Experiencing the Wild West Coast

This past weekend was extra-long for my family. Friday was a non-instructional day at my kids’ school, and Monday was Remembrance Day, which is a holiday where we live. Jon and I decided to take advantage of it by scheduling a weekend getaway. And, thanks to fabulous grandparents, we were able to make it a kid-free weekend getaway. Such luxury!

We went back and forth a few times on the destination (San Francisco? Seattle? Portland? Victoria? Harrison Hot Springs?). In the end we settled on Tofino, a small village on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, famous for natural beauty, big waves and winter storms. In fact, in addition to two bathrobes in our hotel room, we found two raincoats and umbrellas for us to use during our stay. Tofino is a popular surfing destination locally, although with very cold water a wet suit is definitely required. Since the water is basically freezing all year long, this means that people are still out there in November.

I can walk to the ocean in about 20 minutes from my house. However, the ocean here is a very different thing than in Tofino. The closest stretch of the ocean to me is a salt marsh at the end of Port Moody Inlet. The sea here is very quiet. Vancouver is protected by Vancouver Island to the west, so the waves never get that big. At the very end of Port Moody Inlet it’s even more protected, and when the tide is in you could easily mistake it for a lake, the water is so calm. Local beaches are typically rocky, and while you can find baby crabs hiding under rocks and spot the occasional sea star or harbour seal, heavy use and lots of boat traffic make for a less-than-wild feeling.

Tofino is a different animal, which I suspected but didn’t fully understand until I arrived for this, my first visit. The trees there still reach high for the sky, in spite of their obviously wind-swept appearance. The empty shells on the beach are much bigger than at home. And the waves along the unprotected coast never stop. Even at their smallest they emit a constant roar, which is actually very soothing to listen to. There is lots of sand, worn smooth by all those relentless waves. If you visit the protected harbour in Tofino you’ll see water taxis, tour boats and float planes, which can take you to nearby islands that are not accessible by car.

In Tofino I got a picture of what the place I live in might have looked like (minus the big waves) 200 years ago. There was a time when the mussels were just as big and the trees were just as tall here in Vancouver, I’m sure. Now, I’ll have to visit places like Tofino to experience that wildness. I’m glad I made the trip. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worthwhile to remind myself of the power of the natural world. The sleeping in wasn’t too shabby, either.

Here are some of my snapshots:

Thinking About Roots

I’ve been thinking about roots, lately. Not literal roots, anchoring and nourishing plants, but metaphorical roots. The kind of roots that anchor and nourish people, connecting them to where they live, to the soil they walk on every day (even if it is buried beneath the concrete). I’ve been considering the way that the sights, sound, tastes – the whole feel of a place – can get under your skin and change the way you look at life.

I’ve been thinking about roots for two reasons. The first is that many of my friends are moving away. Some are moving five or six hours down the road, some across oceans, but all of them far enough of that I won’t see them anymore. Oh, maybe there will be a trip or two, and we have the wonders of technology to connect us. But they are leaving this place, and I am staying, and it won’t be the same. They are uprooting themselves, in a way that I never have.

The farm
Plants on Salt Spring, putting down roots

Sometimes I imagine my friends clipping the ties that are keeping them here with a pair of scissors, and floating up, up, up like balloons. They are free, not weighed down by the petty cares and concerns that fill life on earth. Pulling up roots has also removed the obligations that come along with those roots – obligations like remembering to take out the garbage once a week and trying to get along with that cranky neighbour. I imagine myself joining them, floating away, surveying a vivid green landscape below me, looking for a promising spot to land.

