“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.

My dreams…

“These dreams go on when I close my eyes. Every second of the night, I live another life.” Heart.

I was alone with Luther Vandross on a stage in some sort of concert hall. The auditorium was empty. Luther was sitting at the piano smiling, running through a number of his songs. It was Fat Luther in my dream, clad in acid washed baggy jeans, sneakers and sweater. I was standing, listening to him, hardly believing my good fortune. Luther was happy, relaxed, telling me the stories behind those songs, giving me the low down on a number of the people he had collaborated with. I sang along with him, trepidaciously of course, and he just kept smiling and encouraged me to sing up and sing along. I don’t remember a single thing that he shared, but I do remember the feeling I had when I woke up and remembered the dream. “That was cool” I smiled to myself.

I dream. Regularly. I have recurring dreams. I have dreams that I don’t remember the details of when I wake up. I have gotten up from dreams, fallen back asleep, only to have the dream continue. I have gotten up from a dream, sick to my stomach only to realise with a profound sense of relief that it was just a dream. I have had dreams about the most unlikely people. So glad they don’t know that they’ve made it into my dreams!

As I was thinking about my Luther Vandross dream, I remembered a very similar dream I had in my second year of undergrad studies. I was a passenger on a train. Whitney Houston was singing “Where do broken hearts go”. She had on a navy inspired black and white outfit. She was happy, standing at the front of the car, singing her heart and soul out. I was sitting at the rear of the car, enthralled at what was unfolding before my eyes. I sang along softly, smiling. Miss Whitney called me up. I looked back at her incredulously, Me? She motioned: “come on up”. I went up and she smiled at me and mouthed “sing”. I was nervous. I was unbelieving. “Come on, Girl” she encouraged me. I opened my mouth. I closed my eyes and I did my best to keep up with Miss Whitney. I knew I wasn’t doing a good job. But she wouldn’t let me quit and Whitney and I sang the hell out of that ballad! I woke up with aching jaws, happy as could be, shaking my head with the certain knowledge that it could only happen in a dream.

So when I had a similar dream 27 years after my Whitney dream I searched for the meaning.
I always try to find the meaning to my dreams.  I don’t think it’s hocus pocus. I’m in fact thankful for my dreams, the pleasant and the not so pleasant.  Many times I think my dreams force me to confront issues swirling in my subconscious and act like a relief valve, giving expression to mounting pressures, fears, uncertainties, forcing me to face them, challenge them and move forward unfettered.

The dream where I am struggling to get ready and I can never go any faster or improve my level of preparedness… The dream where I am in  supermarket with a long list of things that I  must get, and the supermarket is about to close and I can’t find what I want or I can’t make up my mind… The dream where I am being chased by a faceless man on a motorcycle through corridors and I wake up just before he catches me…  Those are recurring dreams that I have had at different points in my life. Times when I have been faced with decisions, choices, dissatisfaction with my current state of being, fears about the future. And my response has been to acknowledge those fears, pray about them, challenge them and keep on moving.

There have been dreams where I can’t quite decipher the meaning.  So I try to define my prevailing feelings upon waking up. If I am at peace, I don’t give the dream a second thought. If I feel uneasy or sad or scared, then I pause. I pray. I pray for the people in my dream. And then I keep on moving. I don’t believe that every dream is a fait accompli.  Like I said, dreams can be a relief valve, and I think that dreams can be a portend inviting action.

These singing dreams though… So I researched the possible meaning of my happy singing dreams. One school of thought suggests that dreaming about celebrities indicates some yearning to be like them. LOL! I’ve always wished I could sing.  Not that my lack of singing ability stops me. Ask my children, H and colleagues. Poor them 🙂 My limited musical training and my relatively good ear tell me quite plainly when I am hovering above or below that note. I can hear it quite clearly. And I can also hear quite clearly my inability to translate what my mind knows to be accurate to the sound coming out of my mouth. But this desire of mine to be able to sing has certainly never been an obsession or a life show stopper. So I searched on.

To sing in your dream represents happiness, harmony and joy in some situation or relationship. You are uplifting others with your positive attitude and cheerful disposition. Singing is a way to celebrate, communicate, embrace and express your feelings.To hear someone sing in your dream signifies emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Your mood is changing for the positive as your outlook in life is looking up.”

