COM0014 – Blog #1: My “trip” of a summer vacation

After a disappointing summer in 2016, I was determined to make the most of the nice weather this year. I started my planning nice and early, in February in fact (when I reached the height of I’m-sick-of-freezing- weather-itis), and searched Airbnb for cottage rentals.

I had figured a cottage would be perfect for our troop, which consists of me, my boyfriend, his 12-year-old daughter and her best friend, and our dog (a four-year-old Akita, which I’m only describing to win brownie points from the dog people reading this).

It didn’t take me long to find the perfect spot: a beautiful cottage in the Algonquin Highlands, equipped with ample yard space and a fire pit, a dock on the beautiful water, a TV for rainy days, and a full kitchen. Perfect! I booked it for July 1st to July 8th, a great kick-start to summer.

I envisioned myself sitting in an Adirondack chair by the water, reading my book with nothing but the peaceful sounds of birds chirping and waves crashing along the shore. It would be bliss. That is, until I got the reality check of a viral Huffington Post blog: “Vacation or Trip? A Helpful Guide for Parents.” In the blog post, author M. Blazoned clarifies the difference between a vacation and a trip:

  • Going with kids and a dog? Trip.
  • Will there be a kitchen? Trip.
  • Bringing your own groceries? Trip.
  • Drinking piña coladas on the beach and only worrying about yourself? Vacation.

Based on this criteria, I was going on a “trip.” However, I wasn’t travelling with toddlers, I don’t like eating out every day anyway, plus I want to bring my dog (I’d feel guilty spending all that time outside without the dog there to enjoy it). So how bad could this be?

We decided to over-prepare with an excessive amount of groceries and packed our luggage with everything but the kitchen sink. When we arrived, the cabin was pretty and spotlessly clean, the fire pit was perfection, and the water was absolutely stunning. Regardless of its “trip” status, I was giddy to be in this oasis!

Like the blog predicted, there were some “trip” snags. The girls got moody, the food quickly disappeared (how do they eat so much?), and the dog ran off into the forest (don’t worry dog people, we found her!). Also, my bed was rock-hard and I quickly realized that relaxing reading time was hard to come by.

But, there were also lots of “trip” pros. The girls loved the inflatable flamingo and bed I bought for the lake, which led to lots of laughs. My boyfriend and I swam every day and spent most of our time outside enjoying the sun, instead of in front of computer screens. We roasted marshmallows, played Monopoly, and genuinely had a great time.

Sure, it may not have been a “vacation,” but I don’t like piña coladas anyway.

How social media has made reading cool

reading-bookI became a bookworm in high school when a friend challenged me to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first novel in the wizarding series by J.K. Rowling. I was hooked, enthralled in a fascinating story that brought me into a magical world. Prior to this, I struggled with reading comprehension and labelled the activity as a chore, but this novel changed that for me. I started visiting the library down the street from my high school, finding other characters to love and plots to enjoy. I completed my 40 hours of community involvement – a criteria for graduating high school in Ontario – at the library and was later hired there as a Student Page, a glorified title for shelving books. It was bliss for me because I got the first glimpse of new arrivals and great book recommendations from librarians.

I know… I was a super cool teenager. I had frizzy hair, always felt awkward and out of place, worked hard for perfect grades, and couldn’t wait to apply for university. Being behind a book brought me to another world through the pages and it was an escape that I needed.

While I no longer work at a library, I do still love to read. But reading is no longer a solo and somewhat isolating hobby for me anymore, and that is thanks to social media. With the rise of social media comes the rise of the introverts, and those homebodies are #Bookstagram-ing up a storm!

Me at "The Making of Harry Potter" studio tour in England (2015).

Me at “The Making of Harry Potter” studio tour in England (2015).

From book recommendations to online orders, contests to bookshelf photography and more, here are some ways the #bookworm is taking over social media:

