May 28, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Volunteering

I grew up in a house where giving of one's time was the norm. My parents gave a lot of their time to various community organizations and passed this volunteer bug on to their children. I spent a lot of time helping my mother fold programs for arts events, and got into many fabulous concerts for free in exchange for handing out those programs. Volunteering at the local old age hospital was practically part of the curriculum at my elementary school and in high school I ran for student council and gave countless hours to school events and initiatives. Attending college, university and then caring for small children made it difficult to volunteer for several years, but once my children were more independent, I could not wait to get started again, and three months after moving to my present community I joined the local arts council. The following year I began teaching catechism at my local parish and volunteering at my children's school when I could.

Volunteering has always been a way for me to give of my time, use my brain, and challenge my organizational skills. I like the freedom of volunteering. I can give as much as I want to, but maintain a great deal of freedom and flexibility within my various roles, which allows me to be the wife and mother I need to be. Unlike a lot of paid work, I can set my own schedule and give myself a break on occasion because 'I'm only a volunteer.' I can work mainly from home, but enjoy the social aspect of working with others in a group setting as well. I can gain skills and knowledge, but I am seldom under pressure to do so. In my role within the arts council I have been able to fine tune my writing skills just by creating articles for the newspaper, applying for government grants, and penning official letters. In my role as coordinator for the after school program at my church, I have been able to work with children, whom I love, and improve my communication and organizational skills.

Without volunteers, much of the good work which is accomplished in our world today simply could not be done, and people who volunteer for organizations have to feel appreciated at some level. Volunteering also has to have an element of fun or levity, or working for free becomes a drag fairly quickly. All too often, volunteers experience 'burnout' from working too hard for too long without enough thanks and without that much needed levity, and organizations would do well to remember that. Most volunteers are happy to have a place to give of their time and energy, but none of us wants to be taken for granted or be treated as if we were low paid, entry level staff.

Most volunteer positions tend to have an expiry date in my opinion, especially the ones which require the most energy, and when a person begins to lose their zest and enthusiasm for their position it may be time for them to step aside and allow someone else to take over. I happen to be at that point with one of my volunteer positions. This year of teaching for and coordinating our church's after school program has not been a bad one. I have enjoyed the children as always and done my job with dedication, however, I believe in this and all situations, I would prefer to go out on a high note rather than wait until I am so exhausted that people, particularly the children, start noticing my waning enthusiasm. For, I am exhausted. When someone like myself who has dedicated nearly ten years to a program begins to have serious difficulty gearing herself up for another day on the job, it is someone else's turn to step up to the plate.

So, what will I do with all that extra time? For the past several years, and as noted by readers of this blog, I have been writing. I want to dedicate more time to that. I am at a point where writing has become this 'thing of great importance' to me. The arts council, too, is becoming more and more of a professional organization, and that professionalism takes time, energy and constant focus. My eldest daughter will graduate from high school next year and will need my time and energy, too. I know this because I have been through two graduations before, with my boys. My youngest daughter is becoming more involved in her musical theater program next year and I am finding myself morphing into that persona of 'stage mother' (but no, not that kind of stage mother, I hope). This year I have searched second hand shops for costume pieces and props, painted set pieces, and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. And, after witnessing my daughter act in her first show with the performing arts school she attends, I'm in for it! She threw herself into her role with wild, but disciplined abandon, and was so exhausted afterwards, but oh, so elated, too. Clearly, my personal and family situations are 'moving on' and I need to move with them.

This morning at 4 a.m. I lay awake composing my letter of resignation to our parish priest. It was a good one. I wish I could remember it. For the moment, however, I will just say, in the words of Porky Pig, "That's all, Folks!" 

Thanks to all my blogger friends for your patience. I will get to reading your posts soon. Our family dealt with some very sad news this week - the sudden death of a friend. This post was started mid last week and just finished today when I could finally turn my mind to it. I will have a new post up on my Stella blog soon, too, so please check back for that. 

