Friday, December 31, 2010

On Looking Back

I'm not much for looking back. Don't get me wrong, I'm one of the first to jump on Facebook memes like "My Year in Status" but in general, I find that it is more useful to look forward in life. Still, it's important to look back every now and then, whether it's on the first day of spring, on your birthday, at the end of the academic or calendar years, or even at Thanksgiving.

The point of looking back is not to re-live the good times and get down on the bad ones. For me, it's an opportunity to learn from past experiences and be thankful for all the progress I've made, to see how far I've come and where I now stand on the path (or new path?) that will lead me to my goals - and my future - whatever they may be. Whether or not you believe in destiny, I think we can all agree that every now and then, it's good to take stock.

So what tools have I added to my trusty toolbox of life skills in 2010?

Patience. Accepting that some things will never change. Spontaneity. Letting go and learning to truly relax. Venting in private. Trusting my instincts, even when they're saying things I don't want to hear, let alone believe. Rekindled family relations. ENJOYING life, and each and every moment in it, without over-thinking and stressing out over everything's significance.

Quite honestly, I'm still working on fine-tuning a lot of those skills. But I'm getting much better at being a better person, and at being the bigger person.

This past year, I volunteered at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler. I finally met my Irish aunt, who has become one of my dearest family members, and my cousins too!

I went to Cuba for the first time. In fact, that's where I rang in the new year, by the ocean.

I did excellent work for an ethical and needy cause by providing media services (and so much more!) as part of the World Partnership Walk organizing committee in Montreal.

I rediscovered nature: oceans and forests, animals and snow, through travel and sport. I had a wonderful time with the outdoors this year and hope to spend even more time enjoying it in 2011.

I visited Kingston, then moved to Kingston upon being accepted into the Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport programme at Queen's University.

I worked for new clients, made new contacts, and learned a lot more about the world of live sports and broadcast production. I also made some great new friends in the industry.

I translated some very interesting museum exhibitions - and forgot to visit the finished product, every time.

I was in Toronto for G20 madness and a wedding, one of many weddings I attended that summer.

I saw friends and friends of friends get engaged, married, and have babies. Not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily the same friends. Many of my friends also started cool new jobs. It was an emotional struggle for me to balance my happiness and excitement for them with my irrational jealousy and "want".

I did a whole lot more reading, at first for pleasure and then for business. Or rather, for school. I hope that 2011 will bring more balance in this area - I would really like to get back to reading for fun!

I went to my first academic conference in a while - and my first as an attendee, rather than as a reporter. NASSS was a wonderful intellectual experience and I learned a lot from it.

In fact, in 2010, I learned a lot about myself, from optimal study habits, to spending habits, to TV-watching habits, to my friend-making habits. And possibly, the most important thing I learned is that "friendship" means different things to different people, and that once you figure out what kind of friendship you have, you can manage expectations and figure out exactly how much to invest in it so you don't get hurt.

Still, I learned that it is important to take (moderate) risks in life or you won't reach the targets you set for yourself.

In 2011, I vow to take more of those moderate risks, to be more proactive, and to stop trying to figure out my life, what things mean, and why certain things happen and just live. I will keep trying to be more patient and will accept that there are some things I can't change, at least not by attacking them head on.

In other words, I will continue to live my life and let my experiences guide the person I should become. I will take care of myself, body, mind and spirit, so I can thrive in this world, no matter where it takes me. I will not make a New Year's Resolution, but I will keep this promise to myself:

No matter what happens, doors will close. But don't despair! In time, another will open. It's up to me to find it and decide whether or not to go through it. But through it all, I will stay "me".

This mantra of sorts has become my new unspoken philosophy in life. It's time to face up, face the facts, and roll with it. Life will take care of itself as long as you try your best to be the best that you can be.

May this lesson from 2010 guide me into 2011. And may it be another blessed year full of life and love, for me and for you.

Happy New Year to all! :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the spirit of the season

Christmas time and the winter holidays are often said to be full of seasonal glee and spirit. The spirit of giving, that is. Between buying and receiving presents, making charitable donations, and spreading Christmas cheer, we're all supposed to feel merry and bright. But has the spirit of the season become yet another consumerist trend?

A few days ago, I saw someone post on Twitter that in the spirit of the season, he/she had picked up some trash on the street. Maybe it's just me, but I think a responsible citizen who cares about his or her neighbourhood should beautify it all the time. I also think he or she shouldn't pollute it in the first place, but that's another story entirely.

That's my issue with Christmas spirit. Shouldn't we be nice every day? Shouldn't we give generously to less fortunate people all year 'round? And quite honestly, shouldn't we not give presents out of obligation but rather out of love? Just because it's that time of the year, and especially if the recipient doesn't need or want anything in particular, why go crazy running around in malls? It seems even more ridiculous when the effort of finding the right present and the act of giving it with all the best intentions is not appreciated by the recipient. Why bother? Isn't giving all about seeing the warm glow of appreciation, excitement and thankfulness on that person's face when they discover the nature of the present?

When I am a parent, I will make sure that my children understand the values of being thankful and appreciative, of giving to people in need, and that the accumulation of things isn't the key to being happy and successful. On special occasions, my children will receive several presents, all for things they need or want and that are reasonably priced and appropriate for their age. Then, they will have to choose one of their new presents and personally donate it to someone who needs it more than they do, whether it's a friend who can't afford that gift or someone less fortunate than them whom they may not know personally, but who will greatly benefit from their new gift. Humility needs to be taught.

It is perhaps the value which we have abandoned the most in today's society. Charitable donations are down, both in amount and number, and people are increasingly selfish. They think they are in need, but in reality, most of them are just in want. While we lament about our first world problems, there are people less than a 30-minute drive away who are starving, who truly can't afford to live. They're striving to simply survive. And I don't mean that they can't afford to pay rent because they go out to dinner twice a week. I mean that they live paycheck-to-paycheck and do groceries at the Dollar Store. These are people we cross in the street every day and barely notice as different. Some of these people might work with you or serve you coffee every morning. Do you think they only deserve cheer at Christmas time? Do you, for that matter?

Love, compassion and sharing shouldn't be restricted to certain periods of the year. It should be ingrained in our personalities. It should be in our nature. After all, it's only human to care. So this year, my Christmas wish is that we spread holiday spirit all throughout the year. Making someone happy is possibly the best present you can ever give, wouldn't you say?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

On December

Wow. Has it really been that long?

December has been a bit of a whirlwind so far. I can't believe we're already less than a week away from Christmas! Soon, I'll be going home for the holidays. But it won't be a vacation!

Thankfully, I finally finished grading all of my assigned section of the final exam for the class I was TA-ing this semester. It was interesting, and I probably know all the right answers by heart now, but it was a rough ride as well. It broke my heart to deduct points from students who had nearly perfect answers, filled with more information than necessary - showing that they did understand the material - but, unfortunately, forgot to mention one crucial aspect of the answer. For example, that a diagnostic tool in determining drug and alcohol addiction focuses on both physical and psychological factors, or that a treatment addresses attitude and behaviour. I also had to give a few "0" but for those, it really wasn't my fault... I just couldn't justify giving any points!

These second year students also had serious grammatical, sentence structure, and subject-verb agreement issues. My biggest pet peeve for this round of grading? Affect vs. effect. It's really not that hard. I mean, there's even an Oatmeal poster about it! Print it out and hang it across from your desk! There were a few other glaring errors that popped up repeatedly - surprisingly not its/it's or there/their too often - but that one was surely the most annoying one, especially considering the subject matter: The effect of drugs and alcohol and how they affect our overall health.

This afternoon, once I had handed those exams back to the professor, I felt light as a feather and free as air! But unfortunately, it's not all fun and games from here! I've got my first graduate-level paper due... whenever. Sometime before I graduate. Preferably by the end of this academic year. Surprisingly (to me), paper deadlines seem to be pretty relaxed at this level. Still, I have a very busy semester this Winter (2.5 classes + TAing a tutorial + a conference), so I'm planning on getting mine done before next semester starts. I've already compiled a list of readings relating to Michel Foucault's interpretations of power - especially in the later years - and am planning on relating that concept to athletes who tweet. Who really holds the power in that situation, I ask?

I've already done a decent amount of reading, but there's still a lot left to explore. I've indexed it all, and I, in theory, know exactly how much work I have left to do. The trouble is getting through it all. After sitting on the couch for a full day reading heavy theory and its mostly political applications rather than the sports ones I'm looking for, you tend to have a hard time focusing. Your brain gets all mumbled and jumbled and you forget what you're actually thinking about and nothing makes sense anymore. Even after a few breaks, it still feels all confused. The trick is realising that it's really not that big a deal, or that important a concept, and letting it slide through you and hoping it'll absorb through osmosis. Once you hit that wall and remember to pull back from the subject matter you're examining, it actually does start to make some kind of sense, I find. Hopefully, the notes I'm taking aren't too much copy-pasting to be particularly relevant, and re-reading them at the end of my research process will give me a good recap of the situation.

