Showing posts with label thanks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thanks. Show all posts

Birthday Party

Tomorrow is my birthday so I made this mix as a celebratory gift to you lovely people. I hope you'll have a listen, a fancy cocktail and bust a move - even if it's only in spirit. I'll be in Chiang Mai, Thailand enjoying the sunshine.

Thanks to all the friends, family, supporters and clients who have made this year - one that started off a little rough - so absolutely wonderful. I am one lucky gal.


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Welcome to 2011

It's  beautiful, sunny New Years day in Luang Prabang, Laos. Yesterday we ended the year with a 34 kilometer bike ride (up mountains) that almost finished us off, a stop in a hill tribe village to take polaroids of the kids and leave them as gifts (they were amazed!), a wander through some of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen, a visit to an Asiatic bear sanctuary, a lovely meal, watching dozens of handmade paper lanterns float up into the night sky, and a count down at the stunningly beautiful local bar Utopia. It was pretty much the most perfect way to end the year and I couldn't have dreamed up anything better.

We stumbled home along the river, slightly tipsy and a little bit achey from our bike ride, but happily calling out "Sabaidee Pi Mai", which means happy new years in Laotian, to passersby and settled into our little room for a long sleep. This morning I was briefly woken up by the resident rooster and then again around 9 am by the sound of monks chanting across the street. Then a nice brunch next to the river.

Dan and I have discussed resolutions a lot this New Years and I think I've narrowed mine down to a few basic shifts in behavior that can mostly be boiled down to mindfulness:

  • I want to eat less meat and when I do eat it, I want to be more conscious of what it is I'm consuming. I love animals and in a country like Laos, where water buffalo wander out into the street, and chickens are part of the community, it's much harder to divorce what I'm eating from the idea of a living, breathing animal. I just want to be more responsible and aware of what I'm putting into my body and the impact that has on the world. 
  • No more pop for me. It's bad and filled with nasty chemicals and I don't need it in my body. 
  • I want to do a better job of letting things go and spend less of my time dwelling on people and things that make me unhappy. There are so many wonderful things in the world - I don't want to waste any more time on negativity or on trying to work out the motivations of other people. I would like to master the art of throwing up my hands and walking away (in a good way). 
  • I want to do a better job of really committing to my creative writing practice. Setting tangible goals seems like an important things to do so here's mine: 5,000 words a week creative writing. Doesn't matter what it is, doesn't matter if it's any good, what matters is that I put in the time. 
  • Be more mindful of how I'm spending my time and do a better job of setting hard daily goals so that I spend less time floating around the internet without any direction. 
  • Move my body more. The bike ride yesterday was hard and I don't know that I'll be doing 30+ km uphill on a regular basis, but it felt good to by physically active. I want to spend more time walking, swimming, biking ... I don't want exercise to be something I need to go to a gym to do, but something that is just part of how I live my life. When I see the kids running around here playing, I'm reminded that our natural state is to move through the world and to take pleasure in doing it. I want to remember what it's like to enjoy my physicality. 
  • Career wise, I want to keep moving forward, keep feeling excited and inspired by what I'm doing and continue to surround myself with passionate, creative people. We started Contentini: Content Strategists this year and it's been more successful than I could have imagined (thanks clients!). I've done a lot of thinking and writing about web content - something I'm passionate about - and have had some great responses. The idea of content strategy as a professional focus is still relatively new and I am beyond excited to see how it evolves over the next year and how my own practice will change with it. 
I hope you all had a peaceful and joyous New Years and that you're as excited for the year ahead as I am. We've got another few days in this country that I've fallen completely in love with and on January 3rd we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam. I will be sad to leave Laos and I'm always a little nervous when visiting a new country but really, I couldn't be in a better place to enter 2011. 


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Happy Holidays!

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"Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
Your heart is true you're a pal and a confidant.

And if you through a party
Invited everyone you ever knew
You would see the biggest gift would be from me
And the card attached would say thank you for being a friend."

The lovely Kate Davis, a mentor and friend, passed away early this morning in Toronto. I am so glad to have known her. There's isn't much to say really. Death, particularly when it takes someone as young as Kate feels incredibly cruel and unfair and I so wish she'd had more time to spend with the people who love her. 


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More Maggie


I know, I know... I've been talking, blogging, Facebooking and Tweeting a lot about her lately. But that's because the girl has completely transformed my life. About a month back I happened upon her Do Lecture talk (thanks @MrsPBoutique!) and watched it about five times. It made me cry, smile, laugh and mostly it woke up this bit of me that had been sleeping.

