Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

Monday night I presented Project 1 from the Entertaining Speaker manual. The objectives were to (1) entertain the audience by relating a personal experience; and (2) organize an entertaining speech for maximum input. The timing was 5-7 minutes – with a 30 second grace period.  I cut about 300 words but presented very much in a storyteller fashion and ended up included some of those bits. Duh, I ran out of time before stating my conclusion.

Talking to Strangers

Madame Toastmaster and fellow toastmasters when I explore a new city or town I wander around on foot and spend time soaking up the atmosphere in public squares and outdoor cafes. I observe, absorb and engage with my surroundings. One of the things I’ve noticed is that strangers are more apt to talk to me when I’m travelling by myself. Sometimes they initiate a conversation and other times I do.

Now, I talked to a lot of strangers when I was backpacking in Mexico and South America. I met many travellers and many warm, friendly, curious locals. There was one day though where my encounters with strangers were a bit strange.

I had been travelling for a little over two months when I reached La Paz. I arrived late in the afternoon and the next morning I was off to explore the Witch’s Market. I was walking around taking things in when someone with a southern US drawl called out to me. Now, when someone starts talking to you in your native language the natural reaction is to turn and look but I had read in my Lonely Planet guide that you have to be very wary in this market. I didn’t look. He continued to call out, “Hey are you an American?” “Can you help me. I really need your help.” It sounded like he was above me and about 50 metres away. It didnt’ make sense for him to be centering me out. I felt like prey. You know how an animal tries to make itself look bigger when its threatened. Well, I pretended I was German. Sometimes it’s better not to talk to strangers.

A couple hours later I was sitting on a bench in Plaza Murillo. It’s the main square and full of people and pigeons. A woman sat down beside me and we started chatting. She said she was a tourist from Mexico and showed me her passport. After a few minutes of small talk she asked if I would take her picture by the cathedral. We were facing the presidential palace. I turned my head and looked over at the cathedral. There were fifty or so people sitting on the steps. She could have asked any of them but I said ok.

We walked over and she said she wanted to be photographed inside. We went inside and she handed me her camera. She moved towards a dimly lit area. By this point I was getting a little annoyed. I was fidgeting with her camera which seemed to be broke. My photographer instincts were saying this spot had no reference to the actual place. My gut told me something was wrong.

At that moment a man approached us and said he was a tourist police. He showed me his ID. He said it was illegal to take pictures in the cathedral and asked for our passports. She immediately handed hers over. I told him that I didn’t believe him, that I’m not carrying my passport and that even if it were true it was irrelevant as I had not yet taken a photo. My Spanish wasn’t great and neither was their English. He persisted and insisted we go to my hostel to get my passport. I walked out of the church with them and I headed directly over to the guards at the adjacent congress building.

I tried to explain to them that this couple were about to rob me but I didn’t know the Spanish words for thief or robbery or scam artists. While this was happening the tourist police fled in an awaiting car and the tourist disappeared. There was no point pursuing this. The guards couldn’t understand me and the thieves were gone. I left the square and headed for my hostel.

I was about a block out of the square and the woman came up beside me again. She was still pretending to be a tourist. She feigned surprise about her accomplice being a criminal. I asked her why she wasn’t upset about someone driving off with her passport. She finally understood that I knew she was part of the scam. The car with the fake police officer came up beside us.  I didn’t see it and was startled but she had signalled to him to let it go. He handed over her passport and said he’ll let us off with a warning this time.

You never know where a random interaction or conversation will lead. Most of the time, talking to strangers is a pleasant diversion. Just observe, absorb and engage in the moment. … Madame Toastmaster.

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CC manual project #10

Once I’ve finished reading a speech project I need to take stock before I can begin. Sometimes clarity comes quickly and I plunge in. I have my bearings and I can set my paddle in motion. Other times my idea list has to be set adrift and I recast my net in search new possibilities. If I’m not able to find my focus I flounder in the ocean of betwixt and between. I resurface, float for a while, get re-centred, dream, weave and begin again. During the crossing I picture how I’ll step onto dry land but I seldom arrive in time to rehearse it.

Like you, I embarked on this voyage with excitement and enthusiasm. The passage requires that we draw on our own resources but we do so in the presence of supportive companions and a well-charted map. I’ve gained a clearer understanding of the process and an appreciation for the courage and tenacity that we put into it. Personal development is a metamorphosis. We are in transit.

