Author

Sarah Thomson

Browsing

TO BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE

My son had his first birthday yesterday. I watch him now playing with my husband on the living room floor. The fire in our hearth burns warm and my head is filled with plans for building this newspaper. Should I begin with designing a simplified distribution system or develop plans for a women’s coffee club series? My son rides around the room on his new tricycle — he can’t quite reach the pedals so his father pushes him. Like my son, this newspaper is growing out of its infancy stage. It is now learning how to walk on its own. The greatest thing about having a young child, and a young business, is that they force you to look at your primary aim in life.

Last night I imagined my own funeral. I thought about what I would want my husband, my son, my family, my friends, my employees and even my customers to think of me once I’m gone. I found that I had a common desire with each of them. I want to be known as someone who inspired them, someone who cared enough to help them believe in themselves so that they could live to their full potential. I’m not sure where this desire came from. They say childhood experiences shape the person you become, and the most life-changing event I had as a child occurred in the late seventies.

I was 11 years old, and my family — like so many other families at that time — lost our farm when a bank manager decided that because of the rise in interest rates and the fall in real-estate values, my parents were suddenly a high risk. The bank called in the mortgage giving my parents 30 days to pay it back. And back then, if a bank called in your mortgage no other bank would touch you. The bank sold our home to the first bidder that came along, for a fifth of its value. My parents lost almost everything they had over the course of a few weeks. Suddenly they went from building a farm, to being flat broke without a roof over them. They had no idea where they were going to live, or what they were going to do. The future looked quite bleak and my father seemed to have lost his purpose. I remember the hushed whispers and the emptiness that hung over us.

But then some close friends of my parents learned that we had lost our home and they immediately stepped in to help. They suggested my father find a house to purchase and they mortgaged their own house to finance it. They showed my father that they believed in him. They listened, they gave him their time and he went from a man who had lost everything to one who still had potential to do great things. Over the years my parents were able to pay them back, but I wonder if those friends know the effect their actions had on us?

Although I was only 11, their selfless action had such an impact on me that I decided that helping people to believe in themselves and to see a bright future was one of the grandest things anyone could do with their life.

At that age I didn’t have anything tangible to give, but looking back I think that is when I began truly listening to people, hearing their stories and their problems. I guess that I was trying to give the only thing I had – which was my time and attention. In return I learned so much more than I ever could have without giving the time.

I remember having intimate talks with my classmates and when I finally moved away, my mother got a letter from my teacher a few weeks later. He said that each morning I used to talk to all my classmates before the lessons began and since I’d left, his class was much harder to get going, they weren’t as open. He wasn’t sure what I’d done, but he’d noticed something missing. That was the first time I realised that my actions could have an effect, and that my aim to help people was actually possible.

Today I realise that this newspaper is a reflection of my primary aim. In each issue we try to carry intimate articles that inspire women. I want to make people think, grow, and learn. If this newspaper gives even one person the desire to look to the future, if it gives them hope, then I will have passed on what those friends gave to my family so many years ago.

And now I must sit down and figure out how to get this newspaper into the hands of as many readers as I can. I will have to grow the business and constantly adapt to the changes in the market. I’ve learned that our readers are professional women over 30 who want more than the glossy fashion magazines offer. They seem to appreciate the thought and emotion that goes into each article we carry.

As this newspaper grows I grow with it. I’m learning to step back from the daily problems and see the bigger goal. I also see the opportunities that others have missed. This newspaper is being read by thousands of professional women. They are women that all the other publications haven’t been able to consistently reach. And yet we’ve managed to attract them and it’s because we’re doing it the same way I did as a kid: We’re listening, giving our attention to issues that matter, speaking intimately about those issues and working to inspire each and every individual reader to be all that they can be.

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With this issue I would like to welcome Michael Gerber to our pages. His column will focus on the issues and struggles facing entrepreneurs. With over 80 percent of small businesses today being started by women, I believe Mr. Gerber’s insights will inspire many of our readers. Mr. Gerber is author of the best-selling book The E-Myth. He is also a renowned motivational speaker and president of E-Myth worldwide.

APPLES, MUSIC, AND NOSTALGIA

We went apple picking with friends today. There were only a few apples left on the trees. The puddles in the lane had a thin cover of ice on them. The noise from a tractor just over the hill, combined with the smell of apples rotting in the field, and the cold, fresh air with the sun casting long shadows through the orchard was a moment I wanted to capture and hold on to. There is something magical about the Honeycrisp apple. Grown in Ontario and best from mid-October to early November, it is an apple like no other — it tastes like honey mixed with fresh morning dew.

The sound of classical music on a Sunday morning brings balance to the day. It has a way of explaining life with all the tragedy, chaos, love, and heartache that make humanity so beautiful. Today, Sibelius’ String Quartets pull me into his story; it is a tale of life, filled with frivolity, sorrow, happiness, and ambition. A young violin flirts with life while her older and wiser companions watch. They smile in memory of youth untouched by sorrow, nodding and following as life pushes and pulls the young woman to maturity. She remains brave through tragedy and sorrow; growing stronger, she encounters beauty and love, experience begins to shape her, adding depth and edge, but her voice never loses hope and the desire to add to the world around her. Do I read too much of my own thoughts in the music?

