Service – What it Means to Me

 

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Wow, it’s true that time goes by more quickly as one gets older. And now that I’m a senior it really does fly! A year and a bit ago I retired from working life again, or rather I was retired. As much as I enjoyed working as a city councillor, I was not re-elected so I’m once again free to pursue a private life. Just before the election, I was asked to join a service club. I think the group felt I could be an asset because I was a councillor and had connections at city hall. I hope they’ve learned that I’m smart and knowledgeable and a good, eager member.

Here are the pros and cons of being in a service club. Our organization has what they call the “Five Pillars”. They are fight vision loss, fight childhood cancer, fight hunger, encourage diabetes awareness and help the environment. These can all be served at any level. from local to international, and all are worthy causes.

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Our club raises quite a bit of money which we then donate to charities who may not have the ability to raise as much or who need a boost in fundraising. We also have several hands on projects, some are easy and not time consuming, others require many person hours of work. Most of our projects are chosen to help our local community. Funds raised from the public are returned to the public in support of a local group or entity. If we raise money from the members solely, then that money may go to help our international foundation donate to needy projects around the world. This is a big plus when choosing a service club. Does it truly serve the community?

Belonging to a service organization is really beneficial to me personally. I like people and this group allows me to meet other like-minded folks and have some fun too. I get to meet and talk with members of the public. I get to put forward new ideas, that may or may not be used but at least they are out there. These are social benefits for anyone.

This type of group offers many benefits to those who chose to participate. In fact I’ve often wondered why there are members who join, pay the dues but don’t participate in any of our activities. This group has offered me a few new opportunities. We get the benefit of knowledge from those who have been with the club far longer. This isn’t always good, as you’ll see later, but it’s important to know the history of your group.

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For years many service clubs were for men only. Eventually the more forward thinking groups realized that women too needed to share that community spirit so women’s clubs were formed as off-shoots of the original men only organizations. Women were still not allowed to hold a higher office than that allowed in their local club. Though originally formed as a branch of the men’s associations. women proved to be equally adept at running fundraisers and putting in the hours need for actual service. And so most clubs began accepting female members and allowed them to move up the ranks both locally, in their districts and even internationally. There are still some of the old guys networks that refuse to allow women, but they are quickly becoming obsolete. That said there are still a few women’s groups also that don’t want to amalgamate but they are soon to be eased into becoming one big club. By belonging to a diversified club, I have the opportunity to advocate for women, to encourage younger women to join and to mentor if that’s necessary. It’s a win-win for me.

Although I have tried to boost the benefits of joining a service group, there is a bit of a downside. Gaining new members can be hard. Young parents often have to commute from work to home, leaving little time for an extra-curricular activity. Their children are involved in teams or lessons that take place in the early evenings. Combat these issues by being more lenient in attendance needs, cut meetings from two or three to one per month, pique interest with exciting activities the whole family can enjoy.

We are members of what we jokingly call the STP group, or the same ten people group. It seems that much of our activity is done by the same people every time, no matter what the event. This is terribly frustrating because there is such a variety of experiences available to members. But we take a deep breath and carry on. You cannot force someone to participate.

The above paragraph leads into that famous statement “we’ve always done it this way”. Guess what – it’s time for change! It can be a long, slow process but things will eventually change and most often the change is better. Being stuck in a time warp means a lack of transparency and accountability. Isn’t this something we demand from our politicians? Ask it of your club executive as well, change has to come from within! One on-going battle is how long it takes to move up from being a member to the club executive and so on. Our members bring many years of life experience with them yet hit a brick wall when it comes to moving up in the organization. Or if they do move up, they are given very little help in fulfilling the role. It’s really a great way to lose active members.

My last complaint is with the cliques. Part of the reason I joined a service club was to meet people. I’m very outgoing and will talk to everyone whether I know them or not and, I realize that everyone isn’t the same. I see chairs tipped up that indicates ONLY OUR FRIENDS can sit here. How off-putting is that?  But I have to ask, if you stick with only your friends and don’t participate in the groups’ activities, why did you join?

