Listen to a master storyteller

If you’re looking for something new to watch on Netflix, I’d highly recommend Springsteen on Broadway.

Whether you’re a Springsteen fan or not, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this two and a half hour auto-biographical journey through Springsteen’s life and music. I’d heard of Springsteen on Broadway, but I thought it was some big musical based on his music. I didn’t realize it was the boss himself, intimate, raw, revealed and outspoken on political issues of the day.

The show opened up on Broadway in 2017. In promoting it, the rock legend said “My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind. My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal—to communicate something of value.”  

Springsteen undersells himself. He doesn’t just communicate something of value, he weaves golden threads of stories from his childhood, his marriage, the friendships he developed over the years with his bandmates and tales of life on the road. It is master storytelling at its finest.

There were so many things that struck me in the performance, his humour, his openness and honesty about the relationships in his life, but the thing that struck me the most was a new appreciation for his songs and lyrics. The words from classic songs like Thunder Road, Born in the USA, Land of Hopes and Dreams were transformed with new layers of richness and meaning as Springsteen wove his stories through his musical repertoire. At times, he was simply mesmerizing.

Storytelling, in the traditional sense of telling stories through the spoken word has almost become a lost art. But thanks to the boss and Netflix, you can still hear one of the master storytellers of all time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch Springsteen on Broadway. I hope some day soon to go to New York and catch it live. What are your picks for Netflix this fall? Leave a comment.

Lyrics from Thunder Road

There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away

They haunt this dusty beach road

In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets

They scream your name at night in the street

Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet

And in the lonely cool before dawn

You hear their engines roaring on

But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind

So Mary, climb in

It’s a town full of losers

And I’m pulling out of here to win

I’m an Eeyore and I’m OK with that

Eeyore

When it comes to work, I’m an Eeyore, and I’m OK with that.

When someone proposes a new idea, I immediately begin to think of all the problems or things that would prevent it from succeeding. It’s not that I don’t support the idea, most times I do, but my brain kicks into logistical overload and I think through all the obstacles and challenges that would need to be overcome to make it happen.

It’s a blessing and curse…especially when you’re known as the happy act blogger.

But I’ve come to embrace my Eeyore and I believe it has helped me in my communications work.

It allows me to anticipate problems, think things through, and make better decisions.

It has helped me to develop emotional intelligence and a risk lens, so when the time comes to execute, we’ve done a good job planning and preparing for most contingencies.

It has also helped me to accept the things I cannot change, courage to try to change the things I can, even if I haven’t mastered the wisdom to know the difference.

Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog says you can be negative and still succeed. Overly optimistic leaders minimize challenges, fail to anticipate problems and are more likely to throw in the towel when success doesn’t happen quickly.

Being optimistic is great, but blind optimism is dangerous.

This week’s #HappyAct is to embrace your Eeyore but never lose the faith.

Serenity prayer

In quest of the best BBQ

BBQ meat on a platter

If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, you’re familiar with the show’s formula of hitting the open road in quest of finding the best greasy spoons and BBQ joints in the southern U.S.

Finding finger-licking good BBQ in Canada is no easy task. In fact, in eastern Ontario, there’s only one contender. To discover the holy grill of BBQ, you need to travel to Muddy’s BBQ pit in Keene, Ontario.

Muddy’s BBQ pit opened up in July 2010, when owner Neil Lorenzen needed a home base for his budding BBQ catering business.

As Neil says, there’s no bad day for BBQ. On a hot summer’s day, you can have a pulled pork sandwich, dripping with flavour and a cold beer. On a cold rainy fall or spring day, you hunker inside, watch football, drink beer and chow down on beef brisket or fall off the bone ribs.

The first time we visited Muddy’s was three or four years ago when Clare was playing hockey regularly in the Peterborough area. It was a cooler November day and the girls were famished after a rowdy game with the local Keene team. We walked into Muddy’s and knew we found our new go-to food joint for weekend road trips.

Muddy's BBQ pit

Since it was a quiet day, they took us around back for a tour of the smokers. They had six to eight smokers going that day full of their signature brisket, pulled pork and ribs. They even smoke their potato salad. My mouth is drooling even thinking about the rich, smoky creamy potato concoction, which is to die for. They said they smoke about 600 lbs a meat a week and are booked every weekend in the summer with catering gigs.

Yes, you gotta love everything about Muddy’s. First, there’s the joint itself. From the road, it looks half barn, half converted garage with a patio and picnic tables out front, and high top wooden bar stools and counters for mowing down on the grub which is served without plates, in wrapped foil.

