Focusing On Your Foundations

September 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.”

That’s a lyric from Tough People Do, performed by singer Brett Kissel during the first of two August fundraising concerts to raise money for flood-stricken Southern Alberta.

His words really have resonated with me ever since. Thousands of people in our province were devastated by Mother Nature, including four deaths.
I have been reminded several times over the last few weeks that even though my wife and I have had personal and family setbacks this year, encouraging things have also occurred. Needless to say, the above noted tragedy had its own way of underlining that other people can always be worse off.

First, blogmate Wendy wrote me about advancements she’s been exploring in digital publishing. This was great news since we’ve been discussing for a few months how to turn this blog into the intended motivational/inspirational book. We started writing together in fall 2009 with the goal of building content for this publication, but have yet to determine a format or platform for taking our writings into a broader realm.

That really pumped me up because although I have had ideas to write about in the last few months, I have lacked the drive to put pen to paper, so to speak.

The very next day, a teacher friend contacted me to advise that she had read the most recent draft of my story about Jasper, our dog. I am turning a short story I authored for a writing competition three years ago into a book. My friend adored the story and would love to have Jasper and I visit her classroom to read the story and encourage students to write.

That is very cool on a couple of levels. It means I will have a target group to test out what ages the book should be directed to. I also enjoy any opportunity to work directly with the education system, whether that’s doing school tours of City Hall or my former work as a school board communicator in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Again, that energized me because I have only puttered with the story since I first penned it in spring 2010. I have mulled over whether to lengthen it, if I should turn it into a series of vignettes or simplify the script for younger audiences. Getting a meaningful endorsement was a big boost to get my dream of getting Jasper published.

Within days, I had an inspired lunch with a close friend and colleague who provided some timely calm and perspective on some dilemmas.

Our recent vacation to the West Coast and Vancouver Island provided some much-needed relaxation and a break from work and volunteer activities. It was an opportunity for Joyce and I to enjoy some couple time and to discuss future plans away from the hectic day-to-day lives we live.

It also allowed time to reconnect with some family and friends some of whom are as close as family. These connections are the most important of foundations.

One of these people, is someone I admire greatly for her toughness and perseverance.

While in Richmond, we celebrated the retirement of Fran Hunter, who operated a family day home for 35 years, many of which were as a single parent of two daughters.

I first met Fran as a college student. I was a boarder in her home for three years as I attained my diploma in journalism and certificate in communications at Kwantlen College.

She was much like a sister to me and we’ve remained close friends since.

Small in stature, Fran battled through numerous odds to complete a respected career and has earned the next, unwritten chapter in her life.

Speaking of enduring hardship, I end with another quote that Fran might have found helpful. It certainly hit home with me.

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” ~ novelist C.S. Lewis

Still Searching For Home

November 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Earlier this year, I entered the 2012 Clem and Muriel Collins Writing Contest through the Grande Prairie Public Library. As we used to say in my days working with the Ontario Lottery Corporation, I was a non-winner.

As competitive as I am, I actually don’t think of the outcomes – yet to place in three tries – as winning and losing. It really is more about how the theme resonates with me.

Firstly, although I’ve been a writer for 30 years, it’s only been the last few years where I have really explored my creative, non-journalistic, corporate side. Second, as with my story on Jasper, my dog, these entries can later be converted into a larger project – I continue to tinker with a book manuscript. Third, because I have this blog, I can always feature my work here, as I have with a couple of earlier submissions.

Lastly, I can take the topic in a different direction which is what I’m doing with this post.

The theme for this year’s competition was Home. Instead of pursuing some initial, more emotional thoughts about that word means to me, I tried my first-ever piece of fiction and wrote a baseball-related piece. I want to go back now and share what Home means to me.

When I first heard the theme, I began thinking of the quotable quotes that use Home, like: “Home is where the heart is” or “Keep the home fires burning” or “There is no place like Home”. It turns out that when I actually read the brochure as I started to compose my entry, all these quotes and others were used as examples of what Home might mean.

While those phrases do have some connection, especially for someone who’s been happily married for 26 years, I struggled to put any strong feeling around them. I was challenged to explain what was really on my mind. It was then my wife suggested I attempt writing something totally fictitious.

Now that I’ve given it some deeper thought, Home is a place of the mind – somewhere I continue to seek. I think this relates to an earlier blog where I wrote that I always think there is something more – new things to learn and higher levels of achievement, professionally and personally.

Who knows whether I’ll ever really reach home from that standpoint? It’s the journey that matters.