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All that said, I hope you consider joining a service group. Change can only come from within whether that’s from within you or within the club. Service benefits not only the receivers but those who give as well.

 

 

 

OK Boomers

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I really do try to keep my blog non-political, but right now, with my novel percolating and my characters misbehaving, I decided to write about something that’s been bothering me lately. Canada has just been through a federal election. It’s over, though some would have us believe otherwise, and conversations have gone back to “what’s wrong with the country anyway”. Many older citizens are contributing their opinions, so are the younger generations but when an opinion from a senior conflicts with that of a junior, it seems the stock response is “OK Boomer”. Seems innocuous enough but the phrase is actually meant as an insult. Why?

It is widely felt that the Boomer generation were given everything and contributed nothing to the world in general, that we are responsible for the environmental disasters befalling our earth, for the greed of large corporations, for poverty and disease. But hold on a minute. It’s time us boomers laid our cards on the table.

Our parents, one or both, enlisted in the Armed Forces to fight for the world and for their, as yet unconceived, children. The joy of a world war ending resulted in a wave of children born into happiness, to parents who swore that their children would never see the horrors they had experienced. Those parents kept their promises. Canadian children, when they grew up, did not have to go to war again. Unlike our parents during the Depression, we had food. If we lacked education it was in the learning of our history and indigenous people, most of us had the advantage of going on to some form of higher education or learning a trade. Life was good and we needn’t apologize for it.

Yes there are some of my generation who became greedy, who don’t understand what is truly at stake but do not paint all with the same brush. Yes our generation did make mistakes but aren’t many of the ensuing generations  making mistakes as well?

Let’s have a look at what the Boomers have accomplished and are proudly passing on to our next generations. We rid our country of capital punishment. No one who is wrongly accused and languishing in jail, will be put to death. We are proud of that.

There is no more polio, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella or whooping cough at least not until those who prefer not to vaccinate their children start succumbing to those epidemics. Wearing seatbelts is mandatory too. Boomers did that.

Huge strides forward have been made for women. Birth control, freedom of choice, opportunities to advance in the occupation of their choice. Boomers made these things possible for women. Civil rights are finally being recognized and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is enshrined in the constitution which gives such rights the legal status they need. Yep, guess who you should thank.

I’m very pleased to tell you that the world wide web, personal computers, and smart phones came to us via boomers like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. All the best innovative thinking gave you these absolutely essential things we depend on to keep us informed about what’s going on in the whole world. You know things, thanks to these men and others like them.

Our generation determined that we wouldn’t have to go to war again. Yes there have been wars and some people have tragically lost their lives but we no longer have war on the massive scale seen during World War 2 and the threat of nuclear war has diminished.

Here in Canada, gay marriage is now legal and people are free to love whomever they want. Men and women don’t have to be married to live together. Boomers made that possible. Yes there is still hate by some, but that is intergenerational, taught by those who never learned to accept all others. It’s not just one generation that is responsible for the hate the world is experiencing right now.

We have learned to apologize to previous generations and others who suffered at the hands of our forefathers. Well I’ll give the Gen Xers that one but you know what? Now that we have had history corrected and learned about the atrocities of the past, we have no real issues with the apologies or the reparations. At least most of us have no issues.

As for the environment, it was the boomers who got rid of acid rain, and warned about the destruction of natural habitats. The book Silent Spring was published in 1962 and was one of the first books to warn people about the harm technology could do even while it helped us. It is not my generation who became addicted to single use plastic, I and my friends drink tap water or filter our water, we also try really hard to not use plastic grocery bags. We didn’t grow up with them so the transition to reusables was easy for us.

So these are my thoughts with a little help from the internet. I hope we can all learn to be more tolerant and stay away from the blame game. I really don’t want to start my sentences with “okay kiddies”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Research Done!

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This idea has been rolling around in my brain for quite some time and I’ve decided to just do it! First step is planning. This will be a full length novel, I hope, with ten chapters and fifty thousand words. Whoa, that sounds daunting so how about I break it down to three hundred twenty or four hundred twenty pages. That’s a bit easier to handle. Breaking that number down even further each chapter of my book should be three to five pages. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll number the chapters.

