A year full of potential and possibilities

I can't remember a year that I'm happier to leave in the past than 2013. It wasn't entirely bad, but enough of it was filled with things that I'd rather not experience again. It was a difficult year of growth for me personally. I learned a lot about myself and started working on some mindset changes that I can't wait to fully take hold and embrace. The transition is painful though.

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So much about a new year leads us to make grand plans and declarations. In fact, I'm working on a list of 100 things I want to do this year. Most of them are small things, but the exercise is forcing me to think differently about how I want to spend my time. This is a pretty big adjustment as well - I'm very much a go-with-the-flow kinda girl, but that can lead to inaction so I'm going to stretch my comfort zone this year a bit.

Health is a big thing for me in 2014, but I haven't made a single resolution because I already started working on this in 2013 and resolutions are silly, IMHO. My current practice is addition. I'm adding healthy habits without depriving myself. I am taking certain words and phrases out of my vocabulary, such as "I can't" and "I shouldn't" and "cheating". Unlike a few years ago when I blogged openly about my efforts to lose weight, this is likely going to be my only mention of this for a while because I don't feel motivated by sharing right now. Perhaps in time that will change...I'm going to go with what my gut tells me for now.

One big thing I want to do this year is get back to blogging here regularly. I'm shooting for a goal of once a month. I miss my little personal blog, but so much of what's been happening this past year has either not been my story to share or it's been too personal. I could have found time. I just needed to not say anything for a while. 

I've decided this year we're going to get out and do things more as a family. I want this to be the year we are tourists in our town. I want to visit museums I've never been to, tour the Parliament buildings, go to Winterlude (even though, brrrrrr), experience the Tulip Festival, go geocaching with the boys - they can explore while I follow with my camera in tow. 

Last January, I downloaded this Home Routines app and fizzled out on using it when I forgot about it. We're getting back in the habit now. Actually, so much of what I'm looking to do is about breaking big jobs down into small ones, which is what this app does. I get so overwhelmed when I think about having to clean my entire house. Overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. I do nothing and things get worse. Not that my house is that bad, but things are definitely not the same as they were before we had Brandon. 

If I had to pick a single word for myself this year, it would be simplify. It may not seem simple to make a list of 100 things you want to do (and it truly isn't - at this point I'm up to just 75), but overall we're moving toward simplifying our lives. Clearing out clutter, taking out the garbage, selling the still-useful things that we no longer need. It's amazing how good it feels to brutally purge things you think you may regret letting go. I've been doing a lot of that lately and I intend to do a lot more this year. 

I'm also going to - as per usual - do a lot of reading. I have a list of 12 books to start with. When those are done...the sky's the limit. ;)

Simplify. Simple. Simplicity. They are lovely words, don't you think? 

We all need a better mirror and a little kindness

I was in sixth grade when I started noticing the things about myself that were different. The most obvious difference was my skin. I don't tan. I burn and then go back to my pasty white skin.

I was dubbed Casper. It could have been worse, I suppose.

And then it got worse.

"Did your mama drop you in a tub of bleach?" was just one of the cracks they made about my pale skin. 

It wasn't bullying. No, it was just inconsiderate children not knowing when to stop because they're hurting another human being.

The day it stopped was the worst day of all. Incessantly pointing out how pale I was. Making jokes that weren't funny...at least to me.

I felt like less and less likeable the longer the barrage continued.

I finally left the room without a word to my teacher or fellow students. I ran to the bathroom and cried, wishing with everything in me that I was not the person I was.

If you can’t see something beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer

Eventually I stopped listening to the voice in my head telling me that being different was a bad thing. I learned to appreciate my pale skin. I stopped caring so much what my peers thought about me. I figured out how to like myself as I was. 

It may seem like a trivial matter, this issue of having pale skin. So, let me add some context: I was eleven and lived in Florida.

It mattered to me, even if it didn't matter to anyone else.

It's still a battle sometimes to like parts of me that I view as less than perfect. But I have never let myself go back to feeling as if the person I am isn't good enough.

I hope everyone who sees this video goes out to find a better mirror, take a closer look and stare a little longer until there's no doubt in their mind that they are beautiful and valuable, just as they are.

Kindness Week in Ottawa is wrapping up today - let's go be kind to one another every day for another year, my friends.