  • Finding a book to read is easy thanks to great sites like Buzzfeed Books. When I need something to read, I scroll through that site and find great recommendations! I also follow their fantastic Facebook page, which has great book-themed content. Plus, when a great book pops up on my Facebook newsfeed, I can “save” it for later when I’m online shopping.
  • Speaking of which, purchasing a book is now easier than ever! While online book stores cannot compete with library prices, they can compete with real brick and mortar shops– even Chapters offers cheaper prices on their website than their stores! Another book shopping online hotspot is Amazon. And for the ultra-techy bookworm, eBooks can also be purchased online.
  • Book promotion has become a lot more fun thanks to social media. “New Arrival” stickers aren’t cutting it anymore and publishing houses and authors are getting creative with their online advertising efforts. Author Sophie Kinsella chatted with Chatelaine on Facebook Live and shares fun content on Instagram – like this cake cutting video at her Barnes & Noble book launch event – to promote her new novel My Not So Perfect Life. Interestingly, “My Not So Perfect Life” is about a woman who portrays her “not so perfect life” as very perfect on Instagram, misleading her followers—so even the plots of novels are changing with the rise of social media.
  • Social media stars are being used for their influence by book publishers and retail chains, which helps make their legions of loyal followers view reading as a cool hobby. Last year, British book retailer WHSmith enlisted blogger and YouTube superstar Zoella to create her own book club (remember when Oprah’s Book Club was the make it or break it?)
  • Posting a #Bookstagram, or book photos on Instagram, is super popular and filling up my Instagram feed. It’s hard not to scroll through this social media network and not be enticed to read. There are stylish #Booknerds (like @crimebythebook), contests, products (like this “Please Go Away I’m Reading” mug), monthly challenges, locations (this one of Lewiston Library makes me want to book a flight), and more. If I weren’t already a reader, I’d probably feel motivated to start just to be on trend.

I recently decided to get in on the action and created my own Instagram account, @moderngirlsbookclub. My plan is to post a new book to read every month and post discussion questions. I’ve always wanted to join a book club but never had the time, so I created this Instagram book club for other busy bookworms. It’s a brand new account, so I’d love any feedback you have!

And if you’re a bookworm, please post the name of your favourite novel and why you enjoy it so much.

— Social media posts —

Facebook: Reading may not have been the coolest hobby when I was a super nerdy teenager, but it’s making me a super cool adult thanks to the power of social media. Put your book down and read my latest blog post, “How social media is making reading cool,” here:

Twitter: Hey #bookworm friends, put down your novel and read my latest blog post, “How social media is making reading cool”:

Social media as a news source?

laptopI remember my grandparents sitting at the breakfast table, reading the morning newspaper over buttered toast and orange juice. My grandma would take the Entertainment section and the crossword puzzle, while my grandfather read through Business and Sports.

Today they just scroll through their iPad for stories.

I remember eating dinner with the 6 o’clock news playing in the background as a child, learning about car accidents and murders while eating chicken fingers with my family. The 6 p.m. news program was how my parents could learn about current events, so watching the 6 o’clock news became a daily family ritual.

Today, I stay informed by watching Trending Topics on Facebook and Twitter, and tune in for live events (like Trump’s inauguration) on Facebook Live.

I also remember road trips where my father would flick to the a.m. radio station to hear traffic updates, making us all hush to hear the report over the sound of cars whizzing by.

Now my dad just checks off his “Avoid Traffic” filter on the GPS and away we go!

I honestly do not remember the last time I watched television news (thanks to Netflix, I don’t even have satellite or cable anymore), picked up a newspaper or magazine, or heard a.m. radio news (my boyfriend streams Spotify playlists through Bluetooth). However, I don’t feel uninformed. On the contrary, I feel more informed than ever before.

This is because news is now convenient. I don’t have to race through the local newspaper before work in the morning or enjoy a family dinner with the TV on discussing gruesome facts, I don’t need to purchase a magazine at the drugstore to read the latest celebrity gossip or tune into the radio before a road trip to discover which roads to avoid. News and information is more convenient now! I can discover news stories throughout the day on my feed and “save” them to explore further at a time that suits my schedule.

Jessica Thom explores this topic in her doctoral dissertation Believing the News: Exploring How Young Canadians Make Decisions About Their News Consumption. In an interview with Ryerson Journalism, Jessica explained that she studied participants ranging from 18 to 29 years of age to find out how they consume news. Through her study, Jessica discovered that while young Canadians would discover news through social media, they would not stop their research at just clickbait headlines.

“They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media”

– Jessica Thom.

“They’re really getting kind of the bite-sized pieces of news from their social media, and then they either click on that article or they search that title and they find out more information through search engines,” Jessica told Ryerson Journalism. She added that social media was viewed as a way to “funnel important or interesting news” and then the participant would do further research about that topic on the sites of trusted news sources.

This study is very reflective of how I digest the news. I often spot a Trending Topic on Twitter, read through tweets about this topic to discover why it is popular, and then – if I am still curious – I continue my research elsewhere.

I do, however, see the cons in this news consumption method:

  • Our news is funneled through social media, which has an algorithm to highlight the topics we may be interested in the most.
  • We are only following up on news items from our feed that we are curious about, as opposed to sticking through an entire news program.
  • If we do not do further research, we are at risk of believing fake news.

