Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On travels and tribulations

I just came back from a three-week trek to the US. And what a wonderfully varied trip it was!

First stop, Minneapolis for the 2011 NASSS Conference. I was giving two presentations, though that's against the rules, in theory. But, I wasn't breaking the rules, in theory. My first presentation was actually for a co-authored paper, as part of my summer research assistanceship. You can re-watch Avery-one Has An Opinion: Twitter, Same-Sex Marriage, and the NHL here. My second presentation was based on a paper I wrote last year. Watch Tweeting the Game: Is live-tweeting reshaping the NHL fandom experience here.

But this trip wasn't all business. I did some shopping at Target. Several times. Including at the original store location. I rode a rollercoaster at the Mall of America. And I got to see the local area through the eyes of a co-conference attendee and friend who is from the area. Plus, I got to meet Celebration Generation!!

Next stop, Phoenix, where I stayed with a friend and explored the area for a few days before attending my cousin's amazing wedding. I visited the Heard Museum, an experience that made me smile at all the beautiful symbolism but also deeply angered me. There was so much "othering" in the exhibits, as well as by the tour guide, that I left more frustrated than anything.

I also drove up to Meteor Crater (on Historic Route 66!!), the largest and most well-preserved meteorite landing site on Earth. What an amazing and jaw-dropping experience! It's one of those things that photos just can't do justice, so I won't even bother posting one here. You have to see it in person to understand. The vastness makes for a truly spiritual experience that cannot be replicated. Nature is simply... ungraspable.

The wedding events were absolutely spectacular too. As a part of the family, I was able to attend basically everything, and, as a wedding lover, I was in heaven. On one of the days, between the civil ceremony and the mendhi night, I also got out for a hike! I chose Pietsewa Peak rather than Camelback or Echo Mountain because it was supposed to be less steep. This was the case... in theory. The terrain was very rocky and there were several ups and downs along the way. My knee was very unhappy. But just imagine if I'd gone with a steep trail! After 2.5 miles of my 4ish, I started feeling stabs of pain that made it very tough to walk. It didn't help that the trail indications were a bit confusing. But with some rest and inspiration from a Ms Tracy Lee I met on my last leg, I made it 'til the end!

Tracy told me about her connective tissue disorder, and how her doctors say she should be in a wheelchair. Instead, she hikes Phoenix mountains almost daily despite her torn ligaments and dislocations. And the best part is, she was inspired by me in return! She was glad I took the time to appreciate the mountain when so many locals don't, and despite my recurring knee pain. And all of this started with my simple question about how her Vibram Five Fingers were holding up on the rocky terrain.

After a day of rest, it was time to test my knee on the dance floor... but sadly, I could not bear to even stand in heels. I did dance most of the night away in my flats though, and the fun and cousin time was absolutely worth it!

The one downside of this leg of the trip was our hotel woes. We stayed at the Homewood Hilton in Biltmore-Phoenix. The room was fine... until the card reader decided to stop working on wedding day, leaving us stranded without our outfits and running hours late. After 3.5 hours, two technicians, and two failed attempts to get us in (using a card reader resetting machine and attempting to jack the door), the manager finally decided to take us up on our many many suggestions to try to get in through the window. Within 10 minutes, she was in, having shimmied the locked window "just enough". At ceremony start time. My brother was therefore 2.5 hours late, and I, 1 hour late.

Needless to say, we were very unhappy. We refused to pay for the rooms, and requested a new room. How can I feel safe knowing that, 1. I can get locked out at any time, and 2. Someone can come in through my window in the middle of the day or night and steal my stuff, or worse? But that's all water under the bridge now. The wedding - the part I got to see - was wonderful

Next up, a family roadtrip to the Grand Canyon. Absolutely spectacular. Sunrise, sunset, a few hikes (mini for me, short to average length for everyone else), and amazing once-in-a-lifetime sights. The first day started off on a sour note, though. After all my careful planning, we ran late and missed the very beginning of sunrise. Then, in the afternoon, when my memory card was full, I tried to delete the first batch of pictures, which I had already transferred. For some reason, despite the confirmation message, my camera deleted that morning's batch instead. I was heartbroken. I only discovered this on our very last stop of the day. I lost so many unique shots that the rest of my family didn't get to capture, including shots of them. Thankfully, my SLR captured the landscape, but it's the people shots and the things I wanted to share with all of you that I (still) miss the most. Oh, and to cap off the day, I lost my new thermal hat.

Good news though! Day 2 was better! We found my hat in a parking lot we'd frequented, got to sunrise in plenty of time, and had another wonderful, jaw-dropping Grand Canyon day. And after sunset in Sedona, we hit the road for...

The final stop: Los Angeles for some time with our family there. So much fun! We got to hang out as cousins, I relived my childhood at Disneyland (best part: Aladdin the Musical), shopped at some outlets (and another Target), got an amazing $30 full body massage (Super Relax Massage in Chatsworth. Look it up!), finally saw Santa Monica and biked to Venice Beach from the pier (at sunset!), and had some wonderful food (Mmm... Rock Sugar). Oh, and I discovered my new favourite store ever: Cost Plus World Market. WOW. Walking through that store is like taking a stroll in my brain. But... my camera's acting up again, refusing to focus. I guess it's time for a new toy!

After a quick stop in Montreal, I'm back in Kingston trying to sort out my life. If history is any indication, it'll take me three days to unpack. And then a week to do laundry. But hey, that's what happens when you get back to real life, right?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On lessons from a century of life

A few days ago, one of my close friends' grandmother passed away. She was 104 years old.

No, that's not a typo.

Though I never had the pleasure of meeting her, I did get to know her fairly well through my friend. He told me some of her stories, and stories of her, that made me laugh and made me cry. He may have a few years on me, but even he admits that it's hard to envisage or ever comprehend just how much she experienced in her lifetime. Think about it.

104 years ago, Pablo Picasso was alive and painting. John Wayne was born. Dmitry Mendeleyev, the guy who created the table of elements, passed away.

They'd just invited the first photocopier. Airplanes didn't exist yet. Let me repeat: AIRPLANES DID NOT EXIST. In fact, the term was coined in 1907.

Think back to your "modern" history class. Most of it took place in her lifetime. What a wonderful time it must have been to live! So many amazing discoveries to experience! So much to learn about and so many new places to explore!

I'm sure there is a lot my friend's grandma still could have taught me, and everyone else in my generation. She had strong opinions and values, but she seemed to be an extremely loving, warm, accepting, intelligent, life-long learner.

From my friend's stories, his grandma and I seemed to be kindred spirits. We both understood the importance of always smiling and learning to laugh. Of counting our blessings and being thankful for them too. Of appreciating the people around us and helping them in any way possible. And especially, the importance of loving, because love is the greatest blessing any one of us can bestow.

Most importantly, my friend's grandma taught me the difference between being lucky and being fortunate. Most of the times we say "I'm lucky" what we really mean is "I'm fortunate". What's the difference? You've got to work for the latter. The only time you're lucky is when winning the lottery, she used to scold him. Being at the right place at the right time for that job opportunity? That's called being fortunate that all your hard work finally paid off. Having someone to take care of you when you're sick? Yeah, you're not lucky to have them in your life, but fortunate.

It may seem like a subtle difference, but this difference is of the utmost importance. And learning to use the right word means you've learned to appreciate everything you have, to recognize that you are in control of your own destiny, and are thankful for your blessings.

That's what over a century of life teaches you.

I am fortunate to have known my friend's grandma, and I am even more fortunate that mine is still around to teach me life lessons like these. She may not be 104, but she's still got loads to share!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On vague reflections

Sometimes, the answer is not where you expect to find it. It's not what you've been building up to or what you've worked so hard to accomplish.

