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A very moving (and very Toronto) conversation

17 Jun

I am sure it is quite obvious to any followers of my blog that I haven’t done a “Lunch with Mary” lunch in quite some time. But that doesn’t mean that my continued interest in learning has slowed in any way. In fact, one of the greatest things I have learned through this process is an ability to get people to tell me their own fascinating stories. By no means do I consider myself a journalist, but I do think that “interviewing” is a skill and I definitely have been practicing over the years. The other day I had a really incredible conversation with a cab driver that I wanted to share. It was too long to share on Twitter and didn’t seem appropriate to post to Facebook, so I have decided to share it here. The conversation took place last Thursday, June 12, the day of the Ontario election. I’ve purposely left out several identifying details as I wasn’t originally planning on writing this. But I thought it was important enough to share so I am doing so in a way that is anonymous for him.

We were driving up Church Street when the driver began to comment on how many rainbow flags were flying everywhere. I mentioned how the crosswalks were now painted rainbow and that the American consulate also had a huge rainbow banner. I was saying how great it is to see and he agreed.

He then told me a story.

He said the first time he ever saw a gay couple was when he first came to Canada and began driving a cab in the mid-eighties. Two men got in his cab and started kissing. The driver told me he was from a very conservative country where you would never discuss anything like that, much less see it. He kicked them out of his cab. Pretty horrible.

And he got in big trouble, nearly lost his job as the couple (rightly) complained. This was a time, we should all remember, when inclusiveness and acceptance of the LGBT community was no where near where it is today.

But it was what he said next that really showed how far he has come and how far we as a society have come. He told me that today, he voted for a gay woman. And he didn’t hold his nose and vote. He actually didn’t seem to think it was a particularly big deal. He was just pretty happy to continue supporting the Liberals as he always had.

Now whether you are PC, Liberal, NDP, Green or undeclared, I think we can all take something from this story that makes us proud to live where we do. People can learn and people can change and a little bit more understanding about others can go a very long way.

Newly published author Jennifer Hayward

8 Sep

Lunch with Mary 067

Date of lunch:
Thursday, September 5, 2013

The company:
Jennifer Hayward is Harlequin’s newest author. Her new novel, The Divorce Party, was just released as an eBook and will hit stores in paperback later this month. Jen and I used to work together until she decided to take more time to focus on her writing and fulfill her lifelong dream of being a published romance author. And she did it!!! Every time Jen posts a new update on Facebook about her book, I just want to ask her “how does it feel to have your dream come true?” It seems like such a cheesy question but it’s totally sincere. Jen’s lifelong dream has come true! What is that like? I decided to ask Jen out for lunch and find out the answer.

The food:
We ate at Lola’s Kitchen on Church St. It’s really near my work but I have never tried it. Lola’s is delicious and I will totally go back and there are tons of options for people who are gluten-free. I had the California bowl with brown rice. It had tempeh, kale, nuts, avocado and veggies. It was really good, filling but not heavy. Jen had the special frittata with salad and she enjoyed it very much. We each drank water. Total bill was $30 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
While I like to try to keep quiet about anything I start in case I don’t finish, perhaps writing about it here will keep me accountable and ensure I go through it (or not, see podcast). Well might as well spill the beans. I am writing a book. I have said for years I was going to and now I am actually doing it. It’s a young adult novel, takes place in the future and involves aliens. And I hope it will be funny too. The reason I am telling you all this is because I talked to Jen quite a bit about it and she gave me amazing and helpful tips. First we talked about character development. She said you need to make sure that every main character has an external and internal conflict and you need to be overly obvious in presenting them to the readers. Second, I need to have a part in the book where all hope seems lost, where the main character appears to have no chance of overcoming their conflicts. Finally, we talked about outlines. I am currently working on mine and it is extremely detailed as I want to make sure that I know what happens to each character and plot line throughout the book. I am actually using a script outline technique I learned in university to lay everything out. Jen told me that while it’s important to outline the story, you don’t have to include every detail in the outline because a lot of the story comes through as you write and a lot of the outline will change. Jen recently finished a book that she completely re-wrote the ending three times before she knew she had it right. Basically be organized before you start writing but let the natural writing flow come through. Leaving lunch I was even more excited to write.

