Congratulations to Christine Althouse for launching the first WomanSpeak circle in Ontario earlier this week in Campbellford.
WomanSpeak is an international initiative founded by a former investment banking analyst, KC Baker of Arizona. “We are on a mission to support women and girls in feeling free to own the value of their ideas and perspectives, and to share them authentically and confidently”, explains the WomanSpeak website.
Loosely patterned after Toastmasters with an entirely feminine slant, WomanSpeak is designed to instill confidence in communication, whether the goal is to address a large crowd or speak up without restraint at work or in daily life.
The introductory session offered up an icebreaker, some relaxation techniques and a couple of official videos from WomanSpeak explaining their mission and methods. The women present were given a few minutes to write their thoughts on an “I believe” statement which they could then present to the others if they chose to do so. Most accepted the offer to share their thoughts.
Christine explained that the ongoing program follows an established curriculum which includes various themes on which attendees will address the group. The atmosphere is one of a safe, non-judgemental space in which everything said remains in confidence while women learn, not only to speak more confidently themselves, but to listen with full attention, support each other and accept recognition without embarassment.
The full program is 16 months, but shorter options are also available. WomanSpeak is structured on a fluid basis so women can join anytime. The basic cost of the program is $50 per month although discounts are available for long session registrations.
Christine’s WomanSpeak circles will run at 7 pm on the first and third Wednesdays of every month at the Campbellford Branch Library. Since it is still in its infancy, Christine plans to offer additional introductory sessions before the regular meeting, at 6 pm on the first Wednesday of the month for the time being.
Christine is a long-time advocate of female empowerment and is already involved in production of two live weekly videos on social media. Read her full story here.
Sometimes, it feels like you just have to sweep everything off the table and start over. Perhaps you’ve been through a personal crisis that has rocked you to your core – the loss of a loved one, an expected upheaval in your career, the erosion of your self esteem through an abusive relationship. Maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, and has instead been a gradual process as you realize with growing certainty that you are not where you want to be in your life and that the path you’re on is not likely to get you there any time soon. You may even feel that there’s nothing overtly wrong with your life or the way you’re living it, yet you still feel inexplicably unfulfilled, and perhaps you question what is wrong with you, being as you are so ungrateful for the comforts in your life that are denied to so many.
We all reinvent ourselves from time to time as we age. It’s the inevitable result of maturity and experience. What you aspired to be at 20 is likely not what will fire your soul at 50, simply because you’ve been there and done that, growing in the process. Regardless of the age you are, a conscious decision to reinvent yourself is not the same as coming to the retrospective realization that you have been changed through life experience.
Deliberate, conscious change starts with you and an evaluation of what you want and who you want to be. This requires some soul searching. We all lead busy lives and it’s easy to push aside the inner voice that keeps reminding us to invest some time in an honest look at who we are and where we are headed. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What brings you joy? What diminishes you? What do you want that you do not have? What do you carry that you no longer need? What stands in your way? Change can only come from a clear and honest vision of who you are right now and what you have to work with and work on.
The answers to those questions may come easily to you. For many, understanding who and what you want to be is the easy part. It’s the journey that’s hard. How do you go about redefining the parameters of your life when you’re busy living it?
Establishing a goal, a vision, is at the core of the process. You need to see yourself, living the life you want to have, as the person you want to be. It’s a given that your vision needs to be realistic. If you’ve worked honestly through the evaluation process, the vision you hold will be achievable and it will come from the authentic spirit of you. It may be daunting, it may involve overcoming many challenges, it may involve letting things go, but it is not impossible, and it’s crucial that you understand that and hold it close to your heart.
Once you’ve established your end goal, it’s time to assess the steps you need to take to get there. We all have ingrained habits, routines and behaviors. These are acquired patterns, developed from the experiences we’ve had and the environment we live in now, from the people we surround ourselves with and the obligations we have taken on. Some of these elements may have to go or be adapted to a new paradigm. Do you sacrifice your own needs to the desires of others? Are you unable to say ‘yes’ to yourself? Are you unable to say ‘no’? Do you escape through instant gratification or compensatory rewards that harm you in the long run? Does your job stifle you or feel like a dead end? Are your relationships crushing your self esteem? Do your friends share your misery in pity parties rather than inspire you to grow? Are you physically and geographically where you want to be?
