Thursday, September 29, 2011

Weight Loss Challenge

This is week 1 of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre's Weight Loss Challenge!

My Skinny Nish program hasn't exactly been going perfectly. But, rather than waste my breath (or finger strength?) providing a litany of excuses, I'm going to focus on how I've found new motivation.

I got an email from Odawa's Healthy Living Coordinator a few weeks ago about their Weight Loss Challenge. The rules are simple: pay $30, weigh in (body fat % and muscle %), and after 10 weeks the females and males who've lost the most body fat and gained the most muscle win the big bucks.

I forwarded the email to R.J. and added: "This sounds perfect! We can get motivated to eat better and exercise, and get more involved in the community--two things we want to do." He agreed, and days later we stepped onto some fancy scale at the friendship centre.

So, as I said, this week is 1/10. My progress? I've returned to my Skinny Nish principles: 1) follow Christine Avanti's Skinny Chicks program; 2) run; and 3) yoga. (Well, so far I've done one run and have been eating the Skinny Chicks way.)

As an added challenge, I'm going to be on the road talking to First Nations students about their post-secondary options for 5-6 weeks in October and November. I won't have the opportunity to prepare meals at home and it might be hard to find time to exercise travelling between hotels. But, right hand on my Skinny Chicks cookbook, I solemnly swear to do my best!

And, if all goes well, I'll be pounds lighter and dollars richer by Christmas.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Two-Minute Book Review: Life Stages and Native Women

Life Stages and Native Women: Memory, Teachings, and Story Medicine (Kim Anderson)

So, you're supposed to read the entire book before you write a review, right? Well, I have a confession: I've only read the foreword and introduction.

In my defense, I'm a firm believer that the introduction is the most important part of the book. (Ask R.J.--I was aghast to learn that he skipped the introductions to his books and, needless to say, he doesn't do that anymore.) Why? The textbook answer is that "it sets the tone." As an aspiring writer and scholar, I am interested in the story of the person writing the book: why they chose this topic, what their processes were, how they feel now that they've finished it. The introduction is where you listen to that story.

I got my book in the mail the day after attending Kim Anderson's book launch here in Ottawa at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health. A shame that I couldn't get her to sign it, but they say everything happens for a reason. I was half an hour late for the launch (working at a university in September, it's impossible to leave by 5) and Kim was well into her reading. The room reminded me of gatherings at the community hall back home. Hectic. A baby was crying, couches and chairs all spoken for, a girl lying on the ground in the fetal position. (Okay, maybe that last one didn't remind me of home.) But, Kim's voice rose above the bustle, as she spoke from the heart about the tradition of finding a tree at whose trunk to lay an infant's umbilical cord; the role of old ladies in cleaning/preparing dead bodies and feeling "death without loss" (thanks Kat); and her love for Maria Campbell.

Kim describes her intimate relationship with Maria Campbell. She talks about how, dejected and discouraged at not being able to get an interview for the book, Maria took her by the wrist and pronounced, "We'll do it together!" (I can picture Maria, now an elder, just as energetic as she was in the youth/adulthood she describes in Halfbreed, determined to get everything from her family's stories to political clout to an escape from the streets.)

In reading texts like these, I look for opportunities to identify a relationship with the seven sacred Grandmother/Grandfather teachings: wisdom, love, humility, courage, honesty, respect, truth. Writing with an honest voice, Kim's introduction is both courageous and humble. In the margins of my copy of the book I've scribbled "honest" as Kim references her anxieties in the introduction's opening paragraph, and "humble" next to where she writes:

I have not lived long enough nor have I done all of the work that is necessary to carry this knowledge.

Perhaps that's why I've found it easy to refer to her as "Kim" in this (slightly longer than) one-minute review rather than "Dr. Anderson" or, *shudder,* the detached "Anderson."

But, the most important pencil scribblings I've made in the margins are these: ask Nanny this question; Mal & R.J. to do this; where does Grandpa fit in these categories?

Kim's book, although adapted from her dissertation, is not an academic text. Sure, a student can reference it in their papers and no professors will think twice about it because she "is" a PhD. It caused me, as I'm sure it will others, to situate myself and my partner and my grandparents and my family in the text. It isn't written in some distant academic jargon; Kim promises teachings about pregnancy and vision quests and how to deal when you're "stuck" in one life stage. Her book will for me act as a "guide" (for lack of a better word) to understand myself and reconstruct my spirituality and relationships with those around me.

This book is so much more than just a book for us as Native women, families, communities, nations.

It is us.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Twist of TIFF

A few weeks ago, R.J. and I were sitting around at home. He checked the "tink tink" of his cell phone, then blurted out, "J wants to know if we want to go to TIFF."

My response?

"Hell yes! That's where all the celebrities go!!"


Star gazing aside, R.J. and I are serious movie junkies. In our heydey, we'd be at the theatre at least once a week. We knew--as much as we might have hemmed and hawed over logistics--that we'd be there in a flash. And thanks to R.J.'s friend J lining up at 6 a.m. for feature film tickets, we were on our way to the Toronto International Film Festival.