As I get more life experience and work toward more of that elusive balance people yearn to achieve, perhaps I’m getting closer to my definition of home. Heck, it was just three years ago that this blog was born and I can truly say there have been many more personal and professional achievements since then.

On the professional side, one of my proudest moments occurred earlier this month with the launch of the City of Grande Prairie’s Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP.

Interestingly, at the kick-off the meaning of Home arose. Some participants think of amenities or particular qualities of a community, like friendliness, that make a place feel like home.

Since Grande Prairie has doubled in size since 1991, many residents are from somewhere else. For quite a number, it is that former country or other part of Canada that is Home. Some are unsure yet whether their current location is home.

To me, home in that sense is where you are situated. I’ve found comfort in the places I’ve lived across the country and re-invested through volunteer activities in every community. I have always said, “Home is where you hang your hat.”

I was talking to my friend Nikki Thompson, the marketing co-ordinator for nine10 Incorporated in Grande Prairie, the other day. Her thoughts tie nicely into this piece.

Here is what she had to say: “In 2009, I was in college and I had the feeling I was constantly missing out on what the world has to offer. I thought, ‘What the heck does Grande Prairie have? Nothing, that’s what!’ I felt unsettled. However, I was heading to New York City with our marketing class at the start of the New Year. NYC would surely have what I was looking for as it’s the hub for everything new and exciting. I’d never miss out on anything. I got there and it was incredible but nothing worth leaving Grande Prairie for. It is hard to explain but my world becoming smaller had cured my need to experience everything first.”

“Home is where you feel settled mentally, where comfort and remaining opportunistic meet to keep one engaged in where they are – a sense of belonging with purpose.”

Where is home to you? Is it a specific place? Are you there?

Living to Leave a Legacy

November 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in the midst of trying to figure out what her role in life is, her place in the world.

I don’t think I’ve ever determined the answer to these questions, with certainty, for myself, let alone be able to suggest to someone else what their destiny might be.

On one hand, it would be easy to get overwhelmed if we are really meant to find a way to stand out amongst the billions of people on the face of the earth.  On the other, George Bailey (played by James Stewart) in It’s A Wonderful Life learned that all the lives of those around him would change without him.

Therefore, I think it’s more worthwhile to consider how we can make our mark closer to home than examine ourselves on the world stage.

We can get great satisfaction out of volunteering in our community. I certainly have in many organizations and my son’s schools over the years.

Are we making special contributions in the workplace, like serving on committees? Are we challenging ourselves on the job itself? If someone were to ask our colleagues about us when we move on to another job, what would they really say?

How do our friends and family view us?

A few weeks ago, Jordan Skidnuk, son of Kathy Skidnuk Stoughton and the late Darrell Skidnuk, reported on Facebook that he’d received word that he is the youngest athlete to represent Canada at the 2012 Boston Marathon. I was really touched by the tribute he made to his dad, in the process.

Darrell, who lost his long bout with cancer in April 2004, was a consummate friend, parent and husband. He gave it his all to everything he participated in. And he was involved in a lot.

Jordan left no doubt about the influence of his father.

“This is a dream come true, I have never worked so hard for something in my life. This one is for you Pops, always with me every step of the way in spirit. Thanks so much to every person that came to watch a race, or encouraged me when I thought that this was impossible.”

As parents, we can hope to achieve nothing greater. I am sure Darrell, who also ran about 20 races, was smiling up there in the sky.

Legacies come in all forms and lengths.

In acknowledging the deaths of long-time community builder Bill Bowes and four teens killed in a car crash in late October, Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given noted we are all capable of leaving a legacy, regardless of our age.

Mr. Bowes, who died at age 86, was instrumental in the development of the Daily Herald-Tribune, along with his brother, Jim. He was also a well-known Rotarian, instrumental in the success of the 1995 Canada Winter Games, the growth of the Grande Prairie Storm hockey club, and was active in the chamber of commerce.

In 2009, he received the Alberta Order of Excellence.

The four teens were members of the Grande Prairie Composite High football team. Their Warrior team-mate remains in Edmonton hospital with severe injuries.

The outpouring of sympathy and support for the families and the team came from near and far. Their story hit the national news.

Mayor Given noted that, in death, the legacy of the teens is that the community has been forged together stronger.

The bottom line is that whether someone is 15 or 86, they are capable of making a difference – that might be at the neighbourhood level or community wide. Only a handful of people rise to prominence on the national or world stage.

Encounters of the homeless kind

November 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

A man rummaging through a skip at the back of ...

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Over the summer I spent some time with someone who lived on the streets for a few months of his youth. Talk about time spent expanding my comfort zone. That experience challenged me to look at the streets of Calgary in a new way, and at the people who currently occupy them, from people in suits walking to work to people pushing shopping carts from one dumpster to the next.

