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You Say You Want a Resolution?

Years ago, John Lennon sang “You say you want a revolution?” Well, as I’m prone to do, I’m playing with those words making this  “You say want a resolution”—referring of course to New Year’s Resolutions. Some people will say, “oh I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions,” but I think they’re lying. How can you not think about looking ahead to the new year with a resolve to make it better than the one just ended? Even if 2009 was a great year for you, there’s always room for improvement isn’t there?

Since everyone’s doing their “Best of…” or “Top…” lists, I thought I might as well join in the fun. Here are some thoughts on three of the most popular resolutions:

Popular Resolution #1: Lose weight. How many of us have, or have had this as one of our top New Year’s Resolutions? I don’t anymore, but did for many years. Obviously, if I had to repeat it, I didn’t do very well at keeping it. So, while I don’t resolve to lose a specific amount of weight, I do want to keep improving my health, and that’s bound to lead to some weight loss. The trick will be to have it happen while I’m not thinking about it. By choosing foods that are better for my body, and having a daily regimen of some kind of exercise, I am bound to be healthier, and perhaps get back into those skinny black jeans hanging in my closet.

I still follow some of the practices I learned when I was working with a  Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner in 2009 and 2010. I have a chart on my office wall called  “A Guide To The Energetics Of Food” that divides foods into categories such as meats, grains, vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds, fish, fruit, etc., and then charts what effects these will have on your body.  There are also notes on qi (pronounced chee), blood, yin and yang, tonifying and regulating foods.Copies of the chart, and other related books are available from the Redwing Book Company. I will be referring to the chart more often as I try to get, or keep, my life in better balance.

Chocolate isn’t on the chart, but hey, as I hope you’ve realized, and as my friend Doreen Pendgracs, author of Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, always says: a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine. I think we need plenty of both, especially during Canadian winters. So, ok, I do more exercise. (see below), and I am pretty careful with my diet, but as my dad used to say, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

Diet is only one part of a healthier lifestyle. Exercise, which to me is essential for losing weight, is also a key factor, which is why it is a popular resolution.

Popular Resolution #2:  Get More Exercise This is one I plan to keep, not only for this year, but every year. I picked up my walking two years ago, and now have a Nordic Pole Walking Group that I meet with every week–twice a week in the nice weather. Using Nordic Poles makes a walk into a workout as you are using 90 percent of your muscles. The poles also help with stability and balance. I find they take pressure off of my joints, which makes the walk more enjoyable too. Here’s a link to an article  I wrote for a website called Parks Blogger Ontario about Nordic Walking, and one of my favourite places to walk: the Dunes Trail at Sandbanks Provincial Park, near Picton, Ontario.

Here’s a photo of some of our group at Sandbanks in November 2015:

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In addition to the walking I also do something I call “Dynamic Stretching.” The exercises are based on a program called Essentrics, which was developed my Miranda Esmond-White. She has been teaching this program for many years and has a popular PBS program called Classical Stretch. I have some of Miranda’s DVDs, and one featuring her daughter Sahra. I regularly follow the website, where she posts mini-workouts. Those are great to do while I’m at my desk. As I often stand at my desk, I already have a nice pad to stand on for the exercises. I have Miranda’s first book, Aging Backwards, which features all of her Essentrics exercises, and I am looking forward to getting her newest book, Forever Painless. 

These exercises are gentle, and yet when you do them for 20 or 30 minutes, you know you have worked all of your muscles. My goal is to do at least that much every day, but I won’t call it a resolution.

Popular Resolution#3 : Quit Smoking. I smoked for a very short time when I was 16 years old, but it never became a habit. I really didn’t like the smell or taste, and more importantly to me, I had better things to do with my money.  Both of my parents smoked, and most of my relatives smoked too.  Some of them still do, in spite of the fact that heart disease and stroke, two illnesses that have been linked to smoking, have caused many premature deaths in our family. My mother died in 2000 [at the age of 68] of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), directly linked to her smoking. She’d had two strokes and many mini-strokes in the three years before she died. Her doctor advised that she quit smoking while she still had a chance to beat the COPD—advice she didn’t take. I think her philosophy was that she was here for a good time, not a long time (as the song goes). I’d like to be here for a long time, and have a good time.