Addressing patterns and behaviors is difficult. It’s not practical to quit a job you don’t like when you have a family to feed and mortgage payments to make. Could a change of attitude, better communication or a more confident approach help the situation? Is it possible that opportunities would open if you were to improve your skills or understanding through extracurricular education?
Closing doors to the people in your life who hold you back can be even more difficult. Again, there’s a middle ground here. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition to make significant changes in your outlook. Unless your partner is abusive or your friends destructive, it may not be necessary to leave them behind at all. Maybe you just need to broaden your circle. Make some new friends. Reach out to the women you admire. Join groups or classes that will enhance your sense of self through shared passions or personal growth, whether it be needlepoint, yoga or environmental causes. Communicate with your significant other. Seek counselling as a couple if you need it, or independently if you naturally gravitate to a role that no longer works for you. Find your community. It’s out there.
Some people find that vision boards, mantras and meditation help them to clarify their goals and the road they need to travel to reach their destination. Others may gain more power and insight from their connections with other women who support mutual empowerment. The female has a deep inherent need to commune with other females. This is a biological imperative from early tribal societies in which women were considered equal but different. The subjugation of women over many centuries is a regrettable part of history, but that’s not at all how the history of humanity began.
Gender roles are changing in society and this is a great time for women. Although we may still have some distance to travel in terms of pay equity and sexual equality, we’ve already come a long way. This is, sadly, not true in many parts of the world, but females in western society have made great strides, largely due to the courageous efforts of our trailblazing sisters who followed their dreams despite societal disapproval, those who fought for the vote and the early feminists who truly changed the world.
We’re equal in the eyes of the law, we have a say in government, we’re breaking through the glass ceiling and holding positions of influence in unprecedented numbers. Our partners are taking a more active role in parenting and sharing household duties. We’re actively fanning the flames of change through initiatives like #me too, body positivity and age acceptance. As a community, we have more power than we’ve ever had before, and there are many ways to find women of like mind through consciousness groups, empowerment programs, retreats, lifestyle coaches and social media. Today’s girls don’t start school with the belief that they will grow up to be housewives or secretaries. All career options are now on the table and we are rocking them.
The thing is, it’s never too late to hop on the train to self empowerment and fulfillment. Life is too short to live it out with mediocrity. Go for it, sister. You can do this.
There was a time when my preparations for Christmas began as soon as I’d packed away the Halloween decorations. Baking was the first priority, interspersed with endless treks to the malls in search of the perfect gifts. Back in the day, that also meant days of wrapping, ribboning and bowing, not to mention handwritten and mailed Christmas cards. We gave up the wrapping and the cards many years ago, but the baking and decorating have remained as honoured annual traditions.
Not only did I serve platters of homemade cookies at our home when we entertained during the festive season, but I took them everywhere as hostess gifts and handed out 40 to 50 tins as gifts to family, friends, staff and colleagues. At its peak, that meant producing 36 batches of cookies, and we’re not talking drop cookies here. Rolled, cut, layered, piped, pressed, dipped, filled, drizzled, they were the fanciest and most festive confections I could produce. I enjoyed it immensely at the outset, cranking up some rocking Christmas favourites and kicking off with a classic shortbread cut into various yuletide shapes like trees and stars. By the 20th batch of elaborate laborious bonbons, my enthusiasm usually waned a bit. Cleaning up the post-baking mess got old long before that, but I loved serving and giving them. It was always worth the effort.
And decor! Emerging from the days of cherubic Santa faces and reindeer everywhere for the kids, my festive style evolved into something I quite enjoyed creating, in the harmonious hues I love. The bronze, silver and champagne tones that welcome the yuletide in our home are reflected more modestly in my living room, both current and prior, with tans and grays. I enjoyed the process and, undeniably, the result of bedazzling my tree. As we entertained frequently, the house was always thoroughly bedecked by December 1st, at which time we would launch our holiday celebrations, host friends every weekend and maintain a packed schedule of parties and corporate events, culminating in a large-scale party at our home on the Saturday before Christmas, complete with mulled wine and over-the-top hors d'oeuvres.
