We are bombarded by advertisements, displays, salespeople, and online ads of ‘the perfect gift.’
It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?
Or do you love the hustle and bustle of the season? Worrying what to get and how you’re going to find the time to even get it?
Do you love the sleepless nights filled with dreams of recipes that fail, presents that are returned, and family that doesn’t make it home for the holiday?
Do we lose something, in this commercialized version of Christmas, or do we gain what we wait for all year, to be with our families, months of planning, all over in hours of endless preparations and a few minute meal.
Is this, what Christmas was meant to be? Is this, what Christmas felt like when you were a child? Is it filled with excitement and wonder and magic and awe of the beauty that surrounds you in the lights and the giant trees, and the bigger than life presents that Santa brought for you? Is this, what Christmas still feels like to you, today?
Or can we agree, maybe, that as we’ve grown older, our families bigger, and our hearts maybe a tiny bit smaller, (I mean, how often do you really see the neighbors anyway, they don’t need a gift from you)…can we agree that maybe, as the old saying goes, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Perhaps, the Grinch was on to something.
I’ve always been in awe of the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever your belief may be, Christmas is filled with hope and majestic wonder. Just look into the eyes of a child, or a loved one. I dare you not to smile.
Joy. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Extravagance. Tradition. Closeness. Giving.
Just a few of the words that describe Christmas for me.
But if I’m honest, I’ve lost some of the magic, too.
It’s easy to do. I think that in our fast paced, need it now, have to get the best of the best, world, we forget that the true meaning of Christmas is love. That the true spirit of Christmas is in giving, but not just giving because we have to for the many reasons that we’ve been lead to believe, but giving because it comes from our heart. Giving that means something to us, from deep within us, because it gives us joy.
Stressing over what to get everyone and spending more money than we have does not bring us joy, let’s be real here.
Joy is in the little moments of putting up the tree with our family, baking with the kids, getting that gift off the top of our niece’s or nephew’s Christmas list because we can afford it, and we know how happy they will be playing with that toy, with us. It is in the moments of, regardless of a Christmas tree with presents under it, or food on the table, we are surrounded by people who love us, exactly as we are.
Christmas is a time of togetherness.
This looks different for everyone. This could look like family and friends or neighbors and community. It could look like many presents and a table full of food or no presents and an empty belly. Or any combination of these.
There is one ingredient that can’t be taken away, despite our outside circumstances, and that ingredient is love.
We all have it, and we can all give it. We all want it and we can certainly all use it.
It might take a little humility and vulnerability, I know. It might take biting your tongue, and loving them anyway, despite what they’ve done. It might take a phone call that you’ve not made in a long time or a visit you’ve been dreading all year.
But if we can try to remember, even if just for a moment, that the perfect gift is love. That the reason for the season is hope. For a better tomorrow, for a better me, and a better you. For a better world, one that remembers love.
If we can try to all be gracious givers this holiday season. To only give what we have, with love and joy. To be peaceful and patient, with kindness that comes from a heart filled with love.
Love doesn’t look like what we bring, it looks like showing up for someone. Our families, friends, and perfect strangers.
The things just simply don’t matter when you are surrounded by people you love, or at least like, somewhat. Try to like them a little more this year.
May the true joy of Christmas surround you this holiday season ❤️
There is something that has challenged me these past couple of years. I like to give, to family and friends, but sometimes I look around and I see that my family and friends are quite blessed. So, I look for ways to give outside of the usual presents, sometimes at the expense of gifts for friends and family, and sometimes extra, depending on my own financial circumstance.
I’ve challenged myself, and I’d like to challenge you, as well.
There are many organizations in our region. The YWCA is of course one of them. These organizations need items on an ongoing basis. I know this can look like a lot of work and maybe even complicated, I know it did for me at first. Even overwhelming. But over time I’ve learned a thing or two.