Sometimes, finding the answer means going back to the beginning, to your origin story, to see where you belong.

Sometimes, the answer is right in front of you and has been all along. You just couldn't see it because you didn't know you could, or even that it existed.

Sometimes, the answer is something you didn't ever think possible, so you abandoned it long ago. But when the universe opens up that opportunity to you once more, you cannot ignore it.

Sometimes, the answer is doing what you always wanted to do but never thought you could, though you always knew you could, and that you would be good at it, if you could.

I think I have found my answer. And though it will be scary and hard to let go of everything I have become, I don't see how I can live with myself if I don't try.

Because if I succeed, I think I can truly have it all.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, September 26, 2011

On making choices

I seem to be having an identity crisis these days. I hear it's quite common amongst others in my age group.

Many people have them upon reaching a major milestone or realizing a significant achievement. Some have one earlier in life, and others, much later. Some, like me, have them often. Apparently, it's a personality trait to be constantly searching for new, or bigger and better. Perhaps it is why my interests and ambitions are so varied... It keeps me feeling involved and evolved, growing yet dedicated to the task at hand.

Since the past few months have been so tumultuous for me, it's no wonder that finally submitting my thesis proposal would be a major source of relief. While everything else in my life is still a developing story, meeting my academic deadline is definitely good news. Yet, more than ever, I find myself wondering what's next. One bundle of stress has been replaced by a gazillion others.

Where does my future lie, I ask myself day in and day out. When waking up or trying really hard to fall asleep. When switching tabs and trying to get some work done. When doing the dishes or showering. When... Well, you get the point. It's a major source of worry for me.

As an overthinker and an overanalyzer, I've been picking out all my interests as they peak and asking myself if they're the path I want to follow. I love Kingtson dearly and have made many friends here, but let's face it, my career goals probably require a move. Then again, there's the possibility of staying in Kingston forever and ever, because I love it so.

I'll let you in on a not-so-secret... While I've been working on my Masters', I've also been applying to jobs that would fall under the "dream" category. Social media consultant positions in the sports industry, marketing, communications or social media director with pro sports organizations, even reporting at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some applications have gone further than others - sometimes quite surprisingly! - but in the end, all roads have led to disappointment and doubt. Perhaps it's the "ongoing research" part of my CV or the tiny little fact that I can't legally work in the USA unless someone sponsors me. Or maybe I just suck at writing captivating cover letters for an HR audience - I do tend to aim them more towards Senior VPs. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm not good enough.

Because after all, that's the thought that always sparks identity crises, whether on the personal or professional front. "Maybe I'm not good enough."

And the worst part is, there's no way of truly getting an honest, accurate answer. People will rarely tell you to your face, and though rejection letters seem to be saying that you're not, we've all learned by now that sometimes, it's just because you weren't the right person at the right place at the right time who knows the right insider. Or at least, that's what they tell me. That and, "Don't give up!" or "Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward," or any other similar supposedly encouraging clichés.

Let me be blunt. I am not a spoiled, stuck-up brat who thinks the world should be handed to me on a platter. But I've done my due diligence, and I'm tired of entry level positions that go nowhere. I know I can do the job, anyone who's ever worked with me knows I can do the job, heck! Even random network contacts on Twitter know I can do the job! And yet this road seems to lead nowhere. It's hard not to get discouraged. I will keep applying, but there's only so much disappointment and rejection one can take.

And so one must explore other avenues. Yes, I still crave work in the sports industry. I crave it like I do chocolate when I'm PMSing (or any time, really.) But the world doesn't stop spinning or wait for you to understand precisely what it is you need to get that little boost, gain that tiny little edge, and get you where you want and need to be to feel fulfilled professionally.

Other roads that seem to hold this promise include the previous mentioned "Stay in Kingston forever because I love it" scenario as well as the brand new and surprising (to me) "Pursue a PhD" option.

No, really! The girl who was afraid of completing a thesis is still here, but she is now freaking out about comps (comprehensive examinations), committing to a long-term research idea instead of a spontaneous one, quantitative courses like Statistics and Variables, and, more urgently, taking the GMAT or GRE standardized test. That's the big one. The barrier to entry, so to speak. At least from way over here, comps seem relatively benign in comparison to the big, looming, "better score high or forget about it" standardized test.

Yes, I'm aware there are courses and study guides and practice tests. Still. Fellow graduate students, when was the last time you took a closed book, closed environment exam? (Don't answer that, MBAs!) It's a scary scenario when it's been a while, and yet one I'm increasingly strongly considering. Or at least exploring. I've still got a thesis to write, after all, and I would really prefer a program that allowed me flexibility in my course plan so that I feel intellectually stimulated and challenged in all the right ways. And like I'm finally on track. So if you're aware of any excellent innovative Sports Management PhD programs in Canada or the USA, I'm all ears!

And then there's the Kingston plan. I've said it before (at least twice in this post alone!), I <3 Kingston. There's something about it that's charming and exciting. Perhaps the mix of old and new, the blend of city and country. Whatever it is, it repeatedly fills me with joy and childlike glee. Maybe I could build a life in Kingston, I think. Consult (social media), communicate (PR), start a business (CarShare Kingston). All three options are interesting and viable and have been suggested to me by other Kingston residents as well. But these feelings are eerily similar to ones I've felt before about the media industry and the sports industry, and we all know how that's working out.

If I were to choose Kingston, I think I would run for City Councillor in 2014, the next municipal elections. It would be interesting, challenging, stimulating, and it would make me feel like I'm accomplishing something important by representing my fellow residents at City Hall. It would also be a responsibility I would wholeheartedly enjoy and dedicate myself too.

These traits are also the ones friends and colleagues point out when I mention the possibility of doing a PhD. "You like research and you're good at it." It's true. I love digging, discovering, and sharing. I've often been told I would be a good teacher. I would like to think I'd be a better professor - I'd be teaching people who, for the most part, are in my classroom by choice. The only aspect of academia that I'm not 100% in tune with is the highly political process of funding applications and other higher education administrative games.

Maybe I'm an idealist, but I believe that most research has value, and that should be enough for funding agencies. I'm not sure where the money should come from, but I just don't like the thought of competing against my friends and colleagues every year, not just for money but for tenure. It gets to be damaging. Sure, I'm pretty competitive and I like to win. But I also like harmonious working environments and I feel like this process fosters quite the opposite in most departments.

In the end, I may choose a completely different path, perhaps one that hasn't even been revealed to me yet. Meanwhile, I'm struggling with the three roads in front of me. Doing nothing is not an option, though delaying a choice by defaulting to Kingston might be. At as now, there is no pressing urge to commit to a single road - except to stop the clock in my head from ticking annoyingly - and I will keep marching along on all three for as long as I can. But ultimately, a choice must be made, and as application deadlines creep increasingly closer, I must at least decide whether I will be deciding now or not.

Maybe I'm just impatient. Maybe I'm just letting various sources of stress gang up on me, overwhelming and confusing me. But this identity crisis is as real as any, and the planner in me wants to know now, so at least I can cross certain items of my to-do list, thereby reducing overall stress levels and allowing life to proceed at a totally tolerable, no longer terrible, operationally cautionary rhythm and rate.

As Douglas Adams would say, "DON'T PANIC!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

On summer

Is it September already? Welcome back to "real life", they tell me when they learn I'm in Grad School. After all, the beginning of September means the return to classes and homework, right? Then I mention that I'm a full-time, year-round student who has been working on research and writing papers all summer. Their response? Usually something along the lines of, "Oh."

For most grad students, the only difference between summer and the "school year" is that your supervisor likely isn't teaching and in fact, might be on vacation. Also, you probably aren't TAing, so you have more flexibility over your activities and whereabouts... as long as you get all your work done on time.