However, as a graduate of a journalism program, there are flaws with using mainstream media as your only news source as well. As opposed to all of your social media networks funneling your news, you are relying on one TV network program choosing which stories are worth watching– with the pressure of selling commercial ad space and competing with other networks. This is true with newspapers as well; you are reading selected news items researched and written by overworked reporters and edited by someone under the pressure of keeping newspaper subscriptions and ad prices up in a dying industry.

In my opinion, no source is perfect, so do your research. But as an avid social media user, I feel more informed than I did following traditional mainstream media. I am getting my news from a variety of sources and making my own judgements, instead of being fed the news from one medium.

Do you feel social media is a good place to discover news stories or do the headlines just help with watercooler talk at work?

— Social media posts —

Facebook: I remember eating dinner with the 6 o’clock news playing in the background as a child, learning about car accidents and murders while eating chicken fingers with my family. Today, I stay informed by watching Trending Topics on Facebook and Twitter, and tune in for live events (like Trump’s inauguration) on Facebook Live. How do you consume the news? Read my latest blog post, “Social media as news source?” here:

Twitter: Have you heard the #news? Young Canadians are discovering news items on #socialmedia, but is this a trusted source?

Bell Let’s Talk shows the power of social media to do good

We see the power of social media with personal communication, brand awareness and politics, and on Wednesday, Jan. 25 we saw the power of social media for a cause.

My Bell Let's Talk Facebook profile picture

My Bell Let’s Talk Facebook profile picture

On Wednesday I participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day, which aims to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health issues. On this day, Bell donates 5¢ more to mental health initiatives for every Bell text, mobile and long-distance call, use of the Bell Let’s Talk Snapchat geofilter, view of the Bell Let’s Talk video on Facebook, and tweet and Instagram post using the #BellLetsTalk hashtag.

The college where I work hosted a Bell Let’s Talk event to raise awareness of mental health issues and increase participation in the Bell Let’s Talk social media efforts. Mental health is such an important topic in post-secondary institutions because college and university can be very stressful; there are so many social and academic pressures during this period in your life.

At this event, students and staff were encouraged to share #BellLetsTalk social media messages, enjoy musical performances, gain information about on-campus mental health supports, take some Bell Let’s Talk swag, and relieve stress by painting a canvas or riding an exercise bike. There was strong participation in the event and it was great to see everyone gather for a good cause.

“Mental health issues are often misunderstood and surrounded by stigma, but this initiative for dialogue and awareness is making it seem less taboo.”

But my campus were not the only ones participating in Bell Let’s Talk. According to the Bell Let’s Talk media release, there were more than 131 million Bell Let’s Talk interactions! How amazing is it that millions of people made the effort to show their support for mental health? Mental health issues are often misunderstood and surrounded by stigma, but this initiative for dialogue and awareness is making it seem less taboo; people are sharing their personal journeys with the world and their messages are being received with open minds and open hearts. It is beautiful to see how kind and caring the world can be!

“…the event may also contribute to improving Bell’s brand image”

On my social media feeds, Facebook friends changed their profile pictures to include the Bell Let’s Talk photo frame, and many shared status updates encouraging people to call or text them to help raise money for the cause. What I also noticed in these updates was messaging along the lines of: “regardless of your feelings of Bell as a service provider…” or “while I’m not Bell’s biggest fan…,” which I find interesting—in addition to raising money for a good cause, the event may also contribute to improving Bell’s brand image (a “greedy corporation” doing good might paint Bell in a better light).

I also read Instagram posts where people shared their personal mental health issues and encouraged followers to share their own as well, and I scrolled through countless tweets that helped make #BellLetsTalk a trending topic. I’m sure many of you came across this trending topic on your social media that day as well. According to the Bell Let’s Talk media release, Snapchat and Instagram were new partners to the cause this year, which helped it grow 4.6% from 2016. The end result, Bell Let’s Talk announced on Twitter, is a donation of $6,585,250.50 to mental health initiatives.

@Bell_LetsTalk announces the final results on Twitter

@Bell_LetsTalk announces the final results on Twitter

This visibility on mental health issues will help educate others and, I hope, end the stigma. I think for Bell as a communications company, this is the perfect cause to give to because talking about mental health issues and listening to those struggling is so important. And as a company with many negative customer reviews (ask around, how many of your friends have Bell customer service horror stories?), organizing an event to give back will certainly help improve their image.

Personally, whether Bell is donating to mental health initiatives because they genuinely care or because it’s a savvy public relations move, I’m just happy a powerhouse like Bell has taken on this important cause and is helping bring people together.