Well alrighty then.  I’ll take that! There have been some changes for the better in my life, methinks. I have more challenges at work that if I handle correctly, will see me stretching as a professional in my field. I don’t have the dead end, what the hell am I doing with my life feeling that I had 8 months ago. I’ve ticked off some personal goals to do with education and investments. I’ve gotten a grip of some sort on my health. And sure, there are still areas of my life that pose a challenge… that’s how I know that I’m living 🙂

But as with every dream, good and bad, I keep moving forward. I seek guidance, I seek mercy and I look forward to every new day as a chance to get it right. Selah.



The Day Peter Tosh challenged me. I was 9.

In 1977, Martha Gordon, my Grade 4 teacher at Mona Primary School arranged for the late, great Winston “Peter Tosh” McIntosh to come sing for her class. I can see it now… Peter Tosh perched on a stool in front of Grade 4G, with this guitar, singing.
At the age of 9 I was hardly aware of his genius, his forceful and intimidating personality and his celebrity. But I remember us being spellbound as he filled the classroom with his undeniable presence and as he easily strummed and communicated with his distinctive voice.
In between selections, Tosh stopped and pointed to a calendar on the wall. It was one of the popular themes back then: a picture of Jesus with the Sacred Heart.
“Dem tell unnu seh dat ah Jesus” he began. “But Jesus was a Jew. Jesus wasn’t no white man. Jesus never have no straight hair, white skin and blue eyes” he insisted.
Mrs. Gordon, a powerfully built black woman with a booming deep voice, forever festooned in gold bangles, chains, rings and earrings, took charge, albeit with a nervous note in her voice: ” Stop it Peter. Just sing for the children.”
At the age of 9 it mattered not, and today at age 46, it hardly matters to me if Jesus was white, half-white, olive-skinned or black. I still view him as God. BUT. But I paused. I was amazed at Tosh’s audacity. Those utterances in 1977 bordered on sacrilege. I was impressed. And I came away from that experience knowing somehow that to question the status quo is absolutely the correct way to go. I went on to marry a cousin of Peter Tosh. My children share the Rebel’s gene pool.
“Bun Babylon and challenge the status quo.” Bust up myths. Ask the hard, uncomfortable questions. Refuse to let anyone or anything set your agenda.
That’s just the way it is…some things will never change.”
“NO! Don’t you believe them!”

Bun Babylon and Challenge the status quo.

It was Christmas Day and I was plating the various offerings when our nephew, visiting from Toronto, arrived. JJ, now 22, had been living in Canada for the past couple of years, going to college, learning to fly planes and working. He had grown into a physically impressive young man and an interesting one to boot. I had planned to do the curried shrimp last. We fixed ourselves drinks and I invited JJ to come and learn from the Master. He obliged. He’s pretty good in the kitchen himself, and IMs from him with requests for instructions as to how to cook oxtail, or what can he use these beans to do were not unusual. So I took him through wok preparation and the range of Indian spices that he must use, the importance of coconut milk in curries, and we chatted. He spoke about the subtle and no so subtle experiences he had had with racism in Canada. He spoke of how he coped, reacted and dealt with them. He used a phrase that immediately got my attention: “…challenge the status quo”.

“Listen Kelly: I take great pride in seeing how people react to me when I’m on my way to my warehouse job, a young, black man with a hoodie on, and then seeing their faces transform when I challenge the status quo by engaging them on something like navigating the 737 into specific airports. I break stereotypes one by one.

I deliberately spent my own money to upgrade my seat on the flight home. I wore my black blazer, stretched my legs and sipped red wine. I love saying: How’re your doing! and seeing them look around uncertainly. Yup… I’m breaking stereotypes one by one”

I challenged him: “Aren’t you merely trying to fit in, JJ… behaving “white” so as to ingratiate yourself?”

“No, no, no! Not at all! I want to challenge the status quo, I want to break stereotypes one by one so that the next time they have to interact with a young black man they won’t be so quick to stereotype, categorise and dismiss” he countered with certainty.

Long after we packed away the Christmas Day leftovers JJ’s statement about challenging the status quo and breaking sterotypes remained with me. There was something about challenging the status quo that resonated deep inside me.