I met an old friend today who is one of those people who seems to get better with age. He’s done very well for himself and has grown from a mid-sized company to a very large business. I find myself studying him, wanting to discover how he does things, and how he’s become so successful. He is one part connector, one part achiever (with a huge drive to succeed). But there is also a part of him that wants, like the rest of us, to matter. He gives much of his time to charity. As well, he tells me that he loves to gamble and is pulled by the immediate gratification of the instant win-or-lose situation. He is a risk taker with very good judgment. If he were music he would be Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 because he is a man who seems to celebrate all that life has to offer.

Having closed up the cottage for the winter, we are back to spending most weekends renovating our home. We bought this old house six years ago and every winter we try to tackle a few rooms. Today, we finished the kitchen and I’m suddenly feeling nostalgic. I remember coming home from work to find our newborn son asleep in his car seat on the kitchen table, and my husband making dinner, with his customary glass of wine and notepad beside it on the counter. I remember our two boys playing hide-and-seek with the littlest hiding in the kitchen cupboard, giggles giving his presence away the minute I walked into the room.

Old houses are like people — they weather and are changed by time, and by those who have touched them.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca

A QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE

The rain pounded in torrents on the boathouse roof last night. I fell asleep before it ended and woke up sometime after midnight to the stillness. I could hear a loon calling in the distance, its yearning voice searching for something lost. The moonlight, reflecting off the lake, made oily shapes on the ceiling. The shapes kept melting just before forming something my mind could identify – their dance was alluring – the patterns seemed to carry knowledge just out of my reach, like a conversation spoken in a strange tongue.

I’ve always hoped to get a firm hold on knowledge, to be able to identify it clearly and have it sit solidly in my hands, like a dictionary or a book, but I seem to rush past it as I whirl along consumed with one project or another.

If knowledge could form into a shape it would look like a withered old apple tree standing alone in a farmer’s field, dropping fruit that rots on the ground. Occasionally a child comes to play in its branches. She reaches for an apple and bites into the sharp fruit. She explores the deep cracks in the bark and hides things in the hollows of its trunk. But life pulls her away, and she forgets about her hidden treasures. She remembers the tree from time to time, and dreams of its branches reaching up to the sky. As time passes she drives her children by the old tree, but they don’t have time to stop. The malls are just down the road. Nobody notices the old apple tree and it may get cut down soon to make room for a subdivision.

Can we lose the knowledge we have? I read somewhere that we have lost the knowledge and skill that built the great cathedrals across Europe. Our stone masons, our tilemakers, our craftsmen have lost the knowledge previously handed down through years of apprenticeship. New technology is introduced every week, but can it replace the old?

Something tells me that our society isn’t getting any wiser. I may know how to use certain computer programs, how to drive a car or how to handle certain tools, but I’d struggle in the world of my grandmother – a world where every herb and plant had a use, where every bird and shrub could be identified and where even the slightest change in the weather was noticed. The more knowledge one had the easier life was. I believe this is still the case, although it isn’t as noticeable now. Knowledge has changed, but is the change for the better?

I often blame time for my lack of knowledge. I don’t have time to read all the books I should, to study the weather, to improve my understanding of the world around me. But I have just as much time as my grandmother had. When did life lose its simplicity? The world expects things a little faster than it once did, but I can still walk at my own pace. I have to force myself to slow down, stop and read a book, perhaps I’ll pick up Carl Honoré’s new book titled Slow (Random House). It looks at the new trends such as slow foods and other ways to slow things down.

This newspaper pushes me to learn and drives me to think; I hope it also does that for others. We try to base every issue around a theme. This month the focus is on work. Does our society still work in order to live well or are we living in order to work?

My work is my life and without it who would I be? I can’t honestly call what I do work. It doesn’t feel like work, although I do have time commitments, scheduled meetings and a list of things that must get done each month. I don’t feel as if I’m punching a clock because the clock doesn’t separate my life from my work, I work from home, from the cottage and from the office. Whether it’s meeting a new client, responding to e-mail, writing an article, searching for financial backing, or editing a column, I love every aspect of what I do. To know that I can publish words that will, in some small way, pass on knowledge is perhaps the strongest driving force.

In the publishing industry there is one requirement that a person must have to become a publisher: She must be a little nuts – not completely nuts – but a little. I’ve noticed the trait in publishers of both small and large publications. There is an element – a passion – that drives them to print words and thoughts, to get ideas out into the realm of conversation. But the passion is consuming. It devours the separation between home and office, between night and day, between rich and poor. While there might be some financial reward at the end of the road, most publishers don’t do it for that.

Lately, I’ve wondered if the passion gets lost with mergers and acquisitions? So many newspapers seem to lose their unique voices and the eccentricities that make them a vibrant part of their communities when they get bought out by larger media organisations.

The passion of the publisher disappears from the pages. I wonder if a publisher of 10 newspapers has as much passion for each of them as I do for mine?

I’ve talked with the presidents of international corporations, with artists, musicians, and writers and what I’ve found is that those with passion don’t separate their work from the rest of their life. Instead, what they do is an integrated part of who they are.

This newspaper was a challenge from the start. I put far more of my life and passion into it than anything I ever did before. I used up most of my savings, rented out my home, moved in with my mother, lived without holidays, new clothes or even a car. I leaned on friends and family, and with their help I was able to build a newspaper that is finally self-sustaining.

I didn’t do it to become rich, but for the reward of knowing that little by little we’re spreading knowledge. By making people think, by debating ideas and discussing issues, by capturing a unique moment and passing it on, this newspaper is doing something good in the world.

