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

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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?

“It’s not all a Dog’s Life”: Jasper

April 12, 2010 § 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, Wendy mentioned the writing competition I was entering with the Grande Prairie Public Library. The theme was pets and I wrote about my dog, Jasper. The gist of my submission was that he thinks he’s a person.

I was a non-winner as we used to say when I worked with the Ontario Lottery Corporation in terms of prizes, but Jasper won the admiration of those who read the story before I entered it in the competition.  I share it below for your entertainment.

It was also a winning experience in that I don’t often get a chance to write feature pieces and it was a lot of fun encouraging others to enter the competition and to have a friend drop the gauntlet at my feet to get me to push my creative skills.

I am happy for whoever won. I have had my taste of awards throughout my career and I believe Jasper’s story will have a future life in some other form. Stay tuned.

I hope you enjoy reading about Jasper’s escapades as much as I have writing about them and experiencing them … well most of them.

It would be great to hear about your own pet experiences!

And now, without further ado, meet Jasper!

A Day In The Life of Jasper

Hi, my name is Jasper. I am eight years old and this is my story.

Before I get into telling you about my life, I must apologize in advance if you have trouble understanding what I have written.

First, my housemates insist on having swivel office chairs in front of our computer.  It is difficult enough for a short, furry person, who is only 2 ½ feet tall to get up into the chair, tuck his tail, and then steady the seat in one spot. On top of that, they don’t have a keyboard that is conducive to someone with dew claws.

But it is not my fault I am going through this ordeal. The other guy in the house should be writing this tale. He is the writer of the family.

However, it is Saturday, February 20 and the deadline for the writing competition is looming. My story deserves to be told.

Therefore, it is up to me to enter my own submission, even though I am not a gifted writer.

My family would tell you that I wouldn’t even know a subordinate claws.

I am not sure what that word means. I think it has something to do with equality – we all get one third of the bed!

But I digress.

Today was a great day.

The others in the house know the routine for a Saturday morning.  They have begun to realize that I know the difference between Saturdays and Sundays and weekdays.

Before they have even made coffee, I get out of our bed and remind them it is time to head out to the hot tub so I can have my kong filled with peanut butter and treats. I have them trained that I need some cold coffee to complete my weekend morning repast.

I go outside and enjoy the sunshine as they sit in the tub. Apparently I would not like water that hot. My baths in the big soaker tub inside are with tepid water and special shampoo.

It is busy for me, trying to get those tasty morsels out of the kong while also protecting everyone from the birds hidden in the hedge. First these vermin will infest the shrubs. I think they will try to get into the house next! Not on my watch!

I scare those pests off and resume my breakfast.

I don’t let the others rest for long after they finish their soak in the tub. They should know by now, the next thing on the agenda is going for a walk, often around Hudson’s Pond, located in the south end of the city.

They know the routine. I pace. I sing. I pace some more. I pant. I sometimes even throw in a howl. This will go on for about an hour. Eventually, they realize resistance is futile.

My efforts are for their own good. If not for me, they would get involved in other things and put off our excursion. I need to be exercised. I think they would spell it … e-x-o-r-c-i-z-e-d.

Walks are a good thing. I get to catch up on the news of the neighbourhood as I snuffle my way along the paths and roadways.

There are also regular snacks, especially when we meet people with those creatures called “dogs”. I am always very curious about them so my family wants to distract me.

Today is a good day as we reach the pond. No critters are in sight.  I am allowed to run ahead.

There are a lot of things to see and smell. There have been animals out here – coyotes, deer and moose. I always enjoy seeing these “big dogs” but I am not allowed to play and frolic with them for some reason.

We complete our outing. It was satisfying. Now it is time to nap.

Hmmm, which bed should I choose?

I pick the couch downstairs. It has a nice cozy blanket and is quiet and dark there. There are fluffy pillows and I can bury my nose.

An hour later …

Ahhh … stretch. That was a good snooze.

I wander around to see what everyone else is doing.

Hmmm! The house smells yummy. They are preparing f-o-o-d. That is one of the words they spell out when I am around.  I know they are up to something when they spell out … w-a-l-k … or … p-a-r-k … or… v-a-n … or … t-r-e-a-t.

Since I am not allowed to sit at the table yet – that will happen sooner or later – I assume a strategic position to catch anything that drops.

I did take matters in my own paws one time.  Once, when we had company, I helped myself to their bowl of cereal on the table.  Mmmm. Froot Loops.

Now, I am careful not get banished. That will surely mean I don’t get to be the pre-rinse cycle for the dishes when dinner is done.

My family has come a long way over the years. At one time, they tried to suggest that I should stay out of the living room as if I were some kind of animal!  Can you believe that?

Baby gates! Pffft.

Granted, not having access to the whole house wouldn’t be quite as bad as the indignation of living in a dog house. However, by the time it came to move across the country from Ontario, they found hotels that accept furry children with tails.

I must admit, I didn’t get off to the best start. But the way I like to think of it … if I were a dog or cat, I would have been long gone.

You see, I consumed books voraciously before the age of two – literally.

I had a taste for heirloom and special books, including an autographed Jean Beliveau book. The woman here was so concerned I would be a goner when her husband arrived back from a conference that she didn’t inform him of the munched book until six months later!

Well, it wasn’t totally chewed up. I did leave the autographed page unscathed. I don’t know what the problem was. I always saw the two of them spending a lot of time with books.

Then there was the time the other guy fell asleep on the couch downstairs and left his glasses on the coffee table. I was curious. They were crunchy. You fill in the blanks of what was said … because he couldn’t see me. This is a G-rated story.

Eating glasses didn’t help me see better anyway. My teeth just hurt and I got in a lot of trouble. That is one of the last times I really got scolded. I stuck to chewing what I am supposed to after that.

Well, except for the time I got into that black plastic bag with turkey bones after Christmas. I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. My tummy hurt and they made me see the doctor.

I don’t think that was the time he said I was a “solid” boy.

Or then there was the time I tried to turn on the TV using the remote with my teeth. I learned yet another use for Duct Tape.  I don’t know what everyone was upset about. The device worked perfectly after that!

I am pretty much a regular child now. Like I said, sometimes I can be demanding for walk time or snacks. But mostly I am pretty content with my life … just like any other 85 lb. floppy-eared, furry boy with brown eyes and a long nose.

So, if you meet me on the street, be sure to stop and say hi. I am a real people person.

Where Am I?

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