New Horizons

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Isn’t the interview process stressful? I mean, they could ask you anything! Trying to think back to my last interview is like remembering a past life – one where I was green and inexperienced, where I showed up half an hour early wearing a mismatched suit and heels I didn’t quite know how to walk in. I think this was the moment in life when I realized grey is the absolute worst color to wear when one is nervous and sweaty. Still, despite the change in wardrobe and confidence gained with experience, I’m stressed. Always fearing the worst, I picture an exam-style Q&A where I’m asked to analyze minute details of the company’s financial statements as they relate to the overall communications strategy of the company. In french.

Luckily, my interviewers are real people who wanted to have a down to earth conversation about marketing & communications. It goes well.

And so, it’s time for a change. I’ve accepted a position with Horizon Housing Society as Marketing & Communications Manager. After returning from the “big trip” in January, I decided to give myself a year before looking for something new. What’s that saying about “the best laid plans”? Anyway, the plans went sideways when they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So here I am, at the end of an era in the hospitality industry and on the horizon of a new day with affordable housing. The key for me is that my work revolves around marketing and, to borrow a phrase from my colleague Julie, ‘the amazing human ability to convey meaning in unique ways’.

I’ll miss my Travelodgians. I’ve learned so much. Like my favorite pair of blue jeans, putting on my Travelodge pants is something I’ve grown to take comfort in: they’re familiar, they’re cozy, I know every pocket and threadbare hem and quirky feature inside and out. But if my mother has taught me nothing else, it’s that if you’re comfortable doing something, it’s not an adventure at all. It’s time for some new pants.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
-Jack Kerouac

My Bonnie

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“My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea,
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
O bring back my Bonnie to me.”

As a beginner rider, it hardly seems fair that I have my dream bike: a 2012 orange and black Triumph Bonneville. My Bonnie came from over the ocean (England) and it took nearly a half year of saving (plus some help from my hubby) to bring her to me. At 500 lbs and 865cc, she’s a whole lot of woman – a full person heavier than my previous bike, the 250cc Suzuki Marauder which tipped the scales at 330 lbs. We’re slowly getting to know each other.

For me, riding motorcycles is a passion in training: it still scares the crap out of me 50% of the time. For my husband, riding is what gets him through the oh-so-long-and-cold Canadian winters. The promise of commuting to work by motorcycle is why he can rise in the dark hours of a January morning, stuff himself like a human sausage in the overcrowded metal casing of a public bus, and travel to work amidst the coughs and sneezes and other less savory bodily functions of his fellow commuters.

Around March every year, the lusty looks and sighs of longing begin. I’ll find illicit web pages open with virtual shopping carts full of chain lube and other things I don’t know the purpose of. Back issues of Motorcycle Magazine are scattered around the apartment like despondent love letters. Sometimes he’ll emerge from the parking garage with a guilty gleam in his eye and black grease on his hands after a sweaty session of tinkering and adjusting and fine tuning. On sunny days in early spring, he’ll come home with reports of how many motorcycles he’s seen on the road. “Maybe I’ll get mine out this weekend,” he’ll say. Inevitably, it snows.

Tyler’s passion for all things motorcycle is what inspired me to first throw my leg over the seat of an old Honda Shadow one freezing April morning and allow my designated partner to push me silently across the frosty parking lot. My first day of motorcycle safety school. My first time on two wheels. After 8 hours in the wind and -10 temperatures, my hands were blocks of ice and I could not longer tell if my feet were braking or shifting or doing anything at all. The next morning, it was so cold the bikes wouldn’t start so we stayed in and watched safety demonstrations, discussing proper braking technique and riding position. Tyler’s offer to pay for the course (and warm me up at the end of the day) is what kept me going.