Poverty has many faces in our region. Causes are no longer just national organizations that we click a button on the webpage and donate our annual allotment of donation money, though this is of course a great way to give back. When we look around our cities, we see the faces of people that have come upon hard times. I know that you see them.
But if you’re like me, you might like to know that you’re truly making a difference, and may have no idea who to give to.
Can I challenge you to make it meaningful? To you, and maybe even your family?
We can give to an organization or organizations that mean something to us, whether past or present.
For example, though I’ve never used the services of the YWCA, it has meaning to me because there are many times that I have been in a place where I’ve thought of an emergency shelter as an option. To give back one year, I learned that they have a list of needs on their website and I donated formula and diapers. I had no idea this was an item that was needed. I didn’t think about it simply because I don’t have children.
I was challenged once to put one thing that I didn’t need in a box each day for 30 days. I can’t even tell you how much joy it gave me to bring a box of items that I loved, but really didn’t need, to a local thrift shop. Thrift shops give back in big and meaningful ways to the community, and the world. They even gave me a gift in return, a punch card with a discount for the next time I shopped there. I craft, thrift stores are gold mines for items to craft with.
When I was in high school, our grade 9 French class decided to give a family Christmas. This meant buying all the gifts and food for the family’s Christmas. There are a few organizations that do this. I will never forget this experience.
There are many people in need of winter items, hats, scarves, mittens, that you can buy at the dollar store, or donate from home, as well as gently used coats and boots. This is a great way to teach kids to give.
I have been blessed to be a part of a motel ministry that provides food, clothing, and support to those living in the many residential motels in our region. I had no idea that many of our motels are no longer for tourists. The people who live there need everything. Stop by, take a look.
Books can be donated to many organizations, if you happen to like to read, and wanted to pick up a few extra for someone else.
And of course, there are the beautiful red kettles, of an organization that works tirelessly to combat many things, but hunger certainly being an important one of them.
The more I learn about what the organizations in our region do on a daily basis, the more inspired I am to give, based on what has direct meaning to me, or what might be an immediate need in our region right now, such as shelter and a warm meal during the cold months.
If you can’t give money, give time, and vice versa. Be creative. There is something that you have that someone else needs, whether it is time, talent, or treasure.
There are people in need all around us.
Have a wonderfully blessed holiday season.
When the topic of transition came up as a theme for this month’s blog, I realized that not only is that the perfect word to describe this month, but my entire year. For me, transition comes hand in hand with uncertainty. 2017 has been marked by many changes as I moved from my home of five years to a new place with a partner, took on caring for two more pets, worked my first contract job, entered my final year of my diploma program, and started a new field placement. This month, I was expecting to be coasting along as I settled into a sense of rhythm after the great waves of change calmed down.
I certainly did not expect this month to have started out feeling like I lost control of managing my life when the college faculty went on strike last month. Uncertainty was pervasive as many students felt left in the dark about whether or not their investment in a college education was worth the cost, and as college faculty fought for change to be made to improve working conditions. Now that the strike has been put to an end and students return to classrooms this week, there will certainly be many transitions to experience as we adjust to the semester being reworked.
Even before the strike started, life was throwing curve balls at me that were stretching me to my limits (like supporting my partner through a bout of pneumonia and being the target of fraud, to name a few), so by the time it was clear that the school year was not at all going to pan out as anyone thought, I felt like it was just another unexpected bump in the road to wait out. However, I did end up feeling like I had no sense of direction without the structure of school, and struggled to use my free time in a productive way.
Despite these feelings, in reflecting on this tension-filled month of uncertainty, I’ve realized that I’ve come a long way in how I manage times of transition. There have been many difficult ones in my past, and many new ones just this year alone. I have to ask myself – am I desensitized, or have I just built resiliency? I’m really hoping it’s the latter. So with that being said, I’m here to share the 3 things I strive to do in my life while weathering through transitions:
1. Look to the past to find perspective.
History has shown that it is easy for me to get intimidated by things I can’t control, so much that it’s easy to forget how much my life has changed for the better in recent years. During transitional and uncertain times, I look back to my old journals and never fail to find some wisdom that helps me realize that things used to be far more daunting and more uncertain, and yet I managed to find joy in the unexpected. At this point, it is only my school schedule that seems uncertain, and I am very lucky that my means of survival are currently not. This knowledge helps me appreciate my life for what it is and prepare to face the future.