It saddens me how much of our lives and her grandchildren’s lives, including their graduations, weddings, and now their children, that my mother has missed.  I’m happy to say that my Dad quit smoking when he was 60 and I believe that added years to his life. I am so happy that he was in our life for another 25 years. He died in May 2016 from congestive heart failure and kidney disease related to his long-term diabetes. His doctors were amazed how long he’d live with the illness, and how well he’d managed it. He said he never regretted quitting smoking.

So it is possible, but I know it’s hard to do.  More information and help is available from your local health unit or the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada . The tobacco companies have continuously made their product more addictive, so this is likely the hardest thing you’ll do, but your friends and family, especially your children and grandchildren, will thank you.

Of course, there are other resolutions that people make, but these are the ones that seem to top the list, and it’s no surprise they are all related to health. I figured out a long time ago that if you don’t have your health, it really doesn’t matter what else you have, or want, because you can’t enjoy it, or do it well.

I’m making plans for, and hope that I will be more productive with work, make more money doing what I love to do—write and teach—and do more travelling. All of those things will add up to a pretty terrific year. But I’ll settle for just being healthier. The rest will follow.

I wish you all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year, and I’d love to hear about your resolutions, and whether you make them now or not.

Updated from December 31, 2009

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My Juggling Act

How do we do it? How do freelancers—and others– keep all of the (insert one) balls in the air, plates spinning, knives tossing?—whatever analogy you want to use. How do you manage your juggling act?

  • What tools do you use to keep yourself organized?
  • How do you pick up when something gets dropped, or a connection lost?

And, perhaps most the most important question, and one that we don’t consider often enough:

  • How do you take care of yourself so you don’t get burnt out—or worse—sick from trying to do too much?

These are questions we’ll be asking members over the next few weeks in our conversations with  the Freelance Writers’ Connection group I co-manage on LinkedIn. Please join the conversation, either in the group, here on this blog, or both.

How do you manage your juggling act? Here’s what I am trying to juggle right now:

  • reporting local events for  The Napanee Guide (my newest freelance gig)
  • freelance writing for magazines and journals
  • promoting and teaching writing workshops
  • being the Ontario regional director for the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC)
  • helping to organize the professional development sessions at PWAC’s 2017 conference
  • leading or co-leading two fitness activities in my community

Don’t get me wrong. I love my work, and I’ve chosen to do this volunteer work with PWAC and other volunteer work in my community, which includes the fitness activities. I chose to be a group leader so that I make sure I show up!

I know—lots of people have a list as long as mine or longer. I didn’t even add in the personal stuff—time with my husband and friends, and keeping in touch with friends—not that those aren’t important, because they are very important—but while they should be at the top of the list, they often get put down to the bottom.

Lots of people juggle paid work, volunteer work, family time, etc. I am not complaining, and this list is in no way in the order of the importance of the people, and things in my life. I am lucky to have a husband who supports me in so many ways, and often helps with my work. I am lucky that we have sons who want to share their busy lives with us, and keep in touch. I am lucky to have good friends to spend time with, and keep in touch with online. I am lucky to have colleagues to share the challenges and frustrations of my work. I am lucky to have the opportunity to share the fitness activities I enjoy with others.

Like our Nordic Pole Walking Group, sponsored  by the L & A Seniors Outreach Services in Napanee. We are now 18 members strong, and will keep walking all winter! Some of these women join me in my “Strength and Stretch” group at the SOS. (Photo courtesy of Grace Vanderzande.) dscn0981

So how am I keeping all of this straight? I am trying to use my Google calendar more—mark everything down and add reminders. That calendar shows up on my phone and tablet too, so I have those devices to help keep me organized. Maybe there are other tips you can share on how you juggle the things in your life. One thing—that personal stuff that often gets put down to the bottom of the list—they are getting moved up.

This week, our social calendar is full with three events in a row—a meeting with other creative people in our community to find out about local arts and culture in the Town of Greater Napanee, and two concerts. So that will help balance out the work and get me away from the computer. If it sounds like I’m “all work and no play,” that is definitely not the case.

