Tag Archives: Stratford, Ontario

I have it all.

Ever since Anne-Marie Slaughter’s missive in The Atlantic, there’s been a ton of dialogue on the notion of “having it all.” What it means, how to define it, how to achieve it. Seems like every one and their uncle are joining in on the conversation.

Years ago, while working at TELUS Communications, they hosted a morning breakfast with three of the company’s top executive women: Karen RadfordJudy Shuttleworth and Janet Yale. These are all exceptionally successful, driven women and the conversation was refreshingly frank that day. Instead of “you can do it” and the typical pink washing that comes from “leadership light” sessions, these women shared their struggles and the choices that they had to make to get to where they are.

At the time, Karen Radford had young children at home on the west coast, and she was spending a majority of her time in Quebec, leading TELUS Quebec. Janet Yale, who I had seen speak on more than one occasion, openly shared how her children practically shrieked when she walked into her kitchen. Apparently, cooking is not her strong suit.

It was Janet’s comment that resonated most loudly with me that day, when she openly talked about missing hockey games and school performances; “you can’t have it all, not at the same time.” She had made the choice, early on in her life, that being an executive was where she wanted to be. She wasn’t going to be at home, waiting with meals on the table for her children. Her husband was going to be the predominant at-home parent. Janet wanted to lead, engage, and collaborate on a national and a global scale.

At one point, Karen turned to the audience and asked us, “who wants to be us?” Not me. I sat there with my hands in my lap. I didn’t want to be one of those women, forsaking time with my children, working 12-18 hours a day, thinking business 24/7. Not for me. But that’s a change. If you’d asked me back in the early 80s, when I was deeply coveting Diane Keaton’s white winter coat in Baby Boom, I wanted to be that woman. Powerful, corporate, assured, confident. I went so far as to attempt that route when working in advertising in the late 80s. I was naive. I got chewed up, and spit out. Cut-throat, unethical, immoral (advertising was, anyway); it wasn’t the place for me.

Now, the reality is, and was, that I was never going to be that woman. Due to circumstances (thank you Mr. Harris for taking away my grocery money), I wasn’t able to complete my degree at University which limits one’s opportunities, for sure. Yet, along the winding road that has been my career, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to be that woman.

Every year, my husband and I take our children for a couple of weeks of camping at Algonquin Park. I try to get out on the lake for some solitude, just me and my kayak and without fail, each time I reach the half way mark of my outing, I end up stopping, breathing deeply, sitting quietly and just appreciating where I am. When I’m there, in that space, I’m reflective and I look at where I’ve come from and where I am in my lifeand I am happy.

I have a wonderful partner who has totally enabled my life, and that supports me and my winding career in every way, including being an amazing Dad that doesn’t “babysit”; he cares for our children when I’m not here and we trade off whenever we can…and we’re in love, still, even more deeply almost 11 years on.

My children are (thankfully) bright, funny, talented and well-rounded. They don’t have to be world scholars (although we keep working in that direction). They can be whomever they are, and I love them, innately and without judgment…and they love me.

My circle of friends are diverse and amazing. They’re creative, intelligent, thought-provoking folk that remind me often that you have to create what you want to be a part of. My acquaintances are equally thought-provoking, and I’m grateful to be in their sphere.

I live in a stunningly, beautiful city, with ambitous, forward-thinking leadership, which also avails me to world-class talent and awe-inspiring personalities.

I also have an amazing job with an organization that I’m incredibly proud of; I’m regarded in my professional network for my skills, my intelligence and my passion for what I do. I’m respected, provided opportunities and known for being frank. I have good relationships with my colleagues and I truly believe that when we all win, we all win. I believe that these traits have garnered me more fans than not.

So, looking around at my life, I have love, support, creative outlets, amazing life experiences and most of all, opportunity. Indeed. I have it all.


A love letter to Stratford…

Shortly after our wedding, my husband and I began discussing leaving my hometown of Toronto so that we could buy a home that would we could a) afford and b) that would provide us with more than half a house with a basement tenant for the next thirty years. We realized that living in the GTA wasn’t likely going to be an answer for us, so we started looking east and west of the GTA for options.