My Christmas vacation, therefore, will not be much of a vacation at all. I'll take some time to relax, take in the joys of the season and spend time with my family. But mostly, I will be sitting on the couch, reading about Foucault and power, before coming home to write my paper and handing it in a good 5 days before the Winter semester starts.

Well, that's the plan, at least.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On taking the time to go out

Most college students don't have issues taking the time to go out and have fun. It's right there at the top of their to-do list, between finding money for rent and trying not to fail out of school.

For me, it's not so easy. Those who know me well know that I'm a 40-year old trapped in a young adult's body. In other words, I'm a serious one. I focus on school work and work work and procrastinating against house work. To be fair, I'm also pretty lazy about actually leaving the house - especially if it involves walking in the cold or at night. Plus, although I'm a late sleeper and riser, I'm very much a homebody. I may not go to bed for 4 hours, but ideally, I like being home by 10 PM. Told you I was an old soul!

All of this to say that I haven't really been taking the time to socialise and enjoy Kingston. Ironically, I think I've seen less of my favourite spots in Kingston since I moved here than in the (total of) 3 weeks or so that I'd previously visited the city. It's sad, I know.

Part of this was getting used to a new environment and remembering all my academic studying tips. Part of it is also my cautiousness when it comes to making friends. I may appear to be an extrovert, but truly, deep down, I'm very much an introvert! And as my friend Mehnaz said so well in this post, introverts tend to be slightly invisible due to their choices. That's certainly how I've been feeling in relation to the other people in my Grad programme, though by no fault of their own! I'm just not a partygoer, and I don't spend a lot of time at school because I work better from home. Understandably, I haven't formed strong bonds with most anybody.

Last week, something changed in me. Maybe it's because I felt more at ease with my workload and the material we've been covering in class. Maybe it's because it's the end of the semester and I just needed to get out. Either way, I decided to jump feet first into socialising and attend Kingston's annual Nighttime Santa Claus Parade. There would be no excuses, even if it was going to be dark and the forecast read COLD! And boy, did I have fun! Parades are always great because you can really get into the celebration as each float goes by, and seeing the excitement in the eyes of the little kids attending really enhances the experience for me. Plus, this one was filled with Christmas cheer and pretty lights - two of my favourites, especially at this time of the year!

I had a wonderful time. To top it all off, a friend and I finally dined at The Tango Restaurant, which I've been dying to return to ever since I checked out their online menu - and their new cocktail list. The whole night sparkled with winter magic and the late walk home was refreshing and invigorating.

Last night, I continued the trend of actually enjoying myself in my town and went out with some of the girls from our programme following our bi-weekly Grad Seminar. Once again, I had a great time, full of stimulating conversation that wasn't argumentative, and laughter! This casual hanging-out made me realise the importance of spending time with others to build bonds. Facebook and school work is nice and all, but they don't spawn friendships. And how else am I going to break out of my introvert shell? My walk home was full of inner smiles and feelings of "I should do this more often."

This time, hopefully, I'll stick to that thought.

PS: Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On California and NASSS

Last week, I escaped the cold winter temperatures of Kingston, ON and made my way to sunny California with a couple of school colleagues. We spent 2.5 days in Los Angeles, and stayed with my family in their gorgeous new house I'd never before seen. Located in a gated community at more or less the highest point of the San Fernando Valley, the house offered a great view of the sunrise, which I enjoyed on my full first day in LA. It was absolutely amazing to wake up with the sun, and thankfully, I could enjoy it without being completely exhausted. Yey for reverse jet lag!

Tuesday was also a full day of outlet shopping, which was both fruitful and exhausting. Also, I had an In-N-Out burger... sorta. I panicked upon hearing "Thousand Island spread" and opted for ketchup and mustard instead. To use a Twitter term, #FAIL!

On this day, I fell in love with Charlotte Russe (the store) and I'm planning on visiting the Watertown, NY location as often as I can! That night, I went out for sushi with my cousins. Instead of stuffing our respective faces with yummy raw fish rolls, we ate well and were just as full. This place was so great! In fact, we had our meal next to Nicole Richie and Rachel Zoe... You can check off "celebrity encounter" on the LA dream vacation list!

Wednesday, we did a quick Hollywood/Beverly Hills/celebrity homes tour, which was both dull and interesting. It would have been much more fun to see places where shows and movies were filmed rather than where the actors and actresses live. Or rather, the shrubbery and gates they use to keep the paparazzi out. Then, we caught the train to San Diego for the start of our NASSS (North American Society for the Sociology of Sport) experience. Fortunately, we missed the train we wanted to take and saw the sun set over the ocean on the way. Absolutely stunning!

From Thursday to Saturday, I spent most of my time doing conference stuff, from attending sessions, events, and activities to meeting and speaking with some very interesting people across the various sport studies disciplines. I was especially thankful to meet some great people in Sports Management, as well as some key names in the study of hockey. Hopefully, we will stay in touch and our relationships will be fruitful for both sides. I'm looking forward to catching up with some of them in June at the NASSM (North American Society for Sport Management) conference in London, ON.

Though our hotel was far from the main touristy areas, I did take some time to explore Old Town (though mostly at night), the Gaslamp Quarter (again, at night) and downtown/Horton Plaza, as well as the NBC building across the street, where I caught a local newscast from the studio/control room.

Yes, there was lots of shopping on this trip. I spent way too much money getting things that I've been wanting or needing for a while, like a winter jacket or that camel-coloured purse I've been searching for, as well as key basics that are impossible to find at decent prices in Canada. Needless to say, I'm really going to enjoy those Watertown shopping trips, and I'm going to take them more often than not when I'm looking for something specific and can't afford to pay out of my eyeballs for it. It doesn't help that I have issues with paying more for something than it's actually worth. It's why I have such a hard time resisting sales, like the deal I got for 2 pairs of sandals at $21 (one at $10 and one at $15 PLUS 50% off when you buy two pairs) or the JC Penney "Buy one, get one for $1" doorcrashers deal I encountered on Saturday. Simply amazing.

Even though one of my goals was to make it to the beach and swim in the ocean again, I didn't quite get to do that. I did walk briefly in the sand at Pacific Beach - so soft! - but my ocean experience was limited. Time was too short and distances were too great, though one can argue that they're much greater now. We did make it to the San Diego Zoo, however, and I spent the whole day wandering around feeling both thrilled and sad. Some of the animals I was seeing for the first time; others, like spider monkeys, are favourites I love to visit at the zoo. However, despite all its conservation efforts in the wild, the SD Zoo does a very poor job at providing adequate space for the animals to live, and I was shocked to see how little some of the mesh cages were. Because even though they didn't have solid bars, they were definitely cages. And some animals were certainly bummed by the knowledge that they couldn't thrive. It was especially noticeable in the eagles and some of the monkeys. Plus, all the big cats were pacing back and forth. This could have been feeding time anticipation, but I observed this behaviour throughout the day. It almost made me cry to see them that way. Overall, the Zoo is worth a visit, especially to see more unique animals for our climate, like the koalas and pandas, but I'm much more likely to re-visit the Toronto or Granby zoos, which at least provided ample space for the animals to flourish.

Despite a few not-so-positive experiences throughout the trip - scamming cabbie, hotel location, jet lag on the way back - the only true negative is the frustrating cab ride on our last night in San Diego, which I will not get into because I'd much rather forget it happened. No one got hurt - except for our wallets - but it was not an enjoyable experience at all. Lesson learned: triple check that the driver has understood where you want to go and is not taking you where he thinks you want to go and carry a map so you can point out that the error was much more costly than the fare originally would have been. Insert Twitter tag: #LAME!

I'm proud to say that given the relatively low cost of flying to California from Syracuse Airport, I'm more likely than not to make a repeat trip in the coming years. Plus, San Diego seems like my kind of town, even if it doesn't have an NHL franchise. My NASSS experience was wonderful too, and I can't wait to (hopefully) present a paper at next year's conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which, by the way, is an excellent hockey town.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On calluses

Ah, calluses! You build them up, you bite them off, then build them up all over again.

Of course, I'm talking about the calluses on your fingers. It's probably unsanitary to bite off the calluses on your feet, and gross too. Calluses, as you probably know, are a thickened area of skin that has become hard due to irritation or pressure or repetitive use. For example, some people get calluses on their middle fingers from writing too much - I remember those from grade school essay/exam periods! Most people get calluses on their feet: the body's attempt to prevent the formation of blisters. Athletes get calluses too - whether it's from the monkey bars in the park, rock climbing, or rowing, to name but a few.

