. Happy New Year!

Dysfunctional organisational culture. Toxic relationships. Self- doubt. Mistrust. Misaligned objectives. Perverse metrics. Silo-ed-approach to business. Misunderstandings. Wasted time. Defensivenes.

All of the above are directly related to the quality of the conversations we have. The culture of an organisation and the ease (or not) of interpersonal relationships do not exist in vacuum. Think about it. The intangible “this is how it is around here” results from how we relate to each other.
Courtesy Jane Genova
How Dysfunction Looks
Ever sat in a meeting, listened to the usual suspects pontificate on and on, listen to silence when feedback is solicited, leave the room and see the mini meetings taking place in huddles across the department? Ever wondered why your partner just can’t seem to understand why this is so important to you yet does nothing to change the way they operate? Ever yearned to get into your teenager’s head to understand just how the heck they came to make that decision to carry out that act? Ever stepped back aghast that your friend or colleague took offence to that off-hand remark you made the other day?
Meaning resides in the Listener
The person speaking assumes that what he means to convey is what the person on the other end understands. After all, words have meanings, and when put together in a sentence can only have one meaning, the meaning the speaker ascribes to the sentence. Right? Not so fast.
There is a difference between Intention and Impact. You see, both the speaker and the listener don’t exist in a sterile environment where the only variable are the words being bandied about. There is a context that absolutely determines how something is said and how it is interpreted. What is this context? It comprises a number of factors: past experiences, how the person was raised, personal values, expectations, …and biology.  Biology? Yes.
Courtesy The American Negotiation Institute
Why don’t they get it?
Uncertainty and fear are the two biggest hindrances to effective communication. They are the filters which have the biggest potential to distort meaning leading to the attributes that kicked off this essay. Where there is ambiguity, our brain naturally and instinctively fills in the gaps.
Simply put, our brains operate at two levels: a more primal, instinctive level where we react to unfamiliar, potentially hostile situations in a particular way, with the sole aim being self-preservation, the old fight or flight response, if you will. Then there’s our higher order brain which is more capable of interrogation, judgement, linking facts, and rational responses. This part of our brain does not operate instinctively, but we can learn how to train it such that we are more mindful and deliberate and intentional in how we converse with those around us.
Judith Glazer in her book “Conversational Intelligence” quite appropriately described what our brain does in the face of this uncertainty as “creating a script and playing a movie” that fills in the blanks in the World According to Us. In the face of ambiguity, our more primitive lower brain kicks in and creates a scenario where we go into protective mode. The result is a chain reaction of distrust which blocks effective communication.
But we can fix it!
Here is how we can, by understanding the biology at work, move beyond an instinctive posture to a more deliberate one aimed at creating constructive conversations:
1.       Listen without judgement. Listen. Make the effort to hear what the other person is saying without running them through your personal filters.
2.       Ask Discovery type questions. These are not yes or no answer questions. These are more how and why ones. Asking questions aimed at uncovering the real message being conveyed allows you the listener to suspend the judgement mentioned in 1. above and clears the path so that all that remains is What Is Meant to Be Conveyed.
3.       If you are the one conveying a message, then you have to be aware that the listener will most likely interpret what you are saying based on his own filters. This will force you to address fears and concerns that you think they have up-front in your messaging, again clearing the way for What Is Meant to Be Conveyed. You should also feel free to ask the listener to tell you what they got from what you were saying. This creates the opportunity to clarify and refine your message.
4.       An environment of openness and acceptance are a must for points 1 through 3 to flourish. Easier said than done though, right?  What if you are not the one in the position of leadership with the implied authority to create such and environment… is all lost?
No. YOU can contribute to a cleared pathway for effective communication by adopting points 1 and 2 above: listen without judgement and ask discovery type questions. In the absence of an open and accepting environment this could be difficult, but still doable. And slowly, you could see a paradigm shift in the quality of your own relationships with those around you. It’s a start.  
As we build our conversational intelligence we’ll see the quality of our conversations evolve along this continuum:
TELL/ASK >>>>>>>ADVOCATE/INQUIRE>>>>>>>>SHARE/DISCOVER
It is when we are operating in the share/discover mode that conversations are most productive and where dysfunction in relationships and culture disappear.
A Personal Commitment to Building Conversational Intelligence
Going forward, let us, wherever we are, regardless of our position of power in the relationship, seek to create a new context, one that minimises fear, doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. Here are some suggestions as to how we can do this:
Maintain an open posture: be open to new thoughts and ideas and let this inform your body language and choice of words.
Display appreciation: saying thanks and acknowledging good quells fear. And that’s a good thing, right? Because fear distorts meaning and blocks understanding.
Focus on Discovery in the conversation rather than seeking to make your own point.
Practice Empathy and Curiosity: This narrows the gap between expectations and reality, the root of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Here’s to a 2018 where we level up and become better parents, partners, leaders and servants by creating a context where fear and ambiguity are minimized and where sharing and discovery can thrive, and conversations are meaningful and productive. 
Courtesy Wheeler Blogs