Understandably, the days all melt into one another, and the desire to take extended breaks on beautiful sunny days is often overwhelming. However, work is work and deadlines are deadlines, and at the end of the day/week/month/summer, it all has to get done.

I submitted my thesis proposal to my supervisor last week. THE big task on my summer to-do list will soon be crossed off, once I officially submit it to my soon-to-be-formed thesis proposal committee.

To me, this feels like the beginning of summer. I can finally move forward from all the drama, academic and otherwise, in my life and start fresh... More or less. Though my health issues aren't resolved yet, negative test results are a form of diagnosis, so we're getting closer. I'm feeling secure in my friendships and my connection with the Kingston community. And I really enjoyed my sports TV break, working the LPGA CN Canadian Women's Open in Montreal for CBC, despite the ridiculous weather.

I think I'm getting better at figuring myself out and what I want and need in life. This means I am finally allowing myself to put "me" first at times and do things for myself instead of letting people I like (or want to like me) walk all over me. (Granted, I never let them walk ALL over me, but I did give them much more leeway than they deserved.)

Life, my friends, is good. This is what growing up is all about. And this summer made me realize that you really do keep learning all life long, and you keep growing up, bit by bit, until your life comes to an end.

And now that summer has ended academically, it's time for me to catch up on all the little things you let slide while working away on projects or studying for exams. You know, the cleaning and sorting and cooking real food for dinner. Taking care of yourself and rewarding yourself for all your hard work by actually getting things done in other sectors of your life. This is what summer is all about.

My summer starts now.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Request: Blueberry Cake with Coulis

Earlier today, I mentioned on Twitter that my Mom was baking an amazing-smelling blueberry cake with citrusy accents. I immediately received recipe requests. So tweeps, this is for you!

Blueberry Cake

2 cups of blueberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/3 cup of milk
1/4 cup of butter, refrigerated and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup of sugar
1 egg
4 squares of lemon zest measuring 1 inch per side
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Step-by-step instructions:
Wash and strain the blueberries. Lay them on paper towels to dry.

Add the lemon juice to the milk, reserve.
Pre-heat the oven at 350F.

Place the blade attachment into your food processor. Add the butter, sugar, egg and lemon zest. Turn on the food processor for about 20 seconds to chop up the zest and mix the ingredients. Add the milk and lemon juice mixture into the opening while the processor is still running. Stop.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pulse 3 or 4 times to mix the ingredients. Don't over-pulse. Remove the blade from the appliance. Add the blueberries. Mix delicately by hand. Spread the batter in a greased, 8 inch square pan.

Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes.

Blueberry Coulis

While the recipe above came with its own icing instructions, my Mom likes to mix and match with the following coulis topping recipe instead. It's a gazillion times tastier. (Also, it means I don't have to translate the recipe from the food processor book!)

2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup of water
3/4 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 teaspoons of cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water

Combine blueberries, sugar and water, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat until blueberries are soft. Add lemon juice, butter and cornstarch. Cook until mixture thickens (don't worry if it gets a bit bubbly).
Cool slightly before topping the cake.

You should also let the cake cool before adding the topping.

Et voilà! An amazing yet simple concoction that has remained one of our favourites over the years.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

On Time

A whole month has gone by, it seems, and these days more than ever, I am aware of the passing of time. It's not just the minutes and seconds of every day that seem to expire too fast or too slow, it is the implications of those moments.

In the past month, I've seen so many different explorations of "time". Not enough time in a day. Too much time to do something. Having the time of your life. At this point in time. Time goes by. In time. On time. Long-time. Feels like the first time. Time-sensitive material. Timely answers. Bedtime. Timeless magic. Having time to kill. Time standing still. Things changing over time. Overtime. Taking the time. Perfectly timed comebacks. Keeping time. Love that will last for all time. Until the end of time. In the meantime. Timing. Time management. Time-tracking. Time and time again. Time out.

Time to change.

That's the kicker, ain't it? No matter how time seems to be moving around you, it always boils down to deciding whether or not to change (tasks, ways of thinking, position, feelings...).

In the past month, I've had some wonderful times and some stressful times. Emotional times too. I went to the Taylor Swift concert in Montreal with an amazing friend, and also got to spend time with my family. I went to my cousin's beautiful wedding weekend and got to meet, re-meet and simply enjoy the company of my extended family. I took the time to explore Kingston a little bit more, the hidden sights and the touristy ones, alone, with a local friend, and with a visiting long-time friend. And through it all, I had the time of my life.

In the past month, I have also wished that time could just stop for a bit so I could catch up, catch my breath, and catch on. My health symptoms seem to have stabilised for the most part... until I get sudden, painful reminders that we haven't discovered their source or cause yet. Tests have ruled out some of the more obvious answers so now we're left wondering and doing more tests. At least I'm not spending half my day in the washroom anymore, at least not every day. But not knowing what foods to avoid and what is "safe" is definitely a pain - I can't predict when I will feel sick so I've adopted the bad habit of delaying eating to avoid symptoms. Not cool.

One of the tests we did was an allergy test. I've always been allergic to all the common triggers - dust, mold, pets, pollen, ragweed - but I wanted to get re-tested to see if the combination of never-ending allergy shots as a child and puberty might have desensitized me to some of those allergens. I also wanted to find out if I really was allergic to asparagus, as we'd suspected since the age of 2, when I had my first asthma attack after having it as my "new food of the day". Sure enough, some of my pollen allergies had disappeared over time. And I was so allergic to asparagus that I now have a couple of Epipens and am getting a MedicAlert bracelet - at least they're prettier these days then when I was a child! Also, the allergist tested my breathing, which was apparently not under control. Asthma meds have been upped but at least now that the doctor has prescribed additional measures, I can't be lazy about it. Time to turn the negative into the positive!

In the past month, I've also had some stressful times, trying to figure out if Queen's University and the Faculty Association will come to an agreement in time and avoid a strike or lockout. We should know more in the coming days, when the "No Board" deadline is activated. In the meantime, job action measures are creating delays not only in services but in my ability to get work done. It's hard to feel confident about investing time into putting together a thesis proposal when you know that if you have a quick question, you're going to have to wait a long time for an answer - two weeks turnaround time, to be exact. So I've been procrastinating, which no doubt has led to more stress. Tack on the stress of my health issues, making ends meet financially, the discovery of mold (which I'm allergic to) in my apartment (but that my landlord will likely do nothing about) and Pharaoh Ants (which are the hardest to get rid of, though my traps have been quite effective so far) in my kitchen, and you've got a bundle of sleepy, sleepless, restless, nerves. (That's me!)

Over time, stress leads to anxiety and other hyper-emotional reactions, so everything seems to have a heightened impact. Which leads to more stress, of course, and a greater desire for a time out from life. But "in real life", there are no time outs. So it's time to change. Time to buckle up and get my ducks in a row. Yes, work/life balance is important. Yes, a healthy mind thrives in a healthy body. But since I can't seem to control the body part of that equation, I'm going to focus on the mind. I'm going to take the time I need to reset myself - in effect, taking a "real life" time out - by letting others help me manage my time. I'm going to crawl back to Mommy and Daddy and let them take care of me for a little bit of time, and I'm not afraid to say so or ashamed of it.

Because time doesn't stand still.

Time is going by so quickly and I need more time in my day to make sure I get my work done on time. And at this point in time, it's time that I acknowledge the passage of time and take advantage of the little time that I have left to take a young adult time-out before it's time for me to be giving them out. And then, you can be sure that I won't have time to kill.

All in good time!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

On the Spoon Theory

As many of you know, I have been dealing with excessively draining and frustrating gastrointestinal issues for the past few months. It has been taxing on my school/work life, my personal life and put a dent in my normally very positive and upbeat personality. It's hard to keep your energy levels up when you're constantly puking or sitting on the toilet.