The real truth is that I don’t want to fly away from here. This is my home. And that brings me to the second thing that has me thinking about roots – my trip last weekend to Salt Spring Island, a smallish island that’s home to about 10,000 people not too far from me. In recent decades Salt Spring has become something of a hippie mecca. It’s home to artists and artisans, small-scale farmers and people going back to the land. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or an Old Navy there. Many of the houses are nestled amid tall trees, with big wood piles in a shed out front. There are lots of signs advertising pottery and art studios, and many farm stands selling fresh eggs and other farm goods at the side of the road.

goats on salt spring island
Goats enjoying the island vibe

Being on Salt Spring reminded me of my own roots. I was raised by hippies in a semi-rural setting. Cows grazed in fields across the street from my house, and many of my fondest childhood memories involve playing in a little creek beneath the tall trees of the forest. My father was a self-taught goldsmith, an artisan in every sense of the word, and a sign on our front lawn advertised that you could find his jewellery store in the front room of our house. That house was heated with wood, and I remember my parents out chopping up kindling in all weather. Inside our house, the only doors separated the studio and showroom from the rest of the house. Our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen – none of these had doors.

Being on Salt Spring was like taking a tour of of my life some 30 years ago. Many of these folks are creative people, moving away from the city, looking for a quieter lifestyle. The graffiti scribbled on the wall at the provincial park spoke of overthrowing our colonial-capitalist system. The children wore hand knits and big gum boots. While this was the first time I set foot on Salt Spring, the homes and the people looked familiar. My roots might not have been in that place, exactly, but they were in a place very much like it. I grew up steeped in the same sort of ethos that I felt as I ate local, free-range, organic eggs served to me by a young woman with henna on her arms and a laid-back sort of approach to waiting tables on Sunday morning.

Enjoying our kid-free weekend

I spent my childhood among people who made similar choices to the people on Salt Spring. The hard-scrabble-ness that comes with those choices is only really visible to me now, as an adult myself. Living in a semi-rural setting presents challenges. Making a living from your art presents challenges. Being a ferry ride away from a bigger community presents challenges. You embrace those challenges, because for you, the upsides outweigh the downsides. With my adult eyes, I saw both the challenges and the innovative solutions. The sacrifices and the gains. I found myself asking the inevitable question: would I choose it, too?

As my husband and I sat in our car for a rain-soaked ferry ride from Salt Spring to Victoria on our trip home, I realized that I have already chosen where to plant myself, right here in suburban Vancouver. I don’t want to leave this place to return to my counter-culture childhood. I don’t want to leave it in search of greener pastures, either. I found clarity as I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s car, listening to the soft tap-tap-tap of the raindrops, gazing out through blurry, rain-streaked windows. I choose to plant my roots in this wild and rain-soaked country, where fir and cedar trees grow tall and straight, and the ocean is never too far away. I love that, in spite of the wilderness that’s always nearby, I’m 10 minutes from IKEA and within easy walking distance of four Starbucks locations.

Sun, islands and water
Luckily the trip to Salt Spring was nicer than the trip home

My roots are deep in the place I call home, and I’m choosing to stay right here. While my friends fly away, I send good wishes with them, hoping they find the perfect spot to plant themselves. I send good wishes to the potters and painters and artisanal cheese-makers on Salt Spring, too. While I feel a warm sort of familiarity with them, I happily drive away after buying some organic camembert. I’m pushing my roots even further into my thick, damp, suburban soil. I’m feasting on the nourishment that I soak up through them. It’s the best thing ever, this soul food that lets me know that I am just where I should be.

Where do you choose to put down your roots?

Cowpower: Exploring an Energy Alternative

Every year our family visits the PNE, which is the big annual fair here in the Vancouver area. While we wandered around the exhibits, I came across one that caught my eye, for Cowpower. It’s a project that takes manure and other agricultural waste and turns it into electricity. As you may recall, my One Green Thing for September is converting a portion of my natural gas use into renewable natural gas. This seemed to be in the same vein, and was intrigued. I sent an email to the company asking if there was someone I could speak with. I ended up connecting with Matt Dickson, the founder.