2. Open new doors while allowing others to close.
This is largely in reference to the transitions taking place in my social life. Now more than ever, I am seeing that people are always coming and going, and although some goodbyes have happened recently, there have been many hellos. This is also true in terms of opportunities, in that some undertakings of mine don’t always work out in the way I had hoped – but there is always something new to pursue that I never would have anticipated. I’m seeing that it’s okay for some things to come to an end (or a standstill), whether it be a relationship or a project, because there are always new beginnings coming right around the corner.
3. Challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone.
Case in point: this blog post. I decided to challenge myself to write this and feel the rush of vulnerability I’m going to feel when it goes online. I’ve also taken on new leadership roles in the community that have been intimidating, but necessary for my growth. Going out of my comfort zone and trying new pursuits helps me grow even more comfortable with the discomfort that comes with transitions and uncertainty. Instead of having to respond to events taking place beyond my control, I get to make a choice to step into the unknown, which is a pretty empowering feeling.
Ultimately, I’m realizing the truth in that the uncertainty that comes with transitions is a natural part of life, and although I may still be uncomfortable with the idea of uncertainty, I’ve made leaps in how I respond to it. Everyone has had their own way of reacting to the unexpected, and while the circumstances in my life may be changing, my approaches to dealing with them have always been reliable
There’s a quote I’ve seen displayed at my placement agency that speaks to me. It reads:
“Find the courage to let go of what you can’t change.”
In accepting what I can’t control in my life and taking charge of the things I can, I’m hopeful that I can be courageous enough to make friends with uncertainty, and not only welcome times of transition as they arise in my life, but embrace them with optimism.
International Men's Day (IMD) was on November 19th this year. "Objectives of International Men's Day include a focus on men's and boy's health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them." IMD recognizes the importance of men's mental health, addressing the suicide rate of men, and speaking to the crucial discussion of men's homelessness and poverty. The YW operates a 15-bed Men's Emergency Shelter for men and their children. We think it is important to celebrate them and their successes as well.
What if the very things that we dislike about men, are the very things that make them men?
Men fix things, or try to, even when we don’t ask.
Men step up and are good at things like being a dad when we ask, though often we don’t have to.
Men are logical sometimes before they are emotional, which makes them good at solving immediate problems, turning off their emotion for a time and having emotion later. Whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, they do it and they are good at it.
Sometimes they suffer for it. Sometimes they lose their life over it. Sometimes they become heroes because of it.
This month we look at Movember, which brings awareness to health issues specific to men. We look at International Men’s Day, the theme being Celebrate Men.
I have thought a lot about what to write. I even asked Facebook.
I had different ideas, thoughts about many things, but one thing stuck.
Men are beautiful.
Men are beautiful, and this is the absolute last thing they want to hear.
They are a kind of beauty that we forget about.
They are strong, but when they are weak and vulnerable, it brings tears to our eyes.
They are told their whole lives. Be strong. Toughen up. Get it done. Well.
As women, we expect men to be strong, because who doesn’t want a man with muscle that can make us feel protected, but then we want men to be loving and caring, at the very same time that we call their emotions, weakness.
If there was one thing that we could do this month, I think it would be this.
To the beautiful men of this world, you don’t have to be strong. Be weak, we understand.
Tell us your logical reasons and your illogical emotions, maybe we have some insight.
You don’t have to be afraid of how you feel, or what the outcome of your emotions might be, we love emotions.
We are sorry that we forget that you are human, not superhuman. But you’re still allowed to be our Superman, sometimes.
We love you, just as you are, beautiful and strong, all at once.
