Oops! The Cost of Multitasking

Through detailed scientific investigation, I determined the cost of multitasking to be $49.95. US. What’s that, $70 Canadian? Ouch.

Like any academic endeavour, I started with a hypothesis. I predicted that while the guy on the webinar was introducing his topic, I could scroll through Instagram on my phone. And answer a few quick emails in another window. My methods involved leaning back in my chair, scrolling Insta with my left hand (a talent perfected with practice) and moving my computer mouse with my right. My ears were engaged (theoretically) with the webinar. I chose a time of day (not really, the webinar schedule was not within my control) when one cat was sleeping and the other satisfied with an occasional pat with my foot. The only unusual aspect of the experimental design was that I had no food or beverages with me, an oversight I will rectify in future studies.

Continue reading “Oops! The Cost of Multitasking”

Breathing in 2021

There are meaningful, lyrical pieces written about hope, renewal and vaccination in the new year. This is not one of them. I do feel hopeful – and impressed, yay scientists! – with the covid vaccine rolling out (shooting out? injecting out?) already. But I don’t feel able to offer inspiration to you, lovely readers, because we’re all experiencing this pandemic so differently. You may have extra time or far less, financial strain or more money in your pocket, gratitude for relationships or strife or loneliness, good health or a sore nose from all the swabs you’ve had. You may cry each day or savour the chance to live in pajamas, or both. I’ve struggled and found new joys, and had deep lows and guilty highs (and bought lots of new pajamas).

One thing I’m sure of is that we’re all living with uncertainty. There’s shaky ground beneath us and fog clouding the path ahead, so my main intention for 2021 is to be kind and continue to cut everyone some slack.

Continue reading “Breathing in 2021”

The Joy of Quirky Kijiji

Here in Ontario, we use a ‘craigslist’-type site called kijiji. Go on, take a minute to savour how fun it is to say kijiji out loud. It’s fun to write too, with all those little dots. For me the best part is the window it opens into people’s quirky lives. I have a folder filled with cut-and-pasted ads I call “Kijiji Poetry”.

Wanted:looking for a lost passport  

the passport is in my black backpack, i lost the backpack.

My fascination started with a post asking for a “quiet horse” and I was hooked. Why quiet? Would it be kept near neighbours (neigh, haha) who might complain? Are most horses noisy? Were there no other required characteristics, just quietness?

Continue reading “The Joy of Quirky Kijiji”

My Screen-free Weekend (#NotQuite)

I’ve had lots of screen-free time before, when camping or travelling, and of course, for the decade or so of my life when the only screen was a black and white tv tucked in a dank basement.

With *everything* going on and the end of my online coursework for now, I decided to have a screen-free weekend at home. Just me, cats, books, pens, notebooks, crossword puzzles and the outdoors. I told a few key people I’d be off-grid, set my phone on Do Not Disturb at 5 on Friday, and tucked my laptop away. It was a great experience – highly recommend – but it didn’t go as planned.

My Journal

Hour one: My fingers are already covered in fountain pen ink. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

Hour two (actually, first 15 minutes, just lived in denial a bit longer): I can’t wait to tweet about this. I’ll take a picture of … oh. Can’t take pictures.

Hour two (for real): WAIT! It’s not really offline if I’m thinking about what I’m going to post online.

No more journal.

Well, lots more journal, but the kind where I’m writing to sort out my thoughts and feelings (or to enjoy a new ink), not crafting potential social media posts.

Lessons Learned

The funniest lesson was that I have no way of knowing the weather forecast without a screen and that my ability to read the clouds and wind is, um, less reliable than I’d imagined. Laughing out loud is good for the soul though, so every time the snowflakes hit my sunglasses and bare ankles, my soul (and the occasional dog walker) got a treat.

Sleep

It came as a great surprise that I could fall asleep – and wake up! – without playing spider solitaire or boggle on my phone for an hour. I turned out the light, got comfortable, and boom, eight hours of the good stuff. I do usually sleep alright, but without the game playing my eight hours started and ended earlier, so there I was, up and raring to go at 5:30 a.m. (Truth is, it was before 5 a.m., I’m just embarrassed about how early I go to bed.)

From now on, the only games I’ll play in bed will involve another person! (post-pandemic, sigh)

TIME

Ridiculous amounts of time. So. Much. Time. I’d had no particular plan to get a lot done, no big projects to tackle, but I was full of energy and there were no tweets or YouTube rabbit holes to get expend it on. I did a full day’s worth of chores around the house and, oh look, it’s 8 a.m.

