Right here, right now.

It’s been just over a year since I pulled all these  blogs together into one space to manage as I can during the course of my busy life.  Time to update the main page and put some new swirl into the pattern.

I’ve been working on a few blogs lately, particularly It’s All About the Clothes.  Big things happening in the clothing department of my life.  It is, in truth, a fun blog and one that I enjoy updating, in as much as I do.  Now that I’m taking a fashion drawing course, (yes! it’s true!) I’ll be using it to keep track of my work and to record my thoughts on my progress, as well as to post my creations and musing on fashion.  I encourage you to share your sartorial creations and comments with me as I grow; the creativity of others is inspiring.

In the Sisterhood will be seeing some changes too as I gear up for work on another blog I’m putting together for my work at McMaster University, a Guide for Female Academic Physicians, which will be devoted to tips and advice for female academic physicians negotiating an academic career.  That one is a work in progress and will be unveiled in the fall 2012.  I’ll be sure to post a link.  Even though the focus is on physician academics, there will be information and resources applicable for all women interested in furthering their careers, particularly in academia.

With springtime blowing in on the wind these past few weeks, Garden by Surprise will find some new life.  The front porch received an overhaul a few weeks ago, with four, count’em four, new flower boxes.  That’s a total of 7 boxes that will need flowers.  The greenhouse is half-full of windows for the new addition, which has put a bit of a cramp in my enjoyment of that space.  But a new shelf and four packets of seeds are awaiting my attention.  I’m going in heavy with spinach and tomatoes this year.  We’ll see what happens.

I Heart Hamilton has suffered somewhat from my column in The Hamilton Spectator as I tend to save my comments for that forum, so worried am I that I might not have something to say when it’s time to say it, that is, every two weeks.  I’ve come to realize that this isn’t reasonable; there’s lots to say about Hamilton in pictures, not just words and I have lots of interesting pictures of Hamilton that I’d like to share, as well as more to say about everything else.

menrvaSOFIA communications is the blog I’ve created for my communications company.  Over the past year I’ve worked on several projects providing training around social media tools for not-for-profit organizations.  It’s been an absolute pleasure working with people, sharing information and fostering, nurturing their skill development.  I love watching people find their confidence with computers, see the light go off when they recognize the applicability of computers to their lives.  I look forward to building my business by helping others achieve their communications and marketing goals.  And I look forward to sharing with you the creation of that resource too.  It’s open, but not yet ready for prime time.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my ramblings.  Feel free to poke around the site and comment as you like.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.  I’m here for the conversation, community and collegiality.

Take care,

mS

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Come be my Friend…

I have to admit that I love Facebook.

I was not an early adopter and it took me some time to get going, but once in, well, it’s been hard not to participate.

Blenheim. I've been to Blenheim. It's a working sheep farm.

A visit to Facebook (fb) is like dropping into a great house in the country, you know the kind.  It sits at the end of a long, tree-lined drive and there’s no one around for miles.  It’s surrounded by acres of grounds with diversions aplenty.

It’s a long weekend and guests are assembled.   People are lounging around in the great room, and it is a great big room with a tall ceiling.  There are groups of people gathered in clusters here and there.  People are moving back and forth between the groups, perhaps stopping to say a word or two to the group as a whole.  Others are playing games; could be Texas Hold’em, could be Farmville.

The Great Hall at Blenheim

Over by the fire, people are reading or commenting on a blog; and across the room, another group is perusing and sharing news.  People are rocking over by the piano. In the centre of the room, people are sitting on sofas engaged in bantering conversation.  There are side conversations, IM conversations, maybe a note or two is passed  between lovers.  The overall tone is friendly, but from time to time disagreements break out.  But unlike the Hotel California, you can just leave if things get too hot.

I’m fascinated by how people find friends.

Some of my friends have thousands of friends.  The first I saw numbers in the thousands, I was amazed.  How could they know so many people and be so young?  I was perplexed.  But, of course, the word “friend” in fb lingo is understood in its most broad sense

I was raised to believe that you just didn’t walk up to someone and say, be my friend.  Introductions had to be made.  There was a process to follow.  After I made friends with my family and friends, some of whom I haven’t talked to in years, I felt perplexed.  How was I to make more friends?

