Sunday, March 18, 2018

On Maintaining Adult Friendships While Living with High Functioning Autism

After several months spent coming to terms with the realization that I’ve been living with undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) for 32 years, I’m still no closer to understanding what exactly it is about me that is such a turn off to so many of my peers. If anything, my frustration levels have spiked. Whereas for most of my life I’ve simply dismissed the frequent cold shoulders and suddenly absent friends as some sort of flaw with everyone else, I’m learning that it’s actually something that I subconsciously communicate that is leaving me standing awkwardly at preschool drop off and kids’ birthday parties feeling lonely and avoided. 

I do not have an “official" ASD diagnosis. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s, autism was not yet really understood to the degree it is now, and many of us went undiagnosed. I have tried to pursue a diagnosis, but was informed by my highly sympathetic long time GP that while yes, she agrees that I’m likely on the spectrum, that medically there’s nothing “wrong" with me, and that  as I’m “high functioning,” no benefit exists in paying for the private assessment necessary to obtain an ASD diagnosis in an adult subject. However, I tick pretty much every box on the list of symptoms for what was once a separate condition known as Aspberger’s Syndrome, and now falls under the umbrella of ASD. 

There are some real benefits to ASD. My grasp of language is one. I’m very good at writing. I’m excellent in written debate, though my social anxiety makes it much harder to argue a point face to face. I am morally rock solid. My rigid thinking allows me to form strong loyalties and convictions and stick to them, even in the face of challenge (this, as one can imagine, can be a double edged sword). I am fair to a fault. 

“Aspies,” as we colloquially refer to ourselves, tend to be proud of our neurodivergence. We recognize it as something that makes us special, unique, or different. The problem is, of course, that it also makes it extremely challenging for us to relate to the neurotypical individuals we encounter in our every day lives. 

A common theme through my life is the ghost friend. Friends who, upon meeting me, seem to really like me. We hit it off, bond over one thing or another, and get along famously for some amount of time- be it weeks, months, or sometimes even years. However, without fail, I’ll notice one day that the friend has become more distant. She’s not texting me fun things about her day anymore. She’s not asking to get our kids together for playdates. Suddenly I’ll get a tight smile and a forced greeting when I run into her, as though interacting is something she’d really rather avoid. I never, ever know what I’ve done wrong. With a gun to my head, I cannot pinpoint a behaviour or comment I’ve made that has caused this rift, but I know I must have done something, because it just keeps happening. And it hurts every time.

I’ve tried to approach these friends to try to understand what social cues I've missed, but apparently most people find that very confrontational. Sorry. From my perspective, it seems to just make sense to address the issue and resolve it. I’m not trying to be difficult, it just seems like logic to me. I’m not good at apologizing. I don’t understand why people have emotional attachments to ideas, when the ideas can be contradicted by facts. I’ve come to learn (usually the hard way) that when I’m presenting facts, people often feel attacked. That’s never my intention. I simply do not understand why truisms can be upsetting. I’ve sat and thought and tried very hard to understand why that is. I just can’t. I can, however, recognize that regardless of why, it is how people work, and I’m trying hard to respect that and just keep quiet when I want to correct.

Sometimes I am aware enough to recognize that something I’ve said or am about to say is contentious, but I almost never realize the impact I have. In one particularly memorable instance, I said something that I assumed would have a few close friends mad at me for a few hours and then it’d be over (spoiler alert: I was spouting facts). That was nearly 6 months ago. They haven’t spoken to me since.

I often get told that I’m “playing a victim” or feigning innocence in regards to what I’ve done wrong. Time and again it’s implied that I’m choosing to be obtuse. It’s nota choice, and I’m not feigning anything. I really, truly just don’t get it most of the time.

The thing is though, at the end of the day, human beings are social creatures. Even those of us lacking the social know how and the tools to be successful in social situations crave friendship and understanding, and when it’s communicated to us that we are unworthy of friendship,  for whatever reason, it’s still a big blow to the self esteem. We don’t set out to be awful, insensitive, narcissistic jerks. We really don’t. And yet that seems to be the impression we give. 