So worth it to drive across the world for a brake job

No, I didn’t drag my camera out to take a picture of the garage. I am hoping Ben doesn’t mind that I borrowed this picture from his website.I live in the west end of Ottawa. Not the farthest west you can go, but still pretty far. I have a bunch of friends who all live in the east end and they like to gang up on me, but us west-enders know what’s the best end. Yanno?

There’s a running battle between us about which end of Ottawa is preferable, but we all agree that the distance is like driving clear across the world. I regularly spend an hour going to or from the eastern part of this great city. If we were at the easternmost and westernmost parts of the city, it would take even longer!

A few months back, I met Ben Lalonde - the owner of Orleans AutoPro - when he came to a workshop that I did with Lara.

What you need to know about Ben is that he’s a very brave man. It was Ben and a roomful of women. If we intimidated him, he never showed it. It ended up being a fantastic day where Ben shared a wealth of information with us about car maintenance and we told him what he should do with that information in social media tools. The brainstorming we did and advice shared was beneficial for all of us, but Ben left that day with a longer to do list than anyone else. See? Brave man.

I, in particular, had a lot to think about from Ben’s advice. We’ve been confused about a problem with our brakes for 18 months. They’ve been grinding for that long! And yet, all four times we took them to be checked, we’ve been told that nothing is wrong. I’ve been nervous about it for a long time and we decided that when we had the money put aside, we would go get the brakes done, whether they needed it or not. Matt was afraid that he’d unwisely chosen cheap rotors. I told him he was never allowed to do that again.

When the time came, I contacted Ben to ask for a west-end recommendation. And in true Ben style, because he genuinely cares about delivering the best service possible, he told me that he would guarantee the work coming out of his garage, but he couldn’t do the same for anywhere else.

Fair enough. I decided I’d make the trip and let him be the one to fix our car. 

Fast forward a couple weeks and I made the trip (ALL THE WAY) out to Orleans to drop off the car. Ben happened to be there so we chatted for a bit and then some of the other staff took over telling me how they operate and what we could expect. It was impressive to say the least.

I’m a geeky sort and when you start telling me that you’re going to check for any recalls, keep a running record of future maintenance, allow me to sign in on your web site to maintenance records as required, then I get impressed. That’s a lot of data to keep on your customers’ vehicles. It’s also a well-honed workflow that appeals to my personal desire to not have to think about car maintenance too hard.

The other part about Orleans AutoPro that was incredibly pleasant was that everyone was so nice and helpful! I didn’t have to wait forever when I arrived early for my appointment. (Like always happens at the dealership.) The guys are a great group that fully explained their process and then showed me in detail what was going on with the car when I had to come back later that day to pick up our car seat and other things - this job ended up being an overnighter.

Thank goodness they also provided a loaner for us since we only have the one vehicle.

(Side story: The loaner was a Pontiac Montana, which ran great for having 200K on it. It reminded me of moving to Canada. Matt rented a Montana and took out the seats so we could pile all my junk into it for transport. Even so, I tried not to think too much about the fact that I swore I’d never drive a minivan. ;) I wish you could’ve seen Matt and I trying to figure out how to turn off the rear wiper when I inadvertantly turned it on. It took us five minutes, partly because we were laughing about how ridiculous it was that we couldn’t figure it out!)

It would be disingenuous of me to say that everything was pleasant. When they called with the final tab for fixing the brakes, it was twice as much as I’d expected. Ouch! But even that had a logical explanation. Up to this time, we’ve never done all four corners before. It’s always been either the front or the back breaks that needed fixing. I told the guys, quite honestly, that I didn’t realize a brake job could cost that much.

(True story: I had just finished a 60-minute massage when I got Matt’s text with the amount. I immediately booked a 90-minute massage. Heh, timing is hilarious sometimes.)

Here’s the thing: I could have gone to get another opinion at a different garage. I could have shopped around for a better price and maybe paid a couple hundred less. I could have done a lot of things in response to the sticker shock. But because I already felt like I could trust Ben and the rest of the staff, we didn’t hesitate to go ahead with the repairs. And it was worth every penny to get in my car and drive (ALL THE WAY) back to Kanata with brakes that didn’t grind. *g*

Oh yeah - they cleaned the car too! Car wash, vacuum. You really get the VIP treatment out there.

