Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pay Up

I’ve recently been pounding the pavement in search of some new clients and projects to plump up my freelance work. I know, after so many years in this industry, that I shouldn’t be shocked at what I found, but I was. I am.

There are a lot of postings out there seeking qualified writers for a variety of projects, from websites to tech writing to articles to proposals. Each posting lists the criteria for applicants: years of experience, education, flexible schedule to accommodate the work load. And then the shoe drops. The money.

I can’t count the number of sites that offer $0.002/word – yes, that is a fraction of a penny--or demand 3 researched articles per day for a 5-day work-week for $3 per article. Really? How can that possibly seem like a fair wage to anyone?

The best yet are those sites offering nothing at all. I saw one ad that demanded timely stories, high-profile interviewees, “fearless writing with the ability to leave long-lasting impressions on readers and spark continuous new dialogues that elevate the target audience.” The pay is $0.00 “however, numerous benefits.”

Benefits – like what, exactly? By-lines? Got lots of those. By-lines don’t pay the mortgage or get kids registered for soccer or lacrosse. Exposure? Yep – see above.

I think the problem is everyone fancies themselves writers and people don’t appreciate the craft, the art, the intelligence that good, effective writing requires. It’s not valued so it’s not compensated. I’ve seen countless websites and promotional materials (and sadly, news briefs) that are so wrought with errors and convoluted thought processes that they are almost unreadable. Everyone can write? Obviously not.

So I continue to search for new opportunities that will actually balance the effort and result I can offer with the cheque at the other end. I quickly scroll past those with “unknown” budgets or those promising anything but a fair wage, knowing my words are worth way more than one-fifth of a penny a piece.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


My Fitbit was the best thing to ever happen to my children. Or the worst. It depends on the day.

Before Fitbit (or BFB), I would routinely send my children to do little chores in the house for me-- run out to the garage freezer for bread, go fetch my slippers, run the recycling out to the bins. After Fitbit (or AFB), I would do those things myself in dedication to -- nay obsession with-- reaching my 10,000 step goal each day. So now I heft the garbage out to the bins myself (66 steps) or run down to the mailboxes to grab the mail (224 steps). Flipping the laundry brings in another 64 steps while grabbing my glasses from my bedside table nets me 57 steps.

BFB I would drive to the arena to watch my son play hockey and send him with neighbours to walk to school while I stayed nestled on the couch with my cup of tea and laptop. Now I strap on the runners and drop him at school, carrying on to walk the 3 km loop of the Drive and adding 4835 steps to my daily tally. And I make my daughter walk to the rink for games, especially on days when my step count is low -- that earns me 7446 steps round trip. Then there's another 3675 steps that gets me to the Superstore and back (which is great as long as we don't have much to get). I "make" them go on walks and hikes, all the while Ben grumbling that my obsession shouldn't punish them too and Carmen stoically accepting her fate.

There may be something to it. I am a bit of a slave to this little strip of rubber on my wrist. I check my totals compulsively throughout the day, estimating how many steps my errands for the day will eat up to make sure I get that ever-so gratifying buzzing when I've hit the mark. And if, at 11:00 pm I haven't felt that celebratory vibration, I pace the house like a caged polar bear, counting the steps between kitchen island to ottoman until that 9,999 turns over to 10,000.

If it's off my wrist and charging, I am loathe to move at all, not wanting to waste steps that won't count toward my total. And I get around the Fitbit not registering steps when pushing a shopping cart by tucking the band into my sock so it still counts my steps. Again, I'm not interested in walking for nothing.

The worst of it is that then when the clock strikes midnight, the step count is back to zero and I have to start all over again -- no carrying over extra steps from the day before, no cheating. In the nearly a year since I've had it, I've only missed my goal a handful of time. Impressive? Pathetic? You be the judge. I will say that once that 5th digit appears on my screen and I have accomplished my goal, I can sit guilt free on the couch and do nothing. Until midnight anyway. Then I'm back on my feet, ready to walk.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Today is an important day. A day when we take a minute -- literally ONE MINUTE--and stop to reflect on the sacrifice that soldiers have made for us through history. In a world that seems upside down and backwards, this sacrifice remains as noteworthy and important today as it was in the 1910s and 1940s, the 1960s and 1970s, the 1990s and into the 2000s.

We can't forget the destruction and devastation of war. We can't forget the men and women who never came home. But we also can't forget those who did.

My grandfather Ted was a motorcycle scout. It was his job to ride ahead and ensure safe passage for his regiment. He ran over a mine and was blown up, faced a long recuperation, and then returned to battle. He met my grandmother Jean -- a British woman who worked in a munitions factory to support the war effort -- and they fell in love. They married and she agreed to leave all she knew to return to Canada with her husband.