Fast forward to today and I’ve got my class 6 the Bonnie. And, as I said, it isn’t fair that I get the newer, more expensive, more attention grabbing bike when Tyler is the one with the obvious passion. But that’s the thing. While I’m busy fussing about helmet hair and finding the perfect protective-yet-stylish footwear, he’s riding. While I’m squawking about the weather or the complaining about the road conditions or traffic congestion, he’s tearing down the highway with a huge happy smile on his face. If it took a Triumph Bonneville to keep me content on two wheels, he’d make it happen. So here I am, with a new bike and only one condition of ownership: Tyler gets to ride it whenever he wants.

Summer so far:

Spring 2013

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Calgary is under siege, torrents of water spilling over the banks of the Bow and Elbow rivers. Downtown is closed and the community where I work evacuated. Eyes glued to the TV screen, film clips stream in from all over the province: a mud slide eroding the Trans Canada, a house floats down the river, a brightly colored swing sets rises like a cheerful beacon from a lake of muddy water. It’s the first day of summer.

Tyler and I watched from our bicycles as a man in a kayak paddled towards higher ground. Emerging from the boat, his family surrounded him as he relayed a grim picture of the situation at home. His wife burst into tears.

Today I’m grateful for a fridge full of food, clean water to drink and a warm dry place to rest my head. I’m thankful for what I have and who I have. It’s amazing to me how, in the face of such destruction, a certain camaraderie emerges in a city of a million. All wanting to help, all wanting to do something to ease the devastation of strangers.

In the spirit of gratitude and thanks, a visual summary of Spring, 2013:

5 Bits of Wisdom Everyone Ignores But Shouldn’t

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I collapsed into bed last night exhausted from the day and feeling that the week had been an endless list of to-dos that I really didn’t feel like doing. Though I’d completed tons of stuff over the course of the week – some things I’d even tout as accomplishments, I still felt profoundly unsatisfied. I hadn’t spent any time with friends and I’d all but ignored my husband. My cat showed his neglect by puking all over my bed. My wrists were aching and my eyes dry from sitting zombie-like at a computer all day (and all night). Aside from the flight of stairs I climb (down) each morning, I’d been absolutely sedentary. And then today, I read this:

Words Of Wisdom Everyone Ignores — But Shouldn’t

As the article says, this advice is so obvious even worms get it. But I needed the reminder, a list of instructions if you will, on how to keep my head up, my path clear and my mind on track to focus on what’s most important. As we head into the weekend, it’s time for family, friends and a vacation from pesky to-do lists. I never want to be one of those people who are “working for the weekend” but I have to admit, today is a TGIF kinda day.

5 Beefs

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Pet peeves anyone? Here are a few of mine I’ve identified this past week:

1. The phrase FML (as in F#@& my life): Seriously? I’ll admit, when I was keeled over retching in front of the Louvre my first day in Paris after eating a bad hot dog, I was feeling sorry for myself. But it was only when, after wiping the pukey slobber from my chin, that I stepped – no…slid! in a huge pile of steaming dog poo, and I started to think FM…But then I thought, I’M IN PARIS! I seriously dislike when people use “FML” for every little insignificant problem (Hairdryer broke – FML, Long line at Costco – FML, Gas prices went up ten cents – FML, Ran out of limes for my cerveza – FML). C’mon people, life ain’t that bad!

2. Porsche drivers: I know it’s a stereotype – and probably one many people have about motorcycle riders as well (they all drive like idiots and think they’re ‘da bomb). But seriously, why does every porsche driver ride my bumper like they want my car to mate with theirs? Luckily these bumper humpers are known to tire quickly when it comes to vehicular seduction. The driver changes lanes abruptly in a fit of frustration, and speeds off as if to prove their Porsche is a highly desirable sexual partner by virtue of how fast it reaches the next stop light.  I’m so impressed.

3. Blending Words (aka portmanteau): I wrote an article for my company’s franchisee magazine last week. In it I used the word “participaction” – as in participate and action – combined. Ugh! Some recent examples that I’ve come to hate but often use include: bromance, manscaping, infotainment, murse, chillax, frenemy – to name a few. The problem is, they’re just so darn useful! If you think about it, so many of the words in our every day language are two words made into one (breathalyzer, smog, motel, cheeseburger). They’re a necessary and efficient evil.