Jen's book

The lunch:
Jen first submitted a novel to Harlequin when she was 20. Although they didn’t publish it, she did get feedback. They let her know that this wasn’t the right story but they liked her writing and encouraged her to submit a different manuscript. Any feedback at all is pretty amazing considering many hopeful authors only receive a form letter.

Years later, Jen decided she needed to write that new novel. At this point, she was working full time and had a family. She decided to cut back on her hours at work and fully commit to her lifelong dream. She wrote several different stories but it was her entry into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest that got her the publishing deal. The contest has writers submit the first chapter of their novel online and the public votes. Jen made it to the final three, submitted her full manuscript and then won the whole thing. With winning the contest, she received a publishing deal for the book she entered, The Divorce Party. But it didn’t stop there. Harlequin so enjoyed her story, they gave her a second book deal right away. But it didn’t stop there either. As Jen’s dream continues to come true and she continued to submit manuscripts, she now has a six book deal with Harlequin.

As mentioned in the beginning, I wanted to ask Jen what it feels like when your dreams come true. I think that often about Olympians. Like Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir winning Olympic gold at 20. So you’ve worked and dreamed for your entire life to achieve this one goal and you’ve achieved it. So now what?

First, Jen told me the whole thing is still surreal, which is not surprising to hear. I mean how could it not be? Jen says that when the book comes out in paperback is when it will really hit her, when she sees her book on the shelves at Walmart, Indigo, Shoppers and more. I can’t wait to see it myself so I can only imagine what it feels like for Jen.

And then she told me something that was the true answer to my question. When your dream comes true, you make a new dream! Jen has always wanted to see her name on the New York Times bestseller list. Well I hope she gets there. If this six book deal is any indication, I think it’s only a matter of time. Go Jen!

Jen and her books

Jen sitting on a pile of her book!

Farm Radio International Board Member, Journalist and Former Station Manager of Uganda’s Mega FM David Okidi

7 Nov

Lunch with Mary 063

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The company:
David Okidi is a journalist in Northern Uganda and was the station manager at Mega FM, a radio station in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu. He recently joined the board of directors of Farm Radio International. Farm Radio International (FRI) helps African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities. My colleague’s grandfather, George Atkins, former host of the noon farm radio broadcast on CBC for 25 years, founded Farm Radio International in 1979. My colleague and FRI board member, Sarah Andrewes, has spoken to me many times about the organization and when she let me know David Okidi was in town, I asked if she might be able to arrange a lunch for me with David and she helped to set up this meeting.

The food:
In order to be able to work with David’s very tight schedule while he was in Canada, we met for breakfast instead of lunch. We met at La Prep at Bloor and Church. We each had a small coffee and I had a regular croissant and David had a chocolate croissant. I love all croissants and this one was no different. Very delicious mostly due to butter, but also very flaky and messy. Total bill was $7.63 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
David spoke to me about how radio is used as a peace building tool in Uganda. I studied Radio & Television Arts in university and while I saw the value of radio from a Canadian perspective, I never imagined the power and impact it can have in a place like Uganda. The radio station that David managed was in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu, an area at the centre of the civil war and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The government of Uganda passed an amnesty law in 2002 for rebel soldiers, allowing them to return to the community and not face prosecution. This was especially important given that many of the rebels were children who were abducted and forcefully conscripted against their will, while some were born in the rebel camps themselves and knew no other life.

While the amnesty was extremely important, getting the word into the rebel camps was extremely difficult. David’s radio station became the peace building tool, broadcasting information about the amnesty, often at night between 10 and 11 p.m. when rebels were no longer on the move and more likely to be listening to the radio. And rebels began returning to communities, giving up the fight and taking advantage of the amnesty. As more and more rebels left, the rebel commanders banned radios and threatened to burn down Mega FM, David’s radio station. Soldiers were stationed outside the station and the rebels were never able to stop the broadcasts. And because the rebel commanders still had their own radios, the message continued to get out simply through someone overhearing and spreading the word. Radio can be incredibly powerful and it was truly incredibly to hear this story from David who played such a major role.