“Cowpower was launched at the end of January at this year,” Matt explained. “I’ve had the idea for several years, and just kind of needed the right time and the right funding to develop and launch it.” He’s partnered with a local farm (the EcoDairy I visited a couple of years ago), which has an anaerobic digester. The digester takes the waste and, using microorganisms, breaks it down into methane and digestate. The methane is used for power. The digestate is handled to separate the liquids and the solids. The solid is a fluffy, fibrous material that farmers use for the cow’s bedding. The liquid is a high-quality fertilizer.

cowpower bc jacob

Jacob checks out the Cowpower booth

Matt outlined what makes the fertilizer so great. “One of the major benefits around anaerobic digestion is most dairy farmers spread raw manure on the fields. The nutrients in the raw manure are in these long chain molecules. The plants have to first break down those long chains before they can absorb the nutrients. When the manure’s gone through a digester those long chain molecules have already been broken down. When you put it onto the field crops find it much easier to absorb the nutrients. The nutrients sit on the land for a much shorter period of time. If you were to spread raw manure and the next day it were to rain heavily, all those nutrients could end up in rivers, streams, lakes. When you spread the liquid fertilizer on the field, even if it rains the next day, all those nutrients have already been absorbed. It’s much, much less impactful to water bodies.”

One of the things I saw at the EcoDairy is that the cows are all kept indoors. I asked Matt if this would work as well if cows were out grazing in the fields, and he said it would not. However, he cited a study from UBC that found that most cows prefer to be indoors. He says that even when farmers allow their cows outside, most of the time at least 80% of the manure ends up in the barn, where it can be collected. Organic farms are the exception. To be certified organic, cows must spend a minimum amount of time outdoors. Those farms would likely not be suitable candidates for the Cowpower program. The best farms will be larger farms, with 200 cows and up, producing conventional milk. Matt says that there are about 50 and 100 dairy farms locally that could build a digester in the next 10 years, with the right incentives.

One of my biggest questions for Matt was why they were using the methane they were harvesting to generate electricity, rather than heat. Since I had recently looked into using renewable natural gas for my home, it seemed like that would be the more efficient way to go. What Matt explained to me is that Cowpower is meant to work alongside the program from my gas company. It turns out that in order to feed natural gas into the system, you need to be located close to the pipeline. And not just close to the pipeline – you need to be upstream. You can be right on top of the pipeline, but if you’re at the end, you’re not going to be able to feed gas in, since it only flows one direction. Electricity, on the other hand, can be fed into the grid far more easily from any location.

The last thing that I really wanted to find out was how Cowpower compares to hydroelectricity. The vast majority of electricity here in British Columbia comes from hydroelectricity. It’s a carbon-neutral, sustainable form of energy generation. Given that we have so much water to generate clean energy, why would we turn to Cowpower, which is fairly expensive to develop? Matt explained that Cowpower is actually carbon negative.

cowpower bc

Hannah checks out the Cowpower booth

“When you build an anaerobic digester you get greenhouse gas reductions in two places. First of all you’re producing a carbon neutral energy source, which goes onto the grid. On the front end, imagine a dairy farm currently. It scrapes the manure into a pit, and that manure is applied to the field a few times a year. While it is in that pit it is producing methane, and that methane is getting released into the atmosphere. When you build a digester, you capture all that methane, and then when you burn it you convert the methane to carbon dioxide.” Since methane is more than 20 times more impactful as a greenhouse gas than carbon, you’re significantly reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from the farm. And that carbon dioxide is considered neutral, because it comes from the plants the cows eat, which extract carbon dioxide from the air.

The other big upside to using an anaerobic digester is odour reduction. I grew up in farm country, and I am all too familiar with the smell when farmers spread manure on their fields as fertilizers. That odour is nearly completely removed during the digestion process. Matt quoted a farmer from Vermont, who said, “Since I installed a digester, my neighbours wave at me with all five fingers.” That would definitely make breathing much more pleasant. By putting a price on the benefits like cleaner waterways, odour reduction, nutrient management and carbon offsets, as well as energy production, Matt is hoping to make anaerobic digesters more affordable to farmers.

After speaking with Matt, I’m sold on the benefits of Cowpower. I haven’t signed on myself yet, just because it’s quite a lot more expensive than renewable natural gas from my gas company. However, I’m definitely considering it, and I’ll be keeping an eye on my monthly budget to see if I can swing it.

