An argument to tear apart our family: Scenes from a household

Now let me begin by telling you that I titled this post in jest; the argument I’m about to describe is not really threatening to tear apart our family. What is so amusing though is how vehemently both sides are sticking to their point of view.  Here’s the story:

Our family was heading to dinner at a restaurant with Auntie T’s family, travelling in two separate cars. We pull into the restaurant parking lot, and after parking, one of my daughters asks, “Where did Auntie T park?”

You would think such an innocuous question would be easy enough to answer. You would be wrong. I refer you to this picture here:  I’ve marked where we parked in relation to where Auntie T parked. The question I ask you, dear reader, is “How do you describe where Auntie T parked in relation to your own car?”

I’ll give you a moment to ponder your answer.

My answer to my daughters query? “Two cars over.”

My husband’s answer? “One car over.”

We looked at each other like we each had two heads growing from our torso. How can two people who see eye-to-eye on practically every other thing in world describe this simple scenario so differently? (“It’s like I don’t even know you anymore!“) We debated this point the rest of the evening, at least until T injured himself because he was preoccupied with the argument.

My daughters betrayed me and also described it as “one car over”.

We then polled family members and friends, to see if popular opinion would sway the other to see the light and come to the side of reason. To no avail. I realize now is there isn’t a standard agreed way to describe this situation. Or if there is, I never got that lesson. It continues to this day to rear it’s head as a topic of light-hearted contention today. We’ve agreed to disagree, and love each other regardless.

So, are you a one-car-over or two-cars-over kind of person? Inquiring minds want to know. =)

~Jen

 

Things I Am Thankful For – 2017 Edition

The afternoon sun shines in through the windows of my home, filling it with a warm glow. The aromas of today’s Thanksgiving meal, lovingly prepared by my husband, waft through the house. My girls deliver a continuous happy chatter as they discuss the latest shenanigans of their stuffies. My parents and brother, all in good health, will be arriving soon. I have very much to be thankful for this Canadian Thanksgiving holiday.

And yet it is hard to not feel uneasy about the abundance of favour in my life currently when looking at the news of the world. From the multiple hurricanes this year, to the Mexico earthquakes, to the Las Vegas mass shooting, to a local family missing their husband and father, there are more than enough reminders about how others have their lives devastated in a moment. I cannot be so special as to be able to avoid catastrophe forever.

Thankfully I finished reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown this week. I now know queasy feeling is me experiencing what she names “foreboding joy”:

In a culture of deep scarcity—of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough—joy can feel like a setup…We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The antidote to foreboding joy, that emerged from Brené Brown’s research? Practicing gratitude. So let’s give it a go.

Things I Am Thankful For – 2017 Edition

  • Having my husband arrive home safely each day. Who feeds our family so well with his mastery in the kitchen. And having such a relationship that we can heatedly debate playfully argue the semantics about whether the location of a friend, is “one car over” or “two cars over”.
  • The continuing growing and thriving of my dear daughters. Even if this growing and thriving comes with a testing of wills and the emergence of hormones and brain changes.
  • The inevitable careful negotiation and navigation of space by my family members while we host them to dinner in my small home…While it may be annoying, it means I still have a home, the resources to pull together a dinner, and healthy family members.
  • Having the love and humour of a great group of friends who make equal effort to get together and have real life experiences together. You’ve helped push me to do some new things (e.g. public speaking at EtchTalk, playing bubble soccer) but also help establish some traditions that my family looks forward to again and again (e.g. travelling, group camping, Easter egg hunts, Halloween pumpkin carving, BBQs and potlucks)
  • My membership in some group chats with friends near and far, where the conversations are full of humour, intellectual ideas, great advice, mutual support, and love.
  • Finishing reading a spate of books recommended from trusted friends and colleagues that are really helping me make sense of how to navigate the world, and how to help raise my kids to navigate the world. These are:
    • Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
    • Mindset-The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
    • Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott
  • The continued success of both GrantBook, my workplace, and my contributions there. I’m proud of our non-traditional organizational culture and the amazing things we are accomplishing with our wholehearted approach. Even if this means sometimes things are awkward and murky, I’m thankful that we all embrace the uncertainty together.
  • The joy I felt multiple times through the evening of watching Fall for Dance North Program 1. It’s probably been a while since i let my cynicism fully drop like it did that night.

