Celebrating ‘My Circle’

For me, this year’s International Women’s Day is deeply personal. It is a celebration and acknowledgement of the amazing circle of women who inspire, encourage and support me.

Last fall depression came knocking on my door. I struggled, stumbled and fell. But instead of hiding, I spoke my truth.  The rally from my circle was overwhelming.  I was full of gratitude and awe. Friends and family, both in person and on-line, reached out to lift me up when I needed it most.

Looking back, the evolution was so natural, so subtle, that at first I wasn’t even aware of it forming. But through life’s experiences – education, work, recreational activities, conferences, meetings, travel, and even on-line connections – my circle has grown and is diverse, dynamic and robust.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more cognizant of what I admire, respect and value in the women around me, both personally and professionally.

Authenticity. Gratitude. Kindness. Joy. Compassion. Empathy. Humour. Positivity. Encouragement. Dedication. Fearlessness. Teamwork. Determination. Life-long learning.

I am fortunate to have so many phenomenal women who support me not only within my comfort zone, but also nudge – or sometimes pull me – beyond my safety net showing me how much more I am capable of accomplishing. They help me shine brightly when all I want to do is hide under the covers. They celebrate my successes and help me learn when things don’t go as planned.  They point me in the right direction when I’m feeling lost.  They laugh with me, dance with me, listen to and stand by me. They inspire me with their intentional lives, acts of kindness and bravery.  Their presence in my life has made me a better person.  Knowing they are there for me is both reassuring and empowering.

Allowing myself to be vulnerable and honest about my struggles last fall made me acutely aware of the expanse and depth of my circle. A reminder to continue to build, nurture and embrace it. A reminder to express my appreciation to the incredible women who inspire and support me.

This quote sums it up well. Here’s to my circle and to yours.  Happy International Women’s Day!

A circle of women may just be the most powerful force known to humanity. If you have one, embrace it. If you need one, seek it. If you find one, for the love of all that is good and holy, dive in. Hold on. Love it up. Get Naked. Let them see you. Let them hold you. Let your reluctant tears fall. Let yourself rise fierce and love gentle. You will be changed. The very fabric of your being will be altered by this, if you allow it. Please, please allow it.”
― Jeanette LeBlanc

 

 

#BeBoldForChange ― Remembering Wangari Maathai

“The tree is living, it is beautiful, it inspires, it grow upwards, it gives shade, it brings back life, and so the tree becomes a symbol of hope.” ― Wangari Maathai Photograph: Sandi Knight

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. A woman who embodied this, long before being bold was acceptable, was Wangari Maathai. She was a fearless visionary who faced problems head-on and implemented solutions with determination, grit and heart.

From the first time I heard of Wangari Maathai, her story resonated with me. Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya, in 1940, this self-proclaimed “child of the soil” loved the feeling of contentment she experienced when working on the land alongside her mother. She had a deep connection with the environment, with trees and with people which led her to a host of achievements in her 71 years.

She was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree, the first female head of a university department in Kenya and the first African woman and first environmentalist to become a Nobel laureate. Wangari Maathai was an elected member of Parliament in Kenya and assistant Minister of Environment. She authored four books. Her list of credits and accomplishments is lengthy but did not come without significant struggle. Over the years she was arrested, jailed and beaten, but she never gave up on her beliefs. Until her passing in 2011, she continued to strive for improvements in environmental conservation, democracy and human rights.

Members of the Green Belt Movement prepare seedlings.  Photograph: Wendy Stone/Reuters

The world became much more aware of Professor Maathai in 2004 when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots, non-governmental organization which she founded in 1977. After hearing rural women of Kenya speak of their struggles to find firewood and water, of the loss of topsoil, of malnutrition diseases in their children, she understood that deforestation was connected to it all. Her response, “Why not plant trees?” And so, despite ridicule and many hurdles, her mission began.

The women were paid a small fee to plant and care for trees. Earning an income, while protecting and preserving their land and resources improved their lives, but also ensured a better future. Professor Maathai understood by empowering these women to break the cycle, change would reverberate in the world around them. She  understood the connection between the environment and social, economic and political issues, “…not only were we planting trees, but we were planting seeds of peace, seeds for democracy, seeds for respect for human rights.”

The Green Belt Movement’s mission is to “strive for better environmental management, community empowerment, and livelihood improvement using tree-planting as an entry point.” Through this program, more than 51 million trees have been planted throughout Kenya. The growth and impact of this movement since 1977 is astounding.

International Women’s Day is a time to honour and remember exceptional women like Wangari Maathai. Her inspiring story reminds us that being bold starts one step at a time. Stand up for what you believe in. Implement solutions. Empower yourself and those around you. Move forward together, build momentum and change will happen.

Wangari Maathai pictured in Kiriti, Kenya, in 2004. Photograph: Micheline Pelletier/Corbis

“Throughout my life, I have never stopped to strategize about my next steps. I often just keep walking along, through whichever door opens. I have been on a journey and this journey has never stopped. When the journey is acknowledged and sustained by those I work with, they are a source of inspiration, energy and encouragement. They are the reasons I kept walking, and will keep walking, as long as my knees hold out.” ― Wangari Maathai

So today let us celebrate achievements of those who came before us. Let us continue to support, encourage and empower one another, regardless of occupation, status or race. Rejoice in, and value everyday contributions.

Collectively, we can make a difference and continue to improve the world.  #BeBoldForChange

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” ―  Wangari Maathai 


Why not share Wangari Maathai’s story with the younger women in your life through this book?  “Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

What is a Farm Woman?