I was initially suspicious of strangers who extended friendship.  Why would they want to be my friend, I’d think, they don’t even know me?  But I took the plunge and hit “accept.”

My Qabbala friend took a more deliberate approach.  He found friends who listed the Zohar, a seminal text, in their profile and quickly racked up hundreds of friends in what seemed like no time.  I was still at 100 friends and family and he had over 600 complete strangers that he engaged with in spirited conversation.  I was envious.

I poked around, here and there, never really getting up the courage to ask people to be my friend.  It was such a bold act, to send out a friend request.  I continued to post interesting articles I found to share with my friends, but unless people comment, who knows who’s paying attention and I was looking for conversation.

One day I was friended by a new friend, D.  I didn’t know her, but adopting a new credo, I happily accepted her friend request.  Ooooh, a new friend, I crowed.  D had over a 1000 friends then, she has almost 1500 now, and she is a bona fide fb rockstar, her page says so.  D is often irreverent in her comments, provocative in her posts, she has an active wall.  Again, I was envious.

She shared her strategy one day in a post:  she friended people who liked her comments, who made comments she liked, admitting, of course, dahling, I don’t know any of them. She made a point of gathering guests to her wall.  I thought, of course, how logical. I found out how easy it was when I gave it a try.

So – if you get a friend request from me and you don’t know why, well, I like how you think, that’s why.  And if you’re reading this and we’re not yet friends…. why not?

Come…. be my friend..:)

A New Year of Fresh Possibilities

A fresh new year lies before me, like a magnet pulling me along to a destination of which I have only a faint idea, that I can see a vague outline of, off in the distance.

At this time of year reflection is in the air.  Reflection and resolution, we reflect on the past in order to resolve to change the future.

This past year, 2010, has been a good year.  As I look back and reflect on my own challenges and triumphs, I think I come out on the plus side.

The first few months of 2010 were challenging.  Determined to finish my diploma in public relations, I enrolled in three courses for the first term of 2010, beginning in January.  The winter months were long, dark and cold.  When spring came, we opened the windows to fresh air that blew through the house like a tornado, taking with it the cobwebs and dust bunnies that gathered in rooms closed to conserve warmth.

The result of all my hard work at school was the completion of my diploma, a year and half from when I first started.  It took effort, mostly to attend classes after a busy day at work, but I often found class energizing, my classmates engaging and intelligent.  I miss them now that I’m no longer in them.  We try to keep in touch through social media, but nothing beats a weekly face-to-face.

I’ve been taking some marketing courses in the time since I finished the program.  I have a background in the arts, history, specifically, not in business or marketing, so I find this fills a gap in my knowledge.  I could just buy a book, I suppose, but the interaction of the students with both the teacher and each other is where much of the learning takes place.  I find it quicker, more expedient to learn with others.

Life-long learning is essential if you want to stay afloat in the modern world of changing technology and global relationships.  Knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate.  Research is gaining ground on the unknown, only to open up new areas for discovery.  I learned from reading history that the poor and working classes, especially women without men, had to work, at something and very often at many somethings in order to scrape together enough to live lives of less want.

Growing up in the 1960s and 70’s, prosperity, it seemed was all around us.  Education was a right demanded of all children up to the age of 16.   I went to university right after high school but I was more interested in a weekly paycheck and partying with my friends.  As I entered the workforce at the end of the 70s, the job market was tight and it was who you knew not what you knew that got you that first job, the one so desperately needed for experience.  I’ve learned since from labour disputes and corporate takeovers that a job for life is a pipe-dream, one brought on by smoking too much of that wacky-tabacky, I guess.

But although I “dropped out” of university when I was 18, I went back, part-time, by the time I was 20, attending night classes in medieval history.  I didn’t go back with determination until years later, after my children were born, to finish what I started.  I wanted to be doing something different than I was and I saw education as a means to get there.

And it’s been that way ever since.