Next I have to describe each chapter in two sentences. Don’t write down the details! For example, write Chapter One – introduce main characters – set the scene. Do not get bogged down in the particulars; quoting the old TV detective Joe Friday “Just the facts ma’am”. No embellishment is necessary at this point, you are just writing for yourself and this exercise helps get your storyline straight and firms up your main characters.in your mind. I’m amazed at how difficult it is to be disciplined in this phase. Really I just want to dive in and start writing but I truly believe that sticking to this format will help me succeed.

Once all my chapters are finished this way, I will start adding a few more sentences to each segment. But  I must still keep the sentences thin and easy to read with minimal descriptions. Basically at this point I have my main character’s name, her occupation and now I’ll expand by writing about her frame of mind and where she is at the moment. And don’t forget I have outlined all my chapters so am growing each one in turn.

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Starting with Chapter One, I can now focus on getting a feel for my novel. Are there any plot holes that need filling or chapters that feel like nothing is happening? Is my ending rushed? And most importantly, does my story excite me? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, then I have to go back and fix it.

It’s really okay if there are plot holes or slower spots. I’m giving myself permission to rearrange chapters and make plot edits right now. This is where I will fix problems that I found previously. Remember this is still my outline and shifting sentences around is relatively easy at this time.

Warning – this part is downright scary. Have someone read your outline like it’s a novel. Listen to their questions and comments. Don’t answer them right away but do answer them when you actually write the chapters. I think this is one of the hardest things to do. Trusting someone with my thoughts and ideas just makes me sweat. So many things are running through my mind, who do I choose, how do I choose? Oh boy! But this is necessary because I really want people to read my novel and I need the feedback.

Finally I’m going to edit my outline with any feedback provided. When the tweaking is done, I’ll send it back to be read again and edit some more if necessary. If I’m happy with the overall structure I’ll know I’m ready for the final step. I’m ready to WRITE THE DAMN STORY!!!

Who are They?

Whatever you’re writing about in your first novel, the characters in the story have to be believable. Personalities must come out early in the story so readers can relate to them and whatever is influencing them. This is, for me, the first step in creating my book. I am writing a romance so of course I have two main characters and a few additional ones who will also play a part in the mystery of the whole tale.

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Some teachers of writing advise you to develop a long background of detail about each character. This will help the writer know the character and how she will react under stress, happiness, anger or threat. As a writer, I’m not going to describe the family dynamics of each character, but I have to understand their motivations and therefore I have to know their culture, upbringing and family dynamics myself. I have to know how she will react to a situation, to authority, to a fellow worker. So I am now developing my characters and their personalities.

My characters therefore are no longer just a cast but are now thought of as people with personalities. It isn’t easy to develop these people and it is a good idea to write down all the little facets that make up the whole. So not only is my five foot nine inch, red haired heroine a strong minded woman with a bit of a temper, she is also determined to rise through the ranks and advance her career. Even though my readers don’t need more than a few details of why she thinks that way, I ought to have that knowledge because I know it will help me tell her story.

I already know what my characters look like but now I have to delve into their psyche. I need to know how my people think. What are her interests and passions? And what about his? The male characteristics need to be defined as well. Speech is another feature to decide. My female lead doesn’t speak in flowery language, she is a strong, young woman and I need to make her speech show that she is energetic and decisive. I also need to convey her softer side, because she does have one.

Her love interest, I did say this is a romance, is also a strong character and I have to figure out the dynamic between the two. Again it will be important to subtly point out their differences and similarities. After all how will the readers know about their attraction to each other if I don’t tell them through the many small ways people communicate, verbally and non-verbally?

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Next on the list of character development is the motivation for my characters. First on the list is Basic. This one involves survival, failure, curiosity, guilt, desire, and instability. So far none of these really describe my characters reason for being in the situation in which they find themselves although a couple of the qualities are certainly in the story.

Now I have Noble. Love, loyalty, humour, obedience, vengeance, inequality, and dissatisfaction are in this list and my people do have a few of these traits and feelings. Actually all of these words describe certain aspects of the personalities I am crafting.

