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Archive for April, 2011

A Royal Who Cares

April 29, 2011 9 comments

A pretty girl with dimples is plucked from mediocrity, shoved into a designer gown and paraded through the streets of London.

Tell me again, why should I care?

Since the British Royal family lacks real authority, it can only come down to nostalgia for a time when when women were even more marginalized by beheadings and corsets.

Of course, Britain has everything to gain by calling attention to an uncharacteristic rosy moment amongst its Royals. Hotel bookings alone have jumped 400% for the upcoming weekend spectacle. Not only are they selling commemorative spoons and plates, cell phones, condoms and barf bags, they are selling more magazines and newspapers. The wedding of William and Kate is expected to pump $1 billion into the British economy.

So they persist in shoving it down our throats.

No wonder they are riding this event into the Royal Mint for all they are worth. But we, the unsuspecting suckers for punishment, can fight back. We can ignore this spectacle for what it is: a desperate plea for legitimacy. Together, we commoners are powerful, and can send a message to those stuffy, tea drinking, jewel wearing royals to stop spending their money on pageantry.

Here are some tips to figuratively flip the bird to nobility, so that we can get back to Charlie Sheen and the Kardashians:

1. Do not, under any circumstances, turn on your tellie during the Royal Wedding.

2. When in line at the grocery store, turn your face away from the British tabloid magazines like Hello!,  and instead pick up National Geographic and educate yourself about the African Bat Biodiversity Project.

3. Refrain from buying anything commemorative, including the temptation to buy the Kate and William adorned condoms as a gag birthday present for your friend.

4. Do not talk about the aforementioned event on Friday. Stick to more stimulating topics like weather and hockey.

5. Most importantly, don’t click on any links, share on Facebook or tweet about anything remotely royal. Unless, of course, Kate trips going down the aisle or leaves William hanging at the alter; in which case tweet away.

This is our chance, as commoners, to shine. Ignore this pompous ceremony, in the hopes that William and Kate disappear into obscurity, thereby returning true gems like reality television to prominence in our media.

The Continuing Saga of the Upsell at Mr. Lube

April 28, 2011 13 comments
mr lube

Image by dog on wheels via Flickr

They see me coming a mile away. They, the mechanics in their overalls, and I in my ponytail and SUV filled with car seats and crumbs. I steel myself for the upcoming battle of knowledge, or lack thereof on my part, and wonder how much they will take me for this time.

They impatiently wave me forward into their garage, and I inch along, for the umpteenth time cursing the width of my car. Plenty of room, he says, but his definition of plenty is different from mine – in mine, it is more than one inch.

Just the oil today, I tell him, trying to speak their language of brevity, and looking him straight in the eye as I do so. My eyes tell him, I may be a woman, but I am not a pushover. I am quite certain he gets this message, as I see his eyelids widen and then squint ever so slightly. He knows I’m on to him.

We go over my details, and I am dutifully up-sold on the type of oil my car requires. Not just standard issue for this baby, I get it. No need to explain.

He passes me a newspaper and a coffee – my favorite part, it always keeps me coming back. The promise of caffeine, news, and five minutes of peace. I dive into the news, gleefully dissecting the Life and Business sections. As though happening across an oasis in the desert. Just as I’m drunk on information, the mechanic taps on my window.

You do realize, he says sternly, you are 7,000 kilometers overdue for your transmission fuel replacement, as well as your rear differential fluid?

I’m forced to pause my news party and consider this. I have had a transmission drop out of a car once, and it wasn’t fun. I don’t fool around with transmissions. But the rear what? The last time I came in it was air filters, and they got me with the idea of my children breathing toxic fumes from the exhaust. But this sounded different.

Of course I pretended to know exactly what those things were. Oh yeah, those, I said casually, I knew they were coming up. And how much is it to replace those…fluids?

The figure he rambled off was roughly four times what I had expected to pay for my oil change. And do other people replace these fluids, I blurt out, blowing my cover and proving to him that I know nothing about cars, as he no doubt suspected from the beginning.

Well, people who properly maintain their cars do, he answers. Which of course resonates with me: knowing nothing about cars, I’d rather err on the side of proper maintenance.

Finally, I ask him how long this will take. He shrugs and says 15 minutes. I consider this. I have yet to peruse the Politics and News sections,  I could put that fifteen minutes to good use. And then, the kicker: he will throw in a free car wash. Well, in that case…I tell him to go ahead. He does so, humming as he works.