Although the baking side has downsized enormously since our relocation, I’ve continued to uphold the custom and I've yet to miss a year. My tree and my home have always been enthusiastically decorated by December's arrival. We still host a Christmas party on the Saturday before the big day.
Over the past number of years, I’ve been watching the societal phenomena of Christmas on fast-forward. We’re still a week away from December, and social media posts announcing the completion of festive decor have been appearing in my feed for weeks. Gorgeous they are, too, and if you’re motivated by your love of the season and a desire to prolong it, then I wish you and yours a most joyous one. If your motivation comes from a more practical desire to get the festive trappings out of the way so you can focus more fully on shopping, baking and socializing, kudos to you for your advance planning. Life can get quite hectic over the holidays.
This year, I uncharacteristically feel no urgency at all about Christmas. None. It is, in fact, our turn to host the monthly neighbourhood gathering at our home on December 1st. We’ve drawn the month in previous years and have never even considered holding the event without being able to offer festive cookies in the soft glow of the sparkle from our Christmas tree.
It’s not going to happen this year, at least not by next weekend. I've been consumed by other things, but I'm sure I will get to Christmas sooner or later, and I will undoubtedly enjoy it as I always do. Having said that, I know there will be a year when I choose to opt out. If I decide, this year or any year, that I’m not inspired to bake or decorate, I’m okay with that. Perhaps you're in the same place. Maybe you've had some health issues this year, or challenges with work, family or relationships. Maybe you're just caught up in something so exhilarating that you have no energy left over for the mechanics of holiday preparation. So be it. Give yourself a break.
The decision to skip the annual Christmas routine, should you ever decide to try it, doesn't imply that you have forsaken the spirit of Christmas. Not at all. The spirit is everywhere. It’s in the fellowship, the music, the community, the events and the memories. Even more than that, it's in your heart and in your voice when you belt out the lyrics to a Christmas carol on the radio in your car en route to the grocery store. Most of all, it's in the joy of giving to others, whether it be your compassion, your love or your time. This remains true with or without your homemade cookies, mulled cider, cedar bough garlands and Aunt May's traditional sweet potato casserole.
May the joy of the holidays fill you this season and, in the true spirit of giving, may you also be true to you.
Editor's Note: This "Exclusive Interview with Santa Claus" was published in The Temiskaming Speaker in December 1981. I wrote it when the Prime Minister was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Alan MacEachen was Finance Minister and Eugene Whelan was the Minister of Agriculture. Bill Davis was Ontario's Premier and Rene Levesque was Premier of Quebec. Canada's new constitution was adopted in 1982. Strikes were happening, including a postal strike. Small schools in the area were being closed due to declining enrolment. The high cost of oil was a popular topic of conversation everywhere. Word processors were the first in the long line of technological advances to supplant the electric typewriter. ParticipACTION was a government initiative to promote health and fitness. There was something topical about grain quality, livestock and tender innards, but the details escape me. Hope you enjoy.
THE SPEAKER: Before we begin, Mr. Claus, allow me to say that we are very grateful to you for granting us this interview, particularly in view of your busy schedule.
SANTA CLAUS: It’s a pleasure, although things have been hectic lately. I do feel, however, that it’s high time people developed a better understanding of what Santa Claus is all about.
SPEAKER: Publicity never hurts, Sir. Well now, you’ve been in the toy profession for quite some time. One could say that you are the world’s foremost expert in the field. How do you feel about your career after all those years?
SANTA: Well, it certainly has its rewards. Times are tough, though, and the Santa Toy Factory has been as hard hit by inflation as any other business. We’re barely making ends meet.
SPEAKER: Really? What’s the trouble, Sir?