I end with this poem from a Canadian poet I only just found out about, (Brampton native and U Waterloo grad!) Rupi Kaur.

balance

A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

~Jen

Some of my best reads from 2016 and 2017

For whatever reason, 2016 was a reading binge year for me that spilled over to 2017. Of the too many books I read, these are the ones that easily come to mind when I think back to the books I enjoyed, or made me think, or made me cry.

Top 3

These are the books that linger in my brain and my heart, long after I finished reading them. Re-reading these are in my near future.

Reclaiming Conversations, by Sherry Turtle – my “Recommended Read” of 2016, this book was a catalyst to reflect on my own relationship with the mobile device in my hand, and not just as a resource for planning the introduction of mobile ownership to the kids. (nonfiction)

Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (first book in the “Kingkiller Chronicle” trilogy). Tai’s “recommended read” of 2016, and I’m kind of jealous that he claimed it first. It’s a fantasy book with such a unique system of magic, and it has amazing pacing. Such an amazing protagonist overcoming jaw-dropping challenges, but so many well-rounded supporting characters too. I wholeheartedly enjoyed it better than Game of Thrones, and I really liked GoT when I first read it too!

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi – an absolutely beautiful memoir written by a bright neurosurgeon who discovers he has late-stage lung cancer. Before going into medicine, Kalanithi completed an English degree, thinking he would be able to explore “the meaning of life, and death” thru literature. The journey he goes through and the deep introspection he has on why he became a doctor, and what makes a good doctor, are written about exquisitely. This was one of those books where many times i had to put it down just to reflect on the brilliant sentence or paragraph that i just read.

Fiction Faves

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell – if you love Harry Potter and teen drama, this was a highly entertaining read with an amazing story twist half-way through. It borrows heavily from the tropes in Harry Potter, but makes it a completely different wizarding world, and you’re dropped into the adventure immediately (the story opens up at the start of their last year in wizarding school).

Actually, anything by Rainbow Rowell has been wonderful. Eleanor and Park was a beautiful YA romance. I wrote earlier about my reaction to reading it.

For a completely different tone, her Landline is an adult novel that explores the heart-rendering dilemma of a woman torn between her career (which she loves and is driven by) and her husband and kids (who she loves, but feels inept to be present for–he is a stellar stay at home dad). Her personal life is a kind of a mess. An incident around the holidays leads to a fight and he travels to his parents’ for christmas with the kids as initially planned, while she decides to stay home for work. There’s additional tension of wondering whether she and her writing partner (a hot guy she’s been writing with since college) would end up together. Throw in a mystical landline phone that seems to be the only way she can get a hold of her husband, but it seems like she’s talking to him from 15 year ago. I just found it captures so many of the more subtle challenges an adult faces, compared to a YA.

Jane Steel, by Lyndsey Faye – it’s Jane Eyre meets Dexter meets Nancy Drew. Jane is an amazing female protagonist. Her resiliency, pluck and smarts make you cheer for her in this Victorian England historical-mystery-thriller-romance. It was a slow first chapter for me, but then picked right up. Along the way I learned a bunch about British Colonialism in Sikh region of now India.

The Voodoo Killings: A Kincaid Strange Novel, by Kristi Charish. A super fun mystery thriller, in a world where the raising of zombies has just been made illegal in the USA. The protagonist thus loses her job consulting for the Seattle police force (since even the temporary raising of zombies to ask murder victims about how they died is illegal).

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This is a sweeping novel of a family drama taking place in two worlds I knew little about: the country of Ethiopia and the practice of medicine where doctors and nurses do not have the resources we take for granted in North America.

The Martian: A Novel, by Andy Weir – this totally appealed to the science geek in me. It was thrilling, smart (the author tried to be as scientifically accurate as possible), and funny, showing such a positive example of human ingenuity and good humour conquering over the dire circumstances of being stranded on Mars.

For a completely teeny bopper YA romance though that is thoroughly enjoyable brain candy, I also recommend Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. She’s a mixed Korean & white junior in high school in Omaha (or some such place in the US midwest), who would write letters professing her love to the boys she had crushes on, to try and get over them. She’d then save the letters and not actually send them. Until one day she makes her little sister mad, and then the sister sends them off in the mail! Hijinks ensue. As an Asian girl growing up in the Canadian Prairies, it’s nice to identify with this character in a way I couldn’t when I was a teen, due to lack of representation in the books available then.