Today I stood in a room where I was forced to make small talk with people I don’t know. I find small talk extremely stressful because I never know what topics of conversation are appropriate or how much information to exchange. It’s an active exercise for me, and I find it mentally exhausting. I always wonder what I might say that’s wrong, because I never figure out until much later if I’ve upset someone. So today I stood in this social situation, focusing all of my energy on doing a good job interacting with people, and I soon realized that I had indeed messed something up. I didn’t know what I did wrong, or how I could have done it differently. I’ve racked my brain. But I messed up yet again, left feeling uncomfortable, and went home feeling lonely and sad and cried. At 32 years old. 

I'm not writing this for pity or for a free pass at being an asshole. I don’t expect some magic scenario where everyone who’s ever decided I’m far too much work suddenly forget everything and rush to my side. I'm writing this because it would be really nice to feel understood, and the closest I can come to that is through word vomit. I’m very good at word vomit. So just. If you find me acting badly, or weirdly, or annoyingly, please tell me. Just tell me to my face what I’ve done wrong. I won’t know otherwise. And expect me to freeze up and have to internalize for a bit, because it’s hard constantly learning new ways in which you fail at successful human interaction. But trust that I appreciate directness and the chance to understand where I’ve gone wrong far more than I appreciate people just ceasing to send me Christmas cards.

And to all the people who put up with me anyway, thank you. You’re awesome, wonderful people and I’m grateful to you. You know who you are.

Picture courtesy of K. Morris 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Silent Rank: Life as a Military Spouse

This past week, we marked Remembrance Day. Around the world, ceremonies were held, moments of silence observed, and thoughts dedicated to the soldiers that have experienced great personal sacrifice in order to allow us to enjoy the freedoms that we do today.

Even the most devoted pacifist must admit that although we do not always agree with the causes behind the conflicts that our countries may engage in, we must respect the bravery and strength of those who are willing to lay down their own lives for the freedom of so many that they do not even know. I have huge respect for our Canadian armed forces, and always have done.

Recently, I was speaking with an old elementary school friend of mine- we will call her "Diana"- whose husband is a Sergeant with the First Combat Engineer Regiment. We were having a casual conversation about the ups and downs of our lives: antics of our toddlers, who are only 6 weeks apart in age, arguments with fellow mothers... pretty standard stuff. In the course of our discussion, my friend mentioned that her husband was on an exercise, and that she was having a hard time getting everything she'd like accomplished.

The offhand remark got me to really thinking about the life that one must lead as a military spouse. Soldiers are generally lauded and revered, and rightly so, but one rarely hears much appreciation expressed for their support systems. Luckily for me, Diana was interested in answering my questions and giving me a little bit of insight into what it's like to be married to, and raising a family with, an active service member with the Canadian military.

When I sent Diana a list of questions, she was instantly stuck on my first (admittedly ridiculous) one:

What do you enjoy most about being a military wife?

Her answer? When it comes right down to it... not a lot. This is not a life for the faint of heart, or the weak of character. It's an extremely difficult line to toe, and not all can manage it. Military wives, husbands, and children are responsible for so much support and morale for their soldier family members that they even carry an unofficial title: "The silent rank." According to a 2008 study conducted by Princeton University, divorce rates are higher amongst military women and their spouses than their civilian counterparts.  Rates are even higher amongst couples where one partner is former military.

The hardest part? The unending lengthy separations. Diana met her husband "Clark" while she was studying in university. Throughout the first two years of their relationship, they spent an approximate combined total of four months actually enjoying each other's company. During that time, Clark was actively deployed in Afghanistan for two seven month periods, and spent much of the remaining time on training exercises.