Driving home to Toronto after visiting family in Wiarton, Ontario after one long weekend, my husband highlighted on a map where all of his ten brothers and sisters lived (which ended up being almost a perfect circle of southwestern Ontario) and said, “anywhere in there”, keeping us within a few hours drive of just about everyone. I was driving, reached across, touched the map and my finger landed on Stratford, Ontario. “Stratford?” I said. “I could do Stratford.”

Stratford, it was decided, was the “delicate balance” of what worked for both my husband and myself. Small town enough for him (growing up originally in Walkerton and Wiarton) and cosmopolitan enough for me (being raised in Toronto with family ties to New York City). We didn’t do much research about the City before we started looking for homes online; somehow we just figured it would be the right fit for us. That was now, almost ten years ago.

I remember telling people that we were moving to Stratford and in particular, I remember one woman’s response being “Stratford? Oh, I love Stratford! It’s so beautiful; the Festival and the restaurants, it’s so quaint…why Stratford?” she asked me.  I looked at her and said simply, “for all the reasons you just mentioned!” Also, at the time the cover story of Toronto Life magazine was titled “Market Gone Mad”, which opened with the accounting of a tiny, 40s bungalow in Riverdale that was on the market for five days, had ten bidders and if I recall correctly was listed for $450K+ and sold for $650+ and was then slated for demolition the next day.  Insanity.  Pure insanity.  We were living in a stunning apartment in Forest Hill, but there was no way we could afford to buy a home in the neighbourhoods we wanted to live in. So, when the the lovely woman at the Starbucks asked me what the difference between Toronto and Stratford meant for me, my response was, “My 1917 home is on a lot 50′ x 230′; it’s a 2 1/2 storey red brick house with a wrap around porch, finished attic and my backyard neighbours are Cynthia Dale and Peter Mansbridge, and we paid $230K.” Yup.  That’s the difference.

Now, visiting Stratford and living in Stratford are two very different things. Stratford, like many smaller cities, is a hard nut to crack. For the first few years that we were here, it felt as if your name’s not Culliton, Erb or Orr, or if you’re not born and raised here, you’re not considered a local. As a neighbour of mine said once, “Karen, I’ve been here for 37 years and I’m still not a local.” I tried a number of outlets; photography classes, political groups, library book club and writing clubs, but it still took me a good number of years to really find my friends and my stride in this City.  In many ways that’s still a work in progress, but it’s mornings like today that remind me of why I have so deeply fallen in love with this City and all she has to offer.

Walking through the Slow Food Perth Market this morning at Anything Grows, I waved and ran into friends in the parking lot, chatted with a few more in the store, connected with more online via Twitter (accounting all the delicious goodies that we indulged in from Lindsay’s Bakery). I talked social media and business opportunities with a newer friend and one of the smartest small business owners and users of social media in town, Shawn from Simple Fish and Chips, I introduced myself IRL (in-real-life) to a great local food blogger and foodie, Steve of Local Come Lately, (with whom I shared an incredible experience with back in December as part of a Charlie’s Burgers dinner) and then I got the best hug from the loveliest Welshman I’ve met this side of the pond, wishing me well on my recovery (after a recent stint of mine in hospital). Roasting Soiled Reputation‘s  beautiful golden beets and using his greens beside Shawn’s Halibut will certainly help me in my recovery.

Why was it so lovely and touching for me today? Especially in light of my recent illness, I see all of these friends and acquaintances and I feel the genuineness in their smiles, their hugs and handshakes, their lassoing my twin boys for a moment on my behalf so I can have a quick chat with another and all for no other reason than we’re all just here, we’re talking, sharing, collaborating and enjoying…and I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and love. Of course, it’s not just these lovely people at Slow Food Market, it’s neighbours that have called and brought by flowers, and friends that have dropped by beautiful soups made with care and love and newer friends that have come by to wish me well and talk about their new ventures.

What is it about this place that brings these kinds of people together? What magic exists that has finally proffered me the community that I’ve craved for my entire life?…for it is magic…

Anyone that knows me, knows that I feel passionately about my adopted hometown of Stratford, Ontario. I am incredibly proud of the municipal leadership that I’ve had the privilege of watching and supporting directly (as my Letters to the Editor often attest to) and I’m always touting the amazing story of Stratford to anyone that’ll listen; its recent reincarnation as an intelligent community, its incredibly passionate foodie movement (Savour Stratford, Slow Food Perth) and the awesome community of creatives that come together to create a culture of engagement, collaboration and inclusiveness.