I just need to find ways to juggle the new paid work—the writing and the teaching—which I am thrilled to have—with all of the other things I’ve been doing, and want to keep doing.

I’ve been a freelance writer for almost 20 years, and I’ve done this juggling act before, so I know I will manage it better in the coming days, weeks and months than I have in the past month. I don’t know why it seems harder now. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure that out. I’m just going to get on with it, and I am secure in the knowledge that if a ball doesn’t get tossed, a plate doesn’t spin, or a knife doesn’t get tossed, my juggling act will still go on, and everything will get done when it needs to be done.

So, this week’s question: How do you take care of yourself when your life gets so busy that you’re on the go all the time?

A perfectly planned Australian holiday

While getting away on holiday is great, the planning can be stressful. Especially if you are travelling thousands of kilometres away to Australia and you may only have a few weeks to travel. You want to make the best of your time away. What if you had someone not only suggest the best use of your time, but also offer ideas of how and when to travel, and give you an idea of the cost? Well, you have all of this and more, thanks to Michela Fantinel  in her book, Your Australia Itinerary, published by her company,  Rocky Travel.

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(On Goodreads and Amazon the book is listed as“The Ultimate Guide to Australia Itineraries” with a different image.)

Michela, who is Italian, spent more than 10 years travelling solo around Australia and she outlines the many things that there are to do and see in this country she loves so much. While her suggestions are geared to women travelling alone, they are good for couples and families too. In about an hour, this 85-page e-book will help you learn about the varied attractions Australia has to offer—no matter what kind of holiday you are looking for.  Everything from the coastal ocean roads and beaches to the desert Outback to the vibrant cities and everything in between is covered. Michela is your personal trip planner and she will help you decide just what is right for you—depending on your budget, desired mode of transportation, and required accommodation. There are maps, charts, and other detailed outlines to plan your trip, and Michela even provides four sample itineraries for each different type of vacation: landmarks, cities, beaches, nature and wildlife—you’ll find it all carefully outlined, along with beautiful photographs to entice you. Then, in about a week, you’ll have your trip planned.

In each section, you’ll find how to break down your trip so it is at the pace you want. You’ll learn the best type of trip for you,  depending on the time of year, weather, and other considerations. And—and this is the biggy—you’ll get estimates of costs, and ways to customize the trip.

I really wish we’d had this book before going to Australia in September 2015. The nice thing is that after reading the book, I know that we actually got a lot of things right. Now I’ll know how to make the next trip even better.

Your Australia Itinerary is available as a PDF or in iTunes. The Apple format is a little more interactive, but both give great information. With each download from Michela’s website you get information on how to contact Michela for a free 15-minute consultation to discuss any details about your trip, and you also get a savings on Michela’s trip planning services. You can sign up for Michela’s blog, and learn more about her travels on her website, www.Rockytravel.net

Take the stress completely out of planning a trip to Australia and let Michela Fantinel help with this “Ultimate Guide to Australia Itineraries” to make this your perfectly planned holiday.

A Sad Tale on “Tell A Story” Day

Today, April 27, 2016, is supposedly “Tell a Story Day”, so here’s mine. I’m sorry it’s a sad tale.

This is about a journalist I used to respect: Margaret Wente, who is currently a columnist for The Globe and Mail newspaper. Wente is described by her own editors as “controversial.”  I don’t always agree with her but I applaud her for taking some unpopular stands or expressing what might be considered politically incorrect opinions. What I don’t applaud her for is plagiarizing other people’s work. She did it in 2012, and she’s done it again. (Please follow the link at the end of the story for more details.)

The editors have posted an apology and let people know that corrections have been made. Corrections and apologies are often buried in the paper and many do not even see them. I expect that will be end of it. Business as usual: Wente will continue to be employed by The Globe and they’ll just hope that this will blow over; that everyone will move on. Wente is the one who should move on. But she isn’t.

Wente said in defending herself in 2012 that she was not a “serial plagiarist” but that there were folks who “just don’t like what I write” and were therefore attacking her work ethics.  She hasn’t said anything this time around and if her editors are doing the apologizing for her and correcting her mistakes, then why should she? Her story is being told for her.