Fiction Honorable Mentions
  • Wonder, by RJ Palacio – a kids book that centers around an extraordinary boy Auggie who also has a severe facial deformity. It should actually be read by all adults as a reminder of the importance to always be kind.
  • The Help, by Kathryn Stockett – started my journey to better understand and empathize with the African-American experience in the South in the age of the Jim Crow segregation laws. Telling the stories in a really accessible manner, it is at times funny, tense, bitter and heartwarming.
  • Room, by Emma Donoghue. The synopsis given by the publisher is better than my many attempts at trying to describe this. It was discovering the world anew from the eyes of this 5-year-old child who knows nothing beyond the single room. I found the second half lagging a little as it switched gears, but still interesting in a more clinical way.
  • Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes – a funny and weepy romantic novel. Lovely easy read. No bodice ripping though…it was made into a movie last year.

Non-fiction Favs

Reinventing Organizations, by Frederik Laloux – an organizational theory book that revolutionized my company, as it gave us the language and terminology to describe our organizational structure and culture. It accurately calls out many of the underlying causes to why i had to leave Accenture (more than just the commute and the work). The abbreviated illustrated version now available makes the content much more accessible.

How to Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran – a super hilarious collection of biographical anecdotes from this UK journalist that collectively combines to be a siren call for “strident feminism”. I will be making my daughters read this when they’re teens, no lie. (nonfiction)

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg- while it’s a very funny and entertaining read, as I’m reading what the dating scene looks like in the past decade, all I could think was, “Thank god I’m not single now and looking for love”. And then I thought about how it ties into what I read in Reclaiming Conversations.

Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – this really helped us deal with jealousy issues in our children last year

Decisive: How to Make Decisions in Life and Work, by Chip and Dan Heath

Enjoy reading! And send me your favourite recommendations!

~Jen

The problem with Millennials…but us “adults” should not be so smug

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since watching this viral Youtube video of Simon Sinek (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU) over the holidays where he lays out 4 root factors of the challenges many Millennials have in the workplace: failed parenting strategies, technology, impatience, and corporate environments. Of course, much of his scathing commentary applies to more than just Millennials — it applies to many of our children and young adults today. A lot of the comments I’ve been seeing are scoffing at the poor parenting that caused these young people to become this way. About how we adults were raised successfully to not feel so entitled. But I don’t think we should be so smug.

In particular I’ve been musing over the topic on impatience. We “adults” are modelling behaviours now to our children that reflect our desire to control our time. We want to maximize each moment and get more done, because increased productivity in work, home, school, friendships, is the goal, right? It may not be an explicit lesson or discussion, but through establishing “what is normal” every day life, we are teaching our children volumes:

  • Don’t want to schedule a phone call with a friend? Just text back and forth when it’s convenient.
  • Don’t want to wait for the specific time of the week when your favourite TV show is on? Just download it or wait for Netflix, and watch on your own schedule.
  • Don’t want to wait for the bus and deal with people even though your commute can be easily done by transit? Of course, use a car and control your own schedule.
  • Don’t want to make the trek to the store when both your schedule and the store hours align? Online shopping is there, with Amazon Prime delivery to boot.

The explosion of food delivery services, Uber, Tinder…there are more and more ways that companies exploit our enjoyment of instant gratification, and our desire to control our time. It’s a selfish desire that we all have. I’m not saying that all these innovations are bad and we should get rid of them. Obviously that is crazy. I’m a user of many of these things.

What I’m realizing is that the overall cumulation of all of these apps and services means is that it erodes our everyday practice of waiting. And being patient with situations and others. We are losing practice dealing with the daily invariable inconveniences of life, and forgiving those small trespasses against us, that allow us to live well with each other. All these things are practice for us to not be so self-centered. And to be resilient when things don’t go our way exactly when and how as planned.

This is happening to all of us, and not just Millennials or our children. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we might want to build back in the practice of waiting for things, events and people. Maybe it’s time to give up on a few of these conveniences, on purpose.

~Jen

Goodbye 2016 – A look back at the year

The calendar has turned over a new page to 2017, so it’s time to say “Goodbye 2016” with a look back. At the end of this year, I felt a certain mixture of dread, melancholy and cynicism. It’s hardly the thing to get into the holiday spirit. And no wonder, looking at the first list of things that brought me grief and despair. Thank goodness for the things in the following 3 sections that soothed my soul (from grief), spurred me to action (instead of cynicism), and brought me joy or wonder (instead of despair).

Grief & Despair

We’ll start with the negatives first to get it out of the way.