I must thank the writers involved, and the advertisers that make it possible – without them we couldn’t afford to print and distribute the 60,000 copies we publish each month. I encourage you to support our advertisers. Please call TD Canada Trust at 1-866-228-8881 to find out how to win $100,000. Their continued support is allowing us to grow.

MOTHERHOOD ISSUES

The morning is sunny and warm. Outside my window tiny buds have formed at the tips of the tree branches. The magnolia tree across the street is in bloom. My desk sits in a large bay window and the sun streams in, not yet filtered by the leaves that will soon shade and hinder my view. On the sidewalk far below I can see parents walking their children to school; the lawns have turned green, and yellow daffodils dot their edges.

The birds woke me this morning. I think they are building nests in the eaves. Spring has a way of bringing life right in the front door without knocking. It feels like a long-awaited visitor, and so too does this baby growing inside my belly. I’m now 12 weeks pregnant. The ultrasound this week showed our tiny baby – six centimetres long – scratching its head. I am still a little dazzled by it all. After trying to get pregnant for over a year, after giving up on months of fertility drugs, suddenly finding that a new life is forming inside me seems a little miraculous. It’s as if nature didn’t want us to tamper with her, but it also reminds me of how large a role circumstance plays in life.

I can see why some people believe that life is predetermined, that we all have a destiny we are bound to live out. With such randomness, the mind needs some form of stability. But the more I think on it, the more I find it hard to believe that the future is etched in stone. There are too many circumstantial events, too many random acts colliding, for any explanation, religious or otherwise, to apply. But believing in an explanation can, in a big way, ease our mind about life’s precariousness.

A friend I work with has breast cancer. Over the last few weeks she has learned that she will have to have surgery; she is scheduled for her operation in a few weeks. We work together. Over the months, I’ve grown to respect her work and her outlook on life, but most of all she reminds me to value every moment and the people that bring happiness to my life. I have slowed down enough to notice the changing sounds that the rain makes, the birds singing at dawn and the happiness that stirs me when I wake to see my husband sleeping soundly next to me.

I try not to worry about her, but not worrying is an impossible task. Worry has a way of settling over you – it’s a weight that pulls on your emotions and tugs at your mind. Another friend told me that with children, the weight of worry never goes away. It is a weight I must learn to carry.

How will I teach our child to navigate such an unpredictable world? I want it to cherish life and the world we live in, to try to make the world more beautiful, to give something back for all it receives, and to treasure each moment they are alive. But how do you teach this? How do I become a good mother?

I can look to the two mothers I have in my life to guide me. My own mother, whom I admire most for her strength and grace, and my husband’s mother, who is filled with gentleness and love.

When I look at my own mother I remember my childhood and the times spent with her. I remember summer days at the lake where my twin brother and I learned to swim. I remember singing with her in the car and the way she would speed the car up as we approached a small hill on a country road in order to make our stomachs rise along with our giggles of glee. I remember the way she would read bedtime stories to us as we snuggled in under each of her arms. The more I think about her, the more I realize that she taught us to value life and contribute to it by the way she lives her life. My mother always seems to notice the colour in the sky and the sound the wind makes in the trees. She directs our gaze from the room we are in to the world outside us in the way she looks beyond herself and treats others in her life.

When I look at my mother-in-law I see a woman who can see beauty in everything around her. She cherishes the time she spends with her family and can love so easily it seems to spill out of her. She cares about the people in her life so much that at times I think the worry weighs her down. But with so much compassion inside her, I think she draws strength from her ability to love them. When I think of her, I think of the way she can laugh at herself, of her smile and the joy she takes in the little things life brings her way.

Will I be as good a mother? I know I will read to our child as my mother did. I will cuddle and keep it safe. I will love it without question, but will I be able to teach it how to cope in this world that seems more perilous now than ever before?

When I remember the freedom of my childhood, disappearing for most summer days in the woods, playing without supervision in the park, or exploring the city until the street lights came on, I realise that our child will grow up in a very different world.

If I can pass on what the two mothers in my life have given to me, if I can teach this child to find strength in love, to embrace the world and everything that’s in it, then I think this baby growing inside me will have a good chance to flourish no matter how precarious this world becomes.

THE RAMBLINGS OF A LOVESTRUCK WOMAN

Something strange is happening to me, and it’s more than this flu I’ve caught. Lately I’ve felt like my senses have come alive, from the pounding of my head to the beating of my heart. Every sight, texture and smell has intensified and it isn’t the Sinutab that’s doing it. Colours seem richer, tastes more piquant, even the sound of the wind howling round the eaves seems full of promise. I’ve also noticed a strange desire in me to be more graceful. Instead of running up the front stairs and tackling Greg in a bear hug when I get home, I’ve caught myself walking one step at a time and hanging up my hat and coat before making my way to his office. And I’ve noticed that my accomplishments seem to matter more now than they ever did.

I think it has something to do with the fact that this Valentine’s Day, I’ve got a sweetheart. He is tall and handsome, kind and honest, strong and sensitive, and what he thinks of me matters more than anything else. We met last spring at a book launch. I had met Greg’s sister at several other events and she introduced me to him. He was the best looking man in the room. It’s been almost nine months since then and he gets better looking every day. I’ve learned many things about him. I’ve learned that he is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met; that’s because he listens and never assumes he’s right, although he often is. I’ve learned that he is strong-willed but that he’ll listen to reason. I’ve learned that he is conservative in his behaviour but loves spontaneity. He is one of the few men I’ve known who knows the words to most of the songs from musicals like “Song & Dance” and “The Lion King.” He collects almost everything, from beer caps to pennies and wine corks, but his music collection is by far the biggest I’ve ever come across. He can name almost any song just from the tune and can usually tell you who wrote it. There are so many things I’ve learned about him and so many more yet to learn.