Jamaica Exotic Mushrooms

I love mushrooms. I can eat them raw, sauteed in butter by themselves, cooked up with bacon, perched atop a thin crust veggie pizza (yum!), paired with tender chicken in a creamy sauce…you get the picture. Typically, mushrooms in Jamaica are premium offerings, imported and resold at high prices in the more upscale supermarkets. But in the early ’90s, there was a local project that saw oyster mushrooms produced by small farmers in rural Jamaica available on supermarket shelves. They were different from the typical button and portabella mushrooms that I was familiar with, but they were half the price and they were fresh and I lived for the times when they made their appearance. I can’t recall the details on the project that brought this exotic food local. It could have been RADA or JADF (Think inland shrimp farming, ornamental fish rearing, bee keeping,small farmer orchid production in Yallahs, cassava and tobacco farming, greenhouse agriculture…some of the more well known agriculture based projects that were initiated with the aim of transforming lives & communities. Too bad scaling up seems to elude us. I stand to be corrected). They soon ceased to be available, much to my dismay. There’s that scaling up issue again.

Over the years I have mourned their absence until a few weeks ago when I stumbled across an article in the local papers signalling a new project and the availability of locally produced oyster mushrooms again! Oh happy day! I immediately went to the Facebook page indicated in the article and enquired. Production was happening in Manchester. Were they available in Kingston? Where? How much? I eventually got a response stating that deliveries were going to be made in Kingston on Nov 16, please place orders at a specific email address. So I did. The minimum order would be a half pound at J$2500.00. More later on the pricing.

 On Thursday I got an email indicating the approximate time of delivery and in the afternoon, the front desk at my office called me advising me of a delivery for me. I rushed out and was greeted by an elegant woman, with a slightly foreign accent, with 2 boxes and 2 jars for me. She introduced herself as Pauline Smith with a firm handshake, instructed me to immediately place the still warm and oh so beautiful mushrooms in cool storage, uncovered!, she was careful to admonish. She also said that as a first time customer I was getting two new products to try on one condition, that I give her feedback. The jars were labelled as mushrooms in bamboo vinegar. I was intrigued.

Look at that! Fresh and beautiful. One half pound of pale creamy and delicate salmon coloured mushrooms
Same label, but two different products I think. One had smaller bits with a firmer texture, and one had larger softer pieces.

I asked her to tell me more about this project. She explained that she was part of a cooperative aimed at empowering women and attacking rural poverty. She explained how they had worked to demystify mushroom cultivation and evolve a system where it become a plug and play endeavor. They had developed starter kits, very little land space was required, and that value added products was seen as the real value added side of this industry. Oh wow! I was intrigued. I love food. I love food innovation. And woman empowerment was simply the icing on the cake. Absolutely.

Pauline gave me more strict instructions on how to use the jarred products. “The mushrooms are a great meat substitute” she advised. “Simple use a little virgin coconut oil or sesame oil, sautee the product straight from the jar and then add a little of the vinegar it’s preserved in at the end.” “Oooh” I rejoined. “So it’s like an escoveitch then” I asked excitedly? “Not really…” she replied. “It’s more like a…like a…” she searched. “Like Thai food!” I jumped in as a light bulb went off. “That’s it exactly!” she agreed. I knew that I was in the presence of real foodie. Hey, Sis 🙂

I put my treasures in my igloo that I keep under my desk (don’t ask…I do, and it has come in handy on multiple occasions) and on cloud nine, I went home that evening my head swimming with all the ways I was going to enjoy my mushrooms.

On Friday evening I decided to have a light supper of lettuce roll ups. I put slices of ham and chicken processed slices in lettuce leaves, added cream cheese, olives, onions, pepper sauce and some of the mushroom pieces pickled in the bamboo vinegar and rolled them up. Delicious! These mushroom pieces were crisp and slightly sweet and went well with the other ingredients in my roll ups.

On Saturday morning I tried the preserved mushrooms in exactly the way she advised. I used sesame oil. The end result was a meaty, slightly sweet perfect side accompaniment to my bacon and hard-boiled egg breakfast. I imagined that it would also be perfect in a 100% veggie stir-fry creation that included baby corn, onions, sweet peppers and broccoli. Yum! My family concurred. Definitely a winner.

Oyster mushrooms picked in bamboo vinegar, sauteed in sesame oil, a little of the bamboo vinegar added at the end.

Don’t mind the shape of my eggs. It’s magic! The mushrooms were a delicious part of my breakfast.

