Playing my Part

This weekend I had some profound learning.

I listened to a Westgate attack survivor recount her story. It reinforced my belief that miracles do happen. It confirmed to me that someone can overcome really trying situations. It reminded me that there are very many very good people in this world. There were many lessons.

Then one I would like to share today concerns giving. We are often called to give donations for one cause or another, and, with good reason, many of us will hold back because we are not sure those donations arrive at the intended or published destination.

This lady said “If you donated to the Westgate fund you helped pay my hospital bill”. She also said “If you prayed for Westgate victims and survivors, you prayed for me [and here I am].”Camera 034

I will not hold back my generosity just because someone else doesn’t hold back their greed. I will not be stingy with what I can give easily and freely just because I do not see the results. I will trust and believe, and play my part.

After all, I cannot play some else’s  part.


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More checks, but feeling even less safe

masteryIf you are an urban dweller who frequents malls and other buildings or attends events you will agree that ‘checks’ are the-new-thing-that–I- wish-never-happened. They are here for good reason – I know. With plenty of people walking around with the intention of killing as many people as possible, we need to do something to try and deter them. I hate the checks all the same.

I used to hate having to leave my ID at the reception (I still do, by the way, is it legal for the security guard at a building reception to retain my ID even for a few minutes?)

Now there’s something I hate even more, and that’s having to open up my bag  for a stranger to peep through. I have taken to walking around with my bag open just so I don’t have to open it up! And for a mere peep through! I think that if a proper search were done I would not hate it as much because I would justify it by telling myself it’s for stopping bad people from taking  bits of arsenal into a building until they have enough to kill hundreds of people. But a glance through the hole at the top of my bag (I never open the zip all the way) is all I get for this invasion. So on top of the fear is this awkwardness that doesn’t make me feel any safer. At some places you go through the scanner while your bag doesn’t, only for a scared security guard to merely peek at a potential carrier of deadly stuff. Sometimes the open space beside the scanner can accommodate 10 bad people while the good ones queue to go through the scanner.

It’s a new feeling, this feeling of insecurity and having to submit to inefficient and insufficient checks. This feeling that someone who has no clue who I am and what obstacles I have overcome to be here today, like this, could snuff the life out of me just like that. It’s a strange feeling knowing that despite the show many of the premises I walk into several times a week are no safer because the security has really not improved. I imagine it’s an outlandish feeling for the security guard who hasn’t been trained or coached well enough to overcome personal biases. I mean which normal person goes through strangers’ bags? To do so with confidence and accuracy the security guards need to change their beliefs about it. From what I see, this has not happened.

This year I am intentionally taking time to do interrogate my inhibitions and to do what I do masterfully and meaningfully.

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miraclesI am rummaging through my bag when I find a caramel toffee. The chewy ones that I really love. It must have been there for weeks, possibly months, as I haven’t bought any in a while. I am thankful because after 3 hours at my desk I am tired and could do with a sugar boost. The toffee has appeared at the perfect moment.

It’s not the first time that such little miracles happen to me. I found £100 that had been missing for weeks. I had put it aside for a trip but when the time came to travel I couldn’t find it. Then in the middle of ‘Njaanuary’ I find it. In a wallet I had looked through before! I often find currency notes used as bookmarks in books I have read, and ’emergency’ money in the pockets of jackets I haven’t worn for a while. I once found a piece of silk fabric in just the right colour for an outfit I was working on at the time, and a contact number long lost and forgotten, which, when called, opened up the perfect opportunity at that moment in time.

A miracle is an event not explicable by natural laws. How is it that I just happen to find a sweet when I wasn’t looking for or expecting to find one, but I happen to need that energy boost? How is it that even though I was ‘sure’ I had put the money in that wallet, because it’s the one I travel with, and had looked several times, I and didn’t see it? How did it just happen to show up at that exact moment?

I am always praying for miracles, and sometimes I am disappointed because my prayers are seemingly not answered. But many times I have had desires, lodged so deep in my heart that I am not even aware that they exist, filled in such a perfect way that I cannot explain it.

My miracles are little things. So I am not holding my breath waiting for big stuff to happen. I am enjoying the moment and daring to trust that when the time is right my miracle will happen.