It’s true that we’re afraid of the things we don’t understand. I don’t understand the world of the homeless, and admittedly, on the whole, it frightens me. I have a hard time even beginning to wrap my head around how they got there and why they’re choosing to stay there (there’s an entire other argument to be made, I’m sure, on whether or not it’s a choice).

Today I met one of the nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever met on the streets of Calgary. Yes, on the streets–that is, after all, where he lives. Well, technically he calls a city park home.

I’ve spoken with him before. Last time he was telling me about how lucky he felt because someone thought to drop off a new blanket for him. I didn’t think to ask him his name at the time.  Just politely conversed in return while I finished transferring my recyclables from my car to the large green bins. I remember him also saying how he had found a radio. The music was playing from somewhere nearby where I imagine he had found an outlet to power it. When I was done, he bade me good day and off I went without another thought to this man by the recycling bins.

I was out for lunch at Local 510 one day over the summer with some colleagues. We were eating on the patio and this guy walked up to our table and asked us for some money. He was near tears and told us he had HIV and that his parents had kicked him out onto the street. He was trying to raise enough money to find shelter. Skeptically, we all fished out some money for him. After he left, one colleague leaned in and said “I’m pretty sure I recognize that guy. He hangs out around 17th Ave a lot.” Is his story true? Who knows. Maybe parts of it are.

There’s also the guy who sits on a crate downtown day in and day out. I’ve passed him several times, but I’ve never stopped. The last time I walked by him, I spotted a loaf of bread tucked under his crate. Is that what this man eats every day? Where does he come from? Where does he go at nightfall? And why does he do nothing more than sit on that crate? Only in my last couple of trips by him did I make eye contact and smile. Why was that such a hard thing for me to do?

Today, I was back at the recycling bins. As I opened the door to my car, I heard a radio playing. I stepped out and saw someone rummaging around the bins like last time.

As I approached with my recycling he turned around and said “Hello! How’s your day going?”

“Fantastically! Thank you. How is yours?” I replied.

“Oh, I’m having the most amazing day! I slept until 2:10 this afternoon.”

“Really? That must’ve felt nice! I haven’t been able to sleep that long into the day in quite some time.”

“I don’t usually get that much sleep either. This was the first time in five years I’ve slept that long! And man did it ever feel great!”

And so on we conversed while I finished unloading my car. Another fabulous thing about his day was that one of the garbage men had given him a garbage picker. It was a metal rod with prongs attached to the end and a handle he could squeeze to bring the prongs together. He even did a demonstration of it for me, picking up bottle caps, bottles and bits of paper from the ground. Works wonders for reaching inside the bins too.

It was at this point that he paused long enough for me to ask him an important question.

“What’s your name?”

He looked up and said “My name’s Bart.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Bart. I’m Wendy.”

He smiled and kept talking. I learned that the park is his home. He takes great pride in keeping it clean. “You won’t find any garbage around here, no sir! I make sure I pick up every last bit of paper to keep the area looking clean. I hate dirty things. It’s not like the recycling centre over by the grocery store. That one’s a mess! People put stuff everywhere,” he paused. “Well, actually, it’s not the people bringing the recycling in. It’s all the pickers. They just don’t care. But me? I care.”

Last summer I went to find a geocache with another friend of mine. The one we picked to search out was in this very park. As we explored the shrubbery along the backs of the houses, I remembered seeing a sleeping bag up in a tree. I wondered now if it belonged to this gentleman.

After a spell, he said, “Well, you’ve probably got other places to be. I’ll let you go. Have a nice day!”

I got into my car, drove home, and haven’t stopped thinking about the whole encounter all evening.

I can’t get it out of my head just how happy he was to have a tool that made his job easier and how proud he was to be keeping the park clean. As I was pulling away, another man drove up to bring in his recycling and Bart started up again and asked “Hello! How’s your day going?” All with the same warmth and another big smile.

*Names used in this post are fictional… well, except mine.

Being An Instrument Of Change

September 26, 2011 § 1 Comment

In the days since the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, I’ve been pondering what has changed over the last decade and how I should lead my life accordingly.

I’ve returned to Alberta to work, my son has grown up and moved to Edmonton, we have a different dog and changed vehicles a couple of times. New friends have been made and I have less hair and what’s left is sprinkled with what I call Arctic Blond (grey).

The cell phone I said I would never get in the first place has been replaced by a Blackberry (but since it belongs to my employer, I can say I didn’t personally get sucked further into the technology vortex). While the Internet was well into development in 2001, we were not bombarded with the networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn we are now.