So, to my adopted home, this is my Valentine to you…my love and affection for you as a place, my intimate connection with you and your souls, my support of you unbound, however, wherever, whenever I’m able…I’ll continue to show you my love and champion for you and for us all…

Happy Valentine’s lovelies…

Why I’m Supporting Dan Mathieson for Mayor of Stratford, Ontario

In May of 2009, I wrote the following letter to the Stratford Beacon Herald

“Strategic foresight evident in our leadership in Stratford

It was six years ago that my husband and I decided to move from Toronto with our young daughter. Stratford was the delicate balance that worked for both of us; small town enough for him and cosmopolitan enough for me. We recognized there were going to be some amenities that we would be forsaking in order to be a part of a smaller community and that trade-off was well worth it for us then, but even more so now.

I want to applaud and celebrate the work that Dan Mathieson has done for the city of Stratford since he became mayor. In a very short time, and under increasingly crushing global economic forces, he has worked collaboratively with our MPP John Wilkinson and MP Gary Schellenberger, as well as with extraordinary business and academic leaders in the Technology Triangle to bring an entirely new industry to Stratford. That is extraordinary leadership and exceptional strategic foresight.

He has helped mitigate the losses that Stratford has experienced in the manufacturing industry by not only continuing to be an advocate for support of that industry but by diversifying the economic activity that will help to drive our city toward ever more prosperity and which will certainly help to put Stratford in a positive position post-recession.

As a telecommunications professional who predominantly works from my home office, I am so very excited about the upcoming Canada 3.0 Conference, the adjoining Technology in the Arts Conference, the Stratford Institute and now the RBC Support Centre. All of these initiatives are a huge boon for our city and it reinforces for me and my family (which has expanded by two since our arrival) that it was more than just serendipity and the Festival that brought us to this beautiful and exciting city.

Thank you, Mayor Mathieson, for your leadership and your hard work.”

It was shortly thereafter that I had a chance to chat with Mayor Dan for a few minutes at a social function surrounding the inaugural Canada 3.0 conference which he hosted along with Antoni Cimolino and MPP John Wilkinson at The Festival Theatre. Dan recognized me as we’d crossed paths a couple of times and thanked me for my letter. I said to him then, “Without trying to sound patronizing at all, I’m so proud of you and the work you’re doing for the City of Stratford” and that’s when I got a further glimpse into the type of leader that Mayor Mathieson is. He couldn’t have been more gracious or humble in his response, actively acknowledging just how many people were working collaboratively to bring such riches to this City.

Since that meeting, our paths have continued to cross as I’ve become more engaged with Gallery Stratford, the Friends of the Festival, Avonova, and a number of other projects that continue to put the City of Stratford on the map. No matter where I go in this City, no matter the level at which I choose to get involved, I always seem to run across Mayor Dan.

When I wrote my Letter to the Editor, I was excited then about the opportunities that were coming Stratford’s way, and since then I’ve watched Mayor Mathieson lead the City and its partners onwards to even greater opportunities. He has played an integral part of the launch of the Rhyzome Network, the opening of a newly expanded wing at Stratford General Hospital, the settlement of a lawsuit which affected hundreds of citizens, the successful support of the City’s Official Plan, Hockey Day in Canada in Stratford, and of course the realization of the University of Waterloo Stratford Institute opening its doors this Fall. This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, however it does provide a small example of just how holistic a leader our Mayor is and how he supports issues that affect the wellbeing of this City and its citizens.

I see Mayor Dan Mathieson as an attentive listener, a builder of lasting relationships and fruitful partnerships and most importantly for Stratford, a passionate leader that looks forward, shares his knowledge, engages the citizens and embraces new technologies and new opportunities with aplomb; precisely the Municipal leader that I want to see continue leading this City forward.

These are some of the reasons why I’m supporting Dan Mathieson for Mayor of the City of Stratford; I am doing so publicly and am also proud to support him throughout his re-election campaign as well and I encourage you to engage him online and in person.

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