4. Children at fine dining restaurants. Scratch that (as the glares of a thousand date-night deprived moms bore into my soul). To rephrase: badly behaved children at nice (read: expensive) restaurants… makes me crazy! I’m about to drop $150 on date night with my husband. I’m paying for the good food, yes. I’m also paying for ambiance – you know, the nice music, low lights, cloth napkins, the soft-spoken server who knows the wine list off by heart and is in the midst of suggesting a pairing with my risotto when he’s interrupted mid-sentence by a screeching child determined to bang his plate on the table until it’s reduced to dust. The parents murmur an impatient “shhhhhh” and return to conversation, oblivious to the end-of-the world racket occurring at their elbows. Trust me, your kids don’t appreciate the panko crusted softshell crab or the organic ginger infused sparkling lemonade – take them to a place where their childlike nature will be embraced.

5. No “Thanks”: I can’t stand when I spend a lot of money on something and the person I bought it from barely musters a smile and a thank you. I spent 6 months saving hard for a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. When I handed over the cheque, I barely got a mumbled thanks for what was, probably one of the easiest sales of his season (I pointed at that one and said ‘I would like to buy this please’). No smile, no gratitude, a hurried thank you as he handed me over to his paperwork person. I don’t expect to get a foot rub when I buy nail polish. I don’t want the salesperson at The Gap bowing down with appreciation when I cross the threshold. But when I put hard-earned cash down to make a major purchase, you’d better believe I want a thank you and a smile – maybe even an offer to take a picture with me and my new bike.

Five Lessons from my Mother

As similarities between two personalities increase, so too does the potential for emotional meltdown. And so it is with my Mother. The older I get, the more I have to grudgingly admit that I do and say and act very much like my mother. I don’t think before I speak: My words, though often intended for good, come out blunt and uncensored. I’m stubborn: if something is important to me I will. not. yield. I’m a neat freak: as in, I get cranky when there’s dust on the living room furniture. I even inherited my mom’s body shape: small on top, with stubby legs and wide ankles on the bottom. Alike as we are, we’ve certainly had our differences: and through the tumult comes life lessons. There’s much my Mother has taught me, intended or otherwise:

  1. Be strong in what you believe. My Mother has taught me that it’s not stupid to believe in something. Having values and morals that do not bend in the wind shows strength of character. Though our religious beliefs may be deities apart, my Mother’s tenacity for her faith inspires me to be steady and firm in what I believe.
  2. Be flexible in what you do. In the same way my Mother has taught me to be strong in my beliefs, she’s taught me to be flexible in life. If growing up in a family of six kids teaches nothing else, it’s that there is no room for rigidity. We have to adapt, we have to respond, we have to deal with different personalities, situations, opinions, needs and wants. We have to continuously change the way we do things if we want to move forward.
  3. Be adventurous. Six kids and a 25 year old Buick with tires as bald as the rocky mountains couldn’t stop my mom from leading us up those peaks to go hiking. The flat tire, grouchy kids, and fluorescent sign warning “bear in the area” couldn’t deter her either. My mom taught me that if you’re comfortable while you’re doing something, it’s not an adventure at all.
  4. Waste not want not. To this day, when my Mother tries to feed me, I question her about how long it’s been in the fridge; she refuses to throw anything out! As a result, I have a complete aversion to overdue dairy and am totally sensitive to any kind of meat or vegetables with a funny smell or discoloration. That doesn’t mean I don’t hear her voice in my head as I toss a half-eaten loaf of moldy bread in the garbage.
  5. Forgive and forget. I’m still learning. This is a lesson that comes from maturity and experience and I find I have a hard time letting go of bad feelings. Just as my Mother taught me that we must change the way we do things if we want to move forward, so too must we forgive, forget, and move on. After all that I’ve put my Mother through, all the mean things I’ve said and all the hurtful things I’ve done, she still texts me on a daily basis to tell me that she loves me. If that’s not forgiving and forgetting, I don’t know what is.