Then there’s the décor. You’ve got your regular road signs, sports memorabilia, and big screen TVs like you’d find in any sports bar, but just like the BBQ on the grill out back, they take it up a notch with Heinz ketchup punched tin lights hanging from the ceiling, cool stickers slapped on the exposed metal pipes, and signature pig signs.

Inside decor of Muddy's BBQ pit

But the BBQ, oh the BBQ. On your first visit, you have to try the carnivore sampler, a smorgasbord of their favourite signature dishes including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages, and beans. The ribs are definitely my favourite. They are in a word, perfect. Smoky, flavourful, perfectly cooked so the meat does literally fall off the bone (people always say this but it’s never true except at Muddy’s). If you go, make sure you buy some of their signature rub to take home. It’s a staple in our cupboard now for salmon and steak.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a trip to Keene before Muddy’s closes on December 16 for the season. And if you live too far away, feel free to substitute your local BBQ joint. Just know it won’t be the same. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Muddy’s BBQ pit. They’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Muddy's BBQ pit sign

Hope for a better tomorrow

rainbow of children

Tomorrow we kick off our United Way campaign at work. Our theme this year is “A better tomorrow” to reflect, positivity, hope and to inspire change.

I’m hopeful our Empire Life campaign will be a success. Each year we raise more than a quarter of a million dollars for United Way programs and agencies across Canada, an impressive feat considering we have less than 1,000 employees.

But I’m hopeful for so much more. I’m hopeful that the worst of COVID is behind us, at least in Canada.

I’m hopeful that the lessons we’ve learned about the great divide between the privileged in our society and those less fortunate are taken to heart, and we take a critical look at our systems, supports and programs to make change for a better tomorrow.

I’m hopeful that companies will be brave and bold as they envision the future of work to provide a more holistic, balanced approach so employees around the world can lead richer, more rewarding lives.

I’m hopeful we can finally turn our attention to the greatest challenge we face: the climate crisis and saving our planet for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

These are big hopes, I know, but I can at least do my part by giving to United Way and help build a better tomorrow, one person, one program at a time in my own community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to give to your local United Way. Did you know the KFL&A United Way was recognized once by Charity Intelligence Canada on their top 100 Rated Charities list for 2021? They also recently announced a special Women United Challenge Grant. Under the existing Leadership Challenge Grant, supporters who give $1,200 or more and increase their donation or those who make a new $1,200 gift will see their donation matched. With the addition of the Women United grant, women donors will see their donation matched by both grants – tripling their impact through United Way KFL&A.

See it on the big screen

Daniel Craig as James Bond

We went and saw the new James Bond movie this weekend, No Time to Die. It was the first time we’d seen a movie on the big screen in over two years.

There’s something about seeing a flick on the big screen that can’t be replicated in the comfort of your living room. Everything is larger than life. You feel part of the action, your body’s reflexes twitch at every fight scene, and your torso pushes up against the back of your seat during the car chases as if you were holding on for dear life in the passenger seat of Bond’s Aston Martin. Dolby surround sound rumbles through the theatre and you are transported to the French Riviera, the fjords of Norway or the secret service headquarters of Mi6 in London.

This latest Bond film didn’t disappoint. It was my favourite and a stellar farewell performance for actor Daniel Craig. There was everything you expect and crave in a Bond film, the debonair Bond, a bevy of beautiful female agents, kickass fight and chase scenes, classic lines only Bond can deliver, plot twists, villains and many references and nods to previous films including a volcanic island set for destruction. I jumped in my seat at least four or five times.

This week’s #HappyAct is to throw off the shackles of Netflix, Prime and Showcase and get out and see a picture on the big screen. I highly recommend No Time to Die. Happy viewing!

Take pictures at a National Historic site at sunset

Sunset over Kingston from Fort Henry hill

This past year and half has been tough, but my heart especially has gone out to teenagers. At a time when they should be living carefree in the halcyon of their days, they’ve endured lockdowns, restrictions on the number of friends they could see, and unable to attend concerts, events and parties.

During lockdown, one of the favourite things Grace and her friends liked to do was go to a local Kingston restaurant, get take-out and eat it on the grass at the top of Fort Henry hill at sunset. A couple of weeks ago, I took Clare and two of her friends to Fort Henry to take pictures as the sun went down.

Fort Henry hill is a spectacular location. To the east of the majestic limestone walls of the fort, you see one of the six Martello towers perched on point jutting out into the blue waters of the St. Lawrence River. To the west, you get a magnificent view of downtown Kingston, with its stately church spires, City Hall and the historic buildings of Royal Military College in the foreground.