You are just as necessary to everything in this world; love, family..and we are sorry that we make you feel that everything you’ve been taught from the beginning, that you must provide for your family, is the very thing we shame you for the minute you come home.
In honor of men this month and every month, may we look to you for your knowledge, wisdom, strength; and may we recognize that love and care looks different to men than women.
May we seek to understand the things that the men in our lives do for us each day instead of wondering why they don’t do it the way we want them to.
May we recognize their heart, that their kindness often looks like doing things for us, when all we want is a hug. Or someone to listen.
May we honor their effort, may we acknowledge that maybe sometimes they need us to do things for them to.
May we recognize their emotions not as weakness but as beautiful strength.
May we be gentle in telling them what we need from them, knowing what we know now.
May we thank them for everything that they are, today, tomorrow, and always.
May we recognize that it takes both men and women, exactly as they are, growing each day, to make the world better.
By: Valerie Chalmers
Throughout Canadian history women have actively participated in war from the home front to the front lines. The percentage of women in the Canadian Armed Forces (Regular Force and Primary Reserve combined), the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army range between 12.4% and 18.4%. Women enrollment in the CAF sits below 20% for a variety of reasons. The CAF have implemented a variety of initiatives for employment equity and earlier this year the Canadian Armed Forces launched a program to give women the opportunity to learn about military life before they decide to join.
“War has impacted Canadian women’s lives in different ways, depending on their geographical location, and their racial and economic status. Pre-20th-century conflicts had great impact on women in Canada — Aboriginal women in particular — whose communities could be dispossessed and devastated by colonial militaries. Women were interned in Canada during wartime — that is, detained and confined — because their background could be traced to enemy states.” – The Canadian Encyclopedia
Canadian women have had a consistent presence throughout the various wars our country has been involved in. During both the First and Second World Wars women organized home defence, trained in rifle shooting and military drill. In 1941, 50,000 women enlisted in the air force, army and navy. Throughout different divisions they were trained for clerical, administrative and support roles as well as cooks, nurses and seamstresses. Women’s involvement expanded when they began to work as parachute riggers, laboratory assistants, drivers and within the electrical and mechanical trades. Women also worked to maintain our home economy by volunteering inside and outside of the country, producing and conserving food, raising funds for hospitals, ambulances, hostels and aircrafts. Women have made considerable contributions to Canada’s military efforts, despite this it wasn’t until 1989 where all military positions were opened to women.
I have to preface my blog with a backstory. I will try to make it quick.
In 2011, I was hired at the Howard Johnson Hotel by the Falls by a gentleman named Fernando Morales, who was my manager. This was one of my first summer jobs, where I worked throughout university. Fernando became more than just a boss to me – he was a mentor, a leader, and a dear friend. Even after we both left the hotel for other positions, we remained connected and worked together on other projects.
In 2014, I was looking for jobs after college, and I happened to score an interview with the Ontario Minister of Labour’s Chief of Staff. As a Labour student, this was my dream job. She called me on the Friday of that week and asked me to come in to meet the Minister himself on Monday. I had called Fernando in a brief panic and asked for advice on interviewing – he had done hundreds of interviews during his career – and his powers of persuasion were second to none. He suggested we get together and he generously took the evening off work for me, paid for our meals, and at the end, he thanked me for coming to him for help. He told me that it meant a lot to him that I came to him for this first. If I learned anything from my time as one of Fernando’s lucky staff, I learned to work hard (although, that was a lesson I learned first from my own father), and to be generous with my time and my resources – and my blessings. I learned to treat anyone who came to me for help the same way I’d want my own family to be treated.