Evening has come and Greg is once again sitting at his computer, typing away at his music charts. During the past week, while I’ve been coughing and sputtering, he’s made breakfast, lunch and dinner for us every day. This morning I found him on the web looking up symptoms for pneumonia and by this afternoon he had me at the doctor’s office. He is a man that cares more than he lets on. He has a huge heart. Each day seems to pass so quickly.

I can’t remember which of us said the “L word” first. Did I say it while being swept away in a moment of pure bliss? Did he say it while we spoke seriously about our future? The last nine months has passed quickly but there are moments that seem to last forever. I remember a song from a musical he sang to me on our first weekend together. The line I like the most goes: “ Love can make the summer fly or the night seem like a lifetime. Yes love, love changes everything…” And has it ever!

Last February I was a single woman, living with my mother, dating here and there, and waiting for Mr. Right. And today I sit in the apartment we share, his cat is asleep on our bed, and I’ve got a plant on the kitchen-window ledge.

Tonight, as I sit typing this column, I remember a walk on a beach in 10 years ago. I was walking with an older man who was dying of cancer. He asked me what I wanted most in life. I told him I wanted to have real love, the kind that lasts forever. I knew that others thought it sounded romantic and foolish but I believe that every so often it happens to a few lucky people. The older gentleman didn’t think I was foolish and hoped someday I’d find what I was looking for. He too was from Toronto and he told me to look him up when I returned from .

Life got busy and I never did look him up. The man died a few years after our walk and long before I met his son Greg. I sometimes wonder if he’s smiling down on us. Love isn’t the subject of very many Saturday night party discussions and I’ve an inkling that it’s because so few couples have found the real thing. I’ve only had the luck to know three or maybe four couples that have absolute, unquestionable love. They truly care more about their partner’s well-being and happiness than they do their own. They were people who had lived through a long life together. I wonder if the rest of us are working towards this kind of love. With a bit of luck we meet someone who complements us, who makes us stronger and better than we can be on our own. But how do we prepare ourselves for them?

ROAMING FOR ROMANCE IN ARIZONA

Unforgiving, relentless, scorching light. In Arizona the sun pentrates, burns and shrivels all but the toughest plants. Its brightness is piercing and its intensity withering. In a dry desert setting, surrounded by mountains, sits Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona. Here the sun brings simmering heat and the darkened rooms offer more than just shade and air conditioning.

As I sit in the plane, 26,000 feet above the earth, my partner sleeps with his mouth open in the seat beside me. I roll my new ring around on my finger and think of placing the ring in his open mouth, or perhaps a few drops from the tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce that came with this morning’s breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. But he looks so peaceful. I recline the seat back and think about the past few days.

Four days ago we landed in Phoenix, dressed in pants and sweaters far too hot for the warm day. We changed into shorts and packed up our sweaters. Renting a jeep, we headed north to Flagstaff. The highway from Phoenix rises out of the desert and climbs steadily up to the Mogollan Plateau. Small towns along the highway are filled with flat, square, pueblo-type homes. Built of sun-dried brick and mortar, they are made to protect the inhabitants from the simmering heat. Southwest walls are bare and empty of windows; anything to keep out the penetrating sun. Blinds and thick heavy curtains are drawn over every window to stop even the smallest amount of light from entering a room.

Our first stop is Walnut Canyon, three hours north of Phoenix. The canyon is the site of 87 cave-like cliff dwellings built into the walls of a 400-foot deep limestone gorge. As we climbed in elevation, we began to notice small patches of snow in the gullies. By the time we reached Walnut Canyon, snow was falling heavily. We unpacked our sweaters and scurried into the visitors centre to take a look at the trail maps. The centre sits on the edge of the canyon. A large glass window takes up most of one wall, but the snow flurries created a sheet of whiteness that cut off the view completely.

As we watched the snow swirling below us, my partner reached for my hand. I looked up from the window to meet his eyes. He stroked my cheek and a serious expression came over his face. His eyes were warm. “Sarah.” He paused and looked down at my hands. “Will you…” The park ranger leaned over a railing just above us and announced, “The visitors centre is closing now. We hope you’ll come back tomorrow.”

We hurried through the snow back to our jeep and drove into Flagstaff on Route 66. Our reservations that night were at The Inn at 410 in Flagstaff. Owned and operated by Howard and Sally Krueger, the Inn sits on a hill just off the main street of the town. Built in 1894, the old house was converted to a bed and breakfast in 1991. We were greeted by an open door and a smiling young man who rushed to take our bags. He showed us to the “Southwest room,” located in the original section of the old house. Fully renovated, the room has a private bath, gas fireplace and over-sized Jacuzzi tub. The snow was still falling and the day had been long.

