Saturday, December 30, 2006

to home and back again

Christmas in Saskatchewan was kind of meh. On the positive:

  • The weather was a steady and mild -10 the whole time.

  • The cousins are still cute (but they're growing quickly! Nicholas' voice started changing last month and he'll be taller than me next time I see him!).

  • I successfully learned to cast on and started knitting again after a 22 year hiatus... I finished one scarf and a half, but need to learn how to cast off and finish it!

  • The boxing day shopping was good.

  • The trip to see my great grandfather's laundry shop preserved at the Western Museum of development was cool.

What was difficult or weird:

  • My sister was not able to come and join us.

  • My expectations for hibernation and cave holiday time flew out the window early on and let's just say, the quiet didn't happen.

  • While my body rested well and I slept lots, my mind and spirit were restless. I think it's just been such a snowball-down-the-hill paced year that I didn't know how to just be still.

  • My trip ended on a sour note with some relational conflict that took me some recovery time to move on.

After all that and some cramped full flights all the way back, it was really good to come back to Vancouver and realize that this is home now. For the first time since I left my parents' home 12 years ago, I think I'm finally sinking some roots down and not wanting to run away somewhere new. That realization alone is a gift I am thankful for.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

another successful bash

Well, we did it! We survived our Christmas party. Last year we had 40 people, arriving in two major waves of 20-25 people each. This year, we had 40 people again, but this time, they were in our tiny apartment essentially all at the same time. It was a bit of an experiment, as I wasn't sure how many would show up, where they would all fit, and how loud it would get... This isn't the best photo of the night, but it gives an idea of how every inch of our space was used well! :)

This year I really wanted to be present (as some of my more contemplative friends would say), rather than running around all over the place not having a proper visit with any one person. I was determined this year to really catch up with people and listen well (as well as possible with the loud din of 30 some odd people chattering in the background). So we stripped down all the prep work and bought mostly ready-to-serve foods. But the deeper issue in "being present" is having the right heart and attentive spirit in connecting with people. I'm thankful I received a spirit of prayer throughout the week before.

While I know I am biased, there was a great food (appy potluck style), great people and great conversation. It was the best mix of people I've yet seen, from different circles of life in the city. Mingling is a tough thing -- most naturally people stick with the people they know all night. But I was quite pleased that this was the most mingling I've seen at any of our parties. I love it when different spheres of my life collide and integrate and one of those ways is seeing people I know from different circles mingling.

Earlier this year I went to a marketplace conference at Regent that shed some light on the busyness of modern life. Back in earlier days and centuries, you interfaced with a finite number of people who represented different roles and spheres in your life. For example, your siblings would also be your friends and co-workers in the family business perhaps. Another person in your life might be your butcher, friend and fellow church member.

Now, in contrast, we have a far greater number of spheres of people to juggle. In the Christmas season, for example, at typical family might have multiple Christmas parties to attend -- the husband's work party, the wife's company party, the kids' portions of work parties in addition to their own school parties, the church Christmas celebration, family friends' parties, etc. And all these parties would conceivably involve all different people. Logistically it gets busier and more difficult to manage the time to maintain all these relationships and arenas of life.

Since then I've been thinking a little more about wanting to deliberately integrate my life spheres more. Having these mingling parties is a simple start I hope. After all, I've never been one to not want different kinds of food on my plate touch each other and eat only one section on my plate at a time, so why be so firm about keeping my social lines distinct? Hopefully I can grow in integrity in being consistent in who I am, and not put on different faces for different friends as much.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

funky & tasty open house!

My friend Teresa who is a funky jewelry designer and a delish cook will be hosting an open house selling her jewelry creations and some kitchen wares at the Wired Monk. The Wired Monk is a fabulous place to mingle and hang -- there's a lotta love in that place especially due to shop owners/hosts Timothy and Leah (also friends of ours). If I lived in Kits, I'd be at there all the time... My roommate Dilys and I were wishing for a coffee watering hole near our place to hang comfortably, that's not Starbucks!

Anyway, I was glad for this opportunity to help make this invitation for Teresa...I've been playing a lot with circles lately (my Christmas card is totally circular -- coming soon to a snail mailbox near you!). Circles are more of a challenge to layout, but they are definitely fun!

It's so cool to see creativity in so many different expressions coming together for an event like this, from the jewelry, to the decor and atmostphere of the Wired Monk and promo materials!

If you can make it, come on out for the open house and support a local artist and business! It promises to be a fabulous time (I've never once had an un-fun time at The Wired Monk...) Unfortunately I will be back in Saskatchewan already and will be missing out :(

Monday, November 27, 2006

snowy sunday

Yippeee! I was squealing with delight and quite excited when it began to snow. I know it's hell to drive in, but it's just such a novelty in Vancouver that I miss. I love the blanketed rooftops and the brightness the snow brings. The grey skies just don't seem so grey anymore... This is the perfect snow for playing -- just the right consistency and stickyness for snowmen and snowball fights without being too cold. Good thing I bought boots while I was in Toronto (first pair in years!). I went snap-happy last night and this morning.
This is the earliest snowfall I've experienced in Vancouver! We'll see how long it lasts before the rain reigns again. For now, I'll enjoy the Christmas-like atmosphere in the air... speaking of which, our doors are open for our Christmas party (see next post below). Hope you can make it!

Friday, November 24, 2006

xmas party just around the corner

December is just around the corner which 'tis the season for parties! Click on the image for details and ask me for specific digits.

Friday, November 17, 2006

a typical justine pose

Ai-yaaahh... (my favourite Chinese expression of exclamation) I've totally gotten myself even worse off than my usual 3am bedtime this week, averaging about 6am each night (or morning, depending on how you look at it). Crazy I know!