In November of last year, Fernando was in a car accident on his way to work. He was airlifted to Sunnybrook hospital where he passed away. Not a week later, I was also in a car accident after being clocked by another driver. I was fine, if a little shaken up, but my car was written off. Fernando’s funeral was on a Saturday, and I spent the latter part of that same weekend car-shopping. I bought a bright blue 2016 Prius C and it was special because it was the first car I bought brand new. It was the first time I could afford to do so – a steady job allowed me to be a bit pickier than I had been in the past. I’d like to think that it was partially on account of Fern – he had provided me with the tools necessary to obtain my first professional role out of college, which eventually lead to my current position. And I’d like to think that partaking in No Fixed Address is my way of paying forward and honouring the generosity and kindness he always showed to me.
Kelly Snow is on the YWCA Niagara Region’s Board of Directors and apart of the YW BOD NFA team.
As students prepare for graduation, growing to a new phase in their lives, what advice would you give them that may help with this process?
Be fearless, keep your options open, and always choose in favour of your passions. I believe you can do anything.
June has us celebrating Fathers, what sage advice or words of wisdom, has your Dad given you, that you want to share?
A man of few words, my Dad taught me that you never have to raise your voice to be heard. Always be humble and kind.
What is/was your relationship with your Father like? If you could change one thing, what would it be?
My relationship with my Dad was one of ease, love and humour. The only thing I would change is, he’d still be with us.
The month of June always brings such promise of renewal, what is your spring/summer renewal ritual? Do you have one?
As soon as the sun warm the earth, you will find me wandering the Garden Centres. Inhaling deeply to fill my soul, and buying way too many plants for the small gardening space I have.
Share with us something new that you have tried, are doing or embarking on this spring/summer.
Tried Edamame, and now I am hooked! So delicious.
As students prepare for graduation, growing to a new phase in their lives, what advice would you give them that may help with this process?
The best advice I can give to students getting ready to graduate is, explore. Explore your community, country, yourself or the world. Know that this is your life and you do not have to conform to societal expectations. One of the best parts of graduating is knowing you can take some time to discover yourself. Set goals, make a plan and do things for you. It is through self care and exploration that you will discover your place in the world. Never underestimate the value of exploring your own community, understanding where you are can help lead you to where you want to go.
Do you believe students graduating today in any field of study have been prepared for the future, for a career in their field?
Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.
For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.
I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).
What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.
1) THE KID COMES FIRST
This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?
2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)
Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.
Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.
3) BE A FAMILY
Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.
This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.
4) BE THE GROWN UP
SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.
All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.
Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.
This year our bloggers wanted to know what their children’s responses would be to “If your mom was a super hero, what would her super power be?” Here are some of the responses:
So, asking your kid “if I was a super hero, what would my super powers be?” opens up a dialogue I think every parent should have with their kid(s). My 9 year old son’s answers were both, by turns, eyebrow raising, laughter-inducing, and tear-jerking when I realized how impressed he is by the simple things I do every day. I think we both came away from our chat with an even bigger appreciation for each other.
Also, as a note, should people think this was easy, it took my kid 3 days to bother thinking about the question, and then the threat being unable to continue his video game should he not throw me a bone. So no, he isn’t quite as perfect as these answers are going to make him sound.
My super powers were:
1) Super strength-because when he comes home every day he lauches himself at me and I can still catch him with one arm.
2) Super human computer abilites-because I “know how to do everything on a laptop”
3) The ability to fix ANYTHING- I put a memory card in his smart watch and was sewing something at the time.
And my favourite:
4) The ability to stare down a villain until they tell the truth. Oh God that one made me laugh. Pretty self explanatory that one.
My daughter says: “Teleportation, because she’s never late.”
My son says: “The super power of infinite hugs.”
My four year old said that my super power would be, “Moana”. I don’t even know what that means… Lol!
3 1/2 year-old Kayla says, “Elsa. You need to be Elsa!!! Elsa got powers. Blue powers that froze Anna’s heart.”
“My moms super power is knowing what I’ve done, from the things I don’t say.”