From the time I was a child, I was interested in doing volunteer work. I can remember having my grandparents drive me to the edge of town on Sunday mornings at 6 am where I volunteered at the local animal shelter, mucking out cages, feeding animals and then eventually bathing them and playing with them. When I was 16 or so I saw a documentary about the Aids infected orphans of Romania and I remember writing to a Catholic organization who was working to help care for them. I wanted to go there so badly, I wanted to help. Somewhere along the way, I lost this drive. I've always cared and maintained a strong sense of what I like to think of as justice but I didn't see a way into making anything really happen. I guess a kind of helplessness sunk in.

Then I watched Maggie's talk and she just totally woke me up. Here's this 19 year old girl from Jersey (she's 23 now) who ends up in Nepal founding and running a home for orphans and a school. No one told her how to do it or gave her permission, she just did it. And my goodness! She does it with humility, grace and despite seeing some heart-wrenching things, she does it with almost a childlike sense of optimism. And she makes me want to do things too!

Over the past few weeks, Dan and I have had the privilege of working with Maggie and her wonderful friend, activist, inspirational colleague and brilliant writer Megan to help refine some small bits of the website as they've prepared for the inevitable traffic and response the NY Times pieces were bound to bring them. We've received so many thank yous from these ladies, but the secret is that it's me who is completely overflowing with gratitude. These two amazing women have made me reconnect to that part of myself that believes that the world can be better and that we can be better in it. That all of these tiny moments, encounters and acts are serendipitous. And Dan, well, he's just the most supportive man in the world and over the past few weeks he did so much of his technical magic because he wants to make good things happen and because I think he sees how passionate I am about these ladies and what they're doing.

I really look forward to continuing to work with Maggie and Megan and who knows, maybe I'll find my way to Surkhet over the coming year, get my hands dirty and meet some of the lovely people Blinknow is working to support.

You can read the New York Times here: The D.I.Y Foreign Aid Revolution, view some stunning images of Kopila Valley Home and School on the Times Magazine slideshow and read more about how to change the world on Nicholas Kristof's NY Times Blog. I've put my favorite image from the slideshow below. Those beautiful girls remind me of an outtake from a Sophia Coppola film!

Picture 9

(Photo by Alessandra Petin for the NY Times)

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What I Learned from Six Weeks in Mexico

 Anyone who knows me personally or reads this blog with any regularity knows that my fiancee and I are currently traveling around the world. Instead of traveling from place, to place, to place too quickly to really taste what life there is really like, we are generally spending multiple weeks and sometimes even months in one location. So far we've spent six weeks in Arizona, six weeks in Mexico and are currently on week two of a month in Vancouver.

In Arizona we lived like royalty in a beautiful desert edged house on the northern rim of a big city. The house was beautiful, spacious and comfortable and our hosts were gracious and generous. We wanted for nothing except perhaps rain and a cool breeze, both impossible requests in the desert in the late spring.

We chose Mexico as our next long-term stop because we both wanted to break up our time in the United States and Canada with a location that felt culturally different; we didn't choose to travel in order to barricade ourselves in familiar places where everyone looks and talks like us, taking comfort in the sameness (though I came to long for some of that sameness during our time in Mexico). We knew that we needed to be in Vancouver for the end of July to attend a wedding and there were also the budget and round-the-world ticket restrictions to contend with; according to the terms of our ticket, we needed to leave the US via the same city we entered, which was Los Angeles.

Unlike many of my friends and family who have spent a lot of time in Mexican resorts as a way of escaping the long, cold northern winter - it was a country largely unfamiliar to me. I knew that I liked Mexican food - or at least the bastardized version of it made familiar to me through the Old El Paso brand of tacos and salsa sold in supermarkets - oh, and the amazing food in London's Mestizo restaurant near Euston. And I speak some very basic, halting Spanish, which I'd learned mostly from Sesame Street and because there are some words that sound similar to their French equivalent and I did French Immersion from Kindergarten until grade eight.

This was my basis for spending six weeks in Mexico: food and the ability to count to ten in Spanish.

In my 20s I read a bunch of novels by Isabelle Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez (technically set in South America) and the colorful towns and people they described informed what I imagined a small Mexican village might be like.

One cold, rainy London day in April I came across some information about San Blas, a small fishing village of about 8,000 people on the Pacific coast of Mexico about a two hour drive North of Puerto Vallarta. It ticked all my boxes: it wasn't particularly touristy, it was on the water, it was cheap, it was supposed to be 'real' Mexico and it had a mythology attached to it in the form of a Henry Longfellow poem called The Bells of San Blas . The place I booked for us didn't have air conditioning, which I imagined would be fine as I shivered in the London damp; a little bit of heat wouldn't hurt us. I also steadfastly ignored all the warnings about the bugs because being from Saskatchewan, I thought I understood how bad mosquitoes can be (I was wrong).