I wonder what you think – would you be willing to pay a premium on your electricity bill to support a program like this? And do you think this is the type of thing that governments and energy companies should be investing in? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Soaking up Inspiration from Leading Moms Speaker Dina Goldstein

There’s a universal truth that I discovered when I started my podcast: everyone has a story. This truth was driven home recently when I met Dina Goldstein. We were at a children’s birthday party, and we talked about our kids and the weather and that sort of thing. When my daughter and I were leaving, her dog Taco jumped into my car and I had to get her to come rescue him. I knew she was a photographer, because she was taking some photos, but I didn’t understand what kind of photographer.

Later, I happened to come across Dina’s website, and I recognized her images because they’ve gone viral. I just didn’t make the connection at the party. Her portfolio includes a lot of amazing work, but her two personal projects, Fallen Princesses and In the Dollhouse, really stand out for me. I would describe them, but if a picture’s worth a thousand words (and these ones definitely are) it would take a novel, so go look at them if you haven’t seen them already.

I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Dina recently, today I’m sharing that with you.

Dina Goldstein In the Dollhouse Leading Moms
Image courtesy Dina Goldstein, from In the Dollhouse

Conversation with Photographer Dina Goldstein

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your family?
My family came to Vancouver in 1976 from Israel. I didn’t speak English until I was eight. I grew up on Vancouver’s West Side and now I have made my home on the East Side. I live with my husband Jonas and my two girls Jordan (seven) and Zoe (three).

How did you get into photography?
What began as an interest in taking better photos led to a 20 year professional career in photography. I started photography at 23; I was young and very eager. At the time I was surrounded by all kinds of artists: musicians, actors, painters, photographers. I had a world of material to photograph. I set up a studio in my apartment and went for it.

I worked part time at a photo supply store and in my spare time photographed anything and everything. I could get discounts at the store on equipment and processing so it really helped me out.

You have a video that says you initially wanted to pursue photojournalism – what was it about that that appealed to you?
I originally wanted to document real life and journalism seemed a good choice for me. In many ways it suited my outgoing and perhaps ‘pushy’, ‘won’t take no for an answer’ personality.

I did travel to the West Bank and Gaza and photographed people living in refugee camps.

It was great while I was shooting but when I wasn’t it was quite isolating. I learned a lot about myself on these trips and decided that I should pursue my career closer to home.

When I got back from my travels I began to shoot anything and anyone! I worked for some weekly papers and went after magazine work. I photographed for almost every magazine in Canada and many from the US and Europe. I also photographed many people in business. Eventually I got advertising work, which led to more creative projects.

You consider yourself a visual storyteller. What makes a good visual story?
A good visual story draws you in and then keeps you thinking! If it’s not an obvious message at first then it should continue to tell the story as you notice the details.

I’m really interested in your personal projects. What was the first one you did?
From the very beginning I always shot subjects and events that interested me.

I would follow an event for many years (like the Gay Pride Parade, Chinese New Year, Polar Bear Swim) or I would wander around with my camera at the old age home that my mother works at. My first big effort was TRACKRECORD. I spent two years, every weekend, at Hastings Racecourse, photographing the regular gamblers. Real characters!

It was an amazing experience learning all about horses and horse racing while meeting those unique people.

Dina Goldstein Fallen Princesses Leading Moms
Image courtesy of Dina Goldstein, from Fallen Princesses

I want to hear about Fallen Princesses – what inspired that?
Jordan, my daughter, was three at the time and was just starting to get into the ‘Princess phase’. Princesses were everywhere and I too was getting introduced to them. (I grew up in Israel in the early 70’s, and was not exposed to Disney at all.)

Just around the same time my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.The two events collided and made me wonder what a Princess would look like if she had to battle a disease, struggle financially or deal with aging. I began to imagine what could happen to the Princesses later in life and after the happily ever after. Naturally they would have to deal with challenges that all modern woman face.