SANTA: My heating bills are outrageous, for one thing. When the price of oil first started to climb, I switched over to wood heating. I bought myself a nice little wood furnace. It smells real nice, but I don’t think it’s cutting costs all that much. It’s awfully cold in the North Pole, you know, and we have to import our wood from the treeline. The shipping costs are preposterous.
SPEAKER: I didn’t realize that the Santa Toy Factory was in financial trouble. Do other factors contribute to the situation?
SANTA: Yes indeed. I employ a huge staff, and they are always up in arms over something or other. Why, a few months ago, 50 elves walked off the job because their union, the Canadian Union of Elves (CUE) was seeking wage parity with IUD, the International Union of Dwarves. It left me high and dry for weeks.
SPEAKER: Oh no. Did they settle the dispute to the elves’ satisfaction?
SANTA: Well, yes and no. They wanted 17 weeks paid maternity leave, but you know elves – I’d go broke in a year. It finally went to arbitration, and the mediator ruled that the elves could have parity with IUD if they dropped their request for maternity leave. I threw in a special premium for shift work, because the CUE members work their little hearts out at this time of year.
SPEAKER: I bet they do! Certainly, despite your rising overhead and labour problems, there is no possibility of a decline in your market?
SANTA: Well, I’m not too sure about that, now. Business is lagging. It seems the Santa Toy Factory is facing the same trouble your schools are facing – the baby boom is over. Too many people watch television. I have an entire Research and Development complex devoted to discovering a successful aphrodisiac.
SPEAKER: Are they making progress?
SANTA: Not on the aphrodisiac, no, although they have come up with several products which may be of interest to the average consumer. This year, they came up with a nutritious tobacco and the formula for eternal youth.
SPEAKER: Why, Sir, you could make a fortune!
SANTA: Yes, I’ve thought of that. But I do have a monopoly in the toy field, you know, and a certain obligation to the world’s children. Mrs. Claus and I nip into the youth serum from time to time. We can’t wait for them to develop the aphrodisiac – HO HO HO. Anyway, we plan to put it all on the market and retire to Rio de Janeiro eventually.
SPEAKER: So that’s what keeps you looking so young and fresh!
SANTA: That’s part of my secret. We also eat very well, you know, and we both joined ParticipACTION this year. Our tummies were beginning to shake like bowls full of jelly. Each Christmas, I return home with my sleigh overflowing with milk and cookies. This year, for the sake of my finances and my waistline, I’m going to sell the surplus on the world market.
SPEAKER: I see. Tell me, have things changed a great deal in the world since you started your operation?
SANTA: Heavens, yes. It’s getting very difficult to find reliable reindeer. They’ve been spoiled, you see, and they demand the finest feed grain – something about keeping their innards tender. I’m also very nervous in the sky these days. I understand my sleigh crosses the proposed paths of nuclear warheads in several places. But some things have changed for the better. I now answer all my letters by word processor, and I have a computer tracking system to monitor good and bad children. Last year, I picked up a microfilm filing system to record the annual list of presents. It avoids duplication.
SPEAKER: Modern technology, eh? Well, I think that gives me enough background information on you, Sir. Before we get down to the nitty gritty, I’d like to add that your suit is most becoming.
SANTA: You know, I’ve worn this old suit ever since I went into business. You media people have stifled my individuality. My pictures appear all over the place throughout the festive season and none of the pictures look even remotely like I do! There are imposters everywhere, hanging around in the plazas to frighten babies. If I didn’t have to compete with so many reasonable facsimiles, I’d modernize my image and get rid of these old threads.
SPEAKER: But the bright red suit is your trademark!
SANTA: Exactly. My preference turned to green several years ago, and I’d love to pick up a hat like Mr. Whelan’s to match it. I’m afraid I’d get arrested at my first chimney.
SPEAKER: Oh. What I’d like to talk about now, Mr. Claus, is the political situation here in Canada. You see everything from where you sit at the top of the world. Who’s been good, and who’s been bad, on the Canadian political scene this year?
SANTA: I’d rather not comment on that.
SPEAKER: Later, off the record?
SPEAKER: Ho ho ho. Well then, could we talk about the gifts that our esteemed political figures will be finding under their Christmas trees this year?