Everyone grows calluses at some point in their life. Sometimes, you're proud of them - like when it doesn't hurt to lace up your skates anymore. Sometimes, you'd rather not have them at all - like when they're painful or turn into corns. But usually, calluses are good for you.

I've developed a set of calluses on my fingers that I'm particularly proud of. They come from playing the guitar, an exercise that I keep trying to get into but often tend to neglect when "life" happens. I'm happy to say that since living in Kingston and arguably taking on more tasks, chores and responsibilities than ever before - at least in my personal life - I have been able to find more time for guitar playing.

I have been working on my chords, on musical sequences (or as I like to call them "switching fast"), as well as on picking. The latter needs a whole lot more work. The rest is progressing nicely. Recently, I figured out that I was playing the G chord wrong. I was hitting all the right spots but found it hard to "switch" from a G to a Bm, for example. It wasn't that my finger placement was wrong, per se. It's just that in some (many) cases, there was a more optimal placement option. My version works best for G-C-D songs, and playing with simple chords that are located on the first few frets. Throw in a chord that needs to be barred, like something in the F family, and I had a hard time making the switch in time.

Still, the fact that after all these years of attempting to get better at the guitar I've finally reached this level of understanding of my playing habits makes me ecstatic. It's going to take a lot of practice to break the habit, but at least I know what I need to work on. This means that I am not only finding the time to take care of myself outside of work (and by work, I mean school work, volunteer work, household work and paid work), but also that I'm finding the time to disconnect from technology and all that it encompasses (aka the pressures of deadlines, to-do lists, and social media) and reconnecting with my artistic side, and therefore, with myself.

It's interesting how once you open the door for music or any other form of art, you see poetry all around you. Life becomes lighter and more enjoyable, and high pressure situations are no longer do-or-die. Being one with my guitar, even if it's just for one hour a week, has sprouted some hope in me. Not the kind of hope that you get from seeing everyday life as beautiful - that I get all the time. Well, most of the time.

I'm talking about the hope that comes from knowing that in that moment, when you're fully immersed in the music, even if you're focusing on playing the chord just right and remembering the right lyrics and executing it all properly... for that one moment, there is nothing that matters other than you.

Just you. There is no outside pressure, no one tugging at your shirtsleeve (not even your subconscious!) and most importantly, there is a sense of peace and acceptance that this moment is as it is and cannot be changed or controlled or extended. It is, then it was, and it never will be again... and that's not a bad thing.

I think that it's important to find the trigger for this kind of appreciation of life and the space-time continuum. (Yes, I had to make this post somewhat geeky!) When I first started approaching yoga as a combination of physical activity and mind relaxation, I would get this same sort of feeling in the middle of a particularly stretchy sequence of cat & dog (or cat & cow, if that's how you like to call it.) But after time, that disappeared.

I am delighted to have once again found a trigger for this special moment and would like to speculate that it seems to require an enlightenment of more than one function - whether it's the mind/body duality or the music/learning combination. It needs to have both a work and relaxation aspect in order to be powerful. I'm sure some of you are thinking of sex right about now, but I would encourage everyone to find their own trigger aside from sex, which, clearly, does not always leave one with the hassle-free mind we're seeking, or the world would be even more overpopulated than it already is. Find something that calms you and brings you to your sense of oneness. Embrace the moment and harvest the rewards you will get from investing time and effort into that activity, whatever it may be.

And on that note, I'm off to restore some balance into this day by playing some guitar. Burn, calluses, burn!

Friday, October 01, 2010

On life as a grad student

So far, life as a grad student has been pretty good. I've gotten into a home routine that's been keeping my tummy full and my apartment pretty clean, and I'm finally over a series of sickness: allergies, ear infection, cold. It was a pretty depressing time, but at least it allowed me to get used to my environment and understand the resources I have at my disposal... Like which TV channels I get!

In terms of school itself, there's been a lot more reading than I expected. Of course, I did expect a fair amount of work, but for some reason, I thought it might be a bit more assignment-based, kind of like in undergrad programmes. The reading isn't too bad, mostly because the texts are new to me and interesting. Well, most of them. Every week, there's at least one super long, boring, overly-jargoned, hard-to-read text. And by super long, I mean at least 26 pages of photocopied left and right book pages.

Thankfully, I think I've nailed down a reading technique that works for me. First off, I work best on my couch, at home. Not at my desk or in a coffee shop, but on the couch. Go figure!! Working at the office at school is also okay, but only when I need a change of scenery. It doesn't work well on a regular basis, not because it's too loud, but because it's too quiet!

Also, I've discovered that reading off a .pdf works best, unless I'm reading directly from a book. With the .pdf, I can highlight and mark up the text without ruining it, and it's easy to refer to it later on, during class. For the class in which I have to read books, I've been using different-coloured sticky markers to save pages with important discourses on the various topics I'm tracking, and that seems to be working fairly well too. At the end of the book, reading or chapter, if it's an essay collection, I always try to write a few notes on my impressions, questions and the important lines of thinking in the text.

Overall, I think I'm doing a pretty good job at staying on top of things. My next objective is to start incorporating more physical activity in my routine, once my (new) physio clears me for some more active movements. Unfortunately, my plan to bike around town hasn't worked out so well, mostly because the main streets I need to take are pretty bumpy and therefore jarring for my knee, which then causes pain. Still, I'm hoping that I'll be able to build up my strength again so that maybe, by the winter, I'll be able to take part in some cool snow sports again.

And on that note... Time to get back to award applications and readings!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

On jammed frequencies

If you live in Kingston, ON and have a Bell or TELUS GSM phone, chances are you're experiencing some technical difficulties: dropped calls, failed calls, delayed text messages... I know I am.

I called in a technical ticket and should have an answer by Tuesday. Meanwhile, the problem hasn't been resolved. In fact, it may have gotten worse.

Every time I try to make a call, whether local or long distance, it fails. It'll fail five or six times before going through, and then, though I haven't moved, the call will drop after a couple of minutes of airtime. It's very tough to have a decent conversation, which is super frustrating. In fact, it totally sucks.

The TELUS rep at the store downtown was much more helpful than the 611 technicians in explaining the nature of the problem to me. It seems that these issues arise yearly, which is something the phone techs are not necessarily aware off. When all the Queens students come back to town, the population of Kingston, ON doubles. To make matters worse, the new influx of cell signals is concentrated to the downtown core. This causes the cell towers to be completely overloaded, especially because GSM signals* aren't as strong as the old CDMA and other non-SIM card technologies. To make matters worse, TELUS hasn't put up its own towers in Kingston yet, so all non-Rogers 3G customers are dependant on the proper functioning of the shared Bell towers. Clearly, they do not have the capacity to provide proper service to all those who want it, and I will be asking for a partial refund on my service.

At least the @TELUSSupport rep on Twitter was helpful in letting us know that they were experiencing text message delays on the HSPA network. At least this means the text messages are actually going through and coming in - unlike yesterday - just not in a timely fashion.

If you're in the same situation as I am, don't despair! Apparently, the network traffic overload will be lessened in a week or so and in the next couple of days, everything should be back to normal. Hopefully.

* Please excuse any terminological errors... This isn't my field of expertise!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Unpacking

Moving to Kingston was a breeze, thanks to all the help I got from my family. The whole day went super smoothly, and by the time everyone left after dinner, my place actually looked respectable and lived-in rather than a chaotic post-move danger zone. Sure, there were (and still are!) loads of boxes to unpack, but all the furniture was built and placed where it was supposed to be.

Making a floor plan in advance really helped with the move because all I had to do was draw a quick replica and tape it to the wall for everyone to see where things were meant to go. In my opinion, this was the single most important thing I could have done to ensure an easy moving day for my dedicated helpers.

Personally, my greatest tool has been the spreadsheet I created featuring all my moving boxes, their major contents, where they should be placed, and whether it was important to unpack them first or not. This list has been essential in my unpacking process. Looking for a cable? Check the electronics box, aka L8 (Living Room box 8), says the spreadsheet. It's also been a great procrastination tool because I don't have to open it all up to find what I'm looking for!

Today is the last of the big move days. I've already done the first grocery shopping and all my utilities are set up, but today, I receive my dinning room table and get the last few supplies/appliances I need. After that, I won't have any excuses not to empty those boxes!

Hopefully, I can get 'er done before the weekend. Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Moving


Less than four days until moving day and there's still so much to do! A lot of it involves sorting or shoving everyday items or clothing into boxes and bags, but the mess in here makes it seem a whole lot worse than it probably is. That and the tic-toc of the clock.