We experience many transitions during our lives. Sometimes we may know or sense that it’s coming. Life doesn’t feel right as it is. It’s time to move on. An event may trigger it. Other times it might take us by complete surprise. We lose our job. We lose a close friend or family member. We experience a debilitating accident. We find out we’re ill. Everyone here can relate. Right? We’ve all experienced transitions. It’s the process we undergo when we move from the end of one phase in our life to the beginning of the next phase. We can be in transit for half a year, a year, or several years. However long it takes to complete the transition. It may move us forward. It may not. We undergo contraction and expansion in transit.

Last winter I talked about how the parts of my life that gave me joy were threatened when I was hit by a van and my determination to recover. It was the catalyst that forced a transition. I knew I wasn’t living my dream. I knew I wanted to be doing something else. I needed to let go in order to move on. I started to prepare for my goodbye. This had a couple components. I wanted to get to a larger vision but had always failed to reach it. Leaving that part of my life meant I had to take care of a smaller dream first. It would test my strengths. It would help me rediscover who I am.

The smaller dream was my independent travel journey. It was an elephant in the larger, or next, dream. I had tried to address it with a couple of shorter trips but realized they were just preparation and I had to go on this journey to South America. It was the way I had to say goodbye. I pictured this trip, cleaned out the closet, equipped myself with what I needed, and put the plan into action.

The idea was that after my journey I’d return to Canada, pick up any job while I fleshed out the fuzziness in the next dream and start on it. But I ran into a couple of unanticipated problems.  I was in a small town unable to get any work there or within a couple hours distance and, I had walked into my parents’ transition.

My father was trying to hold onto the past. He knew my mother had changed but hadn’t really come to terms with it. She has Alzheimer’s Disease. He was trying to keep their home together but his health wasn’t great and this was a major strain. He was unable to let go. Where an accident had been the catalyst for my transition, I was now the shove in my father’s transition.

It’s difficult to push someone who is stubborn. You need to coax them. They have to be ready to accept change before they can move forward. I helped my father enter the between & betwixt stage. A transition takes time. It took me a few years to move from leaving my old self to realizing a new self.

My brother and sister-in-law helped him enter the next phase. He moved into a retirement lodge but held onto the house. He let go of the house when he came to terms with who he was now. He kept feeding the birds and, not really trusting the staff, he kept buying his own medications. He visited my mother a few times a week – she was now in a long term care facility – and he developed some very close friendships. He was happy in his new life.

My father completed the transition. My daughter has the strength, vision and plan to realize her gender transition. My father’s death sparked this transition for her. It also taught me to go back and revisit the areas where I get stuck. It renewed my energy to turn my fuzzy dream into a more manageable dream and work on a plan to realize it. I’ve wanted my own business for a long time. It’s difficult to move from almost four years of poverty to being self-employed but I’m creating a natural soap and body care line and a new me.

To move from where we are to where we what to be is a process. We need to understand our strengths and which may need further development. We need to understand our weaknesses and take care that they don’t undermine our efforts. We need to consider our other resources and where we might need help.

We will be in transit many times over our lives. We need to say goodbye and mourn our old self, figure out who we are, start becoming that person and, become our new self. Each transition requires a dream. Change requires courage, confidence, curiosity, commitment and control. Strengths that each of you have.  … Mr. Toastmaster.

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CC manual Speech 9: Persuade with Power

Why you should support Bill C-279

The person I have thought of as my son for the past 32 years recently came out as a transgender woman and my daughter’s happiness fills me with warmth, joy and pride. If you’re like me, you have your own gender identity, you accept and care deeply about the significant people in your life and, you believe in equal human rights.

Madame Toastmaster and fellow Toastmasters tonight I want to increase your awareness of trans people and I want you to show your support for their human rights by writing to your MP and letting them know you support Bill C-279. The Gender Identity bill was introduced by MP Randall Garrison and its purpose is to provide equal human rights protections for trans people in Canada. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently reviewing the bill. If it’s adopted, the phrases “gender identity” and “gender expression” will be added to the classes offered protections from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code.

Education is a key to accepting diversity. I’m still learning but I want to provide a brief overview of gender, transgender and transphobia. Gender is a complex cultural construct and refers to attitudes, feelings and behaviours associated with a person’s sex. Gender exists along a continuum and we may identify as male, female, both, or neither. Gender identity is our innermost sense of self. Sex is our anatomy. If you are a cisgender person your gender identity matches your anatomical sex; that’s not the case for a transgender person.