I saw the photos for In the Dollhouse, and they’re amazing. Where did that come from?
In the Dollhouse is just a progression of me following my two daughters. Playing with dolls is a way for girls to role play and pretend.

I started thinking about the messages that they were receiving from their Ken and Barbie dolls. Of course Barbie is an impossibly proportional doll and Ken has become so effeminate that he is barely recognizable. I let my imagination go wild and created alternative worlds for these characters.

Have your daughters ever seen your work?
Yes of course! My daughters get to come to the shoots!

They love meeting Ariel, Snow White and Barbie. However if you ask me do they understand the concepts behind the images, then I’ll tell you that they are not sophisticated enough yet. These images are made for adults.

What do you hope people take away from your images?
Yes I express myself through my work and yes my pictures can be controversial. Often people interpret the work differently than I intended and that’s just fine with me. If dialogue happens then I’m happy. Good art creates dialogue.

My main message is that this world is so complex and everyone has their own challenges to deal with. What might seem ‘perfect’ on the outside is most likely not

I have received so many letters over the years from people, all over the world (male and female) telling me that my work has ‘moved’ and ‘inspired’ them. To me that’s profound!

Thank you so much, Dina, for agreeing to the interview! If you happen to live in Vancouver as well, there’s an amazing event coming up on October 3, 2012 where Dina will be speaking. Leading Moms is happening during school hours at the HR MacMillan Space Centre. Dina is going to be just one of an amazing panel of presenters, including Natalie Angell-Besseling of Shanti Uganda, a past guest on the Strocel.com podcast. I will be there myself, soaking up the inspiration.

Leading Moms

The Amusement Park Student Surpasses the Master

I am a daredevil when it comes to carnival rides. I love to feel the wind in my hair, I love the feeling of butterflies in my stomach, and I love that moment just before a ride starts when you’re filled with anticipation. My children both share my passion for amusement park thrills. Both of them love to go fast, but my seven-year-old daughter Hannah is the braver of the two so far. I’ll never forget taking her on the kids’ roller coaster when she was only 18 months old or so. She laughed out loud the whole time, until the ride stopped and she started crying because she didn’t want to get off. Everyone else thought she was frightened. I knew different.

For years now I’ve been eagerly awaiting the day when one of my children reached the coveted 48 inches in height, so that I could have an amusement park partner in crime. Last week when we visited Playland here in Vancouver, Hannah measured in at just 48 inches. There were still a few rides that were off limits, but Hannah was now tall enough for most of the really good ones. Right off the bat, we set off for the iconic wooden roller coaster, a fixture here in this city. Before we were even halfway through that ride, she was planning our next ride – the roller coaster that spins you upside down. And then she planned the next ride, and the next ride, and the next ride.

She made it over the 48" line at Playland
Hannah’s thrilled to be over 48 inches

I think that most teachers have a moment when they realize their students have surpassed them. I had that moment during my visit to Playland with Hannah. There’s a ride there called the AtmosFEAR, although I didn’t know that was what it was called until after I rode it. It looks like a much taller version of the Wave Swinger, which I’ve ridden many times and love. Hannah had been saying over and over, “I know I’m not tall enough for the big swing ride, but I can’t wait to try it!” When we realized that she was in fact tall enough, I couldn’t see any harm in riding it with her.

It was only just now in checking out the website that I read the stats on the AtmosFEAR. Apparently, while you’re on this ride you’re travelling 70km/h (43.5mph) and you’re 218 feet up in the air. That is high. That is fast. And it goes on and on for what is probably under five minutes, but really feels like a whole lot longer when you literally think you are going to die, as I did. I was totally and completely terrified, in a way that I have never been terrified before. The fact that my daughter kept wiggling and twisting in the seat beside me to get a better view didn’t help. She was having the time of her life. I was planning what to do when her buckles gave way and she went flying. How could I save her without dying myself?

I'm a carnival daredevil, but I literally thought I would die on this ride
What was I thinking agreeing to ride this?