My last week in Montreal is full of meetings, social commitments and appointments, from the CUAA to physio to using up a spa gift certificate I won from The Social Woman before the move. That massage will definitely relieve some stress and relax my aching body.

And of course, there's #gnoccup, my last adventure in Montreal before my home address officially changes. It's not that I haven't lived elsewhere before, it's just that I haven't lived outside of Montreal for more than a month at a time. This is a big one, but I'm sure it will be fine... As long as I'm done packing!

This is why I had my going-away party nearly a month in advance... Time really does go by quickly, especially when you sacrifice not 7 but 8 days to working tennis. Those rain delays definitely put a damper on things, and that extra packing day probably would have helped me feel less panicky now. Although, who am I kidding? We all know I'd have procrastinated just as much. It must be a journo thing... We need impending deadlines to spring into action.

And on that note... Time to get back to packing! My next blog post will be the first of hopefully many from my new home in Kingston, ON. I can't wait to see what happens!

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 08, 2010

On friendship

I just had the best day ever. Well, maybe not ever ever, but today was absolutely wonderful. I feel so loved and complete and... me.

August 8, 2010 actually started with me at a wedding reception for a girl I grew up with in the same community group. It was a night full of traditions, old and new to me too, and the bride and groomed looked so happy and right for each other, together. The food - yes, we were still eating around midnight - was pretty good too.

After a good 7 hours of sleep, I got a phone call from a long lost friend I'd seen earlier this week. She was driving by on her way to Toronto and stopped in for a quick chat and Timmy's. Any past negative feelings dissipated - I guess I AM mature now! - and it was a natural and comfortable moment of friendship.

I then proceeded to be even more mature - cleaning the house for my guests before what was to be a BBQ/Board Games/Pool Party/Going Away party but, due to the weather, became a Hurry Up and Grill Those Burgers So We Can Get Out of The Rain/Board Games/Going Away party. I also am proud to say that I, who is not super smart in the kitchen, decided to make some yummy salmon even though I wasn't going to eat it today, because otherwise it would go bad. More maturity right there!

Then, another friend dropped by with some banana bread for the party since she could only stop by much later due to conflicting commitments. We had a great little chat while I made sure I didn't burn the rice. I also managed to get out of the house in time to run my errands and pick up some friends and get back home before everyone else showed up. I know it sounds silly, but when you've got loads to do, it's easy to get distracted and start running late. This time, I was more or less on time and felt like a grown-up for it.

Last but certainly not least, we had loads of fun at the party, despite the heavy rain and the power outage mid-way through the night. Trust me, playing Munchkin by candlelight is not an easy task, but we did it and everyone seems to have had a blast anyway!

The food was great, the company was great, and overall, I had a wonderful, amazing, perfect, responsible evening and the most awesome, full day in a very very very long time. And I feel so very loved by all my fantastic friends in Montreal. I didn't think I was going to feel so nostalgic, now that it's almost over, but I'm pretty sure I'm gonna miss you guys.

Thank you so much for blessing me with such a wonderful day, all of you. It was an absolutely perfect going away present! I'm going to ride this loving feeling all the way to Kingston.

Friday, August 06, 2010

On the Future of TV News

With reports of journalism jobs being hard(er) to find and discussions at conferences like the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications's annual convention, people in the news industry can't help but wonder about the future. Not just their individual futures but their industry's future.

It's a discussion we've had before, on various platforms and from various points of view. The conclusion remains that we don't know what the future will look like. We just know that it will be different.

I'd like to take a look at what is commonly referred to as journalism's main enemy: the Internet. Why does it work? Because it's customizable. It's targeted. Similarly, which TV stations/networks/coverage tend to make the most cash (and therefore survive longer)? Specialised stations and shows. Things like live sports, or channels dedicated to a single interest, like home design and renovations or fashion. These networks survive because they've found a niche market and they're feeding off of it, both in terms of ratings and ads - it's a targeted "sure thing" investment opportunity.

How does this apply to TV news? Journalists usually agree that all consumers should have access to a source of news that will educate and inform them as well-rounded citizens. In other words, just because your main interest is the stock market doesn't mean you shouldn't know what's going on in Parliament. But let's be honest. After the first five minutes or so of political news, you'll probably switch channels. A good news network will try to keep you watching despite your lack of interest, by using teases, for example. But that's not a commercially viable long-term strategy to retain your attention.

The only way TV news is going to survive in a future overtaken by the Internet, PVRs and "On Demand" is to give consumers what they want, and now. That, for lack of a better word, is what they want. So why not give it to them?

It's not just sports or specialised channels that draw audiences in. News events do the same. Remember #Obamawa? What about the #H1N1 scare or #Haiti aid or, the latest big issue, the BP oil spill? What do these things have in common?

People want to know. They want to know everything and they want to know it now. They just can't get enough coverage and they'll watch several news cycles on several news networks to get their fix. This effectively creates a niche market for information on this issue. But after a day or so, most of the viewers think enough is enough.

What is the future of TV news? Feed the monster. But only if it's hungry.

Every time an event or issue temporarily overtakes the news market, create a specialised "On Demand" stream that will broadcast anything and everything that has to do with the subject. Whether it's NASA's latest space mission or Canada Day, a natural disaster or a political faux-pas, create an individualised stream and feed the monster.

Most of the networks already do it online. Those who know about it and have access to the Internet at the peak of their interest will routinely stream press conference feeds or sporting event coverage. Currently, the networks offer these services for free, mostly because consumers won't pay for a service they're already paying for, whether they consider that to be their cable TV or Internet. Also, most people aren't comfortable paying for any kind of information on the Internet because they're certain they can get it somewhere for free.

But can anyone guarantee a high-quality, uninterrupted, 24h specialised stream? Not on the Internet. Not yet, anyway. But on TV? They've pretty much got it down.

My suggestion - and I want to note that I haven't crunched the numbers on this since broadcast finances are not something I'm familiar with - is to provide that specialised stream on cable TV. Users with a digital box can simply call up their provider (or use self-serve menus) and add CBC News Network 2 or 3 or 4 (for example), depending on which major news story they would like to follow non-stop. The subscription would automatically expire once the story and coverage dies down, or the user could call and cancel it at any time. Set a one-time subscription fee of under $5 per story/stream - my suggestion is somewhere around $3 plus any applicable taxes - and a minimum subscription period of 48 hours, and I'm sure people will pick up on it. I would.

The network would have to broadcast several signals, but since we're switching to digital anyway, it probably wouldn't put too much of a dent in the budget. Getting CRTC clearance is another story.

And what kind of coverage would our reduced newsrooms offer to their new avid customers? Live streams of any of the gazillions of press conferences going on about the topic, interspersed with airport-style "breaking news" segments recorded in a centralised studio, potentially by anchors assigned only to that specific developing news topic or perhaps by the anchor on shift recording for all the specialised channels. You could also throw in live hits from the network reporters on location assigned to the story, interviews with experts and people affected by the story, and related pre-packaged reports - which you're producing anyway. Add in re-packed news conference highlights - longer than the ones played in the main network's news cycle - and boards showing upcoming events related to story, and you've got a nice loop-able mix of non-stop coverage on the news event du jour for the modern news junkie.

In terms of staff, the only extra hires would be technicians to monitor the various streams and editors to package and produce the stream's content. Current online editors would be perfect candidates for this position since they already understand the technology and short attention span of today's news audience. Most of the content is already coming in for the 24h news stations and the live press conference feeds are usually provided as in-house service for a minimal fee.

That way, when a major news story or event takes over the news industry, we won't be overwhelmed by endless reports on an issue, meanwhile getting less than satisfactory coverage of all the other going-ons in the world. And we won't be saturated by a constant flow of information that will make us stop caring about a potentially important issue, or worse, make us actually care about a non-important issue. Like Lindsay Lohan being sentenced to jail.

I don't know about you, but if I could buy non-stop quality coverage of the next shuttle launch, I would. Even if I know I could watch it for free online at NASA TV. Why? Because I can get everything I need to know about that one topic in one spot. And because I'm a space geek. And a political geek would buy coverage to Obama's visit to Canada, and a TV geek would purchase a CRTC telecommunications panel package. In this case, the repetition of the news cycle wouldn't be such a bore because you would choose to watch it.

What do you think? Could dedicated temporary cable streams be the future of TV news?

I guess there's only one way to find out... Stay tuned!

Monday, August 02, 2010

On Packing

Packing sure isn't a piece of cake! It definitely makes you crave cake, though, and not just once piece of it! Thankfully, family BBQs and other social events have kept me on top of the cake cravings.