While today's military wives often have access to platforms such as Skype and Facetime, in the early days of Diana and Clark's relationship, the only way to connect was through email. While deployed, Clark has fifteen minutes of computer access per day. This usually means that a choice has to be made as to where his fifteen minutes are spent: a brief email to his parents here, a bill paid there- cat videos don't exactly factor in here.

And of course, there's the constant danger. Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I'll worry about my husband getting hit by a car on his way to work in the rain. For the better part of two years, my friend's husband was working as a tank mechanic in Kandahar, his life in frequent, if not constant peril. Clark has survived hours of enemy fire, and was even awarded the Medal of Military Valour- Canada's third highest military award- for his service. He has had friends who were not as lucky as he has been, and who perished in battle. Though Diana burns with pride for her war hero husband, it's hard to imagine knowing that any second of any day, she could be on the receiving end of the phone call telling her that he won't be returning home.

In addition to the big, obvious stresses of being a military spouse, there's all sorts of minutae that the average civilian might not consider. Now retired from teaching elementary school classes, Diana runs her own successful business out of her home. She works a variety of hours, and when her husband is on exercise, child care can be difficult to obtain in a pinch. Resources exist for emergency child care situations, but Diana can't just say, leave her kids with the hubby and go to Target just to escape for a few hours (as I am wont to do). Neither Diana nor Clark have family available to watch their two children nearby.

And then there's the relationship with the children itself. I know that many stay at home parents such as myself can relate to the fact that it can be a pain in the ass when, after working hard all day handling issues from tantrums to fights, working Daddy or Mummy comes home and gets to be the "fun" parent.

This phenomenon is only exacerbated when Daddy/Mummy is away for weeks, or sometimes months at a time. It's understandable that the working spouse would want to maximize their rare time with the children- but unfortunately this often comes at the expense of the parent who is home managing discipline and doling out chores day after day. Luckily, Diana tells me that Clark shares equal authority over the unpleasantries of parenting when he is home, though she assures me this is more the exception than the rule.

There's also a pretty archaic attitude still firmly, if not officially, in place within military families: the military spouse is expected not to "trouble" their active duty partner with minor details about their day to day difficulties. In a hand-out for military spouses Diana was once given, she was advised to simply "bake cookies" whenever she was feeling stressed or unhappy. I actually laughed out loud in shock at that one. She tells me that during Clark's first deployment, she was sending him cookies constantly because she baked "so god damned many of them."

It is absolutely evident why a soldier in a war zone would need to be 110% focused on the job at hand, and need to not be distracted by stresses from back home. If I lose focus at my "job," my baby might eat cat food. If Clark loses focus at his, lives can be lost.

Still, a huge burden is placed on the non military spouse, having to give so much support and frequently not expect it in return. So how does Diana make her marriage work? She chalks it up to her fierce independence, and the fact that she knew what she was getting into from the beginning. When they first met, Clark was already an active serviceman, and had previously finished a tour of Bosnia

 Diana fell in love with Clark, job and all, and was prepared to take it. Their wedding took place between Clark's two tours of Afghanistan. He almost wasn't able to make his own wedding, stuck on a training exercise.

My friend is a highly admirable, take charge person. She has started and grown her business. She claims she's not a great housekeeper or cook (you and me both, sister), but the crafts and snacks she makes for her kids always look pretty Pinterest perfect to me. She fills her shoes as mother and wife fabulously, and even does a bit of Dad's job while he's off on exercise- and somehow she doesn't fall apart. I honestly don't know how she does it.

Our military families need our support. They need visibility, they need appreciation, and they need to be recognized for the huge sacrifices they make in loving a soldier. When so many young men and women return from conflict with PTSD, it is their families who are there to nurture them and help them overcome their pain. They are vital to the happiness and success of our military personnel, and yet they remain so frequently in the shadows, ever the "silent rank," ever supporting, ever anonymous.

So Remembrance Day, since it's 11pm and I'm only just wrapping this now...but next time you lend a well deserved thought to the brave men and women who have served and died for our country, try and spare one extra thought for the brave men and women who love them. It's not an easy job, but someone's got to do it.