Curious about my partner’s question at Walnut Canyon, I was determined to salvage the romantic mood disrupted earlier in the day. I filled the Jacuzzi and poured two glasses of wine. We got into the large tub and my partner reached over me to turn on the jets. But nothing happened. He pushed the button, I pushed the button. Nothing. Frustrated, he got out of the tub and wrapped himself in a large terrycloth bathrobe provided by the Inn. He went searching for another switch, a button, anything to get the jets working, but found nothing. He called the front desk for help and before I could finish my wine, jump from the tub and climb into the other robe, our innkeeper was knocking at our door. We didn’t have time to turn the lights on. Firelight flickered and danced on the walls. Soft music played in the background. I tightened my robe and went to meet Howard, the innkeeper. He was kind and a little more embarrassed than we were. He couldn’t get the tub to work and apologised profusely.

The next morning we woke to the smell of hot rolls cooking in the oven. Thirsty and hungry, we dressed and hurried to the dining room, where they served fresh fruit with coffee and orange juice, followed by baked oatmeal with cranberries, cream and the fresh home-made rolls we could smell from our room. When Howard learned we were heading to the Grand Canyon, he fetched his maps and showed us the route he and his wife, Sally, travelled. The dining room was elegant and combined with Howard’s friendly personality our morning was relaxed and enjoyable.

Following Howard’s instructions we drove northeast. The change of vegetation is stunning. From barren desert with dust bowls, rolling tumbleweed and cacti, to pine forest and dry mountain settings with vegetation clinging to life amid rock and rubble. We followed the highway north as it wound its way through the San Francisco Mountains. Once past the mountains, we crossed the Coconino Plateau. At the rim of the plateau, the land drops off and slopes down to meet the Painted Desert below. The desert is surrounded by eroded sedimentary hills. Colours of every shade paint the hills and sweep down into the desert, where rain and snow have washed different colours of sediment out over the flat plain.

Turning west, the highway meanders along a ledge between the rim of the Plateau to the desert below. We discovered an abandoned dirt road leading from the highway towards the desert. Weeds, cacti and brush camouflaged the road. Parking the jeep, we hiked down towards the desert. Dirt and prickly pear filled our shoes. Huge gullies dropped away from the trail. It came to a sudden end as if the land had been swept away. A deep, dry, gulch separated us from the road as it continued its way down the hillside. The sun was hot and the air still. Shade was hard to find. We listened for sounds of life, a bird, a rustle, the murmur of a bug. Nothing. I threw a rock and its sound disappeared into the vast empty desert below us. My partner stood beside me. His camera shutter clicked. Again the sound disappeared into the silence. Beautiful in a stark and eerie way.

The highway rose up onto the Plateau and wound its way along the edge of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at many of the lookouts to peer down on the Colorado river far below. Reaching the Grand Canyon village by late afternoon, we were too late to hike down the canyon or dine at the hotel for lunch. We snapped some photos, enjoyed a cold beer and left; both of us try to avoid tourist-filled areas.

Heading south to Sedona, we found the perfect setting for a car chase. The highway (89A) zigzags down the side of a huge canyon. There are switchbacks every few hundred yards. A tiny creek winds through a valley filled with cottonwood, willow and oak trees. Sedona sits at the end of the canyon where it opens out to the desert beyond. Our reservations for the night were at Canyon Villa Inn, located just south of Sedona.

We arrived just as the sun was setting and our innkeeper, Les Belch, gave us a brief tour, taking us poolside for a glimpse of a Sedona sunset. Les pointed to the east and told us that in Sedona the greatest views aren’t found looking towards the sun but away from it. He pointed to Bell Rock, a huge spire rising out of the dusty desert setting. The red rocks glowed as the setting sun touched their peaks. Night approached quickly and Les showed us to the “Spanish Bayonet” room — the most romantic room at the Inn. Our balcony faced Bell Rock with the Courthouse Butte (pronounced beaut as in beauty) across from it. With king-sized bed, gas burning fireplace, and a Jacuzzi tub I hoped for the best. We were invited for hors-d’ouevres and cocktails in the dining room and he left us to unpack and get comfortable. That evening we drove into Sedona for a romantic dinner. The night was chilly and we went back to Canyon Villa to enjoy the fire and the warm jets of the Jacuzzi — they worked beautifully.

Next morning we dined with other guests in the dining room. We were pleased to meet another couple from Toronto and four people from New York. All suggested we take a path from the Inn that connects with trails leading to the Buttes and Red Rocks beyond. The day was gorgeous; not a cloud in the sky. We hiked and climbed, the red sand covering our shoes and filling our pockets. Enjoying the view from the flat surface of one rock outcrop, we listened to the stillness of the desert. A slight breeze brought the sound of someone chanting a few buttes away. Sedona is known for its holistic community. Aging hippies and palm readers fill the shops. The majestic buttes and spires give it a magical quality.

Leaving Sedona late in the afternoon, and dusty from our hike, we headed to the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Arriving early in the evening, in hiking boots, shorts and t-shirts, we felt a little out of place. But the manager took no notice and gave us a brief tour of the grounds, treating us like royalty. Inspired by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Biltmore first opened in 1929. It boasts a 92-foot-long water slide, an 18-hole championship putting course and a 22,000-square-foot spa, fitness centre and beauty salon. With 736 guest rooms, it’s the largest resort in Arizona. We were shown to our suite with living room, dining area, and full kitchen. The marble bath with double sinks was larger than my dining room.