In the course of my hopefully long life, I will need to re-invent myself several times.  I already have.  And thank goodness for that.  I’ve discovered that I thrive in a change environment.  There is nothing more deadly to my performance than to have to do the same thing day-in, day-out on a regular basis.

That’s good news for me, actually.  Research has shown that actively exercising your brain through learning new skills and knowledge helps in the battle against dementia.  That’s the health benefit of keeping abreast of the news and logging online to new technologies.

The decline in manufacturing has created a labour situation that demands a shift in our labour force.  People who have worked on an assembly line for 20 years suddenly find themselves out of work at an age where starting at the beginning is a daunting barrier to finding a new occupation, never mind a job.

In order to meet the needs of our new economy, we need to inculcate a commitment to life-long learning in our children.  Education needs to be funded to the maximum we can possibly afford.  Our children are our future.  You don’t see that until you’re an adult, usually an elderly adult.

Adult education needs to be revised and expanded to attract people looking to change careers either willingly through choice, or not through layoffs.  Retraining, learning new skills, upgrading skills, our governments should be encouraging citizens to continue their education.  Tuition fees are tax-deductible, and tax credits come with hours in the classroom.

The greatest challenge to furthering education is the cost.  In the time that I’ve been attending university, the cost of tuition has tripled.  I don’t know how kids can find the money these days to attend school at all, never mind on a full-time basis.  And for the working poor?  Forget about it.  Tax credits are great at the end of the day, but if you can’t afford the cost of the course it’s a benefit that lies just out of reach.

In the year ahead, I resolve to continue taking courses, I will continue to seek out ways to enhance my skill set and keep abreast of changes in technology.

How do you keep your grey matter lit?

Time to Take a Breath…

These past few weeks have been hectic in my world.

My coursework in two courses came to and end this past week so I’ve been busy getting assignments done and exams written. I try to take a relaxed attitude to learning. I believe that tension and stress create blocks to brain function and emotional and intellectual expression. I nurture this attitude because I’ve seen too clearly the damage done when we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves, especially in the learning process, and which we all do, all the time.

And besides, I have a life to live. It’s not called self-directed, life-long learning for nothing. You get what you need.

To grow we need to reach, we need to encounter the unfamiliar and challenge our current state with something different. That’s why I continue to take courses, in preparation for my next gowth spurt. That’s the best lesson I learned in school.

I studied history in university not because I love the stories and the writing, although I do. I believe that we can learn from our past, from all of our pasts, the way to move forward. A good reading of history will contain the perspectives of mutiple stakeholders and participants, those taken at the time and those comments provided by historians who tell the story later. We find that motives and methods differ little from age to age, like we foget that we already tried that and it didn’t work. Yet we hold the same beliefs and repeat the same actions time and time again. Dictators continue to oppress their people, who rise up in revolution to instate yet another dictatorship. Power corrupts, etc…

Sitting in British history class one day, I was caught by the need for individual ingenuity among the poor and working classes, of the need to be open to opportunity to ensure independence, even way back when, where our vision is of a more simpler time, secure and tied to the land.

Growing up in the economically prosperous 60s, I entered the workforce during the 70’s when a job was found more often through connections than with want ads. I learned through watching plant closures and listening to labour speaches that job security is up to the worker not the company.

You better be good at your job, keep up with the latest in technology development or theoretical discourse, and be ready to reinvent youself, once, twice, maybe three times or more, because we’re not dying at 45 any more and retirement is getting pushed further and further ahead the life line.

And if you’re a young woman, or any woman, you’d best not look to anyone else but yourself to take care of you. That’s the right we won when we fought for education, the vote and access to the workplace, to be beholden to the same obligations of independence that men carry. It’s an interesting twist of developments when we consider the mancession spreading though the economy. How generous will women be with their independence in the face of men’s sudden dependence, on them, on the state, on anything other than a steady job.

I’m looking forward to my next set of courses when they start in the new year. In the meantime, I hope to indulge my other passions; reading, and writing about what I read.