As always, the opinions and conclusions herein are my own, reached after a primarily casual chat with a friend. No compensation of any kind was provided for this post. Names have been changed at the request of the involved parties. I chose Diana because she's tall like an Amazon, so her husband naturally had to be Clark.

Friday, October 17, 2014

East Vanity Bath and Body Co. Review and #Giveaway

 When I was in my early twenties, dirt poor and barely able to afford my own apartment, I didn't have a bath tub. It was a fate nearly worse than death, seriously, it was awful. I had a tiny little shower the size of a very small closet. One could hardly even turn around in the damn thing. I remember pining for a good luxurious bath, chock full of bath products. That, I would say to myself, is the dream. An apartment with a bathtub. I finally got one after I married my husband and moved into a real grown up apartment, and I have sworn since that I will never settle for a place without a tub again.

A nice hot bath is one of the few free, effective relaxation methods that one has at one's disposal once you start pumping out kids, and even so they're far less common than they were prior to having kids. When I have a bath, I like to do it right. I pour myself a glass of wine, and I'm sure to use some delicious smelling products- which is where East Vanity comes in.

East Vanity is the (cleverly named) venture of a young East Vancouverite named Calla Medrano. At only 13 years old, Medrano designed a line of bath bombs, soaps, and lotions, and ended up finding them in such high demand that she was able to turn her craft into a lucrative business. She uses exclusively high quality, "body positive" ingredients, and crafts each product by hand. All of her ingredients are listed under each product, so you know exactly what you'll be putting onto-and therefore into- your body.

Calla’s creativity and commitment to nourishing body and soul is evident in each unique and nurturing item.
- From the East Vanity website.

Medrano was kind enough to offer me the product of my choice to try out. Choosing from her array of available products was no easy feat, but I ended up going with her Aromatherapy Eucalyptus Bath Bomb

The bath bomb arrived to me vacuum sealed, so that when I opened it up the fresh scent of eucalyptus came bursting forth. It was a lovely natural scent, not overly pungent as some bath bombs tend to be. I used it on a night when my husband was out and my kids were asleep- perfect for some me time. I poured myself a glass of wine, ran myself a hot bath, and dropped my bath bomb in.

And man, did a nice half hour ever follow. The bath bomb fizzled away, leaving behind a nicely concentrated version of the same subtle eucalyptus scent. Medrano describes the product as "decongesting and uplifting," and I'd say the descriptor is highly accurate. I can imagine this would be perfect for use during a cold, as the eucalyptus oil gently cleanses your sinuses as you inhale the fresh scent. I wish I'd had a bunch of these while I was pregnant with my daughter and suffering from the worst cold I've ever had but limited as to what medications I could take. This would be a totally safe and natural way to lessen that stuffy sick feeling. It's also just wonderful to use while perfectly healthy, however, as I found out.

I expected the aromatherapy features from the name and description of the product, but what I didn't expect was the effect it had on my skin! When I got out of my bath, my skin was left feeling totally buttery soft and moisturized, a feeling that lasted well into the night. 

I'd definitely call myself a convert, and a big fan of East Vanity. Next I plan to try out the Love Rose Bath Bomb. If you're at all interested in shopping locally and supporting a young artisan, particularly for Christmas presents, I'd highly recommend checking East Vanity out. The products can be purchased via The East Vanity website or Etsy site for really reasonable prices. Alternatively, you can visit Medrano in person and say hi at the Artisan Christmas Craft Fair or Kensington Community Craft Fair, both upcoming in Vancouver (information can be found on the East Vanity site).

Or (and here's the fun part!), you can enter to win one for yourself right here! Medrano has generously donated a second Eucalyptus bath bomb like the one I tried for one lucky reader to win. Go ahead and enter to win via the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway is open to residents of Canada/US only (though it must be noted that Medrano ships worldwide).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Learning to Love Your Post-Baby Body

3 days post partum with my firstborn and still under the illusion that I'll be thin in a week.