In cleaning up and organizing all my files this week, I came across this classic photo of how you typically would find me -- at the computer, with my trusty canteen of hot water, papers strewn about like a tornado just passed through, burning my midnight lamp... I'd completely forgotten Florence had taken it! :P

I still swear though, that if the world was operating on a night schedule as its norm, I'd be a day person. I like the quietness that comes from the time when the rest of the world is not stirring. I like breaking the norm.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

thoughts on giving & taking

Another successful RJD party. Thanks Becks for the practical idea of giving gifts to kids in needy countries by packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. It was a great way to catch up, have fun and share a meaningful purpose in our gathering.

Ta daa! Don't the boxes look so pretty... I don't know why, but in my head I thought we were wrapping all the individual gifts up so there'd be more fun to unwrap. Naive of me to forget that we live in a world where wrapped gifts are a threat while en route to international destinations. So we had fun wrapping the boxes instead (uh, correction, Dilys, Lynn and Jeff diligently wrapped the boxes -- not as easy as you might think! Thanks guys!)

Once the boxes were wrapped, the men left (I figure because the task was done :) and the women began another activity... knitting! Lynn was ambitiously knitting a teddy bear! He was so cute that we all wanted her to knit one for us! :) Apparently knitting is quite popular in populations that are not necessarily the stereotypical granny-type of person. My aunt taught me to knit years ago, but I never learned how to start a project or finish. I just know the stitches. Oh well, I don't think I'll be picking that up again -- I simply don't have the patience to finish any project!

Ironically we bought most of our gifts at the dollar store down the street. Ironic, I think, because I can't help but wonder if some of the very items we bought were made by the very children we are seeking to bless with our gifts. My sister borrowed a book from the library while she was here that I felt compelled to add to my collection of books. It's called Take It Personally: How to Make Conscious Choices to Change the World and is quite eye-opening about ethical and fair trade business, globalization and other related issues.

I realized a little while ago that I worship the mighty dollar in a different kind of way than the typical "earn lots and save/hoard lots." Rather, my expression of worshipping the dollar is more like, "I want the lowest cost possible on services and products -- at any cost," which is an illusion because while I may be getting a cheap price, you can almost bet it's coming at the cost of something or someone:
  • It could be costing me health safety or the environment damage, if it's a product that's been produced by a company that cuts corners in its production practices (check out this site that shows detailed info on the safety of the personal care products we use -- interestingly the cheapest brands are often the highest hazard, but expensive labels are also producing toxic products).
  • It could be a product made using cheap child labour in some country far away.
  • It could be the 3 year old daughter who never sees his father who slaves away at the print shop I use (I've been there at 3am, 8am, 3pm... there is only once of the dozens of times I have been there when Dave, the owner, is not there).
To stop taking from others (and myself!) in these subtle ways is hard and intentional work for this slow-reader -- I can barely keep up with daily news let alone research some of these crucial issues. Seeing the implications of our choices are not as easy as I'd like. Ignorance can be bliss, but I can't ignore that part of God's mandate to human beings is to be good stewards of creation (which includes this beautiful world we live in, but more imporant, people!).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RJD doors are open again!

Come one, come all... Rebecca, Justine and Dilys are opening the doors to the RJD pad again for the following two events:

Almost time for our second games night on Nov. 7!

And, at Beck's thoughtful and festive suggestion, we're having a shoebox party! We've changed it to Sunday 5pm. Ask me for more details if you're serious about coming...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Toronto highlights

My time in Toronto flew right by -- but is that any surprise in this city whose default pace is warped speed?! Some quick highlights:

My sister's convocation! (aww, doesn't she look cute?!) The whole family gushed with pride as she walked across the stage and got "hooded." It was fun being my sister's official photographer because her fancy schmancy digital SLR made me feel like such a pro.

Great cuisine ...
food is always a highlight of my travels! Ironically I ate and enjoyed every ray of the Asian rainbow: Japanese (yay for Toronto's sushi pizza, but the best Japanese still resides in Vancouver), Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Thai. Managed to convince mom to break out of the mould and had Greek. And got my fix of ice cream (Demettre's, Greg's roasted marshmallow flavour and I got to try those new dippin' dots ice cream -- feels just like sticking your tongue on a frozen metal pole, which is why I'm grimacing as I eat them!).

Family time... It was good to spend time with my family, and even better that we were able to be there and help my sister find an apartment. After checking out a few places (including a shoebox size condo on the waterfront for $1000/month), we found Flo a great little apartment on the main subway line. She thanked me for my help and goodwill, but I must admit I benefit from the apartment too as it'll be my accommodations for future visits :)

Now it's back to life in Vancouver... gotta take a deep breath before I dive in again! Let's hope I don't sink...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

from sunny vancouver to rainy toronto

Left sunny Vancouver yesterday at 5am only to arrive in down-pouring rainy Toronto a few hours later. The flight my sister and I were on was supposed to arrive one minute after the flight my parents were on so we could meet up conveniently at the baggage carousel... only problem was due to the rain they had only one runway open! Then it took us 3 hours to sort through luggage, van rentals and drive to our B&B in downtown Toronto in the middle of rush hour gridlock traffic. Ah, the joys of big city life!

I must say though, I know I haven't had much time to blog recently. Life has been so insanely hectic in Vancouver. I was desperate to get away for a break to round up the family for a little "vacation" in Toronto. You know you're wound up when you think Toronto will be a restful place for vacation compared to the leisurely pace of Vancouver!

But it turns out it's still enough of the change of pace I needed to slow down and open my eyes. I don't usually have fond memories of Toronto itself -- other than all the visits over coffees and meals with friends each round of 3 weeks I spend out here every year. But I found myself quite enjoying pointing out the sights to my mom who was sitting beside me in the van while my sister and dad sat in the front navigating the rush hour traffic, weaving through express ways and one way streets.