And how's the packing going, you ask? Pretty well. Everything that's not in my bedroom is packed. Lots of things in my bedroom are packed. It's starting to look pretty barren and bare in here. But just because the full boxes are piling up doesn't mean that there aren't many more empties to fill.

Along the way, I've been taking long walks down memory lane, rediscovering the joys and troubles of my childhood. Let's just put it this way: my teenage years were seriously messed up. Old journals from that time period make me cry because I was so completely enveloped in anger and hate and despair. I'm thankful to have grown past that and hope to never sink into that kind of depression again.

But in all the toils and trouble, there are also rays of sunshine. I've uncovered some long lost art and greeting cards, both given and received. Like a hilarious birthday card my brother gave me with two knock-knock jokes in them... his "thing" at the time. Or the beautiful rose my father drew for one of my pre-teen birthdays. Or the birthday card I received from someone named Stephanie (not sure who or when) that said she was happy to be my friend because I'm so generous and always in a good mood. Awwwww... :)

All in all, I'm making packing progress. Apart from day-to-day items and furniture, the only things I have left to sort are old boxes full of files and school work, and the clothes at the back of my closet. With less than a month to go - well, more like 2.5 weeks if you take away my work days - I think we're gonna be good to go right on schedule.

Bonus MRI update: Apart from some irritation and natural wear and tear (aka minimal grade 1 chondromalacia and minimal mucoid degeneration), my knee is fine. Which means all I can do is more physio and more cycling and hope and pray that my knee gets stronger and the pain goes away. At least there are perks!

Bonus research update: If you study hockey from a socio-cultural perspective, we want to hear from you! Two of my (future) classmates and I are trying to organize a paper session for the NASSS (North American Society for the Sociology of Sport) 2010 Conference in San Diego. You can check out the Call for Abstracts here and scroll down to session #13 for details. Spread the word!

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Unexpected Expenses

My wallet sure is getting a workout this summer, what with health-related expenses, moving expenses, and just regular day-to-day and maintenance expenses.

Thankfully, I think I've purchased all the stuff on my "NEED" list for my move by now. Those were all more or less within the budget, although it's amazing how expensive things like kettles, placemats and cooking utensils can be. I mean, it's really nothing amazing! Just shaped metal or plastic, or stitched fabric. Sometimes, I miss the good old days of asking your neighbours to craft you what you needed in exchange for your professional services. "Le troc", as we learned in elementary school, totally needs to make a comeback.

A few weeks ago, I had my regularly scheduled dental cleaning - and we had to get a little preventative work done. Ka-ching! Add to that the cost of all my recent physiotherapy appointments, and we've got ka-ching! ka-ching! ka-ching!

In other unexpected expenses, there's the moving truck rental. I'm not talking giant corporate truck with professional movers. I'm talking Ryder, Budget, or U-Haul. In my case, we're going with U-Haul due to availability and convenience, but all those prices rang up to approximately $300. Insane!! I did not plan on such an "expensive" move, though having moved before, I really should have remembered the cost. Ka-ching!

I also had to purchase a new cellphone. The Pearl on my first-generation Blackberry Pearl stopped scrolling up Saturday, and since this has happened before (though in other directions), I knew that a quick Q-tip scrub could clean it up and get it scrolling again in no time. Unfortunately, I was away from home (and Q-tips!) all day. By Sunday, after a few scrubbing attempts, I decided to stop in to the Telus store. They popped-up the pearl and tried to clean it rather than making me purchase a new one ($7... not sure if that's a good deal or not!) but the pearl stopped working altogether. It could now scroll in most directions but wasn't clicking. Or was automatically clicking. Either way, it wasn't going to work for me! Luckily, my Telus contract was expiring in less than 2 weeks so I had a few offers on my account, so I sprung for... the Blackberry Bold with 3G. That's right! I finally made up my mind between iPhone and BB and stuck with the crackberry. What can I say? I'm addicted! The phone wasn't entirely free, though, so ring up another "ka-ching!" there.

And on Monday, I will be going in for a much needed, finally prescribed MRI for my knee. I've got a pretty good insurance plan - thank you, Concordia! - so by getting it done at a particular clinic in Montreal, I can ensure that up to $300 of the cost will be covered (minus previous claim payouts). That means I've still got another $354 + taxes to cover. And this, folks, is why paying your insurance premium every month is worth it. Still... Ka-ching!

For those of you keeping track, that's a whole lot of "ka-ching"s, and I've got a few more move-associated ones to ring up: pantry stocking, cleaning supplies, school fees... So, I'm pretty close to being broke - because I refused to dig in to my savings (for now). At least I know I've got a few paychecks coming in!

How do you deal with unexpected expenses? Do you have a "just in case" fund? Insurance? Rich parents and/or friends who don't mind paying for your night on the town?

Share your secrets, folks! And stay tuned for more move- and knee-related updates!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

On Moving Forward

I know, I know... Long time no blog!

First off, a quick round-up: My trip to Toronto during the G8/G20 Summits was pretty uneventful. I didn't get arrested, I wasn't disturbed by the security perimeter and I stayed far away from the protesters.

Yes, the protests did prevent family dinner plans from happening but my alternate dinner scenario was just as yummy, and the family dinner simply got postponed since it was raining anyway. Yes, a bona fide raincheck! Overall, I had a great time, from the Jays pounding the Cards, to my solo walking tour of Chinatown and Kensington Market and my mall day(s), to the huge wedding I attended over the weekend.

Once the Summit was over and done with, I walked around the areas I'd seen on TV and heard about in news reports and via the Twitter coverage of Saturday's protest.I thought it was really cool to visualize the trauma spots after the fact. It helped put things in perspective, even for the areas I was previously familiar with.

When I got home, I went straight into "moving mode", sorting through storage bins, leafing through pamphlets and searching for products online. And then came the buying. After just over one week of nearly daily purchasing, I think I'm done. Well... Except for those two raincheck items I need to keep an eye on. Otherwise, I think my credit cards are going to get a well-deserved break.

Now, it's time to seriously start packing and sorting. No more excuses!! I've had moving boxes - and packing paper! - for a few weeks now, courtesy of a friend who'd used them previously, and those boxes aren't gonna build themselves! Of course, that's the easy part. The part that's taking forever - and causing me quite a bit of anxiety - is going through all my stuff.

I'm not the kind of person who accumulates stuff but I tend to keep things... press passes, ticket stubs, books from my childhood and that hair elastic I bought for that outfit I don't have anymore. I'm pretty good at getting rid of clothes but anything that holds knowledge - like my old journals, school work and art - is really hard for me to get rid of. The creative items especially, because they feel like an integral part of "me".

Plus, last time I moved, I just took all my stuff and brought it home. So those storage containers are in dire need of a "sort, donate, throw" regimen. Slowly but surely, I'm sure I'll get it all done. I do have another month and a half to get through it! Well, minus my 2 weeks of full-time work just prior to the move in August. Four weeks is totally doable though, right?

Oh boy, here comes the anxiety again... Who knew moving forward with life could be so stressful!?!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On the Walks

This year, I was able to attend two World Partnership Walks. The first, of course, was Montreal.

(The only picture I took of the 2010 World Partnership Walk in Montreal.)

What a cold, wet, dreary day it was! Still, our team put together a stellar event and over 1K people attended despite the rain - including some people I didn't expect to show due to the weather, like the Social Woman team! In terms of media, we had a pretty decent Walk Day turnout, considering, including an early morning in-studio interview by yours truly at LCN, a live noon news report on SRC and a live hit and day-after report on Radio-Canada Première Chaîne. Our local media sponsor, CTV Montreal, also had us on the evening news. Coverage leading up to the Walk included this piece I wrote for Stock the Warehouse, and a couple of articles for some community papers by media team member Tabish Bhimani.

We also live tweeted the event, which was loads of fun! I helped out with the stage stuff when things got confusing and congested and had a great time hanging out with my media assistant, Karen Fournier, our MC, Paul Karwatsky from CTV, and Eric Bindman, who, with his team from Fatherly Films, provided fantastic live LED screen coverage. Our lineup was great and it's just so unfortunate that all the excellent planning from a core team of nearly all newcomers to the Montreal Walk couldn't be properly executed due to the weather. Still, I think they had a great time, and I hope that they know that we're all really proud of their efforts - we can see that they did/would have paid off.

One week later, I made the trek to Ottawa, even though my bum knee never quite recovered from the Montreal Walk. (It still hasn't, which is very depressing.)