SANTA: I think that would be alright. I have for Mr. [Pierre Elliott] Trudeau a plaque, engraved “Father of the Canadian Constitution”. Mr. MacEachen will find an envelope containing a pink slip. For Mr. Levesque, I have a jigsaw puzzle of Canada, but the province of Quebec doesn’t come off. And Mr. Davis won’t be getting anything this year, because he’s been giving himself presents all year long.
SPEAKER: Very imaginative, Sir. Before we conclude, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
SANTA: Yes. Although I complain, as we all do, I love my profession and I am very proud of the work I do. I make many children happy. And I would like to wish all your readers the happiest Christmas they have ever had. I wish them all the true spirit of Christmas.
SPEAKER: So do I. Thank you, Sir, for your time.
My second apartment was in High Park, just north of Bloor and close to the subway. It isn’t worth mentioning my first apartment since the place was seemingly the world headquarters of the cockroach empire and I didn’t stay long.
The second place seemed a great abode at first, notwithstanding a few oddities. It had no door. My digs encompassed the upper level of an old brick house owned by a Greek family. Parents, two teen boys. It was a great space with a huge bay window looking out to the street. My understanding was that none of the family members would invade my premises barring some sort of dreadful emergency, but I soon discovered that the youngest son had his own opinion on the matter. It was clear that he was a troubled fellow, and quite a large one at that. He hovered outside my bedroom door at night. I came home from work to find him in my bedroom a few times. One evening, he was the only one home. There was a tremendous banging going on in the kitchen and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t cooking.
I decided that my best course of action was to evacuate the scene. Backpack in tow, I aimed for stealth mode all the way down the curving, creaking old staircase. When I got to the bottom, a glance back down the hall to their kitchen saw him framed in the doorway with a ravaged expression, holding an enormous butcher knife. I set my personal best on the sprint to the subway station.
Time to move. My next place was a gem, south of Bloor just off Roncesvalles, the entire ground floor of an old house. What a neighbourhood that was! Still largely Ukranian and Polish to the south, with shops selling everything from distinctive wooden products to pastries and sausages. Roncesvalles was home to the renowned Revue Repertory Theatre, and further to the north, the first health food store I encountered and patronized religiously for their yogourt, natural peanut butter and raw honey.
I stayed there for quite a long while, but eventually ended up further northeast at St. Clair and Spadina, another marvellous area to explore in those days, located as it was within a good walking distance of countless art galleries, bistros and an unending cultural mix of shops selling anything one might imagine. I met some characters in the building. My next-door neighbour was a hostage negotiator living with her fiance, an undertaker. They were good people, if somewhat reminiscent of the Addams Family in appearance. There was also a fiery Irish guy in the building, a fellow who read tarot cards and had his fingers immersed in pies of every flavour going. I left Toronto for a few years after that, moving to Northern Ontario.
On my return, I settled in to Lawrence and Keele in an actual apartment building. My unit was ground level and beside a ravine. I thought the greenery would be lovely, until I learned that a multitude of hoary little biting spiders invaded the place every spring and survived until October.
King and Bay in downtown Toronto was my daily destination, so my next move took me even further east to my all-time favourite residence, and that has nothing to do with the real estate, beyond the fact that my fitness club and pool were but a five-minute trek away. My apartment was a second level unit in a three-story walk-up. I quite hit it off with the Superintendant, a gay man in his early 30’s, when I went in to apply. On moving day, he came up to my flat to tell me that I was the only straight resident of the building, and the only female as well. “I didn’t think it would bother you,” he said, with what I came to know as characteristic nonchalance. He was right.
In fact, it was great. I never had the slightest qualm about going down to the basement laundry room at night. The guys were friendly and we all pretty much kept to ourselves beyond random encounters, at least until we had a building garage sale. I don’t think anyone made much money, but my cheeks ached from laughing when the day was done. I learned that my neighbours were highly vocal when it came to expressing appreciation for attractive male passers-by and, at Jarvis and Isabella, it was usually reciprocated and then some. That wasn’t quite my style, but I have to admit that I couldn’t fault their taste most of the time.
