Learn from everyone you meet

 

Girl with her coach

The first week of September is always a week of mixed emotions in our household. We’re all sad summer is coming to an end, but the kids are excited and nervous to go back to school and dive into their courses and learning.

Usually a few weeks in, there’s the normal complaining about one of their teachers. We’ve always urged the kids to be open and understand that you can learn from everyone you meet, even from people you may not connect with or get along with. I think they’re finally starting to understand this.

It’s a great lesson for us all. I remember one time a friend of mine asking me why I make small talk with people on trains and planes. They said, “You’re never going to see them again, why do you bother?” I looked at them as if they had eight heads, and answered that it was because I enjoy talking to people, and I learn something from every interaction.

I’ve also followed this philosophy throughout my career. I once had a boss who was honestly one of a kind, and so different from me. She was very reserved, you never knew what she was thinking, precise to a T and not exactly a change agent or a communicator, but I learned so much from her and respected her for her knowledge.

I’ve also worked for people that taught me about the type of leader I didn’t want to be. Luckily I haven’t had too many of these bosses. The last-minute, disorganized, all over the map types, or worse, the “do it my way or the highway” dictatorial director (I only worked for one of these and they were gone in three months.) They were important reverse role models in my career and in some bizarre way, I may have learned even more from them than my good bosses.

The kids have learned this in sports too. There has been several times when at the beginning of a season, they’ve said they’re not sure they like their coach—he’s a bit loud or yells a lot or is harsh. But often at the end of the season, once they understand the person’s coaching style and get to know the person, they love their coach and say they’ve learned so much from them.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to learn from everyone you meet. I’d like to dedicate this week’s blog post to all the coaches out there who give tirelessly of their time and energy to help kids be all they can be, on the ice, the field, and on the water. You are doing such a wonderful thing. Thank you! This photo is of Clare and her kayakying coach this summer, Rhiannon Murphy. 

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Watch the world awaken

Darkness out a car window

5 a.m.

Pour the coffee

Pack the car

Hit the road jack

 

The car headlights cut through the fog

Blurred darkness

 

6 a.m.

The world begins to lighten

We pass through sleepy towns with quirky names like Tichborne and Wemyss

 

Signs never seen before

The Battle River Bison Company

10 acre hobby farm for sale

Even the wildlife sleep, save for a lone bat startled by the car headlights

 

The blanket of mist slowly lifts

Revealing silhouettes of Jack pines

Standing guard, protecting the quiet, still dark lakes

 

7 a.m.

Movement.

A few drowsy cows graze outside my car window

A light flickers in a farmhouse

Round hay bales sit forlornly in the fields

Saluted by the stands of corn

 

Daylight.

The fog persists

But another day has dawned

 

Ed.note: I wrote this poem in my head early Sunday morning driving to Ottawa for Clare’s provincial kayaking championships. I’m not a morning person, so you won’t see many “enjoy an early morning happy acts!”, but there is something special about watching the world awaken. Try it (if only once!) The trip was definitely worth it. Clare got a gold, silver and bronze medal.

Fireflies at night

Firefly

A couple of weeks ago the Ottawa Citizen ran a story, Fireflies are flooding Ottawa with light this summer.

It seems the wet spring has provided lots of food for these fascinating insects, and the woods and riverbanks along the Ottawa River are alight with lightning bugs.

I’ve always found fireflies magical. I remember one time in Vermont when we rented a 100-year old cabin in the woods. It sat on 25 acres, and there was a huge field that sloped down from the large wraparound porch into the woods. The kids were quite little and I  had to get up in the middle of the night with one of them. I looked out the upstairs window, and the entire field was filled with glowing tiny lights sparkling in the night. It was magic.

Fireflies aren’t flies, they’re actually beetles. They go through four stages: egg, larvae, pupae, to beetle. Their glow comes from a chemical reaction that produces light without heat.