It’s not known for sure how many trans people there are but researchers estimate that one out of every 300-1,000 people are born feeling that their sex and gender are different. Ignorance and misconceptions about others often results in social and systemic discrimination. Prejudice and fear, transphobia, can manifest itself in violence, harassment and discrimination. Transgender people, like cisgender people, are human beings and trans rights are human rights.

Transgender people experience gender dysphoria. Some try to live according to their physical sex and construct a persona, a mask, to match their body. Living a lie can take a tremendous emotional toll. Expressing one’s true sense of self alleviates the dysphoria but for some the dysphoria is so severe that they need to medically alter their bodies to align with their gender identity.

Back to Bill C-279. Last week the Standing Committee heard arguments against the bill from the group Real Women. They testified that if the bill passes sexual deviants will be able to access women’s washrooms. This is fear mongering. A trans woman’s identity is female and SHE should be able to access a woman’s bathroom, just like any other woman. It’s a matter of equality, respect and dignity.

A large study in the UK documented the experiences of trans people and it included difficulties with accessing a washroom at work. Imagine being told you can’t use the washroom. Imagine being discriminated against when trying to access services, or housing, or employment. Trans rights are human rights.

Real Women also testified that transgender people should receive compassionate counselling and not receive special treatment. Some trans people have severe gender dysphoria, a medical condition, and current science believes the way to treat it is to alter the body to match the brain. We treat cancer, heart disease, and other conditions medically.

My daughter has spent most of her life trying to deny who she is. The older she gets the more severe the dysphoria. Seeing a counsellor and participating in a gender journeys support group has helped her see that she’s not alone. Try to imagine what it’s like to live in a body that you don’t identity with. Try to live out your life in a society where who you really are is rendered invisible.

Now, it’s your turn. All trans people are human beings and deserve equality, dignity and respect. They face many social, economic and institutional barriers. Education and legal protections break down those barriers. Let your MP know that transgender rights are human rights by expressing your support for Bill C-279. … Madame Toastmaster.

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We’re back from our summer break and Monday evening I presented project #8 in the Competent Communicator manual – Getting Comfortable With Visual Aids. I selected a subject that would be enriched by a PowerPoint presentation. Here’s the speech without the PP visuals.

The Enabling Garden

It started with a dream. An accessible garden. A garden for people with physical and cognitive challenges. A garden for children and the elderly. A garden for all to enjoy. The dream inspired a community. The city donated parkland and a landscape architect designed it. Volunteers turned it into a physical reality. A horticultural therapist offers active programming and storytellers entertain while visitors sip tea. … This is the Guelph Enabling Garden.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow members, and welcomed guests, this garden stimulated my heart, mind and senses. I volunteered here in 2010 and this evening I want to share its beauty and purpose with you. The seed was planted in 1999 when it was recognized that there were no public gardens in the city that people with physical and cognitive challenges could access and use.  Five years later, in 2004, it came into bloom. Michael Pollan wrote, “A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space … the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.” The Guelph Enabling Garden has achieved this and more.

There are four key features to an “enabling” garden. It should be accessible, entice the senses, provide reflective areas, and offer hands-on programming. As you can see, the garden path is wide enough for two wheelchairs to comfortably pass by. It contains a wide variety of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, herbs and flowering plants and each section has a theme. Benches are located throughout and provide people with a place to sit and think. The section of the garden reserved for active programming contains two standing beds, five raised beds, and several ground beds. Adaptive tools reduce a person’s energy exertion and help keep the body in proper alignment.

Now, if you’re a gardener you already know there’s a therapeutic element to gardening. The Canadian Horticulture Therapy Association defines horticultural therapy as, “the use of plants and the natural world to improve the social, spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing of individuals who participate in it.” How are these benefits manifested? Participants meet new people and improve teamwork and relationship skills. People connect with nature, the community and life. It impacts others in the broader community. It fosters awareness of natural forces and rhythms, and of interdependence. Gardening is a meaningful and purposeful activity. It’s real and it motivates and inspires. It increases strength and range of motion, makes use of fine and gross motor skills and eye/hand coordination. It enhances self-esteem and creative expression. It provides inner peace. People of all ages and abilities can benefit from HT.

