The top 3 of 2018

If you follow my blog, you may recall that 2018 was my “Year of Momentum.” And the last 12 months have indeed been a time of tremendous change.

I’m officially a free woman, successfully organized a meaningful and joy-filled bar mitzvah for my son, and shifted my mindset from being a mom-who-also-writes to being a mom-who-also-runs-her-own-business.

I have an accountant, a CMS, and an HST number. I’ve grown the copywriting side of my business and discovered that I actually enjoy writing website copy and (ghost) blogs. And while this shift means I have fewer bi-lines to share, it was still a challenge to narrow down my top-three favourite stories of 2018.

Here they are, in no particular order:

William Older
I actually got to write two stories about William Older for London Inc. magazine in 2018, and I’m sure I could write a dozen more. Originally from England, he purchased London’s long-neglected Lilley’s Corners in June 2017 with a plan to reinvigorate the entire block.

William Older - Photo London Inc Magazine

William Older at Lilley’s Corners. Photo: London Inc. 

I drive past this corner several times a week on the way to the hockey rink. At some point I noticed the sidewalks were being kept clean. Then the exterior was painted. I decided to do some digging, which led to this story about Older’s vision for an arts and small business incubator.

I watched the space develop over the summer, and by the fall I was able to write a follow-up, which you can read here.

As a long-time Londoner, it’s inspiring to meet someone like Older. He may not be one of the “big boys” in the local development community, but he’s been able to bring about a big change in a neighbourhood that’s been ignored for too long. I’m looking forward to seeing what he will do next!

The Old Stone House
This is another story about part of our local history. In this case the subject was an old stone house built by two brothers who emigrated to Lucan-Biddulph in the mid-1800s.

Old Stone House

If these stones could talk! 

An assignment for Our Homes London & Middlesex magazine, it’s not hard journalism. But it was fascinating to peek behind the doors of an original Ontario farmhouse and to see how its current owners – descendants of the builder – managed to bring the space into the 21st-century while respecting the past.

You can read about the transformation of the old stone house here.

Rick Gleed – Back to School
I first met Rick Gleed almost 20 years ago. He’s one of the most successful commercial real estate brokers in the region. So when he decided to go back to school for an EMBA at the age of 64 I thought: “That might be a fun story for the Ivey alumni magazine.”

intouch-rick-spring-2018

Rick Gleed. Photo: Ivey Intouch magazine

The editor agreed and I had the pleasure of interviewing Rick about his decision to step back into the classroom after 47 years.

Intrigued? You can read my story here.

A theme emerges
Now that I’m writing this blog, I notice a common link between my top-three of 2018. They are all about individuals with incredible vision, courage, and dedication.

And speaking of vision, I recently wrote my business plan for 2019. One of my goals is to blog on a monthly basis. I guess we’ll see how that goes!

For now, I wish you all hope, peace, and joy  – whatever you celebrate.

 

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Saying ‘yes’ to women supporting women.

A while back I was invited to be part of a November 1 fashion show in support of Kellee Student Education Foundation Africa (KSEFA) – a volunteer organization that offers educational support for women in South Sudan and Nairobi, Kenya.

FAshion Forward

I’ll be walking the catwalk for this SOLD OUT fashion fundraiser.

As part of my commitment to say ‘yes’ to opportunities that come my way, I agreed. But being a journalist, I wanted to learn more about KSEFA and the women it supports.

Turns out, the organization has ties to my home town thanks to a friendship that developed between Kellee Jacobs and KSEFA founder Lino Madut Angok. Kellee is the daughter of London-based image and style consultant, Sue Jacobs.

Kellee and Madut

Lino Madut Angok and Kellee Jacobs.

Kellee is currently living in Nairobi where she works as a monitoring and evaluation specialist for the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). We recently connected by email so I could learn more about how our evening of style will help women half-way around the world.

KSEFA doesn’t have a website. Can you tell me a bit about the initiative?
KSEFA was founded in Nairobi in 2010, but began operations under Lino  in 2012. The program supports the education of women aged 24-40 from South Sudan who may not have had access to learning. It also offers technical training, including sewing and tailoring. There are also elements of peace programming, a focus on women and youth, and counseling and coaching of what is sometimes a traumatized group.