On Communicating Comments…

Now that I have a column, I’ve have people commenting on what I have to say.  I knew that going in, yet I was surprised when I found comments posted the first time I read it online, which I thought was pretty early in the morning. And they weren’t that supportive, either. I’m not sure why or what I said to elicit such responses, all I said was that I was going to talk about change. But then, people resist change.

And people have their opinions, some long held; certainly some of mine are. Like the importance of safe, reliable public transit. Like the protection of local food production and green space. Like the revitalization of the urban core.  Like the well-being of some of our more vulnerable citizens; the young, old, sick, and the poor.  Like the importance of dialogue, debate, and discussion to the effective functioning of a democracy.

I also believe that we can do anything we want; that there is no limit to the brilliance that can shine from the depths of the darkness that we sometimes find ourselves in.  But we’re not going to find that brilliance if we don’t cultivate some space for it to shine in.  If we shoot down the thoughts and opinions of others because they don’t fit with either our worldview or our sense of self, we’ll never grow beyond ourselves.  And none of us are finished growing yet.  We have to open ourselves up to the thoughts of others, to their experiences, to understand their place under the sun, to see how we fit with them.

Isn’t it beautiful that we all have the right to speak our opinions under our freedom of speech laws?

As a writer, I always wonder if anyone reads what I write, whether anyone agrees, and if they don’t, where they think I’m wrong.  Letters sent to the Editor are not sent to me (I don’t think) but the online comments are posted directly for all to see.  Comments appear almost as instantly as they are contrived.  Often people are driven by emotion to respond quickly and the internet is happy to provide a complicit companion.  The anonymity of it all only adds fuel to the fire.

I don’t mind, I can take it.  I don’t believe there is anything anyone can say to me that someone hasn’t already said. My roots are in the immigrant east end of Hamilton, just down the street from the steel mills and I was teased as a child (who wasn’t?).  I’m well read; there aren’t many words I don’t know.  Some call me argumentative, sometimes I’m just the devil’s advocate (or the poor, the downtrodden, the mentally ill…).  I don’t hold my opinions lightly, but I like to think I have an inquiring mind, one that is open to explore all perspectives of my opinion. I’m a reasonable person, I can be talked to.

I just wonder what message people think they’re trying to relay when their language is dismissive or insulting, trying to bully people to their perspective?

I’ve long been interested in what people leave in the comments section of online news sites. For a time, I collected the comments on news articles that dealt with gender or women. I noticed that articles that dealt with those issues pulled in sometimes hundreds of comments, many of them downright abusive, although the sites themselves are listed as moderated.

Comments are welcome and encouraged. Dialogue is part of discussion. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of my readers, I’m not just interested in spouting my own. But believe that I’m not speaking out of a hole in my head; I do try to give consideration to my argument so as not to inflame or incite. I can only ask that you do the same.

Last time, I promise…. For now.

Busy week, fuzzy brain.

The sun is shining this bright and beautiful Saturday morning.  I’m sitting in the porch with Ray, each of us playing with our own little gadgets, sharing stories of interest that we find.  We’re catching up on the current events of the last week.  

I have to go on just a little bit more about my reactions to my iPad.  I woke up this morning to the news of Apple’s record breaking sales achievement (4.5 million units in 6 mos) which is apparently pretty impressive, beating out both the DVD player and the Sony Walkman as innovative, and in fact, game-changing, technologies.

And I have to agree.  So far, so good.

I finally figured out where all the keyboard characters are on the three keyboards I get to choose from.  The fact that it is so easy to use only makes learning it fun. There have been some frustrations, like getting used to the touchiness of the keyboard, typing with my Peter Pointers, but I find it quicker than typing with my thumbs.    

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a techie, although I’ve been working with computers my entire working life.  That’s over 30 years.  I remember lugging home one of the first generation Compaq computers in the 80s on the Go bus when I was working in Toronto.  It was heavy, but worked at what it was needed for, which was processing data.  I’ve been waiting for this little baby, it seems, forever.  

I started out working as a computer operator, where I learned a little bit of programming that taught me a lot about process systems.  But I’m not that good at complex math, so I moved into the applied side, if you will, in terms of information management.  