For dinner, I decided to make chicken and mushroom in a cream sauce. Perfection! These oyster mushrooms have a meaty texture and they were so fresh and unblemished and unbruised (is that even a word?) unlike the imported options we have that have been cold storage for sooooo long and are soooooo far away from their origins. The end result was a delicious, easy to make meal that we all enjoyed.

I sauteed the cut up mushrooms with onions in my wok.

After stir-frying boneless, skinless chicken thighs, I added the sauteed mushrooms and onions. Fresh ginger, loads of fresh garlic, heavy cream, a dash of freshly grated nutmeg and fresh parsley brought it all together.

I served the chicken and mushrooms with a garden salad, and stir fried chayote and zucchini. All locally grown.

I did a little digging of my own. I visited Pauline’s Facebook page (she accepted my friend request), I visited her cooperative’s website and I read two Gleaner articles on her movement here and here. What I came away with is this: Pauline and her team have a vision. A great vision, that, if realised in full, will see women with an option for economic independence, a new healthy addition to our food options locally, an opportunity for exciting new food innovations with mushrooms as the base, and hopefully an abundance of fresh mushrooms at a reasonable price in supermarkets, so I can enjoy one of my favourite foods with ease. Like so many similar projects, this one seems to have had its problems: in-fighting, funding, support, etc. But they’re still going. Pauline has had her own health challenges, but she’s still going. And they’re working hard to spread the message. At a recent event at Devon House, they were fully present, selling “grow-kits” to allow people to grow their own mushrooms in their kitchen! I’d love to try that.  

Now, I work in the food industry…commercial manufacturing and distribution. So I always think commercial viability of any food innovation. Was the J$2,500.00 value for money? Perhaps…these are organic, fresh offerings delivered to my door. I haven’t done the gram for gram comparison with the imported  options. And maybe I shouldn’t. But premium-offerings consumers are a niche market, and there is still a mass market out there who think out-of-pocket-spend instead of premium-and-healthy and may be put off by such a huge outlay. The mushroom project will ultimately choose their target demographic and proceed accordingly. I wish them every single success. 

I have another tray of fresh mushrooms left and I am conspiring to sautee them with garlic and veggies and enjoy. By myself. No easy feat in house of foodies. Selfish? Yes. Without apology 🙂 #causeImworthit.

Beige for Christmas

I got a beige pedicure this week.

Four days before the climax of the Festive Season and I did my toes beige.

I actually took up a bottle of a deep, beautiful red, but then I put it back. I was not feeling red. I was feeling beige. And I was and am cool with it.

No, I am not depressed. Nope, I’m not even sad. This year went by in a mighty rush. At least that’s how it felt to me. It feels as if it was just last week I was here struggling to set my quantifiable targets at work for me and my team  and now here I am doing the same thing over again for a brand new year. This year saw opportunity after opportunity for me to grow professionally (note: I did not say challenge after challenge. Perspective, right?). From building my team in the face of strong internal opposition from all directions, to digging deep to challenge and change systems to support organizational objectives, some of which I agreed with, some of which I did not agree with, to mastering new technical skills, I have had a humdinger of a year here on the grind. And 2016 crescendo-ed dramatically with my organization enacting significant structural change, bringing with it personnel changes, the expected heightened uncertainty and feelings of personal vulnerability.  So here I am at the end of 2016, content to get off the merry go round, if only for a few days, to simply breathe. Inhale 2-3-4, exhale 2-3-4. Repeat. Repeat again.

Today is my last work day for 2016. I go off to cook Christmas dinner with the help of my husband and children this weekend. We’ll light candles and open gifts and share dinner with a small gathering of extended family and friends old and new on Sunday.

And I give thanks. I give thanks for opportunities to earn, to learn, for my beautiful and loving and healthy and extremely supportive family, for good friendships. I give thanks for rest and respite. With my beautifully beige toes.

“In quietness and confidence shall be your strength…” Isaiah 30:15

The Day the Fire Hose Reel Moved by Itself…A Duppy Story

It was turning out to be one of those interminable afternoons at work. I had to break it up. So I got up and went up to the first floor to deal with something that I could have dealt with by phone or email, but…well…interminable. So I negotiated the use of that meeting room for a working session I was convening in the coming week and ended up in the back corridor of the first floor discussing emergent strategy with Brenda. Ok. We weren’t discussing emergent strategy. But that’s not what this story is about.

As we strategised in hushed tones, I heard an unfamiliar: “Click, click, click...”

“What is that, B?”

“Look at the fire hose. Nuh it ah gwaan so”

“What? WHAT? OMG! The hose reel is moving by itself!”

That wall mounted emergency fire hose and reel was turning first clockwise, by itself, then anticlockwise, by itself. It just sat there on the wall, clicking back and forth. I just stook there watching with my mouth slightly ajar.