KSEFA is registered as a non-government organization in South Sudan and is awaiting registration in Kenya. The cost of registration in Kenya is quite high, so any available funds have previously been prioritized for actual educational programming. With funds coming in soon, Lino hopes to be able to continue classes and pay the registration and legal fees for the formalization of KSEFA in Kenya.

How did you meet Lino?
Lino was a student at Sud Academy in Nairobi, a school originally for South Sudanese refugees who cannot afford school fees in the Kenyan school system. I met him there in 2008 when he was in the equivalent of Grade 11. We spent three years working together at the school to develop small, high-impact projects like building a science lab, creating a sustainable water access and purification system, and a scholarship program that allows students in Grade 12 to join a neighbouring school for their final year so they can graduate with diplomas.

How will the November 1 fundraiser help support KSEFA? 
All of the funds raised in London will support two learning locations helping South Sudanese migrants and refuges living in Nairobi, Kenya

With the funds raised, Lino would like to be able to provide small incentives to volunteer teachers at each location, as well as pay some small fees to the churches where classes take place. He will also purchase school supplies like chalk, pencils and books to be shared by the students.

Tell me a bit about the women who are supported by KSEFA.
Many have come to Nairobi from the refugee camps in northern Kenya. Others have come directly from South Sudan, displaced by the last 5 years of war and economic collapse in their country.

These women are interested in learning to help support themselves day-to-day in a fast paced urban environment – at the supermarket, with documents they are required to understand, on immigration and legal issues. They need to have a basic understanding of literacy, English, numbers, math, and their rights. This school is not a formal education centre that teaches the full Kenyan curriculum, but rather a stop-gap that provides otherwise unavailable opportunities to give people the knowledge they need in order to survive.

Lino teaching

KSEFA teaches literacy and math skills to help women in their day-to-day lives.

Of course, I’m not the only local entrepreneur involved in this fashion fundraiser. In fact, I’m honoured to be in the company of such an amazing group of sponsors and participants:

Sponsors2

Check out these incredible sponsors! 

We all owe Sue Jacobs and Allison Stephens a huge THANK YOU for being the driving force behind this amazing opportunity! Keep an eye on my Facebook page for photos….coming soon!

 

My top 3 stories of 2017

The last 12 months have been a whirlwind. I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a steady stream of work, which has given me the opportunity to write about everything from the Canadian fin tech sector to dairy farming in Oxford County.

Along the way, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing some amazing individuals doing some amazing things. That’s made it difficult to pick my favourite stories of 2017 – but after much consideration, here are the three that made a lasting impression:

Roads to reconciliation
(United Church Observer magazine, November 2017)

I don’t remember when I first learned about Canada’s residential school system, but I know it wasn’t at school. And I’ve written stories on First Nations issues in the past where my sources were wary about sharing their stories with a reporter.

geraldine robertson - photo Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson shares her experiences as a survivor of Canada’s residential school system. Photo: Dwayne Cloes

Geraldine Robertson had no such hesitation. A survivor of the residential school system, she has worked tirelessly to educate her own community and Canadians in general about the abuses suffered by generations of First Nations children.

(In case you think she must live ‘way up North’ – Geraldine is a member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia. That’s less than an hour from my front door.)

This year, Robertson and two fellow survivors shared their residential school experiences in a documentary film called “We Are Still Here,” which led to my assignment for The United Church Observer magazine.

It can be difficult to interview people about traumatic events, but Geraldine answered my questions thoroughly and thoughtfully. She also posed a few questions of her own, which made me see the legacy of the residential school system in a new light.

You can read my story here  and view the documentary ‘We Are Still Here.’   It should be screened in every Canadian school.

The Peacemaker
(Ivey In Touch, September 2017)

I was excited – and a bit nervous – when Ivey Business School asked me to write a profile of Frank Pearl for their alumni magazine.

Frank Pearl

Frank Pearl studied at Ivey Business School before returning to Colombia. (Photo: Facebook)

After all, it’s not every day that I get to interview a peace negotiator.  And like most Canadians, I have a limited understanding of Colombia’s long-standing civil war.