Everyone knows that becoming a mother changes one's life immeasurably. In the two and a bit years since giving birth to my first child, I've practically become a new person. My standing Sunday pub date with a girlfriend has become Value Village dates to shop for our kids. The weeks are filled with gymnastics and dance classes, play dates and park trips as opposed to the monotony of a desk job. I can't even remember the last time I stayed up until 3am drinking wine and watching Doctor Who with my best friend, then going McDonalds and pretending to be British. My life is awash in changes, most of them extremely positive.

I'm pretty sure our David Tennant shirts made them buy the accent.

And then there's my body.

I'm only 4'11" to begin with, so not exactly your towering Amazon. A couple of pounds makes a big difference on my frame. I've never been thin, by any means, but I have never really ventured into "chubby" territory. Prior to having my son, that is. After a long, very difficult pregnancy capped with the birth of a nearly 9lb baby, I was certainly not svelte. My formerly 36B breasts swelled up to a 36EE, and have stayed firmly put ever since. I became pregnant with my daughter right around my son's first birthday, and never really had the chance to lose all that baby weight before piling more right back on. So now I'm definitely carrying around a good 30lbs more than I'd like to be. TMI alert: My boobs sag so much that I can nurse my daughter next to me while lying flat on my back. I was lucky when it comes to stretch marks, but I now have a deep purple cesarean scar marring my wiggly belly. Honestly, sometimes I feel like a whale.

I'm trying really hard not to give into the pressure to feel crappy about myself, because I know logically that these preconceived notions of beauty are garbage. Nobody looks like the women in magazines, and I don't want to give my children- and particularly my daughter- the impression that I'm unhappy with my body or aspire to some unachievable goal of beauty. Some days, like when I have a rare occasion to dress up, are harder than others. Which is why it's so refreshing to see  an initiative like The Beautiful Me Project underway.

The Beautiful Me Project is to compile a series of photographs and stories from real life mothers, giving those who are having a hard time adjusting to the realities of motherhood a bit of a self esteem boost. By showcasing the beauty inherent with becoming a mother, the hope is to lessen the pressure to look a certain way and put focus back where it belongs: on celebrating the new life created.

She's way too pretty for anyone to notice me anyway.

The Beautiful Me Project was started by a local-to-me mompreneur named Candice Tizzard. In her work as a doula and birth and lifestyle photographer, Tizzard has become well familiar with the struggles that women encounter in learning to love their postpartum bodies. The dissatisfaction with living in a body that is not what you want, nor what you once had, can be a large contributing factor in Post-partum Depression. An estimated 1 in 6 women suffers from diagnosed PPD, as it is commonly known, while many more suffer without a diagnosis.

Tizzard herself is no stranger to the condition, having struggled with PPD following the births of all three of her children. That's why she plans to donate all proceeds from the book to the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, an organization instrumental in helping her with her own battle.

Says Tizzard about the project,

"I hope to increase the awareness that surrounds the stigma that many postpartum women feel about their bodies. That we should lose weight and regain our pre-baby bodies immediately after our children are born. So many women feel alone and undervalued. I hope the Beautiful ME Project will create a community of support, love and understanding." 

So how can you be a part of this fantastic project?

Currently, Tizzard is offering opportunities to be featured in the book! For a donation of only $50.00, you can participate in a 20 minute photographic session, with your photographs and quote included in the book. When the book is released in December, you'll receive a free copy.

If you're not comfortable sharing your photos, you can also come in for a specially priced private session at $75.00. The book is not included.

For other donation options, and to read more about the project, please visit the website. Information is also available on the Beautiful Me Facebook Page and Twitter

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lancome GRANDIÔSE Mascara Review

I was recently lucky enough to be one of 500 bloggers selected to review new Lancome GRANDIÔSE mascara as part of my affiliation with Influenster. I'm pretty glad I got a chance to check this stuff out because I seriously don't have enough good things to say about it.