“Keep Calm and Bun Babylon”… I love this message.  It speaks to determination, resolve, and intentional acts aimed at challenging the status quo.

That’s how I want to live my life.

Challenging the status quo is not about the foolish, purposeless acts of youth aimed at nothing more than simply defying for defying sake. To bun Babylon, to challenge the status quo is to refuse to accept that “that’s just the way it is”. It is to refuse to allow anyone or anything to define you. It is to refuse to live selfishly and safely. To bun Babylon, to challenge the status quo is to live intentionally… to live out loud… to be authentic and productive. It is about taking the time and making the effort to know You and your mission. It is to influence your Community for the better. It is to refuse to wallow, to refuse to exist in a mediocre context, it is about identifying your gifts and using them to leave your space better than you found it.

Not all of us will be obvious trail blazing revolutionaries like Mandela, Malcolm and and Martin. But all of us can impact at least one person. If the almost 7 billion of us on the planet positively impact one life…well… do the math.

I think of the persons who have impacted me: Raymond who took me to task in no uncertain manner after one disheartening performance review by our then manager. “Are you really waiting for him to validate you, Kelly? KMT.”  Peter who continues to give unselfishly of his fine mind to help me solve work related problems and who challenges and inspires me with his brilliant approach to problem definition and solving. My mother said something to me when I was 13 that I have never forgotten: “You have reserves of strength that I have never seen in anyone else, Kelly.” I don’t believe her, but I have drawn on her confidence in me on many, many occasions.

And I try to pay it forward. I hope that I will have raised productive, confident, happy citizens of the planet. I hope that will have inspired at least one dream in one person. I resolve to bun Babylon and Challenge the status quo.

Happy New Year!

The Ugliest Pie Ever!

Toni’s 11 year old daughter wowed us with a simple, healthful creation of  ripe bananas seared in coconut oil, caramelized with added honey and finished with cinnamon and nutmeg. Yummy! I decided right then and there to make a banana pie for Christmas day dessert.  I grew up eating my Grandma’s banana pie: think apple pie, but with firm, ripe bananas. Ripe bananas are sliced, layered in a a pie crust lined pie dish, sprinkled with brown sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg, sealed with a cover of crust and baked until golden brown. Enjoy this bubbling, fragrant pie – warm, with a scoop or three of vanilla or coconut ice cream.  You’re welcome.

But let me get back to me and my desire for banana pie. I decided to make my pie from scratch.  You see, I am not really a dessert person, but I have a weakness for anything in pastry: think patty, meat pie, fruit tart, fruit pie…ahmagawd… I felt that a bought pie crust would not give me that buttery, flaky finish that I was craving. So mi ah go dweet miself!!! I called Mummy in Grenada, got confirmation of the methodology that her mother used and felt ready to proceed. But here’s the rub (pun intended): pastry making is a precise science.  Yes, a science. Proportions have to be precise. Everything has to be cold. And pastry has to be handled deftly, with a light touch. Now please note: I don’t possess a kitchen scale. I consider myself to be a reasonably good cook. But I eyeball every single thing. I stir. I taste. I compensate and adjust. Apparently you don’t get this leeway with pastry.

I’ve had acceptable outcomes with pastry in the past though, so I approached this pie making task with a small measure of confidence.  So while the ham was baking Christmas eve night, I got busy with my pie crust. See it here now…remember I craved a buttery finish? I think I added too much butter in relation to the flour. Warning bells went off when that breadcrumb finish that I expected after combining the butter and flour was more like a sticky mass. Have mercy. Panic levels rising, I hastily added more flour. Woi mi bathy! I managed eventually to get everything into a a semi solid ball. I was almost in tears by this time as I replayed the amount of (man) handling that I had inflicted on my pastry mixture to get it to this stage.

I sighed. I cussed. I did everything except what I should have done at this stage: turn the darned thing into dumpling mix and fry up dem suckers to go with the ackee and saltfish that Little Master was going to prepare later that evening. But no. I am a hero and I was going to have banana pie made from scratch. So I took that “pastry” ball and wrapped it up in saran wrap and placed in the fridge. I was sure that in the morning, it would be firm enough to roll out and make my pie.