David let me know that the amnesty law had been renewed annually since 2002 but was unfortunately not renewed in May of this year, now leaving no attractive option for rebels soldiers wishing to leave the fight and return to the community.

The lunch:
Beyond the incredibly powerful role radio played in peace building in Uganda, David’s work with Farm Radio International is also truly amazing. FRI was originally founded to share best practices for small-scale farming. Farming is completely different in these rural communities than what we see here in Canada and many of the techniques that are used for farming here are not at all practical, feasible or affordable in Uganda.

Prior to FRI, farming radio programming in Africa often touted the techniques used by commercial farmers such as pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. But small-scale rural farmers were unable to afford these materials and the advice was pretty much useless. FRI was able to provide and share tips and techniques across communities, networking the best practices of other farmers so everyone was able to succeed. David was able to explain many of the techniques that are used in his community and by his own mother, a farmer.

While most farmers do not have access to tractors, rather than ploughing a field with a hoe by hand, a ploughing tool pulled by two bulls will reduce the time it takes to finish a field to two days from ten. For livestock farming, neighbours will get together on a community grazing field. They will then rotate days of bringing the animals to the grazing field and supervising the animals while there to ensure they don’t damage nearby crops, which could be very costly. By sharing the supervision, these farmers are able to focus on other aspects of their farms on their off days. Many farm owners also owned plots of land that were quite scattered and they often spent far too much time travelling between the fields rather than working on the land. Neighbours have since gotten together to split the land in a more practical way, caring for the land nearest to their homes and making the work more efficient.

Much of the farming where David lives is for consumption and not exporting. However, he did let me know that there are now huge food markets in South Sudan that local farmers are beginning to supply – a new opportunity for growth. Speaking to David, you hear a story of hope. As communities rebuild from the civil war and former rebel soldiers re-integrate themselves into the community, farming has become an important way of life and Farm Radio International is helping locals teach each other and grow the community as a whole.

My Nonna Ida Pollarolo

11 Sep

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Date of lunch:
Sunday, September 11, 2011

The company:
This was a Lunch with Mary first. My first lunch out of town (it was in my hometown of Ottawa) and my first lunch with a family member. I had lunch with my nonna (that is Italian for grandmother) Ida Pollarolo. She is awesome! She moved to Ottawa from Italy in the 1950s with my mom, my uncle and my nonno. Quick aside: Since there weren’t many other Italians in my elementary school, I never heard the words nonna and nonno except with my grandparents. I thought they were their actual names and I thought it was such a lovely coincidence that these two people with such similar names had found each other. I have always been very close with my nonna. I remember in high school on a P.A. Day, a lot of my friends were getting together for something fun, but I declined and biked over to nonna’s to hang with her. I miss her a lot since I have moved to Toronto but I try to call her often and send cards and letters when I can.

The food:
We ate in the dining room of the Lord Lansdowne Retirement Residence where my nonna lives. The food is pretty good at this place. I sort of wish I could have stayed for dinner as it was lobster tail and filet mignon. Although not surf and turf, our lunch was pretty delicious. We both started with the Lansdowne salad, which is a salad that includes grapes, melon and strips of ham. Nonna let me know that she does not like having sweet salads and salads should just be salads without fruit, except tomatoes “which they say is a fruit”. For the main course, I had the meat lasagna and she had chicken cordon bleu. I had apple pie for dessert and she had a fruit bowl. I also had coffee and we both drank water. Total bill is unknown to me as meals are included in her rent and I do know she has to pay a little to have a guest but she didn’t tell me how much.

The lunch lesson:
We talked a lot about her childhood in Valdagno. She lived there all her life before coming to Canada and it’s where my mom was born. I have been there a few times, it’s a very lovely town in the foothills of northern Italy. She grew up on a farm and started working where she could as early as she could. She had jobs such as collecting eggs from the chickens and helping her grandfather plant the potatoes. She was the youngest of eight – 7 girls and 1 boy. She spoke very highly of her mother and told me how great a mom she was and that the best thing she taught her was to respect everyone. Nonna said how her mom taught her that no matter someone’s background, education, etc., that we’re all equal. This is a great lesson that her mom passed on to her and one that was passed down to me as well.