The work week flew by, and before I knew it the sunny Saturday morning rolled around. I whipped up some Skinny Chicks berry delish oatmeal, and R.J. and I hit the open road.

We arrived with just enough time for me to shower and curl my hair, then it was off to the TTC.

It was hard to find anything in my giant purse, especially with a pair of gold sparkly peeptoe platforms stuffed inside.

Our first movie was Hick. It starred Blake Lively and the young actress from Kickass. A festival organizer introduced the film's director, who told the audience to stick around for an audience Q&A with the cast after the film. The cast? A surge of excitement cut through the air.

It's been a while since I've cringed, cried, sat on the edge of my seat, laughed and covered my eyes all in the span of an hour and a half. Hick, a very colourful film in acting and cinematography, took me on that kind of emotional roller coaster.

And, sure enough, once the credits were rolling, the director, writer and two cast members graced the stage. The audience was invited to raise their hands and ask questions, as they would in a classroom setting.

After Hick there was a short break. Apparently I was thinking more about fashion than practicality, because it was getting dark and I was getting cold. I stole a few moments to grab a jacket at Urban Outfitters and made it back just as the line for The Oranges was beginning to move inside.

Entering the theatre, we walked passed the roped off area where the stars were being interviewed.

"I saw B!" R.J. exclaims. (Yes, I watch Gossip Girl and yes, R.J. knows who B and S are.)

At the request of dedicated volunteers, we hurried through the hall to the theatre. By some stroke of fate, we got seats in the first row. Now, normally, who'd want to sit in the front row of a theatre and crane their necks to see the screen? Only at TIFF...

The Oranges was AMAZING. I don't know if I was on a starstruck high, but I feel like it is the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. The comedic timing was perfect, and there was a real synergy between the ensemble cast. Two suburban families are thrown for a twist, but after a disturbing series of events the characters still manage to come off as people you'd want to befriend.

Needless to say, having front row seats to the Q&A session was awesome.

The first two seasons of Gossip Girl are my guilty pleasure around Christmas time, so I've got to admit that Leighton Meester being feet away was cool.

We capped off the night with dinner at Milestones and a midnight madness showing of the gory, blood-fest, You're Next (not my fave).

Still, R.J., J and I were all happy campers.

See you next year, TIFF!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labour Day: Reflections on My Education

Working at a university and living across the street from a high school, I am acutely aware of the back-to-school excitement ringing through the air this September. Forever a student/learner at heart, I'll satisfy my yearning to truly return to school by reflecting on my academic career thus far.

I've graduated a total of seven times: kindergarten, elementary, junior high, high school, college, university (b.a.) and university (m.a.). My brother constantly jokes about how many graduations I've had - that he's, of course, had to attend.

I was in the "smart," a.k.a. maths/sciences, stream in high school until I started flunking out of the advanced classes in grade 10. This led to two reasonable pre-university programs at my local college: liberal arts vs. social science.

I was drawn to liberal arts by their seemingly close knit community and (I'm not going to lie) sense of elitism that came from studying "great books."

I even got a taste of Native history in college through the mandatory "ethics" offering--but I'm ashamed to admit my grade in that class probably fell somewhere around the middle.

By the time it came to apply to university, I was aching for something different. I wanted to study what was happening and what affected me now, not Plato, the Industrial Age and Chaucer. So I enrolled into a bachelor's of communications. I was so excited for my very first university class, Popular Culture, and was only slightly jaded to find that the course was more about reading Bordieux than watching the Simpsons.

Sometime over the course of that three year degree, I became more concerned with my eventual career and began taking what I deemed to be more serious courses than the ones that actually interested me. So, by the end of my time at that university, I had a b.a. honours in communications, I think with some emphasis or other on organizations.

But, I'd been taking as many Native-type courses as I could throughout my b.a. and decided that I wasn't finished yet. I wanted to look further, through an academic lens, into the ways of my people and our history. So I applied and was thankfully accepted into an m.a. in Canadian studies. I went into Canadian studies only because it housed the Native studies stream, and instead I received the added bonus of exposure to "critical thinking."

My m.a. program successfully (I hope) educated me on all the "isms": racism, sexism, classism, ablism, etc. I was happy to learn about these things because they made so much sense. Suddenly I had concepts and theories to go along with phenomena I'd seen my whole life. But another part of me was angry--angry that I had to reach the graduate level before even a mild exposure to these critical areas.

After that, I must admit, I scorned the disciplines I'd learned in my college and undergrad. Wished I'd gone into sociology or women's studies or some other area that was more critical.

Until recently.

After beginning this blog, joining twitter, publicizing the events we put on at work--I realize I genuinely like communicating messages. I've come back to valuing my diverse education, and even crediting my undergraduate experiences with allowing me to have a truly interdisciplinary way of structuring my graduate work.

So, I guess you can say, I've come full circle. Where to next?