After taking in the grounds and wishing to spend more time at the resort, we tried to get our flight changed. But alas, luck and the airline were not on our side. We dined at Wrights, the Biltmore’s fine dining restaurant, where executive chef John Zaner has created a fresh, flavourful menu of New American cuisine. My rack of lamb was exceptional and the strawberry banana soufflé was ecstasy in a bowl. Waddling out of the restaurant and into the cool evening, we noticed steam rising from the hot tub beside the pool. In no time, we had our heads propped on the edge of the tub, our legs floating in front of us and our gaze resting on the stars glittering above. My partner put his arm around my shoulder and kissed my cheek. He leaned close to whisper into my ear and I knew this was the moment. He spoke softly. “Sarah. Wake up. The plane has landed.”

WHAT WILL MAKE THE ROM GREAT?

A friend of mine insists that Frank Lloyd Wright was a great architect who’s designs were exceptional. I disagree. Frank Lloyd Wright designed a few great buildings (Johnson’s Wax Administration Building and the Guggenheim Museum) but he also designed many disasters (Falling Water, the Robie House). I wouldn’t consider him a great architect. He doesn’t belong with those I consider great, like Beethoven, or Michelangelo. But Wright wasn’t a failure either; he was able to sell the idea of architecture to the masses. For that he deserves credit.

But who am I to judge architecture or great art? The daughter of a man who strove to be one of ’s greatest architects, that’s who. He taught me that a good architect considers the form and the function of the building he is designing. One without the other is not architecture. A great architect designs buildings that fit both their form (dictated by the lay of the land and by building materials) and their function elegantly. A building is meant to shelter us and protect us from the elements. That is its primary meaning. Without meaning it’s like a stone standing in a field; there, but lacking human context. Good buildings are those that fit their meaning; a home improves the quality of life for those living in it; an office building improves the ability of employees to work effectively in it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a house, an office tower, a church or a museum; a building must have some sort of function.

With the Guggenheim Museum, Wright was able to design a building, a form that fit its function —which was to display and protect the items within — flawlessly. Perhaps it’s because of something inside him. He was, after all, a great exhibitionist. But his design of the house called Falling Water, in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, played romantically with form, but ignored its function as a home. Its halls were too narrow, its drafts too constant, and the moisture in the rooms, caused by the river below, made the house uninhabitable as a home.

What makes something art? What makes a painting, a sculpture, music, or literature a truly great work of art? I’m sick of hearing that it’s all subjective, that art is self-expression or that it’s whatever we like to hang on our walls. Those words are used by posing artists — with a class in finger painting under their belts — and duped consumers who have lost all sense of aesthetic judgement. The posing artists, too lazy to force a rigorous education on themselves, are as much to blame as our consumer culture. Both are in the business of producing commodities, not art. The disgrace is that a true artist must try to work within the contrived world of artificial art. And they’ve two choices — either they sell out, giving in to the industry of art which dictates that two parts shock value equals an increase in market value — or try to make a living in another field, creating real art when they can find time.

There was a time when people studied and apprenticed themselves to great masters in the arts. A time when a great painter learned biology, history and engineering. A time when a great composer often knew how to play every instrument. A time when great art was created.

Today we have junk labelled art, with ridiculous price tags. There is something substantial about real art, a pull, an aesthetic pull that isn’t in most of the schlock produced today. You can feel it in Beethoven’s music, in Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings, in Henry Moore’s sculptures. The presence of a sculpture can capture you in a dark room. The pull of music can tease you and force you to listen. The aesthetic pull can reassure and comfort. It has taken our society from tribalism to civility — it’s in the choices we make each day. Choices made well adhere to this aesthetic law; they’re in harmony with the physical world. This aesthetic law steers us away from putting an armchair in the middle of a hallway, or a picnic table up in a tree. So many choices are aesthetic and when that pull is ignored, mother nature disciplines — we bang our shins or fall out of trees.

My biggest worry is that real art, the kind that teaches us how to listen and develop our inner aesthetic guide, will get lost. Buried in the waste of junk that currently passes for art. A few weeks ago it was announced that our custodian of aesthetic knowledge, the Royal Ontario Museum, is getting re-designed. Will the design consider aesthetic form and function? Will it be a work of art? Or will it be a sales job, something we’ll be tearing down in twenty years because it didn’t quite work, because the sensation today isn’t aesthetically valid. We won’t know until it’s built, until we’re standing inside it, until the sensitive among us can feel the aesthetic tug of the building itself. For now we’ll have to trust the architect, Daniel Libeskind, with the responsibility of creating a design that is aesthetically valid.