Florence and Dad were like two peas in a pod in the front seats and really worked well together in getting us to places. Mom and I were like two peas in another pod, chatting on and off in the back, nodding off here and there because we had both been up all night getting ready for the trip (surprise surprise). If there was ever any doubt about how my sister is a carbon copy of my dad and I am cut of the same cloth as my mother, this trip expels all question about that!

I noticed for the first time in awhile the endearing mom and pop shops and character of the older brick buildings around town, compared to the slick shiny glassy buildings of Vancouver. Of course there are the usual franchise stores, but a lot more family shops and restaurants to balance it out. I was reading in my dad's CAA guide that Honest Ed's is the best bargain shop around still (a few floors of Army and Navy type of goodness)... no big box stores to be seen here!

Then I was reminded and inspired to take mom and dad around all the neat little neighbourhoods around town just to walk around and take in the sights. I hope we get time to do that... the trip has turned from "vacation" to helping my sister settle in and find a place to live (she got her dream job with CBC Toronto as a Media Librarian... a perfect combo of her background in history, journalism and library sciences... way to go Flo!)

Overall I think we are in a healthy place in our relationships with each other, but still am noticing our communication patterns that can be improved. It was quite funny tonight when my sister said in a hushed voice to me, "I didn't realize how loud our family talks!" I couldn't hear her over the fan of my laptop, so I kept saying, "what?! what? I can't hear you!" and she finally said more loudly "I didn't realize how loud our family talks!" Classic irony. :)

Anyway, I should probably go to bed now... I thought I had adjusted to the three hour time change forward due to being wiped from my previous all-nighter which got me in bed at normal Toronto time last night, but here I go the second night in town now staying up until 4am local time... I guess my insane hours are more of a pattern than I wish, no matter which part of the coutnry I may find myself in!

Goodnight... or perhaps shall I say, good morning!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

4 things

Ok, because I'm in full procrastinating mode, here is a post I started months ago but never got around to finishing. It is inspired and requested by Queena's list of 7 things and I was reminded by Jocelyn's list of 4 things to revisit and finish my list. I've combined both of their lists and taken Joc's cue for 4 instead of 7 (it was hard enough coming up with 4 for each!). Here they are, starting with the easiest to answer progressing to the most difficult to answer...

4 places/provinces I've lived:
  1. Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, Regina)
  2. Ontario (Ottawa, Toronto, Guelph)
  3. British Columbia (Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam)
  4. Alberta (Calgary)
4 places I've been on vacation:
  1. New York City
  2. Vietnam
  3. Mexico
  4. Spain/UK
4 places I still want to see:
  1. Africa
  2. France
  3. Nunavut
  4. Israel
4 favourite foods:
  1. Sushi (especially alaska rolls from Sushi Garden!)
  2. ok this is terrible, I can't think of anything else that ranks high enough, so I'm going to specify my favourite sushi rolls for the remaining three on this list (because sashimi goes without saying!)... so #2 is chopped scallop roll
  3. a good barbequed eel roll
  4. pretty standard house roll (crab, avocado, tamago, tuna and salmon)
4 TV shows I like to watch:
  1. CSI (most often Miami, but also the other two)
  2. Grey's Anatomy
  3. Law and Order
  4. The Apprentice
4 movies I could watch over and over:
  1. Finding Nemo
  2. Matrix (the first one)
  3. Lord of the Rings (all of them)
  4. Ocean's Eleven
4 jobs I've had (I'll list my favourite ones):
  1. Parliamentary Page (aka Glorified Gopher and PR program for the Government of Canada... check out if you can spot me in the goofy group photo I found online)
  2. Graphic Designer and Customer Service at a print shop in Calgary (worked with the most amazing family who owned the shop)
  3. Employee Communications at Campbell Soup (the best cafeteria and cheap Godiva chocolates around)
  4. My current job I love, but don't have an accurate title to describe it :) I like it because I get to work with ideas and people for a God that I love
4 things I want to do before I die:
  1. Travel from one end of Canada to the other
  2. Learn to consistently live out a Sabbath-keeping life, or else I will die sooner with my natural pace of life!
  3. More officially develop and launch a line of inventive wedding invitations
  4. Get married (gasp! dare I utter it aloud? anyone who knows me well would recognize this as a miracle that God is working in my heart...)
4 things I cannot do:
  1. Look at a document without considering its visual appearance/design and/or making a subconscious note about its usage of fonts
  2. Sing harmony without the help of a strong voice beside me
  3. Travel to a city and not call everyone I may know there
  4. Eat without doing something else at the same time (read, talk with someone, watch tv...)
4 books that resonate most with my life:
  1. Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace
  2. What Color Is Your Parachute?
  3. Life Inside the Thin Cage
  4. The Bible
4 things I say often:
  1. "in the sense that..."
  2. absolutely!
  3. no worries
  4. can't think of a fourth... you tell me what I say the most! :)
4 things that attract me to a guy:
  1. Self-awareness that fuels their own continual growth as a person
  2. Other-awareness that translates into caring for others and for creation
  3. God-awareness that recognizes, seeks out, follows and surrenders to the Divine
  4. Walking on a similar path, headed in a similar direction (i.e. complementary calling in life)
Tag, you're it (people I want to see do this, should you feel the urge to procrastinate):
  1. Florence
  2. Shannon
  3. Hengz
  4. Matthea

deep cove kayaking

Went kayaking with Amy at Deep Cove... fun as usual. Different than out at Jericho. Beautiful in a different way. Much more enclosed, surrounded by forest-clad islands.

