Swapping on a Sunday

Yesterday was our 4th annual clothing swap!

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We ( Holly and I ) held our first swap the very first year we moved to Montreal. I had always wanted to hold one and finally got my act together and committed to it. With nothing but 4 clothing racks, 100 dry-cleaning hangers, 40 cupcakes and the secret ingredient…wine… we waited to see if anyone would come.


Well, come they did! With their jeans and blazers and shoes and scarves and purses and dresses. Armfuls of clothing, all pretty and pristine and ready for a new home.

A tradition was born.

We have observed some universal truths since that first swap.

We learned that people always bring more than they take. And that everyone has something in their closet with a tag on it.

That there are sizes for everyone. And that everyone loves shoes, shoes, shoes.

That teens need their own space to swap. And that moms love the teen space because we all buy our kids nicer clothes than we buy ourselves.

That the first time a swapper swaps, they are tentative and a little worried. The second time they swap? They are right in there at 2PM, ready for the first grab. 4th year? They do not even make it past the mannequin at the front door before finding something awesome ( yes, you can undress the mannequin…we do not have any stuck up store rules! ).

Cupcakes and brownies are the universal food of swapping…but all the grapes and tomatoes will disappear as well.

That there are swappers who love the dressing room. And swappers who never disrobe.  Ever. Not once in four years.

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 Why, when you can just fit that dress right over top!


We have honed some details since that first swap. We made a lot less rules. Tooling around on the internet ( yes, Pinterest ), I found that there are a lot of clothing swap rules. Hell, there was even a clothing swap where the hostess spelled out a dress code to best complement her clothing swap decor.

Nope. We are simple…bring the items sitting, lonely, in your closet that you would want your best friend to wear. The best of your unloved. The pieces you bought because you could not resist them…but that somehow let you down once you got home. You know how that happens. Too often. And then swap them,  allowing them find life again on someone else.

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We really believe that there is clothing waiting for everyone. Especially beautiful jackets that everyone coveted but…like in Cinderalla…was only meant for one!

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In the early years, the swap was totally and completely free.This year we switched that up. We had a dedicated charity and asked that every participant donate 5$ to the cause ( the Sheela Bal Bhavan School in Jaipar, India, if you are curious ). This was awesome and several hundred dollars was raised for an extraordinary cause. Girls helping girls.

And of course, as in the other years, all the left over clothing will be donated to charities supporting women. The teen clothes will go to teens in need  and to India with Holly’s trip. The casual clothes will go to young moms. The business clothing will go to women needing to revamp their wardrobes to re enter the work force. Women helping women.

And so as I look around at my post swap home, waiting to undress those racks and pack up the hangers for another year, I am smiling.

And already planning next year’s swap.

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Let me know if you want in on the fun, new swappers always welcome!

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Oh, this year, we had a photo booth. While this may come across as one of those over the top Pinterest fuelled ideas, let it be known that we had the backdrop and all the props on hand already. So only a little bit crazy. Teeny tiny bit cray cray. Kind of like the photos…

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a house in the sky

A House in the Sky

In August, five years ago, Canadian Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped with Australian Nigel Brennan in Somalia, as they traveled, writing and taking photos of their experiences.

In August, five years ago, I had just had Alex and was spending most of my nights awake, in a bleary, exhausted post partum haze and began following Amanda’s story. Late at night, I would search the internet for updates, hoping for good news, reading blogs that claimed to have answers as to where she was and wonder how on earth she would survive in such a desperate place. Amanda, prior to her kidnapping, was living a life that I found terribly appealing – travel, writing, adventuring…and then to have it snatched from her like that was heartbreaking. Her story would not leave me.

459 days after that day in August, Amanda and Nigel were freed. I celebrated with a glass of wine that night, willing that Amanda would be okay. Freedom finally, but what kind of survivor would it take to overcome the days and lifetime lost in captivity?

This August, in a serendipitous moment, I won an advance copy of Amanda’s book, ‘A House in the Sky‘, written with Sara Corbett, from goodreads. I actually took a breath before opening it.

See, Amanda, upon her return, did not disappear into the shadows. She took her experience and decided to create change that would directly impact the lives of the very community and country that so changed hers. Far from spewing hatred towards her captors, Amanda took a road of forgiveness ( admittedly not an easy one ), recognizing that her captors were born into the violence they inflicted on her and that no good could come of any of her suffering and loss if nothing changed.

Amanda, months after returning home, founded the Global Enrichment Foundation. Originally focusing on educational initiatives for women in Somalia, this foundation continues to create development and aid in Somalia and Kenya to this day.

This is the background that I had, upon opening ‘A House in the Sky‘. I think I anticipated a harrowing account of her time, with well chosen words but with things left unsaid. Perhaps that is what I had hoped for, because sometimes not knowing grants you a certain permission to not feel as deeply as you should.

What I fell into immediately was the honest and raw story of a woman and her family. From the opening chapter, Amanda threw away any pretense of dancing around her life and how she ended up where she did and, ultimately, where she is today. Her story details the depths of loyalty and love and how you survive when both are challenged in ways you think unimaginable. And when the unimaginable becomes the reality, how Amanda finds the way to keep her mind and self intact is a testament to the strength of women in turmoil and desperate times everywhere. The idea that there is a house in the sky for every person, a place so filled with love that it’s non reality  overshadows and envelopes the sadness and pain of a reality is beautiful. What drove Amanda into the rooms and hallways of  that house in the sky will leave you shaking and angry.

I thought I knew Amanda’s story. I saw her speak in Ottawa a few years ago, and actually ran into her in the washroom before her talk. She had just come from an interview, where the interviewer had pushed her on areas of her captivity that she was not sharing at the time, admitting that the event had thrown her a bit and that she needed a minute to regroup. Her honesty and reaction to this unkindness ( my word for what the interviewer did  ) but willingness to continue with her talk that evening should have been an indication of the power that this woman has inside her. Amanda went on to move an entire room of people minutes later, speaking candidly and with a raw hopefulness that astounded me.

This raw voice of hers is found  in ‘A House in the Sky‘. And it is powerful. No detail of her captivity is left wanting…you can smell and taste the rooms where they were held, you can feel the pages of the books she turns.  Amanda writes about a woman in her book, a stranger who fought for Amanda with no thought for her own safety, acting with the understanding that to not act would have been such a great wrong, that the sisterhood they shared, even as strangers, was valuable and undeniable. You can see her eyes. Amanda honours this woman with her foundation, hoping that kindness and education ( and aid and development ) will somehow shift the terrible situation that produced the terror Amanda lived. And survived.

There is so much more here, in this book. Friendship, love, choices, determination, self worth, the drive to survive is all bound up in a terrifying but ultimately freeing story. And that it was and is real? Experienced by a 27 year old Canadian woman? Almost unimaginable.

Go anywhere. Fall in love. Make mistakes. Be kind. Forgive. Know that you are strong enough. Make change. Be hopeful. These are the thoughts I am left with, after closing the book. There are others of course – the baseness of human brutality, cultural realities that scare me, how governments work in our lives, the role of women in society, the feeling that there is so much work to be done in so many places. In all this, Amanda leaves her readers with hope, hope for change and hope that despite what she has been through that life holds for her so much more yet.

I have never written a book review before. I hope that I have not held back too much on  the story that Amanda and Sara have shared. Many details can be found on the internet and in newspaper clippings, but the depth of what this woman has survived should be experienced. Many of you have followed this story for years, with me. Know that the full story only moves you more deeply.

A House in the Sky‘ will be released on September 3rd, 2013 and you find out how to get it here

If you are so inclined, you can learn more about The Global Enrichment Foundation here and follow them on twitter