It was all the extra time that did me in. I’d done more writing, reading, cleaning, walking, cooking, yoga, laundry and crossword puzzles than I imagined possible over the span of a week, and it wasn’t even dinner time. Maybe I had a lot of pent-up energy, I don’t know, but I ran out of things to do. I wasn’t bored, just done with the activities I’d been doing. Reading and writing need time to marinate, to float around in my head before I jump into the next world of words.

Focus

Every task I did got my undivided attention. Time stretched out, so there was no fluster if I needed to go back down to the basement or up to the attic for something or start over when things weren’t working out as planned. All those little mistakes I make when I’m rushing? Gone.

I use the Notes app on my phone to jot down random thoughts about what I need to do or check or buy. This weekend, when I had one of those thoughts, I wrote it on a sticky note. No big deal, right? Wrong! The first time it happened, I was making fudge and thought of a great christmas gift for my brother (non-fudge-related, no spoilers here). I wrote it down and … went back to the fudge. I didn’t see a bunch of notifications and click through to find out who was messaging me or liked an old tweet, no googling, I just made fudge. Using paper for quick notes is another change that’s going to stick. The fudge, by the way, is not complicated to make, yet somehow turned out way better this time than usual. Focus.

Cats

Our cats are not the stand-offish sort. They expect (demand?) constant attention and affection, and only settle into their hundred hours of sleep a day when they’re near (or on) a person. They were unsettled by my pottering around. They are 100% enablers of a couch-potato lifestyle. They’re also unused to being left alone now because I work from home a lot and my daughter’s school hours are less than half of usual. I did all my outdoor wanderings in one long trip to minimize their trauma, but it meant I was exhausted and hungry when I got home. Their neediness and my hangriness were a rough combination.

We found our balance again (we all had treats). But the tears in my perfect day had started, and I worried at them, pulling threads of dissatisfaction and regret. Why did I try to DO so much today? Why didn’t I just let myself BE?

Avoiding Avoidance

Almost every time I thought of reaching for my phone or laptop I realized it was because I was trying to avoid something. An unpleasant emotion? Let’s take a picture of a cat. Task I want to have done but am not really thrilled about the ‘doing’ part? Online window-shopping seems so appealing. This played out over and over again. I can still avoid things without technology, really I’m a master at it, so the interesting thing to me was the noticing. Reaching for my phone is a sign I can use to notice active avoidance.

I Gave In

Almost 24 hours to the minute from when I turned things off, I desperately wanted them back on. I’d finished a great novel (The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, also highly recommend) and wasn’t ready to start a new one. I couldn’t do more exercise, my butt was already screaming every time I shifted my weight and I’ve learned that overdoing it physically lands me in a bad mood. My writing needed to percolate too. It was getting dark outside, the cats were relaxed for the first time all day, and I thought, I’ll do a jigsaw puzzle! Except I thought it without that exclamation mark.

I tried just sitting, savouring a glass of wine. I wrote in my journal. After an hour of distracting myself from my obsessive thoughts about it, I convinced myself that the only thing I could possibly do was read the non-fiction e-book I had started on my laptop. It was on loan from the library after all, and the sooner I was done with it, the sooner someone else could enjoy it.

Without google, I couldn’t find out if there was a way to turn on my laptop without seeing all the messages and notifications because I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist checking them. I’ll tell you, it took me a long while to come up with the brilliant idea to turn off the internet, just unplug my router. No wifi, no worries.

I read my ebook (but couldn’t return it to the library without the internet, oops). I have many other books I could have read. I don’t know why the pull of opening a device was so strong. It wasn’t social media I missed, and certainly not the news, it was the familiarity and comfort of sitting with my happy MacBook. I used it more on Sunday too, to type up and edit the work I’d done Saturday on my own book and a freelance job.

I went to bed without spider solitaire and woke up with a paw in my face at 6:20 on Sunday. I loved not having my phone there as I started the day.

What next?

Experiencing the shock of time and focus available to me when I’m offline means it’s a no-brainer that I’ll make this a regular habit. Maybe every Saturday? One evening a week? Two?

As an exercise in intentionality, I used to say out loud (yes, my kids laughed at the awkwardness of it) my reason for turning on my computer or picking up my phone. I might try that again, or simply remember the joy of single-tasking and pretend no internet exists whenever I can.

