Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cookies, Love and A 9yr Old Boy

Each year, in the early days of February, I follow a pretty predictable pattern.

I grumble about the weather.

I google vacation deals I can't afford to sunny climes.

I mutter words things like, "stupid...crass commercialism...meaningless excuse of a holiday..."

I bake 12 dozen cookies.

I burn 3 dozen cookies.

I eat 2 dozen cookies.

I bake 6 dozen more.

I complain out loud about the red construction paper shortage in my home...the missing scissors...the impossibility of remembering how to spell 144 names...

At some point...usually while I am actively whining about my trivial, red and white polka dot ribbon wrapped problems...I'm hit with a healthy dose of perspective.

More than once, I've been reminded of how very much I have, in a very dramatic fashion. There was that year I nearly lost a dear friend in a horrible accident. More than one year at work, I've witnessed a Mother's grief. This year I felt fear, relief, joy and love...during a scary incident that turned out great for a dear dear friend of mine. Suddenly, I remember the near losses...and I'm flooded with gratitude for the love that surrounds me each and every day.  And once that feeling of gratitude has kicked in...I simply can't stop. I'm filled with a burning desire to put on a stupid pink heart sweater and hand out chocolate to everyone I meet.

I start reminiscing about that day 11 and 1/2 years when I held my precious baby girl in my arms and my heart absolutely cracked open and grew 3 sizes like the Grinch. Then 2 years later, when I held my baby boy in my arms and found out that my heart could absolutely crack open and grow 3 sizes more.

So on this gray, drizzly day, I woke up all singsongysunshineandrainbows. I figured I'd already had my wake up call for the year this past weekend and I was embracing the pink and red heartedness of it all. My son and I were halfway to school (giant bag of  peanut free treats in hand) when he said,

"Mom? Who was St. Valentine?"

"Well...uh...a long long time ago, St. Valentine helped people who loved one another get married. There were people who weren't allowed to marry each other but he believed in love so he helped them."

"Mom? How long ago was that?"

Never good at details I kind of jazz handsed the answer with, "A really long time ago. More than Hundreds of Years Ago"

My little man stopped and looked up at me with his wise 9 yr old eyes and said, "If it was More than Hundreds of Years Ago why are people still arguing about it?"

I had no jazz hands for that one. I just stood there quietly.

He went on, "I don't know if you're aware of this Mom. But there's this thing called Prejudice. And Hatred. There are still people who love each other that aren't allowed to get married."

And once again that kid absolutely cracked my heart open and made me love a little more.

There is work to be done. More than just cookies to bake and chocolates to hand out. There is still work to be done. I am filled with gratitude that my son just reminded me...

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Don't Know What I Want To Blog About...But This Isn't It.

The scarcity of updates on this blog make it really clear that I have no idea what to write about in my post- political days. My fancy blogspot tools tell me that a much larger number of people than I could have imagined actually read what I write. Either that or you are stumbling upon it while trying to find something cool. Either way..."Hej! People of Sweden!" Apparently there are more than 2 dozen of you wondering what Ali In Esquimalt is up to. Thanks for checking in!

I also get emails and I'm really touched every time someone takes the time to say they miss my writing. Often I'm offered suggestions of what to write about.  The most common suggestion is weight loss.

I've now reached an awkward place where I can't seem to just say thanks and walk away when someone says, "you look great". The weight loss is significant enough that people really want to know how it was done.

I'm simply not going to write a blog about that.

My top 3 reasons being:

1. No one seems to believe me. Apparently the manner in which I've lost weight is too simple/boring/outrageous to be true. In politics I kind of got used to people accusing me of lying...but it still surprises me when it happens. Sometimes the truth hurts...but here it is. Your taxes are going up. Eat less and exercise more.

2. There are lots of blogs about weight loss. Me adding my story to the masses serves no one. Even before the Internet, there was a wealth of information (good and bad) readily available. I made my first scrapbook of diet and exercise tips when I was 9 years old. Yes. 9 years old. I was already playing several sports competitively and I was keenly aware that my muscles didn't match the images I saw in every magazine. I started clipping out articles and putting them in a scrapbook at the age of 9. I didn't get over-weight from under-information.

3. Most importantly I don't know that my weight loss story is all that remarkable or interesting. I'm not convinced that how I got to this weight or that weight is truly relevant to anyone but me...and I certainly don't feel qualified to give any meaningful advice.