One night, Clare and I were walking and we found a whole bunch of tiny bugs which we found out after were firefly larvae (some people call them glowworms). They looked like tiny worms with scales, but you could see they glowed. If you ever see a firefly up close, it’s really cool too. They are bright green—you often can see them on window screens. We’ve even rescued some in the house.

They say the best time to view fireflies are in May and June around dusk, but we still have some on the property, so it’s not too late to get out and watch nature’s light show.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy the fireflies at night. Happy summer!

firefly larvae
Firefly larvae

Watch a movie under a starry sky

 

Movies in the squareOne of my favourite things to do in the summer is to watch a movie outside under the stars in downtown Kingston as part of their Movies in the Square series.

It’s such a great vibe. People start arriving, armchairs and blankets in hand. The air cools as the sun sets. The sky turns a royal blue, providing a stunning backdrop for the magnificent dome of City Hall and the lights surrounding market square.

Children run back and forth from the popcorn vendor, getting their final bursts of energy out before the big screen roars to life and the first of the big images are projected on the big screen. You look up and the stars begin to reveal themselves, providing a sparkling backdrop to a beautiful night.

I missed the movie I really wanted to catch this summer on Thursday—La La Land. I bet it was magical under the stars.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch a movie under a starry sky before summer is out. Many communities offer open air movie nights. Check out the schedule in your area. Here is the rest of the line-up for Kingston this year.

Movies in the square line up Kingston 2019 

Coles notes on life

words hear me

Every time I come back from a conference, I’ve gotten into the habit of capturing key messages or ideas on one page that I hang in my cubicle. Usually it’s practical tips on how to be a more effective communicator.

This time, as I looked at my notes I realized the messages that resonated with me the most went beyond what I do for a living, so I thought I’d share them with you.

“We all need to be heard as humans, but there is a huge difference in who gets heard.”

 “Don’t go into every conversation thinking what you will teach, go in thinking what you will learn.”

“Stop repeating yourself—you’re just training people not to listen”

“Stop sharing everything you know in your head”

 “We should aspire for progress over perfection. If you’re not sure if something is good enough, ask yourself the question ‘Is this something only I would notice or care about?”

“Beware of HIPPOs: the highest paid person’s opinion in the room”

 “Never be constrained by your role”

I’ll add my personal favourite, “No stupid rules”. This week’s #HappyAct is to create your own Coles’ notes to live by. What would be on your sheet of paper?

Eat from a dish with one spoon

It has been inspiring to see how reconciliation has finally become more than just a word in this country.

Every conference and event now starts with an acknowledgement of the First Nation territories and their land upon which the event is being held.

When I was at Queen’s University a few weeks ago to hear presentations from graduate students in their school of public health, covering one wall was a string of flags hung by the students declaring their personal act of reconciliation.

I was especially proud recently to view a special work of art done by the students of Loughborough Public School, where Clare goes to school. The piece called “From What Dish Do You Want to Feed Your Grandchildren From” is 13 feet long and spans one of the foyer walls. The artwork was chosen as the Ontario entry for a special gathering in Winnipeg as part of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

It was inspired by a treaty signed between the Anishinaabe, Mississauga and Haudenosaunee First Nations in 1701 where they agreed to share the territory and protect the land, its animals and bounty around Lake Ontario. The philosophy these young students are trying to pass down to future generations is we all share the same land and eat from the same bowl with the same spoon. We must respect the land, its inhabitants and take care of it so it continues to thrive and reap bountiful harvests for future generations.

There are no knives at the table—an equally powerful message about acceptance, harmony and living in a peaceful society without war.

children's messages on artwork

I’m always amazed at the creativity and talent of young people. They used natural elements like beaver pelts and birch bark stitched together with modern symbols of how we are harming our environment in a beautiful tapestry, then overlayed personal messages and artwork for a powerful mosaic that reflects Canadian and First Nations values and principles.