The lunch:
I love my nonna a lot and treasure all the time I can spend with her since I live in Toronto and don’t get to Ottawa that much anymore. Lately she hasn’t been feeling that well so I decided to come to Ottawa for a weekend and spend as much time with her as I can. I was very happy that she seemed in great spirits, energetic and able to head down to the dinning room for our lunch.

We talked about the books that she’s been reading lately. She’s an avid reader across all sorts of genres. She just finished Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy by the same author as Under the Tuscan Sun. She then told me that the book is nice but how do people live like that? She said Tuscany is like that if you’re rich, but not if you actually have to work for a living. It was a great observation. Italy isn’t all about tasting wine, eating and basking in the sunshine – there is work to be done!

I also just have a general observation about Italian homes. Any Italians that read this, please feel free to weigh in. When you go to a home in Italy (and I have seen this in Italian-Canadians’ homes as well), no matter the size of the home, there is a room somewhere, often in the basement, with a table that seats about 20 people. I always found it strange. So although there is work to be done, we do love to eat!

I was telling my nonna how I was going to a wedding the following weekend in Toronto (yay Maja and Mike!) and that I had just recently been in Vancouver for another wedding (Ali and Adrian!!). She looked at me and said that she doesn’t know about weddings anymore, it’s just a ceremony and what’s most important is honesty and being honest with one another. She said if you have honesty, that is all that matters. She is a wise lady.

After our lunch, as I left her room to head out and catch the train back to Toronto, we said our usual “I love you” and she followed with what she always says “be good”. So I said “nonna, you be good” to which she replied “there is not a lot of chances here to be bad”. Oh nonna, you’re the best! Tanti baci.

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Physiotherapist, Professor and Global Rescue Worker Mike Landry

9 Jul

Lunch with Mary 054 Date of lunch:
Friday, July 8, 2011

The company:
Mike Landry is a physiotherapist, professor at University of Toronto (soon to be chair at Duke University) and a 15 year veteran of global rescue missions. I was listening to my fave, CBC Dispatches, and heard a story by Mike Landry about his original mission to Haiti shortly after the devastating earthquake in January 2010. He spoke about the work he did to help those with spinal cord injuries as a result of the earthquake and subsequent recovery effort. He then went back several months later to check on the progress of his patients and what he discovered led him to ask some very difficult questions about the responsibility of aid. When does it start? When does it end? I found the story very thought provoking and wanted to hear from Mike himself. In one of my fastest arranged lunches in history – I listened to the podcast on Sunday, Googled Mike Landry and emailed him on Monday and we had lunch on Friday. It was a fascinating conversation.

The food:
Mike and I ate at Café La Gaffe on Baldwin Street. I have never been on Baldwin Street on a beautiful afternoon and the patios were bustling. It’s one of those great hidden spots in Toronto. I had the Mediterranean vegetable pizza with salad and Mike had the risotto special with salad. We both drank water. The portions were huge, which I always appreciate. I did find the pizza a bit difficult to cut through but it was still great, tons of feta cheese! Total bill was $34 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Mike talked to me about the type of person that is able to go on these global aid missions and was very clear that it is not for everyone. The images he sees are not something that he can forget and he said that every aid worker must have some amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. He says he can’t even fully discuss what he sees and does with all people because it is too difficult for them to hear. What really got to me was that Mike and his colleagues choose to put themselves in these positions. But what about those that live there and have no choice but to see the devastation day in and day out? It’s hard to imagine what that must be like and that thought has really stuck with me since our lunch.

The lunch:
Ever since I was young, I had an understanding that there were people in other parts of the world that had far less than I did and, like many other in my shoes, had this drive to do something to help. But the problem is, what do you do and how can you help? Mike Landry first felt this feeling when he watched Live Aid as a child and the drive did not go away. For over 15 years, he has been going to areas all over the world and helping out.

