Embracing Change in Chicago

I’m in Chicago, at an inter-faith communicators’ conference that’s all about “embracing change”. I’ve heard some amazing speakers – like Mitch Albom and Otis Moss III – and my head is reeling with just what embracing change means for me personally, professionally, and spiritually. I think I’ve got to process that some more before I blog about it, so for now, I’ll  share more of a random travelogue than any particular deep thoughts swirling around in the grey matter.

It’s been rainy and cool since I got here, and tonight that was excuse enough for me to come “home” early, put on my pjs, and curl up on the couch. But these wandering feet can’t be kept entirely still, even in the rain, so I did manage to do a little sight-seeing in the last couple of days.

First, the view of downtown, from just down the street from where I’m staying.

This homeless fellow caught my attention.

He was deeply engrossed in his book and I couldn’t resist sneaking behind a tree to take a closer look. What kind of book does a homeless guy read?

The Last Man Standing. I haven’t read it, so I can’t say anything profound about whether or not it makes some kind of social statement.

I spent a bit of time in Millennium Park, and… can I just say… even though I got soaked and had to go to the conference banquet with squishy feet and dripping pant legs, I LOVE walking in the rain. Really. Being in a touristy artsy outdoorsy space when it’s raining and foggy and few other people are crazy enough to be there? Well, it just has a special kind of magic. By the time I ducked into Starbucks to warm up over a chai latte, I was downright giddy. Silly but true.

I am SO in love with the giant face sculptures in Millennium Park. The faces keep changing and I could just stand and stare for an hour or two, even in the rain.

Here’s a little sneak peek into the luxury digs I’m staying in. I booked a place through bedandbreakfast.com, and at first I was going to be in a modest little suite. But then I got upgraded because somebody wanted that place for a month. And then I got upgraded AGAIN to their first class accommodations. (For cheaper than I would have paid at the big corporate hotel where the conference is, by the way.) Ooh la la! I feel like a QUEEN!

This is the well equipped kitchen and way down at the end, past the dining room, is the living room. Behind me is the bedroom, and off to the side, an office, an extra bedroom, and a bathroom with a 2 person jacuzzi tub. I don’t think I want to leave!

Just one more thing… this picture almost defies comment.

A BAKERY for DOGS?! I know we’re an overly-indulgent society, but seriously?! If you’ve got a pampered dog, please forgive me. But you know what… when there’s a homeless guy living in a park just down the street, is it really okay to have a bakery just for dogs? (I know, I know – getting rid of one won’t fix the other, but still…)

I may be “embracing change”, but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to embrace bakeries for dogs.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Today I am posting this picture simply because it made me smile yesterday when I came across it in one of our work publications.

It makes me smile and it helps me to remember that I’ve lived a good life. I have been privileged to walk on foreign soil many times. And I will do it again and again. This was taken almost exactly 5 years ago in Kenya, and yes, that’s me with a little less hair, a little less weight, and a fly on my cheek. And a huge grin on my face because I was doing what I love most in the world – going on a journey. And meeting fascinating people. And letting the world change me.

This is what I wrote on my very first post on this blog, when I was preparing for my first trip to Africa:

I won’t expect that my English words are somehow endued with greater wisdom than theirs. I will listen and let them teach me. I will open my heart to the hope and the hurt. I will tread lightly on their soil and let the colours wash over me. I will allow the journey to stretch me and I will come back larger than before.

I believe I did what I set out to do – allowed the journey to stretch me. And I’ve done that on every journey since.

I’m looking forward to seeing what journeys will stretch me this year.

Perhaps it’s time for a travelogue?

First there was the trip from Fredericton to Quizpamsis, New Brunswick, to meet my new friend Dale Cook, the artist responsible for the art show that was raising money and awareness for our organization…

Then there was the trip to Upham, New Brunswick to spend some time with Mariam, one of our board members who’s an Anglican priest in a delightful rural parish…

While there, I found time for a lovely, solitary afternoon jaunt in the woods on a bright and snowy day…

When I returned from my jaunt, I discovered that a friendly cat had himself at home in my luggage…

The next day was a grey but still lovely trip to New Minas, Nova Scotia (in the Annapolis Valley)…

 In New Minas I’m staying with more delightful hosts (I’ve been very lucky on this trip!), Randy and Brenda (Randy volunteers for our organization.)