How exciting! I rushed back into the office area and summoned others who looked as if they too were having an interminably long afternoon to see the clicking hose. Gasps and oohs and ahhs and hands over mouths and exclamations of wonderment chorused up. Then came the stories. Stories about banging noises on desks after hours when she was the only one left in the office. Stories about toilets flushing themselves after dark. Stories about strange presences wafting through meeting rooms causing heads to swell and hairs on neck-backs to stand on end. Duppy stories. Duppy stories galore. Giggles and squeals and exclamations of  “Stop now!” permeated the just prior mausoleum like atmosphere that was the first floor. The interminable afternoon had taken quite an exciting turn!

Then I spotted Simon. Simon is an engineer. A scientist. An experienced man known as a practical, problem solver.

“Simon! Just the man we need. Please come here.” I summoned, fully in the moment.
“You have the answer we desperately need.”
You have to know how to couch your commands in order to be effective, you know…

Simon advanced towards me slowly and suspiciously. I suspect he was like “WTF is Kelly getting me into now…” I have a reputation of not being politically correct and horrendously blunt regardless of time and place. Sorry. Not sorry.

I said: “Look at that, Simon” pointing to the hose reel.

Nothing. Nothing at all. Lord god. The duppy get shy. Or the duppy mussi just kiss him teet and seh Kelly too damn hype. Watch me an har.

Simon looks at me quizzically and opens his hands in the universal questioning gesture.

“Keep looking. Just wait for it” I said while inwardly pleading, do Duppy, tun yuh roll, I mean reel, one more time.

YASSSSS! It happened: “click, click, click….pause….click, click, click”

A cheer went up from the small crowd enjoying this unexpected yet welcome diversion.

Simon exclaimed, stepped back, then walked towards it. Our hero, our engineer, our scientist approached the hose reel. He touched it. Then he turned the valve. Then he touched the house again.
He turned towards us. “This is not good” he said sagely with more than a little concern.

“What is it?” I was fairly shrieking at this point.

“The hose is energized. This is exactly what happened and  messed up the factory recently” he declared.

Simon patiently explained to his now eager and quiet audience that somehow water was getting into the hose despite the positioning of the valve and the ebbs and flows of water were resulting in the movement we were witnessing.

“I have to report this to Facilities immediately” he muttered and hurried off leaving us standing there.

We were all quiet and yes, crestfallen. We stood there in silence. Shauntelle is the one who broke the silence: “Well I preferred our explanation. It was more exciting.” We all exhaled and laughed along in agreement as we broke up and returned to what we were actually being paid to do.

The notion of some sort of super natural interference was preferable to the totally scientific reason for the hose moving by itself. And I started thinking.

Perhaps this is why Trump’s message resonates with so many. His sweeping generalisations, hyperbole laced rants and outright untruths are duppy stories that somehow are easier and more fun to digest than rational explanations. You see, facts demand active thought and consideration and then they demand action. Simon had to investigate and then think and then conclude and then go immediately to Facilities to take corrective action. Our duppy stories catered to our fears and emotions, negated the need to think and reason (duppies are outside of our control after all!) and removed the need for any sort of action on our part.   

Photo courtesy PBS

The people at a time in Biblical history are reported in the book of Isaiah as saying to the prophets of the Lord: “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions.”Isaiah 30:10.

We’ve been rejecting truth and and fact, opting for duppy stories – fiction- for a long time now apparently.

The late great, Wilmott “Motty” Perkins introduced us to Erasmus Campbell, a would be parliamentarian here in Jamaica who declared his hand and his modus operandi early on: he promised honesty and told those looking for hand outs to vote for someone else. They did. And there ended Erasmus Campbell’s foray into representational politics.

Emotions trump logic every day. Anger and fear coupled with ignorance in some instances make us hear what we want to hear,  and create fertile ground for lies and half truth to flourish. And that is one of the reasons why post-truth politics appears to be winning today.

Duppy stories are fun around a bonfire or in a candle lit living room with long shadows on the wall when the power goes. But the fire will go out and the power will come back. And the coming of the light heralds Reality, where we are obliged to observe, reason, conclude and act. No more duppy stories.

PS For the record, I did tell Brenda that there must be some tensional differences in how the hose was wound on the reel causing the movement as it sought to correct the differences. Not quite correct, but see…I was still thinking even while enjoying the duppy stories. 

“A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer.

I knew I had to read it. I favourited the NY Times tweet with the intention of getting into it when I had time to click on the link: “Readers respond to “A Mother’s Reckoning,” the memoir by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold http://nyti.ms/21bYr0z  

It had happened in 1999, the most horrific school shooting in the USA in history. I remember watching the horror story unfold on CNN. It was easy to try to make sense of the unimaginable tragedy with the “mentally ill white boy raised by naive idiot parents who didn’t do their job” dismissal that I was going to use again and again to explain the all too frequent occurrences of mass shootings in the USA. 