As if the constant fatigue and frustration at not understanding what's going on in your body isn't enough to deal with, there's also the stress. Stress related to being sick and not knowing why, the stress (on your mind, body, soul) of being sick all the time, the stress of the fear of eating because even "safe" foods don't always stay down, the stress of deadlines getting closer and closer and not being able to work on them, the stress of potentially letting people down, the stress of disappointing friends, families and colleagues when you do let them down because you haven't been able to meet the aforementioned deadlines, the stress of life continuing around you while you're stuck in the same spot day after day, the stress of pushing people away with your continual rants at being sick, tired, frustrated, etc., the stress of being stressed and knowing that stress is just making everything worse...

There's a lot of stress involved. And despite being tired and feeling sick, you try to make it work. You try to meet those deadlines and hang out with friends without being a downer. You try not to feel bummed or like a bum all the time. You try to catch up on sleep to try to counter the fatigue but the pain, nausea, and sickness (and fear of being so sick that you need help but having no one around to help you and not being able to call for anyone before it's too late)... all this stress prevents you from recovering. At least if you could sleep well, you'd feel better, right? So far, catching up on sleep has not made much of a difference. It gives me productive half days where I can ignore the fear of impending sickness but once all my symptoms hit by mid-afternoon, I feel just as tired as if I hadn't slept at all the night before.

It's taxing. It's frustrating. But it's hard to explain to others how draining it is to be sick every day without sounding like a wimp or a whiner.

Last night, one of my Twitter friends introduced me to The Spoon Theory. Having dealt with her share of taxing chronic illness, she thought Spoon Theory might help me cope with the difficulty of understanding and explaining what was going on. She was right.

The Spoon Theory was developed by Christine Miserandino when her closest friend, who had been with her through a variety of Lupus-related situations outside the normal day-to-day activities of normal young adults, asked her what it felt like to be sick. Thinking her friend was asking about the medical definition of having Lupus, Christine confusedly went through the symptoms and health repercussions. When her friend specified that she was seeking to understand the embodied experience of chronic illness, Spoon Theory was born.

Here's a 3-paragraph extract from Christine's amazing Spoon Theory article:

At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.

I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?

I highly suggest that you click through and read the whole article. It's a quick but well-packed piece that does the best job at accurately representing what it feels like, day-to-day, to have a chronic illness or chronic pain or even a mental health issue such as depression.

Reading about Spoon Theory late last night helped me relax. It filled me with hope for a resolution, which is what I should've been feeling after a very positive appointment with a new doctor who actually listened to me and believed what I was saying about the changes in my body and ordered a whole bunch of diagnostic tests. But getting sick that evening had once again put a damper on things. The spoons I'd gained had been lost, so to speak.

But Spoon Theory has helped me accept that this might be a reality for me. It also helped me see that it might not. Either way, Spoon Theory helped me remember something very very important: I have more spoons than most people, and for that, I am very thankful.

I have an excellent support system, friends that aren't tuning me out when I rant (again!) about feeling sick and tired and frustrated but instead are concerned about me. I hope that by sharing The Spoon Theory with them, they will better be able to understand why I feel panicked about not being able to meet my deadlines and can't always accept their very generous home-cooked dinner invitations even though I really really want to. I love you just for offering and I don't like turning you down but sometimes, the best thing I can do for me is to save a spoon so I fall asleep with little to no pain or drama.

Hopefully, all of this will be resolved soon. I know I'll feel a whole lot better when I finally know what I have. Then, I can start to count my daily spoons and deal with it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On extended deadlines

Ah, deadlines! Can't live with them, can't live without them! You know me. I thrive under pressure. I love love love deadlines. They don't, however, always love me.

Sometimes, a deadline is scheduled for the most inopportune time. For example, the 2011 World Partnership Walk fundraising deadline was set to June 15, which didn't give a busy graduate student like me much time to build momentum and really reach out to my usual donors. Luckily, that deadline was extended to June 30! So you've got 9 more days to contribute to ending global poverty by donating now:

100% of your donation, as you know, goes directly to longterm sustainable international development solutions that consider the environment and gender equality while dealing with core areas like health, education, community engagement, and fostering the development of civil societies.

These programmes are not cookie-cutter solutions. Instead, the Aga Khan Development Network, along with receptive government agencies and local partners, go to the affected communities and ask them what they need the most. Then, they help them develop the right solution for that village, train them to implement it themselves, and give them the resources to succeed and then teach this skill to surrounding villages in need.

It's a smart way to make sure everyone feels empowered and committed to improving their own lives and livelihoods. Yeah, it's pretty awesome. So today, tomorrow, or some time before the end of June, please donate to the World Partnership Walk and help me reach my $2,500 fundraising goal! I'm about halfway there and would love to see that fundraising thermometer animation overflow! Last year, I raised $2,000 with your help so I know we can make it happen!

When I walked the 5K Walk in Ottawa on June 12 - despite having a bad case of stomach flu - the organisers announced that Ottawa had reached its fundraising target. And, our team, the Kingston Hope-Raisers, won one of the Top Team awards! So far in 2011, the World Partnership Walk has raised over $6 million dollars across Canada! Click here to donate now and be a part of the solution to global poverty.

Together, we can change the world, one step at a time.

Please help me raise funds for the World Partnership Walk:
Thanks so much for your continued support!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

On #NASSM2011 (and more!)

This past week, I went to my first ever North American Society for Sport Management Conference. I also gave my first ever national/international academic presentation. It was the first time I stayed in a college dorm. And it was my first trip to London, ON.

What a week it was! I met many new people, made new friends and new contacts and learned a lot of new things about all kinds of new topics. I stressed over my presentation and cut, cut, cut it down to a quick, 17-minute talk... only 2 minutes over the recommended 15-minute "presentation" portion of the 20-minute time slot. My roommate and I had a blast in the not-so-stellar dorms at the University of Western Ontario, and one of my new friends' intense Vancouver Canucks fandom made for awesome game-watching experiences.

Apart from that? It was nice to know that NASSM 2011 was the end of my huge end-of-term academic rush. Now, I get to focus on writing my thesis proposal and three papers I've been asked to contribute to as part of my Research Assistanceship work for two different profs. I'm looking forward to more work/life balance (read "fun") and I can't wait to soak up the sun.

In other life news, I am most definitely lactose intolerant, and it's much more serious than I thought it was as even drinking "lactose-free" milk really does a number on my GI system. So I'm taking lactase pills with just about every meal (including my morning cereal) and will be switching to Almond Milk if I can deal with the sweetness levels of the unsweetened variety. There's also some other stuff going on there, so hopefully this week's doctor's appointment will help sort it all out. It's looking like pills for life though, which sucks.

On a more positive note, I am now officially one of the organizers of Limestone New Media Group in Kingston, ON. This comes after giving a presentation on Social Media and Non-Profits during the March meeting and being a guest co-host on the second ever LNMG podcast to discuss my Facebook situation and the implications of those kinds of actions. I'm looking forward to the June meetup and mingling with even more new-to-me Kingston locals!

Finally, I should probably mention that at the NASSM 2011 Student Luncheon, I was voted in as one of three student board members! This means that I will get to organize at least one initiative for NASSM 2012 in Seattle next May. Exciting!! I also hope that I'll be able to increase the amount of communications between students in and with the NASSM community, as well as improve year-long mentoring opportunities. I guess between this and my RA position as NASSS 2011 Advertising & Exhibits Manager, I've got my work cut out for me!

So... Who wants to go to a movie?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On making a positive impact

With World Partnership Walk events taking place in three cities across Canada this weekend, I was inspired to post one last plea to help me eliminate global poverty. As you know by now, 100% of funds raised go directly to longterm sustainable international development solutions that help improve the lives and livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world. Not one cent is spent on administration! Plus, your donation will help leverage additional funds from partners like the Canadian International Development Agency, who last year multiplied donations by an average factor of 6.