  • Probably the thing that dismays me most about the Brexit vote and the US Election is the triumph of populism over intelligent and rational discussion in big political outcomes. The attacks on the “intellectual elite” have been so blindly fierce that I can’t help but parallel it to China’s Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward. When you can’t debate or discuss your opposing views using facts, logic and reason, it causes me great fear. “America Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny” by Andrew Sullivan in the New York Magazine applies to more than just the US, it applies around the world in many countries. Just watch the next round of elections in countries around the world.
  • The ongoing civil war in Syria, causing the displacement of millions of their citizens. The fall of Aleppo in December is the most recent terrible milestone in that crisis. I know I can’t fully understand the roots of this conflict, or all the interconnecting web of factors at play that continue to stymie attempts for resolution. This excellent piece by Mark McKinnon of the Globe at least helped me to start to understand: The Grafitti Kids Who Sparked the Syrian War
  • That there had to be a Black Lives Matter movement to bring more mainstream coverage to an issue that’s long simmering. And the inability for many with the privilege to be sheltered from this reality to acknowledge their privilege in order to continue the conversation to make forward progress.
  • Terror attacks around the world. The maniacal Philippine president in his ruthless tactics in their war against drugs. The unnecessarily harsh law enforcement reaction to the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. All the terrible things that humans do to one another.
  • The death of so many artists this year. Music can have so much power in our lives. The right combination of melody, lyrics, and rhythm can stir us to move and dance, to fall in love, to stand and fight, or to cry for our loss. Actors and personalities allow us the fantasy of other lives, where their comedy and drama entertain us, and we are glad their plot points aren’t happening *to* us. The loss of these artists this year means the loss of the art they produce. The world feels dimmer without them.

Balms that soothe the soul

  • Belatedly discovering Maria Popova’s brilliant blog Brain Pickings.  Here is a place where thoughtful, intelligent reviews and commentary on literature, writing, writers and artists, and “big ideas” matter. She celebrated the blog’s 10th anniversary this year, and her “10 Lessons from 10 Years of Brain Pickings” hit me like a splash of cold water to the face. So much so that I bought the poster that adapted the first 7 lessons (from when the blog turned 7).
    Post of Brainpickings 7 Life Learnings
    Poster of Brainpickings 7 Life Learnings
  • Tai, my loving husband, is my best friend and confidante. And the best dad I could ever dream of for my girls. He is a true parent, both doing the fun things (building kites, bottle rockets) and the mind numbing tedious things (bed time herding, making school lunches, answering unending questions). He sets a great expectation of what they should expect and demand to be treated in their relationships.
  • E1’s lively imagination in her creative play. She is rarely one to say, “I’m bored” because she’s always making something up. Her flights of fancy never cease to make me smile.
  • Nuzzling into E2’s cheek after she sneaks onto my lap. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and her sweetness warms my heart.
  • The inspiring dedication of the groups of ordinary Canadian citizens who are sponsoring Syrian refugees to settle in Canada.
  • Having a great core group of friends who consistently make the effort to connect and spend time together. We swap parenting strategies, career advice, home advice…it all goes. Whether it’s trips to Great Wolf Lodge, camping, group date nights, excursions to Canada’s Wonderland, or house / swim parties, I’m grateful for our (real) social network.
  • Working at a great company where the work is enjoyable, the mission and our clients are aligned with the type of impact I want to make in the world, and a wonderful group of colleagues that I like, respect, and enjoy spending time with.

Invigorating

These are the things that spurred me to take action in certain areas of my life.

Digital Education for my children

The book Reclaiming Conversations: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle was transformative for me. It was the first I’ve come across that really discussed what was at the root of all these multifaceted symptoms of technology use that I’ve either felt and experienced personally, or read about. And then it pointed out more that I didn’t even realize. Some criticize this book as fear-mongering, ignoring the true benefits of technology. I took this book to be eye-opening and informative so that we use these tools with the fuller understanding of the potential downsides. It’s the book I purchased my own hardcopy after reading the library’s copy, and the book I’ve most recommended.

It’s particularly influencing how my husband and I are approaching the thorny issue of when to allow our daughters their own smartphones. Combined with the following particularly memorable or insightful items, my two actions were 1)putting away my phone more; and 2) refining my parenting strategy for smartphones and kids:

  • I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan (again!) in New York Mag
  • 13, Right now” by Jessica Contrera in the Washington Post
  • The Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker in The Atlantic
  • The youtube video of Simon Sinek’s talk about Millennials in the Workplace (https://youtu.be/hER0Qp6QJNU) actually applies to all of us, both in our own personal behaviour, and in how we raise our kids.
  • The World Economic Forum published Yuhyun Park’s “8 Digital Skills all children need and a plan for teaching them“. While it’s more of a framework than a plan, it is a helpful way to categorize the different facets of Digital Citizenship (the ability to use digital technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways) so we can plan our own lessons at home.