First of all, the packaging. I'll admit it, I'm one of those weirdos who will pay way more money for cosmetics that look pretty. If I can't decide between two similar products, the cute packaging will win out every time. Lancome's new mascara totally delivers on this front. Check this baby out! The black rose suspended in the mascara cap brings to mind the enchanted rose in Beauty and the Beast, which I love. Before you've even opened it up, this mascara feels luxurious, simply because of how gorgeous this bottle is. The bar is set high. Can it possibly be as great as it looks?

Spoiler alert: yes.

I have tried many, many, many mascaras. I subscribe to three different beauty boxes and I get mascara in them constantly. So much so that I've requested I not be sent mascara ever again (so far they're ignoring that request). You'll understand, then, that I was dubious as to how superior this Lancome Grandiose could, in fact, be.

From the moment I opened the pretty bottle up, I could tell that this one was going to be different. The brush is super cool, it's angled for optimal application, like a tiny paint roller of black lashy goodness. Unlike most other brands, it's so easy to hold and apply that it gets all those tiny lashes in the corners of my eyes without managing to streak it all over my lids, causing me no end of frustration and woe. This brush is brilliant, you guys. I'm spoiled for every other mascara ever, because no brush will ever live up to the glory of this brush. This brush is the frigging Hugh Jackman of brushes, you guys. (Yes, I'm aware that analogy makes no sense at all, but my kid was watching Rise of the Guardians earlier and now all I can hear or think is Hugh Jackman).

I think that honestly, a huge amount of what you pay for with mascara is the brush. Quality mascaras come with quality brushes, though you may not notice a huge difference in formula between a cheap drugstore brand and a bottle of $30 department store stuff. I'm not a scientist except for in my mind, so I don't know whether there's a huge difference in formula or whether it's just that I'm already so entranced by the brush and packaging, but I feel like I love the formula too. My lashes aren't even remotely clumpy, each one is perfectly defined and voluminous without looking like a tarantula leg. It would totally work for a day to day work, as it's subtle enough to be office friendly while still defining like a charm.

The only negative factor I can think to mention about the Grandiose mascara is that it has no degree of waterproofing, and smudges relatively easily. By the end of the day I vaguely resembled a Tim Burton character, with circles under my eyes. I think this could easily be solved by applying a decent primer, however. If Lancome releases a waterproof version of the Grandiose mascara I will have found the only mascara I will ever need.

This stuff is pricey, but unlike a lot of other makeup, I can tell you that the price is worth it. Get thee to a department store and get this on your face. You'll be glad you did.

Lancome GRANDIOSE retails for $35.00 CAD and can be purchased in department stores or Sephora.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary product for review purposes. I am not otherwise compensated and the opinions provided herein are my own.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Contesting: How to Score Free Stuff for Little Work

So a few weeks ago, I won a trip for two to Paris. I was shopping at Toys R Us for my son's second birthday present, when I got a phone call telling me I was the grand prize winner of the Excel Gum Shut Out Bad Breath contest. You may have seen it advertised-- I certainly have. My prize includes airfare, 7 nights in a 4 star hotel, dinner at the Eiffel tower, a Paris city tour, Versailles tour, Seine cruise, day trip to Bruges, and $750 in spending money. I'm still kind of in awe, and I don't know that it'll feel completely real until we leave in September.

The truth is, I win a lot of things. I was turned onto "professional" contesting by my friend Sunshine, of Transforming the Now. She's been doing it for years, and has had great success herself: last year she won an all expenses paid trip to Australia. She swore that with persistence and diligence, you will win, and you will win big. Here I am, a year and a half after starting, with a $10,000 trip in front of me. That's not to mention all the smaller prizes I've won. In 2013, I won over $8,000 in prizes. So far in 2014, I'm up to over $12,000. I've won three trips to Whistler, an iPad, multiple cell phones, and countless household items. Contesting basically keeps me in a lifestyle that I couldn't otherwise afford.