Going on to Evil. Described as hatred, dishonour, pride, greed, revenge, lust, and jealousy. These traits will be used for a couple of my secondary characters though the two stars aren’t always sweetness and light and will definitely have some sense of a bad feeling.

Finally we have Fear. This has death, humiliation, pain, rejection, loss, regret and shame. These are pretty intense emotions but to some degree all characters will experience them. Every person will, at some point in a story, experience at least one of these.

I hope this helps you understand the work an author has to do to make the characters in any novel come to life. It isn’t an easy job and every writer starts the same way, with a basic storyline and the question who are they, these folks who want me to tell their story.

 

 

 

Camera Ready!

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photo by Christian Mackie on Unsplash

A few years ago, when I first started this blog, I was told that adding pictures to my blog would catch interest and make it easier to read by giving the eyes some relief. Okay but how the heck do I do that? I found that WordPress was pretty good at telling me how to add pictures but my pictures were sure not worthy. I’m not a photographer. I’m one of those people who knows what I like but there was no way I could replicate any type of visual art. So the hunt was on!

As I’ve said in a previous blog, Google is my friend, and I set off on the hunt for sites that had pictures I could use. There are thousands of photographs, called stock photos,  available to anyone, but there are some things to watch for. First, many sites will charge you for the use of a photo, so beware. Many free sites aren’t really free but do put out a few free photos each week. You can use these without charge, but the sites usually ask for your information. Of course it’s your decision whether or not to give it out but is really not necessary. Watch out for copyright infringement.

I’ve found two that are very user friendly. They don’t ask for personal information and there are many photos and graphics, sorted into categories, available to download. It’s fun sorting through for just the right shot and I confess I sometimes get distracted and spend a little too much time on the hunt. My two favourites are Pexel and Unsplash. Both sites have a “donate” button; it’s optional but they ask too that you give credit to the photographer who owns the picture. Often a credit comes up at the bottom of your photo when posted, but if not your blog site help tab can show you how to add a credit. Now I try to make sure that credit is given where it’s due and if you don’t see that caption on a picture on my blog, that means I took it myself!

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Photo by Omar Houchamil on Pexel

Yes, I am going to take pictures myself! I have already done a few; actually on a previous blog, Writing on Writing, the two pictures used there were my idea and taken by my husband. Neither of us are artistically minded but we try hard to follow the rules of photography. So what are those rules that I’m trying hard to follow?

  •      Take your camera everywhere. You can’t take pictures without it! Those pics you don’t like can be easily deleted.
  •      Get closer to your subject. You might think it’s good but a few feet closer can make it even better.
  •      Practice every day.
  •      If you photograph people, ask their permission before using their photos.
  •      Read your camera manual. It really has some good information.
  •      Beware of backgrounds. Or things to one side, like garbage cans. They just don’t look quite right.

And there you have it. I believe that pictures do make a lovely addition to everyone’s blog.

Loving Language & Words

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Language and words, two of my favourite things. As I told you in a previous blog post, I love to write and now I will tell you that I really love to read as well. What first attracted me to writing was likely the passion I had for reading. If a book could spark my imagination and pull me into the story, I would read until I had finished the whole thing. It was truly the use of language and words that hooked me. So much that, at the age of thirteen, I started writing stories myself. At that time I was really enamoured with poetry and spent a lot of time creating ballads. Still, I did well, according to my eighth grade teacher. Did anything really spur your interest in writing and reading?

But this blog isn’t about my love of reading and writing but more about using the right words and language. One thing that always frustrates me is the use of words to try and prove “I” am better than you. I once had a manager who would use all the so-called big words she knew when talking to us. It didn’t work well as she often didn’t pronounce the words correctly or use them in the right context. So many professionals deliberately use difficult language when they really do not need to do so. What springs to mind? Lawyers, insurance brokers and doctors are all guilty. I’m a nurse and many, many times I’ve had to translate into simpler language for the patient’s understanding. My point here is – use words that everyone can understand. Don’t be condescending, just be natural. Sometimes I’m accused of being too simplistic but when I speak in public I really want people to understand my presentation, not struggle to understand the words I use.