Organizational Structure at my work

I decided to start up a book club at GrantBook, where I work, because I found many of my colleagues have a similar love of reading and discussing the ideas within. Peter, the cofounder of GrantBook, suggested this book based on a recommendation given to him — Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux. Noone could have predicted the impact of this book on our company. We knew we had quite a unique company culture in the level of respect we had for each other, and how we operated. This book was able to articulate for us what some of our “secret sauce” factors were. And provided a vision on how to take it further so we’re operating as a “Teal” organization.

Some organizational theorists have different terms to describe similar concepts: Holacracy, Integral, Self-Management. I remember hearing about the concept of Holacracy back in 2012 or 2013 and thinking it was a crock of sh*t. But that’s a typical cynic’s reaction. I’ve dropped a lot of my cynicism in the last two years, and I’m really motivated by what our company can achieve together. Peter was a huge part of establishing our culture organically, but he is planning to start something else soon. We wanted to inoculate our company culture so it continues on being awesome regardless of what individuals are here or not. It’s been satisfying being one of the instigators to formalize what being a Teal organization means.

Joy and Wonder

Sometimes there are just things that make you stop, sit up, and take notice, because of the joy or wonder they inspire. These were the things that did it for me this year:

  • Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves all the awards and accolades it receives. It is so multi-layered and dense, and yet so approachable in it’s contemporary form, that it’s a revelation. (“You want a revolution? I want a revelation!”) Ever since late 2015 I devoured the soundtrack, pored over the Hamilton Annotation Project analysis over on Genius, and watched countless Youtube videos. Watching it in Chicago in November was incredible, and made me love the musical even more.
  • OK Go’s music video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” continues their creative winning streak. Whenever I’m having a bad day, a dose of OK Go videos is a good way to kick out the grumblies.
  • Wake Up Rosetta! Who says science and astronomy doesn’t have heart? I nearly cried watching this recap story of the satellite Rosetta, which just finished a planned crash landing onto comet 67P. Sleep well, Rosetta and Philae! https://youtu.be/lVKFyFbfpOI
  • Viewing the Super Moon just above on the horizon at dusk was incredible. For those fleeting moments on November 14, the moon looked huge and golden orange against the clear eastern sky. It brought back memories of seeing a harvest full moon in Winnipeg in my teens. Looking down the flat highway to the prairie, the rising moon in the early evening light looked like it swallowed a quarter of the horizon.
  • Diving off the dock into the lake at a friend’s cottage, and then floating on my back was a real summer moment. I was so content lying in the water, the sounds of our kids muffled, while the sun filtered in and out of the clouds.
  • Watching live dance (National Ballet of Canada, La Sylphide and Cacti in particular; Fall for Dance North and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in particular) and theatre (ARC’s Pomona, Soulpepper’s Alligator Pie)
  • Finishing off our 1000 piece puzzle of candies over the holidays.
  • And finally, reading books brought me joy! Is there anything more wonderful than being transported away by great story, characters, and language? These were my reads of 2016 that rise to the top of the list:
    • The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle), Patrick Rothfuss
    • Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye
    • Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
    • The Martian, Andy Weir
    • When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

Well, I have fresh hopes for 2017. May you and yours have more joy and wonder in 2017 than cause for grief and despair. Happy New Year.

~Jen

Three times crazy – doing the 2017 Polar Bear Dip

You would think that after doing the polar bear dip once, or even twice, that would be sufficient enough times to cross it off my bucket list of “things to do before I die”. And yet, I found myself agreeing once again in December to sign up for the 2017 Polar Bear Dip. Three times crazy, yes. But all the fundraising proceeds go towards Habitat For Humanity GTA, a wonderful charity helping to address the issue of affordable housing in our city. Thanks to my supporters, I raised over $485 for this cause, and that’s a downright amazing feeling I can get behind again.

Toronto Sunnyside Beach. January 1, 2017, 20 minutes to dip time (11:40am).

The sun was shining brightly. The temperature was downright balmy at +2°C, with only the slightest of wind blowing. I wasn’t nervous at all in the days and hours leading up to the event. Compared to the weather conditions of the last two years, this should be a piece of cake, right?

Unfortunately, my friend A, the instigator and leader of our team, was knocked out by a bad cold and couldn’t join us that day. Without our”Dipping in the Six” team glue, the other members and I ended up scattered through the rest of the crowd of dippers.

