Enlightened under the Twinkle Lights

This past Friday we had our five year anniversary party in person and it involved the three major components of a great gathering: food, friends and dancing. 

The entire night had so many highlights and moments that made lots of people smile. I am especially grateful for a time when I was in the corner of the room and I was reminded by the person next to me to just take it all in. Just be in this moment – right here in the twinkle lights, loud music, laughter, dancing and chatting – and just be present. Like a few seconds to take a mental photograph that I could hold on to for the busy weeks ahead of a time where I was in a room filled to the rafters with joy. 

Things are getting busy and in some ways back to the kind of jam-packed weeks that were had before the pandemic. There are long to do lists, probably some unwashed laundry, some cluttered corners waiting to be straightened out. 

My daughter is a great teacher for me as she is so in tune with her own anxiety.  She told me this week that if she begins to worry when she goes to bed she simply takes a deep breath and says – that is tomorrow Emily’s problem.  So much can be said about staying present and realizing that all we can ever control is our own reactions.  Take a photograph of where you are right now and what is full of joy to remember, and take your worries and delegate them to your tomorrow self.  And whenever you can, find an event with the three joy making components of food, friends and dancing.

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A Storied Story

I had to call a complete stranger and my opener went like this: “Hi, my name is Teresa and I got your name and number from a friend about playing bagpipes, does that make sense?” And the complete stranger without missing a beat, responds “Which part, that I play the bagpipes or that you have friends?” And yes, it worked out that he could play bagpipes at the event that I am helping to plan, but more importantly, he took a chance that I would get his kind of humour – and he totally won the bet because I have been cracking myself up all week and telling the tale to anyone who will listen.

When the kids were small – which they are not anymore, having just experienced my final back to school first day with year-four university for my youngest – we had a favourite book. It was about reworking a favourite piece of clothing each time it wore out into something smaller, until finally it was lost but reworked into a story.  I love a good story, I love hearing about things that have happened to others, that make me laugh, cry, even tick me off sometimes. But at all times, I’m happy to be a part of other people’s experiences and able to learn.  Shared human experience, a moment of conspiracy in this thing called life that we are all trying to navigate in our own way is precious.  It makes me take everything just a little less seriously. 

Have I told you about the time I called a bag piper? Stop me if I have already told you that story, or not. because it’s a great one. A great story is something from nothing that lasts.

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Fiery Focus

When the fire chief points out a hazard, it seems completely obvious. Why is that? It did not jump out at me before, and yet when on tour I can start to guess what they will question before it happens. 

I think this happens because in those moments I am totally focused on fire prevention, fire barriers and all things related. I think that for those few moments in the fire chief’s presence I am focused, I am in that headspace completely. And for sure where I used to see wondrous decorating flare with sheer curtains and lights, I now see the potential for these same beautiful curtains [too close to the stove] to be a fire hazard. 

This experience is a great reminder of what we try to do in our work and beyond. Build on what’s strong, build on people’s strengths, let people who are super good and interested in a certain area bring their A game and learn to rely on their expertise while offering ours where we shine.

This is sometimes hard to do, and sometimes though our skills and interests are diverse, our styles are opposite and we want to try to stay on top of everything. The strength of A-team is in where we can let another carry the load, rely on the other person to bring their A game, and while still bringing on ours.

Additionally, we must find what is needed to have the conversations when there is concern or a change needed.  We must be able to approach an issue with a solution, focus and tact.  These curtains are truly the bomb now that we know the risk, we have to change it up. 

I will leave it to the hugely creative members of the team to find the next beautiful – and fire-proof – option. I know that they will.

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Sunset Reflections

I was driving with my son and we passed the boat launch near our home. Noticing that the sunset over the lake was truly spectacular there, we stopped. And as every human being now does, it seems, I pulled out my phone to try to capture the vibrant bands of orange and red that were spanning across the still lake. 

As you can likely guess, the photos on the phone paled greatly in comparison to what I knew my eyeballs were taking in. So, Spencer and I chatted about how this is always the case despite so many great advances in photo technology, that those little pixels and computer chips still cannot fully see what our eyes capture. 