The glitch in the fairytale romance was that the man who went to Europe, who met that beautiful young woman, who fought for his country, was not the man who returned home with her. The war had changed him. The things he saw and experienced followed him across the world and settled firmly between the couple, a barrier to a normal, happy life. They had children, struggled to make ends meet, but the war never ended for Ted.

After years of his trying to drink away the memories, of violent outbursts, my grandma took her girls and left. He lived the rest of his life from the bottom of a bottle. I never knew him and only met him a few times before he died. He didn't have contact with his children. Didn't enjoy loving relationships. Instead he lived with the ghosts of the past.

On Remembrance Day we celebrate the brave men and women who fought for their countries. Died for their countries. But we must also celebrate those who fought and lived. Those who returned home to a world they could no longer relate to after the fighting was over. Those who struggled to connect with others who no longer understood them or what they had been through. Celebrate soldiers like my grandfather Ted. He sacrificed his life in World War II--his body just took decades to catch up.

So today, I honour the soldiers of the past, who died or were forever changed by their experience. And I honour those brave men and women who continue to fight, to die, to come home broken and try to rebuild their lives.

I won't forget.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

School a Fail

Carmen spent hours and hours on her grade 6 project. She researched and read pages of information and planned her report. She scoured the Internet for pictures and diagrams and interesting facts to include. She took the time to put together the best report on the life of Leonardo da Vinci that she could. And what did she get for all that hard work?

That's it. A checkmark. Not even a comment saying "Good Job" or "Sucky Job" or "Congrats on actually turning it in on time and complete, unlike some of your classmates." Nope. A measly checkmark. Throughout her report there are a few other checkmarks in the margin, I'm assuming to signify the teacher's recognition that required elements were present, but there was no commentary on the quality of the writing or information.

The reason, I can only assume from conversations with teachers throughout the year, is that the teachers can't assign a grade to projects or assignments. They don't want to rank or judge students as this may attack the child's self-esteem should he or she get a subpar mark. But I went to the biography fair and while many of the tri-folds that went with this project were fantastic, I saw some that were likely slapped together the night before, skinny on content and assembled without much care or thought. Perhaps those students deserved that subpar grade? Apparently not.

I can't help thinking about the other side of the coin. What about the kids who are striving for and achieving excellence? What about how they feel? What about the lesson that if you put in the time and effort, you will be rewarded? Because there is no reward here. Not anymore.

My kids' schools aren't doing students any favours by not testing them or sending homework home EVER, or by not grading their assignments or insisting that deadlines are met. They aren't setting our kids up for success by taking away public recognition for hard work and intelligence (i.e. Honour Roll) in order to spare the feelings of those who aren't achieving those high levels. And they are unrealistically presenting the Outside World as one where we all equally merit a checkmark and will be treated the same regardless of how much work we put in to a job or the results of that effort.

It's no surprise that post-secondary students are entering university and college completely unprepared for the reality of competition and expectation. Unprepared for failure and disappointment. They've spent a dozen years being completely sheltered from it. I say, it's time to inject a bit of tough love into the system.

Schools would do kids a service by letting them get cut from the basketball team or see a D grade on a project they really didn't put much effort into. Teach them to handle these negative experiences and learn from them, build character. Teach them that you have to perform at a certain level if you want to receive an A, and I suppose the level that yields a C or an F too. And at the same time schools need to hold the top of the class up as the academic examples and allow those students to feel the pride of accomplishment. 

Maybe it's a delicate balance between education and character. Maybe I'm insensitive to the hurt feelings of those who aren't high achievers or keeners. I'm not sure exactly what the answer is but I really don't think the current system is it. I'd rather my kids learn early that they have to balance their leisure and work/school life, that they have to work for what they want and even then they might not get it. These are tough lessons, but I'd rather my kids start learning them in elementary and middle school than be blind-sided after graduation.

I can only hope that our schools will begin to prepare our kids for their future and that teacher's will again be able to assign grades--REAL grades--according to performance. I'm not optimistic that this will happen. In fact, I'm pretty sure it won't. My kids will continue to earn a checkmark while the entire school system gets an F.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Other Shoe

I envy those people. The ones on the news looking shell-shocked and glassy-eyed after a tragedy, shaking their heads in bewilderment. They never thought "it" could happen to them, in their community, to their children. It never occurred to them that they could be a victim of circumstance, of violence, of misfortune.

For me, I expect nothing less. I'm constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for that catastrophic event that will send my charmed life into a tailspin. Waiting for that piece of devastating news that will separate life into "Before" and "After".