Five minutes to dip time

I start peeling off the layers of coats and clothes covering my skin from the elements. Suddenly the day doesn’t feel so balmy after all. There is no fooling your body about being in the Caribbean when you are standing in your bathing suit in +2°C temperature. Shivering commences and your butt cheeks and thighs clench in a failed attempt to save some of the heat escaping. I make my way to the dip entrance area.

Waiting for the countdown. With the sun it almost looks tropical!

Then after a couple of minutes, my body seems to be confused about whether it needs to shiver, or whether it actually is a nice day. There’s not a lot of time to contemplate, however, because I hear over the loudspeaker the countdown.

12 o’clock noon

And suddenly people are charging forward into the lake. I follow at a modest pace behind, until suddenly *splash* my feet are in the water.

IT FEELS JUST AS COLD AS THE PAST 2 YEARS!

My brain is urging  body to go in further. My body is trying to rebel, as it’s hard-wired self-preservation instincts go into overload. Icy pricks are stabbing up my legs as I splash in deeper. I get to waist deep, turn to look at my dear hubby on the shoreline taking pictures, and dunk into the water to my shoulders.

It must have been the fastest dunk ever as he missed getting pictures of me more fully submerged. At this point, my body won the fight of self preservation over my brain’s desire for photographic preservation. GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!! I hoofed it out of the water to where my kids were holding down our square patch of beach. Numb hands sought out my fuzzy bathrobe, and clumsily pried the water shoes off my numb feet.

Post-dip euphoria

And then a couple of minutes after that, a sense of euphoria settles in. The day does actually feel quite balmy after all. It’s like the dip caused a physical reset. I’m hoping it lasts, to clear away this unsettled feeling of melancholy I’ve had in the last several weeks.

As always, many thanks to my dear husband who is my main support crew and photographer. He is supportive each year of this endeavor. Also thanks to my kids for putting up with this each New Year’s Day, and doing their part being cute. Will I do it again next year? I would be surprised if I didn’t. It seems like this is a part of who I am now, a New Year’s Day Polar Bear Dipper, for better or for worse. Look what you’ve done, my friend A, look what you’ve done.

~Jen

Some Tips for Polar Bear Dipping

  • Have a support person (or crew) to help you get changed, especially if it’s really cold out because your hands will stop working. And they can hold up towels for a screen for you to change.
  • I’m a proponent of wearing what ever is the easiest to get off your body afterwards. For me, that’s a bikini. Sure it exposes a bit more skin than a 1-piece, but really in those brief minutes before the dip and in the water, the extra coverage isn’t actually going to keep you any warmer. The importance is being able to take it off easily with numb hands.
  • I recommend wearing water shoes. Crocs and sports sandals do have a tendency to come off under the water, and it’s not fun trying to fish around the churning water with your numb hands. I would suspect running shoes get bogged down really easily too, and be harder to take off.
  • A nice fuzzy robe for just before and afterwards is soooo nice. Makes it easier to change under too.
  • Bring your own hot chocolate or coffee. Even if the event provides some, it sucks if it runs out and you were hoping for some. (like my first year)

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-16

The start of the movement to make our devices less addictive,the terrible environmental costs still incurred when recycling smartphones, could a Donald Trump happen in Canadian politics, and Michelle Obama’s powerful response to the 2005 Trump video —on my Jeneral finds of this week: 2016-10-16

The movement to make our devices less addictive

Blackberry launched the first portable device with email in 1999, hooking the corporate and government world. Then when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, the consumer market for smartphones exploded. In Canada and the US, over two-thirds of the population have smartphones and/or tablets, and growing. It is a massive technological shift in this generation, creating an explosion of new companies to make different software and social media applications for our digital devices. Combined with a generation of users trained to expect that content and services should be free, the measure of success for many of these companies are things like size of user base, time spent interacting on the tool, and the data freely given by users in exchange for the free service.

However, in the rush to adopt all the wonderful and exciting that these devices and services offer to us, we are slow to consider the all the ill-effects of the technology. These applications are purposefully-built to be more addictive in the attempt to win the competition for our attention. In addition to the consequence of the time we spend on social media and games, there are many, many secondary consequences that we aren’t aware of yet. (I highly recommend Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle to help illuminate these consequences.) And if we aren’t aware of the consequences, we can’t devise strategies to deal with them effectively.

In many ways it feels like the wild west, where the laws and regulations and enforcement to protect citizens are setup after the initial fray of competition. Perhaps now is the start of the movement to deliberately make the usage of our devices less additive. Should there be something akin to the Hippocratic oath for software product design?