This is not just a problem for Wente, but for The Globe as well. Or is it? No doubt, its readership is down, as is the case with many newspapers, and what better way to bring in readers than with a “controversial” writer? People will be looking to see if, nay, when, she will plagiarize again, and get away with it—again.

The state of journalism is not in disarray because of digital media, as some have suggested. It is in disarray though when editors keep defending writers who seem to have no issue with writing something that is so similar to someone else’s work that it cannot be called anything but plagiarism, and that writer, now caught in this web more than once, cannot be called anything but a “serial plagiarist.”

This story may have a happy ending for Wente, but it is not a good one for writers and how they should conduct themselves. She should resign (but likely won’t) or she should be fired (but likely won’t be.)

I am sad that a writer I once respected, and the editors of a paper that I love to read have let this play out the way it has. A sad tale for me, indeed.

This has been covered in many media outlets. One of the most informative for me was an interview done on the CBC program “As it Happens”  last night. Here is a link to the interview, and some snippets from other media outlets covering this issue.

http://tinyurl.com/h6lum2r

Leaving Australia on a sweet note

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Talk about a sweet ending to our trip to Australia.

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On our penultimate day, we drove for about 90 minutes west of Sydney to the Blue Mountains. Whether, like us, you just want to stroll around Katoomba, the main town in the area, or you’re up for some more rugged bushwalking, this area should definitely be on your “to see” list.

208-150916The rugged cliffs and deep forest valleys topped by the Three Sisters rock formations add to the grandeur, and if you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll get a bright sunny day to really enjoy the vistas.

We could have taken a trolley tour or gone to see the visitor centre but we had to get back to the city and, because it was such a beautiful day, we chose to do a couple of walks through town and a drive around the local area.

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One of the highlights, which took a little while to actually find because it’s smaller than you’d think, is the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company.

Given its name, you might think it would be something larger than a house yet that’s exactly where this company is located, and all of the chocolate making is done in the kitchen.

 

Out front there are shelves full of bags of chocolate,  other sweet treats, and a large case displaying so many types, sizes and shapes of chocolate that it was a bit overwhelming. Completing the scene is a café where you can enjoy your special snack.

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The highlight—and something the Blue Mountains Chocolate Company is famous for—is the hot chocolate. This is no ordinary hot chocolate! It’s made in a specially-designed fondue pot, heated by a tealight, to which you add steamed milk and as many of the little chocolate wafers as your taste dictates.  200-150916

The chocolate slowly melts into the milk as you stir and sip with the distinctive straw-spoon. (spoon-straw?)

It stays nice and hot as you linger over it and keep eyeing those chocolates in the display case.

The hot chocolate can be made with regular or soy milk, and you can buy your own 5-piece Choco Fondue set.

(They were out of stock, and we really didn’t have room in our luggage for the set, but I am on the lookout now.)

 

While the sky was blue and the sun was bright, there was a cool, brisk wind, and after strolling around Katoomba looking at some magnificent street art and checking out some of the local shops, we were definitely ready for a hot drink.189-150916 192-150916

We drove back to Sydney to return our camper van. Then we settled into the apartment we’d booked for our last night in Australia, still talking about that magnificent hot chocolate and looking forward to the delectable chocolate goodies we’d purchased. What a sweet ending to our trip.

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Now that I’ve started at the end, I might just go back to the beginning of the trip to Australia in my next post. So, stay tuned.

Keep telling your travel stories

As a professional writer, I love to tell stories, and usually I am telling other people’s stories. On this blog, I get to tell my own stories, and many of them have been about travel. I’ve been lucky to have some travel articles published, and I am still learning more about travel writing. I also want to hear travel stories from others, and help us all learn how to be better travel writers.

So, I have a workshop called “The Travelling Pen.” I first presented this in Napanee (Ontario, Canada) on Saturday, February 27, and it was well-received. I have been asked to repeat the workshop so here are the details for this presentation.

Saturday, March 19 

10 am to 3 pm

Airhart  Community Room

L & A Country General Hospital

8 Richmond Park Drive

Napanee 

$50 (includes all materials)*

This community room is accessible through the hospital or from the parking lot, and both the coffee shop and cafeteria will be open for lunch and snacks.