Amazing how many waves one motorboat can produce. Couldn't help but think of the parallel to one person making waves in the world around them. Reminds me of the quote by Margaret Mead on the side of that cafe on Main Street: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

stuck again

Two posts in a day? Must mean I'm procrastinating again... or on the road to burnout. I haven't taken any formal breaks this summer, but then again I haven't been going at a very fast pace either.

My biggest struggle has been predominantly feeling like I haven't been producing anything tangible all summer. I hate that feeling. I hate it because it means that I'm putting too much stock on and giving too much power to the idol of "tangible productivity" in my life. That means deep down I'm really living on the belief that I can't be happy and I don't have meaning until I feel like I am tangibly productive.

Rather, it's been a season of thinking and discussing ideas-in-formulation with various colleagues. The discussions continue as people come back from holidays, but finally I think I am supposed to be entering the harvest stage where I should theoretically be able to produce some tangibles. Yet somehow, everytime I sit down to work, the itch to procrastinate and do everything else but write/design kicks in full gear.

Sigh. I don't know how to get unstuck other than allowing the pressure of external deadlines to push me. The day after the wedding I woke up in time to crank out some last minute documents for two days of meetings... and I wasn't even on time for the meeting. Why can't I work to get things done ahead of time instead of cutting things so close to the wire?

I planned my fall travels for ministry reporting and personal visits to Ontario and Saskatchewan -- alas, but only because there was a deadline on the West Jet seat sale. I am looking forward to it, but it's all the way in November. In the meantime, I hope I can make it until then. Looking to the fall overwhelms me. Thank God for Mary's prayer retreat coming up in a couple of weeks. Without it I don't know if I could slow myself down enough.

The busy-ness with the wedding and finishing up design projects for friends has knocked a bit of wind out of my spiritual sails which I'm trying to gain again. It feels like I haven't journaled in awhile. I haven't been feeding consistently on my spiritual Bread. It's been more touch and go desperate immediate prayer, though I am finding the Psalms are a natural place to pick up from that resonate with my current soul state. I think the saving grace has been others praying with and for me. Thank God my fluctuating feelings (or my productivity or lack of productivity) don't change the way He thinks and feels about me.

a beautiful day

Well, I survived the wedding... I heard mostly negative things about the experience of being a bridesmaid from other friends, so I wasn't sure what to expect. But I am quite pleased to say it was a positive experience.
As would be expected, we were up late the night before with last minute preparations and heart-to-heart talks. So after not much sleep, the day began with a few hours of getting ready for the ladies. As we hung out at the salon getting our makeup and hair ready, I couldn't help but think how much more work it is to be a girl. Blah. We were running late due to a miscommunication with the makeup lady and also due to how thick my hair was to dry and straigthen. They kept suggesting I volunteer my hair to be in a hair ad. Now if I could get paid for it, I may have a new side business....hmmm....I also mentionned I wanted to retry dying my hair into the bright purple streaks again, but it was met with protests. Gotta think some more about that....

Anyway, after quickly getting dressed, we were on our way in a vintage Rolls Royce chauffered by the owner of the car, a cute little old man named Alf. We took the quickest route which happened to be quite scenic (all the way through Stanley Park) and made it to the photo shoot only about 20 minutes late. A beautiful day to shoot photos at Kits beach overall.

Then off to Grouse Mountain we went. The ceremony was simple and beautiful. Viv and Graham both got a little teary-eyed. The visiting was fun. The food was divine. The cake was the best wedding cake I've ever tasted (custom designed, it was white chocolate blueberry key lime). The sugared blueberries had the texture of the perfect cookie -- crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Even the chocolate party favours were colour coordinated to the theme colours of blue and dark brown. Leave it to Viv to throw such a coordinated and pretty party.

My toast to Viv tributed her for her deep loyalty and commitment to her friends and to celebrating. Relationships and celebrations are the intangible and invaluable priorities of life that make it worth living and fun along the way. From her I learned how to throw a party to mix all my friends together for a good time of celebration to value people and laughter. I'm thankful for the gift of being able to spend this day with her.

Friday, August 04, 2006

summing the summer in images (so far)

Ok, so as is evident from the absence of any recent posts, I have not been in much of a blogging mood as of late. I'm still not too inspired to write anything, so I thought I would post a few photos to help me remember at a later date what this summer's been about so far.

It's been perfect to just stay in the city and catch up with friends mostly. Really enjoyed the rare treat of catching up with my close girlfriends when Shermeen was in town.

And then of course there is all the catching up with old friends at the inevitable summer weddings . It should be interesting from another perspective this week as I'll be in my first wedding and throwing my first shower for a friend this weekend.

And of course, finally, the kayaking in this city is breathtaking. Ann and I went out to Jericho beach this time and we took our time paddling around and didn't try to bust it out to the extreme. (That's Ann in the photo). What a great way to catch up with a friend on the water. I forgot how green this city is. I didn't get the shots I wanted of the sunset on the cityline... I'll have to wait until a little later this summer when the sun sets earlier.

In between all that I'm not taking any official holidays this summer so have been busy on work stuff and design projects for friends. Glad to have mostly finished some book promo stuff for a self-published friend, the usual wedding design projects and great fun working with my sister to design her business card as a soon-to-be-fresh-grad. Anyone know someone who could use a bright, organized Library Scientist and Information Specialist with a sharp ability to research and write? Preferably in Vancouver so she can be close to her sister :) She is now the third most degreed person in our family! (behind Aunt Paulina and Dad)

Free movie previews seems to be a gift that I have been given this summer, which is unusual for me but a welcome treat. Ann treated me to Superman Returns, and then Mary let me in on free passes for World Trade Center. I love how movies make me think and see life in a different way.