Thank you for the lessons Mom. Happy Birthday.

Five Reasons I Love Spring

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  1. Deck Space.
    I live with my husband and a cat in roughly 700 square feet of space. So when spring rolls around and I can dust off the Adirondack chairs and roll out the BBQ it’s like I’ve gained an extra room. Now what to do with all the stuff we’ve been storing out there…can/should the oven double as a cupboard?
  2. Sunlight.
    This time of year marks a literal emergence from the depths and darkness of winter. And though I’m not ecstatic when the sun shines in my eyes at 7am on a Saturday morning, I just can’t bring myself to buy blackout drapes. Vitamin D, in this northern region we call Canada, is a precious commodity so I’ll take it when I can get it, 7am or otherwise.
  3. Winter Layers.
    I’ve bundled myself in grey and black sweaters, coats and boots all winter. And, as a result of sitting on my butt for several months straight, I’ve also got this layer around my hips and thighs that makes my pants fit a little tighter. Spring requires action to remove the layers: I put my sweaters in a Rubbermaid bin and took to the great outdoors in a fit of activity: soccer, tennis, and a bike ride.
  4. Food.
    The imposters masquerading as fruits and vegetables over the winter are exposed as illegal aliens, replaced by berries, and carrots, and broccoli that actually smell like real food. Soon those BC fruit trucks will be parked along the road side offering the season’s best and freshest at prices that don’t scream “we were shipped from Argentina!”. Also, time to fire up the BBQ for burgers, grilled salmon, and roasted asparagus. Mouth = watering.
  5. Seasons.
    There’s something to be said about living in a country with four distinct seasons, each with their own distinct sights and smells. I used to crinkle my nose when  the snow melted and the smell of brown leaves and soggy grass would settle in my nostrils. Now, I’m more likely to take a big breath and exhale with a sigh of satisfaction: the smell of rotting foliage, often laced with the scent of year-old soggy dog poo, is truly the smell of spring.

Video

Five Bits of Marketing Wisdom

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I heard a stat this week that went something like this: Take all of the content that has ever been produced from the beginning of time until 2003 (pictographs on cave walls, books written, songs recorded, paintings in the alcoves of gothic churches, etc.). Take ALL OF THAT CONTENT and fast forward to today. Every 48 hours, the world generates as much content as has been generated from the beginning of time up to the year 2003. Take it as a sensationalist stat. Take it as twisted and skewed and chewed up and digested figure. Then spit it out and recognize that today, people are constantly churning out words and images – content.

Which leads me to the million dollar question: how does a brand cut through the clutter of this hyper-informed, super-connected, content generating society? Even with the answer, action must follow. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to some smart people that seem to be taking action in ways and with efforts that have blossomed into success. Here are five takeaways that I’ve been pondering:

1. How To Stand Out: This past Thursday, I attended a Speakers’ Spotlight event where one of the featured speakers was a gentleman named Ron Tite. He said this: There are three ways to stand out:
1. What you say (content of your message)
2. How you say it (unique way of delivering a common message)
3. Say something that’s relatable.

I feel this is so applicable – both in my career and in my personal life: how I present myself, how I market my company, how I have a conversation. Here’s K-Mart delivering a common message: “we can ship your purchase” in a unique (and hilarious) way:

http://youtu.be/xCGfgnU18yk

2. Your Stories are More Powerful Than Your Data: Also from Ron Tite’s talk, which ties in to being relatable with your message. What it means to me is this: I can tell you about how great my product is. I can repeat a tagline or regurgitate a slogan. I can show you my best photos or cool product features or great prices. But without sharing the stories, without relating the excellent customer service experiences of our customers, without delivering a message that people can relate to, connect with, and share, my “tell” won’t translate into a “sell”.