Onto the WORDS! The English language is really great. I can find synonyms for any word I want to use. For example the synonym for “synonym” is equivalent. Why do we use synonyms? To keep our speech and writing from being repetitive. Plain and simple, if for example, you want to describe something as very pretty, you can use beautiful, attractive, cute, appealing. The choices are many. If a word doesn’t seem quite right, if it doesn’t say what I think it should, I head to my thesaurus and I find the synonym. And I don’t need to own a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus, everything you need to know is now online.

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And then there are some of my favourite words, homonyms. These are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have totally different meanings. Most of us are familiar with the three homonyms there, their, and they’re. These are, I believe, the most misused words I see. Is their misuse caused by a decline in the teaching of English grammar? Maybe. I remember my son coming home from school one day so happy he got an A on an English assignment. He did it well but the word choices and spelling were atrocious. So I asked his teacher why she gave him such a good mark. Her answer was, she was looking for concepts and expression, the spelling or word choice didn’t really matter. Grrr!  Thirty years later, his spelling is much improved, largely due to his mother’s influence I’m sure.

I’m not perfect but I am proud to spell properly and use good sentence structure. But I believe the downgrade in our language and spelling, which seems to have happened over a short period of time, can be directly attributed to the increase of social media communication. In trying to text quickly or fit everything you want to say into the two hundred eighty character allowance on Twitter, people are using short forms and acronyms for many commonly used words and phrases. For your it’s ur, for please it’s pls, If I can’t fit a word into the space I need on twitter, I’ll rephrase the whole sentence. I just can’t really get comfortable not using my words.

So I will remain a fan of language arts and words and continue to try to use them appropriately.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day

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Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. The history of this day goes back to the early 1900’s with women from around the world marching and striking for peace, food and their right to vote. Now the day is still celebrated world wide, some countries have a national holiday, some totally ignore it and some just pay lip service. Here in Canada the day is acknowledged and women may march for a cause and some introduce a project that is close to their hearts like the shoebox project.

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I describe myself as a woman, wife, mother, grandmother, and feminist. I firmly believe that women are equal in all ways. We are not superior to others but equal. I was fortunate to be raised in a female household. Dad died when I was nine and my mother remarried a couple of years later to a man who was in the navy so he was gone six or more months of the year. So myself, two sisters, my nana and my mum were all together in one house. My mother was totally female, petite, always in full make up and well dressed. But she could handle a hammer or screwdriver and built our TV stand herself and then built and replaced our wooden garage doors. We were taught we could do anything and encouraged to try many projects. I was athletic, excelled in English and history and did well in some sciences. The world was just waiting for me. I truly believe I was very fortunate to have the upbringing I did. We don’t need to tear down other women to achieve our goals but we do need to hold out a helping hand, ready and willing to lead the way. Because our goal is equality, we shouldn’t try to tear down men either just to achieve our goal of equality. Men and women must learn to treat each other with respect, each recognizing the other’s unique talents.

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This year, in Canada, our theme for International Women’s Day is Innovate for Change. There is a strong emphasis on STEM. Girls are being encouraged to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The female brain is equally able to learn these subjects and,  if their interest is there, study them and do well. Previously, women were discouraged from these studies, now they really are being encouraged. Women are being empowered. That’s not a catchphrase, it’s a truth. Our daughters, nieces, sisters are achieving empowerment when they are able to achieve a place in the decision making process, the ability to access opportunities available to them without limitations and restrictions. To achieve this we must celebrate the contributions of women and renew our efforts in achieving gender equality.

In high school, I was told I could become a nurse, teacher, secretary or housewife. I chose nursing and had a pretty good career. I mentored many new nurses, I stood up to the bullying system on behalf of myself and others, I taught a bit and I helped make my workplace, and others, safer. Secretly I wanted to study journalism and write, but for whatever reason I just didn’t have the drive to do it when I was that young. I believed nursing was my path and I was damn good at it. But I would have been a fantastic journalist. So to any and all who are reading this, encourage those girls and women to do the work that they know they can. Do the work they really want to do. Be FANTASTIC!!