Luckily, it took a few weeks to arrange the interview so I had plenty of time to research and prepare my questions – which I hoped would provide readers with some insight into Pearl as a person, Ivey grad, and peace broker.

Often people who are in high profile positions have received tons of media training, which doesn’t always make for the most interesting quotes. So when I finally reached Pearl at his home I was relieved and delighted that he spoke with such candor about both his role in the Colombian peace process and his time in Canada.

I even had to ask my editor if she could stretch the original word-count. (Which she did!)

You can read my story here.

The Art in a Deal
(London Inc., June 2017)

I first met Marla Marnoch at an event at The ARTS Project in downtown London sometime during the summer of 2016. I think we may have been the only people in the room without visible tattoos, so of course we got to talking.

Marla mentioned her concept of marrying social enterprise, real estate transactions and community building – and I immediately thought “That’s something I need to keep an eye on.”

Almost 12 months later, Marla launched earmark.ca, I pitched and wrote a story, and as an added bonus I made a new friend!

Marla Marnoch earmark

Marla Marnoch (far right) building our community through her social enterprise real estate initiative, earmark.ca (Photo: Facebook)

Marla’s enthusiasm for London and her ability to bring her vision to life make this story one of my top 3 picks of the year.

You can read my story here.

So, what’s up for 2018?

I’ve already got a few new assignments lined up for January, as well as a small speaking engagement – so I’m looking forward to the year ahead. I’ll also be starting work on a book that I’ve been thinking about for several years now…stay tuned!

If you’d like to keep up with what I’m writing, follow my Facebook page or visit my website.  And if you’ve got a story idea, or need a freelance writer – please drop me a line!

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog – and Best Wishes for 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

The Fur-Bearing Trout, and the power of patience

This summer, I got to add the words ‘contributing author’ to my resume.

My story, The Secret That Won The War, was selected for inclusion in The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life.

The book is a collection of non-fiction pieces by 16 local writers, and was published by the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada to mark the Canada 150 celebrations.

TFBT Cover

I am grateful to be a contributing author….

This was a thrill for me for two reasons: I can now say that I’ve been published in a book, and more importantly – I had been sitting on this story for 13 years.

The Secret That Won The War was written in 2004 when I was still in journalism school at The University of Western Ontario.

As a student, my goal was to publish every assignment I wrote for J-school.  I did – with the exception of this one.

Perhaps it was the subject matter, telling the story of Canada’s top-secret radar program through the eyes of Word War II radar veteran Fred Bates. A storekeeper from Wingham, Ontario, Bates had been trained at RAF Station Clinton – located 85 km north of London – before serving on Canada’s West Coast and in Europe.

Perhaps it was the length.  Bates’ personal recollection was interspersed with plenty of historical and technical information – necessary, I felt – to properly tell the tale. But at more than 4,000 words, the draft I handed in was certainly far too long for most traditional publications.

Perhaps my student writing skills just weren’t strong enough to pull off such an ambitious project. I received a mediocre grade and some unenthusiastic feedback.

But Fred Bates had passed away less than two weeks after our interview, and I felt that I couldn’t simply throw away his words.

The story was filed away on my computer. And then on another computer. And another.

Filed away, but not quite forgotten.

When the call for submissions for non-fiction stories about any facet of Canadian life dropped into my in-box last November, I knew that The Secret That Won The War had finally found a home.

It’s now 2,500 words shorter than the original, with a new beginning and ending, but each one of Bates’ words remain.

As for the fur-bearing trout, that’s another slice of Canadian history worth reading about.

The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life was launched at Anderson Craft Ales on June 25. Copies are available at Attic Books and Chapters / Indigo in London, Ontario and it will soon be available on Amazon.

Learn more about Canada’s secret WWII radar program. 

As a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, content consultant, and blogger, I am passionate about helping people grow their success by sharing their stories with the world. Read what I’ve been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing.

Shine the Light – A Sister’s Story

November is Shine the Light on Woman Abuse month in my home town of London, Ontario. I was recently asked to write a story about this year’s campaign – which put me in touch with Lynn Blackburn.