Since winning the trip to Paris, I've had a lot of friends ask me what, exactly, it is that I do to win such awesome stuff. I decided to write a blog post explaining how I contest, so that interested parties can check it out. I developed my own system from advice given to me by Sunshine, and it's not the same as her system. Should you start to contest, your system will no doubt be different from mine. But here is what I do, to get you started!

First of all, in order to win, you need to do this every day. I spend roughly 2 hours, more at Christmas, just entering contests. I do it while my kids are napping, and it's not a fun time. I make myself a cup of coffee, put on some music, and get'er done. You can't do it once in a while, or a couple of days a week. If you want to win, you need to be persistent. You also can't just enter 10 or 15 contests...I enter probably 300 every single day. In the average month, I win a prize or two once a week. I have also had slumps- before winning the trip to France, I hadn't won anything beyond a chocolate bar or two in over two months. Slumps are really, really hard to get through, and it's easy to give up. You need to push through them and keep at it, because tomorrow could be the day you win $20,000, or a trip somewhere cool, or a new car.

The first thing I do every day when contesting is visit my big site: Contest Girl. It's run by a wonderful woman named Linda, who fastidiously searches high and low for every contest she can find to enter. Another site you can use is Contest Canada, but it charges a yearly fee beyond the one month trial period, and I found that it has the same contests as are available on Contest Girl, and I found its layout less efficient. So for the purposes of this post, I'll just discuss Contest Girl (CG).

You're going to want to make an account on CG. This way, you can keep track of all the contests you've entered, and all the contests you enter daily. What I do each day is first visit Canada - Single Entry. These are contests that allow for only one entry per person/household. I will enter all of the new contests. CG is updated every day, 365 days a year. After entering all the new single entry contests I'm eligible for (and you want to pay attention to eligibility- make sure you're not entering one that's only open to ON residents if you live in BC. CG states eligibility clearly on every listed contest), I move onto daily entry contests. This is where the bulk of my time is spend. Every day, I enter all new contests like with single entry... but these contests allow for an entry a day, so the ones I'd like to enter daily, I add to my "my contests" folder. This saves them for me to return to the next day. Upon adding the day's new daily entries, I go to my 'my contests- dailies' and enter all of my saved contests. There are usually roughly 150-200 contests saved in there. CG automatically removes a contest once its end date has come.

Weekly, monthly, and odd entry contests also exist, and you can also save them into your folders. I don't enter these ones, namely because I can never remember to do so. But they are there, and you can definitely experiment with them.

Upon completing my dailies, I check one more section of the CG website: Canadian blog contests. These are the most fruitful contests by far. The prizes are genuinely smaller than those sponsored by big companies, but the odds are also far better. The bulk of my winnings come from blogs. Most blog contests are run using the 'rafflecopter' widget, and most have an option for daily tweet entries. It's crucial to have a twitter that you use exclusively for contesting, as you'll be spamming it right up. You're not technically breaking any of Twitter's rules by doing so, but you need to be aware of the daily tweet caps- I usually hit them around Christmas, when contest volume is through the roof. But I digress, go through the Canadian blog contests and add any you're interested in entering to your SINGLE entry contests folder. I do this just because it keeps them separate from the corporate contests. If a blog contest is listed as daily, I will just use the 'add your own' tool to add it to my singles folder. I'm OCD like that. Everything in my singles folder is still daily entry.

After completing everything on CG, my next step is to enter local radio, television, and newspaper contests. These are another outlet with great odds. I win from local papers all the time. The great thing about these contests is that you can often win tickets to local events and concerts, which is really fun. Some great experiences can be had. I keep a bookmarked list of these outlets and run through them daily. Most are single entry, but it never hurts to check for a new contest and takes very little time.

Finally, my last step is to go through a bookmarked list of my favourite blogs. I have about 25 that I check daily, and they usually have multiple contests running, again with daily entry options via Rafflecopter. These really blow up around holidays, and your time spent contesting will increase dramatically. It's usually worth it- I won almost all of my Christmas presents last year.