Do you think Bell organizes Bell Let’s Talk just for the sake of doing good or is it just a clever marketing move? (Or can it be both?) 

— Social media posts —

Facebook: Canadians came together on social media to support Bell Let’s Talk, a conversation about mental health issues and a fundraiser for mental health initiatives in Canada. In “Bell Let’s Talk shows the power of social media to do good,” I discuss the event and the added brand benefits it may have for Bell. Check it out here:

Twitter: Did you support #BellLetsTalk? Let’s talk about the movement and the brand benefits it may have for #Bell

How social media became my cooking mentor

I have heard the saying many times before, from rich pasta sauces to sweet banana breads to decadent chocolate cakes, that “it’s my grandma’s family recipe.” The secret to delicious meals passed down through generations, all teaching the next how to mix, chop, sauté, and bake. My friends would learn from their mothers, their mothers would learn from their mothers, and so on and so on. Bon Appétit!

I, on the other hand, was raised by a proud non-cook. My mother did not – and still does not – cook. I grew up on frozen meatloaf, frozen chicken nuggets, frozen fish sticks, frozen french-fries… you get the idea, slaving over a hot stove is not my mom’s idea of fun. But she is only carrying on the tradition in her family, as her mother is also a proud non-cook– there are no recipe cards to pass down, no secret pasta sauces or warm banana breads… And it seemed like I would carry on the family legacy when I went to university and proudly survived four years without turning on the stove.

It wasn’t until a few years ago when I moved in with my boyfriend and his (then) nine-year-old daughter that this all changed. I felt responsible to help provide a healthy, tasty meal for my family and, after burning grilled cheese for dinner one night, I resolved that I would learn how to cook.

My social media-inspired meals


Where to start?

  1. Find recipes

Learning how to cook with no prior experience feels overwhelming, but there are lots of great resources available on social media.

Facebook: Facebook features fantastic videos of mouth-watering dishes that will take you through the recipe step-by-step. Tasty, a cooking site by Buzzfeed, is one of my favourites.

Pinterest: When I first joined social bookmarking site Pinterest, I used it to scroll through pretty outfits, pretty homes, and pretty food pictures. Little did I know, those pretty food pictures led to pretty great step-by-step instructions on blogs. I started small and kept my search to “easy” or “slow cooker” recipes with minimal ingredients. Nothing too complicated, because I didn’t want to get discouraged. I also explored the “Food and drink” category for great ideas and organized pins into boards so they’d be easy to find later.

  1. Ask questions

I found great blogs through Pinterest pins, complete with photos, ingredient lists, and simple step-by-step instructions. One of the first recipes I made was this slow cooker chili, which is still my go-to for camping and ski trips because you can make it in advance and warm it up later.

“The best thing about blogs is the interaction between the blogger and readers.”

But what happens when you’re unsure of a step or your recipe is turning out wrong? The best thing about blogs is the interaction between the blogger and readers. The comment section allows readers to ask any questions they may have and, as a brand new cook, the comment section was really helpful to me—I felt like I had a wise cooking mentor over my shoulder!

  1. Stay motivated

Learning to cook can be discouraging, because not every recipe turns out like you hoped. One of my first fails was a one-pot meal that turned into a one-pot mess; I added the chicken to the sauce too early, so everything around it burned while the chicken cooked. But making mistakes is how you learn (and I’m starting to improve on timing!)

To stay motivated, I move forward from the failures and highlight the accomplishments. Every time a dish is a success, I take a photo and share it on Instagram using the #learningtocook hashtag. My friends, family and followers are able to see it, and hearing their positive feedback really motivates me to keep trying.

Although my family may feel like we’re in this Ikea commercial, I do often wonder if previous generations would have felt more pride and accomplishment in their meals if they had the opportunity to share it with the world?

While I have a long way to go to being Julia Child, I have come a long way from burning grilled cheese. This past Christmas Eve, I hosted a small dinner with family and made turkey breast with gravy and stuffing, apple and brown sugar pork chops, veggies and potatoes, and a chocolate fudge cake for dessert. I think my father nearly fainted with surprise! But while learning how to cook may seem daunting, everyone has their own cooking mentor thanks to social media.

What is your worst #Pinterestfail (or recipe fail)? Share in the comments below

— Social media posts —

Facebook: While I have a long way to go to being Julia Child, I have come a long way from burning grilled cheese. Learn how I broke free of my family’s tradition of not learning how to cook to pave my own #Pinterest perfect path. Read “How social media became my cooking mentor” here:

Twitter: From burning grilled cheese to #Pinterest perfect meals, learn how social media became my cooking mentor