Lynn’s sister, Paula Gallant, was murdered by her husband in 2005, shortly before their daughter’s first birthday.

paula-gallant-small

Paula Gallant is being honoured as part of this month’s Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign.

Many people think it must be difficult to interview people who have lost a family member or friend. But I have found the opposite is usually true. Most people are eager to speak about a loved one – to share stories and let others know how that person made a lasting impact on the world they left behind.

Lynn was no different. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include most of what she told me in my newspaper article. So she gave me permission to share our interview through my blog – in honour of her sister, Paula – and all women who experience women abuse.

What would you like Londoners to know about your sister, Paula Gallant?

Paula was a woman who loved every aspect of her life and lived each and every day to the fullest. She had an incredible smile, kind heart, generous spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.  She had a presence when she walked into a room and people just naturally gravitated towards her positive and energized personality.

Her sweet baby was the brightest joy in her life and her love and commitment to her family and friends was evident in all she did.

Paula was a born educator and her passion for culture and adventure was always incorporated in her daily teachings, both in and out of the classroom. In life she touched the hearts of many and in death, her legacy has left meaning and purpose.

Why did your family decide to honour her memory by taking part in this year’s Shine the Light campaign?

It is so important for people to realize Paula could have been their daughter, sister, friend, their children’s soccer coach or the lady at the grocery store. Men’s violence against women does not discriminate and no one is immune.

We need to help people understand this is a real issue in our communities and our family could never have imagined it happening to us, to our sister, but it can and it did.

It is also important to understand there are cases where physical abuse does not exist, such as Paula’s case.  They were no warning signs, no known triggers, no ability for her to understand or predict the risks.

Although Paula’s voice was physically silenced through murder, our participation in events like this give Paula a voice, in the hopes that we can help drive change and perhaps save a woman’s life.

What would you like Canadians, both women and men, to know about women abuse?

The statics pertaining to intimate partner violence and physical and sexual abuse in Canada are staggering.

Prior to Paula’s murder, we had no understanding of how prevalent men’s violence against women was nor would we have known there were so many agencies, organization, professional and volunteers working tirelessly to try and end violence.

Unfortunately, it took a personal experience for me to fully understand the scope of this issue and that we all have a role to play in working as a society to end this.

All women deserve to live freely and peacefully without abuse. I would challenge both men and women to ask themselves, if this was their daughter, their sister, what would they do different than they are today? My hope is that if we can create a zero-tolerant society against drinking and driving, then I have to believe that one day women will live peacefully and freely without men’s violence and abuse.

You can read my story on the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) 2016 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the LAWC website.

 

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

On board with MainStreet London

I’ve been writing about downtown London for more than a decade. In fact, my very first cover story was about Kingsmill’s department store. Founded in 1865, this retail icon predated Confederation.

Store Exterior 001.JPG

    Kingsmill’s was founded in the heart of  London in 1865. (Kingsmill’s store for Francine Kopun.)

In 2004, when my story was published in Business London magazine, the family-owned retailer was an early adapter of online sales. In 2014, Kingsmill’s closed, marking the end of an era for anyone who grew up in London.

(Although I can’t seem to find a copy of my 2004 story, you can read more about the history of Kingsmill’s and its closing here and here.)

That cover story – penned as a J-school assignment – was the first of hundreds I have written that are in some way connected to the core of my home town.  So when some Londoners claimed that the closure of Kingsmill’s signaled the death of downtown retail, it got my blood boiling.

Luckily, I have a pen (or keyboard).  I pitched, and wrote, a second cover story on the new wave of independent retailers setting up shop in downtown London.

Declaration of Independance

I turned my anger into another cover story….

You can read the full story here.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook posting about a board opening at MainStreet London – an organization tasked with supporting and strengthening all aspects of downtown.

I know that I am not the only Londoner frustrated by the snail’s pace of progress in the core. But being an optimist at heart I decided the time was right to join the fight for downtown at a more formal level. So I sent in my application – and was accepted to the board in January.

I am looking forward to seeing the revitalization process from another angle, and am hoping to learn more about the challenges of bringing meaningful – let alone transformational – change to the heart of my hometown.