It was my information that I was most interested in managing: bibliographies, documents of various types; I’m a bit of a junkie, and I tried to incorporate technology in any of the roles I had in the business sector.  When I became editor of a women’s health newsletter, I moved into using technology to create documents with text and pictures. 

I do love little organizing gadgets.  From my first hot-pink vinyl organizer that I got at 13, to, well, my iPad, ways to capture and contain who I am (that sounds so existential) have long captured my attention:  wallets, organizers, notebooks, address books, briefcases, book bags, backpacks, purses.  Always searching for the one thing that would help me lead a more productive life.  That has always been my goal, enhanced personal productivity.  And there’s nothing like a new organizer to spur productivity.  Except maybe a new pen, but that’s another obsession…  

My iPad is my new organizer.  

It is my newsreader, my book reader, my diary, my blogs, my notebooks, my internet, my library…   All my communication and information needs, so far, are met.  Document creation is limited, but all I need are the words.  I don’t have the Pages app yet, or some of the other pieces I think would be useful to fully appreciate it’s full functionality.  

The price of apps can be a barrier, as can sloppy apps.  Sadly, I can’t get the wordpress app to work and the Twitter app sucks.  Some apps work like they were made for iphones, but with a magnification button in the corner to enlarge the feature.  Not very nice.  Free and cheap.     

The laptop sits on the desk, which is where it gets used.  Sometimes it moves to the kitchen island, but it rarely goes anywhere else.  It never really did.  It’s still to big and heavy for practical portability and since I try to walk everywhere, it’s a drag on my shoulders.  It can do a lot; it carries some pretty heavy files and I find it functions best as a portable, but heavy-duty, processing appliance for documents, and images manipulation device that can get folded up and put away when I decide to do some sewing.

Done now.  I won’t say another word…  For now.

I was part of a week-long anti-poverty awareness raising and political action initiative that I wrote about over at ihearthamilton.wordpress.com.  I have yet to file my final reflection, which I’ll do tonight after we finish our getting out for the day.  

It’s a gorgeous day outside today, this first day of the Thanksgiving weekend.  I have lots to be thankful for.  I going out to take pictures of a few.  

Let’s see yours…. 

Birds in the Backyard

I spent the morning in the porch playing with the iPad, using it to capture my thoughts this time rather than distract my attention with it’s numerous bells and whistles.

The notepad feature I find is quite useful for my needs, which are minimal when I’m simply taking notes. I haven’t tried to email a note to myself, which is how I get it off the iPad and onto my computer. There’s lots I haven’t tried yet and it’s already sucked up a considerable amount of my time. I have laundry to do.

But, I sat in the porch, which is part of my usual morning routine, and read the news and did some writing, not off the newspaper or in book, respectively, but off this little device.

I created drafts of several potential posts and saved for work later on. I can’t manage to navigate the screen-within-the-screen which is WordPress, so once the text is out of the box I can’t get back to it. I have to read the manual is what I have to do. Or access it through the WordPress app, which is how I edited this post before I sent it.

It’s the keyboard which is the revolutionary feature. For me. And the sizing-resizing screen feature. I can make the screen bigger for easier reading as well as to enlarge the action buttons so my finger hits only one button and not those adjacent. It’s the perfect size to hold in one hand or balance on my knee while I type away.

And as I said before, I can really fly on this keyboard. And when the music’s playing, I’m typing in tune. It makes the whole process of creation so much easier to capture, more pleasant, less isolating, despite the fact that I haven’t looked up since I got out of bed.

I took pictures of dogs and birds this morning. The dogs were guarding the birds while they pecked at their seed under the tree. I think they’re looking up at a squirrel that sits just above their heads. I’ll post them from my laptop; photos have to be downloaded through an external device, sold separately (of course). I decided it wasn’t needed.

Did I mention my laundry?

I’m running low on power (hmmmm…no percent sign on the keyboard but a British pound sign? That’s not helpful) so I’m about to lose it and get the laundry done.

And now it’s raining so there go the laundry plans. No fear, I have real books to read or a house to clean. Tough choice.

What would you do on a rainy Sunday afternoon?

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