And, a simple pleasure I have missed and caught up on this season is reading!

Fireworks finale of the Celebration of Lights -- combined with a birthday party at Ann's beautiful apartment by English Bay so we don't have to battle the crowds on the beach tomorrow night. We'll see if we get any good shots. Or I may end up subbing in my sister's photos of fireworks from Canada Day in Ottawa -- she has a slick digital SLR and the ability to be creative with it.

I just noticed that I have a tendency to focus on events... to counteract it a wee bit, I will add that there has been a lot of activity in the heart department, shall we say. God continues to take his flashlight into the dark parts of my heart and is consistently doing spiritual heart surgery in there. Growth is good, despite the pain that comes. The surgery is worth it especially when there is better life on the other side of it :)

Overall, good times, good friends, good weather, gorgeous surroundings...I know that I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms (as I am reminded in the book of Ephesians) but I can truly say I am also blessed with every blessing in the earthly realms this summer as well. God is so good!

Monday, June 12, 2006

my tongue is pasty from too much sugar

When I came home from NYC on Friday and caught up on my email, there was an e-vite from my roommate Dilys inviting me to her birthday party which was to be held at our house. Yay! Party at our house! I love it when people get together and have a good time, especially when it's at my place :) It was a delightful evening of friendship, belly dancing, weird body tricks, chocolate fondue, birthday cupcakes and way too many other sugar options.
Turns out (not suprisingly so) Dilys has talented literary friends who composed great haikus and even limericks in honour of the birthday girl. Poetry has never been my forte, so my tribute to my roommate for her 24th will be in the form of an acronym of ways she has enriched my life:
D - Dilys engages me in discussions that make me think and stretch my thoughts (in a good way!)
I - These discussions are ever so enriching because of the insight they offer to helping me understand the world around me... Dilys is very insightful!
L - She cleary loves people and has a compassion for others, which stems from her enduring love for God
Y - Dilys may be youthful at the age of 24, but she has that rare combination of also being very wise beyond her years
S - As serious as Dilys can be, every once in awhile, she always cracks me up and catches me off guard when she makes surprising comments that I would never expect to come out of her mouth (like when she says "Dude!")
I'm thankful for you Dilys!
Food photos courtesy of the great eye of Stefanie Coutinho

Friday, June 09, 2006

top 10 memorable things from the Big Apple

1. Experiencing God's presence and power so clearly at the Redeemer Prayer Conference (the reason that brought us out to New York in the first place). It was amazing to see the fruit of answers to prayers that so many people invested in the conference for months ahead.
2. Yummalum food... the best Italian food I've had in a long while (you know you can't get any really good Italian in Vancouver!), delish deli food and burgers, cheesecake... the list goes on because 99% of what we tasted was super tasty!
3. The amazing creativity of The Lion King. I originally had apprehensions that it would be hokey, but they really pulled it off with imaginative sets and choreography and convincing acting. My favourite animal in the show was the giraffe, of course!
4. The Pajama Game, a top-notch Broadway production starring Harry Connick Jr... Not only was it a phenomenal show, but we had technical difficulties, which resulted in the treat of Harry coming out to entertain us with a candid Q&A time.
5. Catching up with old friends Tina and Jessica, from a summer city mission trip in Vancouver in '99.
6. Visiting Tina's small group study. The people were super friendly and welcoming. The topic on knowing our limits and trusting God for the rest was personally convicting and timely.
7. Enlightening and insightful chats with Mary, my wise co-worker who travelled with me.
8. Hearing the multiple languages at every turn and seeing the diversity of cultures throughout the city.
9. Finding my way around the city, even feeling like a New Yorker at moments -- like the four times people asked me for directions!
10. Circling the air at JFK airport for 2 hours due to weather and air traffic, running out of gas, flying to Toronto to refuel, finally landing back in NYC. I couldn't believe how alive and bustling the airport was at 2am. By the time we survive lineups, we arrive in time to enjoy 5 hours of our $180 hotel in Manhattan before our 9am meeting. Why am I listing this as a highlight? Just for how sheerly ludicrous it is -- only in NY!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

yes, I'm still alive...barely!

It's June... what happened to May?? Here is an uneventful account of an eventful month:

  • First was the very cool week-long course on dialogue education at SFU
  • Then there was the road trip down to Birmingham with the roommies
  • Then the best birthday party ever with the best gift ever (scrapbook full of notes and cards from friends... Words of affirmation are my primo love language) Thanks everyone, especially Rach, Dilys and Becks!) [see the photo on the right on the bottom -- my favourite shot from the whole evening!]
  • Then getting high on checking things off my to-do-list by making a mad dash to finish a whole bunch of projects, including work related and self-inflicted creative projects before leaving for a week in...
  • Atlanta -- my first time in the deep South. Learned all kinds of helpful tricks from our ministry partners who run the Church Planting Leadership Assessment there. Bonus: learned some interesting lessons about myself in the process. Briefly toured the world headquarters for Coca Cola.
  • Back for 5 days in Vancouver, again running around getting high on checking things off my to-do-list, mostly in preparation for...
  • New York City! John, Mary and I are headed out there to help train and encourage Redeemer Church in prayer. The conference is over in a jiffy (7 hours in 2 days), then Mary and I are trolling the city for 5 days. Good thing we have similar interests! Looking forward seeing God alive and working in a different context...
Phew -- I'm tired! I am quite looking forward to settling down for the rest of the summer to enjoy all that Vancouver has to offer. I do have to make up for kayaking time lost last summer!
But for now, off to pack for the Big Apple...

Monday, May 08, 2006

weekend whirlwind: roommate road trip

Great roommate road trip this weekend! Thanks to Dilys clicking into "Yes, I'm a tourist and I'm going to take a ton of photos because that's what tourists do!" mode, I also snapped a few pics. Here goes...