THE ART OF LIVING

Just before dawn the lake is quiet and still. Its body is a flat, dark mirror – it is motionless until the sun comes up and gently rocks it from sleep. Small waves undulate, barely noticeable but for the patches of grey, reflections of the sky that melt and reform instantly on its surface. In the distance a gentle breeze sharpens the waves and a lone fisherman casts from his boat. Like a needle, his line pricks the surface of the water. Slowly the motor boats begin to appear. They scratch incessantly at the lake, cutting over it. Does it reel in agony? Does the pain travel in the waves that lap against the dock? Lake Rosseau is female in nature. She constantly laps at the land, sometimes pounding against the shore, at other times gently caressing it, like a mistress with her lover. But her real passion comes out during a thunderstorm. When sheet lightning fills the sky, the lake stirs with excitement, longing for its touch. Her waves pound the shore as the tension between them builds. The storm rumbles and the lake shudders, her passion is released when the night sky is filled with bolts of lightning. Each moment is captured in an eerie flash of light. The sky and lake are joined and for brief seconds merge as one. The sky is dark and silent, every so often echoing the burst of lightning with a clap of thunder. In the calm after a storm you can hear the lake give a gentle sigh. But even when her surface is pummelled by wind and rain, by forces beyond her control, she cradles and protects life gently in her embrace. Last night I dreamed of a day long ago in my childhood, of a memory I’d forgotten. It was a hot, lazy summer day on our farm. I was lying in the long grass watching swallows swoop and dive in the blue, cloudless sky above. They flew in a group and every so often they’d dive and disappear through the open windows of our barn. Inside the barn was cool and filled with the calls of baby birds. The nests were high in the rafters. I waited until the mothers went out to collect food, then climbed up to get a better look. The young birds could sense me and were silent, sitting very still in their nests. I sat motionless when the mothers returned. At first they darted around me, nagging angry protests, but the baby birds began piping for food, tugging their mothers away from me. They fed their young quickly, darting their beaks from one mouth to the next. After a few trips, the mothers no longer noticed me and flew directly to their nests with food. The baby birds were completely dependent on their mothers. I woke up from the dream just as my arms spread to take off in flight. I lay in bed for a while thinking about that summer day in the rafters. I was about eight or nine years old and even then overwhelmed with the idea of motherhood. Having a small life completely dependent on me suddenly seemed more significant than anything else I could do with my life. In this morning’s paper was an article about an American lawyer who repeatedly sued the large tobacco companies and won. The lawyer is now fighting the fast-food chains and has already caused quite an impact. It’s not so much the causes this lawyer is backing, but the fact that he is attempting to change the world, that I find so inspiring. He is accomplishing so much in a world where idealism has all but vanished. I’m struggling to find inspiration today. It is all around me, but just out of reach. My thoughts drift to cleaning. Should I straighten the carpet? Rake pine needles from the beach? I can’t seem to write. Frustration pulls at my sleeve. The words are in me. Ideas that float about in my mind, but I can’t seem to get at them. The key to success is hanging on. Human effort needs to be constant, like the rhythm of the waves on the dock or the singing of the birds each morning. I’m not sure how many times I’ve wanted to give up on this newspaper, but each time I couldn’t let go. As Kipling wrote “If you can hang on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to those hang on…”My father used to say that the art to life is holding on through the bad luck and making the most of the good. The paper has finally developed into the dream I envisioned. But I find myself wanting to reach a little further; we could, after all, be national… How do I express the gratitude I have for those people who encouraged me – my husband Greg, the writers and editors? How do I thank the advertisers in these pages for taking a risk on us? They have enabled us to create a paper designed for intelligent women. “Thank you” doesn’t convey the deep appreciation and motivation they’ve given us over the years. ********************** With the help of Royal LePage, we have been able to add a section dedicated to non-profit organizations for women. We hope to make it an informative spread that will both educate and motivate our readers, while at the same time providing information to women who may be in need of the help these organizations offer. In the past decade the number of women and children in shelters has increased dramatically. On page 10 you’ll find an informative piece on the Royal LePage Shelter Foundation, which contributes to shelters for women across the country. I implore you to make a donation; your help will provide shelter to women and children in need. A small contribution will go a long way. You can make a donation online at :www.royallepage.ca/shelter/donation/index.htm

WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

Dear Dad,

Last night I dreamt about the morning you died. I was back there again, in that hospital room at dawn listening to you struggling for each breath. Once again I lifted my head from your bed and looked out the window over the still lake. I watched the sky turning from gray to pink and the black shape of a seagull gliding high above. The anxiety of that moment came flooding back and I knew what was to come. I wanted to try to change it, to wake you so we could watch the sunrise one last time. I wanted to talk to you the way we once did, about life, love and the challenge of both. I wanted to tell you about everything that has happened over the last five years. When I stood up to walk to the window as I did that morning, I woke up with a start.

So much has happened in the last five years. I’m not sure what to tell you about first. The terrorist attack on the U.S. is one of the worst tragedies that’s happened since your death. It erupted on September 11, 2001 with a number of plane hijackings. Terrorists tried to crash the planes into important landmarks. Thousands were killed in New York when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center. The twin towers crumbled, the smoke and dust was so thick it turned the sunny morning into night. Papers, accounts, records of all kind floated down softly onto the debris-covered streets. A cloud hung over the city for weeks, business came to a standstill. The attacks brought terrorism into our homes; they made people aware, for a brief time, that life is circumstantial; and that hate and anger can consume.

Since then the U.S. has retaliated, invading Afghanistan and using the terrorist scare to push itself into Iraq.

Here at home, Chrétien is no longer in power and some scandals that occurred during his term have since come to light. They have stirred up a lot of controversy over the past few months, but will soon be forgotten as these sorts of things usually are.

Last summer we had a power shortage and for a few days a crisis put Eastern Canada and some of the eastern states out of power. The outage made Toronto quiet, it shut off all the televisions and people filled the streets; they looked at the stars and could for once see them. Suddenly neighbours were talking and strangers spoke to one another on the street. But the sense of community disappeared almost as quickly as it came.

Do you remember the power dams you designed for Ontario Hydro back in the ’50s? I know you left Hydro when a group of people began pushing for nuclear power. I remember you thought nuclear power so costly that it was foolish even to consider it. Well, the nuclear debt has grown so large that the government is now having to subsidize Ontario Power in order to keep consumer prices down. Of course it can’t last. But there is still a small group of nuclear power supporters who released a report which proclaimed nuclear power to be the best solution to our power crisis. I don’t think the public bought it; however, the worry is that our government will take nuclear as the easiest route, even though it isn’t the most economical. It may bandage over the short-term dilemma, but at what cost?