Jarvis and Isabella was the LGBTQ capital of Toronto, long before those initials had any meaning to most people. The vast majority of the residents were gay or bisexual although it was also the primary promenade of heterosexual prostitutes galore. Transvestites were everywhere, some flamboyant and some not at all. People of all genders offered their bodies for sale, lounging provocatively against walls, doorways and lightposts on Yonge Street to showcase their wares. Some of the trans guys were particularly memorable with blonde wigs, Tammy Faye makeup and thigh high boots on a six-two frame.
There was always a strong police presence. Between that and the obvious fact that no evil deed-doer was likely to concern themselves with a petite woman as innocuous as myself in such a pulsingly sexual environment, I felt very safe there. Having said that, any smart woman living in the city avoids putting herself in potentially compromising situations and I did that, although the stars failed to align a couple of times.
I used to go to a bar in the seediest section of the east side with a woman I knew from work and her friends, all of whom had experienced a much rougher, tougher life than I had. Dancing was involved and we always had a great time, so it became a regular haunt for me on Saturday nights for quite a long spell. Most of the women were biker chicks but they were welcoming and they had a strong community, banding together as required to protect each other from unwanted male attention that wouldn't accept "no" as an outcome. Their tradition was to celebrate birthdays by presenting a cake decorated in edible male genitalia both large and small, crafted in chocolate, icing or meringue. I’m sure it’s unnecessary to paint a picture of the drama with which these delights were consumed. I hung out with them long enough to earn my penis cake and, despite the absurdity of it all, I felt quite honoured to be so fully included at the time.
That was all great, but back to the story. My friend’s sister was a taxi driver and she’d planned to deliver me from home to the bar and back again. I got there okay, but something happened. She left on a venture of some sort and never returned. Nobody had cell phones then, so I waited for her until it became unarguably evident that there would be no reappearance. By that time, the buses had stopped running and there were no taxicabs available. I did a 10K alone at 2 am, wearing the type of clothing one would expect to don for dancing in a crowded bar in the summertime. The route took me along Queen Street to Jarvis and north to my home just south of Bloor. Jarvis south of Dundas was the creepiest stretch, no police to be seen. Alleyways. Gloomy parks with lots of bushes. No traffic. As I recall, there was a bit of adrenalin going on during that walk and I was fully prepared for fight or flight the entire distance.
Living in Toronto was always an interesting ride. Back in the High Park era, my weekend go-to was the venerable old El Mocambo on Spadina where I was fortunate enough to hear many of the old blues greats like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. The gentlemen were always charming and most took the time to come to our table for a chat with the young’uns who liked the blues. The Downchild Blues Band appeared there so often that they were considered to be the "house band". My chosen entertainments changed over the years from the flashing dance clubs to the serene elegance of fine restaurants, but I never lost my taste for the blues, nor did Toronto's offerings of any kind ever fail to please.
I did a lot of walking for fitness in my years there although the route shortened with every move east. Initially my path took me from the finance district downtown to High Park, every weeknight all year long. In the summer, I could stop for a swim en route at an outdoor pool on Dundas. Otherwise, I took varied routes and got to know the inner city very well. The trendy bistros giving way to dusty antique and pawn shops along Queen Street, the vibrant garment district on Spadina, the gracious pomp of University Avenue, an altered cultural paradigm in Chinatown. I was a serious hobby photographer then and the streets were an unending series of potential compositions.
I loved my years in Toronto. I embraced the city's sprawling vitality, its anonymity, its many worlds within worlds. Toronto gave of its energy, its sophistication and tawdriness, its glittering consumerism and its raw realities, its fleeting moments of joy and heartbreak on the streets. New worlds were always there, just waiting to be experienced, processed and absorbed. It wasn't the place to raise a family, nor would it be a place I'd choose to live now, but it will forever be a part of the woman I have become.
The listing for Harmony on Amazon includes an inside look at the book,
displaying the lyrics to the Harmony Song.