Tristian Harris may well be an evangelical leader for this movement, as profiled here in The Atlantic, “The Binge Breaker” http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/11/the-binge-breaker/501122/?. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on his progress.

What I learned about phone recycling from Samsung’s combusting Galaxy Note 7 recall

Continuing on the theme of smartphones, I mistakenly thought that recycling old smartphones can reclaim the precious metals for reuse. That is dead false. The best case scenario for your old device that you don’t want anymore is to return it to be refurbished and resold: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/galaxy-note-7-explosion-environmental-impact-recycling

Could a Donald Trump happen in Canada?

The election south of our border has me both captivated and horrified. I can’t look away and stop reading about it, even though it just aggravates me to no end. Thankfully I’m in Canada, but I know I can’t sit here smugly in the belief that someone like Trump could not rise in power in Canada. It already happened in Toronto with Rob Ford. This article in the Globe was an interesting analysis about the factors that may have kept the similar extreme-right sentiments at bay to date in Canada: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/economy/growth/could-trump-happen-here-canadas-left-behind-workers/article32245715/

Michelle Obama’s speech on Trump’s comments: ‘Enough is enough’

I hate that I’m continuing with another item related to that man, but this one inspires and creates fortitude, instead of indignant rage and disgust. Michelle Obama has given some powerful speeches in the last few months. This speech in New Hampshire, days after the tape of Trump uttering his lewd comments in 2005, was devastating. She made the political personal, and her reflections of her own experiences with men who objectified her body mirrored our own. She demanded better from those who would seek to lead the country, as we all should.

~Jen

Things I am thankful for – 2016 edition

It’s a beautiful Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in Toronto, even as the temperature is starting to dip down. The leaves are starting to turn colours and there is a certain nip in the air. It’s a perfect atmosphere to stop and reflect on the things I am thankful for:

  • Laughs and high-fives with my best friend, confidante, and partner in this venture of life—my husband Tai.
  • That my daughters are funny, decent, curious, imaginative, book-loving little people. Most of the time i do enjoy hanging out with them. I know they are in the honeymoon ages now (i.e. between 6 and 12 years old) I hope I can still say the same thing when they become teenagers.
  • The smooth, round cheeks of my daughters that are still just perfect for kissing. Their bodies barely fit on my lap for long snuggles any more, their limbs poking out every which way like tree branches.
  • My health, and that of my immediate and extended family. Reading the memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi made me contemplate my feelings about my own mortality, and I appreciate how my good health lets me plan for longer time horizons, years into the future. But, it’s a gentle reminder to appreciate the here and now.
  • The companionship and good humour of my friends. We continue to invest in time with each other, and make new memories. Although, the memories are starting to blend together, as the years add up. The bonus is seeing our children become close friends with each other as well.
  • Even after a year of growth at GrantBook, I still love my work and my colleagues in my current job.
  • The joy of watching beautiful dance, and reading many wonderful books this year. It feeds my soul, perhaps as an antidote to the stresses of the daily news. This upcoming year I hope to add some great theatre to the mix. Starting with…
  • Hamilton! Our friends C-squared were able to get us tickets to see the musical Hamilton in Chicago! For Tai and me, this is our 10th anniversary present to each other. Road trip!
  • That the federal election campaign period in Canada is typically only 5 weeks, compared to the nearly 2 year process in the United States. I’ve been horrifyingly transfixed with the US election campaign between Clinton and Trump. Thank goodness our federal elections and leadership races have never been this crazy. Our election a year ago seems so quaint in comparison. Is the Canadian political system is structured in a way that prevents a Trump happening here? I’d love to talk though that theory.
  • And the Jays made the playoffs!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

~Jen

A decade of married love

It’s been 10 years since Tai and I held hands in front of our family and friends, and said the words, “I do”. That moment formalized something that I already knew for years – that Tai and I would journey through the rest of life together, hand in hand. jandt_yorkville

A decade of married love later, we are still best friends, still kindred spirits, and still deeply in love. We may have added a couple of kids, a few pounds around the middle, and a lumbering mortgage to the mix, but I still feel the same way with him now as when we first started dating all those years ago in university. I fall in love with him over and over again as he keeps demonstrating his character. Tai encourages me to challenge myself. He supports my different endeavors and schemes, and props me up when I am down. He laughs at my jokes and makes me laugh. He respects all of who I am, even the silly and frivolous sides of me.  He is an equal partner in parenting our two girls. He pays attention.