Just think! Your $50 donation became $300. All of it helped fund projects that are identified and implemented by local communities, targeting the areas they determine to be in greatest need and providing solutions like revitalizing a rural economy, ensuring clean water and sanitation, strengthening community-based organizations and educating new generations of girls and women. Just like that!

I raise funds for the World Partnership Walk because I want to make a positive impact on the world. I can't afford to give much, but I do what I can, volunteering my time and expertise as well. Please help me leave a legacy I can be proud of. Click here to donate now and give the gift of hope:

Together, we can end world poverty, one step at a time! Join me in Ottawa on June 12, 2011 at Major's Hill Park as we walk the Walk in symbolic support of those who walk daily for their basic necessities: drinkable water, an education, or work in the fields. In this beautiful setting, rain or shine, we will continue the legacy of the 17 women who started the World Partnership Walk in Vancouver 27 years ago. Since then, we have raised over $60 million dollars for the cause. How high can we take that number in 2011?

Thank you so much for your continued support. It means the world to me!


Monday, May 16, 2011

On going dairy-free

In the most recent development of my ongoing stomach issues saga, my doctor friend has asked me to go dairy-free for two weeks. This was after my actual doctor, either because she wasn't happy that I was discussing my health issues with my doctor friends or because she was simply unaware, told me there was no such thing as a lactose intolerance test.

You see, my doctor friend wondered if my stomach issues could be more than H.Pylori (it wasn't) or GERD (this is probably part of it). Our current "favourites" are Irritable Bowel Syndrome, something deeper, darker, and scarier and rarer that has yet to be mentioned, or lactose intolerance. To recap, not only will I probably have to take Proton-Pump Inhibitors for the rest of my life, based on the treatment's semi-effectiveness one month in, but I probably will have to make another change in my day-to-day routine.

So we go dairy-free. It's the hard way of figuring out if I'm actually lactose intolerant or simply lactose sensitive, as I've been terming it. I haven't been able to drink straight-up cow's milk for at least 3 years, and the creamier a food, the more trouble it gives me. This means ice cream is often a pain in my gut, and I avoid alfredo sauce, creamy desserts, and more. (Yes, I know about soy and almond milk products. I can't handle the texture - it makes me feel like puking.)

One would think that since I'm already on "lactose-free" milk, removing dairy from my diet wouldn't be such a big deal. I just have to manage my cheese and chocolate cravings for 14 days and forget butter exists. Easy peasy!


Did you know that most prepared meats, breads/baked goods, snacks, salad dressings and canned foods have some sort of milk additive? Look up the ingredients. If you see casein, whey, dry milk powder, prebiotics, high protein, or any other variations on the list, that product is not dairy-safe. Even prescription pills use milk products as filler! My morning cereal has whey in it so I can't even have that stable staple to look forward to!

No potato chips, no crackers except for melba toast, no seasonings except for oil and herbs.

Basically, my diet for the next two weeks will consist of "fresh" meats and fish, veggies, and pasta. I'm not risking any canned foods in case they're not listing possible milk cross-contamination, since there are no milk allergy or "lactose-free" guidelines in Canada. Fortunately, my regular bread is safe, as are peanut butter and most jams/jellies/honey.

I spent half my day today looking up safe and unsafe foods, finding appropriate recipes, and reading the ingredients on pretty much everything in my fridge and pantry. Tomorrow, I'm going to pick up some dairy-free cheese and finally attempt to make my own tofu. I'm also going to search for dairy-free chocolate (cocoa is dairy-free but most commercial brands add lactose or milk powder to their products and even dark chocolate could be contaminated from being produced on the same line as milk chocolate.)

I'm just really glad this is a two-week try-out. And that I'm not allergic to milk because I'd probably be dead by now if I were... Between my love for goat cheese and my addiction to chocolate, I put up with a fair amount of discomfort to satisfy my cravings.

That's going to be the hard part. That and remembering to read the ingredients in everything, including sauces used for marinades. If I weren't focusing on finishing a paper (and then 2 group papers and a conference presentation), I wouldn't mind the extra time commitment that this diet demands. If I wasn't a mono-dweller, I'd also find it easier to manage. But cooking for one or two requires a whole lot of portion planning and, as I've re-discovered this past week, a lot of my fresh ingredients tend to go to waste simply because can't use them up fast enough. I try to limit my shopping trips since I don't have a car but I was considering not buying fresh until I had more time to plan my meals. Throwing away rotten ingredients is not something I'm proud of, especially when so many people around the world are literally dying for a bit of that food. Plus, it's expensive.

Needless to say, the next two days will be a roller-coaster. So far, the craziest thing I've done is squirted Nesquik into my mouth to try to squash a particularly poignant unrelenting chocolate craving. Since I don't drink tea or coffee, chocolate is my main source of caffeine, not to mention its excellent comforting capacities. I guess I'll be making a lot more herbal tea in the next 14 days! Only time will tell if these sacrifices were worth it!

And then, regardless of results, I have to find a way to break it to my doctor. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

On grieving

It surprises me that I still grieve for my friend's mom. Sure, we had a close relationship at one time, but not in the past few years. Kristin Walker passed away one week ago, peacefully, surrounded by 15 family members in a palliative care unit. After her third (I think?) bout with breast cancer, she couldn't fight anymore. It had metastesized over the years, slowly attacking her major organs. Liver. Lungs. Brain. One by one, they fell.

Kristin was more than my friend's mom. She was my ex-boyfriend's mom, and so, a surrogate mom for me, at one point in my life. I spent a considerable amount of time in her home and knew her family and loved ones very well. At one point, they were my friends and family too. In her last week, they tried to contact me. My Facebook issues made that very difficult. My ex, as usual, was not very forthcoming with information. To be fair, he had other things on his mind. He emailed me with the news on Sunday. His family didn't know I had finally been reached.

I should have known something was going on. I should have trusted my instincts. In the past few weeks, I kept feeling like I should call him, or at least text or email to see what was going on in his life. I kept putting it off. I dread awkward conversations. Many do. But I should have known. I should have listened to my pestering inner voice instead of not so subconsciously forgetting to follow through.

I wish I had gotten to say goodbye. It pains me to know that I was wanted and couldn't be there. Especially since I was only 20 minutes away by car, having gone home for an Easter visit. I wish I had known. I wish I could have wordlessly touched her hand and transferred some of my positive energy to her. Just in case it would have made a difference.

The funny thing is that I had been thinking of her all weekend. The first time I met Kristin was at a family Easter brunch. My first encounter with the Walkers. I remember it well. I remember the exact table we sat at in the restaurant, the way she looked at me. I remember her hair. I remember stressing over what to wear. I remember what I wore and I remember the warmth. The funny thing is that memory kept coming back to me. Now Easter will always be a time to remember her, even moreso than before.

I wish I could have stayed for the funeral. I wish I could have been at the wake. Because of the distance, I couldn't even bake. I ordered from a local bakery and a nearby friend - an angel - delivered them instead. She described Kristin's mom's reaction to me later over Twitter. No one should have to bury their child, no matter how young or how old. That's not the way life's energy is supposed to flow. We're supposed to grow.

It all comes back to the same place, I suppose. Kristin's life impacted that of everyone she encountered. That's just the way she was. She was a wild spirit and though everyone has their faults, she was rarely malicious. Manipulative, perhaps, but all strong spirits are. That's what makes them so feisty, so full of fire. That's what makes them who they are.

It's fitting that Kristin's wake should have taken place on the day of the Royal Wedding. She would have loved to watch it, in her pyjamas in her living room, or perhaps even in bed. She probably would have called a bunch of her friends as she watched. Gossiping. Gasping. Giggling.