As I leave the garage, I wonder if I am driving a well maintained vehicle, or if he is a commissioned salesperson laughing at me as I exit.

The Mother of all Deals: Danielle Connelly

April 25, 2011 7 comments

Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.
Jawaharal Nehru

It’s Motivational Monday, and today I’m profiling Danielle Connelly, a wonderful person I have recently met who tries to help other moms find the best deals in town. She has turned this idea into a successful, growing business. I was inspired by her great story, and hope you will be, too.

When her boys were little, Danielle Connelly started a blog designed to do what is chief on many young mothers minds: save money. What began as a small hobby has turned into a fast growing business four years later. Her website, www.motherofadeal.com, is a virtual treasure trove of deals that appeal to parents.

Here is her recipe for success: take a great idea (saving money), add some knowledge and hard work, and be at the right place at the right time.

Shortly after starting her blog, she had gone to a momcafe event – another growing enterprise where mothers spend a morning networking and listening to inspiring speakers. On this morning, a woman spoke about a self employment program at Douglas College. If you had been on maternity leave within the last five years and fit the eligibility requirements, you could actually get paid to attend this program through Service Canada.

The program is offered through many post-secondary institutions across the country, and is a perfect way of launching your own business, while getting support from like-minded and entrepreneurial instructors.

Inspired by the idea of working for herself, Danielle promptly enrolled in this program. It set the wheels in motion, turning her blog into a growing business.

She is undeniably a busy woman, her boys now four and six years old, but they are some of her biggest supporters. They occasionally help out at family trade shows, and her youngest will blurt out to strangers that his mother does Mother of a Deal.

It’s an ongoing exercise trying to be both a great mother and run a successful business from her house, she says. Setting boundaries has been a key element to keeping the occasional resentment her children show at bay. “Are you doing work stuff, mom?” they will ask. But she tries to make Mother of a Deal a shared experience for her family, and one they will hopefully benefit from as they grow.

Like any small business owner, Danielle has faced adversity along the way, but her online community has been overwhelmingly supportive. In 2009, her father passed away, and she decided to give up on her site to focus on her family. When she shared what she was going through with her subscribers, she experienced a huge outpouring of love from mothers, most of whom she had never met. Somehow, her site stayed strong through this tough time and continued to grow. She believes her father had a hand in this – he was so proud of her drive and determination to succeed. He continues to inspire her everyday, she says.

She has big goals for next year, when her boys are both in school full-time. She plans on making some changes to her site to make it a more interactive experience, and is hoping to attract more subscribers.

With the end goal of helping people help themselves, and the phenomenal success of other money saving websites like Groupon, Mother of a Deal seems like a mother of an invention.

Danielle Connelly: Mother/Entrepreneur

Let Your Mind Soar While The Dirt Flies With Podcasts

April 19, 2011 8 comments
Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED (Tech...

Image via Wikipedia

PVR’s and TIVO‘s may be all the rage, but what has really changed my life for the better are podcasts.

Gone is the boredom that plagues me while doing household chores like cooking and cleaning: listening to podcasts fills my head with great ideas and inspiration instead of mindless chitchat and commercials, although make no mistake I also blast top 40 hits upon occasion. That really gets the broom going.

But for more introspective moments, ITunes has a great library of inspiring and interesting presentations from TED talks, and I’ve been rapidly going through them. From TED I’ve segued to CBC radio. I love The Age of Persuasion with Terry O’Reilly, but seldom listen to the radio when it airs on Saturday mornings or Thursday afternoons.

Now I download them for free, and stockpile podcasts like the stray socks that come out of my dryer. I can get my groove on with Jian Gomeshi’s show, Q, or get inspired for a run with Marathon Talk, all from the comfortof my own bathtub. This is powerful stuff for someone who’s braincells cry out for stimulation, yet my laundry pile has taken over my house.

It’s a win-win. I am mentally uplifted while there is an extra sparkle to my kitchen faucet. Because the only thing worse than cleaning is thinking about the futility of cleaning as you clean. Far better for your mind to be millions miles away from the task at hand.

Sometimes, it’s much better to not be present. Podcasts take me to conferences and studios all over the world that in another life I would be at, but not in this one. While I’m waiting for someone to invent a transporter that will beam me up, Star Trek-like, podcasts can partially take me away from dirty dishes and floors.

I find namedropping TED presentations or CBC broadcasts into dinner party conversations is more scintillating than what happens to those socks. My popularity is on the upswing, people are looking at me with renewed interest. Or maybe they’ve tuned me out altogether.