Ron claims that the ad campaign of the year came from McDonald’s with the “Our Food Your Questions” campaign. Have a look and judge for yourself:

3. “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

I once worked for a call centre where I took booking requests for vacation packages. I thought I had it all figured out: a professional phone manner, a pre-determined script that would smooth the way for seamless package bookings, a light and cheery flight attendant voice that would perk up any 50 year old golfer. One day I had a phone call that started like this:
Me: “Thank you for calling Kimberley Vacations”
Caller: “Hello? Hello!?”
Me: “Hello Ma’am, what can I do for you today?”
Caller: “Oh, I thought you were a recording!”

As unflattering as it was to be equated with a tele-robot, the main message for me was this: You can be professional and perfect and do your job exactly as the job description is written. But at the end of the day, if you live your life in an ordinary way, you’ll achieve ordinary results. Because people will forget what you do and they’ll forget what you say, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Love it or hate it, Dove’s Campaign for Real beauty definitely attempts to create a feeling. You may remember these:

4. Travelling is not about things. It’s about discovering the places that have meaning and meeting the people that shape those places.

This one came from a gal by the name of Judi Samuels who discussed what it means to “humanize your brand”. She related this quote to Target’s first Canadian commercial. Instead of showing the iconic rocky mountains, mounties in their funny brown hats and red coats, beavers and maple syrup, the commercial shows familiar, yet unique Canadian places and spaces and, most importantly, people. It’s filmed in a way as if to ask Canadians “hey, we want to get to know you better than your stereotypes, wanna be neighbors?”
Target Canada Commercial

And finally, the common bond that I believe links all of these nuggets of wisdom:

5. Be human. Judi Samuels summed it up in a few words: “Don’t think ‘what’ is your brand. Think ‘who’ is your brand”. With brand standards and public relations policies, and social media guidelines and automated customer service centers, this can be the toughest nut to crack. Asking “who is your brand” doesn’t necessarily lead to a clear and easy answer. And just because you might be able to answer that question, doesn’t mean you have a clear idea of what to do with it. One thing that is clear is that those companies that allow themselves to be human, those that show their imperfections, their sense of humor, their quirky sides, those brands are most often the ones that cut through the clutter.

Now, can you handle just a little more cheese? This one is pretty good:

Five for Friday: Winter Recipes

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Winter returned this week. The city, emerging from hibernation like a bleary eyed bear, poked it’s head up, anticipating spring. Then, like an icy kick to the gut, the wind picked up, the snow fell, the temperature plummeted and Mother Nature screamed “go back to bed”! In the spirit of an unexpected rendezvous with winter, here are my top five winter recipes, sure-fire belly warmers for when the thermometer dips below zero.

Roasted Parmesan Spaghetti Squash: I got this idea from my friend Sydney – and then added my own twist by mixing in thyme and fresh parmesan.Roasted Parmesan Spaghetti Squash Yum!

Serrano Ham & Bocconcini Crepes: Inspired by the most delicious meal we had during a trip to France, we went to the restaurant twice so that we could dissect exactly what was in this amazing dish and recreate it for ourselves at home. And voila! I think we came pretty close. PS it really is best if you can get everything fresh – it might take some treasure hunting to an Italian specialty market, but SO WORTH IT!Serrano Ham and Bocconcini Crepes

Calico Beans: An old standby from our college days and a recipe handed down from Tyler’s mom, I’m gonna “spill the beans” on this one because it’s soooo good and makes a ton for lunch leftovers. After all – what recipe with bacon doesn’t taste delicious?Calico Beans

Curried Yam Soup: I’ve been on a make-my-own soup kick – mostly because I’m tired of the from-the-box flavors sold at Superstore. From chowders to hearty veggie combinations, to chili syle warm-you-up-on-a-cold-day concoctions, here’s my latest (super easy) favorite – with a little extra spice to warm your belly.Curried Yam Soup

Fish Tacos: It’s all about the fried fish with this one. And the lemony cream sauce. And the cilantro. But really, it’s all about putting together a couple of these pretties, mixing up a cold fruity beverage (don’t forget the mini umbrella), closing your eyes, and imagining you’re on a tropical beach, somewhere far from our never-ending Canadian winter.Fish Tacos - P1

Fish Tacos - P2

Happy winter and bon appetit!