Instead, all her friends came to watch her. At least she isn't suffering anymore, that much we know. At least she's not worrying anymore, she doesn't have to know. It was her time to go. And in a few weeks, we will party in her honour once more, celebrating her life, marking her death, and sharing memories that will help her live on forever in our hearts, in our heads.

Kristin, you were loved. And you will be missed.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

On birthdays

It's my birthday today!

On Facebook, when it's your birthday, you are showered with wishes from just about everyone on your contact list. That's a whole lot of email notifications.

This year, I'm not on Facebook (not by choice). Yet, I have been feeling just as much love, if not more. Why? My Twitter friends, upon learning of my date of birth - since Twitter doesn't tell everyone it's your birthday, you have to mention it first! - have been sending birthday wishes my way. And I am basking in the love.

I feel so incredibly blessed to be who I am, where I am, and have the love and friendship (and even acquaintanceship!) of so many wonderful people. It's a beautiful day and my school work is slowly but surely progressing. I have a follow up doctor's appointment this week to deal with my recent health issues. And I'm having a birthday bash next weekend, when my current school deadlines are more or less taken care of. How can I not be happy?!

It's easy to be critical of our selves and overanalyse every little action we take, whether its consequences are positive or negative. It's easy to feel bummed or frustrated or nostalgic - and I've felt all three this week. And that's okay! It's okay to feel under the weather. It's hard work to turn it around and smile instead of frown. My life philosophy of finding the positive in even the little things - like the sun shining - makes that task a whole lot more enjoyable.

I am thankful for all my experiences so far, and for those to come, because I know that, good or bad, they will make me a better person. And isn't that the point of life? To grow, develop and flow into a "better" person? It's not about the accumulation of wealth or stuff - though I do love my "things" and would be devastated if I lost the most precious of them. Still, I am aware that these are luxuries. Yes, even my comfy walkable boots.

So today, to celebrate the date of my birth, I have a simple request. Please, take any money you would spend on a present for me and donate it to someone who needs it a whole lot more than me. By contributing to the World Partnership Walk, you are helping me bring the hope and joy that fills my life to little boys and girls (and older ones too!) across the world. On June 12, 2011, I will walk in Major's Hill Park in Ottawa to symbolically represent the work that some of the poorest people in the world need to do daily, all day, just to be able to do the things I take for granted, like having a sip of water or opening the fridge door and finding it full of ingredients. Or turning up the heat when it gets cold at night, or the AC when it gets too hot in the summer.

So please, instead of treating me for my Birthday, let's put an end to global poverty together. That would be the best present ever. Click here to sponsor me for the World Partnership Walk, join my team by registering here, or create your own fundraising team here!

If you haven't heard me talk about the Walk before, you can read some of my blog posts on the subject here and here, and read up about Aga Khan Foundation Canada, the non-profit non-denominational organization behind the cross-cutting programmes that 100% of the money you donate will fund. Discover why the World Partnership Walk is more than a cause, and then gather your pennies, loonies, or $100 bills and make me the happiest girl in the whole world today:

Friday, April 01, 2011

On my (disabled) Facebook account #FacebookUnfairToNailaJ

As you may or may not have noticed, I am no longer on Facebook. This was not my decision.

Sometime between 2am and 10am on Monday, March 28, 2011, Facebook disabled my account. I'm still not sure why or how or when this happened, since I didn't get a warning or even a notification of any kind. Instead, on Monday morning, when I tried to log-in to my account, I was met with this message:
Account Disabled
Your account has been disabled. If you have any questions or concerns, you can visit our FAQ page here.
Ironically, the "here" link wasn't actually working, so I painstakingly navigated to this page, which told me:
Disabled - Ineligible
Upon investigation, we have determined that you are ineligible to use Facebook. Unfortunately, for safety and security reasons, we cannot provide additional information as to why your account was disabled. This decision is final.
Sounds ominous, doesn't it? I'm not quite sure how I was ineligible to use Facebook. I'm over the age of 13, I hadn't posted any spam or scam links (not even the "Sports commentator shows her boobs on TV" virus video that had been going around). I don't have a fake account, or multiple accounts, or a business account as a personal profile. I hadn't done anything different than I usually do, so none of the reasons Facebook Help pointed me to apply. And it's not like I had received any "warnings" from Facebook prior to my account being disabled, which apparently means that it was a "severe" security violation, according to this.

Finally, I found this disabled report form which I only knew to look for because I pay attention to these things. Did I mention I always read the terms and conditions for websites like these? I'm one of the few people I know who is actually fully aware of all the clauses in my insurance policies. I filled out and sent the form on Monday around noon, which is also about when I replied to their "confirm your identity" email, which told me that my case would be put in a queue and there was nothing I could do but wait. Fine.

Let me point out that I am an ideal Facebook user. If you're one of my Facebook friends, you know this to be true. I post a lot, encourage people to sign up or direct them to little-used features, and I report spammers and abusers. My career path involves using social networking so I'm all over the new tools and trends. Well, except Facebook Pages because I'd rather not get robbed while I'm out on the town. I'm the main administrator for the "Fans of Wil Wheaton" group, for which I received an unofficial stamp of approval from Wil Wheaton himself. I am also an admin on the World Partnership Walk Ottawa fan page and on the Macdonald Festival fan page. None of this is illegal, according to Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Go ahead. Skim through it. I haven't violated any clauses.

Unless someone (or several people) reported me for spam or abuse (multiple times), I'm not quite sure how my account was flagged or why. Even then, reporting my account would be an act of malice and cyberbullying, which, according to Facebook's own policies, should have that user banned from using the site.

It's been 5 days. So far, I have not received any form of personalised communication from Facebook. In fact, other than the "please confirm your identity" email, I haven't heard a single thing from Facebook. Zero. Nada. Zilch. In the mean time, I'm barred from starting a new account because that would be a violation of Facebook's policies. Meanwhile, I can't do my job, do my volunteer work, and even, in some cases, my school work (where I use my Facebook account to "connect" with other online tools to access their information). Plus, multi-tasking with Facebook helps me clear my head when I'm dealing with complex ideas during my researching and writing process. As a result, I have been LESS productive during this busy time than I would have had my Facebook account still been active.

In order to try to expedite the process, I sent in the "disabled by error" form once more yesterday, filling in the content box with an abridged version of the information I've presented here. I also pointed them to #FacebookUnfairToNailaJ, a clever idea from @tfromdtown, who suggested I get everyone I know to trend that hashtag. That hasn't quite happened but several people in my Twitter network have been using the tag to express their concern or discontent at my profile still being disabled, and, worse, still not knowing why and when I can get it back.

Some examples:
@ToulasTake: @NailaJ WHAT?? You should create a #FacebookUnfairToNailaJgroup and ask ppl to join!! Oh, wait. You don't have a FB account. ;) #ISoSuck

Clearly, the impact of my account being disabled reaches beyond just me. I have effectively been disconnected from family members on the other side of the world because I never bothered to get an updated email address - we were Facebook friends. They can no longer reach me either. And on a local level, I can no longer interact with certain Kingston-area businesses whose main web presence is on Facebook. I can't check to see if my friend got the birthday card I sent her. I can't even wish a Happy Birthday to some of my friends and family. And when my birthday rolls around next week, they won't be able to send me their wishes either. I don't even know how many people will actually be showing up to my birthday dinner because by disabling my account, Facebook also disabled my event, which means my friends haven't been able to adjust their RSVPs (as I have been repeatedly reminded) and I can't make proper reservations.