Ottawa had a large Walk site at Major's Hill Park, alongside the scenic Rideau Canal, with the Byward Market steps away, and with Parliament as a backdrop. It was, in one word: nice. Also, they had a beautiful, sunny, nearly scorching day! I will admit I was more than a little bit jealous. Plus, my friend's band, Three Times Lucky, was the main entertainment act, and boy did they rock it out! Or, should I say, blues it out? Either way, it was a fantastic Sunday day trip, and I'm very glad I went, even though I wasn't able to walk the Walk(s).

On a personal note, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the cause, or supported me in my efforts for the World Partnership Walk. I not only reached my 1K fundraising goal, but you all rose to the challenge of doubling the amount in two weeks. That's right! I met my 2K fundraising goal! :D

I can't even begin to explain how great that makes me feel, and I've got all of you to thank for it. So... Thanks for putting a smile on my face and helping me put smiles on the faces of some of the poorest people in the world. Thanks to you, we're changing the world, one step at a time. Pat yourselves on the back!! You are now a poverty-fighting hero! :)

(Nursing my knee at the 2010 World Partnership Walk in Ottawa.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

On walking the Walk

Tomorrow (or today - Sunday, June 6, 2010 - depending when you're reading this) is the 2010 World Partnership Walk in Montreal. Yes, we have finally reached this long discussed date.
Rain or shine, we will be taking steps towards a better world at the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal (between Jacques Cartier Quay and King Edward Quay) starting at 10:30AM. You can't miss it. We've got a bunch of big white tents set up and loads of glorious orange and blue banners decorating the site. Our start/finish line arch is epic. Oh, and TV people? We've got a jib.

"So... wait. What's the World Partnership Walk again?" It's Canada's largest annual event to fight global poverty by raising awareness and funds for the cause. It takes place in 10 cities across the country, including Montreal! Over 70,000 participants walk the Walk and donate directly to programmes that help people help themselves in fields like education, health, sanitation, strengthening of civil society, rural development, the environment and gender issues.

"Wait, what? What do you mean, 'directly'?" I mean directly! 100% of the funds raised through the World Partnership Walk go directly to international development initiatives coordinated by Aga Khan Foundation Canada.

"Aga Khan... isn't he that religious dude?" Yes, he's "that religious dude", aka the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community and a world renown philanthropist. Most importantly, it's thanks to his private funds that 100% of your donations can go to AKFC's development programmes. And by the way, AKFC is a non-denominational, not-for-profit, registered Canadian charity. Look them up: 10007 2586 RR0001.

"Okay, so my money helps everybody?" That's right! The Foundation's approach is to go into some of the poorest communities in Asia and Africa, ask them what they need, and then give them access to training, resources and often, Canadian expertise, so they can take full ownership of the projects they are implementing. By supporting the Foundation, you are empowering some of the poorest people in the world to take charge of their own lives and change their futures, immediately improving their quality of life and livelihoods. Oh, and your donation helps leverage additional funding from partners like CIDA or USAID.

"So, why me?" Everyone needs to come up with their own answers, but you can't deny that global poverty is one of the most pressing issues of our time. As Canadians (and Americans and anyone else who has the necessary financial and intellectual capacity), it is our duty to help those in need. We've proved time and time again that we believe in the potential of the developing world. Why not encourage them by giving them the proper tools they need to carry their future in their own hands? It works. I've seen it with my own eyes.

"Why do you Walk?" I walk because I have hope for a better world. One where the world heals itself through understanding, care, and love. One where people who can, help those who can't. One where there is trust in humanity, trust in our capacity, and trust in the power of a dream. I walk because I've seen the smiles of the faces of those we've helped in the past and the hope in the eyes of those we have yet to reach. I walk because I care. I walk because I can. I walk because it's the right thing to do.

Now let me turn the tables over to you. Why do you walk? Show me when you come out to the 2010 World Partnership Walk at the Quays of the Old Port tomorrow - Sunday, June 6 - and walk the Walk. If you can't show up, please donate now - I'm $270 away from my 2K goal! - and know that you've taken steps to make the world a better place. The entertainment lineup is pretty good too ;)

It is time for you to take the lead in changing the world. As Ghandi said... You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.”

Oh, and "Be the change you want to see in the world."

To contribute to my 2010 World Partnership Walk in Montreal fundraising efforts in the fight against global poverty, please click here. 100% of your donation will go directly to helping people help themselves in some of the poorest countries in the world.
PS: Thank you.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

On smiles that trump a paycheck

Well, folks, there are only 5 days left until the World Partnership Walk in Montreal and I am getting very excited because it's shaping up to be a great day, full of fun activities and performances. Check out our lineup!

As you know the World Partnership Walk is Canada's largest annual event to raise funds and awareness to fight global poverty. It takes place in 9 cities across the country and is organized almost entirely by dedicated volunteers - like me! But between you and me, working on Media & Marketing for the Walk has been more of a full time job for the past 3 months and I'd love to be rewarded for my efforts. That's where YOU come in!

Thanks to the generosity of people like you, I met my 1K fundraising goal a couple of weeks ago. So I thought I would issue a challenge to my network to help me double the funds in half the time. So far, I'm at 68%. Do you think you can help me raise the $645 left for me to reach my new target? Any amount helps, from $40 to $100 to $500!

And don't forget, 100% of the funds raised through the World Partnership Walk go directly to international development projects that help people help themselves through long-term sustainable solutions in education, health, sanitation, culture, community strengthening, the environment, gender issues... Aga Khan Foundation Canada's multi-pronged approach aims to enhance the quality of life of some of the poorest people in the world in ALL sectors, and that's what I love about it.

Seeing the smiles on the faces of children who have benefited from their parents' hard work by escaping malnutrition and being able to go to school warms my heart. Just take a look at the pearly whites in the picture of the little boy on my fundraising page! This little kid in Mombasa, Kenya couldn't stop smiling at the camera, so I took a bunch of shots of him and his friends! Isn't he adorable?

I'd love to see all of you and your families at the World Partnership Walk this Sunday, June 6, 2010 at the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal. The activities start at 10:30AM at Place des Vestiges, near Place Jacques Cartier. I strongly encourage you to take public transit as parking in the Old Port is limited and can be expensive. The Walk goes on rain or shine and I expect to see all of you there so I can personally thank you for taking steps to end global poverty.

For those who can't make it to the Walk, I consider your donation a GIANT step towards making the world a better place. Please click here to donate now.

Thank you so much, all of you, for your generous support. It means the world to me.

The smiles we will spark by working together totally trump a paycheck.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

On keeping busy

The month of April has come and gone, bringing us sun and flowers, then taking them away with freak snow and wind storms. Life goes on, no matter how busy you are, and I have been so busy that I haven't had time to Facebook, tweet or blog properly, though I've been trying really hard to keep everyone up to date.

My World Partnership Walk fundraising campaign has been going well, thanks to some very generous donations from some people who are very dear to me. Their kind words have helped boost my efforts, both on the personal front and on the not-for-profit professional front. I'm very excited about the involvement of local media in the 2010 Walk in Montreal and as soon as I officially can, I'll share some of their plans with you.

Meanwhile, two articles I have written in the past few months were finally published! The first one is available online, at The It touches on the Bridges That Unite exhibition that was held at Concordia University in March, and in 5 other cities before then, showcasing Canada's development work and 25-year partnership with Aga Khan Foundation Canada. You can read it here.

The other article I wrote appeared in The Ismaili Canada Magazine, which is distributed mainly to the Ismaili community in Canada periodically. It touches on women's role in development and how empowering the women in the developing world can help break the cycle of poverty. I've posted it below for your enjoyment.

Apart from writing, working on the Walk, and translating, I've been doing a fair amount of TV work! HBO Boxing, Versus Hockey broadcasts, CBCSports' coverage of the 2010 Canada Cup... It's been pretty much non-stop work in one field or another for me since my birthday. But hey, I'm not complaining! I am, however, very much looking forward to my mini-escape to Toronto from June 22 to 28. If you want to meet up while I'm in town, you know where to reach me! :)

And now, please excuse me as I go back to translating. Stay tuned...

Empowering women to break the cycle of poverty
By Naila Jinnah

How much do you make in a year? A typical Canadian family with two earning adults made approximately $100,000 before taxes in 2007. Imagine if that amount was cut in half. Could you offer your family the same quality of life on just one income?

In many developing countries, families have to rely on the inadequate salary of only one earner. These families work hard, but often do not see financial returns. In many rural regions, crops are consumed for subsistence rather than sold to the market. This reduces the revenues a family has available to ensure a higher quality of life.

The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) estimates that women represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. Statistically, women are more likely than men to be poor due to the discrimination they face in areas of education and employment.

So how can women be empowered to break out of the cycle of poverty?