On a global level, we have security levels never before seen so travelling by air or crossing international borders is not as easy as it once was. There was once an ad campaign about not leaving home without a specific credit card. Now, a passport is mandatory for even travel within Canada.

Going to a sporting event or concert is no longer as convenient with backpacks and purses being searched.
More terrorist acts have occurred though none of them have caused the death tolls incurred on that grave day in September 2001.

The world has been ridden of terror lords such as Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. There are many others to take their place.

As much as the world is on higher alert, it is hard not to be numbed by the bad news on the nightly news, in newspaper and, increasingly, social media.

The phrase, “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” is very much in vogue when it comes to following the news.
However, while there has been change in the last 10 years – including some for the good such as no smoking legislation spreading to restaurants and bars in our country – one thing that has not changed is my love for life and desire to connect with like-minded people.

As individuals, we can be instruments of change. When you think of it, the dictators mentioned above or numerous others ranging from Idi Amin to Adolph Hitler and Baby Doc Duvalier have been able to rise to power. They made a difference, didn’t they?

But so did Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

So many people believe they can’t have an impact so they do nothing. Far too few get involved in their community, even in their child’s school activities or help to manage academic performance in collaboration with teachers. Then they seem surprised when Johnny or Mary can’t read effectively when they are about to graduate.

When I see that 61.4 per cent of Canadians voted in this spring’s election, I feel like asking anyone who complains about what the federal government is doing whether they voted. Just one in four voters cast ballots in last fall’s municipal election in Grande Prairie.

I’m not here to preach. There is more all of us can do. But when I see people not voting in droves, the apathy is chilling. How is it dictators in other parts of the world manage to rise to power? I do know that people in other countries are dying for the right to vote.

Our purpose in life should be to pass on lessons learned to the next generation so they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past – or if they do, they do so knowing the consequences.

I grew up in a dysfunctional home. I vowed my son would not follow suit. Now that he has grown, he has the choice to heed the direction of his parents and teachers or make his own choices.

And he will. My hope is that he and his peers take up the torch and improve the world for the next generation.
Every action does counts.

Most often, we just have to look in the mirror, like this quote from actress Lily Tomlin suggests: “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”

So, while the world has gotten smaller and everything moves faster, one thing that hasn’t changed is our opportunity to make changes, big or small.

Reconnecting

November 15, 2010 § 1 Comment

Nodal Relationship

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I grew up in a dysfunctional family where I was disconnected with many uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins. That was, in addition, to the internal strife.

Since becoming an adult, I’ve always found that my better friends became closer than family. I never really made an effort to reconnect with any relatives, located mostly in B.C. and Alberta and the Western United States.

However, about five years ago, I made an exception to my rule. I followed my curiosity and, this summer, brought my sleuthing on an impromptu family search to a happy conclusion. No sweat for a former newspaper reporter. Ironically, it is Joyce who is the genealogist in the family.

It all started when I Googled myself. I do this every once in a while to see how articles or information containing my name appear on the World Wide Web since I am routinely quoted in the media. Also, there is a David Olinger at the Denver Post. I have never connected with him, but since he’s a journalist, I like to follow the trail of the scribe with the same name.

As I was scrolling down through the entries on this one occasion, I came across the name Kelley Olinger in Victoria, B.C. I was intrigued by this name since there are many Olingers in Southern B.C., particularly the Okanagan. However I couldn’t remember seeing the name Kelley.

So, I dug a little deeper and discovered that Kelley is a real estate agent in Victoria. I sent a note via email just to see if she could be part of my extended clan, particularly in Kelowna.

Sure enough, she is Peter Olinger’s daughter.

Kelley and I emailed back and forth several times and later connected via Facebook. Then when Joyce, Peter (our son) and I moved to Grande Prairie in 2007, there was always a greater chance we would get to the West Coast in the not-too-distant future. Kelley long ago suggested that if we ever got over to the Island, we should look her up.

So, when we knew would be going to Vancouver Island in August, we followed up on that invitation. We met for a lovely lunch in Victoria.

It was during that encounter that Kelley reminded me that she had located her father’s birth mother through Facebook a couple of years ago.

As a result, Kelley facilitated a reunion in Edmonton and the families continue to correspond. It also closed chapters for both mother and son. As well, Kelley now has more family background for medical purposes.

It was a terrific story that would never have been possible without technology. In fact, my connection with Kelley would likely not have occurred without Google and my curiosity about my own name.