I asked him if he was ever scared and he told me he never was until recently, when he had children. When he first saw the images coming back from Haiti after the earthquake, he decided he couldn’t go this time. His daughter was very young and he didn’t want to put himself at risk. Mike told me he was able to hold himself from going for a week and then he just had to go. Once he knew he was going, he was in Haiti within a couple of days.

In Haiti, Mike helped those that were suffering from spinal cord injuries. He said many of these people had pulled themselves, with very serious injuries, out of the rubble on their own. Others had fallen while working to help rescue others and clear rubble. Not that many years ago, these people never would have survived – these injuries would have meant certain death. But Mike and the rest of the team in Haiti were able to help them. Many of those they saved are now able to have some level of mobility.

A few months after the earthquake, Mike returned to Haiti to check back in on his patients and help them return home. To this day, rubble still covers the streets of Haiti and it is shocking to see. For someone with mobility issues, it is very difficult to get around.

He brought one woman, who is paralyzed, to her home that was so difficult to access that they could not even bring her to her home on her wheelchair and instead had to carry her to her home on a stretcher. Once home, Mike wondered whether she’d ever be able to leave. And these are the questions that now haunt Mike and many other aid workers. They saved these lives but now what? How can the massive global aid dollars respond appropriately to help these survivors and communities? I, of course, do not have the answers but I think it’s something that needs to be addressed. The funding is there but it’s far more complicated than simply spending money.

Mike is about to embark on a new adventure at Duke University and will teach physiotherapy students who will continue the work that Mike does now. With advances in medicine, there is the opportunity to save so many more lives than before. It is my hope that long term aid will be part of the solution and will address quality of life. With someone as committed as Mike championing this cause, I believe we’re on the right track.

*NOTE: Mike is working on a documentary about his work and the people he has helped in Haiti and I will link to it once the site is live. Stay tuned for an update.

United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada Genealogist Doug Grant

11 Feb

Lunch with Mary 049

Date of lunch:
Friday, February 11, 2011

The company:
Doug Grant is a member of the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, the editor of Loyalist Trails and the genealogist for the Governor Simcoe branch of the UELAC. He is also my 5th cousin once removed (or 4th or 6th or 7th – I need to do a bit more research into my family tree). Doug is a descendent of loyalists and both him and I descend from the same loyalist, Michael Warner, who came to New York Province in the mid-1700s. Being loyal to the British Empire cost him his home in the American Revolution, but for that loyalty, Michael was given land in Canada for free by the king.

The food:
We ate at Mangia e Bevi, which I just found on Google when looking for a restaurant in the King and Sherbourne area. And what a discovery! It’s actually pretty hard to locate because it’s back from the street across a parking lot but it is awesome. The restaurant smells delicious and has a main dining area, as well as a smaller room for larger groups. The décor is very cool. Once we saw how huge the pizzas were, we decided to split a pizza and a salad. We had the Four Stagioni pizza which has mushrooms, prosciutto, artichoke hearts and olives, as well as a Caprese salad with tomatoes and boccaccini cheese. I had a ginger ale and Doug had a small Steam Whistle. Total bill was $35 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
The lesson from this lunch actually is not something I learned at the lunch but more the spirit behind the lunch itself. I am just glad that I have taken this step to learn more about my family’s history. At times in high school I will admit that I found my Canadian history class a bit boring. I also didn’t know about the whole loyalist family connection thing yet either. But knowing now that I am part of this history, as we are all part of history, really does make it that much more interesting, and I think everyone should take the time, if they can, and learn a little more about where they came from.

The lunch:
My grandfather, Roger Warner, passed away in November. I went back to Ottawa for the funeral and we drove to the area where my family comes from along the St. Lawrence River. The Warners have a lot of history in the area – from Cornwall to Russell and beyond. My great-grandmother’s farm actually no longer exists because it is now underwater in the expanded St. Lawrence seaway – it was flooded in the fifties. When I was in the area and at the cemetery, I saw how rich my family history was and how little I knew about it and I decided I wanted to learn more. I knew that we did descend from loyalists so I emailed the association and Doug wrote back and indicated that his mother was a Warner and we are, in fact, related. Crazy.