So that is basically the long and short of it. It really takes hardly any time, for relatively big payoff. You just need to be consistent and persistent, and before no time you could find yourself on a plane to France as well! Bon voyage!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The One Where I'm Proud to be Canadian

So tomorrow, July 1st, Canada will be celebrating its 147th birthday as a nation. Growing up, I don't think I really understood just how special it was to be Canadian: Canada Day wasn't all that exciting, and since it was in the summer I didn't even get a day off school. What was really the point?

As I've gotten older, however, I've come to appreciate my Canadian heritage more and more. Our country's history is by no means pristine. Our treatment of our indigenous peoples has been abhorrent for as long as Europeans have existed in the country. We interned Japanese Canadian citizens during World War II for absolutely no reason beyond their ethnicity. There's a lot to be ashamed of...but acknowledging that, there's a lot to be proud of too.

Today the news came from our southern neighbour that the US Supreme Court ruled that a "closely held" company (meaning one with a limited number of shareholders) has the right to deny birth control coverage to its female employees due to religious reasons. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies have been required to pay for a full line of female contraceptive options as part of standard medical coverage for employees. Now, under the new ruling, these aforementioned closely held companies can say "Yeah, actually, we find it objectionable that you might not want to have a baby. Jesus wouldn't be down." And poof, no contraceptives for you. We're not even talking abortion here, we're talking the pill...though apparently the Christian right considers contraceptives such as IUDs a form of abortion, because they prevent a potentially fertilized egg from reaching the womb to implant. I shit you not.

The scary thing about this whole thing is not the fact that there are crazy Christians (not to be confused with the totally awesome Christians that are absolutely completely sane and plentiful) out there trying to dictate exactly what any individual woman has the right to do with her own body. That's scary, for sure, but it's old news- we women are used to hearing a bunch of old white men tell us what to do with our ladybits. No, what's scary, at least to me, is that a legal body has upheld that the rights of the corporation outweigh those of the individual. In short, the opinion of a bunch of wealthy corporate drones means more to the Supreme Court of the US than real living, breathing women. Women with lives and stories and feelings and emotions. These women are being told if you want to work for us, you have to accept the fact that we have the right to dictate how your uterus is used. That? Is downright terrifying.

As a Canadian woman watching this horror story unfold, I am confronted with how well I have it here in the country I was born into. When I turned 5 years old, I enrolled in school, as is expected of all Canadian children, regardless of gender. I stayed in school until I completed my education. I first had sex at my own behest, in my late teens, to a man I chose to have sex with. I went on to marry the man I wanted to marry, and I married him for love. I received a post secondary education, worked in my field for several years, and chose to have children when I was ready for them. When I am sick, I go to the doctor. When I have lost my job, I have made use of employment insurance. I have voted in every election I've been eligible to vote in. I have had an abortion. I did not pay for the procedure, and I was not heckled and tormented on my way into or out of the clinic. I have always had my birth control covered by medical care, and I have never felt like a criminal for availing of it.

I know that there are women in this country who suffer, and that nationality is not a guarantee of a happy and carefree life. I am not naive enough to think that I live in an equal world; I'm well aware that issues such as wage inequality and rape culture are alive and well right here on my native soil. I'm also speaking here as a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle class individual, and my privilege has coloured my experiences with absolutely no doubt at all. I mean no disrespect to those who have not had it as easy as I have. But if life were an obstacle race... I'd say that living in Canada is equivalent to a 10 yard lead (does that even make sense? I don't do sports. Or measurement. For all I know, 10 yards is like, across a room. I know nothing. Jon Snow).

So on our nation's birthday, I guess what I'm saying is...I'm glad I live here and not somewhere else. Because it might not be perfect, but god knows it could be a hell of a lot worse. Cheers, Canada. Happy birthday.