It's taken me a few weeks to fully process my experience in Mexico - and longer still for all the bug bites to heal. I still think about the things I loved, like:
  • the little kitten who adopted us.
  • the salty warmth of the sea water and the way you could walk out forever and it would never get too deep.
  • the avocados.
  • the immense thunder and lightening storms that shook our little bungalow.
  • the quirkiness of places like Billy Bobs Bar and all the leather faced old gringos who had retired there to spend the rest of their days smoking pot; their stories about how a crocodile named Fluffy came to live behind the bar (it's true - we saw him) and the guy who couldn't pay his tab one night so Billy Bob, the owner, took the shirt off his back and hung it from the ceiling (it's still there).
  • Juan Banana Plantain Bread.
  • how affordable everything was, so much so that we got to the point where if we were spending more than the equivalent of $10 for dinner and drinks we felt like it was too expensive.
  • the struggle to communicate, which was both awkward and funny; and the sense of satisfaction when we found that against all odds an understanding was reached.
  • feeling a connection and sense of familiarity to a place; by the end of our time in San Blas we knew every important street, every bar and restaurant and the best market stalls to find the ripest avocados, freshest pineapple or greenest cilantro. Vancouver is lovely but it's vast and unknowable in the way that any city of a certain size is. San Blas was an open book.
  • The badly subtitled Mexican television.
There were plenty of moments of surprise and pleasure in Mexico mostly stemming from the confirmation that life is so unknowable and so big. I knew things would be different there but the extent of the difference still caught me off guard and made me feel the largeness of the world in a tangible way that I've never really felt before.

I wouldn't trade the experience for anything, as much for what it taught me about myself as about Mexico:
  • As much as I dislike it, my capacity for physical discomfort is greater than I would have imagined. Our weeks in San Blas were spent in an uncomfortable, hot little bungalow that we shared with giant spiders, millipedes and a family of chirping lizards; it was about a hundred degrees and the humidity sat steadfastly between the 75 and 100% range. A short walk to the corner store and back and I would be drenched with sweat. The mosquitoes and sand flies were vicious and not deterred much by even the most potent Deet filled bug spray. One morning I woke up with about ten huge welts on my back from something biting me overnight. I desperately wanted to sleep outside of the covers because it was so hot, but was too afraid of what would chew on me if I did, so I slept fitfully in the rough sheeted, hard, sandy bed. And even though I felt filthy, and itchy and sweaty, I managed to adjust - not to the point where I felt good but to where I could mostly ignore my body and find enjoyment in my life there.
  • At least in the smaller villages, Mexico moves at its own pace and you can either adjust to it or spend a lot of time feeling frustrated. I like time lines and deadlines and I like to feel like there is a system in place to ensure that things run smoothly. I struggled against this in Mexico until I came to a place where I could almost give up and just accept that somethings are out of my hands. When I'd feel annoyance bubbling up, a voice in my head would say, "Lady, Mexico doesn't care what you like."
  • My life is one of privilege and although I acknowledged that on an intellectual level prior to spending time in Mexico, I don't think I really understood it. In addition to the physical discomfort, Mexico was inconvenient; I couldn't buy what I wanted, when I wanted it and had to learn to cook using only local produce and make due with what was available. This wasn't an enormous hardship, but it was a new experience for me, accustomed as I was to life in zone two of London - a five minute walk to a Waitrose. I don't think I'll ever take convenience for granted the way I did before. 
  • I could never live in a country without an adequate animal welfare system. The starving stray animals on the street broke my heart every time we went out. I still think about our kitten and hope someone is taking care of her. 
  • It's important to take care of your community and dispose of rubbish properly. Filth accumulates quickly and makes even the most beautiful place feel depressing and unloved. Since being in Vancouver, I am noticing how clean it is and am so thankful for that and for a culture - imperfect as it is - that mostly cleans up after itself.
  • I love cooking and am pretty good at it; I can take a random concoction of ingredients from a little Mexican market and make something pretty wonderful.
  • There are compelling stories everywhere if you take the time to listen. There are so many things I want to write about that are a gift from my time in Mexico.
By the end of week six, we were both desperate to move on but, as cliche as it sounds, I won't ever forget the experience. I think I learned to see my own life a little bit differently, with a new level of appreciation for how lucky I am and how it really is nothing more than luck.

I'll continue to carry this new awareness in my pocket like a smooth, cool worry stone. I don't think I really knew it was there before I spent six weeks in Mexico.

All photos taken in San Blas by me.

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Ephemera of Crystal

I know some genuinely lovely ladies and lately I've been feeling the urge to write about them. Recently I blogged about my friend Vanessa and over the last week, I've been running into images and things online that remind me of my best friend Crystal (pictured with me, above left).