I keep getting asked for my "secret" though...and while I don't have one...I will tell you ONE story about my weight loss journey. Just this once. Then, I'm letting the topic be and wishing everyone well on whatever journey they are on themselves.

When I first started doing yoga, I was at my absolute largest. The peace yoga brought me was worth squeezing into a pair of uncomfortable pants, adjusting the steering wheel on our truck so I could squish behind it and driving to the studio. It helped me find myself in a body I didn't even recognize as my own after having 2 kids. I got over my fear of being surrounded by "perfect" bodies in fashionable clothes and just kept showing up. The teachers were always great. They offered caring suggestions to modify postures to accommodate my size. Mostly, they taught me lessons that had less to do with improving my body physically and more to do with increasing my capacity to be myself.

I learned to find my breath amidst discomfort. I learned not to compare myself to anyone else in the room. I learned to focus on nothing but the stillness within. I keep learning and re-learning these lessons each time I show up...because 6 years later, and many pounds lighter, I still need to practice. Some days, I can listen to the sound of my own breath and be calm. Other days my mind races and wanders and wonders what to blog about.

Recently, my mind (and empty stomach) began to admire the costume of the woman in front of me. I thought that her pastel colours looked as pretty as Candy Coated Mini Eggs on a bed of Cotton Candy.Since I had just reached a personal weight loss goal, I decided to treat myself to an outfit from that same yoga clothing store. I won't tell you which store as that part isn't important....and if you wear anything above a size 12 you probably know which store I'm talking about anyways. They don't carry your size there. 12 is the absolute largest, with many of their offerings going up to only a 10. Even the hair accessories are too small for me. And while a part of me is outraged by the fact that 50% of all women will find NOTHING in that store that will EVER fit them...a part of me has always desperately wanted to fit in. So that 9 year old girl part of me, the one who clipped pictures from magazines, went shopping.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I crept into the store nervously.  I was half certain that the salesgirl would haul me out by my big boned wrist and escort me to the nearest Fat Girl store. That didn't happen. Instead, clothes were leaping off the shelves and into my arms singing, "Pick me! I'm just your size!" Yes. They were.

I couldn't find racks of baggy, black pants so I tried on everything else. Oh The Turquoise! The Pink! The Purple! No more "who are we really trying to kid anyways" dark colours for me. I was wearing a Rainbow of Springtime! I couldn't stop smiling at the flowers blooming in my very eyes.

I was calculating how many delightful confections would fit on my MasterCard when I caught sight of a girl staring at herself in the mirror. If she were a photo, my 9 year old self would have glued it to the cover of the scrapbook. She even had the elusive, never a hair out of place, ponytail I've never achieved. Perfect...except for the unmistakable hatred in her eyes when she looked at herself in the mirror. The equally teeny tiny salesperson was trying to assure her she was beautiful. She was frantic with compliments as she scurried about promising to find her shorts in a more "slimming fit." I couldn't watch.  I knew nothing on the shelves could cover up the sadness in her eyes.

I'm still not sure if I was laughing or crying when I left. I only know that I folded up every item of clothing and handed them back to the salespeople on my way out. They weren't singing to me anymore.

There are lots of diet and exercise programs. Most of them will work to change the number on your scale. None of them will change what you see in the mirror.

It doesn't matter if the pants you fit host a logo from a trendy store. It doesn't matter if the size on the tag is one digit or two. It only matters if you can look into your own eyes and see Springtime.

I've been thinking about weight loss for about 30 years now and I only feel qualified to give one piece of advice.  It is this: Smile at your face in the matter what it looks like today.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Tale of Riches

When I was a little girl, my Mom sometimes worked as a home care nurse. Many evenings, she would pick me up from day care, and I'd visit her last client of the day with her. My favourite was a very elderly, very elegant woman with long snow white hair. As my Mom prepared her medications, she would show me her photographs. She shared the story of her life in bits and pieces. Tales of war. Tales of travel. Tales of romance and adventure. Her voice was sometimes weak, but she never failed to excite my imagination and send me spinning round her living room acting out a scene from her personal history. One night, as I was re-enacting a waltz at a grandiose ball, she called me closer and took my hand. "Little one" she said, "I have had the finest champagne from the finest crystal with the finest people, but nothing compares to a cup of coffee in a tin cup with a true friend."

Today, I woke with this memory fresh in my mind. Probably because I've spent months searching for words that even hint at the depth of gratitude I hold for my closest friends.