First, there was the necessary task of killing time in the car at the border crossing. When our turn was up, the American border guard apologized that we'd been randomly selected for a car check. Funny to encounter an apologizing American -- it's usually Canadians who are the ones who are constantly saying "sorry." Funnier still was when he asked us what kind of music we were going to see live in concert. Dilys simply turned up the volume in response so he could hear for himself!

Then we grabbed some lunch at the main mall in Bellingham. Dilys and Becki had Taco Time, (since we don't get as much Mexican food up in Vancouver), while I had a sandwich from Subway (uninventive I know, but I couldn't bear the greasy feeling of those temptingly yummy mexi fries). Took some goofy photos in a photo booth (will scan shots in later).

Did a bit of shopping at Ross (like Winners, but cheaper). That was a bit chaotic. What a mess. Not worth photo documenting. Got into a short and slightly amusing conversation with the Filipino family behind us who had a garden-sized dwarf from Snow White. It made Rebecca want to get a "garden gnome" for the patio.

And whaddaya know, it's dinner time before we realize it -- time for more Mexican food! We found this great little restaurant. It was a gorgeous old building, with vintage decor, funky atmosphere and service. Tasty home made salsa (token food shot in honour of my shutter-bug sister). I thought it was great that Becki basically had Jack Daniels ice cream with checkerboard shortbread cookies for dinner (with a side salad).

After dinner we had to kill some time before the doors opened for the show we came to see in the first place. Bellingham is quite the quaint little town. I totally loved (and was impressed!) how there was children's art displayed in windows of all kinds of businesses that we walked by (complete with artist's descriptions of their works), even in the window of a billiards club! The artwork really went a long way in bringing colour, cheer and life to the town's streets.

We closed the night out taking in the beautiful melodies of Over the Rhine (I found their piano arrangements were especially simply fabulous and moving). Their tunes are generally more reflective and sauntering in tempo, but they played a couple of new tunes that were a bit more upbeat and "optimistic" (in their choice of words) and quite fun. The only thing was one small observation that struck me a bit strange. I've never been to a show where people were sitting on the floor watching quietly like the folks who were there. I was standing up swaying to the music, trying to let it get in my bones a bit. I would've gotten into it more, but it seemed out of place with everyone else so mellow.

On the way home we radio-surfed and car-danced at times to "lively" music to help with Becki's driving concentration. Somehow that same choice of loud music just didn't seem to be appropriate when we stumbled into the car on Sunday morning to drive to church with the car radio still on from last night...

All in all it was a fun night but man I paid for it on Sunday. I'm so ready for bed. G'dnight!

Saturday, May 06, 2006

facing our apprehensions

Phew! After way too many hours, I finally just finished my taxes for this year. And only a few days late (compared to 3 months late some years)! I am so proud of myself!

I was particularly apprehensive this year as there were some changes in 2005, including the complications that come with purchasing and renting out property. I was determined this year to do the paperwork myself with the goal of actually understanding what was going on, to the best degree I could.

Working through a couple of fairly frustrating moments, with the patient help and good teaching of my dad (thanks to technology as we relied on the phone and some scanned PDFs of the documents), I learned a few tricks to maximize my return. Thanks Dad! That was much more helpful than trying to motivate me by saying, "Your sister finished hers weeks ago!" :) I can't believe I actually created a little spreadsheet to help me figure out the best configurations of various things to claim. I hope I can remember the logic behind everything next year....

It feels good to confront our hesitations and get through it. I was talking with my roommate about that recently. We both agreed one of our unspoken personal creeds was that anytime we identified thoughts of "Oh, I'm afraid of doing that..." we would aim to just do it and get over our hesitations. It's a natural high when you come out the other end.

On that note, on Sunday at the beginning of this week, I was excited yet apprehensive about a week-long course I would be taking at SFU's Centre for Dialogue. The feeling of dread was greater than the feeling of anticipation. I have a lot of distrust of the academic environment and how it triggers the switch deep in me launching me into "performing-to-prove-myself" mode.

I made it through the course with flying colours - literally! The course was on Dialogue Education in Adult Learning and employed all kinds of colourful activities using markers, music, drama (overcame my hesitations drudged up from elementary school activities), playdough, etc. It was so enjoyable to see the brightly coloured diagrams and activities posted on the walls all week.

But the highlight was most definitely getting to know all kinds of colourful people who are doing all kinds of world-shaking work around the globe. When I finally got over my awe of everyone (hard to shake that Asian unquestionning respect of teachers and elders), it truly was a gift to spend the week with them, truly co-learning with them. I learned so much about life, people, the world and myself this week.

I'm so jazzed now about applying all I've learned to the stuff I'm working on now. My friend Renae was so right in offering her suggestion of taking courses to help boost those "hitting the wall" times in work.

Three cheers for how great it feels to confront and make it through the other side of our hesitations! Looking forward to a great way of celebrating by a road trip with my roommates for some cross-border shopping and a concert tonight in Bellingham. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

bit by the travel bug

I've never been one of those people who needed to do the backpack-across-Europe thing. I've always wanted to drive across Canada and see my own land first as it is vast, varied and beautiful.

But my trip to Vietnam last summer made me want to travel and experience cultures that are different than mine (though I am not Vietnamese, I could relate to the cultural values a lot being raised to think more Chinese than I may realize most days). The Territories of Canada and Africa were first to come to mind as places that I want to experience that are quite different than what I know.

Today I saw The Constant Gardener. There were many excellent elements of the film, but the cinematography was simply breathtaking and gorgeous. Despite the seriousness and despair of the film's depiction of Africa, it still reminded me of my desire to visit this part of the world. I've always thought it to be a beautiful, colourful and lively people, culture and land. And my favourite animal (the giraffe) resides there!