There are short-term and long term approaches to this challenge. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), strives to provide economically viable solutions to poverty in the developing world by investing in entrepreneurship and offering financial services to those who are not usually eligible to receive them. These programs go beyond micro-lending into the area of private and for-profit enterprise. One example of AKFED’s investment ventures is Kenya’s
Frigoken Ltd.

Frigoken works with small-scale farmers to stimulate regional economies by providing business development services like price guarantees, quality control, training and seeds. This venture works on two levels. First, it enables entire farming villages in the coastal rural region of Mombasa to confidently invest in their crops, providing a higher and more stable source of income, and allowing families to educate their children. Second, it stimulates the national economy by providing factory jobs for trained workers who process and package the vegetables
for export.

Approximately 2,700 people work in the Frigoken factory. Most of them are women who are providing a valuable secondary income for their families. There is also an on location daycare service for the younger children. But often where agencies like AKDN are not active, employment opportunities for women remain limited.

Unskilled women with limited education are dispensable in the economic chain. In the city, these women are confined to low-paying and low-status jobs like domestic and cleaning services. Even in Canada, many immigrant families are stuck in low income lifestyles with no apparent way out. Single mothers here resort to night jobs in factories or mid-day shifts in the hospitality industry in order to accommodate their dual role as parents and earners.

The root of the poverty problem lies deeper. According to UNIFEM, women make up approximately 60 to 80 percent of the manufacturing workforce, a struggling industry in the
ongoing global economic crisis. How can they save their families from the desperation of poverty?

The solution is education. Offering proper educational services that are tailored to girls’ needs from early childhood through to adulthood is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Fortunately, children in Canada are provided with free, quality education until the age of 16
regardless of their backgrounds, providing hope for a better life for future generations.

But in developing countries, it’s not that simple.

Children living in cities are well serviced by primary and secondary schools. But in rural areas, educational facilities are less accessible. One common form of early childhood education is the madrasa, a religiously focussed pre-school. AKDN partners with villages in East Africa to build madrasas, allowing the community to unite and effectively run the schools. Along with providing financial support, the AKDN trains village women to be teachers, ensuring that a secular curriculum is taught for at least part of the day. This allows children from all backgrounds to attend and accommodates responsibilities at home.

Girls benefit the most from this arrangement; they can still tend to sick family members or help in the kitchen or farm before and after school. Since the teachers are local women who are paid by the village, the madrasa project also empowers women on a secondary level.

Most parents understand the value of education in providing a better future for their children but they cannot afford to lose their workforce for extended periods of time. Many girls drop out of school in their teens, while boys often finish high school. The issue lies in the sensitivity to girls’ physiological and practical needs, rather than cultural considerations. Many girls stop going to school when they reach puberty because schools do not have proper latrines tailored to women’s needs. Even when they do, the poverty is so extreme that girls cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Worse, many girls do not have spare undergarments and uniforms and must go home to wash and dry them, which disrupts the school day.

The Aga Khan School Improvement Programme (SIP) is one AKDN initiative that directly addresses this challenge by providing a forum for girls to discuss issues that are relevant only to them in a secure, private setting and make suggestions to the school on their educational experience. Programs like SIP invest in girls by providing them with the tools they need to escape poverty on a practical and educational level. It empowers girls to change their lives and livelihoods and opens up a wide array of possibilities for their future. Many
dream of being doctors and teachers.

In his speech at the commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the madrasa programme in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2007, [The Aga Khan] noted that, ”… we sometimes give too little attention to the schools which prepare young children for life itself—in all of its holistic dimensions. And yet the evidence accumulates steadily showing that an investment made in the earliest, pre-school years can bring enormous dividends as a child proceeds from one level of education to another.”

Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn only 10 percent of the income and own a meagre one percent of the property. With services that are sensitive to their issues, women have the opportunity to provide a higher quality of life for their families. With some support, these girls could one day lead the developing world out of the devastating cycle of poverty.

(First appeared in The Ismaili Canada Magazine, Issue 1, March 2010)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On my birthday wish

Those who are familiar with this blog (and me in general) might be expecting a post containing a birthday list. Well, think again.

After many years of making lists yet receiving presents that aren't listed and sometimes not useful - though you don't kick a gift-horse in the mouth and I am thankful for all your thoughts and presents - I decided to scratch that idea. Plus, I have a much better idea!

As I have aged - finer, like wine and cheese, of course - I have discovered that the best gift of all is friendship. So this year, I asked for the company of my friends for 2 cool events. The first was my trapezing/birthday dinner celebration. What a blast!! It's a little nerve-wracking at first but the professionals at Trapezium made sure that we all felt comfortable and safe jumping off the tall tall platform and swinging towards the genie. (You had to be there). Some of us had to conquer our fears to do it, but it was well worth it. I'd love to go back - the next class teaches you how to be caught, circus-style! Later that night, we went for a wonderful birthday dinner at Oyster Shack, a very nice Montreal restaurant.

The second event I'd love to have my friends participate in with me is the World Partnership Walk on June 6 at Place des Vestiges at the Quays of the Old Port. Some of you might have groaned just now, but hear me out.

Every year, we spend tons of money on stuff we don't need. I'm guilty of it too. I purchase books when I could just go to the library instead. I don't really NEED that $5 Starbucks hot chocolate or that new pair of shoes, and guess what? You probably don't either. (Okay, sometimes we really DO need those things, but as a general rule, we can live comfortably without them.)

Imagine if your budgeting concern wasn't for Starbucks but for medicine. Imagine having to decide between having one meal a day or purchasing pills from the dispensary so your sick parent, sibling, or child could have a fighting chance at surviving for another day, another week, another year. These are things we don't usually concern ourselves with because it is not our reality. But for the over 2.6 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, that concern is very real. Think about it. Three out of four people on this Earth cannot afford to eat. We share the same planet, the same values, the same hopes and aspirations. Why can't we help each other out?

This year, for my birthday, I would like you to take the $20 or $40 or $100 you were going to spend on my birthday gift and donate it to the World Partnership Walk. 100% of the funds you give will go directly to international development programmes managed by Aga Khan Foundation Canada that empower local communities to help themselves through cross-cutting projects like ensuring clean water and sanitation, strengthening rural economies, and educating new generations of girls and women.

Please, for my 1/4 century birthday celebration, give me hope. Hope for a better future for our brothers and sisters around the world, hope to inspire us to keep working to eradicate poverty, and hope for humanity. It's easy to give - you can do it online right now by clicking here.

As you know, hope is a dangerous thing. Let's start a social movement by helping some of the poorest people in the world. Let us be the leaders of the change we want to see in the world, for once, and let's see how far this spark of hope can go.

Thank you :)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On the Queen's University

To whom it may concern,

In September 2010, I will be embarking on a new journey. One that starts in Kingston, ON at the Queen's University. For the next two years, I will be a Master's candidate in the Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport programme at Queen's U.

And I am stoked!!!

While this may seem to be a diversion from my current course of career choice, it is not. For my thesis, I will be examining the use of social media by the NHL and its teams and players as a marketing and communications tool. Without spilling too many details, I believe I can find a model that will be applicable not only to NHL teams in general or to professional sports leagues, but also to amateur sports leagues, sporting events, not-for-profit organizations and events and perhaps even to media organizations.

My programme offers the possibility of submitting a thesis by manuscript, which is what I intend to do. Two birds: one stone!

Of course, this decision comes with a bunch of changes, from the content of my closet to my reading materials and my bedroom, not to mention my eating and spending habits. And while I wait for classes to start, I will be keeping busy with my World Partnership Walk Media Relations planning and activities, apartment hunting, and of course, the actual move.

Wish me luck... and link me up with any contacts that you think could help my research!

PS: Did I mention that I'm the new President of the Journalism Chapter of the Concordia University Alumni Association? Our first event is Thursday... I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On the 2010 World Partnership Walk in Montreal

When the 2010 campaign of the World Partnership Walk launched in February, I was asked to talk about "Why I Walk". And I, who is usually full of motivating marketing messaging, struggled. After a tumultuous year full of a variety of experiences relating to the not-for-profit sector and international development, I was at a loss for words. I didn't even know where to begin, how to start thinking about the question, though I did have an answer last year.

Fundraisers for international development NGOs typically focus on stories and images of death and despair.

"Help now, or else," is the message they spread.

"These children will die without your support," they say.

And then there's the spectrum of messaging associated with emergency response aid. Not to say that these statements aren't valid, but with so much negativity in the air, I found it hard to focus on why I persist in supporting not-for-profit initiatives. "What's the point?" I asked myself.

In the summer of 2009, I participated in an Aga Khan Foundation Canada Awareness Trip to Africa. In 5 quick days, I visited a variety of international development projects sponsored by Aga Khan Development Network, from the Frigoken factory and the Nation Media Group in Nairobi, Kenya, to the Coastal Rural Support Programme (CRSP) and Kenya School Improvement Programme (KENSIP) in Mombasa, Kenya.