The fear keeps me up at night, thinking about what horrible disease or predator or disaster lurks around the corner, stalking those I love most. Every mention of a headache or sore limbs signals something more sinister in the kids. Every time my family members are a bit late coming home, I imagine the worst. And as the kids get older I know I have to give them more independence and trust that they have heard my constant harping about safety and good choices. But it's hard. If I did, what would happen to that shoe?

I'm not just neurotic about my loved ones -- I assume the worst for myself too. A mark on my skin must be cancer. The headaches that have plagued me since childhood must be something life-threatening. Spotty memory must be early onset Alzheimer's or something equally horrible. And for days I've been waiting on test results from a mammogram and ultrasound, waiting for a call from the doctor's office receptionist, all calm and soothing, asking me to come in. Waiting to learn of some malignancy or what those abnormal shadows mean. Waiting for the shoe to drop.

Today, I got an envelop from the clinic and inside was a form letter with a box casually checked off telling me my exam results were all normal. Come back next year.

I'm thankful for the clean bill of health but strangely enough, the news doesn't flood me with relief. It just clears way for the next potential crisis, the next hidden hurdle, the next disaster-in-the-making. Because I know it's out there. That other shoe can't stay up forever. Unlike those people on the news, it won't take me by surprise. I'll be ready so that maybe, just maybe, I can catch the other shoe before it hits the ground.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


The day is here. Election day. For the first time in my 24-year voting history I was at a total loss. I've been a conservative forever but I couldn't see electing Jim Prentice back into office. I had no clue as to what was the best path, the lesser of evils. And believe me I tried to figure it out. 

I researched, trolling website after website, reading about the platforms of each party. Checking out the promises if elected. Of course, nowhere did they lay out how they would actually find the money to make good on those promises, but that's a problem for another time. Post-election time. And what did I find at the end of it all?

Really, there are no great choices out there. Pundits predict change, an NDP government, which scares the crap out of me. The PCs have had 40+ years to get it right and haven't. Wildrose seems like an extension of the PCs, with politicians crossing over at will. Liberals are a non-starter. 

I thought about spoiling my ballot but that seemed pointless. Perhaps I could decline the vote -- I've heard that doing this registers dissatisfaction in a different way than just mucking up your ballot. And I think about all of the people around the world fighting and dying for the right to cast a vote, to make a choice, and I felt that I needed to do something. To make a choice too. But how? Even as I stood at the little cardboard partition, staring at the strip of paper with that tiny golf pencil in my hand, I wasn't sure.

In the end, I put an X beside a name I am pretty sure hasn't got a shot at winning (but if she did win, it would be okay). It was more a vote against than a vote for anyway. This is democracy? Frightened by the prospect of any of the front-runners taking office? 

It could be a long four years, Alberta. Buckle up. Hope you all felt better after tucking your slip of paper into the box than I did.

Monday, July 15, 2013


My kids were visiting my dad and his wife in Medicine Hat last week. Their spare room (and the tiny attached room that was once used as a kitchen) is a total throwback to another time. He has an old bread box, a camera, toaster, box of laundry soap, and dishes all from around the 1950s to make it a cool, retro space. He also has a rotary-dial telephone, which the kids used to call home.

They had no idea what it was or how to use it. It occurred to me how many thing from my past will be totally lost to them.

They will have to offer a nickel for your thoughts because they will have completely forgotten what a "penny" was.

The idea of having to reheat leftovers in the oven is absurd.

They will never have a super-long phone cord that gets all tangled up, so once a week you have to hang the receiver upside down to let it spin wildly until it is untangled again.

Forget LPs and cassette tapes, they will barely remember CDs by the time they are teenagers.

On road trips we looked out the window, made up car games, talked, read, played games, or solved riddles in the invisible ink workbooks my mom would buy for us for the trip. We didn't have a DVD player in the car or an iPad for video games to pass the time.

To research a school project we had to go to the library, search the stacks, and collect information. There was no wikipedia or google, with its instant and copious amounts of information, to find it for us.

We had to watch commercials and some of us even had to get up and manually turn the channel on the television. No PVR. No remote controls.

Our kids' lives are easier in many ways I suppose but not necessarily better. Everything is expected instantly. Instant gratification. Instant results. Instant access. I love my iPhone, of course, but there is something to be said for a simpler time. A time when you used your imagination and got out and played and explored rather than staring at a screen where a virtual version of you played and explored. And I shudder to think about all the things that my kids will be thinking nostalgically about when their children stare back at them blankly at the mention of an mp3 or a paperback book. Today's technology is amazing and I'm sure I'd be lost without it, but I wouldn't trade my rotary-dial phone or my slower-paced childhood for anything.