Having used my laptop Saturday so already “failed” at being screen-free, there was less sense of testing myself Sunday. I again enjoyed baffling amounts of free time. There was pretty snow falling, so I left my weather app untouched and bundled up for a walk in the winter wonderland. The cats lay on top of me for ages when I returned, and we all did nothing more than watch the snowflakes fall.

Until I decided the weekend ended at 5 p.m. Sunday, returned my library e-book and spent the evening writing this post and watching Netflix 🙂

Big Thoughts and Belly Laughs

In a recent text exchange about my potato of a cat, I told a friend “I am a (sometimes) very happy large potato of a person and have never felt more myself than in this big body.”

I’ve been small and large to extremes, on and off throughout my life. My weight sometimes changed dramatically in a short period of time for no obvious reason, while other times, the yoyo was due to pregnancy and breastfeeding, exercise, disordered eating, stress, and menopause. The longest I’ve ever stayed the same size was three years, and that was only once; I’ve always kept a drawer of clothing that is the next two sizes up and two sizes down to switch into as the yoyo did its thing.

Fear ruled my life for decades. Being overweight was a disgraceful fate I was warned about from childhood. At my high school for gifted students we were told, “smart people don’t get fat.” As we broke up, an ex-boyfriend cursed me, saying, “I hope you get fat!” (And I did, shhh don’t tell him about his powers). Too many people to list gave me advice about changing my size without knowing anything about me and my body. I was always praised for having the self-control to starve myself.

“I am a (sometimes) very happy large potato of a person and have never felt more myself than in this big body.”

My no-longer-disordered eating habits are nothing dramatic. I eat regular healthy meals of simple whole foods and occasional junk food. People sometimes comment on how little I eat (the “considering how big you are” part goes unsaid), and a doctor told me he’d never seen anyone with such a slow metabolism. I have no health issues, but my natural muscle tone is quite low. One consistent way for me to get smaller is by building big muscles through heavy weight training. I don’t do that right now, I mostly do yoga and walking. I ran marathons in the past (for fun, really), but that made me hungry and I ate more so it didn’t affect my size one way or another. When I worked out a lot (as in, a couple of hours every single day, as in, before I had children), I was slim and toned but also self-obsessed. I couldn’t relax because any change to my routine might lead to instant obesity.

My recent path to this big body was gradual, mostly related to going through menopause. And the neatest thing happened! My large pregnancy belly came back. I rest my hands on it all the time, half expecting to feel a kick ❤️ Rather than being upset about it, I find it nostalgic and heartwarming. I remember being in the shower with my daughter when she was a toddler. She touched my little stretch-marked pooch of a belly and lost herself in giggles at its funny movement, like jello. We played the game often because I couldn’t get enough of that belly laugh.

The odd thing is, I don’t feel shame or disgust at my big body this time around, I feel comfortable and home. During the times I was slim, I often felt like I was playing a part, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. I “carry my weight well,” meaning I feel like an impostor no matter my size (a boyfriend’s mother would buy me size S clothing and I’d cut my size L tags off for fear she’d find out the truth). I didn’t like the constant worry that whatever magic combination of exercise and hormones led to that small size would disappear as unpredictably as it arrived, which it often did. This time, though, no fear. This is me, full of belly laughs.

I don’t post many pictures of myself online because even as a middle-aged woman with only a headshot showing, I get more than enough random creepy guys in my DMs. Not to mention, the natural world is beautiful, and I have cats and kids to take photos of, why worry about selfies? Today I remembered destroying all the pictures of my previous large-self each time I got small again (yeah, messed up, I know) and thought, I want to celebrate my don’t-give-a-f*ck menopausal body. I have nothing to hide, I love this body and have never felt so comfortable in it, so here it is 😊 [and thank god I got rid of those pregnancy bangs!]

Size 2 or 2X, I’m always Karen.

Ritual of Reflection

My mind can be so easily fooled, I rely on its gullibility. My brain shifted from stress to comfort with the change of a single word.

My old list of monthly tasks = chores. Weight on my shoulders. Adulting. Responsibility. Burdens.

My monthly ritual = soothing. Calm, comforting self-care. Aaaaaaah.