So at the appointed time Christmas day, kitchen smelling like heaven with all the other savouries being baked, simmered and seared, I trepidaciously removed my pie crust ball from the fridge. It was hard as rock. You see, all that butter had behaved like butter does in the fridge: it got hard. I dropped the ball with a thud on the kitchen counter. My shoulders dropped.

“Rachael.”

Yes Mummy?

“Rachael! Please come here.” I was standing as still as a statue, head bowed, shoulders drooping.

She runs into the kitchen.

What ,Mummy? What happen? What’s wrong?”

“Rachael. Feel this.”

I rolled the ball of pastry along the counter to her. She touched it. She held it in her hand and looked at me with eyes and mouth wide open.

OMG! What you gonna do? Maybe you can soften it up in the microwave.

The microwave, People. Pastry. My breath was coming in shallow, ragged gasps. I struggled to hold back the tears.

I waved her away. By this time she is doubled over with laughter asking me the same damned question repeatedly: “What you going to do?

KMT. I am going to make and eat banana pie. Hook or crook. We had other dessert options you know: Christmas cake, red velvet cup cakes and ice cream. But. I.  Wanted. Banana. Pie. Made. From. Scratch. Awoe.

I gave the cannon ball 10 minutes to chill out (ha!) and then I squared my shoulders and went to work. I pressed out that sucker. I added flour. I rolled it like I was laying asphalt. I managed to line the pie dish. I gloated: HA! GOTCHA!  I sliced, I layered, I sugared and sprinkled. Yes, indeed… I was halfway there.  Grandma’s method calls for complete covering of the pie with pastry, small vents snipped to allow steam to escape. Could I get a uniform, continuous sheet of pastry to do this? After rolling and recombining and rolling again 3 times (can someone say dumpling?) I decided to make a lattice top. Lemme stop here. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s the finished product: the Ugliest Pie Ever.

The Ugliest Pie Ever

Needless to say, when dessert time rolled around, I didn’t present this finished product.  My kids were like: “Don’t worry, Mummy…I’m sure it’s delicious.” I sliced up that sucker in hiding, plated and presented with flourish. Hallelujah!!! It was DELICIOUS!  The crust was flaky and buttery. The filling was perfect. I had only this pie with a little ice cream for my own dessert. I think the others agreed with my delicious verdict too:

What was left of the Ugliest Pie ever at the end of Christmas Day

All in all, Christmas day dinner was a success. I felt more confident dealing with the entrees and had no issue whatsoever presenting:

Christmas Dinner

So…where do I go from here?

Option 1: buy the damned pie crust next time.

Option 2: Buy a kitchen scale, look up some tutorial videos on YouTube and become a pie making champion. I hate losing, and I hate the idea that anything in the kitchen if off limits to me.

Option 3: Outsource the entire pie making activity. Toni’s daughter or my niece Ileanna are one hundred miles ahead of me in this department.

I’ll put this whole sordid affair out of my mind for at least three months then… well…we’ll see…