The mural you see in the slide graces the side of the garden shed. People, art, nature and utility comfortably coexist here. It seems to me that a garden is a buffer zone between the urban and the wild. A sanctuary. I felt closely connected to nature while volunteering at the Enabling Garden. You can sense the connection in this child. You experience it passively, too, just by being there. One day, I was chatting with a senior from Fergus, a nearby town, and he told me he visits every week because his dog loves being here. Another visitor, a young boy, approached the garden’s spiral and exclaimed, “Mommy, it’s a plant paradise!” The sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson hypothesized that humans have an innate emotional response to nature and all living things. He called this biophilia.

I encourage you to spend time in nature, whether hiking in the woods, strolling along a tree-lined path, visiting a public garden, or puttering in your own yard with raised beds and special tools, if needed. It’s healing and restorative. The echinaceas in this slide are located in the woodland section. It was my favourite part of the garden. Their beauty stirred me and I felt aware and at peace. The Enabling Garden is a gift for its many visitors, program participants and volunteers. An accessible garden where prose has become poetry. “How fair is a garden amid the trials and passions of existence.”  (Benjamin Disraeli) … Mr. Toastmaster.

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Tonight I presented speech #7 in the Competent Communicator manual – Research Your Topic. I actually did a lot of research on this starting with contra dancing then looking into the benefits of dance and studies of its use and advocacy as an intervention, and then moving into the wider aspect of physical activity and its relation to chronic disease reduction. As such, I over-explored and wasn’t quite happy with the result of the writing or delivery – could have used another week.

Dancing for health and well-being

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow members and welcomed guests, we all know that physical activity improves our health and well-being but there seems to be a disconnect between the knowing and the doing. This disconnect can reduce the quality of your life. There are many ways you can be active and tonight I want you to consider dancing.

A two-year Canadian Health Measures Survey, the first to use an accelerometer rather than relying on self-reporting, found that only 15% of Canadians between the ages of 20-79 get the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity, roughly 4 people in this room. While the step-based tool doesn’t accurately measure activities like swimming and cycling, the survey is an indication that we are not as active as we think we are.

An inactive lifestyle puts you at risk for premature death, chronic disease and disability. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, an active person reduces their risk of heart disease or stroke by 50%. A report from the Alzheimer Society of Canada cited a study that found people who exercise 3 times a week were 40% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Osteoporosis Canada’s website states that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men will suffer a broken bone as a result of osteoporosis. To maintain or improve your bone strength, they recommend exercises where your bones have to carry your weight, such as brisk walking or aerobics and to include exercises involving unaccustomed movements, like dancing.

Dancing is an activity that can be enjoyed by everyone. You can dance by yourself, with a partner or with a group. Dancing bestows a cornucopia of physical, mental, personal and social benefits. It improves your heart and lung capacity; strengthens your muscles and bones; improves your balance, coordination, agility and flexibility; improves your mental functioning and your outlook on life; and reduces social isolation.

According to a 2004 report prepared for the Canada Council for the Arts, 5.5% of adults say they participate in dance activities or classes. Dancing is an enjoyable activity but it would seem that only 1 or 2 people in this room do it. I want to tell you about a form of dance that I’ve recently investigated and some of you may want to try.

It’s called contra dancing and it derives from English country dancing. Children do it, adults do it, even mathematically-inclined people do it. It’s offered nearby at the Churchill Recreation Centre and you can go with or without a partner. All you need is a pair of soft-soled shoes. It’s aerobic, social and may make you smile.

Contra uses a smooth walking step, usually to a count of 8. Dmitry has agreed to help me demonstrate a few figures. To do-si-do walk around the other person passing by the right shoulder and ending in your original place. To swing take a ballroom position and walk around each other while maintaining eye contact. To gypsy walk clockwise around each other while staying connected by your gaze.

Contra is danced to live music, usually jigs and reels. It takes place in sets. A set consists of two parallel lines. You dance with a partner and an adjacent couple. A caller initially guides you through a sequence of movements and as the sequence repeats you progress up or down the line interacting with a new pair of neighbours. I danced with young, middle-aged and older people … thin, athletic and overweight people … short, tall and disabled people.

Chronic diseases are on the rise in Canada. You can reduce your risk by incorporating 150 minutes a week of activity into your lifestyle. Contra dancing is one of many options you might want to try.

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Photo: Julie Kativretenos

Tonight I presented project #5 – Your Body Speaks – in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator manual. The speech objectives were:  (1) Use stance, movement, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact to express your message and achieve your speech’s purpose; and (2) Make your body language smooth and natural. Time: 5-7 min.