I look forward to the time I set aside each month to reflect, tidy up loose ends, and plan ahead. My ritual evolves as life changes (not sure about you, but things are, um, chaotic? here) and it shifted from being a list of things to do into a reassurance that at least once a month, I’d be tending to things that matter to me. I no longer worry about whether I’m ‘behind’, I rest easy knowing things won’t fall through the cracks or get lost in the whirligig of life.

I attend to the parts of my ritual over a few days around the end of each month, ideally with at least one weekend day in there to give me the s p a c e and stillness I need to reflect. I take as much or as little time as suits me.

And because it’s a ritual, I can make it as fun or woowoo as I want! I play music, say mantras, light candles, you name it, I OWN my ritual ❤️

Caring for my heart

  • Reread my journal entries and planner pages from the last month, noting anything I want to keep. 
  • Ask myself a list of questions to reflect, to help me remember the good stuff and choose how to spend my time the next month.

Caring for my kids, friends and family (and cats!)

  • Look through the month ahead and build in celebrations, down time, school time etc.
  • Check-in with my regulars as well as someone I didn’t connect with in the month before.
  • Go through photos (SO MANY CAT PICTURES), delete lots, share the best ones.
screenshot of many pictures in my camera roll, mostly cats
Cats and kids, welcome to my camera roll.

Caring for my home

  • Notice a neglected chore that’s been nagging at me and take care of it.
  • Declutter and take a load to goodwill or the women’s shelter.
  • Digital declutter: bookmarks, downloads, emails in my pending list, random things saved to my desktop
  • Fill in my planner with dates for bills due, garbage pick-up (ours is every 6 business days … not the easiest to keep track of), and anything else of note.
a view of a residential street on a sunny day with vines and trees and blue sky
the view from my porch ❤️

Caring for my business

  • Send out friendly messages and invoices to freelance clients, play with my financial spreadsheets (yes, I enjoy this, always have, lucky me 😊).
  • Update my resume and portfolio if I did anything exciting. Find something exciting to do if not.

My ritual involves pens and notebooks that bring me joy. I might trap myself under two snoring cats, away from my phone or laptop, or sit outdoors with coffee or wine (or gin! a friend recently re-introduced me to this delight).

a shelf unit with many dozens of pens
a few of my pens

I still take pleasure in checking tasks off a list (who doesn’t?) but for this, I just remember what matters and attend to it. Month-end went from being busy and burdensome to a time I eagerly await. (I mean, I’m writing this post to pass time until my next month-end).

I wonder what else I can trick my mind into? 

Chapter 1

Being accused of murder sure makes it hard to enjoy new-found freedom from an abusive ex.

Escape Artist

I’m writing a book! Wanna teaser? It’s a mystery so you might have to sit in suspense for awhile … while I write the rest of it, lol. The link to Chapter 1 of Escape Artist, set in my beloved Newfoundland, is below.

I drafted a couple of novels before, but one didn’t work plot-wise and the other didn’t work character-wise. I borrowed bits and pieces from both and put together an outline for this baby that is SO MUCH FUN to write. I’m taking a course in writing mysteries right now and I *live* for mysteries so, whee!

Have a read, let me know what you think. Neil Gaiman said,

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Neil Gaiman : https://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/22573969110/for-all-the-people-who-ask-me-for-writing

Comment here or email me (karen [at] karenlowry [dot] ca) and tell me what’s working for you and what’s not – don’t worry about how it should be fixed, I’ll have fun sorting that out myself 🙂

Click here! (or go to EscapeArtistBook.com)

Chapter 1

Let’s circle back to buzzwords because they’re holding you back

A dictionary of ways to avoid annoying readers

Early in the pandemic, many of my friends laughed when they heard their partners talk in zoom meetings for work. One friend said, “I didn’t know they were bilingual.” It turned out my friend’s partner was fluent in Management Speak. On zoom, they engaged stakeholders in paradigm-shifting dialogue to elucidate considerations for the forward-facing journey. With their family, they talked.

Linguists have a term for this: “code-switching” describes the changes you hear when a teenager turns from talking with a teacher to chat with their friends, or when a person alternates between two languages in one conversation. It’s a great skill – being able to get your point across well in different ways with different listeners. If you’re talking differently to your staff and customers than you do to other people though, you risk sounding inauthentic. 

Why not use buzzwords?