But here was a well written and reasoned review of a memoir penned by the mother of one of the teen-aged killers, a boy who took his own life too and I was intrigued. I suspended judgement long enough to be curious about her own processing of the events that took place and the role of her offspring in them, and by extension, therefore,  her own role in the tragedy.

I bought her book.


And last night, waking up drenched in sweat (that’s happening more and more frequently these days…did somebody say perimenopause?) I quietly exited our bedroom and took up residence on the couch with the book. I am only a third of the way through, and maybe I’ll do a full review when I finish the book. But I’m compelled to share my thoughts at this stage:

Sue Klebold is extremely articulate. This may seem like a trite observation to do with the horror story that she’s writing about. But it is important. Her use of language and choice of words leave you with no questions as to what she’s trying to say. It allows for the reader to enter her space and mind and form their own conclusions. She’s not looking for absolution. She’s not looking to unburden herself. She’s not trying to protect her son. She is simply adding extremely valuable data to a conversation that is mandatory in today’s society

We do the best we can as parents. Sure there are horrid parents:abusive, substance abusers, mentally ill persons incapable of nurturing the ones in their care, etc. etc. But most of us try to do the best we can with our children, hoping and praying that they turn out healthy, happy and fulfilled. Listen, we don’t get a manual with each child. And we act and react with filters brought about by our own experiences, dreams and fears. It’s all we can do. And for most of us, our imperfect actions come from a place of perfect motive, that of love for our children. And yet in Sue Klebold’s case, what she got was a son who took lives and dreams, and shattered families including his/her own. Why? Why? Why?

Love: it keeps us going. In the weeks and months following the shooting at Columbine, as Sue Klebold tried to understand, to mourn, grappling with grief and guilt, as she navigated her forever altered existence through the fog and haze of a mind and soul trying desperately to cope, close friends and family supported her with love, practical love. They reminded the Klebolds that they were loved. They cooked for them. They shielded them from the understandable hate directed in full force towards them. They helped them screen calls. They took them into their houses. They helped her mourn the son she lost. They attended without judgement as she faced the inevitable guilt she felt. 

I found myself crying, having to put down the book at least 3 times to sort out my own reactions to what I was reading and to wipe my eyes so I could go on. I wept with regret for the mistakes I have made as a parent. I wept hoping and praying that God Himself would compensate for my own human weaknesses and mistakes that I made in tending to the blessings and gifts he had bestowed upon me in the form of my children. I prayed for wisdom. I wept with the complete understanding of what True Love is, myself having been buttressed from below, above and around at a very difficult time in my life by love devoid of judgement. Without love my own story could have had a very different ending.

And so I read on, intrigued by her own story. It is a tough story to tell and I am glad that she has done it.

A picture says a thousand words on behalf of the photographer and the viewer too.

There’s an estimate that gives the number of photographs taken in 2015 as 1 trillion. 1 trillion! Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and Twitter allow us to say a thousand words with one picture. And we do. We snap our food, that weird person in front of us in the line at the supermarket, that beautiful sunset on our way home from work, our toddler caught in the act on being cute and so on and so forth.

Six photographers each had separate sessions with the same man, and the outcome was different in each case. Each photographer was given a different bio about the subject and the result was different in each case. The subject dressed the same for every photo session, but the photographer who was told that he was a recovering alcoholic captured him differently from the one who was told that he was a billionaire. Fascinating stuff!
So what’s more important: the point of view of the photographer or the point of view of the person looking at the photograph? As the article referenced above posits, images are indeed captured in a way that betrays or illustrates the photographer’s own biases and preferences. I photograph my own food all the time. I do it when I think I’ve prepared it well, or when I’ve prepared something new and I capture it this way so I can share it (because you care!) and look back at it and enjoy it all over again. Food is in my top 3 favourite things in the world. Without apology.
I capture family moments when we’re out and about for much the same reasons stated above. It’s fun to look back and remember that perfect day at the beach, or when we huffed and puffed up that mountain trail. Children change so quickly and looking back only fuels feelings of wonderment and gratitude.
Confession: I like to photograph random people too. I’d like to do it more often, but I’m scared to do it. I wonder about their stories. I make assumptions about them. I want to know what they think. And from time to time I wish I was brave enough more often to ask strangers for their permission to photograph them. On those occasions when I simply took the bull by the horns and was straightforward with a potential subject, politely requesting permission to take their picture I was indulged. I’d like to do more of these types of photographs.
My daughter photographs differently. Her images, to me, tend to be more artistic and she has, in my opinion, a natural eye for composition and focal points. Look at how we both captured Christmas dinner:
Kelly’s pic: I wanted to showcase my food
Rachael’s pic: She wanted perhaps to capture a vibe
Only she can articulate why she captures what she does the way she does. But when I started trying to identify my favourite photographs of hers, I quickly identified a recurring theme in my own head. What do the following photos communicate to you? Do you like them? Why?
  