Yes, it is sad, to a certain extent, that I have come to depend so much on Facebook. The good news is, I'm not the only one. The bad news is, without a Facebook account, you are very much excluded from life in 2011. What frustrates me the most, though, is that I haven't gotten even a hint of a response from Facebook and there is no other way to contact them. I'm in social media limbo and I am powerless to do anything to get myself out of it.

A Twitter friend mentioned that this happened to her in the fall and her account was restored in 3 days. Well, Facebook, it's been 5 days. I'm waiting.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On spreading hope

Every year, I write a few blog posts about fundraising for the World Partnership Walk. I mention that it's Canada's largest annual event to raise funds and awareness to fight global poverty, and that the Walk is almost entirely organized by volunteers in 10 cities across Canada. And I'm always sure to include my favourite statistic - 100% of the funds raised go directly to fund long-term sustainable international development initiatives that help people help themselves.

Run by Aga Khan Foundation Canada through Aga Khan Development Network, a non-denominational, not-for-profit international agency, the projects promote cross-cutting social development to help improve the quality of life of some of the poorest people in the world by empowering them to identify and implement their own solutions. The programmes focus on health, education, rural development, and building the capacity of local communities and civil societies. They also always take into account gender equity and environmental concerns.

What does this mean? It means that villagers are provided with the human and material resources they need to get started on bettering their own lives, whatever that means to them. They take social and emotional ownership of the projects, and their investment on these levels means that they're truly committed to making it work. Even better? These projects spread hope not only in that village but in neighbouring villages as well, since the education and experience is easily transferred to others in similar contexts.

Plus, support garnered through the World Partnership Walk helps AKFC leverage the funds we raise. In fact, the Canadian International Development Agency matches funds raised for these projects, from 1 to 9 times. Last year, the average matching factor was of 4, which means that the $2,000 you helped me raised actually became $8,000. In a time where money is increasingly tight, this means a lot. Not just to me, but to the communities we're helping on the other side of the world. To the elders, parents, and children whose faces I personally saw filled with hope when I visited some of AKFC's projects in Kenya in 2009.

So where does that leave us? As our income is increasingly not earning us as much as it used to, it would be understandable for us to keep our money close and wallets closed. Food prices are hitting record highs across the world and Canadians won't be immune to the hikes. And that's not the only thing costing us more! If you pay energy bills, you probably noticed that your power and utilities costs have gone up too - look for increases of 3.5% per year over the next 20 years in Ontario. That's 7.9% per year in the next five years alone.

No matter how little you consume, that hurts. Every single one of us is undeniably feeling the pinch.

So just imagine how deeply despairing this pinch would be if you lived in the developing world. That's not to say that there aren't locals who are in situations that seem just as desperate. But when you can't even depend on existing infrastructure, socialist government programmes, or even the relative stability of your immediate environment, how are you supposed to get started on changing your life situation? There are no resources for you to access, in many cases, or if there are, you're probably physically unable to access them or blocked by corrupt practices. Rising costs affect us all, but at least we North Americans have the means to change our way of life to reduce their impact.

I don't like feeling like my situation is hopeless. I don't think anyone does. So please, help me raise funds for the 2011 World Partnership Walk so we can spread hope. Remember, we're all living on the same planet. Events taking place across the globe affect us more than we know, as the current food crisis shows. By sparking change at home, we can help enable change that matters in developing countries too. Together, I truly believe that we can put an end to world poverty, but it'll take time and we need to commit to change now.

You can help change the world by sponsoring me for the Walk here:

You can also register to raise funds here, or join the Kingston Hope-raisers team and start giving back to the global community.

PS: You can now find the Ottawa World Partnership Walk on Twitter: @WPWOttawa. Make sure to tag all your 2011 Walk tweets with #wpw27. "Like" the World Partnership Walk Ottawa fan page on Facebook and don't forget to RSVP on the event page. Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Reading Week

Good news, everyone!

Reading Break has left me feeling more calm and collected than I have in months! And this more relaxed "ME" comes at the right time since March is going to be an absolute whirlwind of school writing, class presentations and paper drafting. Upcoming deadlines include leading a class discussion on March 3, and a research summary due on the same day, a class presentation on March 14, a first draft of a paper due on March 30 and another due on March 31.

And then in April, I've got papers due on April 8, April 11, and mid-month (flexible deadline). In other words, except for coming up for occasional breaths of fresh air, don't expect to see me out and about until past my birthday. At least the whole "Well, I've got to eat at some point!" reasoning will come in handy in terms of scheduling compulsory breaks. That and the aquafit classes that I've built-in to my schedule.

Thankfully, this past week has allowed to me get a good chunk of everyday class work and advance research and sourcing done before the deadline crunch really hits me. Surprisingly, instead of getting increasingly stressed as time went by and I wasn't able to meet my stringent self-imposed deadlines, I actually felt myself relaxing. How can I tell? Well, my chronic wrist pain has mostly dissipated and my posture feels less tense, despite basically sitting all week.

There are two or three events that I've committed to, despite my heavy schedule, and I'm sure they will be welcome distractions - and good for forcing me to get work done under pressure. Apart from an upcoming quickie Toronto weekend with the family, I'm also heading back to Montreal to catch a Habs game in March. Plus, there's the Limestone New Media Group meetup in March at my favourite Kingston restaurant, The Tango that I will most certainly be attending, provided I don't have a deadline the next day. The lovely group of people who actively participate in @lnmg activities have become my core of friends in this city, and I absolutely love them. Can't leave them hanging, now can I?

And on that note, back to class-assigned readings and longing for the summer months, when I will be able to expand my "currently reading" bookshelf to include non-academic literature. The sunshine and springtime can't come soon enough!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On raising funds for the World Partnership Walk

This year again, I am raising funds for the 27th World Partnership Walk, Canada's largest annual event dedicated to fighting poverty. In the past few years, I have been involved with the Walk at an intimate level, leading the Media and Marketing campaign for the Montreal region, helping to create a uniform social media strategy, and best of all, getting to see the impact of our work for myself during my Awareness Trip to Africa in 2009 with Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC).

It was my heavy involvement with this not-for-profit organization that earned me an invitation to Kenya in the summer of 2009. Of course, I paid for all of my own expenses. This trip was an eye-opener for me because AKFC brought us behind-the-scenes, to the grassroots level, to see where the money goes and how much our little efforts can accomplish. It was during this trip that I truly understood, for the first time, that marginalized populations are just like us. We all have the same hopes and dreams, for ourselves and our children. We're all striving to make a better world, not just for us but for the whole world.

But why raise funds to eliminate world poverty? It seems like a pretty elitist goal, doesn't it? I mean, it's not like the world is actually ever going to change, is it?

I think that recent developments in Egypt prove that change is possible, as long as we, as a worldwide collective, as determined, passionate and patient. Change doesn't happen overnight, though, and one of the first steps to sparking change is creating awareness.

That's why although I have moved to Kingston, my involvement with the Walk has not ended. Kingston falls under the umbrella of the Ottawa Walk, and I will be the acting as a regional manager of sorts for the area. That means I will be reaching out to all of my new Ktown friends to help me raise funds and spread the word about this awesome event and the projects it enables. I have also set my personal fundraising goal for 2011 at $2,500. You can contribute any time at

What makes the World Partnership Walk - and AKFC - such a stellar cause? 100% of the funds raised through the 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... and more. The Foundation's multi-pronged approach aims to enhance the quality of life of some of the poorest people in the world in cross-cutting ways, and that's what I love about it.

It doesn't give a man a fish, to use the popular cliché. It teaches him, his family, and his whole community to fish, then offers him or her a microfinance loan and professional resources so he can learn how to sell that fish to nearby villages and then teach them to do the same.

Change happens one step at time, but we all have to march together. It takes time and commitment, from both internal and external players. And it takes a certain kind of will to see a project of change through until the end. I truly believe that, as I have seen with my own eyes, the World Partnership Walk has the right techniques, the proper resources and the benefit of a long-term approach to make it all work.