  1. They are hard to understand. They can be common words used to mean something different within the business world. “Appreciate” often means gratitude, but when a manager says they “appreciate this is a difficult time, but you need to work harder,” they are not giving thanks.
  2. Staff and customers may understand what you say, but not trust you because of how you say it. The longer the words used and the more jargon-y they are, the more negative the reaction. Readers or listeners think there’s a hidden message trying to be softened through indirect and vague wording. They can feel put down too – as though the one using the fancy words thinks they’re better than mere mortals who don’t utilize formality in dialoguing. They use the word talk. (Honestly, could we please just strike the word utilize from all documents everywhere? I made a macro in Microsoft Word to do just that. It’s very satisfying.)
  3. Buzzwords tend to be exaggerations. This Ricoh media release for printers (yes, the machines that put ink onto paper) calls them “key enablers of agility and innovation,” and well, that seems less likely to encourage sales than “they put ink on paper well”.
"Business leaders identify print as a key strategic asset for growth and innovation. ... European business leaders have identified new printing technologies as key enablers of agility and innovation." from www.ricoh-europe.com.

What words do people hate the most?

Utilize. I think I covered this above 🙂

Paradigm. Send me your sentences that you feel MUST have this word in them. I’m happy to make them simpler and less annoying.

Capacity-Building. I hear from many people they’re tired of asking for help only to be told they’re going to have their capacity built up. What does that mean? Are you teaching a skill? Say so. Are you doing something else? Please tell us what you’re doing. I’m at full-capacity for BS at the moment.

Think Outside the Box. In a 2017 survey, Workfront asked which buzzwords were most overused and this one topped the list at 47% of respondents wanting the box to please be banished. (https://www.workfront.com/sites/default/files/resource/file_pdf/2018-05/2017-2018-state-of-enterprise-work-report-u-s-edition.pdf)

Synergy. This was reported as the second most-overused word in the survey mentioned above. It’s a shame because it was a lovely word before the business world discovered it, but I see immediate eye rolls when it’s used in meetings. It also topped the list of hated buzzwords in a survey done by GetResponse (https://www.getresponse.com/blog/the-most-hated-business-jargon-corporate-buzz-words).

A Doom of Zooms

A cat with its mouth open in front of a computer screen.
my zoom companion

Like everyone, I find it hard to sit in zoom meetings all day and tend to check-out mentally, so I play mind games that keep me focused. I’m me, so they’re word games. One day, I decided to write down all the buzzwords used in my zooms. First I had a team meeting, and except for me saying I’d “touch base” with them later that week, everyone spoke in plain English the whole hour. I was oddly disappointed.

Luckily … I had a management meeting next! It wasn’t even called a meeting! It was a Huddle. I carefully wrote “huddle” at the top of my page. I need not have been so tidy because the next hour was a riot of sloppy handwriting as I tried to keep up with the deliverables, alignment and leveraging points. Whew!

Why does this happen? The people I work with are doing great work in a friendly environment. It’s not a competitive place where people need to ‘signal’ their superiority by using the jargon of the day. I think it’s a mixture of habit and fear. Fear of having hard conversations.

On a town hall zoom in my community, I paid attention to the function of the buzzwords used and found most of them were roundabout ways of saying, “I don’t know,” or “I disagree.”

Q: “When will this project be finished?”

A: “We’re thinking outside the box to find synergy with our external partners for capacity-building.”

Ouch.

How can I change?

Pretend you’re talking to your family or friends. If they asked you, “What are you hoping to tell people at today’s meeting?” What would your answer be? Use those words. (Except maybe the sarcastic or swear words that slip into your personal conversations … a little code-switching to basic politeness is always welcome).

Show your written work to someone outside your usual circle at work, or better yet to someone you hope would be a reader – a customer, client or random member of the public. Say, “Please tell me how this looks to you. Is it understandable? How do you feel reading it?”

Practice kind, direct ways to say hard things. Practice saying, “I don’t know,” and “I disagree.”

Buzz

My shaded face looks back at me from the zoom screen with the start of a scream invisible to others.

“While I appreciate all players aren’t on the same page, we need to circle back to our core strategy with stakeholder engagement informing our paradigm.”

As toddlers learn to talk, they use the same word for asking, telling, and protesting. Understanding is noticing which it is.

She said, “I don’t know what that means.”

Women are taught to take up as little space as possible. Living out loud is dangerous.

It is easy to say, “I disagree.”

This is a poem I wrote for a writing class exercise with instructions for each line. The last line is a lie.

What jargon do you love to hate?

Spelling Rules Only a Canadian Can Love

Frustrated by your spell-checker? Learn to laugh at those squiggly red lines under our Canadianisms.

Whether you’re a Canadian writer or someone who comes-from-away writing about us, you need to know these spellings and vocabulary unique to canucks (the people, not the hockey team).

We start with a combination of British and American spellings. Then we mix in our own quirks and a heavy dose of Québécois French and Indigenous languages. We welcome newcomers and their languages. No wonder spell-check is confused!

a maple leaf of mixed fall colours on a boardwalk
Fredericton, NB

Canadian school kids enjoy these built-in excuses for mistakes on spelling tests – for you it may be a double-double load of extra work. 

Read on to lighten that load.

The basics: British or American spelling?

We consume American books and online information like a two-four at a bonspiel and never shifted fully to the metric system. Our english language roots are distinctly British though. I mean, I live in a city called London, with a Thames river running through it.

We differentiate ourselves from our neighbours to the south by writing cheques from our chequing accounts and doubling our ll’s in constructions like travelling or cancelled. The most common difference from the US (aside from an imperfect-but-functioning-democracy) is that we include “u” in words like colour, favourite and neighbour.

Not to appear too tight with the British, however, we use the American z in words like analyze and proselytize. We also have programs not programmes and if forced to choose US or British English in a spell-checker, we do better with the US.

But what is correct?

It depends. Both American and British spellings are commonly accepted. You can spell grey or gray, pyjamas or pajamas, and meter or metre. (Not center, though. We cling to our centres.) Large organizations have their own Canadian style guides, as do the press and the government. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary1 features highly in most guides, but it doesn’t have all the answers. If it’s vital that you get it right, hire a Canadian copy editor.

Unique to Canada

The Loony Bin

We have the queen on our money, but our system is dollars and cents not pounds and pence. They’re not American dollars though, the actual bills are a rainbow of Canadian pride.

We are (very!) fond of our one- and two-dollar coins called loonies and toonies. The loonies were named for our national bird, the loon, pictured on the coins. We spent beaucoup de time talking about what to call the two-dollar coin. I voted for doublooney, and the twooney faction put on a good campaign, but we landed on toonie. YES, the singular is spelled toonie. The singular of loonies is loony. Of course. In the interests of national unity, I will avoid ranting about this. Oh, the word rant specifically refers to a famous Newfie, Rick Mercer, wandering through an alleyway speaking truth.

“More Than Meets the Eh” 

(that’s the clever subtitle of Editing Canadian English2)

Our quaint inflection is spelled, eh, and pronounced ay as in hay. It’s not to be confused with aye which you’ll hear in the Maritimes, rhyming with b’y (bye) and meaning yes. B’y (plural, b’ys) means a whole raft of things, often used as “boy” or “guy” but also used in place of eh at times in Newfoundland. Bit of a kerfuffle, eh?

two wooden chairs shaped like fish
Witless Bay, NL

Words about booze have their own category

two-four is a case of 24 beers (some of us pluralize beer), while a twenty-sixer is a bottle of liquor that’s about 26 ounces (typically 750 mL now but the word stuck from our pre-metric days). A twenty-sixer is the same as a fifth in the U.S.A. We also love to sneak a mickey into a hockey game or curling bonspiel – it’s a small flask that fits into the inside pocket of our parkas.

a turquoise lake with trees and hills
Kalamalka Lake, BC

More beverages and food

Mmm coffee is almost as popular as booze. Timmies is what we call the ubiquitous Tim Hortons (there’s no apostrophe in it) coffee and doughnut shops (no donuts here). It’s where we’re likely to order a double-double, a coffee with two sugars and two creams. It’s not where we’d usually go to get poutine, a delicious mix of fries (chips to our British friends), cheese curds and gravy. For the good stuff, we might go to Vieux Montréal, though to be honest, most cities will have a fabulous version – ask the locals, I promise they’re friendly, eh.

Montréal, QC

Who knew?