May 18, 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest about Voting

British Columbia is known to the rest of the country for three things, mainly: wonderful wilderness, wacky tobacky (marijuana growing and consuming), and wacky politics. We even had a premier back in the 1950's whom everyone called Wacky Bennett and seem always to be dealing with some scandal, fiasco or nail-biting bi-election. We had yet another full-on demonstration of the wackiness of our politics this week, in that, despite polls all pointing to a majority government being formed by one party, when it came down to it, not only did the far-ahead-in-the-polls government lose the election, they even lost several seats in the legislature to candidates from the opposing party. Everyone shook their heads at the result, even the winning party themselves couldn't believe it, and the next day, every type of media available was attempting to unravel the mystery of the Bizarre Provincial Election of 2013. And we are still all talking about it, many of us in mourning for the death of our hopes for a new government to replace the present one who have, from the perspective of many, done enough damage, thank you very much.

One of the main topics of conversation around the proverbial water cooler is the percentage of the electorate who voted, or more accurately, didn't vote. Only 52% of eligible voters took the time and opportunity to mark a ballot and have their vote counted. Apparently, according to some statistics I read this week, in 1983 70% of the electorate voted and the numbers have been sliding ever since. Theories as to why this is the case abound, as well as ideas of what to do about it. I find the numbers disheartening. Here we are in a democratic country where no one has to risk their lives to vote, where women can vote, where one's local candidates will find a ride for you to the voting station, and where every effort is made to make voting easy and convenient - although one cannot, as yet, vote on a smartphone in between updating one's Facebook status  - and yet nearly half of eligible voters still refuse to exercise their democratic right to help choose their next representative in the capital, Victoria, a city celebrating all things Victorian this Victoria Day weekend.

I wonder just what it is that causes so many not to vote. Is it a feeling of disconnection? Is it a 'none of the above' response to the available candidates? Is it due to sense of helplessness in the grand scheme of things? Is it laziness? Anarchy? Anti-government sensibilities? Ignorance as to what it is our Members of the Legislative Assembly actually do in Victoria? I wish there was a way to find out why people don't vote, and a better way to engage voters. I really don't think the television commercials and endless messages via social media are doing it, not because TV and social media are not effective tools of communication, but that somehow, the parties go about promoting themselves in the wrong way. One of our parties, the Liberals, chose the attack ad route, resorting to placing a cut-out of the New Democratic Party's leader on a weather vane which moved back and forth to show his apparent 'shift with the wind' policies, and dragging out a long-forgiven forged memo from back in the mid-nineties. The New Democrats decided to run a clean campaign with no attack ads, only somewhat bland commercials showing nicely dressed, smiling folks planting flowers and hiking in the forest with their children and saying, "I'm ready for a change in government," without really pinpointing what that change would look like, specifically. As for the other parties, The Conservatives and The Green Party, along with several independents, they apparently lacked the funds for TV and YouTube spots apart from the televised debate which many analysts say was the turning point in the election. The Green Party ended up with a seat in the Legislature for the very first time, and our Premier actually lost her seat to an NDP candidate. She will now have to convince another winning MLA to give up his or her seat so she can enter the Legislature. Her party, however, did win the election overall, with a resounding lead. Did the attack ads work? Or were people just listening too much to the polls and became apathetic about the other parties actually needing their vote? It is very hard to say, and each party's representatives have convincing arguments to support their point of view.

On election night I heard one analyst say that "this election will be studied in universities and books will be written about it." The result was certainly unexpected, but by now, we in British Columbia should expect the unexpected when it comes to our politics. The sun will go on rising and setting no matter which party is in power, but if 48% of us are not voting, we need an overhaul of the system, or societal attitudes for that matter, because the issues at stake are huge for us all. Jobs, the environment, stagnating inflation, education, rising medical costs, child poverty, increased homelessness, disenfranchised youth, funding for arts, culture and heritage (okay, maybe we don't all care about that, but I do!) - how can anyone say they are not personally affected by the decisions made by a bunch of suits in Victoria? How can anyone say their vote does not matter? If only 52% of us vote, how can an election not have some elements of a farcical comedy?