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In 2016 I will be finding time

We have 3 candidates this year so it’s inevitable that we are talking targets, time and techniques to ensure the best possible results at the end of the year.

Each of the candidates is not doing badly now, but no one is happy to have their current performance as their final exam grade so they are looking to improve.  And to do that they are all looking at more study time. But where from?


Every day has 24 hours, and the candidates have had to look at what are they doing with their 24 hours.

So we created a table with time slots covering each 24 hour period for a week. We shaded out school time, times for meals, sleep, worship and homework. Weekdays are practically full, so to find ‘optional’ slots we focused on the  weekend to find  quality study time. So everyone’s having to sacrifice a few things, well, to be honest, it’s mostly day time sleep and TV that will have to go.

I have to make some adjustments as well. Not because I will sit an exam at the end of this year, but because they need my support, by way of my presence. I can hardly expect my 12 year old to sit up studying while I lie in bed on a Saturday morning. And my 16 year old will not concentrate if, while he is working out math problems, I am cheering Wayne Rooney on. I doubt he will study if I leave to go party while he stays home alone.

I can remind them all I want that they are the ones sitting an exam, and that it will be their names on the certificates, not mine. Still, to get the best out of them I must walk this road with them.

So, don’t be surprised if I write more regularly this year, I will have the time, sitting at the table with my candidates. This is how I will spend my optional slots. And that’s why i will say no to many events and activities.

In the words of Art Buchwald, ‘whether it’s the best of times of the worst of times, it’s the only time we got.’  I plan to make the best of it, at home, with my candidates.

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What Parents Say

What parents say survey

Camera 283I am writing a paper on how what parents say impacts our lives as adults. Please help me by sharing your experiences. Follow the link to complete the short anonymous survey.

Thank you

What parents say survey

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The words of a parent can build or break

Parents have a duty of care to children, and words they utter can build or break.

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Why you should talk to your 2 year old rather than take them for extra tuition when they are 14

It’s never too late to change, but it makes sense to start the way you mean to continue.  Are you struggling to get good academic results from your children? Many of us spend a lot of money on extra tuition for our children when they start preparing for exams  yet there are things we can take care of years before that to minimise the need for this investment. Here are 10 things that you do when your child is young that interfere with their ability learn optimally:


  1. You don’t take them out or play with them or facilitate play for them. You even scold the maid if she is caught outside playing with the baby! Spending time stimulating their senses helps children develop cognitively, linguistically, socially and emotionally, physically and creatively. It exercises the brain! Seen how babies are all eyes when they go into a new environment?
  2. You don’t talk to them. Speech and language are the tools humans use to communicate and share thoughts, ideas, and emotions. The most intensive period of speech and language development for humans is during the first three years of life. These skills appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others. If you don’t talk to your baby, they won’t learn how. Expressing oneself is a core part of learning. And don’t talk to them as if they are stupid.
  3. You are inconsistent. Consistency means that rules and expectations are the same from one time to another. Consistency makes the child’s world predictable and less confusing. It frees their minds of worry about what might happen and teaches them accountability for their actions. How will they learn there is a link between the effort they put in to pay attention, study and complete assignments, and the grades they get?
  4. You lie to them. “Ok sweetie, go get your shoes so that we go together”. As soon as the baby is out of sight, you drive off without them. Why should they believe you when you later give advice about studying and other things?
  5. You say one thing and do another. You threaten to take away their toys if they don’t put them away neatly, but you don’t. Soon they understand it’s all a game. So threatening to take away privileges when they don’t make the grade is just another game.
  6. You discredit their educators in their hearing. Children cannot learn from someone they disrespect. If you disregard and malign teachers and other educators in your child’s hearing you make it more difficult from them to learn.
  7. You don’t show them how – you rescue them. You do everything for your kids. You carry their school bag; you pay for drivers and maids and chefs; people to make sure they ‘don’t suffer like you did’. What about the lessons your ‘suffering’ taught you? What about the resilience your ‘suffering’ helped you build? Try getting a child who has ‘everything’ to give up something – like TV time, or an hour of sleep, or going out with friends – for study. It’s painful for them because they have never learnt how to exert themselves, or to delay gratification.
  8. You make academics a battle ground – nothing else matters. You congratulate them, or praise them or give them treats only for academic achievement. When they don’t do well you punish and abuse them. You don’t recognise any of their other talents and achievements. They are so stressed about trying to please you in this way, they cannot learn.
  9. You don’t grasp and use teachable moments. When your child gets teased on the playing field you go join the fight…instead of teaching them how to respond. When they are unable to do a sum, you do if for them, instead of showing them how (if you know, or asking the teacher to revisit the concept). When they make a mistake you berate them, instead of helping them learn from it. When you talk about your childhood, it’s gilded and perfect. Yet, when they get to a certain age, you expect them to engage in self-directed study, or some other stuff that you have never shown them how to do.
  10. Long before your child is 14 you have full control over what they eat, yet you don’t feed them right. Balanced nutrition to match the child’s developmental needs right from conception is critical. Did you know that a baby is born with all the brain cells they will need, but they are not connected? By 3 years the brain has developed 80% of its full capacity? Your child’s developing brain needs protein, or more specifically amino acids, to make neurotransmitters (the connections between cells). Calories provide your baby’s brain with the energy it needs to function properly. Fats are necessary for the development of your young child’s central nervous system, vision and intelligence. Certain vitamins and minerals impact the development of your young child’s brain. They include iron, zinc, copper, iodine, selenium, vitamin A, choline and folate. Iron is especially important, as studies have shown that children who were anaemic in younger years perform poorly on cognitive tests and have a harder time catching up when they enter school.