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

I recently read an article about the common regrets people have when they’re dying. It included wishing they’d been truer to themselves and not having let themselves be happier. They realized quite late that life is just a bowl of cherries.

The 1931 song urges us not to take life too seriously. … For a while, I was far removed from the things that lightened my heart. My time was consumed with things that I found quite tedious. It wasn’t good for my mental or physical health. Then I took a trip and rediscovered the importance of that bowl of cherries.

Madame Toastmaster, fellow members and guests, we need to live and laugh – it’s the berries that are important. I left that job shortly after returning from my trip and have consciously tried to keep the berries in sight ever since. Movement and the outdoors play a large part in my sense of joy and wellbeing. They’re a major factor in my bowl of cherries; but, on July 15, 2006 the bowl shattered.

It was a Saturday and I went hiking. A large sign posted in a tree warned us that we were near a hunting zone. The pace was faster than I like and the terrain was very rocky. It wasn’t one of my favourite hikes but afterwards we stopped at a farm to pick berries. They were a ripe ruby red. I was planning to end the day by going over to the park to see an outdoor play. I had some free time and decided to go buy a fan. I’m not sure why. I didn’t need one that particular July 15th day. Nonetheless, I headed over to the Junction and purchased a white cylindrical oscillating fan. On the way home I missed the bus and decided to walk.

I was crossing the street when in the corner of my eye I saw a minivan accelerate as the driver made a left hand turn. It was ruby red. I tossed the box forward to free my arms and swung them to my left to brace myself against the vehicle’s hood. WHAM! It hit me. A minivan weighs about 5,000 lbs. It wasn’t going very fast but the force of the impact still threw me about 15 feet. I was lying on the ground, stunned. The first thought that came into my mind was that I hadn’t danced the tango in Buenos Aires yet.

I spent the night in the hospital and in the morning I wanted to go home. I attempted to stand and couldn’t. A nurse gave me a cane and with her help I was able to get up. I tried to take a step and couldn’t. I knew I was injured, I was in a lot of pain; but, I hadn’t actually realized my mobility was impaired.

My injuries weren’t serious but I had several fractures. I needed to use that cane for a couple of months. I spent 20 hours a week exercising and it took close to a year before I felt I had my strength back.

In the first couple of months there were a few instances where I experienced immense rage. This would be when a vehicle turned while I was crossing the street. One driver was particularly careless and I almost bashed his vehicle with my cane. Every now and again I would get angry at the driver of the minivan who had hit me. Most of the time though I just focused on overcoming this challenge.

I went on my first hike again in the late fall. The feeling was incredible – it was sheer ecstasy. My ultimate self test came almost 2 ½ years after the accident. I left another job that wasn’t right and went on an extended backpacking trip. I didn’t get to dance the tango in Buenos Aires – I pulled a hamstring in Bolivia. But I had reclaimed my life.

Life is a series of challenges. This one was ruby red. Along with the challenges you need to experience the joys and be true to yourself. It’s the berries that make you stronger. You don’t want to leave this world with too many regrets.

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Wild Women Expeditions Temagami Canoe Trip 2005

Speech 4: How to Say It

Challenge, camaraderie, and confidence, aka, I slept on moose scat

Imagine canoeing in crystal clear waters, portaging along ancient native paths, and facing fear on a rugged ridge as the sky explodes in a ferocious storm. Picture setting up camp on the shores of a pine forest, smelling the smoke-tinged scent of supper as it cooks over a crackling fire, and savouring the flavours of a soulful vegetarian feast. As dusk approaches and vision begins to fade, fancy being startled by the eerie wail of a loon as her song shatters the evening silence. (sound effect of loon song)

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests, tonight, I want to share a special adventure with you.  It’s a story about the challenge, camaraderie, and confidence that I discovered on my first backcountry canoe trip. Eight women of varying ages, strangers, most of us, until the preceding night,  put our trust in ourselves, each other, and a ninth woman, our guide, as we set off into the Temagami wilderness on a 3-day Wild Women Expedition.

It’s an early August morning and the warmth of the sun caresses your skin. There’s quiet excitement and collaboration as nine wild women with four canoes carrying eleven large essential packs enter the lake on that clear calm morning. We are sisters-in-arms as we ply our paddles through the dark waters past mangled trees on small rock islands. Majestic Mother Nature soon stirs up the wind and the whipping waves lash against our boats. The Matagamasi headwinds make paddling arduous and manoeuvring our crafts requires an artful alliance between women and paddles. I am enlivened and content.