Have a lovely weekend, all! It's a nice, long one here. The above photo of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria is from The Georgia Straight publication. Looks a bit stormy, doesn't it?

May 11, 2013

Big Things for Blog Post 200

I saw the most enormous recreational vehicle the other day. It was nearly twice as long as my neighbour's RV, which is the size of a small motel room and much fancier. She gave me a tour one day. The kitchen was complete with cupboards above and below, a decent amount of counter space along with a tidy sink, stove and refrigerator. The dining area could be expanded out the side with the push of a button, and the bedroom was fitted with a queen-sized bed, wood paneling, carpeting and mood lighting - and hers is a moderately sized 'fifth wheel trailer', called such because the front of it attaches over the box of her truck. Plenty of people around here have nearly the same one, so I suppose one could call it the average.

The R.V. I saw the other day blew by me on the highway when I was running and just seemed, like a train, to keep on going. It reminded me of another RV I saw years ago. I remember driving (nearly twenty-one years ago now) on the Alaska Highway with my very new husband, when we were passed by a bus. Except this was no ordinary bus. It was a private bus with dark windows and a pastel pink and blue paint job which exactly matched the expensive S.U.V. it was towing behind it. After the bus pulled into our lane, purring as it went, we saw the brand name in gold, three-dimensional script: Ferrari. I am fairly sure that Ferrari does not make recreational vehicles of that sort, so the bus we saw must have been a custom job for someone. "Ooooooo," we both said, and wondered who was hidden behind those tinted windows.

With our camping gear stuffed in the back of our Toyota Tercel hatchback, we were slung low to the road, the RVs towering high above us. After living and working a few months at Panorama Mountain Village resort in the high and dry cattle country of the eastern part of our province, the dry heat was what we were used to, and anyway, we had no air conditioning in that car. We drove a long way without enough water for drinking and few places to buy any bottled drinks. While the travelers in the RVs enjoyed the luxuries we went without, a place to go pee when they needed to, cupboards full of food and a fridge full of cold beverages, we sweltered in the hot afternoons and listened to music from our cassette collection. We arrived at the campground and, if it had showers, we gratefully washed off the road dust and grimy sweat. We slept alright, everything considered, in our much needed bug-proof tent each night of our three day journey from the south of the province 'due up,' as Daffy Duck would have it, to The North to take part in a seven-day river rafting expedition down the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers.

Living near the TransCanada Highway now, we see giant RVs, although I have yet to see another Ferrari bus, all the time, especially at this time of year. They don't impress me much anymore. I think of the amount of gas they guzzle and shudder. We are car campers and always have been. I am, however, especially as I get older, open to moderately priced and environmentally friendly change.

It was when we started camping on the West Coast, land of fog and mist and the occasional downpour, that I found myself slightly envying those with trailers. While I have never desired the Las Vegas-hotel-suite-on-wheels sort of experience, it did occur to me that being able to sleep up off the damp ground might not be a bad thing. I began to dream of a pop-up tent/trailer hybrid such as some of our friends had, with storage on board and a simple fold out kitchen on the side. I would see people pulling these tent-trailers behind their mini-vans and think, 'I could get into that.'

We still don't have a tent -trailer for two reasons:

 1)  So far, my husband is a camping purist, which means tents, sleeping bags, roll-up mats, and a camp stove in dubious working order that will burn the hair off your arms when you are trying to light it. I don't try.

2)  It is hard to justify arguing for one when we rarely go camping these days. Sad, but true, although I am determined we go this summer.

So, I will continue to be fine with sleeping in our tent as long as I can have the following: two roll-up mats to sleep on, and my husband being the first one up in the morning, boiling the water for my coffee. I will even enjoy the experience, after the first night, of course. I never have a good first night anywhere away from home. Not even if I were to sleep on a Ferrari bus.

Yes, this is my 200th post, believe it or not. I started this blog back in the fall of 2009, and it has been a rich experience, meeting other bloggers from around the world and writing all these letters. 
I also want to welcome the two people who have recently joined this blog. I hope you like it here.