The drive was worth it. The service was excellent. The end product is just what it should be. We’re happy customers. And I like to share my good customer experiences more than I like sharing the bad. 

And, for the record, Ben didn’t ask me to write this - he doesn’t even know I’m doing it. I didn’t get anything for it. He’s not a client. This is just me wanting to let you know that there’s a really great garage (ALL THE WAY) in the east end of Ottawa where you can feel good about leaving your car for service, knowing that - even if the final bill leaves a gigantic hole in your pocket - you have not been taken for a ride. ‘Cause cars are expensive, yo. 

The beautiful kindness of The Youville Centre

Lately, Brandon has been practicing a new word: beautiful. He often gasps when he sees an object and declares it beautiful, then tells us that he loves it. 

Those are strong words with deep meaning - beautiful and love. They go well together. I know my son doesn’t grasp them to the full extent, but one day he will and I hope he never loses that wonder at things he considers beautiful. I also hope that we teach him to appreciate and practice the absolute beauty of being kind to others. 

It’s Kindness Week in Ottawa and I’m participating in an effort to raise awareness about a program that offers incredible kindness to a very vulnerable group in Ottawa. When I was invited to tour The Youville Centre, despite the fact that I’d never heard of it prior to the email that Candace sent, I jumped at the opportunity. For those of you who are also not aware, here’s a snippet of the history of the centre and how it was started (from the web site): 

In February 1985, a group of concerned citizens met to find housing for young single mothers and their children (at that time, leases could not be signed by anyone under the age of 18). Within two months, they were planning to provide education for 12 mothers, a child care development program for 12 babies, and shelter for 4 of these families. From this small beginning, Centre Youville Centre Ottawa-Carleton Inc. was established officially on July 3, 1985.

Sister Betty Ann Kinsella was the driving force behind the creation of the Youville Centre. Thanks to her commitment and fundraising skills, Youville Centre began operation as a charitable organization in 1987. “The Centre offered the first program in Canada to address the comprehensive needs for education, child care, housing and support services for young, single mothers and their children.” (Excerpt from the Canada Gazette, September 2, 2000)

It’s often said that one person cannot change the world, but they can change the world for one person. The Youville Centre exemplifies this in a big way. Through the years they’ve grown from helping 12 mothers to helping dozens every year.

I remember myself as a teenager and I can’t imagine what it must be like to become a mother so young.

The Youville Centre offers these young moms the gift of an education - a high school diploma so that they can get better jobs. Youville gives them the gift of parenting skills - so they can offer their children the best life possible. The gift of support - so each young woman who walks through those doors knows without a doubt that they are not alone. The gift of resources - because obtaining clothing, childcare and other things for a baby does not come cheap.

Because of Youville, many Ottawa women who find themselves in the vulnerable position of having a child during their teen years are given a boost that is invaluable. There are often life circumstances that put these women at a disadvantage - from losing their home to being in abusive or unhealthy relationships. The Youville Centre gives them hope and opportunities.

Look at these beautiful women and their gorgeous babies:

Recently, The Youville Centre lost a significant source of funding - $40,000 - that covers the salary of one of the in-house counsellors that works with the young women. This is a loss that Youville is trying very hard to recoup to continue providing counselling services for those who need them.

Toward the end of our tour, after seeing the children in the nursery/preschool areas, moving on to the classroom and then the counselling facilities, we walked past a wall of pictures that is the pride of Youville. It’s not hard to understand why when you see the smiles of the women who graduate from this program. Heather Hegney, who led us through the facility, shared a story of a tour she’d recently done in which one of the group members looked at a photo with tears in her eyes and said, “That’s me.”

It’s hard not to get choked up when you hear about someone who’s been through the program and makes the effort to come back and help a new generation of young women get the same help that allowed her to achieve so much in life. What an amazing moment that must have been for her!

There are many ways you can help The Youville Centre. Monetary donations are always accepted (and greatly appreciated). 

There are many other ways you can help as well, from volunteering to donating gently used or new items, such as:

  • Plastic stroller covers for rainy and snowy days
  • Teen clothing – work attire and street clothes
  • Cosmetics/Toiletries/Hygiene Products (new or unopened) – hotel toiletries, sanitary pads and tampons, makeup, skincare products, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss.
  • New items – it is a nice treat for the girls to be able to have new items for themselves and their children.
  • LCD computer monitors
  • Running shoes for teen Moms for physical education
  • Warm clothing for winter
  • Toys (except plush toys and small toys that could be choking hazards)
  • Books for toddlers
  • Bus Tickets

There are some items that Youville cannot accept, so please contact them if you would like to donate anything that isn’t specifically mentioned on this list.