I'm thankful that my job periodically provides opportunities to travel. May will bring a week in Atlanta, and I just received news today that I will be able to go to New York to help with a conference for work in June... I am excited and grateful for the opportunity as I loved the first taste I enjoyed of it back in 2003. I am a light packer and didn't spare any room for extra shoes so I was trekking around town in my open-heeled shoes (clogs) during the blizzard of the century that happened to coincide with our visit. But because of the blizzard, I was able to meet up with a friend whom I didn't even know was in town who had her work cancelled that day.

I think what I enjoy about travelling is that it gets me outside of myself, my usual routine, and my comfort zone to experience God and his creation in new ways. I've seen God tangibly involved in my travels, protecting me, directing my steps, filling my heart with awe and appreciation for the diversity of his creation of people, cultures and lands. In such a vast world to us, it blows my socks off that God cares for each person on this planet so tiny to him.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

my kitchen goddess sister

I know, it kinda sounds like an Amy Tan title, but this is all I have to say so far about my awesome sister. She's simply a kitchen goddess, come down to visit me and bless me with her gooey cinnamon buns from scratch. I mean, who makes cinnamon buns from scratch anymore nowadays in the age of instant-everything?

My sister Flo spent four hours in the kitchen making these cinnamon buns. I don't spend four hours doing anything in the kitchen. There's a reason why cookies are my favourite thing to make -- 7 minutes to beat and put on the pan, 7 minutes to bake, 7 minutes to clean up. To her, it's no big deal, but to me, making anything with yeast just sounds too complicated and intimidating. The more mysterious to me, all the more power to her kitchen prowess!

We took some of these buns to Kat's birthday party and they were quite the hit. All in all, it was an awesome day full of sugar, laughter and celebration.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

hitting a wall

I so should not be procrastinating right now. But I've so been hitting a wall lately, several times.

Ever since the leadership assessment weekend has been over (it was three weeks ago already), I've totally crashed, productivity-wise, spiritually and socially. Not having clear structure and deadlines these past weeks have taken its toll.

But good thing for my sister coming in town tomorrow. I've accomplished more in these 3 days than I have all the past three weeks knowing she is going to be here. I also cleaned up big time in time for her visit. I was vacuuming my room and thought I'd vacuum my keyboard to clear off some of the dust. Oops. Not such a great idea. I lost my left shift key to the powerful suck of my machine.

I'm looking forward to trolling the city with her. She finally caved in and switched over to digital SLR and we are going to take some historic walks around town with a focus of taking photos. After feeling a bit of distance between us, this past week we've talked on the phone for some 6 hours or so (not all at once). Nothing quite like good phone time and talking about boys to bond :)

I was going to take the whole week off to spend with her, but I have to teach a course with Renae and Susan. It's the Basic Christian Story, one that I'm familiar with from having informally teaching it to many ESL students who have come to our church in the past.

One of the walls I'm hitting is having "dead" eyes in looking at material I am too familiar with. I really need a fresh look at the material for this Basic Christian Story course, and for the prayer course that we've been doing for 5 years now. Three years is the usual mark I lose interest and hit the wall. I'm two years beyond it in the prayer course arena now. And I'm not quite sure what to do about it.

I'm hitting a wall too with craving to really meet God. I feel like I am coming to the dinner table to spend time with him, and then when I get up to leave, I feel like I haven't really eaten at all.

I wonder if it has to do with all the spiritual house cleaning I am doing in working on my 12 Step process right now. I've unearthed some destructive roots and pains lodged deep within my heart that I need to let God dispose of that are preventing good things from growing, but I'm not sure how. On the one hand, there's a feeling of a sense of relief to come into the light on some of these things; on the other hand, it's damn uncomfortable .... exposure always brings an intial sense of squinting "ouch! it's too bright and it's hurting my eyes! Make it stop!" I think that's human nature to want to squirm away and stay in the shadows on the things we are most ashamed of.

Overall though, I know I am in a great season of life and I'm really trying to enjoy it, despite the ebbs and flows of wall-hitting.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

a different look at easter

Easter totally came and went and tumbled right by me this year. (I can see the value of maybe trying to observe Lent next year...)

To be honest I've been stuck in church-inertia the past few weeks and have found it difficult mustering the desire or energy to go. I know it's at those times I need most to reach out and connect with my spiritual family, but the inertia has been strong this time around.

I had a majorly hard time hauling my butt outta bed for the day of prayer on Good Friday at my church. I actually skipped out on the first half of the day. But as usual, at the end of the day, after spending the afternoon in talking with others and God, it was exactly what I needed. It was so good to get out of myself and look to others and the world, bringing their needs before God in prayer.

The Good Friday service was appropriately somber and good to remember that this is the day that God died (thanks for the wording, Joc...). It's the day that Jesus, God's son, was cut off from his Father God for the first time since he had been in perfect communion with him since the beginning of time and creation. All so that I would not be cut off from God.

I still feel shallow in my understanding and experience of this, but I suppose this the essence of the faith journey is a lifetime of rediscovering and tasting this truth in new ways. It amazes me that when Jesus came back to life and appeared to the disciples there are times they simply don't even recognize him ("they were kept from recognizing him" Luke 24:16) and it's only "until their eyes were opened" (Luke 24:31) that they can recognize him. I think that's a cue I can take in praying for myself and others, that eyes would be opened to see Jesus as he really is. No amount of trying harder on my part, or on the part of others, can bring those spiritual "aha! I see!" moments.

