Spell It Out!

A close up shot of a computer keyboardOver the span of my career, I took great joy in preparing drafts of memos, briefing notes and all kinds of correspondence for my management team. Naturally, I learned a lot along the way and I was more than happy to pass on to the advice to the newest generation when it was my turn to coach them.

In the early days, one comment that came back a few times was the editing note, “in full first”.

By saying that, my director was suggesting that I should write out an acronym in full the first time it appeared in the document and then to include its acronym version in parentheses. Once that is clarified to the reader, the writer can then feel free to use the acronym in its shortened form throughout the rest of the document.

What sage advice that was! To this day, I really appreciate the time, effort and patience that this busy executive took in tutoring me on the importance of spelling out an acronym.

She explained that an acronym that might be commonly used by my peers and myself might not be evident to someone on another team, someone who isn’t involved in the technical aspects of the work, or someone outside of our organization. Continue reading

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What Am I Gonna Wear?

A few years back, I wrote a blog post called “My Writer’s Uniform” in which I speculated on what I might be wearing in retirement when I would be free from office dress codes and pursuing my life’s purpose in writing. Of course, the pandemic was nowhere on our radar at that time.

In 2020, when we started working from home due to the pandemic, the line between home life and work life quickly blurred. That being the case, I made a point of putting on jeans during working hours. When I was off the clock, I could relax and cozy up in my comfortable sweat pants and sweat shirts. In my mind, this helped with the boundary setting between work and home.

In 2021 when I retired, it came as no surprise that the sweats became the default outfit. After 33 years of getting dressed for work, I appreciated the break from the pressure of putting on the office “armour.” However, when I was making public appearances like in-person appointments or running errands, I was more than happy to build a comfortable outfit around my favourite jeans.

But it was early in 2022, when I knew it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and answer life’s calling in writing that the wardrobe question came up again. With this next phase in life just beginning, I could not imagine spending the next 30, 40 or 50 years in sweat pants. There had to be a happy medium.

As I was waking up one morning, I looked over at the sweat pant and sweat shirt ensemble I had hung on the door handle in preparation for that day. I asked myself, “Does this outfit really make me feel more creative?” Continue reading

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My Grape Jelly Laboratory

a basket of freshly harvested grapesShortly after we settled into our home in the country, my partner and I were beyond surprised to discover grapevines in our garden.

Maybe I am too much of a city boy to know better, but to find out that grapes could successfully grow at all in this northern climate was news to me. To discover them in our own garden was pure serendipity.

Given that it was just a couple of grapevines, we did not develop any grand illusions of a future in winemaking. Just the same, we looked forward to seeing how much they might produce and whether the grapes would be fit for consumption.

The first summer we were here, we were so busy, I don’t even recall seeing the grapes. But it was a drought year, so there is a chance that we barely had any.

It was in the second growing season that conditions were quite good. Not only did our apple tree give us a bumper crop, but the grape harvest filled a 4 litre basket, just enough for a batch of grape jelly. With the help of a recipe I found online, it was time to make jelly magic.

This was not my first time making jelly. Back in the early 2000s, at a time when I was forever searching for creative projects, I found a recipe for red pepper jelly in the TV Guide and thought to myself, “that doesn’t sound too hard.” I bought mason jars and the necessary ingredients and successfully produced a beautiful red jelly, perfect for Christmas gift giving.

With that experience long behind me (maybe too long), my grape jelly journey began. While I am certainly no stranger in the kitchen, the multi-step process seemed more complex than I remembered from my first experience. Continue reading

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The Showdown with Paper Towel Dispensers

Of all the inanimate objects in the universe, there is one item that seems to be my equivalent to Lucy pulling the football before Charlie Brown gets to kick it… it’s paper towel dispensers.

Let’s be clear, I am not referring to any specific brand of paper towel dispensers, or even specific paper towel dispensers in a specific venue. I just mean paper towel dispensers in general.

Am I the only one for whom they don’t seem to work right?

Before I start getting nasty emails from paper towel dispenser companies, let me say up front: it’s not your fault.

It’s the human component using them that seems to have a knack for messing them up… and I’m not talking about myself.

The principle for a mechanical dispenser should be pretty simple. You wash your hands; you gently pull down on the little lever to feed the desired amount of paper through slot; you carefully pull off the towel with the help of the serrated blade; you dry your hands with the towel; you toss the used towel in the receptacle provided.

It’s not rocket science. The devices are pretty intuitive and should be easy to use.

But much like the rules of the road are not always followed to the letter of the law, there are rebels in the bathroom reinventing how to use the dispensers. Continue reading

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Accepting that Poop Happens

My apologies for the vulgarity in the title, but please be forewarned that the word “poop” will come up a few times in this post.

Back when I lived in the city, in a development of townhomes grouped together quite cozily, one of my biggest pet peeves was people who walked their dogs and didn’t clean up after them.

I recall on one occasion opening my window when witnessing an owner letting their dog do its business and not picking it up. I cleared my throat and shouted “EXCUSE ME! Are you going to clean that up?”

They ignored me and just jogged into the distance like it never happened. As much as I would have liked to run out, pick it up and throw it at them, I like to think I’m classier than that.

But it was a next door neighbour with a German shepherd that pushed the boundaries and my buttons. They’d let their dog roam on a very long leash, into my backyard to relieve itself.

The burns in the grass from the urine were bad enough but it was the accumulating fecal matter that was the issue, despite my repeated objections and requests for them to clean up after their dog.