My son then offered up this bit of wisdom. “It’s the same with people and how they see themselves, for some reason when we look in the mirror or see a photo of ourselves, we don’t see the true array of colours or deep beauty and sparkle that everyone else sees.” 

First, this was a proud mom moment to hear this level of reflection from my son and then secondly, I know that he is right. I know that we can all see sparkle and wonder in others, can offer so much grace and forgiveness and encouragement when needed and yet, when we fall down, or make a wrong move or blunder, we are so very critical with ourselves. 

I was there on the lakeside, and I know that there were about 8,000 more hues of colour than my phone could record. On this lakeside, remember that your internal camera is dimming your light, there are 8,000 hues there that you maybe don’t see all the time – but all the rest of us do.

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Civil Action

I read that famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked what defined that turning point in ancient times when there was evidence of civilization and humanity being born. Wondering of course if it was the creation of tools or the first cave drawings or maybe the seafood fork? Mead was quick to answer that the first evidence of human civilization was an ancient skeleton found to have a healed over femur, and evidence that that person went on to live.

In the animal world a broken femur means death, as you can’t run away from predators, get your own food or move around to avoid bad weather. A healed femur means that another human tended to the wounded, protecting them, gathering food to share with them, keeping them comfortable and safe to heal.  A human made the decision not to run to shelter in the rain, but to in fact carry another to theirs.

So sure, tools are great, art is essential and although I have never used one, fancy, specific cutlery is a royal must. But humanity, the essence of who we are as a civilized bunch of homo-sapiens, began when we helped one another – when we put aside our needs, gather a bit of extra, prioritize joy in another or make sure someone has a warm cuppa and cozy blanket on a freezing cold day. 

Our survival may now be less dependent than it was on outrunning the sabre tooth tiger, but it is just as interdependent as we navigate the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs that we call life.  In helping one another we evolve, we rise.

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Banana Bread Banter

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – A lot of work has been done here lately about future leaders and succession planning. I am so excited to see the people who have decided to join the process, plan out goals with their managers and be a part of the future leaders gang. It is going to be a delight to see how new skills develop, new connections are made and careers are moved forward. 

Equally, I appreciate and rely on all of those who have chosen to focus on the role they are in now, make it great, put that kind of joyful energy into something else, like family, home renovations or a hobby.  There is an equal delight in knowing ourselves and what truly lights us up. 

I recently read the obituary for an HR director in another agency who sadly passed away. I know that she was a stupendous HR strategist and manager. Her obituary, however, focused on her awesome hugs, banana bread and adventures with her grandchildren.  She was great in her field, and clearly, she worked at it; her stretch goals, though, were focused on making her family and friends feel their value to her acutely, being vibrant in her relationships and apparently in perfecting banana bread. 

Seek out where you want to grow and stretch, and if it is your role at work stupendously, and if it is your role to be an awesome grandparent, both are equally amazing. I think the trick is that we keep on setting goals, growing and rippling out our joy and passion to all around, whatever it may be.

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Ice Patch

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From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – At our Aylmer office there used to be a huge pothole at the beginning of the walkway from the parking lot on the north side. It was full of water almost all the time in the warm months unless a severe drought turned it into a dry trip hazard. In winter, it was a either a smooth ice patch or half melted and up broken ice patch, both equally hazardous. The pothole was a regular topic of conversation at the office, as it was dangerous for all. 

And then the pothole was fixed. The horrible portal to centre earth that annoyed and challenged us every day was made smooth and level with glorious new pavement, leaving not a hazard in sight. 

So, why do we not keep talking about the repaired hole? The fix was such a wondrous improvement one would think that we’d be talking on and on about how amazingly safe it is. Lauding the new reality should take up the same air time as alerting each other to the hazard and complaining, no? Well, that would be counter to human nature and really isn’t what could be called interesting adult conversation. 

We do not naturally sit around discussing the great parts of the job, or the wonderful well-working equipment. There is, it seems, a natural gravitational pull to focus our conversation on annoyances, troubles and complaints. 

The new paved patch heading onto the walkway at Aylmer is amazing, thank you to everyone that made it happen – you have made it safer for all of us who use that office year-round. 

