So long, for now

Today is my last day in service as councillor to North Cowichan residents. Tomorrow, your new council will be sworn in and will take the reins of our finances, bylaws, and policies for the next four years. I’m delighted with this new council. Our community chose a diverse group of residents to represent our varied interests, who I believe, if they remember to check their egos at the door, will set all of us up for success.

It wasn’t an easy decision not to run for a second term. To anyone who asks me about my four years on council, I tell them it’s one of the best things I have ever done. I am not the same person I was four years ago thanks to a deep and meaningful education in municipal governance and diplomacy. I would have happily run again, but as a working mother, my life decisions are sometimes consensus based.

In June 2017, I began my current job as constituency assistant to Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley. It has been an incredible year and a half learning about provincial government, the role of the MLA, Sonia’s unique situation as Deputy Leader and House Leader for the Green Party, and about constituency work, governance, legislation, and, generally, how to change the world at a provincial level. The learning curve has been steep, and I have made some character-building mistakes, but I am proud of my work and my employer. Sonia is all of the things she promises to be, and it has been a pleasure to witness her own leadership growth this year.

Exciting as all of it was, the workload took its toll. In May last year, my body started talking to me, suggesting that maybe I was overworked. My heart was doing a weird syncopation, I had gained weight from a lack of consistent exercise, my back was sore, and I was constantly tired. I flew to Ireland for two weeks in June for a holiday with my mom and one of my kids, and when I returned, refreshed, it was clear I needed to make a change to my lifestyle. Council elections were four months away and, as it is a part-time job, it was clear what I would have to let go.

The mister (Wolverine) came to one council meeting in four years.

When I mentioned the idea of not running again to the mister, I was surprised to learn how relieved he was. He was so proud of me in the role, but the unpredictable schedule of public events and meetings impacted him more than I was aware. When I was elected, the girls were aged 4, 6, and 8. All the meetings that took place in and around dinner time were disruptive to the girls, the mister, and to our Maple Bay neighbour Heather Kaye who often took on the burden of babysitting when Richard was working. The constant juggle of schedules wasn’t fun.

The day we took our oath of office in December 2014.

When I asked the girls what they thought about me not running again, they cheered. The eldest has enjoyed following me on my journey, and now that the middle is older, she has engaged in the work too. They have learned so much about their community and how it works; it’s an unintended but pleasing consequence of the job. But nothing compares to having mommy home more, so there was no hesitation in their support for me not being on council.

Four years later…

It took me until the final hour of the final day of submitting nomination papers to finally make my mind up. I will miss the challenge of answering questions that have no clear answer, and finding those difficult answers with a group of people who see the world differently than I do. I will miss being able to vote, which is an empowering experience. I will miss the wonderful staff who work hard to meet the public’s expectations every day.

Who knows how my journey will continue but if I find myself in a place where I can afford — financially, emotionally, and in time — to run again, I would happily do it. If you are thinking about running for council, even just a little bit, please do. You’ll not regret it.

Dear North Cowichan, thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s been a blast.

Rules for a Happy Marriage: Renovations

Many years ago, the first renovation project the mister and I did together was to move an outdoor staircase in our first home. The original stairs stuck straight out of the house’s second storey in one long ugly tongue. We moved them along the side of the house with a platform halfway down to break it up into two strings of steps.

I wanted to plan, measure, re-measure, estimate costs, make a timeline, mitigate risks. He wanted to build the stairs. Just build them. No plan. How would he know how deep to make the cement platform at the bottom? He’d figure it out when he got there. This broke my brain. I remember sitting on the stairs wondering if our young relationship would survive this staircase.

My good friend Rena, during a call to rant about the disturbing reality of the mister’s project-management style, reminded me that just because he sees the world differently, doesn’t mean he’s wrong. The staircase was built. The old stone platform ingeniously moved from its original location to the new space using a rock and a lever. Rena was right: his way worked fine and it was a delight to watch it unfold.

This summer we replaced our kitchen cabinets. The whole project was joy. Yes, joy. We have achieved renovation nirvana because, after over a decade married and with many renovation projects under our tool belts, we have unconsciously established a set of, until today, unwritten rules that make it possible to renovate with your spouse without it being harmful to your relationship’s health.

The Rules

Rule #1: Have no expectations.

If you expect your kitchen to look like the one in the magazine, and you don’t have the funds to ensure that expectation is met, you’ve lost. Set your expectations so low they can only go up.

Rule #2: If you’re not doing the majority of the work, you don’t get a say.

The worst thing I can do is show up mid-drywalling to point out a flaw in his taping. This is a no-no and most likely will result in a stream of barely audible colourful language. Conversely, he’s not allowed to tell me my white-washing painting technique is incorrect. Same result.

Rule #3: When it’s not perfect, eventually no one will notice or care.

The flaw in the drywall and the sketchy whitewash will be insignificant when the whole project is complete. You probably won’t even notice after a while, unless it’s a big flaw, like that time the Universe took a piece of paper from my fingers and dropped it into the not-yet-cured resin coating on the mister’s custom dishwasher panel. Oopsy.

Rule #4: Accept the project will never be complete.

Unless you’re a perfectionist or unemployed, other priorities will move up your to-do list. If the baseboards take a year to nail in place, they take a year to nail in place. The sooner you get comfortable living in your incomplete renovated space, the sooner you will reach nirvana.

Rule #5: Drink

We had two cases of wine in the cupboard before this project began. No bottle was left behind. I only remember the project as a joyful experience. This is likely no coincidence.

Next time you renovate a space with a loved one, test these rules and report back—when you’re sober.





Pigs Can Fly: The Donald, Community, and Resilience

Donald Trump has put up a mirror to show the world there is work to be done in rebuilding integrity in the democratic process. His win, the Brexit win, and any unexpected political disruptions that follow will hopefully awaken the non-engaged citizen who had the misconception that government would take care of itself.

Trump’s win is confusing but it’s not the end of the world. People are more resilient than that. Take this story in the The Atlantic…

Deborah and James Fallows travelled around the US for three years observing and writing about how small American cities are rejuvenating themselves. They wrote this story because they realized major news outlets don’t talk about smaller cities unless a disaster hits it.

Many of these places had suffered from crippling unemployment, poor health, and poverty. What the Fallows found was each one of these places (and hundreds of other places they couldn’t visit) are reversing that downward spiral. These communities are proving they are resilient to political, economic, and even climate change.

The lesson learned is that it takes the village—a partnership between business, government, and volunteer efforts from residents—to (re)build a vibrant city. In some cases, it takes a partnership between towns too. Partisanship and borders didn’t enter into the conversation. Imagine if we applied this philosophy to the Cowichan Valley.

Here is the long but eye-opening summary of their 54,000 km trip around the US.

If you only have 5 minutes, read 11 Signs a City Will Succeed and consider how it applies to the Cowichan Valley and Vancouver Island. Some of it we’re already doing; some of it we can work towards.

What can you do to help?