As I wandered the grounds around the fort, serenaded by the mystical sounds of Pumpkininferno gearing up for its opening night, I watched photographers set up their cameras to capture the sunset, students and couples sitting admiring the view, and Clare and her friends taking selfies and photos against the stunning backdrop.

Fort Henry walls
Martello tower in the St. Lawrence

The sky deepened blue, then a hint of orange starting appearing on the horizon. Wisps of clouds dotted the sky, scattering fractured light throughout the sky. As the sun set lower behind the buildings, the clouds cast swaths of brilliant orange across the entire sky and soon the sun was a single yellow orb surrounded by fire. It was so breathtaking. The crowds of people that were descending Fort Henry Hill all stopped to admire the spectacle.

Here were my photos of that special night.

Two teenagers taking photos
Clare on Fort Henry hill as the sun sets over Kingston

This week’s #HappyAct is to take pictures at sunset at a historic site in your city and be grateful that we can now start doing so many of the things that were denied us for so long.

Ed. Note: Pumpkininferno is running from now until October 31, 2021 at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg and at Fort Henry.

Martello tower and downtown Kingston at sunset
Orange sun and clouds

The secret to driving up vaccination rates in Canada

Poster of Peterborough Public Health Unit marketing campaign, Get a Shot to Take a Shot

Every day, we track the numbers, both good and bad–the number of COVID cases and people in the ICU (our hearts go out to you friends in Alberta), and on the positive side, the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. In our region, we’re doing well, ahead of average at 82% fully vaccinated and on track to hit a 90% vaccination rate by November.

The Ontario government decision to introduce vaccination passports has had an impact on vaccination rates, but not necessarily in the way people anticipated. The philosophy was, make people show proof of vaccination for workplaces, bars, restaurants and concerts, and they’ll get the shot.

And while that has no doubt encouraged some people to roll up their sleeves, it was reported in our local paper this week that 136 healthcare workers at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are at risk of losing their jobs for not getting vaccinated. As for dining in restaurants, people have made out just fine eating at home, grabbing take-out or dining on patios this past eighteen months, so it’s unlikely a vaccine passport would be enough to make them change their mind.

Clearly Canadians need a jolt, something that would strike at the very fibre of their being, so critical to their daily lives to make them roll up their sleeves.

A few weeks ago, I was standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart looking for a birthday card when I overheard two guys talking. The one father said, “Yeah, we heard they had a clinic here today, he needed to get the COVID shot for hockey, they won’t let him on the ice without proof of vaccination.”

And then it hit me. Hockey will drive up vaccination rates in this country. Because every kid over 12, every parent, coach, brother, sister, aunt, uncle and grandparent who love to watch their kids play the game need to be vaccinated to enter an arena.

If there is one thing Canadians love and can’t live without, it’s hockey. The smart people at the Peterborough Health Unit figured this out. They’ve partnered with the Peterborough Petes hockey team, to offer Peterborough residents the chance to win free hockey tickets if they get a COVID shot in the next two months in their ‘Get a Shot to Take a Shot’ campaign.

Yes, hockey will be our salvation. Thank god for hockey.

So in the spirit of the greatest game on earth, be a team player, take your best shot, and stay off the COVID injured list.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to our good friends Keith and Betty-Jean who visited with us this past weekend. Keith and Betty-Jean were two of the first hospitalized COVID patients in Ontario in March 2020. This weekend, they shared their COVID story with us. They count themselves lucky to be alive today. Take this disease seriously, people. Get the shot.

Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors
Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors

Leave the porch lights on

Musicians performing on the porch at Westporch

Wherever would we be this past year without our front and back porches? They’ve been a respite from the four walls closing in on us during lockdowns, and a safe haven for gathering and visiting during the pandemic.

So what better way to hail the newfound hero of our homes than with live music?

This weekend, my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon in lovely Westport, Ontario strolling the streets for the town’s inaugural Westporch event. Westport is a quaint cottage down, nestled between Big Rideau Lake and the Rideau Canal and Wolfe Lake. It’s also one of the prettiest drives in Eastern Ontario, especially during the fall.

Yesterday, the town was alive with music. There were nine or ten porches with different musical acts ranging from folk, classic rock, bluegrass, swing and jazz to the headliners, the East Coast Experience.