May 3, 2013

The Audition

The Violinist by Thomas Eakins

As we sat on one of the many sofas in the music building's lobby, or stood, or walked around the campus, I observed the other parents who had brought their talented children to audition for the university's music program. Our boy had put a year of his life into preparing for this audition, taking music theory, history and harmony courses, studying tutorials online and wrestling to conquer a difficult Bach Fugue and a Mendelssohn concerto until he could play them upside down and backwards, or so it seemed. Our family, just like all the other families in the room, had found the money for private lessons and supported our child from his first days of drawing a scratchy bow across his quarter-sized violin strings, and I wondered how the other parents were feeling that day as they also waited. I was not nervous because I knew in my heart that even if he was not accepted into the orchestral performance program, he would be able to say that he could not have done more to prepare for his chance to show the department what he could do. At the end of the day of theory tests and a private audition with the heads of both the strings department and the orchestral department, our boy came out smiling, giving us the thumbs up. Everything had gone according to plan for him.

Our son began with the Suzuki method, which encourages children and parents to practice together. I had taken years of piano lessons and so downstairs we would go after supper each night to practice. We went through five levels of Suzuki before the piano accompaniment became too complicated for me, but I also think it was time for the two of us to go our separate ways. I was often tired after a busy day of working and mothering, and I confess my patience was a little on the thin side. We sometimes argued about a passage and how to get it right. I'll admit that I pushed him fairly hard in those days, recognizing his talent and wanting him to strive to be the best he could be. Somehow I just knew I could not let him give up on himself, and I hoped to teach him that hard work, perseverance and steady progress would overcome his frustrations, which seemed to be as regular as his many victories. He could be very difficult sometimes, and emotional, but over the years he learned to regulate and harness those emotions to feed his technical talent and make it into something beautiful.  Once the piano parts were beyond me I decided it was time to step back and let him figure out if he wanted to continue on without me holding, or squeezing, his hand, so to speak, through every practice. He had a short crisis, but got through it and committed to his music on his own terms. He was thirteen. Since then he has developed an excellent work ethic which has crossed over to other areas of his life. He also knows how to relax, and when it is important to do so.

I was not pushed as a child. I was the sixth of six children, so that may have had something to do with it. I practiced my piano, but was never made to take an exam. I never once passed a set of swimming lessons due to the fact that I could not float or swim on my back. I did not need pushing to do well at school, and I was challenged plenty by my parents' way of living and bringing up their children, which was fairly strict and scrupulously honest. Nobody, however, hovered over me like a helicopter at any time in my memory, nor did they inflict their agenda on any of my 'talents', dubious as they were.

I have often wondered if I could have done with some more pushing. I have this sense that I sort of floated through childhood. Apparently, I resisted being organized into any activity such as Brownies (girl scouts) or sports before the age of ten. I remember a lot of playing and a lot of reading, always piano and some ballet lessons, and a lot of teasing from my brothers, whom I loved after all. Nor have I pushed my other three children. Sure, I made them all take music lessons, at least for a few years, and insisted they do their best in school, but besides my violinist, I have sort of sat back while they all excelled far beyond my expectations. I have stepped in when necessary and been their main cheerleader and psychologist, but after asking my daughter last night if she ever felt I pushed her and having her respond 'No' with a laugh, I am confident that my approach has been appropriate.  Their dad and I have striven to help them learn to discipline themselves so that they gain satisfaction in their various accomplishments. I want the best for them, of course, but it is not my best. It is their best.

One hears from time to time of children who were pushed relentlessly by their parents to excel, and grew up to hate them. As I looked around the lobby of the university music building I wondered if any of the parents there had done so. I hoped not. I also reflected that perhaps my lack of skill at the piano had saved our situation. For once, I was glad I had not been more proficient.

Our son waited for a couple of weeks for news from the university. I was in the kitchen one morning when he came in saying, "Guess what!" He didn't wait for me to answer. "I got accepted into the program." I gave him a hug and phoned his dad at work - he was ecstatic and so proud.

We have a lovely new spring recipe over at Stella's Virtual Cafe: Roasted beet and Spinach Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.   Have a lovely weekend! It's going to be positively summery here.