Five For Friday: Bad Habits

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It’s been a busy week. A fantastic spring skiing weekend in Revelstoke over Easter, followed by a three-day trip to Windsor, Ontario, topped off with an upcoming weekend of course work and graphic design projects. When I get busy I have the bad habit of putting other important parts of my life on hold (writing, exercising, cooking, eating properly, paying attention to my husband). Speaking of bad habits, here are five of mine (at least four of which I’m guilty of exhibiting today):

1. Snooze Button: I don’t have a snooze button on my alarm – my alarm rings, I turn it off, and immediately go back to bed for 5, 10, 15, sometimes 20 minutes. Is it really worth the stress of getting up and rushing, rushing, rushing to get to work on time every single morning? The problem is, when I’m warm, cozy, snuggled deep into my feather duvet in the dark of an early weekday winter morning: it is worth it. It always seems like a good idea at the time.

2. Choc-Alot: This is maybe my one true addiction. I can’t think of a day in recent history when I haven’t had at least some chocolate. If it’s not in the house, I’ll make some excuse to go out and get it (“Honey, I have to go fill the car up”, meanwhile stocking up at the Shell station with Mars bars and Mini Eggs). Tyler claims that somewhere in the house there is an emergency stash of chocolate. It’s comforting to know that if I am too sick or lazy or otherwise indisposed to get my daily fix, there is chocolate hidden somewhere within yelling distance. Does this make my husband an enabler?

3. Interrupting: Someone pointed out to me recently that I do this quite a lot: someone is saying something and I either interrupt by trying to finish their sentence, or disrupt their train of thought by speaking over them with a thought of my own. I hate when people do this to me so when someone mentioned I have this tendency, my ears perked up and my mouth zipped shut. This could be a product of being around people who make it difficult to get a word in edgewise. I’m not generally a really talkative person and so, when I’m on a roll or in the mood to speak, I tend to forget myself and speak what I’m thinking as I think it without regard to who’s speaking, or what is being said. Blah, blah, blah – it’s a work in progress.

4. Senseless Shopping: I had it in my head that I needed a new blender. I had to have a new blender. My quality of life would diminish significantly if I didn’t get a new blender. Was my blender broken? no. Do I use my blender frequently? no. Was I planning to start a smoothie making business from my kitchen? no. So why did I have to have a new $200 blender? I suppose it’s the same reason a person buys a new pair of shoes when they have 12 perfectly fashionable pairs in their closet – which is, I wanted a new blender. In the spirit of overcoming bad habits, I struck “blender” off my list of “To Buy” items (which probably leaves room in the budget for a new pair of “just because” boots).

5. So Shy: I don’t know if this is a personality trait or a bad habit, but it’s something that constantly frustrates me when meeting new people. Problem is, I think my extreme shyness often translates to appearing snotty or stuck up. This past week, I attended Online Revealed, a conference that focuses on digital marketing strategy. At these kinds of events, there are often cocktail hours or networking breaks which allow attendees to meet and mingle with other like minded people. Introducing myself to a stranger and then delving into conversation is something I find extremely difficult and sometimes painful. I freeze up. I clam up. I shut up. I find it hard to know what to say or how to appear comfortable and confident. I have difficulty speaking about myself to new people and so usually tend to fire off questions like a drill sergeant in an effort to deflect attention and conversation from myself. I don’t know if there’s a cure for shyness, but in the mean time, thank goodness for a strong cocktail (or five).

“Bad habits are like a comfortable bed: easy to get into, and hard to get out of”.
– Unknown