This whirlwind tour left me with a few key impressions. Surprisingly, I didn't encounter a world full of desolation and desperation, as most of the advertisement would like us to believe. I met real people with real goals and real aspirations for their children, just like us. I met children who, like me, were excited to go to school and learn. I saw a vibrant city that moved at the same pace as New York City or Montreal. And I saw farmers and hospitality workers who were not just struggling to get by but trying to make a life for themselves, no matter the gravity of their situation.

The World Partnership Walk raises funds to help improve the lives and livelihoods of families and communities like those I visited in East Africa, through health, education and rural development programs as well as community-led initiatives. During my trip, I was fortunate enough to see the fruits of our labours, the benefits of this grassroots approach. By enabling local populations to decide what they need the most and then empowering them to find the proper long-term, sustainable solutions, we are investing in their future.

100% of the funds raised through the Walk go directly to these programmes, and in some cases, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) offers additional support. Not one cent is spent on administration.

Let's overcome the negativity and look to the future with compassion, hope, and only positive thoughts. Let's unite in the noble intention of helping to alleviate global poverty. As Canadians, we all come from somewhere else, sometime in the past. Someone invested in us and allowed us to flourish in this country, both personally and professionally. It is time for us to give back to society at large and help make the world a better place by investing in someone who, like us, simply wants the best for his or her community.

Join me for the World Partnership Walk on June 6, 2010 at Place des Vestiges in the Quays of the Old Port of Montreal or donate online. Together, we can spark a beacon of hope and show the world what it truly means to be Canadian. Together, we can discover why we walk.

Friday, March 12, 2010

On Bridges That Unite

Looking for something unique to do this month? Need more culture in your life? I know I do.

Consider visiting "Bridges That Unite", a free bilingual exhibition taking place at Concordia University's McConnell Building Atrium until March 26, 2010.

As per the press release, Bridges That Unite
"invites visitors to consider Canada's role in the world through the lens of a remarkable 25-year partnership with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in some of the world's most isolated and impoverished regions. Thought-provoking stories spanning several continents are told through powerful images, evocative soundscapes and multimedia components."
Yes, that last part is actually true.

Every time I've been to the exhibition so far - 2 times and counting! - I have discovered new images and new text. It's not that the exhibition is constantly changing, it's just that I'm absorbing the information in a different way. It's a little uninviting at first due to the layout of the exhibition in a tight, linear space, but once you're in it, you're in.

I was delighted to discover the ring of chairs, a symbol of the thought and communication that goes into the planning of development programmes. It's the starting point for meaningful social change that will make a lasting impact even in the most remote and impoverished areas of the world. As part of the ring of chairs exhibit, you can listen to recorded testimonials from some of the people who have witnessed this impact first-hand.

One of them is Steve Mason, who worked as a programme manager for Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan and whom I met as the head of Aga Khan Foundation East Africa during my visit to Kenya. I remember being so immensely impressed by his talent, work and dedication to improving the lives and livelihoods of these communities and I yearned to learn from his experience. As I found out this weekend, he was just appointed as the first CEO of AKF West Africa. Congrats, Steve!

Bridges That Unite has many more well-hidden secrets but have no fear! There are guides available to help you decipher all the panels and the stories they tell. Dressed in red vests, these guides are on site during regular business hours, 7 days a week.

What I enjoyed the most about Bridges That Unite was the feeling you get when you're walking around. It's not a feeling of desperation and anger and death. It's a feeling of love, help and hope. It makes you wonder what Canada can do to continue in this successful partnership with the developing world. It makes you wonder what you can do - what I can do - to provide that spark of hope that will make the world a better place.

I haven't figured it out yet, but if and when you do, write it on a sticky note and affix that note to the board in the Bridges That Unite exhibition that inquires, "The world needs more..."

Who knows? With the right ingredients, maybe we can change the world.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games

And so it is done. In 14 short days, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games have come and gone. Vancouver has returned to its former level of activity. There are less people on the streets, those streets are mostly no longer closed to vehicle traffic, and the SkyTrain is no longer bursting at the seams. Just like in Ottawa, there was a budget announced in Vancouver. It's back to business, isn't it?

Well, no. For all of us who were involved in the Games, one way or another, whether through volunteering, participating or spectating, 2010 will be a memorable year. Vancouver and Whistler will leave a mark in our hearts and looking back on the events of Feb 12 to 28 will rekindle our passion for the sports, our country and the experience.

My personal experience was fantabulous. See? It was so fantastic that I can only describe it by using a fake word.

Despite our early stumbles, the staff at The Whistler Sliding Centre recovered admirably well. We gave it our 110% and put out some of the best quotes of the Games. You probably unknowingly read them in your sliding sports recaps. They were better than the cliché I just used, I promise.

Thanks to the wonderful support of our Olympic News Service (ONS) Supervisor and Sports Writer, we - my co-reporters and I - learned more than just the basics of Luge, Skeleton and Bobsleigh. By the final Runs and Heats of the competition, we were able to have knowledgeable conversations with the real, paid reporters in the Mixed Zone. Sure, some of them were rookies like us, but we could even keep up with the best beat writers out there. We made predictions, comments and suggestions. We were able to ask poignant questions and understand the ones posed by other reporters. We were even able to understand the athletes' answers, and better yet, tell them apart! This proved to be quite useful during the Four-Man Bobsleigh event, and our studying served us well.

In the end, working for ONS was a work contract like any other. But it wasn't. To echo the athletes, it's just another race except it's the Olympics. I made friends for life (I hope!), invaluable contacts on both sides of the fence (in the journalism world and in the Olympic family), and I learned. I learned from sports reporters, from ONS staff, from fellow volunteers. I learned from the athletes, from their responses, from their races.

And I laughed! When we were exhausted and hungry, we laughed. When we were cold and wet, we laughed. When we were done for the day and more than ready for bed, we laughed.

Sure, we had our ups and downs. We got frustrated and argumentative. We disagreed with each other and sometimes were quite vocal about our dislikes. But that's just part of the job. It's part of the stress of working long back-to-back days, part of the pressure of always being on the ball, part of the difficulties a live sporting event experience. And I loved it. Because overall, we laughed.

The best part was the bubble. It was also the worst part. You get so into your sport, into your venue, into your athletes that you just can't absorb any additional information. Medals and crashes in other sports? Nope, haven't seen them. A snow storm in Montreal? Nope, haven't heard about it. Haven't read that article. Haven't spoken to my family and friends in a few days. Haven't had time to read status updates on Facebook. Yet the only reason I found out about the snow was because people were complaining about it in their status. But don't ask me what people were tweeting about. I could barely catch up on emails and direct responses!

The bubble is what pushed me to escape Whistler as soon as my last shift was done. Quickly home to pack and catch the bus. Nothing against this snowy, wintery Olympic town. The atmosphere was fantastic, the people were super friendly, full of fun and enthusiasm. And it's not that I didn't want to celebrate the end with my co-workers... I just needed to get out of the bubble. To further the analogy, it's like when you blow a bubblegum to the limit and it's about to burst and you suck it back a little just in time to avoid it embarrassingly covering your face. That's how you feel at the end of an intensive gig.

Luckily, I was able to catch some of the Olympic fever in Vancouver as well. I came back to Van City when I had a couple of days off and toured some of the attractions, though I was not at all interested in wasting my day waiting in line. The beautiful spontaneous Inukshuk wall between Science World/Rusky Dom and GM Place/Canada Hockey Place is the kind of passion that turns me on, and I loved just basking in the energy of the host city.

I also felt the pulse of the city on Feb 27-28, thanks to my speedy return from Whistler. Crowded streets and spontaneous "Oh Canada" chants, red and white at every turn of the head. I watched the Gold Medal Men's Hockey Game with my family, in their living room, sharing simultaneous heart-attacks with hockey fans from all over the globe. When we went out for dinner later that night you could still feel the electricity in the air and the high, soaring spirits of the inhabitants.

And then, just like the sudden onset of my post-ONS, post-Whistler blues, the city crashed. Call it a passion-low. The flame was extinguished, it was done, it was over, and we all had to face the facts and go back to our normal, boring everyday lives. Transit that's not as regular. NHL games with predictable intermission interviews. And thankfully, streets that are much easier to navigate without a gazillion people crawling along at a snail's pace.

I'm glad I took a few extra days to experience the city's true face. And guess what? Even sans Olympics, I still love it. Don't worry, Vancouver. I might be leaving you on Thursday but I'll be back before you know it!

Stay tuned... I should be posting pictures to Flickr soon!