When my feet finally touched down Hannah asked to go on the ride again. I said no. She asked more emphatically. I told her that I would never, ever set foot on that ride again for as long as I loved. She believed me this time, and I resisted the urge to kiss the ground. My husband, who does not share my love of rides enjoyed a good laugh. I spent a while doing some deep breathing.

A little bit of exhilaration is all in good fun. Too much exhilaration is terrifying. I recently discovered just where that line in the sand lies for me. Where Hannah’s line in the sand lies, however, is still an open question.

Do your kids like amusement park rides, or are they more cautious and reserved? And have you ever been on a ride that your child enjoyed but that scared the living daylights out of you? Tell me all about it!

Salmonberry Lessons

June means salmonberries here in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past week or so my kids and I have been eating every berry we can get our hot little hands on. They grow wild here, along roadsides and in forests. They seem to prefer a little bit of shade and lots of water, so the very best place to find them is alongside the creeks that wind their way through my suburban neighbourhood, carrying water down from the mountains and on to the river and, eventually, the sea.

Berries are my favourite food to forage for. They’re tasty and beautiful, like hidden gems that are there for the picking, if only you know where to look. Few things make me as excited as finding a good picking spot, where there are plenty of ripe berries just waiting for me. My time picking wild berries has taught me many things. Each berry carries its own lessons. The lessons of blackberries are hard-won, because of their prickly barbs that can ensnare you if you’re not careful. The lessons of salmonberries are different, but they are no less valuable. Today I’m thinking about those lessons.

A ripe yellow berry

What I’ve Learned from Salmonberries

  • Not every yellow berry is unripe – and not every yellow berry is ripe. To really enjoy the food you’re picking you need to learn what you’re looking for.
  • If you eat nothing but berries for 48 hours – as I did at summer camp once as a 12-year-old – you may learn to regret the extreme overindulgence.
  • Wild berries taste best when eaten in wild places. If you pick them and bring them home, they will be missing something.
  • Some of us do best out of the hot sun.
  • Not everyone enjoys every kind of berry (as the salmonberry’s detractors can attest to), but that doesn’t mean that you can’t appreciate their charms.
  • No berry tastes better than the one your child picks just for you.
  • Not every reward needs to be hard-fought, battling heat and thorns.
  • Some things are timeless, like these berries that people have been eating in this place since there have been people in this place.

What lessons have you learned while out picking berries?

Public Relations, Premier Christy Clark and Me

Wikipedia has this to say about public relations:

Public relations provides an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.

Before I was an active blogger I didn’t know much, if anything, about public relations. The first time I got a PR pitch I didn’t know what to do, with the pitch or with myself. It’s been a few years since that first PR email made its way into my inbox now, and I’ve developed some informal rules for myself. It’s my own rough framework that helps me decide whether or not something is a good fit. Here’s what I consider:

  • Is this something I would talk to a friend about? I consider the people who visit my blog to be friends, and I don’t want to share something that I don’t believe in.
  • Is this something that conforms with my values? I’m not about to promote a product that I feel isn’t sustainable, for example.
  • Would this make for good content? If it’s not sufficiently interesting, I don’t want to write about it, both for my own sake and for my visitors’ sakes.
  • Is this worth my time? I’m not interested in promoting someone’s product in exchange for “exposure”. I need to consider what value I am getting from the arrangement in return for my efforts.
  • Would participating be particularly fun or enriching for my kids or for me? If so, I’m more likely to jump on the opportunity.

I rarely get paid directly for the PR work I do, and I am very choosy about what opportunities I accept. When I am compensated in some way, I make that clear. I want to be transparent about what’s happening, and I want to feel good about what I’m doing. I’m not about to sell my soul in exchange for some free laundry soap. It’s just not worth it.

Waiting for the BC Family Day announcement
At the press conference for British Columbia’s new Family Day

One of the things that has been interesting to me lately is the way that other people respond to the PR work I do. When I get free admission to the Vancouver Aquarium or a free cardboard playhouse for review purposes, everyone seems pretty positive. When I accept an invitation to be at an event with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, the tone changes. On Twitter, people even said that if they had the chance to meet her, they’d say some pretty rude things. I think that basic civility is always called for, but the shift in attitudes was hard to miss.