Help enlighten me: what are your favorite podcasts?

A Charitable Force: Ruthie Shugarman

April 18, 2011 5 comments

Ruthie and her husband Danny at last years Ride to Conquer Cancer

It’s my first official Motivational Monday, and fittingly I am profiling someone who has actually been motivating me for a long time: my friend, Ruthie Shugarman.

She’s the kind of person who goes a mile a minute, but has all the time in the world for you. I’m not quite sure how she fits into the day all the things that she does – her efficiency meter works overtime, and I’m suspect that she squeezes thirty hours into each day, somehow.

Ruthie is passionate about a lot of things, among them her family, friends, real estate and charities. And now, thanks to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, she has a new passion and sport in cycling, and one more charity to add to her long list.  I’m not sure how she slots it all in, but like everything else she does in life, she has taken on the Ride to Conquer Cancer with energy and vigor, a force to be reckoned with.

The Ride is a two day cycling event that starts in Vancouver and ends in Seattle. Each participant is responsible for raising $2500 for the cause, with many riders exceeding these expectations. Last year Ruthie was part of Team Dexter, which raised $112 000.

I love Ruthie’s ability to turn negatives into positives. She became a realtor three years ago – after owning her own event planning business for thirteen years – because of her passion for the housing market. But just as she struck out on her own, the housing market took a drastic turn for the worse.

“It was actually a great time to be learning the ropes.” Properties weren’t moving as quickly so she could immerse herself in each transaction. Not only has she stuck with it, she was recently recognized as the third highest producer for individual sales in her company.

When times got tough, Ruthie got creative. During this down market, she had the idea of putting her event planning background to good use. She organized a clothing swap amongst her friends and clients (of which I am a huge fan, since not only is it fun, it seriously augments my wardrobe). Her plan was to host a social event that would benefit women at a time when money was tight, and at the same time introduce herself as a Realtor. Her clothing swaps have turned into a hugely successful biannual event, benefiting not only her clients and friends but also several local charities, such as Avalon Addiction Center, Covenant House, and Dress for Success.

Think about it: busy mother schlepping children to and fro, full time Realtor, decides to take up a new sport and a new cause.

Before joining the Ride, Ruthie didn’t own a bike, so getting suited up was no small endeavor. And then there is the small issue of the shoe clips.

“I was terrified to ride on the road at first,” she says, “ and only began clipping my feet in three weeks before the actual race.” But she was pleasantly surprised about how social the training was, frequently riding to Steveston, Deep Cove or Horseshoe Bay with groups of people. Stopping for coffee was an integral aspect of the rides, which suited her perfectly. Multitasking at its best.

The race itself she found inspirational. Survivors of cancer ride with yellow flags on their bikes, and several other riders have pictures of people they are riding for. “Seeing them is so moving, it doesn’t matter how painful things get out there, you are motivated by the cause.”

Ruthie is busy starting her training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer this June and has kicked off her fundraising campaign. Very appropriately, since April is daffodil month for the Canadian Cancer Society, a time to raise funds and awareness for the disease that impacts so many.

I am forever motivated by Ruthie’s ability to fit into an hour what I fit into an entire day. Her cup is full, yet she always finds room for more. Let’s help warriors like Ruthie in their fight to conquer cancer. Donate generously, and watch out for cyclists on our roads.

To donate to Ruthie’s fundraising efforts, please visit http://www.conquercancer.ca

Who Inspires You?

April 17, 2011 5 comments

I went into journalism thinking it would be a way of meeting and building up already fantastic people, and got out of it because in fact it was more about tearing them down. The things that sold newspapers was not what I wanted to write about, for the most part.

Real people and real stories can inspire me to move mountains. And it has always been thus. Long ago, whenever I happened upon a Shape magazine, I would flip to the success stories. Irregardless of the fact losing weight has never been a big priority, I love to read about these people who overcome personal hurdles and achieve their goal of a svelte silhouette and healthier lifestyle.

Since starting my blog, I have been introduced to interesting, dynamic, energetic people. They are bold in their mandates, incredibly hard-working, often see obstacles as opportunities, and motivate me like nothing else.

I’m planning on profiling one of these people a week. Mothers, fathers, bloggers, entrepreneurs and business people, they have achieved great things in life on the heels of their hard work. Inspired like I am by Twitter, I’m calling it Motivational Monday, my blogging answer to Thankful Thursday and Follow Friday.

Because in social media we like to spread the love and highlight the positive, I’m hoping these people will inspire you as well.

Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished