Women Run Circles around the Men

If you know me, or if you follow my blog, you know that I’m a sports fan. It’s a topic I love to write about, from baseball to hockey to football and basketball. Skiing. Tennis. And of course, the Olympics. Yes I admit it. I love the Olympics. I love to watch the Olympics, whether it’s the winter or summer games. I can’t get enough of it. For the past week and a half I have closely followed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but what has piqued my interest the most are the Canadian women.

I am a person who defines myself in many ways. When I ask myself who I am, I never have a simple answer. Of course I am a mother and a wife. I’m a daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, cousin, friend. I am a writer and communications leader. But I’m also a woman. I’m a woman with a voice, often a loud voice.

My career has been shaped, in part, by choices that I made as a woman. I turned down a promotion, and raise, when my son turned one, so that I could work part-time and be with him. I was laid off from a job during a supposed reorganization weeks after I returned from a year-long maternity leave with my older daughter. I lost another job while I was on maternity leave with my third child!

I learned years ago that I couldn’t do it all. Kudos to the women who find a way to do it all, but for most of us, we need to make choices. If I wanted to be with my children when they were babies, it meant my career slowed down, or at times, paused. If I want to push myself all the way now at work, it means time away from my kids. So many women feel this pull, as they push forward with a career and raise a family.

So, back to where I began and my love of the Olympics. I’m not going to make excuses for that. There are many reasons why the Olympics may be past their prime and need to be rethought for our 21st century society. The cost to plan and execute the games is absurd. Venues are built that often fall into a state of decay a few years later. The lives of the locals are put on hold when the world arrives in their town. Quite frankly, the Olympic games are rather unpopular.

The Olympics has never been less popular than the 2020 games (yes, happening in 2021). Even I, a long-time fan, had my doubts. But, I woke up at 6:30 am back on July 23rd, to watch the opening ceremonies on TV. As soon as the countdown began to the live event, at 7:00 am my time, I was hooked. I watched the athletes march out, each with a woman and man holding their country’s flag, together. I heard the commentators state that Team Canada has about an equal number of men and women this time. There was a feeling in the air that it was an Olympics that wouldn’t just be defined by a global pandemic but also the strength, determination and power of great women.

Before even one game was played or one race run, women made headlines around the world. Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold won an appeal to compete, since she chose to have a baby during the qualifying period. But it wasn’t only Bujold who got a chance to compete. She changed the rules so that in the future, women who are pregnant or postpartum during qualifying will have a chance to compete.

Then there’s Kim Gaucher and her baby, Sophie. She appealed – and won her case – to bring her infant with her to the Olympics so that she could nurse her daughter.  And don’t forget the Norwegian women’s beach handball team who were fined for not wearing bikinis at a European Federation event. It went viral on social media and was not actually connected to the Olympics, but it brought up the role of uniforms for women in sport.

And once the games began, Canadian women are lighting it up. As I write this blog, Team Canada has won 3 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze medals. How many have been won by women? Thirteen. Do the math. 3 + 4 + 6 = 13. With the exception of the great Andre de Grasse who won a bronze medal in the 100 metre sprint), all the medals have been won by women. I do not want to discount the hard work and incredible effort and achievements by our Canadian men. Just being at the Olympics is an achievement. A top 10 finish is amazing. And how about a fourth place finish? Two one-hundredths of a second in a race can separate an athlete from a medal and fourth place.

But let’s go back to the incredible achievement of our Canadian women. Like me, every one of Canada’s female athletes has a story and define themselves in many ways. Some are wives or mothers. They may be students or professionals. And they are all Olympic athletes. It would be hard to find another sporting event around the world where women are adored and celebrated like they are at the Olympic games.

I watched as the Canadian team rowed and raced in the Women’s-Eight event. I was in awe as they pushed themselves to the brink of exhaustion and stayed ahead of the competition from the moment their ores hit the water. This amazing group won gold. They come from diverse backgrounds and came together as one strong team to achieve greatness – while the world watched.

Canadian women are making their mark in the pool, as they swim and dive. Weight lifting. Softball. Judo. And of course rowing. But they are really making their mark on Canadian women – and girls. We are reading about them on the internet. We are watching them achieve greatness on TV. And we are talking about them at home. The story in Canada right now is just how great our female athletes are. These Olympic games are pushing women into the headlines, as we celebrate them every day.

On the weekend the Summer Olympic Games will come to an end. Many of the women who became household names this week will return home, some to train at school, or back to work or hug their kids. It is my hope that we keep the momentum going, to encourage our daughters to be their version of an Olympian. Maybe our girls will be baseball stars, or concert pianists or become a doctor or teacher or write an award-winning novel.

Or maybe win a gold medal at the Olympic games.  Or just compete at the Olympics. And I’ll be there to watch. Every time.

Blueberry Fields Forever

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This afternoon, as usual, I was heads down in work. I have a very busy, and often challenging job, which I love, but sometimes I am so focused on my task at hand, as I jump from virtual meeting to meeting and file to file, that I forget to pause, to look up, to take a break. Like millions of people around the world, for the past 16 months my home is my office, and my office is my home. It’s sometimes hard to separate the two sides of my life. On days when work is particularly busy or, I’ll just say it, demanding and stressful, it can envelop me. I forget that something sweet, and relaxing, and mentally healthy is just steps away: the blueberry patch.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many research studies, papers published and articles written on the virtual workplace or how to balance work and home life, or for women in particular, the tremendous stress we often feel to perform at work and take care of our family. I openly admit that I have a lot on my plate. I love that I have a job where I am respected for my experience and skills, where communications is playing a central role to materially contribute to the success of the business and I am given an opportunity to write almost every day. But as I sit in my home office, when does the work day start and end, and when – and how – can I find time for me? How can I refresh and feel good about myself?

The first way I’ve done that is to escape the city in the summer. I recognize that I am very fortunate that I can do this. I’ve spent the past few weeks living – and working – from my husband’s family country home deep in the mountains in Quebec. I am mere feet away from a beautiful (yet freezing cold!) expansive lake, where the air is fresh and the sunsets are magical. While I work most days from dawn to dusk, when I remember to look up, I see a magical vista. But I rarely take a break.

Today I actually walked away from work and took a short break this afternoon. Which brings me to the blueberry patch. I am surrounded by wild blueberries here. Some years the land is barren, and finding just one blueberry is a challenge. But this year, with our warm spring, that had just enough rain, the conditions were perfect for the patches surrounding the house to bloom and grow. My husband and I, along with his mother, were on a mission last week to pick enough blueberries to have a pie on the weekend (my pie post is for another day. My husband bakes the BEST pie. I am not exaggerating.). I joined them in the evening, after I stopped working for the day, when I was often exhausted. We succeeded. We picked those blueberries and wow was it worth it.

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Some of what we’ve picked the past few days.
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My slice of pie last weekend. Heavenly.

This week we’re on a mission to pick some more, to have enough for him to bake yet another blueberry pie. But this week is different. I looked up at my stunning view early this afternoon – at the mountains, and the lake, even my filthy dog who flitted past the window as she stalked another chipmunk – and I saw the blueberry patch. I decided that I deserved a break. It was healthy for me to walk away from my work and clear my head, in the blueberry patch.

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Selfie in the blueberry patch today!

And that’s exactly what I did. I stood up, grabbed a plastic container and walked into the centre of a huge patch of gleaming bright blue berries. As I sat there (yes I sit in the dirt when I pick blueberries!), in no time I released all stress from my body. It was easy to pick each blueberry, with so many of them clumped together on their delicate branches. I’m careful to only pick the blue ones though. The very immature green berries sit closely packed in beside the maturing purple and fully mature blue.

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In about 20 minutes I had picked about ¾ of a cup of blueberries and it was time to return to work. I felt a sense of accomplishment, that I had contributed to our next pie, and that I did something healthy for myself with a short break, outside. And yes, I had a little snack too. I mean really, how can I not eat just a few as I pick?

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Even my dog can’t resist a blueberry treat!

The wild blueberry patch is a bit of a legend within my husband’s family. Picking the most blueberries is a competition some years, and licking your plate clean after you have consumed your piece of wild blueberry pie is a must.

For me, the wild blueberry patch is an escape. It energizes me and makes me feel happy. I learned today that it’s an important part of my work day. I work better and am more productive when I walk away and take a break. As I think about it, the blueberry patch is a metaphor for a mental health break while we work in our homes. It is sweet, healthy, and just steps away.

Three Kids. Three Provinces.

three kids

I have spent almost every moment of almost every day of the past 16 months with my husband and three kids. And our dog. The global pandemic has shown me, more than ever, the value of family. I feel fortunate that I have a great job where I am surrounded by smart, thoughtful people, and that I have close, wonderful friends who have my back, but really, the centre of my world is my family. That’s why July 2021 is so unique. For the first time in over a year, my family has spread out across Canada. I have three kids, and they are in three provinces.

My life, like that of so many people, changed on March 11th, 2020, when the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Within 72 hours my office closed, the children’s school made plans to switch to online learning and everything around us shut their doors, from the ski hill to the local library to small shops in our neighbourhood. We hid inside our homes, into the safety of our four walls and warm embrace of our families.

The fact that I had a comfortable home, surrounded by my husband and three kids, was not lost on me. Even a year into the pandemic, when online learning continued and there was still no end in sight to Ontario’s lockdown, my three kids kept me sane. Okay, sometimes insane too, when they refused to go to bed or clean up toys or give me just a few minutes of quiet. I got used to this new reality, of life with my family 24/7.

By the middle of May I was fortunate to receive my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Case counts slowly started to drop and summer plans were on my mind. Would summer camp happen? Could we spend some time at our family country homes in Ontario and Quebec? Would the children ever leave the house again?

Our hopes were dashed when Camp Kadimah had to close for another season. But things quickly looked up when my sister and her husband invited Matthew, our eldest, to spend some of the summer with them in New Brunswick. I mean really, how could I say no when someone is offering to take my kid for weeks?

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Matthew’s view this summer

Child #1: Check. Going to New Brunswick.

Julia, my older daughter, HAD to go to camp. Any camp. She joined forces with the first friend she made at Kadimah, and we signed the girls up for overnight camp in Ontario.

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Child #2: Check. Going to overnight camp in Ontario.

Overnight camps don’t take 5-year-olds, nor does my sister. And as I personally had coined the phrase when I was younger… Little persons have to be with their parents, I knew that no matter where I went, Nessa would be with me. If our offices were still closed and the summer was coming, then off to Quebec we would go, to my husband David’s ancestral country home, deep in the mountains by the lake.

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Child #3: Check. Going to the country house in Quebec.

And that is how our summer story came to be: three kids. In three provinces. Matthew is living it up in New Brunswick, by the sea. He is eating new and exciting foods, he is attempting to be flexible, living with many boys, and he’s learning how to sail on the ocean. Julia is experiencing life at a different camp, closer to home, and it’s definitely an adjustment. And for our youngest, well, so far it’s the Summer of Nessa. She’s it, and she knows it. She’s lucky that she’s so cute.

three kids Three kids

We are just about one week into our full summer plans, and I feel really blessed. It all began on my birthday last week, when I woke to a mini celebration of a homemade breakfast, with cheesecake (yum!), and birthday presents. Then our road trip began, as we dropped Julia at her camp then drove east to Ottawa.

three kids

I can’t remember the last time I had stayed at a hotel. It was a bit of a surreal experience, as we walked into an eerily empty lobby and checked in. There was but one valet and one concierge on site. I could count the guests on one hand. It was so quiet that the cheesy phrase, you could hear a pin drop, was true.

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Here’s Nessa’s first political ad.

three kidsWe enjoyed a quiet evening and leisurely morning in Ottawa (including breakfast at a great patio, with our dog), then we were back in the car and over the border into Quebec. There is a wonderful feeling that I get as our car climbs into the mountains and we make our way to our hidden gem of a country house. It’s like our car knows all the curves in the road as we travel through the countryside. The anticipation of the arrival is as wonderful as the actual arrival. As our car turns into the driveway and we see the decades-old, kind of rickety house, and the spectacular lake in front of us, we are filled with a sense of great joy.

three kids

three kids

And so here I am, on a warm summer afternoon, sitting by the lake and thinking about how not long ago I was surrounded by my three kids, locked down in Toronto. Could I have imagined that in July they would be spread across Canada, from Ontario to Quebec to New Brunswick, each experiencing their own unique summer? I am thankful to everyone who helped me make this happen. Three kids. In three provinces. I wonder where we will be next summer.

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My view as I write

Fifty Years of a Golden Life and Love

Love

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

This is the song that played as my  mother walked down the aisle, 50 years ago today, the day she married my father. June 10th, 1971. A different age. A different world. Could they have known on this day what kind of future lay ahead for them, for their family or their lives?

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The all important wedding photo with the parents.

This blog post is not a historical perspective of the past 50 years, nor is it the text of a speech that I would have shared, with a group of family and friends, had the world not been what it is today. My intent here is to share some highlights, thoughts and memories of a most wonderful love story, of a close intimate friendship, of two people.

Love

The Montreal Jewish community of the 1950’s and 1960’s was vibrant and growing, and from stories shared with me by my grandparents, I feel like everyone knew each other. Whether you lived in Côte Saint-Luc or NDG or Westmount or TMR, people were connected. My parents first met as children through a friendship my father made with my mother’s brother, and they found each other again years later, as teenagers.

LoveLike so many couples who stay together for many years, I firmly believe that their 50-year marriage is based on a strong foundational friendship. And a good sense of humour. Okay, a love of music too. Maybe also that one loves to cook and the other loves to clean (guess which one?).

And a commitment to family. On this point you may say to me, come on Alicia, of course family. But for them, the commitment to family has always been something central to everything they do. It’s extra special.

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Wow, the hair, and the green shag carpet.

1977. Yep, the baby is me!
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Early eighties in St. Agathe

So, my parents, Marla and Barry, got married on June 10th 1971. That was a Thursday, just like 2021. In 1971, a postage stamp was 8 cents, and the latest song playing on the radio was Joy to the World. The Montreal Canadiens had just won the Stanley Cup (will they do that again this year?). They honeymooned in Europe, as they road tripped through England and France. My mother often recalls tales of the road, in particular strange stories of my father’s driving prowess across England.

They returned to Montreal ready to start their life together, in a small rental apartment. Even before they had children, as a couple in their early twenties, family was important to them. Whether it was a quick hello to my mother’s parents who lived a few blocks away or a weekend at my father’s parents’ country house, staying close to those they loved always mattered. They were always surrounded by their large families, from siblings to parents to grandparents, aunts, uncles and tons and tons of cousins.

My brother, Neil, was born a couple of years later, the first baby of the generation for our grandparents. My parents stretched themselves to buy the famous house on Avenue Méridian, that I think is the house they loved more than any other they have lived in (in the city) during their 50-year marriage.

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I never knew my mother gardened.

I came along a couple of years later, just a few weeks after my parents made the BIG move to Toronto, in 1976. They left behind their whole world, of family and friends, really the only world they ever knew. When Neil and I were little children, in the late 1970’s in Toronto, our parents built a whole new life for themselves, with new jobs, a new house, and many close friends. We had visits from our extended family in Montreal, but for the most part, in those first few years in Toronto, it was just us. They had started to build their own family, in their newly adopted city. And they always had each other.

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1980. Party of Five. Now that’s a good looking young family.

Our family grew again the year I turned four, when Darcie was born. My mother often reminds me of the days leading up to Darcie’s birth, when I, aged 3, looked at my mother and said…”I will love the baby, even if it’s a boy.”

Well, the baby girl, who my parents always called sweet, quiet, smiley and easygoing, grew to be the little sister I had asked for. The three kids were not a quiet group. The Richler family definitely had a reputation of being loud and sometimes boisterous (okay, Neil not so much, he was just the referee!), and we were always surrounded by tons of family and close friends.

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Happy, and….
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…Just a bit silly.

My parents raised us in a loving and warm home, where we were always encouraged, but not pushed, to be the best we could be. My mother was always my role model of how a woman could have a career and raise a family, and also have her own hobbies and passions. My father has always been the person I look up to as a mensch, as someone so highly regarded by his family, friends and peers. He has inspired me to be ambitious, but always to be honest and decent.

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That’s a great picture of me and my parents!

 

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Chanukah 2019

Were we the postcard Canadian family of the 1970’s and 1980’s? Maybe sometimes. Has everything been perfect for my parents for the past 50 years? Absolutely not. Do they fight? Of course they do, and yes, there can be screaming sometimes. But it’s a marriage founded on mutual respect and

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Summer 2010, with two new babies

friendship. They have raised three kids, celebrated Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings and welcomed eight grandchildren into the world. But they’ve also buried their parents, my mother’s brother and had to say good bye to countless friends over the years. They have seen the best of the world and the worst of the world over the last five decades.

And I believe today, on June 10th, 2021, that their marriage is stronger than ever. They still love music festivals and a nail biter hockey or baseball game. My mother still cooks some of the best food I have ever tasted, and my father is always by her side to eat that food and clean up after (and to vacuum too!). Their country house, that they built over 30 years ago, is still their favourite place on Earth. Bad jokes make them laugh. Chocolate makes them smile. Their grandchildren are central to everything they do. Their dogs, first Oscar and now Teddy, bring them both the greatest joy every day. And family is at the core of who they are.

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I feel fortunate that I could write this post today, as my parents celebrate their special milestone anniversary. Fifty years may have gone by, but the commitment they made and the love they share today is as strong as ever.

Love

 

Today is the Day After International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

March 8th is an important day on the calendar. Not only is it my paternal grandmother’s birthday (she would have turned 96 this year), but it’s also designated as International Women’s Day (IWD). It is significant that this day is marked around the world. But… I believe there is a more important day for women – March 9th, the day after International Women’s Day.

My husband reminded me of this yesterday. I told him all about how my employer, ADP Canada, celebrated women on IWD, and we discussed the Insights Survey released by ADP entitled, Workplace Gender Gap Hits Home. He said to me, “Just like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day,” don’t you care more about every day except that day?” And I realized, he’s right. Let me explain.

I have always told my family and friends that I did not need any specific day designated on the calendar to tell them how I feel. Take Mother’s Day. I should show love and gratitude to my mother every day. Or Valentine’s Day. I don’t need a special day of the year to tell those I love most that I love them. I should feel compelled to show my love, devotion and appreciation every day of the year.

In particular, I have always felt that the day after a special or designated day is most important. It’s the day the merchandise on the stores shelves is gone, replaced by items that represent the next one. Or it’s the day when we don’t see posts on social media or headlines in newspapers. It’s not that people forget, but it’s not top of mind anymore.

I feel this is particularly the case for International Women’s Day. I respect and honour this significant day on the calendar. And I am proud to celebrate on March 8th. But today, on March 9th, is the day I am choosing to write about it. And maybe tomorrow, and the next day too. Celebrating women is something dear to me. And celebrating the great boys and men around me, who help raise me up, and who have guided me and mentored me to be the woman I am today, well that matters too. The world is made up of women AND men, and I feel we will all succeed if we support, and celebrate each other.

As I have written here before, my career began in sports radio. I can’t remember how many people worked in the sports department at the radio station, producing shows, as on-air hosts and reporting sports news. But I do remember that they were ALL men. Well, except me. That’s right – I was the ONLY woman on the team at this all-sports radio station. And I have only kind, wonderful things to say about the few dozen men who I worked with there. I was never looked at as being different, because I was a woman. I was respected for my intellect, my hard work and my dedication to stepping up and being part of the group.

I felt the same respect when I worked on the assignment desk in sports television, and when I pivoted my career into communications. I count both women and men among the people who raised me up, taught me new skills and reminded me that I’m smart.

And what’s important is that all of the wonderful women and men who I have worked with throughout my career celebrated me, as a woman, every day. Not just on March 8th. I want women to know that it’s their right to speak up and speak out every day. They deserve to achieve whatever career – and personal goals – they wish. And they deserve to be celebrated every day for their achievements. They deserve to work in an environment that promotes equity and equality, every day.

The theme for IWD 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. So here is my challenge to you: celebrate the wonderful women in your life today, March 9th. And tomorrow, and the next day. Raise them up. Tell them that they are great and they can achieve anything they put their mind to. And when we cycle around to March 8th, 2022, remind them again.

Thank you to everyone in my life who have reminded me that as a woman I can do anything. You can too!

 

Why I left Sports Media

My son often asks me why I left Sports Media. In the eyes of a child, the early part of my career was glamourous. I met, and sometimes worked alongside, world famous athletes. I had access to a press pass on occasion, to attend games. Part of my job, both in radio and TV, meant I HAD to watch sports. My son just cannot fathom how I would ever choose to leave that world. But I did. And I don’t regret it.

I also don’t regret the wonderful and unique opportunity that I had to work in the industry. What has stayed with me today aren’t the memories of athletes I met or games I attended. I learned life skills, how to hustle and was lucky to work with some talented people who I consider my friends to this day.

My choice to leave sports media is one that I haven’t really thought about too deeply for a long time. But over the past week, hundreds of great journalists lost their jobs, many of them in sports media. Earlier this evening, in particular, when I saw social media posts from former colleagues, writing of radio stations changing their formats and wiping out their employees, brought a memory back of when I was one of those people, many years ago. It was one of the reasons that eventually led me to leave my job on an assignment desk and follow the career path of a communications professional.

Where it Began

In my final semester of my Master’s Degree in Journalism at New York University I had to choose an internship in media in New York City. I still remember listening carefully to the guidance from my mentor, Professor Michael Ludlum. He was my Radio Broadcasting professor from my first semester, who brought me under his wing and taught me everything I had to know about working in radio. He encouraged me to pursue a different kind of internship, at ABC Sports Radio. It was a small operation, a kind of central intake hub of sports news, and he felt that it would give me skills that I could take anywhere.

Of course Professor Ludlum was right. I learned how to grab quick interviews for the radio format, edit my tape and write copy. And my first big assignment was to represent ABC Sports Radio one night, to collect sound bites, on the field, at the World Series (the Subway Series no less!). At that moment in time I thought sports media, radio in particular, was my future. I knew it was for me.

Where my Early Career was Shaped

When I decided to pursue my career back in Toronto after graduate school, it took me a few months to find that coveted job in sports media. My first “real” job was at the Team 1050 sports radio station. The guys took a chance on me, a young, very inexperienced journalist, but I was eager to learn and grow. My colleagues were genuine, wonderful people who had a love of sports and great talk radio that was infectious. I was excited to go to work every day. I produced everything, from shows that started at 10:00 pm on a Friday night (when I learned sports reporters in Texas cover high school football, not hockey) to the morning show. Sometimes I arrived at work at 3:00 am and sometimes I left at 3:00 am. It was everything I dreamed of.

Then 16 months later, one summer morning, the Team 1050 radio station disappeared. Just like that. All of the employees were brought together into a room and were laid off. I was devastated. In a short time I got the taste of what I wanted my career to be, and I wasn’t ready to walk away. I remember Paul Romanuk, who co-hosted the morning show, walked over to me that morning and said, “Alicia, you are not a true journalist until you have been fired at least once. Welcome to the club.”

When I made the Choice to Leave

I was one of the lucky ones, as I was hired by Rogers Sportsnet days later. It was an entry level job, but I took it. I had made some great friends in my days in radio, and one of them brought me over to TV. He knows who he is and I am forever grateful for his kindness. It took me only a couple of months to apply and get an opening on the Assignment desk. It was a different pace than radio, with different personalities, but again, some great people. This is where I really learned how to hustle and get the news on air.

The days were long, and during hockey playoffs I often worked until 4:00 am. Some days were exciting and full, and I felt the adrenaline running through me, but over time I became less motivated. I kind of lost my drive and desire to go to work. I knew I was good at my job and respected by my colleagues. I knew a career in sports media was unstable and while it never happened to me at Sportsnet, I continued to see colleagues within the industry losing their jobs every day. And I knew this problem would only deteriorate.

And so, I eventually left my job in sports media and pursued my career as a communications professional. There are many days when I miss the energy of the newsroom. When I read a piece of breaking news I can still picture what was happening at that exact moment at the assignment desk as the news came in. Who should they interview? What are some key questions to ask? What headline would be good?

No Regrets

While I may miss my days in radio or TV, I do not regret my decision to leave. I have met and worked for and alongside some equally talented and wonderful people during my years as a communications professional. In particular, I work for a company right now who respects me, as a professional and as a woman and parent. The skills I have learned along the way, from my Broadcast Radio class with Professor Ludlum, to producing the morning show at a radio station, are some that I use every day in my current job.

To all of you who chose to stay in sports media, who either lost your job recently or are currently employed, I applaud you. You are some amazing people, many of whom I had the honour to work with. Stay strong and follow your passion. That’s what I did, and I have never looked back.

My Girl Can Do Anything

my girl can do anything

I took this photo three years ago – January 2018, when my daughter, Julia, earned her Purple Belt in karate. That’s no small feat, no matter how big or how old you are. Julia was just seven years old the day she wrapped this precious belt around her little waist. I remember the day like it was yesterday, and it makes me smile with pride. I knew it already when she was very tiny, but on this day, when Julia raised her arms high, holding that purple belt, I knew: my girl can do anything.

There has been much written and discussed over the last week about the incredible achievement in the United States, that a woman is now their Vice-President. It took the U.S. 244 years to elect a woman to the second-most senior seat in their government. I, like millions of women around the world, am thrilled and feel that it’s about time. I even admit that I teared up, just a bit, on January 20th, when I watched this incredible woman, Kamala Harris, take the oath of office.

But through those tears of joy a little bit of the cynic in me was there too. Other thoughts were pulsing through my head, and I can’t get them out. Writing about my thoughts does not diminish Vice President Harris’s achievement, but I feel I need to share my considerations.

Much of the Democratic World is far ahead of the US: they’ve elected female leaders

I can’t help but think about the fact that the U.S. just inaugurated their FIRST ever woman Vice President, in 2021. If I look over the past 100 years, in democracies around the world, it’s not hard to find many incredible women who haven’t just achieved the second highest office in the land, but the highest. There are dozens of women on the list.

Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, first elected in 1966, then again in 1980. I can’t forget Golda Meir, who led Israel as its Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. Even Canada had a female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, for six fleeting months in 1993. Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005. Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 and has even had a baby during this time.

Throughout our nation’s history, in Canada, three remarkable women have achieved the office of Deputy Prime Minister, starting with Sheila Copps in 1993. Anne McLellan held the role from 2003-2006, and since November 2019 our Deputy Prime Minister is a woman of whom I have tremendous respect: Chrystia Freeland.

Celebrating the United States’ first ever female Vice President is important and is significant, and Kamala Harris is following in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest women. But is she first on the world stage? Is the U.S. a leader here? No.

My girl can do anything: it’s not just about going after political office

During a recent conversation with a friend of mine, we discussed, in jest, what our children may be when they grow up. We both have three kids, and our third child, in both cases, is outgoing, confident, even a bit of a dictator. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the fact that hers is a boy and mine is a girl didn’t even come up in our conversation. For us both, as successful working mothers, we know that our children can do anything. Whether their child is a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter. I always know that my girl can do anything.

Here’s a question I have been asking with respect to women: is becoming the Prime Minister, or President, or Vice-President, the highest achievement? Is that what I want my daughter to think, that women have achieved greatness only once we have been elected, not just in the United States, but around the world? My answer is the same here: no.

To be the first woman to do anything is significant, and it must be celebrated. Books have been written, movies have been produced, on the many trail blazing women from around the world who were firsts to achieve greatness, and most of these women had no political aspirations. Those women, who have been our drivers of change, have made it possible for a female to be the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Canada, Chief News Anchor, or the President of a University, CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or the Head of my daughter’s elementary school.

What about the second woman?

The first is important, in politics for sure, and in medicine, journalism, education, corporate boards and more. But how about that second woman or third or fourth, or 717th or 7,000th?

I love to celebrate great women, and not just our trail blazers who are the first to achieve something great. Most of the young girls and women with whom I have crossed paths in my life and career have no aspirations to be the first or even to be a driver of change. But they do believe that they can do anything. And that’s because 717, or 7,000 or 7 million women have gone before them to create that path.

To be the first woman Vice President of the United States is an achievement. It is worth a celebration, across social media, newspapers, TV, movies. Everywhere. If it makes even just one young girl develop the ambition to seek the highest political office, then the world is a better place. And you will hear me cheer. Let’s also cheer on the second woman who will one day be Vice President of the United States, or the fourth woman to become Deputy Prime Minister in Canada, or the next woman to be named the CEO or President of a University, or really, to achieve whatever dream she has.

Let’s encourage girls and women to do anything and be everything they WANT to be, no matter what that it is. That’s what I do in my house every day, and I know that my girl can do anything.

My Food is Like Your Food

food

Over the past nine months, since our world changed in mid-March, I have made some new friends through my workplace. Even though I haven’t seen any of them face-to-face, and I only met a few of them recently, I have shared many personal, emotional and hilarious moments with them. The WhatsApp-based conversations are highlights of my day and centre around many topics. One common theme is food. What are you eating? What did you cook or bake? Do you have a photo of what you just ate? Oh my gosh I ate so much and just gained another 5 pounds. We are from ethnically diverse backgrounds, and I have enjoyed learning about food and culinary delicacies from around the world.

This week it was my turn to share recipes, stories and of course, photos. While I wouldn’t call myself anything close to a professional chef or baker, I’d say I’m rather experienced. I love to cook creative dishes for my family, and no matter how busy my day is at work (most days are!), I cook a full dinner every night of the week. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, on Saturday night I tell my kids to fend for themselves and send them to forage in the fridge and freezer. I need a night off.

But I digress.

Latkes

Besides making these new and wonderful friendships, I have learned so much about food from around the world and how many of our dishes are quite similar. While the names and select local ingredients may differ, they have a lot in common.

Since it’s the holiday of Chanukah this week, let’s start with the important, and I’d say, famous latke. I have been using the same recipe for 22 years, that my mother sent me back in 1998 when I lived in France. It’s simple, clear and I believe makes the best latkes around. Message me if you want the recipe! But back to the latke. What is it? Well, basically it’s a shredded fried potato. A delicacy like the latke exists in every culture where potatoes are grown locally.  Consider Swiss potato roti, even Polish potato pierogi. How about the American hash brown?

Cook a potato in oil, and what could be wrong?

food
Look at the golden brown of these latkes. They taste as good as they look!

Sufganiyot

Staying on the Chanukah theme, I also make donuts at this time of year, and only this time of year. For the rest of the year, as my workplace friends know, I rely on Krispy Kreme. The donut traditionally made (and of course consumed in large quantities!) are called, in Hebrew, Sufganiyot. This traditional donut is yeast-based, fried (of course) and filled with a jelly flavour of your choice.  Making a successful sufganiyah is a bit more complex than a latke, but it’s worth it.

While I’m not an expert on food from around the world, I’d have to say that many cultures have some kind of sweet, fried doughy dessert. Take the Mexican churro, the French beignet, and I just read about the Youtiao in China and Sfenj in northern Africa. I’m looking forward to asking my workplace WhatsApp group what donut-like delicacies they often consume (besides Krispy Kreme, of course).

food
You can see them here, at many steps of the process.

 

food
This photo was taken moments after these sufganioyot were fried. Hot, fresh and so tasty.

Challah

Moving on to bread. I remember back in March and April, besides toilet paper, which definitely was #1 in everyone’s list of must-haves, flour and yeast were hard to find. Securing a bag of flour was harder than finding a diamond in a coal mine. Everyone was suddenly a baker and attempted to make all kinds of recipes. A day didn’t go by when I didn’t see someone posting a photo on social media of their latest loaf of bread.

I come from a family of bread bakers. Again, we are not professional, but we do enjoy baking our own bread. Our specialty: Challah. Like latkes, the word “challah” is well known in society. What makes it unique is that a traditional challah is made with eggs and is often braided. Hence its other name, which is on the label at many grocery stores, “twisted egg bread.” Bread of some kind is in every culture, even if it’s not necessarily a loaf like challah. Consider pita, or a baguette, focaccia, or chapati.

food
This the challah that I made this Friday.

Since I’ve been working exclusively from home, I bake a fresh challah every Friday. And I’ve been teaching my WhatsApp friends how to pronounce this difficult word. The “ch” at the beginning of the word is not pronounced like the “ch” in “chicken” or “chocolate.” And you can’t get away with calling it Hallah. You have to dig deep, into the back of your throat for that unique pronunciation of the “ch.” My friends have been excellent students and practice often.

I have consumed many latkes, sufganiyot and challah in the past 48 hours, and I am confident that I will continue to do so over the coming days. I admit, I should have been a nice friend and delivered some of these goodies (or offered curbside pick-up?) to my new workplace friends (it would have been kind to them, and to my stomach and thighs). Well, the holiday of Chanukah is not over yet (it has 8 crazy nights!), and my Friday challah happens every week. You never know, a special delivery may just happen soon.

No matter what or how you celebrate, Happy Holidays! And may your food dreams, whatever they are, come true.  

It’s Groundhog Day, Again

Groundhog Day

 

Then put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb…. These are the words that Phil Connors hears each morning, at 6:00 am, in the famous 1993 film, Groundhog Day.. It’s a favourite in my household, with its humour and downright silliness, and yet lesson about being open to change and being with those you love. Now I’ll state the obvious, what so many of us have been thinking: we are living the movie. It’s Groundhog Day, again.

As I thought about writing this post, and as I started to put the first few words on my screen today, I wanted to state something very important up front: it is not my intention to make fun of or to minimize the impact and power of COIVD-19. This virus is to be taken seriously, and so many people are ill or have died. I am not poking fun at COVID-19.

Our lives changed in an instant on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic.” We were scared, politicians and scientists had more questions than answers, and we all panicked. In Canada, at least, we locked down. Our lives, it seemed, stopped in an instant.

Which is when the real-life version of Groundhog Day began.

Since that fateful day in March, does it ever seem like every day is the same? No matter what your routine is, does it seem repetitive? Here’s my typical weekday. And when I say typical, this is my life, every day:

A Groundhog Day in the Life of Alicia since March 16th

  • 6:50: radio turns on, by timer of course, to Newstalk 1010. Yep I love to hear John Moore in the morning. I listen to the daily updates and chatter for a few minutes, in a semi-comatose state, until I have the strength to roll out of bed just after 7:00.
  • 7:20: Shower and make myself look decently presentable.
  • 7:40: Start the process to wake up 13-year-old son.
  • 7:42: Return to bedroom of said son and see if he’s conscious.
  • 7:45: Return once again to bedroom of said son with louder voice and make him respond.
  • 7:50: Wake up my daughters, who now insist on sharing a bed. Enlist the help of the dog, to climb on them and lick their faces. They get up.
  • 7:55: Run downstairs as fast as I can to avoid hearing the fight that the four-year-old needs to pee but her brother is still in the shower.
  • 8:00-8:20: prepare breakfast and lunches for the kids, load school bags and get everything ready at the door.
  • 8:20: Sit down at my new home-office desk (which used to be my dining room but now is my office/sitting room) and turn on my computer. Have a quick check at morning emails.
  • 8:25: turn on the espresso maker, grind my beans and get my morning cappuccino ready.
  • 8:30: Raise my voice that it’s time to leave and maybe children should get their shoes and coats on.
  • 8:32: Raise my voice further as at least one of them is ignoring me.
  • 8:34: Remind them to bring their backpacks as they run out the door to the car with my husband, as he drives them to school.

**Note the “drive to school part” is only as of September 8th. In the spring they learned virtually and most of the morning still looked like this.

  • 8:35: the workday formally begins, with meetings on Webex, email, writing, phone calls and a lot of multi-tasking. Jump from one file to the next and back again. Finally take the first sip of my cappuccino. Brain is waking up.
  • 8:35-4:00: the heart of the workday, when the house is quiet and the kids are at school. My main distraction is my cute personal assistant, aka my dog, who takes issue with any person who dares walk along the sidewalk in front of my house.
  • 11:00: I suddenly realize that once again I’ve eaten nothing and make myself a light breakfast. Same thing a few hours later when I realize maybe lunch is a good idea as all I’ve consumed is coffee and yoghurt.
  • 4:00: My girls arrive home from school, bursting through the front door like a tornado. Note that sometimes I pick them up and sometimes my husband does. So I guess there’s some variety in the day. Dog goes wild. Children scream. Everyone who I work with knows my children are home.
  • 4:20: My son arrives home. He adds to the pile of school junk at the front door and disappears to some corner of the house to check all the sports news he’s missed in the past 8 hours.
  • 5:30: I start to try to wind down my workday, though this will often stretch to 6:00, 6:30 or beyond.
  • 6:00: Enter the kitchen, to discover a hurricane has yet again come through, with a sink full of dishes, empty food containers on the counter and a dishwasher that needs to be emptied.
  • 6:01: Get over the daily shock, turn on the TV and watch CTV News at 6 for the day’s daily depressing update.
  • 6:30: Once my kitchen is sparkling clean, start cooking dinner. Yes, I cook dinner every night, and not simple basic food. This part of the day is cathartic for me, though I do scream at my kids every few minutes to leave me alone while I cook. How do they constantly want a snack?
  • 7:30: Dinner is finally ready and everyone attacks. I will admit it here: we gave up on sitting together at the table for a family dinner months ago. The five of us spend so much time together that the kids dumped us when it came to mealtime. So everyone does their own thing.
  • 8:30: I realize that the evening has flown by and maybe I should start putting the four-year-old to bed. Sometimes she’s jumped in the bath already and other times I look at my messy, yet only lightly dirty child, and decide a bath isn’t worth it. Meanwhile I holler to the 10-year-old that screen time is over for the night. She has just spent the past 4 hours on her phone and laptop, socializing with her friends and it’s time to say good night.
  • 9:00: If I have my act together, I have the girls in bed, ready to read with me. First it’s a preschool book for the younger one. Then I switch to the good book: Harry Potter, which I’m reading aloud with my 10-year-old. We’re on book 6 now, and we enjoy every minute. And yes, I do all the voices and even some accents!
  • 9:45: I fall asleep reading to my daughter, which displeases her every night. Her sister (and the dog) have finally fallen asleep, and I slowly get up and move on with my evening.
  • 10:00: I consider doing something around the house, like a load of laundry or cleaning my office but instead fall over on my bed. Luckily my husband has cleaned the kitchen. At this point my son is ensconced on the couch, and depending on the night, either watching football, playing XBOX or reading up on yet more sports news.
  • 10:50: After lying on my bed for the past 50 minutes, either chatting on WhatsApp with friends or playing Scrabble against the computer, I get up and get ready for bed.
  • 11:00: I’m in bed, watching the news and seeing that it too, hasn’t changed.

I’ve missed a few details, and sometimes a few things change, but the beginning, middle and end are basically the same each day. And so it is, I believe, for many other people. My long, often monotonous day, is repetitive and really, not exciting at all. I watch and read too much news. I participate in some of the most inane conversations with friends and family on my mobile device. I’m constantly paranoid that I forgot to add certain items to my online grocery order. I regularly check my storage room to see if I have enough toilet paper, power towel and flour. Then I head to my computer and buy more.

As those of us living in Toronto head into a new stretch with increased restrictions, I guess I’ll just keep singing the song, I Got You, Babe, every morning. As long as COVID-19 rages across the world it’s going to be Groundhog day, today, tomorrow and for many days to come.

To Every Thing there is a Season

To every thing there is a season

 

The famous words of the poet, Kohelet (also known as Ecclesiastes) are often in my head. No matter who you are, how old you are or what you have experienced in your life, you can find meaning in these most profound eight verses. Though penned over 2,000 years ago, if you read the words carefully, they are relevant even today:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence  and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I have a file, in my “notes” section of my iPhone that I call Blog Ideas. Ever since I started to write my blog, over 3 years ago, this is where I house my quick thoughts and ideas as a I walk through life. Someone cuts me off in traffic, an idea about rude drivers. My husband experiments with eggs one day in the kitchen, and a post about Dads making dinner. Take me out to the ballgame is sung during the 7th inning stretch at the baseball game, and there I go, writing about how much I love baseball.

So many of my blog posts are inspired by a moment, or a person, or even a joke. I see or read something, and it sparks an idea. But sometimes I have thoughts that keep coming back. I write a note to myself, sometimes in the middle of the night (yes, I keep my phone beside me at night, and random thoughts go in there sometimes!), and whatever I wrote just eats at me. I don’t jump onto my computer to write. It has to marinate for a while. The thoughts have to properly form and develop.

That’s the case here. I can’t remember exactly when I scratched the words, “To Every Thing there is a Season” into my blog ideas file. I also wrote “Kohelet – note the words.” I studied this book, which is part of the “Writings,” or “Ketuvim” of the Tanakh (the three books of the bible, which include the Torah, Prophets and Writings), way back in high school. So many of the phrases are ingrained in my head, and not just because they’re part of a well-known song by Pete Seager, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

The ideas have been churning in my head, and I decided earlier this week that finally it was time for my For every thing there is a season post. It was, let’s call it, a tumultuous week in the United States, and it got me thinking. Then on Saturday night, the new US President-Elect, Joe Biden, stole my thunder. Here’s what he said during his victory speech:

“The Bible tells us to every thing there is a season – a time to build, a time to reap and a time to sew and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.” His words were true, and I believe, were from the heart. But this blog post is not about politics, in the US or Canada, or how individuals have conducted themselves over the past four years, four months, four weeks or four days. What President-Elect Biden’s words did (though he pulled phrases from across the verses!) were to remind me of that true relevance of Kohelet’s words to every one of us.

Pick any day in your life. Choose an experience or a story from your recent past or long ago, and I promise you, I can connect it to at least one phrase in these first eight verses of chapter three. Here’s a few that I can think of easily. Take, for example, the current COVID-19 pandemic. How about, “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” How about the many paths and turns I have taken in my career? My first job was in radio, where I began to build my career, and where it came crashing down 16 months later when we were all laid off. Sometimes you build up and then you break down. (note I quickly got another job, but the day I lost my first job I thought my professional life was over).

Some moments are burned into my memory, like the exact second each of my three children were born. And yet the moment each of my grandparents died, including my Poppy’s death in April this year, can never be erased. I think of these often. As Kohelet says, “A time to be born, and a time to die.” Planting a seed doesn’t mean growing vegetables in the backyard (though it can of course). Every action we take must start somewhere, with some small idea in our heads and hearts, that grows and blooms.

“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” is a phrase to which my eyes keep returning when I read these verses. Some may ask, is there ever a time that the better choice is to keep silent? Don’t we live in a society, where we value our freedom to speak? Shouldn’t speak be raised up on a pedestal? I see the choice of one or the other – silent or speak – to be what I value most. Or maybe that’s what Kohelet was telling us. His words are less about the meaning of life and more about the choices we make in life or options laid out before us.

It is less about for every thing there is a season and more about a key word in the next phrase, a time to every purpose under the heaven. Time. There is a time for everything. In one’s lifetime, most of us will face everything Kohelet writes about. Birth and death. Peace and war. Laugh and weep. Get and lose. We may choose all of these. Or they may choose us. There is a time for sure.

2020 has been a rough year. It’s probably why Kohelet’s words keep streaming in my head. This year has been about breaking down, weeping, mourning, and a lot of hate. I hope our future will be a time to plant, heal, peace, love, dance, and laugh. That’s right, dance and laugh. I look forward to that most of all.