And as I’ve learned in the past, hanging out with Randy always means adventure, great conversation, and meeting some of the fascinating people he surrounds himself with. A morning with the wonderful artist Regina Coupar on the South Shore certainly didn’t disappoint. We were gifted with an impromptu lesson in preparing tiles for the kind of mosaic art she’s been working on lately… (I will probably write more about that visit in a future post – it was a truly inspiring few hours in the studio of an amazing artist and deep thinker.)

Then there was lunch in Chester with Randy, Regina, John, and our special guest, Flat Madeline…

That evening, there was a visit to the new bakery that will (when it’s open) be selling a special loaf of bread as a fundraiser for our organization.

Today I’ve been gifted with a free day, since the journey to PEI did not materialize (due to bad weather). In the morning, we visited a magical local bookstore (for some local flair for my children’s Christmas gifts) and a couple of other shops, and then had a leisurely lunch. Tonight my gracious hosts are treating me to an evening of live theatre.

Tomorrow I head back to New Brunswick for the final stop on my tour. I’ll be spending some time with a new provincial volunteer, and then I’ll be on my way home.

What a grand adventure it has been!  Who says you can’t have fun on a business trip?

Embracing my inner art-lovin’ peace-lovin’ hippie

It’s been a full and exhausting week, but oh the good things that have come in the midst of all this craziness!  To cap off the goodness, I won the bid on this AMAZING bag from Joyce, and now I can truly embrace the peace-lovin’ hippie in me!

How perfect is it that I’m buying a peace-sign bag from re-purposed fabric in support of justice and food for the people of Darfur!?! Everything about it just screams “this is meant to be Heather’s bag!” I hope to have it in time for my east coast tour next week (Joyce lives a half hour from me), ’cause I’ll be able to tell myself I’m just a free-spirited hippie out to convene with mother nature and a community of other hippies on the coast. Smile.

If you haven’t checked out Joyce’s Darfur Project yet, then WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?! Go there NOW. Bid on a bag. (It’s okay – go –  I’ll still be here when you get back.) Bookmark it for future reference, and keep going back.  I kept forgetting to visit until it was too late to bid on the bags I wanted, but it turned out to be serendipitous, because I showed up at just the right time to buy the bag that is my favourite of the bags I’ve seen so far (and she makes lots of cool bags).

While I’m wandering the East Coast with my hippie bag, one of the coolest things I’ll be doing is visiting the artist Dale Cook in New Brunswick. Dale is putting on an art show in support of the organization I work for (Canadian Foodgrains Bank), and some of her paintings are based on my photos from India and Bangladesh.  Here’s one of my favourites from a photo I took in India. Isn’t it beautiful?

I SO wish I could afford to buy it, but with kids who’ve suddenly outgrown winter coats and boots at the same time AND have this ridiculous expectation that they’ll get Christmas presents (sheesh), that would prove to be a little difficult. Hopefully it will go to a good home. 🙂  Check out Dale’s blog here.

I’ve got lots of other fun things lined up for my trip, including lunch and a studio visit with another artist/writer in Nova Scotia (whom I’ve admired from afar since I learned about her a few years ago and I’m in awe that I get to meet her face to face), and a meal in a restaurant/bakery that’s developed a special bread recipe that they’re dedicating to the Foodgrains Bank (every loaf they sell will support the work of ending hunger overseas).  Plus I get to stay with my friend Randy (who gave me my triple spiral necklace on my last visit), and some other people that I really like (and expect to like once I meet the ones I’ve only spoken to on the phone so far) in three of the Atlantic Provinces.

It’s a good life for a peace-lovin’, art-lovin’, bread-lovin’, people-lovin’, justice-lovin’ hippie!


I am home and travel weary. Four sleeps in various beds across southern Ontario (business travel). One sleep in a bed in Grand Forks (soccer tournament). Too many meetings. Too many polite-introductions-followed-by-polite-small-talk conversations. Too many hours in too many cars on too many speeding freeways. Too many “I’ll just forgive myself for eating these few extra bites” meals.

It occurs to me – after a week of traveling in relatively familiar territory – that the degree of familiarity of the space I am in does not necessarily equal the degree to which I will feel at home. In fact, I can (and did) feel completely at home in a remote village on a remote island off the coast of India, wandering down a dirt path holding the hand of a complete stranger whose command of English is minimal. Conversely, I can feel utterly out of place in a room full of people who’ve been raised in the same country, with the same language, and essentially the same faith traditions as I was raised with.

It begs the question “who is my neighbour?” And another question “how do I make sure people feel at home in my presence?”

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