In short, Tai is a shining example to our two girls of what they should expect from any potential suitor in their future. Winning their love should not be easy. And to illustrate this point, I share the following story from our wedding day.


It’s a Chinese wedding tradition for the bride’s side of the wedding party to put the groom through some various obstacles before he can retrieve the bride to marry her. Because the bride is loved too much, her family and friends will not let just anyone cart her off. He must prove his worthiness to be her husband.

My beloved bridesmaids devised a series of challenges. They did not let me in on what their plans were. As Tai and his groomsmen successfully completed each one, my bridesmaids would let them come closer to finding me. One involved trivia questions about me and my friends. Another involved creating and performing a cheerleading stunt along with a cheer. Yet another involved bribes of cash payments in hong bao (red envelopes). Tai and his groomsmen breezed through these with good humour, until the final challenge: eating a package of nattō, or Japanese fermented soy beans.

Tai had never tried eating nattō before. He was quite aware of nattō though, particularly since he helped organize an Amazing Race-style fundraising event the year prior. The eating challenge station, that he manned, consisted of this particular item. I participated in this race with Team Buns on the Run, and Tai was there encouraging me while my teammates and I struggled to eat the stuff. The taste, texture, and smell all combine to be a truly horrible experience for the uninitiated. But he never did try it himself.

Until our wedding day.

It tastes like f33t and smells like @$$.

The entire time while Tai was going through his challenges, I waited in the bedroom of my parents’ condo, with no idea of what was going on. I could only hear groans and cheers and laughs, and some slightly worrying silence. I stood  in the room, pacing the floor in my white wedding dress, with equal parts of boredom, excitement and worry.

Finally there was a big cheer, and Tai burst into the bedroom, a little unsteady on his feet, the wedding party crowding in after him. He gave me a beany kiss, (ugh) and claimed his worthiness to be my husband! My hero vanquished* the nattō beans! Then after a few words, he went off in search of a toothbrush. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the merriment of our family and friends.


Tai, I love you more than my words can adequately describe. I’m so excited to face the next decade with you, hand-in-hand.

~Jen

*Well, technically he had help from his close friend and groomsman Cort, but details, schmetails. 

Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-02

An amazing example of storytelling to make space science relatable, discovering there are such things as Pun battles, and how your footwear impacts your comfortable temperature in the office, in this Jeneral finds of the week: 2016-10-02.

Wake Up Rosetta

This past Friday on September 30, the European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Rosetta finished its’ 12-year mission by completing a planned crash landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerisemenko. This was one of many huge milestones in this mission to study a comet up close. (and one that looks like a rubber duck) You may remember two years ago there was some news about its lander named Philae.  Philae didn’t land as expected, couldn’t get enough sun to recharge its batteries, and so had to go into premature sleep. You don’t remember?

Well I discovered this week that ESA has put out a whole series of short animated videos to help explain the mission. And I don’t know if it was because I was sick, but I really did get emotional from watching the last video. Yes, they anthropomorphized the satellite and lander and dramatically simplified the science and don’t mention the large costs of space exploration. But, it’s a really wonderful way to engage and educate the public about the space work, so we can care to keep supporting it.

This Globe article is also a more straightforward write-up about it: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/europes-comet-chaser-rosetta-concludes-12-year-mission/article32161181/

Good night Rosetta and Philae!

To joke is human, but to pun is divine!

I always appreciate a good pun, even if I end up groaning after hearing it. It’s one of the many reasons I love listening to CBC’s As It Happens, because they always have great puns in their intros or outros to their segments.

But apparently there are competitions out there where people can battle head-to-head in the linguistic art of puns! Like a rap battle, but for dad-joke nerds! Peter Rubin writes of his own pun battle experience in this Wired article, “ReflexLOLogy: Inside the groan-inducing world of pun competitions“. While I’m nowhere as linguistically nimble to compete, I would love to be in an audience for this one day. I can just picture my kids rolling their eyes in the future at how lame I am.

Gotta get a cozy for my feet

I’m one of those people who always feels colder in an office than most others. Apparently it may have to do with what I’m choosing to wear on my feet, according to this article “Why Shoes are the Key to a Comfortable Office Temperature“. Now I know what I’ll need to do this coming winter to stay warm in the office.

~Jen

p.s. The Blue Jays made it to the playoffs with home-field advantage in the wildcard game. It was kind of a nail-biter this last week, but it’s off to the playoffs now. Go Jays!

A personal potpourri of thoughts

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