I hope you are inspired by the work The Youville Centre is doing as I have been.

Kindness truly is a beautiful thing to practice and experience. What kindness have you seen lately and how will you pay it forward?

Capitalizing on Ottawa's social media conference void

It’s hard to describe the feelings I have right now about Social Capital. Four months of planning and working to pull everything together and the day felt like it flew by in a flash. Despite some blips, I think the day was an unqualified success. Yes, Ottawa’s very first social media conference - born and bred in this town - was really, really good. 

It only seemed appropriate that this inaugural conference in Ottawa be kicked off by Glen Gower, founder of OttawaStart.com and a bunch of other sites, who has his finger on the pulse of this town and knows community when he sees it. I loved hearing Glen’s take on the Ottawa social media scene from the very beginning. You know, back before social media was dubbed “social media”. Glen has made it his mission to promote these communities since the late 90s. Yeah, he was community-building before building communities was cool.

“Proceed until apprehended” - Stacey, with Keenan and Shannon to her left.From the morning keynote, I moved on to a session in which I was moderating a panel on social change through social media. The speakers, Shannon Smith, Stacey Diffin-Lafleur and Keenan Wellar, each had interesting stories to tell and words of wisdom for those in attendance. From Shannon’s insights about dealing with being unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight as an individual to Keenan’s bold declaration that “[many volunteer organization’s] processes suck” to Stacey’s motto, “proceed until apprehended” that clearly shows her indomitable spirit and commitment to her work.

All three have been learning how to use social media tools to advance their respective causes. This is one of the areas of social media that is inspiring to me - the sincere desire to bring about positive change in the world.

My friend, Cherie-Lynn, made me smile then caught it on camera. :)The second session I attended was Craig Fitzpatrick’s where he generated lively discussion after a presentation that, in some ways, challenged the way people looked at social media from a marketing perspective. “Community = Channel.” It was a great presentation that included advising users to choose to do things that are measurable and that Klout should rebrand itself “reach” instead of “influence”. Reach is measurable. Influence…well, it’s not so easy to measure.

The word “unconference” started being thrown around during Craig’s session in the tweets going through my stream. It was gratifying to see such energetic discussion about a topic that deserves careful thought.

By the third session, I was feeling slightly numb - probably due to waking at an unreasonable hour after being up to an unreasonable hour (funny how that works). So I know that a good chunk of the presentations from Kneale Mann and Dennis Van Staalduinen didn’t sink in completely. Kneale and Dennis came at the broad topic of social media strategy from very different perspectives. Kneale is a proponent of the human web and creating human connections. He brought up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and related it to employee motivation - a concept I’m not unfamiliar with from my days of working in an employee survey firm as it was the basis for our surveys.

When Kneale finished, Dennis got up and gave us a crash course on how a major brand with a major campaign that goes insanely viral can ultimately crash and burn, destroying the brand in the process. I already cringe when I hear someone say, “Let’s do a viral video!” Hearing Dennis’ story makes me want to stay well away from those who think viral is the answer to everything. People relate to stories and respond to simplicity. Going over the top sets the bar so high that there’s rarely anywhere else to go but down.

Is your head spinning? Mine was.

Talking Facebook - it was a very interesting conversation!After all that, I lead a roundtable about Facebook. It was a fantastic way to end the day. Some stayed in my group for the full hour and a half and others came and went so they could visit other groups to talk about different subjects. The discussion about Facebook ran from basic to strategic questions and challenged me to think about how I’d use this tool more effectively as well.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly exhausted but on a happy high of success.

WE DID IT! And we did it well. It’s hard to say what I learned more from - planning this conference or attending it. Start to finish, it was an extremely valuable experience that I am looking forward to doing again.

 This is the Social Capital Organizizing Committee - Sara, Andrea, Becky, Me, Lara and Vicky who was unable to stay for the whole day. These are amazing ladies that I am honoured to have been able to work with.

*****

Thank you to my friends, Sara and Cherie-Lynn, for the fabulous pictures I’ve used in this post!