“Anything is possible” is what these photographs communicate to me. I worry. A lot. Not sure if it is as a result of how I make my living as a worker in logistics and supply management where we constantly have to evaluate risk and form contingency plans, or if I ended up in this field because of my natural propensity to think of the worst possible outcomes. But even while I contemplate the worst that could happen, I consider myself the eternal optimist, always looking forward, anticipating better days. Looking up in spite of decaying walls closing in…doorways leading into new rooms, movement away from and into…verdant life around the still standing, though decaying structure.
NOTE: Rachael and I aren’t trained photographers. But with technology the way it is, we can express ourselves and capture images important to us and images we think you’d like to share, in the way we want to share it, with our own biases and filters (pun intended). Ain’t life grand 🙂
A picture is still worth a thousand words.

Coming Clean on Toxic Thoughts…

Have you ever found yourself in a less than desirable situation… say… a difficult marriage, a horrible job or been betrayed by a friend, relative or lover? Have you ever been wrongfully accused? 

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of the above, then you probably had “Toxic Thoughts”… you know those thoughts that are rooted in resentment and take on a life of their own as you plot revenge and conjure up scenarios where you triumph over the enemy.


So how did you deal with these Toxic Thoughts? How do you deal with them?”


I got many thoughtful responses to this post I did on my Facebook wall. So many of my friends contributed and participated with such honesty and humanity sharing from their personal journey. People who don’t know each other, whose only connection on my wall is that they know me, supported and cheered on each other. I was sent several inbox messages with those stories too personal to share on a Facebook wall. Some inbox messages were sincere words of encouragement and hope and “Go, Kelly! You can do this!” even though I didn’t confess to actually struggling with Toxic Thoughts in my FB status update. I am grateful. 

You all inspired me to try and pull your collective thoughts and input and experiences together into a playbook of sorts for dealing with Toxic Thoughts. So here goes…

Everyone has Toxic Thoughts at one time or another…
My most mild mannered, easy-going of friends confessed to having these feelings and thoughts. You are not alone.

Acknowledge Them
Face these thoughts. Articulate them. Don’t let them swirl in a murky, ill-defined mass in your mind and soul. 

Then Challenge Them
Sometimes you are simply the victim in the situation through no fault of your own.
Sometimes you are culpable in the whole mess.
Doesn’t really matter in the final analysis though. The net result is a miserable, hurting YOU, weighed down by these Toxic Thoughts that make you physically ill and show on your face.

Decide what you want
Some people hold on to anger and bitterness and use it as motivation.
But I’ve found righteous indignation to be tiring. Guilt is debilitating. The most desirable end state for me is one where I am free, happy and in a place to both receive and give goodness. 
So you don’t want to be constantly ruminating on your victim-hood, or plotting revenge… You want to freely celebrate someone else’s triumphs…You want energy that makes everything you do joyful and purposeful… You want the lines on your face to be from laughing too much, and not evidence of the constant internal grimacing that accompanies your Toxic Thoughts…
Good. Getting there…

Take Action!
Toxic thoughts apparently don’t simply expire over time. They have to be replaced. And replacing them requires some deliberate decisions then actions 

Some Practical Suggestions from my Friends:

  • Allow a set amount of time for rumination then clap your hands 3 times (ok the clapping is my idea!) and then decide enough!
  • Replace the ruminations with other thoughts: 

  1. Acknowledging what is good in your life
  2. Praying to God
  3. Giving thanks to God

  • Positive mantras like Bible verses that promise better days and healing and provision create new focal points and serve a pivots around which your entire outlook and attitude can shift
  • Accept what you cannot control
  • Do the things that make you fell better: Music or Walking or Dancing or Going to the beach  
  • Removing yourself from the situation (several people recommended this!)
  • Seek counselling from trained professionals or wise people who mean you well.
  • DO the opposite of how you are feeling. Feeling lonely? Call someone. Feeling like no one cares? Give someone a gift? Bemoaning how alone in the world you are? Invite friends over.
And remember this…

My wise cousin who knows a thing or two about how peoples minds work, reminded me that letting go and replacing Toxic Thoughts is often times not a one-off event, but rather a process. If you’re headed in the direction of Freedom, then you’re doing good…

“In my personal journey, I have discovered that sometimes forgiveness and letting go is not a one time thing. I don’t know why I always thought it was that way or that it had to be that way. Perhaps it should be that way. However, letting go in increments is still a victory. It’s still letting go. And by this I mean, I often work with people who believe all is lost when we worked through a problem LAST week but this week it popped back up causing distress. This doesn’t mean that it’s all over. It just means that gently and carefully we stitch up the heart again and go about our business. This is life. It’s not perfect. But in the end, that’s okay.”