Invest in your baby before they are 2, when it make a critical difference, rather than paying for extra tuition at 14.

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Lotion bottles and why there’s more left in you than you think

Lotion botleI don’t like to throw out the lotion bottle until I am convinced it is truly empty. So when pumping doesn’t get the lotion out anymore, I begin to store the bottle upside down, then screw off the pump to dispense by tipping the bottle directly into my hand. When that no longer works, I begin shake the contents out. I will even run my finger into the bottle to scoop everything out that I can reach. I get many  additional lotion days out of doing this, so I know not to throw the bottle out when the pump doesn’t deliver anymore.

So it is with Life. There are ways of being or things we do routinely, or habitually, that usually work. But they don’t always work. Every now and then we are called to approach a common issue differently, or to give more of ourselves. It  often  means squeezing more out of ourselves when we think we haven’t got anything left. It’s trying one more time before we give up. It’s making one last push before we let go. And then, when we are spent, trying once again.

It is surprising how often we think we cannot go any further and then find, on looking back, how much further we did go.

Here are a few things you could do to reach those ‘deep-inside-reserves’ of whatever you need to go further:

  1. Take some time to cool off or re-energise before you try again. Fatigue gets in the way of giving your best. It’s the law of diminishing returns.
  2. Ask  the opinion of someone you haven’t asked before or someone you wouldn’t ordinarily ask.  It’s amazing what a different perspective can do to your motivation.
  3. Take a step back, like high jumpers do, to ensure that when you need to  jump you have built up the momentum to propel you over the bar.
  4. Start over. Knitters know that when you are knitting to a design or a pattern and you  make a  mistake you often need to undo what you did and start all over, otherwise your pattern will not come out right.
  5. Follow a different order. Some things follow a logical order, many don’t. If you have run out of steam you may just reconnect with your goal by doing  step 5 before step 2. Succeeding at step 5 will give you the impetus to go for step 2.
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My #Obamahomecoming Story and Why Foundations Matter

This past week was #Obamahomecoming all the way, and I, like many Kenyans, have my Obama story. I was out of the country all week before his arrival and wondered if that would mean my having to stay away longer. In the end, everything was handled very well.

My flight, due to arrive at the same time as Wuod Kogelo (Son of Kogelo), was delayed by an hour. Yes, only an hour. And I had 3 days’ notice that departure would be delayed by an hour, so I didn’t get to the airport and get disappointed.

Then, although the road that I use to get home was partially closed, I still arrived in decent time; in fact, it took a shorter while than usual.