And now to more intimate things. I have yet to tell you about my husband. His name is Greg. He is strong, thoughtful and reserved. At times he holds his passion bottled up tight inside him. It’s hard to get a tear out of him and I have yet to see him sing from our balcony, at the top of his lungs, but I’m working on it. He was a consultant, which wouldn’t appeal to you or me, but he left that career to find more meaningful things to do with his life. He joined me here at the newspaper and has helped us grow and become profitable. We were married a year and a half ago and bought a huge dump of a house, which Greg has decided to renovate. He’s doing almost everything himself. At times I wish you could see him. He researches everything he does. He taught himself to do the plumbing and wiring, to build walls and lay floors. He’s facing life with his arms wide open, not worried about status or position but focused on creating beauty in the world. Sometimes he asks me what to do about problems that arise with the house and I wish I could pick up the phone and call you. Remember how much I used to call when I renovated my first home? I know you would love Greg as much as I do. I wish you could have met.

The newspaper is thriving and our readership is growing steadily. Our writers are some of the best in the country. I ask them to write on an intimate level, not to preach at the reader but give them some sort of emotion to take away from what they read. Since we are gaining more and more female readers I think this slightly different approach to newspaper content is working. There is still the odd feminist who calls to complain that we don’t provide enough doctrine on feminist issues, but there are so many more women who call to congratulate us that it doesn’t worry me.

At times I think you are here with me, especially when I sit alone writing. I feel like you already know half of what I’ve written and sometimes, when I have an important decision to make I hear your voice in my head suggesting ideas. They say that we live on in our children and I hope that part of you will live on in my children. I want to thank you for teaching me to live out there in the world beyond my doorstep. It’s a beautiful world that hate and anger can tarnish only briefly.

I’ll write again soon.

Love,

Sarah

WHERE IS HOME?

I just listened to a beautiful song by Nathan Wiley titledHome. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song ends with the same words – like a circle. The song has me thinking of my past. When I think of who I am and where I come from, when I remember my childhood, I want to reach back and grasp something that I seem to have lost along the way. But I’m not sure what to reach for.

As I look out our cottage window at the deep snow, unmarked and fresh, I remember the winters at our farm. The sunny Sunday mornings filled with plans that my twin brother and I made to build snow forts or ice rinks. I remember the excitement we shared over a fresh snowfall, not just because it meant we had a new landscape to explore, but also because it marked a change in our world. For us, every little change brought new discoveries and we approached the changes with a strong desire for adventure. I don’t think I’ve lost that attitude, although it isn’t as carefree as it once was.

I remember lying in the tall grass on long summer days; the rich smell of damp earth; the chorus of 1000 frogs that sang us to sleep on hot summer evenings; and creating stories from the shapes we made of the clouds in the sky. We swam in a neighbour’s pond, explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system, and flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. We fought and argued. We worried over each other – best friends and bitter enemies all in the same day.

We pushed ourselves to be strong and brave – testing our limits. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us. It made us want to sing. We sang Born Free at the top of our lungs, our voices carried away by the wind and thunder. We raced down the ice-covered hill in our apple orchard, each balanced on one ski, wanting to fly and hoping not to crash into the trees we zipped past. Some days we disappeared into the forest with our lunches tied to the end of a stick, like Huckleberry Finn, returning at dusk full of secrets. I can’t think of a better childhood. I was very lucky.

I don’t think I’ve lost my curiosity. Even now I look for fish in the still water of the lake and search for signs of change along my path. I will always want to know where things come from and how they came to be here.

I don’t think I’ll ever lose my strong urge to sing – it brings out the carefree child I was. I’ve taken to singing into the answering machines of company presidents. My goal is to sing to every CEO or president in Canada in order to get a meeting with them and build some sort of reputation. In some ways it confronts propriety – but it’s working. I’m meeting interesting and smart people whom I’m learning from and sharing ideas with – and it’s all because of the singing.

I don’t think that I’ve lost my sense of adventure, either. I still get a thrill from being lost or jumping into things without looking. This newspaper is one of the biggest adventures I’ve ever undertaken. Building an independent newspaper, with a unique voice, in this age of media monopolies is challenging, exciting and a little bit crazy – everything that makes for a great adventure. But my sense of adventure is now tempered by wisdom.

Have I lost my innocence? I approach change differently now because I know that it can bring sorrow and hurt. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; but I think its price was my innocence.

My childhood home was my Eden. Can I ever go back? Would I give up the knowledge I have to return to it?

I look around at this beautiful cottage, at my husband stoking the fire, at Lake Rosseau, smooth and covered in snow, and at the ice rink we just finished shoveling off. I know that in some ways I am almost back. I’m home, where I belong. The little, devilish girl still lives in me, but life has changed her. I feel more deeply now than I did as a child – like laugh lines that deepen with age.

Perhaps if I live long enough, the knowledge I have might slowly begin to melt away and someday I’ll regain the innocence I’ve lost. If that happens I hope to be like my dear grandmother, who also enjoyed meeting new people. She was brilliantly happy in her dementia because she got to meet a new person (even though it was the same person) every five minutes. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.

There is a beautiful song fromThe Lion King titled The Circle of Life. It begins with the lines. “From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done….”