I understand why politicians bring out everyone’s inner cynic. They love to make lots of promises, and a good portion of them never come to fruition. Plus, we all have different political orientations, and no one is better at highlighting those differences than politicians. It’s also true that anytime I’m invited to an event as a blogger, the unspoken expectation is that I will blog / tweet / post to Facebook / create a YouTube video / etc. So, yes, if I’m in a room with a politician and a whole bunch of mom bloggers, I get that there’s some PR happening. They’re hoping to get something from me, by giving me something.

Goofing around while Christy Clark speaks
Hannah kisses the glass while Premier Christy Clark speaks

Yesterday I met the Premier again. There was an announcement about British Columbia’s new Family Day. Local families were invited, including mine. Since my daughter Hannah’s teachers were having a professional development day, I loaded her up and headed to the Vancouver Aquarium for the event. She got to hold a sea urchin, we had an opening to discuss how our government is structured, she got a front-row seat for a press conference, and she got to meet the leader of our province. I realized that my child was being used as a PR tool. I was okay with it, because (1) she really enjoyed herself, and (2) I felt she got a fair bit out of the experience on a rainy day that would otherwise have been spent watching too much TV.

Anytime you’re responding to a PR pitch, you’re making a calculation. For me, that means asking myself those questions I highlighted above. But what it really boils down to is this – am I willing to participate in this exchange? Is what I’m getting from this experience of sufficient value to myself and my audience (and not necessarily monetary value) that I’m willing to hold up my end of the bargain?

Premier Christy Clark, Hannah and a sea star
The Premier, my daughter, and a sea star

I am not what you would call a Christy Clark supporter (although I’m not a supporter of any other party leaders in my province, either). On the two occasions I’ve met her, I did that mental calculation, and decided that I would accept the bargain that comes with any PR pitch. The opportunity outweighed the downside. I understand that some people may attribute certain political leanings. While that’s not the case, I can accept that. I am willing to own my decisions. But I think it’s interesting how the PR ploy (which it surely is) is pointed out when there’s a politician involved, while no one called PR ploy on my free ferry passage to Victoria earlier this month to cover an exhibit at the Royal BC Museum.

I’m not the only blogger who runs into this type of situation. Many people accept far more PR pitches than I do, without a word of complaint. And then one day the accept a pitch from Nestle, or McDonald’s, or they go a little overboard when presented with swag. On the one hand, I think it’s important to own your choices. You need be clear about each opportunity that comes your way, and who you’re working for. This is why I myself have passed up pitches from brands like Nestle, McDonald’s and Coca Cola. On the other hand, it can be shocking for people who’ve never faced any pushback to suddenly encounter it.

Hannah floats her "free ice cream for children" plan to Christy Clark
Hannah floats her “free ice cream for children” plan to the Premier

When we accept a PR opportunity, we’re lending our voices to a cause. It’s important that we recognize what impact accepting the opportunity will have on the way others view us. My experiences meeting the Premier have definitely highlighted that for me, and underlined the bargain I’m making. As I said, I accept that. I can honestly say that I would make the same decisions again. But I also think that it’s an illuminating experience. There are clearly some products we’re willing to be sold (cardboard playhouses!) and some products we’re not willing to be sold (politicians we disagree with!). It’s given me food for thought, both as a blogger and as a consumer. What bargains am I willing to make on both ends of that equation? My answers are always evolving.

I wonder what you think. How do you decide what opportunities are and aren’t worth accepting? Do you find that you respond differently to the PR ploy depending on how you feel about the product? And have you ever had a negative response to a review or article you’ve written based on a PR pitch? I’d love to hear!

PS – Family Day is going to be the second Monday of February, which is very disappointing for me because Hannah’s birthday often falls on the third Monday of February. I was hoping my kid would get a birthday long weekend. I guess that even PR pitches we accept with open eyes can bring disappointment.

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