Let’s challenge ourselves every day this week to see something amazing and call it out, name it, talk about it. I bet the ripples of joy will spread further than the old Aylmer pothole ever did.

Garden Variety

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I have worked very hard over the last few weeks to get ready to be part of a garden show. The day after the show, I toured all of the other gardens with other show volunteers.

Every yard that I went to felt just a little tidier and more beautiful than mine; every homestead felt a bit more effortlessly majestic and calm when compared to the frantic horticultural warfare of getting my yard ready.  However, when I really looked the tell-tale signs were there – I saw half-used bags of mulch tucked behind garden sheds, garden tools in a pile and mounds of weeds wilting in a fence row.

One particularly wonderful home, with sweeping field of wildflowers amid charming bee boxes overlooking a wraparound porch with calla lilies in all the corners, also featured a wagon piled with tools and the remains of a massive chalkboard to do list on the drive shed wall. 

I guess its just human nature to sort of think that everyone around is just a wee bit more put together and organized, spending countless afternoons on their chez lounge reading magazines while we toil.  One of my favourite quotes goes something like this … when the grass looks greener in someone else’s yard it is usually a septic issue. There are many beautiful gardens that need not be graded in order of wonderfulness, but just enjoyed for their beauty and the dedication that it took to craft them – just like a lot of things.

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Rooftop Rambles

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – Some time ago, a roof was leaking and the ceiling was falling down. Weeks of repairs and renovation happened, and all was fixed, better insulated and painted. 

In the final report the contractor had to admit that they had never really determined the cause of the leak, but had instead fixed, modified and reinforced a number of possible causes. So the hope was that, with all of the great upgrades, the leak would not happen again. 

As you may have guessed, some months later in a heavy rainstorm the roof leaked again. The difference this time though was that, with the new insulation, fresh paint and other work, the water trail was unmistakable whereas before traces of water damage seemed to be everywhere.  

A few thoughts come to mind here. We often know that something is not quite right, we are not feeling well, there is a difficulty in our family or a wrinkle in our team at work. And sometimes we set about with all of the fixes that come to mind.  Then, there is maybe some change, or at least the joy of finding a pie in the lunchroom trying to lift the mood, but the core problem or leak continues. 

I think that a lot can be said of the roof leak story here though. Sure the new fixes did not in fact hold back the rain, but all of that work was not in vain; the repairs and paint made the core problem easier to address. 

There is usually a root to any great problem, but it is so hard to find or see, sometimes we do have to just start fixing stuff – improving communication, getting some exercise, repairing a relationship. And sure, it may turn out that the core trouble is still there, but with so much other explored and improved the issue will surface a little more clearly and more easily tackled. 

Repairing leaking roofs is hard; they only leak in the rain so during the sunshine you can forget they are there. Tricky problems are also hard to fix; we get busy making plans on our busy days and forget that they are there. In both cases the ceiling tile will drop at some inconvenient time and we will be forced to face the challenge and get to the core of the issue. The effort is worth the work, in both cases.

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A Picnic State of Mind

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I heard the best quote this past week, “That’s not a picnic, that’s just eating outside.” 

So, what’s the difference? In this case, it was picking up food at a drive through and sitting at a picnic table. And in this person’s opinion, while take-out could be part of a picnic, a picnic is planned – as a destination, maybe a tablecloth or a blanket, along with thought-out activities and food. A picnic is an event that you look forward to, get excited about and remember; having a burger on the closest park bench, on the other hand, is simply eating.

Made me think. This discussion of the nature of picnics offers us a good gauge for just about everything in our lives. Are we showing up to an event each day or just getting through the day as best we can? Are we savouring the time we get to spend with others or just hoping it will be over soon with no fist fights?  Are we using the fine china, fancy towels and cloth napkins or are the napkins just out of the glove box with a last-minute fast-food purchase?

I am not so naïve to think that every day can be a picnic feast on a checkered blanket with perfect weather, although I do sometimes dream about the Jane Austen style picnics on the hillside. I am just thinking that the heart of the matter is the planning and the attitude, and that we can do minute-by-minute with a little practice. Take a few picnic moments today, make a few minutes to enjoy.

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Life needs a few more polka dots and picnics.

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