It was a beautiful day, with people perching on hay bales or sitting in the town’s Muskoka chairs listening to tunes under bonny blue skies. There was hot dogs and chili, popcorn and cotton candy, dogs everywhere and artist displays. As we strolled along Spring Street listening to a Bruce Springsteen cover, one of the local inn owners offered us some free beer or wine.

They had me at beer.

We ended the afternoon slapping our knees and tapping our toes to the seafaring tunes of the East Coast Experience before heading to Scheuermann’s Winery for a glass of wine overlooking the lake.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on such a great event. We’ll be back. This week’s #HappyAct is to celebrate the porch—play some music, have a visit, or just sit a spell. Just make sure you leave the porch lights on.

The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
Music on the porch in Westport
Friends in Westport harbour
Author and friend at winery
The end to a picture perfect day at Scheuermann’s Winery

Shop, sip and stroll

My family on Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario

Yesterday, we spent a brilliant sunny September afternoon, shopping, sipping and strolling on Princess Street in Kingston. The city closes the street to traffic one Saturday each month, allowing people and shopkeepers to spill out into the street.

In a society smitten with cars, there is something anti-Uber appealing about being able to wander at will on a street bustling with activity. There were buskers, musicians, people having lunch and cold beer on patios, and lots and lots of dogs! It was just so great to see people out and about again, and feeling their energy.

There aren’t many pure pedestrian streets in Canada, but here are five of my favourite neighbourhoods where you can shop, sip and stroll this fall:

  1. The Distillery district in Toronto: this unique area just east of downtown Toronto is home to 47 Victorian industrial buildings that were once home to the Gooderham & Worts distillery. An eclectic collection of art galleries, restaurants and shops, it’s a great location to while away an afternoon. My favourite time to visit is in December, when it’s transformed into a traditional European Christmas market.
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver: Vancouverites cherish this beloved part of their city which was redeveloped in the 1970’s into a cultural and artistic hub. Stock up on candied salmon and fresh produce at the public Farmer’s Market, and admire the spectacular views of Vancouver’s harbour where you may be lucky enough to spot a seal or whale.
  3. Rue de Petit-Champlain in Quebec City: one of the most historic and prettiest streets in Canada, this thoroughfare is lined with patios and boutiques. We have fond memories of eating al fresco at Le Cochin Dingue during a rainstorm the last time we were there. The servers were so attentive, providing us with blankets and hot drinks to keep us comfortable.
  4. The ByWard Market in Ottawa: One of Canada’s oldest public markets, you can find just about anything you need in this historic area of Ottawa, plus indulge in a Beavertail while you shop. Ottawa is one of the few cities with a true pedestrian mall, Sparks Street, but it’s always been a bit on the sleepy side except during events like Winterlude.
  5. The Forks in Winnipeg, an abandoned railyard located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years. Indigenous peoples traded at The Forks, followed by fur traders and settlers. This dynamic gathering spot is home to live events, a farmer’s market and arts and crafts galleries attracting locals and visitors alike.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make the most of this glorious fall weather and shop, sip and stroll. Enjoy!

Chip truck on Granville Island
Granville Island, Vancouver
Pirate ship in Vancouver harbour
You can watch pirate ships go by from the island!
Even old smokestacks become a work of art on the island

The missing ingredient in remote work

Work desk

The debate on the future of work rages on (you can read about my vision for it here). This fall, many companies announced they would start bringing people back in the office. With a fourth wave of the pandemic underway, many of those same companies have deferred their plans indefinitely, making remote work here to stay.

For those of us toiling away in our bedrooms and basements, we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what’s missing in remote work.

The prevailing wisdom is what’s missing from remote work is the four C’s: collIaboration, connection, communication and culture. While all of these things have suffered a decline to varying degress, they are not missing from remote work. We’ve still managed to collaborate, communicate and stay connected with work colleagues.

No, the key ingredient missing in remote work is energy.

There is an undeniable energy in being around and working with people. When you meet or bump into people at the office or work together in person, you feel the energy level in the room rise. Ideas are born, connections are made. Energy fuels creativity, learning, innovation and propels action. We are driven to take action and succeed, which drives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

It has been said for introverts, this pandemic has been a blessing. It has allowed them to work quietly on their own, focus on their passions and be happy. But for extroverts who rely on the energy of others to give them strength, and help them be the best version of themselves, the pandemic has been crippling.

The problem is introverts and extroverts alike need to be re-energized from time to time, and most remote workers are running on dangerously low batteries.

This week’s #HappyAct is to assess your energy level and needs. How are you doing? Share an idea on how to fill the void so we can all recharge.