And how do I know that? Because its projects put smiles on the faces of little boys and girls in Asia and in Africa. Because that boy in the picture is able to go to a rural school every day without worrying how his family will survive if he doesn't work the fields all day. And his sisters in urban areas can daydream about being doctors and teachers during class instead of wondering if they will be harassed by sugar daddys or rapists on their walk home. Because their parents feel secure in the knowledge that their children will be better off than they are. That they will never have to worry about food, safety, or having a preventable illness.

Raising funds for the World Partnership Walk means allowing these children to BE just that: children. Together, we can change the world and make that dream a reality. Together, we can take steps to end global poverty. Won't you walk with me?

The 27th World Partnership Walk will be taking place in 10 cities across Canada for three consecutive weekends, starting on May 29, 2011. Join me at Major's Hill Park in Ottawa on Sunday, June 12, 2011 and be part of the over 40,000 Canadians raising more than $6 million towards eliminating global poverty.

And meanwhile, get involved! Spread the word, start your own team at, or simply contribute to the cause by sponsoring me to walk by clicking here. Thank you for helping me make the world a better place, one step at a time.

Monday, February 14, 2011

On love

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon the TV show "Double Exposure". It's about two world-renown fashion photographers who dysfunctionally work together even though they're no longer romantically involved. As you can expect, there are quite a few heated discussions. Still, these two obviously love each other. In fact, in this episode, Indrani tells her former lover, Markus Klinko:

"I love you too much to be in a relationship with you."

This sentiment especially resonated with me. Take a moment to think about it. It's one of those "so true" statements. And it got me thinking... in this context, what is love? How do you differentiate love that feels like a relationship but isn't?

Over the next few days, I pondered this question. It wasn't an active thought-process but something that popped into my head every now and then. So, without further ado, here are some of the reflections that came to me in my meditation:


♥ does not need to be defined to be true
♥ waits for you to open your heart to it
♥ teaches you to let go & live
♥ is the fire that ignites your dreams & fills you with hope
♥ lights up your heart & everything around you
♥ makes you SMILE!

Hope your hearts are full of love today and all year long.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

On portfolios

Not only did I finish re-working my CV/Resume this weekend, I also (finally) put my extended demo reel up on YouTube.

This is the demo I created just over a year ago as I was applying to certain journalism jobs. I had just discovered that my external hard drive, which I thought was safely in a friend's possession, had been stolen when her apartment was broken in to about a year before that. That hard drive not only contained my only high-quality copies of all the broadcast work I had done throughout school, it also had all the raw import footage I had captured. The plan, of course, was that some of this raw footage could be re-purposed for other works, like, for example, a demo reel.

Working under a time crunch, I found the next best thing. Our TV shows were consistently uploaded to YouTube by the department, so I entrepreneurially downloaded the pre-edited, pre-produced footage of each and every published show I had worked on and tried to make that work.

The end result, if I do say so myself, is pretty good! For my techies out there, the pre-packaged footage was shot on PD-170s (SD) and edited with Final Cut Pro. The demo reel itself was edited using Adobe Premiere. Any and all feedback is appreciated.


Friday, January 28, 2011

On marketing yourself

Perhaps it's because of my upbringing and personal values, but I've always found it hard to market myself. Most of the time, I can't even accept compliments. This built-in humility isn't really the best personality trait for someone attempting to build their personal brand.

Like many other marketers, I just can't seem to transfer my professional skills to my personal life, in this sense. Selling myself, and learning to accept that it's a necessary strategy for someone searching to build a career in online media, marketing and branding has been a rough road. Still, I'm making small strides. This blog is one of them. Better managing my Twitter account is another. And I've recently started re-organizing my professional profiles, from private professional networks to updating my LinkedIn profile to creating this cute little bundle that combines all my major online presences on one page.

And today, I will be taking the last step on my to-do list: completely revamping my CV.

It's a task that's making me feel apprehensive because I'm nervous about settling on one path for my future. I know that several people have more than one CV or CV type to reflect their different career goals, but I've never been the kind of person to fragment my personality. When you talk to me, you get it all, not just pieces. Yes, we all filter our conversations based on whom we're conversing with, but I don't hide a part of myself like a secret that cannot be revealed. If it comes up, I'm usually pretty open with discussing pretty much anything. This is probably why I'm having a hard time attempting to split my personality on paper.

More importantly, it's quite nerve-racking to settle on one career goal when I have so many interests and avenues left to explore. Do I move away from TV and commit to PR/Media Relations? Do I focus on communications at a corporate level? What of my interest in social media managing and online marketing strategies? Even sticking to sports as my field of choice is a bit of a struggle since I am very much interested in not-for-profit organisations, military and defence systems, and government work in general. So how do I reconcile all these interests? I'm pretty sure I don't have a choice but to filter my presentation of myself and my skills in order to best benefit myself. To borrow from Foucault, I should use technologies of the self to better myself and maximise my future life opportunities.

And speaking of Foucault, I finally created a SlideShare account in order to most effectively share my work without clogging the blog. So for those who were interested in reading my paper on Foucauldian interpretations of the changing power relations in the NHL when its athletes take to Twitter, the wait is over! Without further ado, I am proud to present... *drum roll* "Rinkside Tweeting" available in its entirety online for optimal sharing (and branding!).

Because, as someone whose future lies in creative outlets, I (now) understand the importance of sharing my work with others. It's not about compliments, though constructive feedback is always appreciated. Like digital branding guru Mitch Joel, I am an introvert. So for me, it's about building my personal and professional confidence while sharing the knowledge I have acquired. It's about making a contribution to the world and knowing that I've done all I can to help others open their minds to new worldviews and ideas.

And who knows? Maybe that's what my CV should reflect. My desire to contribute to the world, no matter which professional path I choose to follow. It'll still require some trimming and fine-tuning, but by focusing on my skills and contributions rather than job titles, perhaps I can discover a new path to a fully fulfilling future. Only time will tell!

Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

On writing

So far, the New Year has been full of school work and writing. The paper I was working on for my class last semester went from having a personal deadline of Christmas to January 5th to "before classes start" to finally being finished late last week. Needless to say, with all the work assigned for my classes this semester, I've been more than a little overloaded!

I'm proud to say that my paper just needs a quick edit/revision before I can submit it by email. Plus, I presented it yesterday at Queen's University's 9th annual Macintosh Conference and it got really great feedback. Of course, trimming and turning 28 double-spaced pages of Foucauldian interpretations of the changing power relations in the NHL once players tweet into a 20-minute power point presentation that still covers most of the complex information is a hard feat. It's why the past few weeks have been full of 4am bedtimes and 8:30am wakeup calls. In other words, I've been super tired, super overworked and super brain hurt stressed.

The good news is I've been building in sports, entertainment and BALANCE into my schedule. Instead of sitting around on the couch at home for a few hours waiting for my procrastination to fade and inspiration to strike, I'm being active and sometimes even proactive and going to yoga or aquafit or a play, and working in a coffee shop or pub instead. Surprisingly, this low-pressure approach is actually working out quite well, possibly because the time remaining to get my work done is shorter. In other words, the productivity I gain from impending deadlines is enhanced. Meanwhile, my body feels great, my heart and soul feel fulfilled and life is beautiful! Even my wacky sleep patterns haven't left me feeling too tired. The last time I slept 4 hours, I felt great going to bed late and pretty good waking up too!

All in all, it's a win-win situation. I am glad, however, that this paper is done so my life can get back into a respectable routine, one where work and play and chores are balanced, instead of waiting until I run out of utensils to do the dishes and sleep 4 hours a night so I can get through all my homework.

And speaking of homework, back to class readings I go!

Stay tuned...