And so, before I set off to work yesterday, I decided up front not to focus on everything that was not as I wanted it to be. And then as I rounded the corner, I saw this, and I knew that it was a gift to me… a reminder that life is more than I can see at a particular point in time. It was perfect. And it was splendid. And in that moment I gave thanks.
Sunrise over Kingston Harbour….

And nothing changed, you know…except me. I listened as people made their presentations. I heard the half-truths and the selective exaggerations. And as I listened and observed, the less than savory things about certain people still came to mind. But this time I acknowledged them even as I declined to pass judgement. 

One of my friends shared this on  my wall in response to my question on Toxic Thoughts. Think on these things…

From Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”: In the Foreword written by former US President Bill Clinton, he notes: “I once asked Mandela to describe his long walk from prison to president. Mandela’s reply was: “When you are young and strong, you can stay alive on your hatred. And I did for many years.” Then one day after years of imprisonment, physical, and emotional abuse, and separation from his family, Mandela said, “I realized that they could take everything from me except my mind and my heart. They could not take those things. Those things I still had control over. And I decided not to give them away.” 

President Clinton, like any rational person, could not readily wrap his mind around what Mandela was saying, and so he pressed for more: “Tell me the truth,” he said to Mandela, “when you were leaving prison after 27 years and walking down that road to freedom, didn’t you hate them all over again?” and Mandela replied, “Absolutely I did, because they had imprisoned me for so long. I was abused. I didn’t get to see my children grow up. I lost my marriage and the best years of my life. I was angry. And I was afraid, because I had not been free in so long. But as I got closer to the car that would take me away, I realized that when I went through that gate, if I still hated them, they would still have me. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”



You can either focus on the walls around you or you can simply look up and see the endless possibilities…your choice. Photo Credit: Rachael McIntosh







Sail into Tomorrow…

“Sail Into Tomorrow” by Olivia Newton-John

If a ship of dreams bid me come, would I board it?
If I had their gold in my hands, would I hoard it?
If I knew the trials I must face, would I carry on at all?

Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring me comfort – Lord help us to survive

If his pretty eyes shone my way, would I leave you?
If I wasn’t sure he would stay, would I deceive you?
If I had to melt you with promises, would they stand or fall?

Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive

If time should call me a fool, would I laugh or would I care?
Sail into tomorrow, living day to day
That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay
Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive
And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive
I fell in love with this song as a little girl. It was one of the cuts from Olivia Newton John’s album “Clearly Love” (1975). There was just something very haunting and wistful about this song…the words, the melody, Olivia’s pitch perfect voice… to my then 8 year old mind and soul.
Fast forward to Boxing Night 2015. I was in the shower getting ready to go watch The Force Awakens and out of the blue I found myself humming this song! I had not heard it in decades. 
I startled my own self. Wrapped in my towel, dripping wet perched on the edge of the bed, I snatched up my phone and searched for the lyrics. I just knew there was a message in there for me. And sho ’nuff, there was. The central theme resonated with me in a very real, a very strong, a very organic way: moving forward, in the face of uncertainty, taking it one day at a time, with faith, relying on Someone bigger than me. Here’s the thing…
Each new year has always represented for me, an opportunity to take stock, celebrate wins small and big, and anticipate the future. I’ve had difficult years. I’ve had great years. And I’ve also had non-eventful years. But on the eve of every new year, I pause and try to map out in my head and heart, always hopeful, the New Year coming. It has been no different this time around.
Many people pooh-pooh the notion of New Year Resolutions. No problem. I make no prescription for anyone here. This is simply my own story, my own heart.
  
I had hoped to end 2015 with a very clear picture of the trajectory of my professional life in particular. I thought that at this stage in 2015 I would have had at the very least, sharply defined options all in a neat and tidy row. Not so at all. It’s fuzzy. 2015 went by in a blur and here I am at the edge of what appears at this time to be a new year that looks burdensome and wearying based on  my current reality. 
While not one of those keen and avid goal setters (and nothing wrong with being one of those!), I must confess that I prefer to have in hand, timetables, plans, road-maps and context in order to feel settled and to provide direction. In order to be in control. There… I said it. So coming to the end of 2015 without any of the above in hand I was feeling a little out of my comfort zone and a little sad that the status quo seemed set to remain. 
But here’s the thing, events in my 47 years of life have taught me to chill: I don’t know everything. I can’t see around corners. There are so many things outside of my control. And He is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above anything that I can ask or think”.  My life lessons had brought me to a place where I was not as depressed or worried as I might have been say 10 or 15 years ago. I acknowledged the following to myself:
1. Even though I’d love to know, I don’t know what the future holds…
2. And I’m fine with that, as I know with certainty, that there is no randomness in my life. 
3. And I yield to that Higher Plan, all the while following the promptings within to prepare and to       get ready to switch course if necessary
And so I think that this song popping into my head from nowhere on Boxing Day was a gentle sign of reassurance that I was right where I was supposed to be at this time: uncertain, yet trusting. Moving forward, even though down the road is nothing but a hazy blur at this time. #grateful 
“Sail into tomorrow, living day to day