My 9 year-old son Jesse says “To give people lots more health and to have more health for you too. To give health whenever you touch somebody.” My 6 yr old Savannah says ” To stick on the wall and lazer eyes and other thing too..let me fink…electrocute hands and one more thing o.k…o.k…ummm Speedy.” lololol I am sure going to be busy as a super hero!! I better go get some sleep! hahahaa
Happy Mother’s Day
I am very lucky to have so many strong, amazing and empowering female friends. We have had many discussions about how we don’t really feel affected by gender inequality because we grew up feeling equal to men and we have always been very independent. I have one amazing friend, Kelsey, who ended up becoming a tool and die maker, and is one of the only women not in an administrative role at the company she works for. She’s been featured in newspapers and magazines about her success in the field, and is a role model for other women to start a career in the trades. Our friend group always jokes about her success and badassness (that’s a word), and her ability to do, well, anything. She had graduated 2 different programs with honours and awards by the time most of us had graduated university. When we were talking about International Women’s Day/Month at the last Blogger’s Meeting, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her about her journey in the tool and dye field.
Amazingly, she had been asked to instantly fly down to South Carolina to do some work at another factory. She was working non-stop down there and still found the time to answer these questions for me, so thank you!
D: So what the heck do you do for a living?
K: I am a red seal certified tool and die maker, I work for a company that builds the dies for many different companies such as Ford, GM, BMW, Mercedes etc. I work as a lead hand delegating jobs, fixing issues with the dies, making sure we meet the customers’ timelines, and provide a die that will make a dimensionally and cosmetically correct car part. My company often builds dies that produce more complicated parts and the ones consumers actually see, such as the body side, tailgate, and doors. Tool and die is a hard trade to describe to people, but there’s my attempt explaining it in one sentence.
D: Well you did a pretty good job at explaining it, in my opinion. Did you always want to be a tool and die maker, or what did you want to be when you grew up, as a child?
K: I remember as a child saying I wanted to be a veterinarian, often a popular choice with kids who like cats and dogs but I never obsessed over a certain career.
D: So what did you do after high school?
K: In high school I used the co-op placement to work at a bakery, and that experience helped me decide to go to George Brown College for Baking and Pastries Arts. I remember in grade 11, really having no idea what I wanted to do but knowing university wasn’t right for me, so I picked baking as a career path.
D: [Sidenote: Kelsey then became the friend we would force to make cakes for us when we had a party or holiday coming up.] So what made you want to change careers?
K: I found the culinary trade relies heavily on your passion for the work, and often the desire to open your own business. I enjoyed baking but you work long days, often really early mornings, and you have to work holidays. I never really got a chance to enjoy my time off, or get time off to begin with. I knew I would never open my own bakery and I felt the job would never allow me to be financially independent. All the job postings I was seeing for bakers were often lower paying with no benefits. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.
D: Okay, so you decided you wanted to do something different. What made you think of a tool and die worker?
K: I decided I didn’t want a career as a pastry chef, but I also didn’t know what I should do instead. My father works in the trades as an insulator and said he thought I would make a good millwright. That made me start looking into millwrights and possible schooling options. I discovered the Centre for Skilled Trades and Development in Burlington. They offered a Millwright/Tool and Die Pre-Apprenticeship Program affiliated with a company that would hire you depending on how the training goes. The program was also only 6 months, which was great because I wouldn’t have to take a long break from working full time. Based on the schooling, I decided I would become a tool and die maker (not a millwright) and was hired as an apprentice. I continued my training for 3 more years by going to Sheridan College one day a week while continuing to work. It was great because I wasn’t racking up any student debt (my tuition was only $400 a year) and received government grants from companies supporting the skilled trades.
D: What was your very first day on the job like?
K: The first day was extremely over whelming! No amount of classroom training can prepare you for, what looks like, such a chaotic environment. A production plant is fast paced with many moving elements. I could feel that eyes were on me. To make things worse, I didn’t have a proper work uniform yet so I felt really self-conscious walking around in my jeans since they are more form fitting than regular uniform pants.
D: Were you scared at all to work in a mostly male-dominated industry?