We reach land and my joyous spirit soon descends in despair. Confidence deserts me on a craggy cliff. My mind whirls in vertigo. I am immobilized on this rugged rocky ridge. I struggle with fear and the canoe that I’m carrying as I try to will myself forward. This rocky ridge – a perilous goat path, a shelf along the slope of a craggy cliff – is as high above the ground as a skyscraper and as narrow as a diving board. Majestic Mother Nature unleashes her ferocious fury. Violent relentless rains pour down, thunder roars through the air, and lightning pierces the now grey sky. My portage partner and I nestle on the slope, crouching beneath the cover of our canoe. As my fear dissipates hers mounts – she endured a childhood strike. Lightning is her demon. As the storm rages we talk, we sing, we yell, and we laugh. Finally, the storm subsides.

We don’t reach our Wolf Lake campsite this day. Our guide is wary of the weather and we setup a makeshift camp on a sheltered shoreline. The ground is blanketed in moose scat. We pitch the tents, gather water and kindling and soon the aroma of coffee and food stirs our hunger. We relax over a magnificent meal and marvel at the mysterious lament of the loons. We end our first day tried and tired. The moose scat is as soft as a feather bed.

Over the next two days we portage past waterfalls and lagoons and through the world’s largest old growth pine forest. Although the packs and canoes are heavy, the expansive serenity of this solitude summons our strength, stamina and self-confidence as we hike the 6,000-yr-old paths.

Imagine gliding through tranquil turquoise lakes. In these crystal clear waters you can see all the way to the bottom – 30-ft below. It’s mesmerizing. Paddling gently, we approach the 500-yr-old native pictograms painted high above the waterline on a weathered wall of rock. The bewildering beauty of this rugged natural landscape is mirrored in the clear calm lake.

We pick wild blueberries, share stories, swim, stargaze, savour every meal, and listen to the soft sweet sound of the songstress among us. The birds listen, too. We are free spirits amid the beauty and mystery of the wild.

Three days, nine women, four canoes, and eleven packs. Challenge, camaraderie, and confidence were found in the Temagami wilderness. I slept on moose scat and I felt the freedom of being a wild woman.

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Olivia Chocolate, photo credit: The Globe & Mail

Speech 3: Get to the Point

Quetzalcoatl ‘s Gift

Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec god and, according to lore, he gave humanity a wonderous gift. What was this gift? … Theobroma cacao, “food of the gods”, or, as we best know and love it – chocolate. This gift has been nourishing us for almost 4,000 years.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and welcomed guests, tonight I invite you to participate in a journey of the senses. We’ll explore the five steps to truly tasting chocolate. We’ll prepare for this encounter by travelling to its source and, afterwards, we’ll reflect on the experience.

Now, let’s prepare for the encounter. It starts with a tree, a pod, and a bean … The theobroma cacao tree bears about 25 pods per year, and each pod contains 20 to 40 beans. They’re sheltered in its pulp. The tree only grows at a latitude of 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. … My first encounter with it was in the lush tropics near Baracoa Cuba. It’s native to parts of South America and Central America; although, 70% of the world’s supply is grown in Africa. Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario are the three main varieties. Criollo, the original, is a rare flavour bean. Forastero, the most common, is a bulk bean. Trinitario, a hybrid of the other two, is also a flavour bean.

To appreciate Quetzalcoatl’s gift we need to be attentive to its qualities. Chocolate, like wine, has flavour notes. … Now, let’s explore the five steps of chocolate tasting.

Step 1. Look at the chocolate. We often eat with our eyes. Is the surface shiny? What colour is the chocolate? Is it uniform? Are the edges clean? Is the moulding clear?

Step 2. Smell it. Release the aroma by rubbing the chocolate with your finger, then, bring it up to your nose, cup your hands and take a slow breath. Does it smell rich, intense, earthy or sweet? Do you detect other notes – perhaps fruity, floral or spicy?

Step 3. Snap it. A clue to its quality is in the snap. What do you hear? Is the sound sharp and crisp? Does the break leave a clean edge?

Step 4. Feel it in your mouth. Place it against the roof of your mouth and pass your tongue over the bottom. Notice how it melts and how it feels. Is it rich and luscious? Is the texture smooth and velvety?