The only time they seemed to respond to my texts was after a snowfall, when the droppings weren’t visible anymore, and say, “Sorry, we’ll try better next time” … How thoughtful of them! Continue reading

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My Favourite New iPhone Game

In picking up a new iPhone 13 mini with heaps of storage space, I have been gradually transferring over my music collection to my new device.

In doing so, I have been able to reconnect with so many musical artists I haven’t been able to listen to in the last few years, given the minuscule amount of storage on my previous phone… My mistake… Lessons learned.

Now, with approximately 13,000 songs on my new phone, there is a fair bit of scrolling going on to get from album to album. But interestingly enough, within my scrolling time, a new game caught my eye.

It’s not the kind of game you need to download from iTunes, it’s just a serendipitous discovery I made along the way.

I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience, but the premise of the game goes like this:

While scrolling through the alphabetically sorted list, I started noticing “neighbours” in the list, like Bon Jovi and Bonnie Raitt.

Note: Yes, I know that Raitt starts with an R, but iPhone/iTunes sorts the list on the first name or word. Continue reading

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The Jerk

On a recent trip to a grocery store, I had a most bizarre encounter with a fellow shopper.

I was pushing my cart down an aisle that was very narrow, given the shelves of potato chips on one side and an island of cases of soft drinks in the middle. Essentially, the aisle was divided into two one-way streets.

If traditional rules of the road prevailed, in theory, I was taking the correct approach. I was traveling on the right side of the aisle while oncoming traffic should have been on the other side of the Island of Coca Cola.

I was near the end of my one-way street when a gentleman (and I use the term loosely) turned the corner and chose to enter the same one-way street I was using… but in the opposite direction.

I watched him as he picked up different bags of chips and quickly put them down without tossing any into his cart. I sensed that something weird was brewing.

Then he paused, not making eye contact with me, still looking in the direction of the shelf. His body language showed that he not actively looking for anything anymore.
Something was up.

Was this a showdown of some sort? Continue reading

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10 Favourite Typos

A close up shot of a computer keyboardI never learned touch typing.

Believe it or not, I type with the thumbs, indexes and middle fingers of both hands, it’s a weird hybrid six finger technique that I developed myself that has stayed with me for more than 40 years.

In having written as much as I have, I know intuitively where all of the keys are. The six fingers in question know when to engage to hit the right keys. As a result, I rarely need to look down and can get words committed to paper pretty accurately.

But back at the office, I recall situations when accuracy suffered… often! It is amazing how last-minute urgent requests, conflicting priorities and needing to be in multiple places at once can conspire to help me conjure up a whole new language… or completely mess up the ones I supposedly know already.

Similarly, auto-correct has tripped me up a few times. I type a word correctly but auto-correct changes it to something obscure, rudely incorrect, or a word that I use so rarely that it makes me wonder if someone else has been using my computer. This is one of the reasons why I have a hard time trusting artificial intelligence (AI).

For all of these reasons, proofreading BEFORE hitting the “Send” button is incredibly important.

Yet some of the typos I have produced over the years have been known to make me stop and enjoy the absurdity, the humour, or both.

For your enjoyment, here are ten of my favourite typos: Continue reading

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Capturing Life’s Complexity through Writing

An overhead shot of a writing desk, containing a pen, a pad of paper and a cup of coffee.Throughout my public sector career, writing was a constant. In my recent transition to retirement, I was so grateful to discover the portability of the writing skills that I had acquired along the way in helping me pursue my dream of creative writing.

I always enjoyed the process: A manager would give me the broad parameters of what they wanted to say in a written product and then would send me on my way to write the first draft. The next meeting usually involved reviewing the draft together and exchanging ideas on possible improvements. As we approached the final version, we fine-tuned the product together, ensuring that it met its intended purpose.

One of the comments that often challenged me along the way was the question, “Can we go deeper with this point?”

From my earliest days, I knew that the question could mean many different things and could lead down many different paths.

I recall it was always a delicate balance, not just adding depth, but value-added depth, propelling an idea forward without getting into the weeds. It was about adding quality without adding bulk.

That challenge made writing for the business world interesting and fun for me. When a document reached final approval, I was always left with a huge sense of satisfaction that I got the balance right. That joy was one of the signs to me that writing was my calling and life’s purpose. Continue reading

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Watching for Predators When Walking the Cat

Regular readers will recall that in an effort to keep Ivy the Wonder Cat’s weight under control, I take her out for leash walks around our rural property.

Since the beginning of the daily walks, one big adjustment has been to get her on a routine of regular flea and tick medication to ensure she doesn’t pick up any bugs (literally) on her journeys outdoors.

The other big adjustment for me, was to learn about her natural predators and to keep an eye out for them.

Since our arrival in the country, we have spotted all kinds of wildlife. But the ones to watch out for where Ivy was concerned were the fox (that we have seen), the coyote (that we have heard) and the fisher (that has been the subject of town gossip). And then there is always the question of whether there is more than one of them.

Most of the time, Ivy can walk around the property pretty safely. However, I need to be wise to the signs to the contrary.

For example, on any given day, squirrels and chipmunks can be seen frolicking around the property, digging up a variety of treasures.

On the morning I wrote the first draft of this blog post, I couldn’t see any… anywhere. It was eerie. The absence of squirrels and chipmunks is definitely not normal for us. Continue reading

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