While we chat about travel writing for publication online and in print, we will spend most of the day talking about writing travel journals and blogs and look at some of the travel blogs that I follow.

Throughout the day, participants will make valuable contacts to help them with their writing, and I will hand out information that I hope will be useful for them as they write their travel stories.

I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled across Canada and to several countries in the world with my husband whose photos complement my stories brilliantly.

Here are some photos from our first trip to South Korea to visit our son Jeremy in September 2010.

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Palace guards, Joseon era dress
Stirway to Incheon's Chinatown
Painted steps in Incheon’s Chinatown

We returned  to South Korea in August 2015  and then went on to Australia. We’re still editing photos and stories from that trip so stay tuned.

Whether you want to become a published writer or just learn how to capture your stories in a more meaningful way, joining me for “The Travelling Pen” will be an adventurous day–but the date is fast approaching,  so please register soon.

To register, please contact me:

Christine@CaptionsCommunications.ca

613-840-5054

*Payment must be cash, cheque, or direct deposit.

The Slow Cooking Muse

The Slow Cooking Muse
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My slow cooker

My muse has finally been making a few appearances lately, usually in the wee hours of the morning. Given her choice of visiting hours, she doesn’t stick around long. So while I have had, or been given, some ideas for this blog, none of them are very fully developed, and I am not sure any of them warrant fleshing out. Maybe they just need more time, just as some meals are better if they’re slow cooked. So perhaps my muse has been a slow cooking one.

The idea about slow cooking came to me one of those nights after my muse had me wide awake. So there I was in the middle of the night, thinking about how my next story might be like a pot roast with the meat, potatoes and vegetables all still intact as separate entities but melded together as a fine meal. Or the story might be more like a chili where the ingredients–the meat, beans, tomatoes, and other vegetables have to soften together with the spices in order for the chili to be any good. Both of these meals are good, and better if cooked for a longer time, but with very different results. Both can leave you with a memory of a fine meal.

Memories, specifically Christmas memories, was another idea the muse left with me another night. Now that it’s almost New Year’s,  it’s time to take that idea out of the pot.

In one of her latest posts, my friend “Buttons”  wrote about the memories on her Christmas tree, which had me look at our tree more carefully and remember the significance of our decorations. Two that always touch me are the baby shoes and first school pictures of our two sons.

While we can’t add his [current] size 11-1/2 shoes to the tree, we did get our son Eric new shoes for Christmas, and his dad wrote on the tag, “For your new path, wherever it may take you.” Eric is returning to school as he follows his passion for design to learn techniques for video game and animation  design. Maybe we’ll have a new school photo to put on next year’s tree. We should get a new one of our other son Jeremy too.

Jeremy isn’t a student, but he is in school. His path has taken him to teach English in elementary schools in South Korea, and he’s now married to a young Korean woman, Jieun, who is a wonderful addition to our family. The small flowers given to us at their wedding this summer have now been added as decorations on this year’s Christmas  tree.

We also have house decorations that belonged to my mother, my sister, and two dear aunts who have died but whose memories live on in these decorations.

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Another tradition we carry on is baking. Cookies, loaves, muffins, and scones have lovingly been prepared, and eaten, and I’ve made an annual favourite: Peanut Butter-Marshmallow Squares. I got the recipe from my aunt years ago, and have added my own twists. Eric even made a batch this year. My husband made a Christmas cherry pie, just as his mother used to do. That’s inspired me to try pie baking again and see if I can come up with a better gluten-free crust than the nut-crumb crust I made for my post-Halloween pumpkin pie. I also want to get back to making yeast breads in addition to the quick scones and muffins.

*Sorry, no photos. Everything got eaten before I wrote this blog post. Time to do some more baking, I guess. 

Whether I am cooking, baking or writing, it seems like the slow muse needs to visit more often and hang around longer. Then I might come up with a more unified post rather than this hodge-podge. But then, sometimes things do meld together nicely, don’t they?

Do you like slow cooking or getting things done quickly? Both have their merits don’t they? What about your writing? Do you wait for “the big idea” or put together smaller ones?

Join the conversation and let me know.