My Fondest Christmas Memories: A letter to my Family

Happy Christmas Family!
As I was driving home from work earlier this week, the hosts on the radio talk show that I was tuned in to, started reminiscing on their fondest Christmas memories. That started me thinking…what are my own fondest Christmas memories?  I smiled as I recalled them and thought that it would be nice to share with the Circle of Truth and my own children. 
So I’ve just dressed the ham and popped it back into the oven. Rachael and I have done a callaloo quiche and made red velvet cupcakes, Nicholas and I cooked ackee and saltfish, Dave seasoned a roaster and jerked a chicken for Christmas Eve snacking, and I’ve cut up and seasoned some sirloin for beef and pineapples tomorrow.  So while I wait for everything to cool before I close the kitchen for the night, I figured that this would make a great time to write.
When I think of Christmas, my absolutely fondest memory is of Christmas morning service at Holy Innocents church in La Digue, Grenada. We went a few times I think…as visitors to the island at first, and later when we lived there.  Christmas mornings were damp and cool and dark. That Grenada smell, that La Digue smell…cocoa, nutmeg, wet grass, served as the back drop for this Christmas morning experience.  We got hot cocoa and off we went to this beautiful chapel with the outstanding acoustics. The chapel had a real bell that was rung. Greetings were friendly and familial, offered in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the peace of Christmas morning.  We sang traditional carols and recited the liturgy. There was something majestic yet comforting about the rituals in this Church of England, encouraging reflection and worship. I loved everything about Christmas morning at Holy Innocents in Grenada.
Right alongside my fond memories of Christmas morning in that old chapel in Grenada are my memories of the annual Jamaica Defence Force carol services. The open air carol service in Up Park Camp, Jamaica, held on the polo field, under a canopy of light bulbs strung end to end across the field marked the beginning of Christmas for us. The military band transformed those old standards into anthems and we sang along lustily. Soldiers, some nervous as hell, did the readings. We laughed at the errors they made, and squirmed anxiously awaiting the grand climax at the end: the singing of “Silent Night” when all the lights went out leaving only lit candles and the stars in the heavens as our light. It was so beautiful. It was so regal. I really felt lucky and privileged to be there. And the moment the final benediction was offered,  we children scrambled to collect programs left behind. The winner was the one who collected the most programs. Simple fun, moments that became part of the kaleidoscope of my own life’s experiences.
The best gift I’ve ever received was that Christmas when we got scooters. “We” consisted of Jaimie, Abby and me. Joe, Anna and Sam weren’t born yet.  I had no idea that we were going to get them. I remember jumping on that thing in my red and white long nightie Christmas morning, hair flying behind me as I scooted by.  What joy! I can’t remember ever receiving another gift that matched that one in my opinion (except for a Princess Leia doll that Auntie Maggie gave me…I loved that doll for many, many years.)
Christmas eatings were always a huge production. I suppose coming from such a huge family meant that this was inevitable. Recollection of the details are hazy.  We always had ham, rice and peas and a whole heap more dishes. We drank sorrel. We shelled gungu peas from Daddy’s garden until our fingers were black.  We cleaned sorrel again from Daddy’s garden, our poor little hands prickly for hours after with the fine hairs that came off the sorrel flowers. The shelling and cleaning were done in the days leading up to Christmas in a circle characterized by a whole heap of talking and joking, sometimes while watching TV.
    
Grandma baked her special fruit cakes. Fruits were soaked for weeks prior.  On baking day she solemnly took down the yabba. We children were pressed into creaming butter and sugar. If I close my eyes now I can bring to mind the smells of her baking: the fruits, the rose water, the spices… I am not a fruit cake/Christmas cake fan, but Grandma’s cake… ah boi…
And there was Sgt. Riley’s Christmas cake, which sat in all its glory on the sideboard, begging to be cut every time we walked past. This Christmas cake, encased in Riley’s special royal icing, was eaten over the course of weeks from December to January. It was the never ending cake.
I remember the crowds. Yes, crowds.  Even as a child, I found dealing with my large family stressful. Seriously. I think this is why I can’t remember Christmas dinner details. The thought of the work associated with staging this family dinner brought on instant fatigue and an overwhelming desire to just lock myself in my room until it was all over.  And you know that the guest list was never confined to just family.  Mummy and Daddy always had an extended guest list: officers under daddy’s command, the unattached and less fortunate people from the church.  Our parents set an excellent example of extending one’s self, one that, to be truthful, I haven’t really emulated. I remain firmly in my own comfort zone of small gatherings at Christmas, unwilling to take on the stress of hosting huge affaires. I’ll do better, guys…maybe J 
I took a break just before the paragraph above to sample the ham. We all did! Delicious as expected. I’m back. Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast: callaloo quiche, mushroom frittata, ham, ackee and saltfish, waffles, coffee and orange juice.  Then we’ll have dinner.  Mrs. Mac, Dianne and JJ, and my former colleague and friend Claude will round out the guest list. We’ll have ham, roasted chicken, bread and bacon stuffing, sweet n sour beef, curried shrimp, roasted veggies, salad, candied sweet potatoes, green gungu rice n peas, roasted beet and corn salad.  It will be fun.  The children will open their gifts. Maybe I’ll get lucky and get a gift too! Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven’t done such a good job at teaching my children to extend themselves at Christmas.  I hope that they have fond memories of Christmas and create traditions of their own too.
Well, it’s almost midnight. Off to lock up the kitchen and put away stuff. Happy Christmas, Guys.  I love you all. 

Kelly
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