The summer before grade ten, I was home alone on a hot day when I got a frantic call from the sister of my neighbour, who had lived alone in the big house next door since his lovely wife passed away a few years earlier. I'd known and loved the Howards all my life - the older couple were always sweet to me, and I spent some wonderful days playing with their visiting grandchildren every summer. The call I received was worrying - no one had spoken to Mr. Howard for a few days, which raised their concern. They asked if I would go next door to check in.

It was late morning and I can remember the heat had already settled in. I got to his door and rang the doorbell. After no answer, I opened the screen door and knocked on the inside door, which caused it to open slightly. The house was dark and still and it was difficult to see anything beyond the sliver of bright sunlight just inside the doorway. Against all the voices in my head (similar to the ones most people experience when watching a horror film - "DON'T GO INTO THE BASEMENT!") I went in and the only happy ending to the story is that, a few months later, Crystal's family moved in.

The worst part probably wasn't finding him (he had been gone for awhile at that point and it didn't look like it had been a struggle) but the part afterward. I am pretty sure I called an ambulance (just in case) but then I had to call his sister back and tell her what I'd found. My own family was about a half an hour out of town at our cabin and, at the time, we didn't have a phone out there so I couldn't get a hold of them. The ambulance took him away and his sister and some family members came to the house next door - I'm not sure why. And I made them sandwiches and things because that's what one does, or at least it seemed so to me.

So this incredibly sad thing is how Crystal and I came to be good friends. I already knew who she was (we went to the same relatively small high school) but when I randomly got a phone call from her that summer asking me if I lived anywhere near her new house and we discovered she was moving in next door, there was barely a blip between her changing from a girl I knew to someone I loved.

We spent our last three years in high school figuring out ways to thwart her mother's rules - often unsuccessfully - and dancing to oldies in the attic of the big old house she lived in. Our friendship hasn't been perfect and we've fallen out in the harsh, horrible and hurtful way that only good friends can do - but, even thousands of miles away, I know she's one of those stand-out significant people in my life.

Since moving to the UK, I don't often get to see my ladies (with the exception of Jackie - the only one who lives close by from the short list of women I would put into this category) but distance and time never really matters with that special category of friend. I'm hoping to see a few of these gals during my travels over the next few months (and some of them have been kind enough to offer us a place to sleep en route - thank you!) and will even get to see one of them get married (swoon!).

So, my lovely Crystal, here are some things I've come across online lately that remind me of you:

Image Credits:

Movie Still from Heavenly Creatures, found here
Moleskine image from here.
John and Yoko image from here.
Tavi image from here

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Gratitude - Ignite London and More Pictory Goodness

I've had a pretty good few days.

Yesterday we held the second ever Ignite London event (thanks to committee members Dan, Richard, Craig and Andy). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Ignite concept, it is a very community-spirited event featuring a series of talks that follow a rigid format: each speaker has 20 slides, which are auto-timed to advance every 15 seconds. As a result, every talk is exactly 5 minutes long.

We had a capacity crowd at a really lovely venue in Kilburn, London called The Luminaire but more important than the numbers, everyone was really positive, engaged and genuinely excited to be there. The speakers were great - some funny, some serious and I genuinely learned something from each one of them. We were really lucky to have a few 'celebrity' speakers in the mix, including Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing and Russell Davies of the Interesting Conference and Newspaper Club.

The other very cool thing is that our event was held as part of Global Ignite Week. Thousands of Ignite talks are happening around the world - from New York and Sydney to Anchorage, Bangalore and Morocco. It's wonderful to be a part of something with such a global reach.

We're in the process of uploading the talks from last night but in the meantime, you can check out the new O'Reilly website devoted to broadcasting and in some cases live streaming the events. We've also created a Tweet doc to aggregate all the Twitter action (well over 200 tweets) from last night, which you download here (PDF). My favourite Tweet:
@mahemoff: Ignite is TED, only cool ;) Thanks #igniteLDN2 organisers for a night of superb presentations.

In more great news, another one of my photographs has been featured on the wonderful Pictory. This particular story is about Neighbourhood Treasures and my photo is of The Water Rats Theatre bar near Kings Cross in London (number 18 on the list). It's especially cool because this particular photo story was curated by Good. For those of you unfamiliar with them:
GOOD is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward. Since 2006 we've been making a magazine, videos, and events for people who give a damn.
And the cherry on top is that the Neighbourhoods feature on Pictory has also just been covered on Boing Boing. Ah, the magic of the web - it all really is connected!

So, despite the fact that I am physically exhausted I am also brimming with gratitude directed at pretty much everyone I've come in contact with over the past few days - whether in the 'real' world or online. The encouragement and support is lovely and truly appreciated. x

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