I have no idea what prompted me to reach out and enquire specifically as to Kelley’s connection with me. God knows, there are closer relatives than a second cousin I could have tracked down. Family dysfunction does that to you. Someone has to make the first move.

It just seemed right at the time. I am glad I did. Kelley is, too. After our visit, she offered to be our tour guide if we returned to Vancouver via Victoria. With balmy conditions in Parksville, however, we stayed extra time there and returned to the mainland via Nanaimo.

Next time, Second Cuz!

Making connections with long-lost family is a tricky business. Certainly, it was a lot more challenging for Kelley to connect her father with his birth mother. There is always the fear that they don’t care to be reunited. In my case, Kelley had never heard of me until consulting with her parents when I first contacted her. I could have been some wacko.

Having gone through the experience and hearing the story of Kelley’s family, I would certainly encourage anyone with the urge to reconnect to long-lost relatives to do so. Sure, you might get turned away. But looking at the cup half-full, you are more likely to be opening up a whole new world to yourself.

Go ahead, hop on the phone or get typing!

What’s In An Age?

August 24, 2010 § 3 Comments

Birthday Cake Cupcake

Image by clevercupcakes via Flickr

So, I turn 50 on Saturday. Yes, a half-century old. The Big Five-Oh.

While this blog focuses on motivation and inspiration, you won’t find me using phrases like, “you are only as old as you feel” or “age is only a number.”

In fact, I’ve never had any strong feelings about reaching any significant age. This year is no different.

However, a colleague gave me pause for thought the other day. She remarked, “We are getting older, David.”

There is no doubt we are. But any reflection I do on the subject revolves around realizing that I continue to grow as a person and as a professional. I learn about myself and the world around me every day.

I aspire to the phrase that when you stop learning, you stop living.

Certainly the signs of advancing age are there – less hair and what I have left has streaks of what I refer to as “Arctic blond” otherwise known as grey.

I can’t do some of the physical things I used to do as well or with as much stamina – the onset of Type 2 diabetes has had a noticeable effect on my eyesight and is likely responsible for the degenerative discs in my neck.

And because I take medicine for diabetes, I don’t drink alcohol. So, if I want to party hardy, I won’t do it by consuming booze.

However, I am content that virtually all the things I have ever really liked to do, I can still enjoy wholeheartedly.

I remain an avid sports fan. I still like to crank up the tunes – and I have yet to reach the stage where I need to. Live theatre is a great interest and being in the great outdoors is an enjoyable daily occurrence with my wife and Jasper, our dog. I still relish hiking and tent camping.

I continue to maintain the motto: Never grow up. Just age gracefully.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is the importance of fostering great friendships.
I’ll be marking The Big Day with Joyce by visiting some of them – the family I celebrated with while boarding at their home 30 years ago when I was attending college in Richmond, B.C.

Friendships can also occur with anyone of any age and background. It’s really a matter of connecting with people who are meaningful and enhance your life. It’s not just who you connect with but how.

For example, my blog mate, Wendy, has become a close friend since we met at a conference in May 2009. Soon after, we realized we had much in common and decided to create this blog to develop content for inspirational and motivational book(s) and collaborate on other projects.

Wendy is 28 and I am old enough to be her parent yet we can readily finish each other’s sentences and routinely one of us says something that sparks ideas for the other. We often enjoy long conversations via Skype between Grande Prairie and Calgary.

She has remarked that I am her 20 years from now.

It would be a great loss if either one of us had put up barriers to this connection.

I’ve been inspired by other younger people lately.

The City of Grande Prairie’s Economic Development Officer, Brian Glavin, just turned 25. He has the wisdom and poise of someone much older. This makes him a joy to work with and talk to on any subject.

Brian is bound to be a leader in our organization for many years to come and will have a great impact on his community or in any venture he takes on.

Then there’s Mary Leong who I had the occasion to speak with a few times this summer through her internship in Grande Prairie helping youth seek employment.

Mary, who grew up in Singapore and has been in Canada just five years, will go as far as her ambition takes her. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and wide array of interests.

She’s studying political science and psychology at the University of British Columbia. Her future will see her doing either research on how technology shapes cognition and its subsequent effects on political behaviour or something in foreign relations. Perhaps she will be an ambassador or a diplomat. Who knows, maybe she will be Prime Minister.

Mary has already accomplished much in her short life. I look forward to keeping tabs of what are sure to be many success stories authored by her in the future.

At the other end of the spectrum is my mother-in-law, Mary Black, who turned 87 in April. Visits with her bless you with her peacefulness and sense of simplicity. Plus, there is probably not a kinder, gentler, classier person in the world.

So, what is in an age? It’s up to you!

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