To celebrate International Women’s Day, I am sharing a toast written for the 29th Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference  ~ November 16, 2015 


What is a farm woman? According to dictionary.com “a woman who operates a farm or cultivates the land; a woman who lives on a farm.” That’s fairly straightforward.

20151108_120146Urban dictionary paints a more creative definition of a farm girl, “independent woman. can ride horses and four-wheeler’s. can drive anything with four wheels. loves to drive trucks and tractors. they are lovers and fighters. raised up right. can wake up at anytime of the day and can stay out all night. tears up old dirt roads and speeds down gravels. they usually have big hearts and sometimes care too much. animals are a main love in their lives. special in various ways.”  Well now, that certainly paints a commanding presence!

Are these definitions reflective of today’s farm women? Depending on who you ask, “Yes”, “No”, “Maybe…”, and even a resounding, “Absolutely not!”

So what does define a farm woman in today’s world? Agriculture is ever-evolving and so are we. We are a diverse group with various backgrounds, abilities and strengths.    It is no longer expected that as farm women, we only have one role, or that over the years, it has to stay the same. We can choose a job we love, a job we are good at, a job we want and do it in a way that suits our lives – whether it is on or off the farm.

There is no single, set description that encompasses us all. Whether you define yourself as a farmer, farm partner or farm wife, every position on your farm ‘team’ is important and valued.

P1120941For me, this conference has always been a celebration of our diversity and our strengths as well as a time to learn and grow. No matter my role in our farm operation, I have always felt supported, uplifted and celebrated by being here with you.

So tonight, I am honoured to propose this toast. By choosing to do what you love, you do it well. You contribute to your family, your farm, your workplace and your community in a variety of ways. You continue to learn, grow and push boundaries.

You may or may not be able to ‘drive anything with four wheels’ but I believe you have been ‘raised up right’. You may or may not be able ‘stay out all night’, but you have a big heart and care deeply. You are most definitely ‘special in various ways’.

You deal with a multitude of challenges and can adapt to change. You take nothing for granted and find the positive in every day. You inspire those around you. You are strong, capable, determined. You are beautiful inside and out.

20160213_172335Never doubt your abilities or your capacity to learn. Believe in yourself as others believe in you. This morning Carol Ann Fried asked, “What is your dance?” No matter your style, embrace it – and be sure to use the whole dance floor! Take Jill Officer’s message to heart and always “Go your own way!” Here is to celebrating you, and continuing to support, encourage and uplift each other on this amazing, ever-evolving journey as farm women.

Anna’s Poppies

March 8th is International Women’s Day.  Since 1911 this annual event has celebrated women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements.  Women’s groups from all around the world, take part in thousands of diverse events to commermorate IWD.

It is not only a time to reflect and look to the future, but also a time to encourage and uplift each other.  For me, Anna K. Storgaard, a university professor turned life-long friend,  was a woman who exemplified encouragement and support.  

She cheered me on, no matter where I was, or what I was doing in my life. I think of her often, and am grateful for the positive influence she had on my life. 

The following tribute was written in  2010 for the Brucedale Press Acrostic Contest.  The judge commented, “A sense of quiet dignity and restrained mourning characterizes this third-place story.” 


20160306_110521

Adored by many who visited her garden, Anna’s poppies now grace my flowerbed. Because I had admired them on my last visit, she insisted I dig some up to take home.

Care had to be taken, as late June is far from ideal for transplanting perennials. Dedicated gardeners would have shuddered as I dug in the late afternoon heat, but I am thankful I did not pass on the opportunity. Every year when they bloom I am reminded of my friendship with Anna.

20160306_134055For twenty-two years after my university graduation we kept in touch, mostly through Christmas cards and letters. Giving her annual updates on jobs, family and friends always resulted in enthusiastic and encouraging responses.

Having been a professor for over thirty years, she deeply touched the lives of many with her avocation for nurturing. I feel fortunate to have known her, been accepted as I was, and forever cheered on as I made my way in life.

Jovial in nature, she seemed to appreciate my quirky sense of humour. Kindred spirits, some would say. Laughter was always welcome in her classroom making the lessons learned enjoyable and memorable.

University of Manitoba

Modest through and through,  Anna would have been uncomfortable with the many accolades expressed at her memorial service. No one was prepared to lose this remarkable spirit who embraced life with humour, curiosity, determination and dedication. One person can indeed make a difference as our dear Anna so aptly proved.

People of all ages and from all walks of life benefited from knowing her, whether as a teacher, colleague, neighbour, community member or friend. Quietly she slipped away from us but forever she will hold a special place in our hearts.

Recalling memories of Anna in her flower garden that lovely June afternoon brings me comfort. She welcomed me to sit with her amongst the vibrant blooms, sip lemonade and reminisce of days gone by. Time passed quickly as we shared stories, laughed and talked of our passion for all things green and growing.

Undaunted by her macular degeneration, she continued to garden, coping with laughter when things went awry. Venturing into her garden late one day resulted in Anna falling bottom first into a hole intended for a new plant. Without hesitation she quipped, “If my neighbours hadn’t come to my rescue, I wonder if I would have bloomed before the first killing frost!” X-rays revealed no broken bones so all was well with the bonus being an entertaining story to share.

HPIM2966Years have now passed and I still miss Anna, especially when Christmas arrives and the first card I receive is not from her. Zestfully she lived her life and as I gaze at the brilliant blossoms dancing playfully in my garden, I remember her with admiration, fondness and a smile.


 Anna Storgaard photo courtesy of University of Manitoba