On Saturday, I heard ‘Marine One’ thunder past, and teased my still sleeping family that they had missed The Beast on its way to Gigiri for the opening of the GE Summit. I was sorry to see many closed shops. It’s ironical that the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Obama’s homecoming coincided with lost revenues for business people. That was my downside.

Then on Sunday I packed a small picnic and left the house at 6.30am with my, thankfully, well-connected husband, through whom I was invited, to attend the address at the Kasarani sports centre.

Obama’s story gets me. And to be in the 0.0125% that got invited, wow, I am still glowing.

I have to say, though, the greatest part of this story for me, was the way he managed to come across as POTUS and Wuod Kenya in the same visit.

It started with dinner with the family (and, of course, western sceptics thought ‘a family of 30?’) Duh, you don’t get it because you don’t get that he is Ja Kogelo. He said it himself – the first Kenyan American POTUS!

And then he repeated that bit about his name, and how when he first landed in Kenya, someone recognised it, and immediately gave him a sense of identity. He belonged. He was someone. Here.

His sister made the contrast between her battered old VW 30 years ago and The Beast today, 2015. Such a simple metaphor for how ‘today is not tomorrow’, and, yes, Obama said it; “your past is not your future”.

He talked about dreams, and how each one of us can create our own, “right now, right here”. Looking at him, can you doubt that? I believe that he has worked his butt off to get to live his dream.

And I don’t doubt that, along the way, he has recognised and appreciated the people who nurtured, inspired and supported him. He shows gratitude.

To any person reading this, especially if you are young, I say, just in case you missed it, Obama went through bad times, had episodes of self-doubt, ignored detractors, and sought and listened to good advice.  He put in the hours. He faced his fears head on and didn’t dwell on what he didn’t have, or what was weird about him (imagine the teasing at school, funny name, big ears, no Daddy). He rolled up his sleeves and did something.

Mostly, though, would like you to take this away: he built strong foundations. He understood that in the end, it all comes out, and, for many years back then, worked to create content that would look good on his CV. That’s why he so confidently put in an application for POTUS, and got the job. Twice.

And, oh, he read his job description very carefully before he signed up.

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The Butchers Stone

BalanceThe butcher would place a stone equivalent to the weight of the meat you wanted to buy on the scale. Then he cut off a chunk of meat and put it on the plate. It was usually almost right, and with one little addition he perfected it. Sometimes he got it right in one go. Sometimes he added a little too much and the scale tilted in favour of the meat. Once in a while he needed to add two or three little pieces before he got it right. Always, however,  he gave you the weight that you asked for, the weight you paid for.

I like this image of a scale, and the actions of the butcher as he tries to get the balance right. After a long time in the business her has a knack for it, and knows just how much to cut off to get close to the desired weight. He only needs to tweak a little to get the balance right.

Much of our lives are like that. We know the what needs doing, and with a little adjusting here and there we can and do get it right.  It can become problematic if we are not flexible to make the required adjustments as we go along. If we expect ourselves to get it right first time all the time, we place a lot of stress on ourselves. If we are unwilling to make changes in order to get it right we fail more than we succeed.

The circumstances we find ourselves in determine the size of that first chunk that goes onto the weighing scale. Some situations call for bigger inputs   to start with. If you cut back on that effort you have to cut up more little pieces in order make the required ‘weight’. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you get the balance right. The point is, the better you get at sizing up the effort required upfront, the less shuffling and tweaking it will take to get you there. This releases resources for you to do something else.

How do you get better at sizing up the effort?

  1. Do your research. Taking time upstream to understand what is required will save you rework and duplicated effort downstream. It may mean starting later than you wanted, but it improves your chances of finishing well.
  2. Know yourself . Be aware of your strengths, and bring them to bear, as well as your weaknesses, which you can mitigate. Once you have done your research it is easy to see what gaps in your knowledge, skills, attitude or values you need to address in order to succeed at whatever you are pursuing
  3. Learn . It is never too late to learn. You don’t know everything. Sooner or later you come across something that you need to do for the first time. Even older, experienced people have firsts. Opening yourself up for learning expands your comfort zone and gives you confidence to tackle  new challenges.

The butcher doesn’t use stones and plates anymore. He has a digital scale, but the need to get the balance right is just as relevant today as it was back when.

Old fashioned weighing scales

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