The story of how the loyalists ended up coming to be is quite interesting. And Doug was very patient in explaining it to me and I hope I can at least summarize a bit of it accurately. The British soldiers –  both professionals and loyalist regiments raised from the local population – were fighting against the rebels (Patriots). It was basically a civil war. My loyalist ancestor, Michael Warner, was a member of the loyalist King’s Royal Regiment of New York. As the countryside fell out of Britain’s control, the loyalists’ lands were confiscated. Loyalties were divided, towns were divided, families were divided. The loyalist soldiers and families had to leave and go to British-held areas where many of them lived in refugee camps, several of which were located in what is now Canada.

At war’s end, in order to provide for the loyalist soldiers and their families who could not return to their former homes, the king granted them land. Members of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York were  settled along along the St. Lawrence River.  In the following years, to keep these families loyal, the king also granted land to their sons and daughters right until the mid-1800s.

So we know that Michael Warner stayed loyal and received land from the king. Documents haven’t been completely clear as to where exactly it was although we know it was in Osnabruk Township in Stormont County and many believe it is now underwater along with my family’s land.

My mother was born in Italy and because her family history was so far away, we did go to Italy a few times in my youth to see where my mom grew up, meet our cousins and learn about her history. So it’s funny that there was such rich Warner history just an hour or so away from where I grew up and I never took the time to learn it all. I guess Italy always seemed more glamorous (it is pretty awesome) but I am glad that I now know a bit more about my dad’s side and I am very grateful to Doug for giving me a little glimpse of the rich history that I hope to learn.

Oh and the neat part is that Doug signs his name with UE (United of the Empire) at the end and I have since learned that I can do the same.

Sincerely,

Mary Warner, UE

Two years of lunching… and counting

5 Feb

Two years_2

Me – In between meals

A year ago, I looked back at my first 12 months of lunching and was mostly in shock that I was able to pull off this funny little idea that I had.

Now that I am two years into this lunching adventure, I continue to be so grateful to everyone who has agreed to have lunch with me and taught me so much along the way. I feel a bit like a kid doing a school project when I ask people out to lunch so I am always a bit surprised when anyone agrees. So a huge thank you to my lunch guests from the past 12 months:

· Ryan Taylor

· Corey Mintz

· Sunny Fong

· Amy Cole

· Ben Barry

· Inessa Frantowski

· Rahaf Harfoush

· Massimo Capra

· Daryl DSouza

· Jian Ghomeshi

As I enter year three, I haven’t figured out what I want to do next. As the site continues to grow with more lunches and more readers, I want to make this into more and I am struggling what that “more” is.

But there is one thing I want to accomplish in 2011. Since I am two years into this, I am just going to be up front. I want to have lunch with Paul Krugman. It’s why I started this blog and I think it would be a fascinating conversation. I outreached to him this year and did hear back (yay!) but the lunch still hasn’t happened. I am willing to travel and work around his schedule but I am going to you all, dear readers, and asking for help. Any ideas on how I can make this happen?

And finally, thanks for reading – I hope you all enjoy my blog just a fraction of as much as I enjoy doing it.

World Economic Forum Associate Director and Obama Campaign New Media Team Member Rahaf Harfoush

20 Sep

Lunch with Mary 043

Date of lunch:
Monday, September 20, 2010

The company:
Rahaf Harfoush, after living in Geneva, has just moved to Paris (jealous) and works for the World Economic Forum as the Associate Director of the Technology Pioneers Programme. She is also a sought after new media and technology speaker with engagements all over the world from Egypt to Uruguay to Toronto. In 2008, she was part of the new media team working on the Barack Obama campaign in Chicago. She has published a book about the experience called “Yes We Did: An Insider’s Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand”. She is currently in Toronto for 10 days for several speaking engagements and interviews and I was very happy to get some time on her very busy calendar.