K: I feel like scared is the wrong term. I think I was just as nervous as anyone would be starting a new job, regardless of gender. I had no idea if and how I would be accepted. I honestly believe the men I worked with were just as nervous and worried that they might say something wrong or inappropriate to me. For the first couple months, I don’t think I had a genuine conversation or joked around with any of my coworkers. The conversation was often super formal or just filler talk about the job. It definitely became easier to bond with my coworkers when I got a new job at a different company that had more employees closer to my age.
It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
D: What are you most proud of during your time in the tool and die industry?
K: My current role as a lead hand has come with a lot of responsibility, stress, and a strong feeling of pride. I am one of very few female tool and die makers and it’s even rarer for one to take on a supervisor type position. It is the most stressful and challenging job I have ever had, and that just proves to me what a smart decision I made with this career path.
D: What are some funny or crazy stories that you can share with us?
K: I have been in a fair share of strange, awkward, and funny situations at work; most times it becomes a good story to tell my friends and sometimes it’s something that really pisses me off. I can share that the men’s washroom is covered with graffiti and inappropriate writing on the walls. When a co-worker told me about that I was so confused because they were all working adults, I just didn’t get it. There was also a time when a mystery person was drawing penises all over the factory, and it got so bad that management had to get involved and start checking security cameras. It was so embarrassingly unprofessional and they never figured out who it was.
I remember at the first place I worked, there was this one line worker that wouldn’t stop asking me out. The first time he asked me, I politely said “no sorry, I have a boyfriend.” But he would still always ask to take me out to dinner! I would walk a different way around the shop to avoid him because it was always such an uncomfortable conversation. Eventually he quit or was fired, so I didn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now, if anyone asks me out I just immediately shut it down. I have worked at my current company for so long everyone knows me and that I’m married and it’s not a situation I face anymore.
Other than that type of thing, every now and then at the lunch table someone will be looking at their phone and they start laughing and pass the phone around to the other guys at the table. Then they stop and realize I am also at the table and they don’t know if they should pass the phone to me or not. I guess they don’t want to take the chance of potentially offending me. It sometimes feels like high school, except I somehow ended up in the boys’ locker room.
More recently, I found myself working down in the States fixing issues an assembly plant had with the dies we built them. The plant manager would go and talk to one of the guys who was down there working with me and asked him for timelines and the progress of the job. My co-worker paused and proceeded to point at me and say “I don’t know, go ask my boss.” Honestly, I find nothing really phases me any more. I really enjoy my job and the work environment. The job is awesome; not just the work and the financial benefits, but all the entertaining stories I get to tell my friends.
D: Tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments, or something you are most proud of.
K: I have had a lot of success in my career, (considering I have only been working in this industry for 6 years) and I am already a lead hand at my company. But, I am the proudest of the fact that I am able to inspire other woman to work in the trades, and breakdown the preconceived beliefs about women working in this industry. Volunteering with Skills Ontario and talking to high school girls about the many career options out there brings me great pride. I have had a couple different women tell me that my career story gave them motivation to pursue a future in the trades.
D: What does your husband think about your profession?
When we were first dating and I told him I was quitting the bakery to go back to school for a tool and die maker, he was confused. Mostly because he had no idea what a tool and die maker was, and secondly because he didn’t want me to stop making delicious cookies. Now that he gets what I do every day, he is really impressed and proud of what I have been able to accomplish. However, sometimes he can get frustrated with the amount of hours I work. There are times when I will work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week and get home and immediately pass out on the couch. We have talked about balancing work and life, and how there will be times when I have to work those long days, or randomly go to the States for three weeks for a job. He knows how important my job is to me, and he’s the person I confide in when I had a bad day, when nothing goes right, and when I’m questioning my abilities. My career has also been beneficial to him: he doesn’t have to be the sole breadwinner in our household, and was able to take a lower paying position with better options for advancement because I could support us.
D: Thank you, Kelsey! You can add this blog post to your wall of newspaper and magazine articles about how amazing you are!
K: [Eye roll and laughs]