Last night, at the Inaugural meeting of the new Council, I had the opportunity to say a few words. I tripped over thank you. Stumbled over goodbye. I haven't had the time or distance to process the events and issues of the last three years. I haven't yet finished living the stories I hope to share with my own Great Grandchildren. Thus far, my tale is one of riches.

In these final days as Councillor, I've received a number of emails and letters that will forever be kept in my "Good Thoughts" file. Some from old friends and some from people I've met only recently. When I looked out at the crowd in Council Chambers last night, I saw many faces that I barely knew in December 2008. Now I can't imagine my life without them. I was told once that being in politics is a sure way to lose friends. I have had losses. Fortunately, they have been rare. My oldest friends are not only still willing to write the next few chapters with me, they are my precious historians. They are the ones who remind me where I came from when I'm trying to figure out where I'm going. My newest friends looked past the "politician" and got to know me anyways. They stepped into my life just when I needed them. A treasured few came into my life angry over a political issue. We ended up caring about each other anyways. Unexpected, inexplicable riches.

Today, everywhere I went, I was asked one question, "What next?" The voice in my heart has been asking for weeks. "what next? what NEXT? WHAT NEXT?" I don't have the answer yet. Whatever lies ahead, in my final days, I want the little girl I tell my story to, to know that the most valuable thing in life is genuine friendship. I intend to live it on every page of my story.

I woke with another vivid thought this morning. I remember asking that same wise lady, "How will I ever know what I want to be when I grow up?" She responded, "Fly your kite and the tail will follow." Something to discuss with the people I love...over a cup of coffee in a tin cup.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Top Ten Things I Want You To Know About Becoming A Politician

A few weeks ago the Esquimalt Residents Association (ERA) asked me to give the keynote speech for their AGM. I said yes immediately....without recognizing how difficult it would be. Each time I sat down to write, I was overcome with emotion. It felt like I was writing a goodbye speech.

I focused my efforts on procrastination. I folded laundry. I walked the dog. For the first time ever, I filled out all the "Back To School" forms on time. Eventually, the speech was the only thing left on the "to do" list.

With only days left...I finally asked for help. After a long, late night chat with a good friend...the following speech poured out onto the paper.

After the AGM, several people asked for a copy. In the past week, more have requested it. I hesitate...but after some gentle nudging and some not so subtle badgering...I've agreed to put it online. Many thanks to my friend and editor who helped make this legible.

Please do me a favour and pretend I'm saying it out loud. It really was meant to be spoken and not read. I personally favour the voice of James Earl Jones...but whatever makes you forget about the poor grammar is fine with me.

ERA AGM Speech, September 27th, 2011 at the Archie Browning Sports Centre

Conventional wisdom says to open with a I wrote one for tonight: “how many municipal politicians does it take to change a light bulb?” “4 to commission a staff report, 3 to form a sub-committee, 2 to debate whether or not good process was followed and 1 to tweet about how if only 1 more person had voted for their 2009 resolution on sustainable energy sources in publicly owned buildings there would be no need to spend taxpayer money on a light bulb at all!”

While I really really want to stop myself from poking fun at politicians we are such a rich source of comic material that I can’t seem to stop myself. I want to try though. Particularly tonight, because I hope to convince each and every one of you, that you ARE politicians.

That joke at the beginning might not be so funny now that I’m delivering the bad news right up front. You ARE a politician. And I’m not just talking to those of you who have already declared that you’re running for public office. You don’t have to belong to a political party. You don’t have to like the word “politician” just have to care about what happens in your community. And since each of you walked through that door voluntarily’re busted. Every one of you is a politician. And I’m finally ready to admit...that I am one too.

I spent a little time Googling this word. Naturally I found a lot of expletive laden definitions that neither my Mom nor my former campaign managers would let me repeat in public. We don’t have a particularly good reputation as a profession. Even the sweet, typically non-inflammatory magazine of my childhood, Readers Digest, pointed out in a recent survey, that Politicians are the least trusted profession in Canada. That hurt a little. You know your likability has taken a turn for the worse when a monthly that regularly features “cute things that kids say” is dissing your career choice! However, I found a definition that I like:”someone who is actively engaged in shaping public policy”. THAT sounds an awful lot like each of YOU. YOU shape public policy with every email, every letter, every conversation you have with your neighbours. You ARE a politician – whether you like the word or not.