The food:
We ate at Kit Kat on King West. I was a bit disappointed in that I made a reservation and was then given one of the worst tables in the restaurant. What’s the point of a reservation? We were, however, able to move in the end. Rahaf had the warm scallop salad (which looked delish) and I had the agnolotti daily special – it was FULL of cheese and amazing but I assume extremely unhealthy. We both had diet Cokes and Rahaf had a tea. Total bill was $40 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I feel a bit silly writing this but having lunch with Rahaf kind of felt like a life-changing moment. I spoke with Rahaf about the amazing things she has already accomplished at a young age, like having a successful book published and working on Obama’s campaign. She just explained that she is like a dowsing stick. When an opportunity arises or she is looking into doing something, she wants to be so excited about it that she is shaking like a dowsing stick that has found water. And if she feels that way about a job or opportunity, she will find a way to do it. I have never met someone who so fully lives by this rule. She searches out inspiring work and makes it happen. Now this book I keep talking about – it’s time to make it happen.

The lunch:
Rahaf explained to me that while working on the research and writing team for Don Tapscott’s book “Grown Up Digital”, she interviewed Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and coordinator of online organizing for Obama’s campaign. After speaking with him, she knew she needed to get on the ground and be part of this amazing movement. She called Chris and he told her to get down to Chicago asap. So Rahaf put her current work contracts on hold, found roommates on Craigslist and moved herself to Chicago.

I love Chicago and had the pleasure of being there just a few weeks before Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 and the city was buzzing. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in the campaign war room and part of the groundbreaking social media campaign as excitement was continuing to grow.

Rahaf’s current work at the World Economic Forum is really fascinating. The Technology Pioneers Programme identifies companies from around the world that are involved in the design and development of new technologies, typically in the start-up phase. Once identified as a Technology Pioneer, these companies become part of the World Economic Forum’s network and benefit from this integration. 2011 Pioneers include foursquare and Scribd.

Rahaf has now gotten her work schedule down to about 70% of her time so she can commit herself to writing her second book, which she is co-authoring with Len Brody tentatively titled Misfits: How We’ve Outgrown the Way We Live and What to Do About It”.

 As I mentioned above, Rahaf also commits a good deal of her time to speaking engagements and through this she has had an amazing opportunity to travel all over the world, and sometimes add a few days here and there to be a tourist, such as an extended trip to Portugal earlier this year and another trip to Uruguay and one to Columbia coming up. For someone who admitted to me that she doesn’t like to fly, she certainly is racking up a lot of air miles.

I was truly inspired after my lunch with Rahaf. She is so positive and driven and genuinely excited about the work she is doing and the future of her career. It’s really amazing to see and something I hope that everyone can accomplish in their lives. I hope to be able to speak with Rahaf again and see how she’s doing on her current and new projects and perhaps try to get some of her incredible optimism, drive and perseverance to rub off on me.

Me! (In other words my lunch guest didn’t show up)

12 Aug

Lunch with Mary 041

Date of lunch:
Thursday, August 12, 2010

The company:
I want to start this post by making sure to emphasize that I hold no animosity towards my intended lunch guest, I understand that stuff happens and we’re hoping to re-schedule. But I was planning to post today and I did have a blog lunch after all. So I thought I would just share what my lunch was all about. As for the company, I was joined by myself, a lovely blogger and avid fan of food. I was likely bad company to myself as I was constantly checking my Blackberry and looking out the window.

The food:
I ate at Milagro. I have always wanted to try this place ever since we almost had a staff party there a few years ago. I drank water and had the chicken burrito. The burrito was totally different than the type you get at Burrito Boyz, not quite as heavy and more fresh ingredients, raw veggies and such. On the down side, it was very greasy and had too many onions. But on the plus side, it was incredibly delicious and I would totally have another one right now – with a request for less onions. Total bill was $11 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
My lesson is to anyone out there who is planning on having lunch with someone but they end up not showing up. I have eaten lunch at restaurants alone plenty of times and it’s never been a problem. But when you’re sitting at table with a menu in front of yourself and another menu in front of an empty chair, people look at you with sympathy and it’s one of those things where you can try to explain that it’s really no big deal but then you’re protesting too much and it gets weirder and weirder. So my advice would be to simply get one menu when you arrive and the second menu when (and if, ha!) your guest arrives.

The lunch:
The lunch itself was uneventful but also kind of hilarious. I think the entire staff thought I got stood up on a date. The reservation I made for two didn’t help that assumption too much. At least three servers came to my table to make sure I was okay. At one point, I told one of the servers that I was likely just going to get take-out and he said don’t worry about ordering anything and that they understand. They were very nice.