If you’re a Canadian, don’t use the items below in your content unless you’re flaunting your nationality, which to be honest isn’t very Canadian of you. I was in my fifties and well-travelled before I learned that the rest of the world doesn’t know what a kerfuffle is, so who knows who I confused with it. If you’re not Canadian, enjoy this little cultural exchange, b’ys.

the CN tower and a lamppost
The 6ix
  • The 6ix
    Our famous b’y Drake made the term 6ix equally famous. It refers to Toronto (pronounced Chrawna – that’s a whole other post), the only part of Canada you’re allowed to say bad things about. You can spell it #TheSix but it will seem like you come-from-away – which is okay, we welcome newcomers with open arms.
  • Toque
    Bob and Doug had excellent toques. It rhymes with Luke and is our national hat. 
  • Stagette
    Not sure who came up with this spelling, but it refers to a stag (or bachelor) party, for women. A bachelorette or hen party.
  • Toboggan
    I once unknowingly put a mansplaining European in his place by using this word, forcing him to say he didn’t know what it was. Let me tell you, I SAVOURED spelling it out slowly. I didn’t know then, but it has roots as Canadian as maple syrup, from French and Mi’kmaq origin. It means a sled.
boy on a toboggan
Northern Ontario
  • This isn’t a spelling rule so much as just odd. We call coloured pencils pencil crayons, I don’t know why.
  • Serviette
    I personally love the spelling of this word for napkin. The -ette ending gives it a bit of sass by pretending to be full of class.

What else?

What quirks of Canadian spelling did I miss? What are your favourites? Comment below.

If you’re looking for a local editor, send me a message or read about my services. Take care, eh!

people in a swinging carnival ride against a sky with clouds
Western Fair, London, ON

1 Barber, K. (2001). The Canadian Oxford dictionary / edited by Katherine Barber. Oxford University Press.

Virag, K. (2015). Editing Canadian English: a guide for editors, writers, and everyone who works with words / editor-in-chief: Karen Virag. (Third edition.). Editors’ Association of Canada.

Photo Credits: All by Karen Lowry

Focus

I’ve spent years advising people to declutter their life because it will enhance their ability to focus. Clear away the nonsense and you’re left with what really matters, right?

I started out this pandemic with heartbreak about a writing and yoga retreat I’d looked forward to for months. As I realized it would need to be cancelled, I asked myself what I’d hoped to get out of it so that I could find another way to do that, to take the edge off my disappointment.

Oh, I’d put so much weight on it, so much expectation! I expected nothing less than to come out of it knowing who I was as a writer. What I wanted to write about. How I wanted to write. How to find my voice. What did I want out of the workshop? Focus. (And a complete self-identity, but that’s a bit much to explore here today.)

Expecting to be full of motivation and wanting the skills to achieve my yoga-fuelled writing dreams, I’d also applied to an online creative writing program to start later in the spring. Boosted by an encouraging response to my application and an encouraging friend ❤️, I fast-tracked my coursework and started just before COVID-19 gained a foothold in Canada.

It turns out that working in a pandemic at a full-time job made much more demanding by the pandemic, as a single mother of two kids trying to figure out their schooling and make future life decisions, and adjusting to the realities of staying home while people were getting sick and dying… is not an ideal time to find focus.

We all cluttered the house with our work and art and noise and music and puzzles (so very many puzzles; my daughter, one of our cats and I are obsessed). My son moved out of his dad’s and brought his second household full of stuff to add into the mix, along with the part my heart I lost the first night he slept under another roof more than a decade ago.

In time, we settled into new routines, new stillness and relaxation. I did online workshops about writing and gained new insights, if not quite a new identity. I took the first course in my writing program, on copy editing and proofreading, and WAIT A MINUTE. 

Wow, do I ever get a buzz from editing and proofreading. I dabbled in it for some freelance jobs, was already a member of Editors Canada and knew I liked the work, but I thought I’d chafe at the formality and rigidness of grammar pedants. I was so wrong. No pedants in sight, I dove into the ins and outs of the profession and spent all sorts of ‘leisure time’ soaking up more and more and more about it. I asked my contacts to send any work they had my way and landed a part-time job copy editing academic articles. I get a thrill with each project that lands in my inbox.

What about my writing? No worries on that front. I integrated creative non-fiction into my day job: I started a (hilarious, if I do say so myself) column in our staff newsletter and again, wow is that ever fun. I started writing a new book too, because of course I did (no, I haven’t finished my other two books, I was counting on the workshop to make that magically happen). I’ve got two overlapping writing courses through the summer, including one on digital content, so watch out for a whole whack of experimental posts in this space.

Really, this is a long-winded way to say, I’m changing up my website. I’m removing the references to my consulting and workshop services – those completely dried up with the pandemic anyways, and: FOCUS. It’s all about writing and editing now. I think of editing as decluttering the page to let the message shine through, and I’ve decluttered enough to know where my passions lie.