Now I know that this might be a bit of a shock for some of you. It certainly was for me. I denied it until well after I was elected. Obviously, I missed a lot of signs along the way.

In April 2007, I walked into Council Chambers for the first time. I made a pledge to the Council of the Day and to the hundreds gathered there, that I would do whatever it took to keep the Archie Browning Sports Centre open. It didn’t occur to me that I was becoming a politician. As part of that commitment, I volunteered to contribute to an audit of this facility. Even standing on this very roof with a hard hat didn’t suggest to me that I had made some sort of shift. By December of 2007, I’d hired a regular Monday night babysitter so that I didn’t have to worry about missing something down the street at City Hall. I was writing regularly for the newly formed ERA newsletter and I had a copy of the Official Community Plan on my bedside table. My colleagues at work have a running joke about how I started every conversation with “This one Archie Browning...” Still, I wouldn’t admit to being a politician. By then, local media often called to ask for a quote or an interview on Esquimalt issues. That didn’t tip me off either... In fact, in the midst of a live interview on CFAX, the presenter asked me, “Are you considering running for Council?” and I spat out haughtily, “I am NOT a politician”. Those words did taste a little bitter when I ate them recently.

Even when I made the decision to run...and was elected, I had a hard time with the word. I felt a little twisted pride when I heard people say, “She doesn’t SEEM like a politician.” So, I guess it might sound a little bizarre that now, with only a few weeks left in my political “career” that I am finally publically stating that “I AM a politician” and I intend to continue being one. But here is why I’ve come to ask each of you to consider doing the same.

When Beth and I first met and came up with the idea of starting a non-partisan residents association, we often talked about the “disconnect” that existed between a council, who could close a public facility, and with the community that was so deeply and personally affected by those decisions. While this current Council has made a deliberate and concerted effort to eliminate that disconnect and reach out to each and every resident in Esquimalt, sometimes it is still there. Sometimes, the environment in which we make decisions on issues that affect YOUR life is an extremely hostile one. I’m ready to admit that I AM a politician if only to continue breaking down that sense of US vs. THEM. I want to do what I can to break down the antagonism and hostility that creeps in...and scares away good people and good ideas. I do hope that each of you will join me in admitting that you too are a politician. Because I want the public policy that affects MY life to be shaped by my whole community. That includes YOU.
So whether or not you’re ready to accept it, and even though you certainly didn’t ask for it, I am going to offer you some unprofessional, unsolicited advice. Here are my...

“ Top Ten Things I want you to know about becoming a Politician”.

#10. You do NOT need to make decisions on a “Need to know” basis. If you are asked for your comments, concerns or approvals of anything...make sure you have all the information that you need. You will find that there are times when the whole picture is not automatically delivered to you. Do not let anyone else define the amount of information you need to make a good decision.

#9. There is such a thing as “Too Much Information”. After having spent my 36th Birthday at a 6 hour seminar on the Merits of Urine Separation in Wastewater Treatment... I can guarantee you that there are times when ignorance is bliss.

#8. Every issue is someone’s Archie Browning. Despite a keen interest in most things and in all people...I admit that there are occasions when the issue of the day does not instantly evoke a strong personal and dedicated response in me. It does in someone though...or else it wouldn’t be on the table. I believe each issue deserves the same care and thoughtful consideration that I demanded be given of the Archie Browning Sports Centre in 2007. I remember well how hard my hands were shaking when I approached Council for the first time. I was part of an excited crowd that spilled out the door and into the streets....and still I was terrified. Just because a person is coming forward alone doesn’t mean that their issue is less important. Some things are just harder to rally support for. Just ask the guy whose life’s work is Urine Separation!

#7. The issues might not be what you think they are. When I ran for Council, I was sure I knew ALL the issues that might face me in my term. I researched them all and wrote lengthy position papers on each topic. My campaign manager even laminated them for me so that when I went door knocking I could still show then to people in the rain! Funny thing was, no one wanted to see them. There is only one sure way to know what people really care about. Ask. When I did ask, I was honoured with wonderful stories about Esquimalt. When someone shares what really matters to them it is a gift. Treasure it. To illustrate my point further...I’ll ask you what to guess what recent issue I’ve received tons of feedback on and I’ll give you three hints:

1. Public opinion seems to be varied on whether or not the project is aesthetically pleasing.
2. Some have expressed concerns about the process.
3. There has been suspicion about the motivation behind undertaking the project at all.