Step 5. Taste it. Flavour starts to fill your mouth as soon as the chocolate begins to melt. Does the flavour come quickly or does it release slowly? Does it change as it melts? Pay attention to the finish. What’s the lingering flavour? How long does it stay with you?

Ah, chocolate. Now that our encounter has ended we may want to ask ourselves, “Was the indulgence worthwhile?” … Chocolate has been a symbol of power, wealth, love, seduction and comfort. We associate it with memories, feelings and even health. Mesoamerican people believed it had medicinal value. Cacao’s antioxidant flavonoids have been linked to a number of potential health benefits. … Sipping hot chocolate reminds me of Spanish classes, cooking lessons, wonder, and the many other pleasing experiences and sensations I embraced during a stay in Mexico.

Chocolate truly is the food of the gods. To sum up, we travelled to chocolate’s source – the tree, pod and three beans; we then explored the five steps to tasting it – look, smell, snap, mouthfeel and taste; and, afterwards we reflected onits associations with memories, feelings, and health. Chocolate – a wonderous gift indeed!

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Tonight I presented my second speech in the Toastmaster’s Competent Communicator manual – Organize Your Speech. The target time was  5 to 7 minutes and my delivery, while longer than my rehearsal time, came in on time.

Car sharing

“The car has become … an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad, and incomplete.” “[T]he automobile has gone from object of desire to necessary evil.”

The first observation was made by Marshall McLuhan, back in 1964, and the second is from a 2009 column by Margaret Wente.

Madame chairperson, fellow members and most welcome guests tonight I want to tell you about a popular alternative to car ownership. This alternative is known as car sharing. It requires a slight cultural adjustment. However, it can save you money and it’s environmentally friendly, too.

Organized car sharing is a relatively new phenomenon and the concept continues to gain acceptance.

Car sharing, like any form of sharing, is the joint use of a resource. The movement started in Lucerne Switzerland in 1987 and, worldwide, car sharing programs now operate in over 1,000 cities.

In Canada the first car share operation started in 1993, in Quebec. These services now operate in about two dozen Canadian communities. It’s most popular in high density centres; however, it also exists in less dense areas, usually functioning as a co-operative. The sector has an impressive growth rate of 30%.

Did you know that Guelph has a car sharing program? The Guelph Community Car Co-operative has been operating since 2001. It has two vehicles and about 40 members. Every once in a while I need a car and I was thrilled to stumble upon this co-op when I relocated here. I quickly sent in a membership application. It’s a great service.

On an individual level the benefit of sharing a resource is that you save money.

The average cost of car ownership is $8,000 per year. That’s a hefty expense. If you drive less than 12,000 km per year and don’t need a car for your daily work commute, car sharing can result in significant savings.

It functions on a self-serve basis. You book a vehicle when you need one, pick it up, and then drop it off when you’re done. For this access, you pay a one-time refundable membership fee, $500, and a small monthly charge, $7.50. The cost of using a vehicle is $3.00 per hour and $0.30 per km. Insurance, maintenance and fuel are included!

I’ve owned a Pontiac Acadian, an AMC Spirit, and a Suzuki Sidekick. For years, I saw my vehicle as a necessary convenience and sometimes as a form of freedom. All the while, though, ownership was a constant drain on my finances. In the four years since I first joined a car-share my annual expenses have been under $1,000.

On a social level sharing a vehicle is an environmentally friendly transportation strategy.

The car sharing movement is environmental. It aims to reduce emissions from the use of private cars. By reducing the number of cars on the road, car sharing reduces traffic congestion and the demand for parking spaces.

33% of annual greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the transportation sector. 59% of these emissions come from cars and light trucks. It’s estimated that each shared car takes up to 15 cars off the road.

People who car share are more likely to walk, cycle or use public transportation when a car isn’t really necessary. Car sharing reduces the number of average household drives by 40 to 60%, or more, per year. It’s a lifestyle change. Consequently, it’s also a health strategy.

To sum up, the car sharing paradigm has gripped popular consciousness. It’s a global movement and it’s available locally. It offers inexpensive access to a vehicle when you need one and the freedom of not having to look after a large piece of metal.  It helps you and the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and potentially increasing your health. Are you ready to join the movement? Contact the Guelph Community Car Co-operative. You can car share!

Postscript: The Guelph Community Car Co-operative can be reached at 519-241-2886, or, click here for their new website.

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