Easter Sunday our Eastside and Westside groups convened as one church downtown at the Roundhouse Community Centre. I basically ended up missing the service altogether as I was putzing around greeting and directing people, and helping Carla with lunch and Lee Anne with the Easter egg hunt for the kids.

As much as I craved being able to simply rest and take in the service, I quite enjoyed myself participating in other ways. Being outside in the hall away from all the action, there were moments of quietness I found myself having a spirit of prayer for various parts of the service as they went on and for specific people as they came to mind.

After the Roundhouse, we headed back to our home base at the Westside building for Camper's "graduation" (i.e. ordination) service. When I walked in, the room was filled with the fresh scent of lilies. After all the hustle and bustle of hosting everyone at the Roundhouse, coming back to the Westside felt like coming back home. It was like having a party at the Roundhouse for the community, then coming back to the Westside was like having a coffee to really relax after all the guests have left.

That feeling of "ah, I'm coming back home" is one that I think I needed to feel to remind me in light of my church-inertia what I am really missing. I have been given such an amazing gift of friends and spiritual family. "My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

apology for narcissism

Our staff meeting on Tuesday was particularly good for me this week. It woke me up from myself.

We started off by praying for a specific situation of sexual exploitation happening in Central Asia and for the larger issue worldwide. Then we prayed for a few key leaders in our midst who are all seeming to be undergoing tough challenges and spiritual attacks of various sorts recently. I particularly and necessarily needed to feel the weight and help carry the burden for others. It was exactly what I needed to get out of my self-focused funk in my little cave as of late.

As I felt the weight of the present trials and difficulties of this world, I was tempted to be too weighed down with the heaviness of magnitude of some of these situations and questionning of God asking why there had to be such pains and injustices in this broken and clearly imperfect world. Yet in my momentary heaviness I was glad for this opportunity to look up from my navel which I had been gazing at too much recently. I've been more aware since that point in this week of my navel-gazing and simply got tired of it.

Last night as I found myself yet again working through and over-focusing on myself, I actually got tired of myself and tired of thinking about myself. So I took a nap. (I had a headache too, which was too easy a reason to complain for myself, so my strategy was to take a nap so I could wake up fresh with a new beginning, which is one of the things I love most about waking up, either from a night of slumber or an afternoon nap.)

Waking up from my nap was like the much needed turn of tide in our prayers for the latter half of our staff meeting. We had started with the heavy burdens of evil and trial in the world and in our own lives, yet we necessarily concluded our meeting by praying for several encouraging happenings and "God-on-the-move" activities coming up. No doubt there is a correlation between all these good things happening in the spiritual undercurrents of our city and the spiritual hits our leaders are taking.

When we face a setback spiritually, the temptation is far too great to be discouraged and dragged down, rather than seeing it as an indication that we might be causing enough flag-waving in the spiritual realm to invite attention to ourselves. In our weakness and despair is always an opportunity to find our strength and hope in Christ. We must lift our gaze to Jesus. It is a matter of survival.

I'm tired of focusing on myself and writing all my blog entries on that topic. If I'm tired of this, there's a good chance you are too, so I do apologize for the heavy dose of narcissism in this blog as of late. If you catch me putting a whole entire post on the topic of me, myself, and I anytime soon again, please please do everyone a favour and stop me from indulging in my self-reflections and spare you of them too. Seriously! Please, and thank you!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

saying no, weddings + a stylin' vote

When my friend Jackie asked me to consider being her wedding coordinator, my first reaction was laughter. Then was a normal human reaction of feeling flattered to even be asked. Then there was my firm and clear response, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Normally I can tend to have a problem saying "no" to inviting tasks, but there are some instances where I don't have to think hard to come to my definitive "no" reply:

First scenario guaranteeing a "no" response: When something is way, way , way out of my area and experience, I will flat out say no.

Now there are certainly those times where it's like "hey, that's something new, different and unknown to me, I'm up for the challenge to try something new and learn." What I'm talking about here are the opportunities that are so clearly not in my realm or reality that they are beyond reasonable consideration, for my sake and for the sake of the asker-of-the-favour.

Coordinating a wedding is one of those things that I wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole. I haven't even been to that many weddings, considering the age of life that I'm in and considering the amount of people I know who've gotten married (I have a pretty wide network, but the majority of those relationships are not close ones to garner wedding invitations).

I've never even been in a wedding before as an adult. Flowergirl-hood doesn't count as I was too young to pick up any helpful wedding know-how... making it through without getting itchy from the lace on my dress or turning around to look at anyone in the pews was enough challenge then! I'm missing the inside-out perspective of the goings-on of a wedding. [Woah! Am I hyphen-happy or what?!] Bottom line is I'm too ignorant there to be of any real help!

Second scenario guaranteeing a "no" response: When Mike Woodard (a former director I had in my last job) would ask me to do things, I would say no.

This surfaced in an ironic way during one of my performance reviews. I listed in my version of the review that one of the weaknesses I needed to work on was my inability to say "no." In his version of my review, Mike listed "saying no" as one of my strengths. Well, I don't think I've ever said no to someone as much as him, simply for the reason that he kept asking me to do things that fell into category #1 and fell beyond my scope!

So if you ever want to exploit my weakness in saying no, ask me anything in my area of interest or skill. I'm a sucker for helping out with things I enjoy.

Anyway, I digress... all this to get to the point of this post. I am going to be in my first wedding this summer, and am fortunate to have the bride's friend create my dress so that it's hopefully wearable again. (Thanks Viv for being so thoughtful to this end and not making me wear something ridiculous!). Melissa has put some great work into the designs so far and we are getting close to choosing the winner.

The polls are now open... for those so inclined to voice their opinion, which of the following designs (or elements of designs) do you think is best? Which should I say yes to, and which should I say no to?