The issue I have recently received the MOST feedback on lately is my recent weight loss. I did NOT have a position paper researched, prepared and laminated for this.

#6. Politicians are human. Hopefully this doesn’t come as a TOTAL shock to you, especially now that you’re all proudly admitting to be one. Unfortunately, my experience has been that this does warrant mentioning. If you are willing to put yourself in the public will face intense criticism. It is likely that some of the criticism will be delivered in a way that offends or even threatens you. Do extract the truth and value from the critique. Do not let the hatred scare you from being human. You may have met some politicians, particularly during ‘silly season’ who have let hostility turn them slightly robotic. “Nice weather!” you might say....”My party has the best platform for climate change” they respond. Try to short circuit that disconnect however you can. Make a joke. Dance a jig. Share a cup of tea. Just don’t forget that there really is a human in there, probably an interesting one. Take the time to try and get them “out of the message box”. You might meet someone you really like.
#5. Anger is a great motivator...but it is not sustainable. It was anger that started MY career in politics...and when I look back on these last few years, there is no doubt that my sharpest memories will be tinted with the heat of this emotion. But anger doesn’t last and change, real change, takes time. We need to find, within each of us, the energy to make change...and it needs to come from a more lasting source than anger. For me, it comes from the joy of knowing and caring about my neighbours. I am fuelled by my feelings of belonging and connectedness to my Esquimalt is kind of stuck with me. I intend to be shaping public policy for a long, long time even though I’m stepping down from Council. And if we truly want to encourage more of our community to participate, we need to nurture the things that bring us closer. Not fuel the things that scare people away.

#4. Set some boundaries. I struggle with this. I tend to get caught up in discussion even when I should be focused on something else. On vacation one summer, I asked my kids what they liked best about Horne Lake. I expected the answer to be ‘canoeing’ or ‘caving’. My 8 year old said “No one here knows that you raised taxes.” I’ve learned it’s OK to consider the setting and circumstances before engaging in serious discussion. In the change room at the pool is almost always a bad place to talk. In my experience, if one of us is not fully clothed, the issue might not be getting the attention it deserves. Arrange a better time to talk things out. Also, if your child is vomiting every 30 minutes, it probably makes sense not to pick up the phone. When every bedset you own is in the washer and you don’t know where or whether or not you’ll sleep tonight....that caller’s concerns aren’t going to feel like much of a priority. Call them back when you have had 4 hours of sleep in a row.

#3. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be a politician. There is no reason strong enough to hold you back. You don’t have to attend Harvard Law. You don’t have to identify with a spot of the political spectrum. You don’t have to know “the right people”. You don’t have to own a dozen fancy suits. I have none of these I have spent a lifetime trying to crack the mysterious code that tells the really well dressed people in this world whether to wear jeans or a skirt to a function. If you ever feel like you’re the only person at the cocktail party wearing the wrong thing...don’t worry about it. I’m probably on the other side of the room showing someone the shoes I bought in 1997 for $10 bucks. Getting involved in politics means that opportunities will present themselves where you may feel nervous or pushed outside your comfort zone. Good. Feel nervous. Just don’t miss out. In the last few years, I’ve had remarkable conversations with people I thought I’d only ever read about in the newspapers. Conversations I’m going to be telling my grandchildren about. And I was wearing these $10 shoes.

#2. Hold the people you LOVE close. You will meet a wealth of people. Get to know as many of them as you can. Each of them has something valuable to share and your life will be richer for it. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll meet the rare friend who you connect with beyond the bylaw you’re discussing...or the event you are planning together. The kind of friend who says to you “we’re always good” and you believe it. Someone that recognizes and cares for the most authentic, most honest, most real part of you. If you are fortunate enough to know someone like this – you MUST hold them close. Because, in my opinion, if you are doing this right, you’re going to be scared out of your socks a whole lot of the time. If you’re really listening to the multitude of voices and differing opinions out there...sometimes, it’s going to feel like you’ve got 12 different radio stations cranked up full volume at once. You’re going to need someone who can hold your hands, quiet the noise, and help you hear the voice that is in your heart.

And the number one thing that I would like to leave you with tonight is:

#1. On the days when you ask yourself “Is it worth it?” Is it worth it to put myself out be part of my community in such a personal way....Is it worth it to be a politician? On the days when you ask yourself that question...and you will...KNOW that the answer is YES.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What is Respite?

The Community Respite Care Committee has created a short video describing respite. Check it out!