That’s all I can afford to do and all I’ll ever pay

Is a song to sing to thank you for making me alive

And a prayer to bring you comfort – Lord help us to survive.”


Happy Mother’s Day…lessons I am learning, issues I am contemplating…

A very happy Mother’s Day for all the mothers out there struggling today. Yay me. On Mother’s Day we celebrate an  image of That Mother who selflessly gives of herself, the nurturer, the provider, the all wise, all knowing sage who instinctively knows and gives exactly what is needed to fruit of her loins.

She became a mother in pain, as she carried another life inside her for 9 months, painfully ejecting that independent life into the world. Her needs automatically became secondary to this new tiny dependent.

Remember the stages? Helpless infant leaving you to guess what was wrong. Cute toddler who amazed you every day with each new discovery. Amazing toddler who shocked you with every display of an independent personality in the form of tantrums and preferences. Interesting child learning basic skills like the 3 Rs and coexisting with other human beings. That teenager who makes you proud and exasperates you in the same instant.

I’ve watched enough movies and read enough books to know why some mothers struggle: children with mental illnesses, children who are ill, mothers themselves who battle substance abuse, who struggle with their own parenting skills because of what they lived as children growing up in a dysfunctional family context.

This is what I want for my children, and suppose most if not all mothers want, in spite of any personal failings: happiness, independence, self-confidence and a sense of fulfillment in life. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I don’t want my children to make mistakes, especially the mistakes I made. I quake at the thought of pain and wasted time that they will experience with a misstep.

LESSONS I AM LEARNING, ISSUES I AM CONTEMPLATING ALONG THE WAY

Mistakes are a part of life. How arrogant of me to accept my own mistakes and the role they have played in my own development as a person and then rail and rage and despair when I see my own child heading in the direction of a possible Mistake.

Why does the specter of a Mistake frighten me so much?

What is important to me may not be equally as important to my child. And that’s ok, because we are not the same person.

We are not the same person. We are not the same person.

Why do I tolerate people in my professional and social spheres that are different from me, and then do everything possible to get my child to see the world through my own filters?

My child is not that other child. And my child is my child for a reason. I was gifted with this child for a specific reason.

The greatest gift I can give my child is the same gift I must give myself: love, acceptance, and an opportunity to learn and move on.

The things that I am intolerant of, that I react harshly and violently to, that I sit in judgement of are often things that I see in my own self that I wish were not so. 



MY CHILD, MYSELF.

This really is harder than I thought, and as I try my best to navigate, to do the right thing by my children, I am forced to face uncomfortable truths about me. I have had to confront my own personal failings and own them. I have had to confront and deal with the things about myself that I loathe, that I wish weren’t so, that I see reflected in my offspring. I’ve had to draw on wells of patience and love that I didn’t know existed, and give some of that to myself as well.

I see my child trying to cope with life by avoidance. I see it in myself as well.  I see my child afraid to make a mistake. I see that in myself as well.

And I also see myself eventually pushing past the fear of failure and I hope my child sees that as well.
I see myself making the effort to be brutally honest with myself, if with no one else, and I hope my child sees this as well.

I see myself trying new things, taking up challenges (eventually, in some instances, after prolonged procrastination) and I hope my child sees this as well.

I see myself learning to forgive me, blunder after blunder, pressing through despite guilt and self recrimination, and I hope my child sees this as well.

And I see sharp wit, humour, keen intelligence, political awareness, empathy, the soul of an artist, eloquence, a gift for self expression, determination, several degrees higher than I see in myself and I shake my head in amazement and awe and respect, and I secretly high-five myself with glee and say to myself: my child will be ok. Please God, make them be ok.

WHAT IS FOR SURE

I love my children. I hope I have been able to convince them of that. I hope they conclude, if not today, then hopefully someday, the same thing I concluded about my own mother: her actions were not always perfect, but her intentions towards us always were. I have no doubt, that my mother’s love is real and fierce. This I know. And at 47 years old, I am grateful for her love. It has supported me, saved me, kept me going.