Find it here. Harmony by Wendy Marais on Amazon
View listing at Balboa Press bookstore here
To register for the Jazzled mailing list, arrange quantity book orders
or inquire about investment in the Jazzled project
Email Wendy at email@example.com
There is nothing like the joy of dance. Whether it be the perfection of ballet, the energy of zumba or the vibrant colour of bellydance, dancing is good for the soul.
Meet the Firelights Belly Dance Troupe and one of its members, Allison Townsend, who has branched out after many years of bellydance to offer instructional programs in Campbellford.
This short clip shares some great excerpts from my interview
with Allison on Sound Waves with Susan, CKOL 93.7 fm, 2016.
Courtesy of the Firelights website:
"The Firelights Belly Dance Troupe is part of a robust belly dance community in Northumberland Quinte West, Ontario.
The Firelights are based in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada with members from Campbellford, Warkworth, Springbrook, Hastings, Trent River and Brighton. We have performed at numerous events since 2008 and we enjoy dancing for audiences large & small.
The Firelights show that belly dancing is for women of all ages and shapes. We delight in sharing our passion for dancing and costumes with audiences at fund-raisers, farmer's markets, festivals and private functions. When invited to perform, a number of genres of music are featured including Country & Western, Pop, and Middle-Eastern music. The audience-participation activity is a popular segment for young and old, with lots of laughter."
Allison began offering beginner bellydance programs in Campbellford last year.
Find her and the Firelights at
The last time I was involved with any kind of journalism, I was in my 20’s. My home was the upper floor of an old brick house in Haileybury, situated at the top of a very steep hill leading to the town’s main street and the shores of Lake Temiskaming. I worked in neighbouring New Liskeard, one of three linked towns then known as the Tri-Towns.
The Temiskaming Speaker was a community newspaper, a weekly, with some impact in the community. It covered everything with diligence: news, politics, community, sports, editorial. We were a staff of four and a half: the editor, assistant editor (me), a reporter, a sports reporter and a freelance music guy. We had a vocal editorial page and I had a weekly column with open format, so I wrote about anything and everything from serious issues to humour.
I often got to work at home, which I did in my sunroom overlooking the street. It was just large enough to accommodate my desk and an old underwood typewriter. I had incredibly strong fingers back then.
On warm summer days, I could walk down the hill to the beach and swim. In winter, long underwear was the first thing one did in the morning. The winters there were bitterly cold although strong winds were a rarity. Without the raw, biting wind that can render one powerless against the elements, the cold was manageable if appropriately dressed. At least, most of the time. The snow was deep, pretty much all the time in the winter.
The Speaker offices were on a prominent corner in New Liskeard, an old building with many stories in its history. It smelled wonderful, just like an old newspaper office should, redolent with ink and photo processing. Our office was upstairs, where we were all equipped with electric typewriters. Stories were produced on flimsy, smaller-than-average sheets of paper with an odd texture. We made carbon copies. When our story was complete, we typed “-30- “ at the bottom to confirm to the editor that no pages had gone astray. There was always something supremely satisfying about typing that “-30-“.
The main floor of the Speaker building housed the typesetting department, photo processing and archives. Panic ensued in Typesetting every week as the press deadline loomed. The photo processing was great. I’d hand over my film and they’d give me back a contact sheet with my negatives. The Speaker ran a full 8x10 on its editorial page every week and there was always a friendly competition about whose photo would be chosen.
I’d been a hobby photographer for many years and took a few courses at Ryerson University including darkroom techniques. The apartment I lived in prior to packing for Haileybury had a darkroom, fashioned out of what was intended to be a storage closet. What a fine storage closet it was. I had the whole set-up in there and it was darker than black. The process was amazing, the aluminum canisters for processing the film, the enlarger, printer, tubs for developer and fixer. A hobby I truly loved at the time. But I digress.
The Speaker's archives were a wonder. History buffs could die of absorption in a place like that. Old yellowed newspapers, ancient photos, books.
We, the reporters, were all young and unencumbered. Heading to the local beer joint after the paper went to press was a weekly event. There were sit-down video game consoles in the bar, Pac Man and Atari. We played them relentlessly.