My lunch gave me a great opportunity to get caught up on Twitter. I saw that Jake Tapper blogged about a billboard comparing Obama to Hitler – ya, you read that right. Ridiculous. I also read that J.Lo was having trouble deciding what to wear today from her overflowing baskets of jewels. And I thought having a no-show lunch guest was a problem – boy, was I off base.

I am a pretty easy-going person (unless I’m on an airplane) so I wasn’t too upset about my lunch today. I tried to find the humour in the whole thing. Next time I am going to just play into what everyone is thinking. Start crying. Throw the menu on the floor. Slam my head on the table. Wail. Whine. Whimper. Yell “Why? Why?” while looking up at the ceiling. Ask the waiter that if anyone calls asking for me, to tell them I left and got hit by a car… Maybe that would get me a free burrito.

Model and Talent Agent Ben Barry

28 Jun

Lunch with Mary 040

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 28, 2010

The company:
Ben Barry is the CEO of Ben Barry Agency Inc., a model and talent agency in Toronto. It’s a pretty amazing story because Ben started the agency when he was only 14. Ben is from Ottawa like me and I remember hearing about him and his agency when I was in high school. A friend of his was told she was “too big” to be a model by one of the local agencies so Ben called a magazine on her behalf and got her a gig. And the rest is history. The Ben Barry Agency focuses on representing models of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities, and is bringing diversity to fashion and the runway. Ben Barry is also partnered with a previous lunch guest of mine, Sunny Fong, as business director of Vawk.

The food:
We ate at Kokyo Japanese Restaurant at Yonge and Alexander. They have a huge patio but it was so hot out today that we chose to sit inside. I’d love to come back and sit on the patio when the air is a little less muggy. We both had lunch specials, a variety of sushi rolls, salad and miso soup. The sushi was fresh and delicious. We both drank water and green tea. Total bill was $22 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Ben has also written a book called Fashioning Reality – A new generation of entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, Ben has a definite business mind and it’s fascinating to listen to him and how he sees business opportunities in everything. He offered advice to me regarding my blog and how I might be able to add a bit of a business slant to the whole thing. It’s something I have been struggling with for awhile, had some hits and misses. But listening to him talk about business possibilities, as well as his book, has re-ignited my lifelong dream of writing a book – and hopefully using this blog and what I’ve learned and done so far as a great first step.

The lunch:
Although it’s hard to understand how a 14 year old can become an incredible advocate for diverse definitions of beauty and healthy body image, I am glad it turned out that way. And I’m not the only one.. He was noticed by the talkshow queen herself, Oprah, and appeared on the show as one of 20 teens who will change the world. I’ve never met anyone who’s met Oprah. Incase you’re wondering, he says she’s very nice. Him and his agency have also been featured on CNN, People Magazine, Globe and Mail and more.

When Ben explains what he is doing with his company, it makes so much sense. Women come in all sizes, ages, shapes, etc. so why not make and showcase clothing that fits all of these variations. And Ben also was sure to point out that he isn’t trying to eliminate thin models but instead co-exist in the industry and offer an alternative. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty really embodies this belief. Incase you were wondering, Ben’s agency provided the models for the campaign.

Ben explained that at Toronto Fashion Week, Sunny Fong was the only designer who used plus size and older models (although Joe did have one plus-size model in their show so I don’t want to forget to mention that). But Ben is seeing a shift in the industry and how it is regular people helping to push this forward. Fashion isn’t only for the big designers anymore. With blogs like The Sartorialist just picking people off the street and showcasing their awesome style, it becomes obvious that fashion really is defined by the people and it should look like the people – from skinny all the way to plus, all shapes, all backgrounds, all ages.

Aside from running the agency and working with Vawk, Ben is also working towards his PhD at Cambridge. He is doing research into whether women are more interested in buying products that are advertised using the typical model or using models that more represent regular women. I’ll let Ben discuss those results once his research is complete but I think it’s pretty obvious what I think the results will be.