This week’s #HappyAct is to ask yourself and answer the question these young minds are challenging us to answer: what will be your personal act of reconciliation?

artwork

Classic Jack

Jack and Dianna Patch

Last Saturday, friends and family gathered in Madoc to celebrate the life of Jack Patch. Jack was a dear friend of ours who passed away last year. His wife, Dianna had asked me to say a few words that day, but I couldn’t.

I wanted to, but I didn’t know what I wanted to say. That’s because Jack was a classic. In many ways, he was indescribable.

And then one night this week, as I was walking on a country road with the sun shimmering through the trees and the sounds of tinging bats and shouts from Clare’s baseball practice wafting in the distance, the words just came to me.

This is what I wanted to say.

Jack Patch was a classic. He was my Jack.

Jack was my dance partner. When all the other men in the room wanted to sit around and drink beer, Jack would be the one who would get up and dance with two women at the same time.

Jack was a child. Jack always liked kids, including my kids, as long as they didn’t irritate him too much or did what he wanted. I think it was because he never grew up himself.

Jack Patch and boy
Jack with our friend Murray and Libby’s son, Alex as a boy

Jack was a mountain man and MacGyver guy. He puttered. I never saw him move faster than a shuffle, unless the sap was about to boil over in his homemade maple syrup operation.

Jack and Dianna bought 25 acres on the Moira River in the 1980s and built a cabin on the river. We had some great parties in those days, and we were all there to help them when they decided to quit work and build an off-the-grid cabin on the land. That basically gave him carte blanche to build stuff and putter for the next 25 years.

Jack and Dave putting up drywall
Jack and Dave putting up drywall in their home on the Moira River

Jack was an environmentalist. He built trails on his property and did annual counts for species like birds and frogs. He was nature’s friend.

Jack was a dog lover. He always had a four-legged friend by his side. Even as his mind and body started to fail him, his neighbour’s dog Sophie was his faithful friend and helped spark life back into him.

Jack was my skinny dipping partner. He believed swimming trunks were a scourge on humanity and had the skinny dip down to an art of science.

He would stroll to the end of the dock, sit down and dangle his white legs in the water, and slip off his trunks so surreptitiously, only the loons would notice. My favourite picture I ever took of Jack was one I snapped quietly while he was sitting on the end of our friend Murray’s dock with one cheek showing.

Man skinny dipping

Jack was my vintner. Jack was a purveyor of bad alcohol. Bad wine. Really bad wine. But we drank it anyway.

Jack was my comic relief. My favourite Jack quote of all time was on January 1, 2000. Our regular group had spent the millennium New Year’s at Jack and Dianna’s off-the-grid cottage, because if the world was going to end, you might as well spend it with the people you love most and at a place where you don’t need electricity.

We had imbibed in a few too many drinks naturally, and the next morning were slow to emerge from our hovels to see if the world was still intact. I remember Jack shuffling out of his bedroom in his saggy t-shirt and boxer shorts. He scratched his chest and said, “Well, that’s a relief. Now I don’t have to worry about being a 90s man anymore.”

Not that Jack was ever a 90s man. Jack figured out about 40 years ago, that if he didn’t do something exactly the way Dianna wanted him to do it, it would give him a lifetime free pass. That included changing diapers, dishes and just about anything he didn’t want to do.

Jack was a lover of life. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and a wonderful low chuckle of a laugh, the Jack laugh.

One of the last times we saw Jack was on a visit to Pine Meadows nursing home in Northbrook where he spent his last year. It was Mother’s Day weekend, and the staff had brought in an entertainer for a morning sing-along with the guests. The nice singer in a break between songs at one point asked if Jack was my father, or who he was in relation to me.

I simply said, “He’s my Jack.” And he was a classic.

Jack, we love you and miss you. Thank you for all the happy memories. I hope you’ve finally found your happy place where you can putter, skinny dip and dance to your heart’s content.Jack Patch and friends