My first Editor was a guy who had initials as his first name, a walking tome of information on any topic imaginable. He left to work for a larger paper, The North Bay Nugget, after I came on board but we’d still had enough time working together to become friends. I looked him up some years later when on a weekend jaunt to North Bay with a girlfriend in our first break from motherhood. He was doing great with a wife and two kids.
His replacement was a fellow by the unlikely name of Forrest Greene. He maintained that it was his birth name but I admit I had my doubts. We saw eye to eye most of the time and I liked him. The reporter was of German ancestry and deadly serious about having a career in journalism, but he let loose with abandon and was always fun in a social setting. Let’s call him Hans.
I’d always been a swimmer, and my routine included hopping a bus out of New Liskeard to a motel almost at the end of the bus route. They had a pool and I had a membership. One unfortunate day, Hans accompanied me for a swim. Afterwards, he took the wrong curved corridor and ended up in the women’s changeroom, staring at a totally naked me. I grabbed a towel and he was every bit the apologetic gentleman but it changed our relationship. He was no longer able to see me as “one of the guys” and started propositioning me after that.
Our sports guy was just a young pup and he had the demeanour of one, right down to wriggling with delight and panting with excitement about life in general and sports in particular. The music freelancer always brought an old movie character to mind, the short guy with the fedora and a scheme up his sleeve. He had a gorgeous and genuine girlfriend who was, as I recall, considerably taller than he was. I have no idea what became of any of them, but we were an amenable team for the most part and we had some good times.
The Editor let me pursue whatever stories I chose, provided we didn’t fail to cover the mandatories like events, politics and general news. That was and is my favourite way to work, and my story ideas led me all over the place. Through an abandoned mine in Cobalt. Up in a 2-seater plane which I got to pilot over the lakes, forests and fields of Temiskaming. A full day on duty with the OPP. That was a fun one and the officer and I became good pals, often meeting for coffee when he was off duty.
I did some snapshot interviews with folks I’d just seen around and they always turned out to be interesting. One elderly gentleman was a scholar and a fount of knowledge about all the eras of civilization. I did a feature on him which he sent with pride to his grandchildren, and in return he gifted me with a beautiful volume called, “the Calendar of Creative Man”. He inscribed something quite lovely on the frontspiece. The book can still be found in my bookcase.
Another memorable encounter involved spending a full day with artist and author Muriel E. Newton-White in her home town of Englehart. She was a sweet, strong, inspiring woman who lived with passion and independence long before it was the thing to do.
Times have changed. Of course, typewriters are now found only in antique markets. Preparing for an interview meant reading up on prior printed articles if any and then showing up with a steno pad and pen. Thanks to social media, it’s now possible to get the gist of the story and pictures to match online before an interview takes place.
The Tri-Towns have now merged into the Municipality of Temiskaming Shores. The Temiskaming Speaker is alive and well, now boasting a glossy website and online news. As for me, I’ve walked many miles in many different shoes since those days but I’ll always remember it as an exciting time laced with thought-provoking experiences, fascinating people and the unlikely union of a disparate group of personalities who, dedicated to their craft, worked like dogs and took great pride in producing a newspaper worth reading every week.
Sharing a link to a Government of Canada website about funding available to non-profit organizations.
"Government of Canada is committed to advancing gender equality, women's economic empowerment, and supporting women entrepreneurs through the new Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (the Strategy), announced in Budget 2018.
As part of the Strategy, the Government is ensuring women across Canada have access to the business supports they need to start or grow a business."
Learn more here
Sharing a lovely social media post from a loving and wise daughter
By Amy Giles
You only get one Mom in your life. Don't take her for granted and definitely don't disrespect or take advantage of her!! When you were young, you were her world and everything she did was for you. You may not always see eye to eye on things, but just remember, she was just like you once. Love and cherish her. Respect her, listen to her, if she's sick take care of her. Always take care of her regardless!! Buy her a gift for no reason. Take her out to eat. Tell her you love her! Remember that she always has your back, too. Moms are not replaceable! Nobody can come close to her. There's no one like her. There are people who would give anything to have their Mom back in their lives, remember that!