1,000 days

People wearing masks in 1918 in California

Very early on in the pandemic, an older caretaker of a church told Dave, “It will be a 1,000 days, every pandemic takes a 1,000 days.”

The Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. By my count, we are at 675 days which means we have about 10 months left of living with COVID.

For the first time in almost two years, I am quietly optimistic we are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Early on, the other catchphrase was herd immunity. The pandemic will subside when a large proportion of the population has either contracted the disease or developed enough antibodies through vaccines to protect themselves from contracting the disease. With the highly contagious Omicron variant, we are now seeing herd immunity in action.

This week’s #HappyAct is to allow yourself to hope. Stay strong during these last few critical weeks and months and let’s all continue doing what we need to do to support our beleaguered healthcare workers who have been the real heroes on the front lines.

I choose to hope the end is near, and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

Ed. Note: This post is not based on any scientific evidence. Please take it as it’s intended, hopeful musings that brighter days lay ahead.

Find meaning behind the words this season

Sign with words hope, peace, joy and love

Peace and goodwill. Comfort and joy.

You hear these words everywhere you go this time of year, in holiday cards, in songs, in greetings and on signs.

I noticed a slight variation this week on my favourite church sign. It said, “Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and strength”.

Strength. It was an interesting choice of words. Yes, more than anything right now, we need strength and resilience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find meaning behind the words this holiday season.

May you experience,

Kindness and generosity of spirit
Love and laughter
The comfort of warm food and fond memories
Precious time to reflect and recharge
Moments of happiness and joy
And strength and acceptance to bring you peace this holiday season

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Don’t miss next week’s special year-end edition of Top 10 Happy Acts, my favourite blog posts to help you get through another COVID winter.

And to the stranger who showed generosity of spirit and bought our hot chocolates at the McDonald’s drive-through in Kingston last Wednesday, thank you for paying it forward! We reciprocated and hope the person behind us enjoyed their McHappy Meal and chocolate shake.

Here’s to all the jolly old Saint Nicks

My daughter Clare with Santa

Last week, I took Friday off to do some Christmas shopping. I happened to walk past the mall Santa who was sitting alone on his red throne with his mask half-dangling beneath his snowy white beard.

A young family was just leaving, and I thought how sad it was that he was sitting there all alone. Usually there would be a line-up a mile long to see him, and I shouted, “Hi Santa” and gave him a big wave on the way by.

I started thinking about all the COVID Santas. Most of these guys are in their 70s, putting their health at risk letting tiny unvaccinated toddlers and babies sit on their lap to keep a time-honoured tradition alive and create special memories for their families.

We always knew Santa was a hero, but this year he’s earning his black buckled belt in kindness.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank everyone who dons a red suit this time of year to make a child smile. Thanks Santa! (And if it’s not too much trouble, if you can add to your list an end to COVID in 2022, that would be great!)

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.

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

Ten things to avoid if you want to be happy

Road construction

I’ve often said on this blog, it’s just as important to know what doesn’t make you happy, as what does make you happy. Here are ten things that haven’t made me happy in the past year:

1) Talking to car salesmen. Seriously, do these guys go to school to learn how to be schmaltzy and schmarmy? In fairness, the team at Kingston Volkswagen were great and we love our new Tiguan.

2) Teenagers who roll their eyes at everything you say and whose favourite words to describe you are weird and embarrassing (and that’s on a good day).

3) Road construction. My road is a mess right now. It’s year two of what most likely will be three years of construction. We’ve given up trying to keep our cars clean and washed.

4) Real estate prices. What is going on? It makes me sad that home ownership has become out of reach for the younger generation.

5) Wasted food. Remember the teenagers I mentioned above? I wish I had a dime for every bruised banana, unopened granola bar or uneaten sandwich I’ve seen thrown in the garbage. It makes my blood boil.

6) Waiting in lines. This may be a necessary evil right now, but if I see a line longer than 10 people, I don’t bother.

7) Bad online shopping experiences. Online shopping has been a lifesaver for many of us during COVID, but some sites need a lot of work to create a better overall customer experience.

8) Mosquitoes and ticks. Get a bug zapper.

9) Hockey fans who whinge about unfair penalty calls and Leaf fans who think Auston Matthews is a god. Okay, the reffing was a bit blatant last night, but bad calls are part of the game.

10) COVID-19: Don’t underestimate it. Keep wearing a mask, wash your hands frequently and get vaccinated. I know we’re all tired of it, but we’re so close, let’s see it through so we can get back to some semblance of normal.

Plan the perfect do-nothing vacation

Me and Dave on a boardwalk in South Carolina

I’m starting a week’s vacation, and to be honest, I’m pretty stoked about it. I plan to poke around some garden centres, do a little kayaking, fishing, lots of eating, drinking, and watching Netflix. Basically all the same things I’ve been doing for the past year, minus work.

I used to be one of those people that would never take a vacation day if I didn’t have anything to do. The whole thought of spending an entire day at home was foreign to me. I always had to have something planned, either a big trip, or at least some day trips or overnighters to friends’ cottages or the city. Staycations were not my thing.

Now Covid is giving staycation a whole new meaning.

But there is something liberating about a do-nothing vacation. You can sleep as much as you want. You don’t have to worry about packing or having to be somewhere on time or follow a schedule. If it rains, who cares? It doesn’t ruin your plans because you don’t have any. You can just curl up for a nap, or find something to do inside.

Actually, it sounds rather idyllic except for two things.

My teenagers, both home all week, one home schooling, the other waiting for her summer job to start. All of a sudden, work doesn’t look that bad.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan the perfect do-nothing vacation. What do you plan to do on yours? Leave a comment. Here’s a picture from a do-something vacation from two years ago outside Bubba’s Love Shak on a boardwalk in South Carolina. Sigh.

Stop being your own worst enemy

skeleton looking at a computer

There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.

Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?

I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.

Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.

The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.

We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.

As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.

Next week: part two on the Future of Work

Give someone a hand up

Come in we're open sign

Special guest post by Agent00$0ul”, marking the anniversary of COVID-19. It’s estimated more than 200,000 Canadian businesses could shut their doors permanently due to the pandemic. Let’s show them our #locallove.

“Hello, Ivan”.

He peered up at me from behind the register. A barrier of plexiglass separated our two masked faces. The part of his face I could see transformed to a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised.

“It’s been a year, my friend,” I said. I didn’t expect him to remember my order by heart like he did pre-COVID. 

I pulled a $10 bill from my coat pocket and slid it across the counter. “I want you to have this.”

He was surprised, but appreciative. He knew why I was doing it and I knew a few of his customers were doing the same. He put the bank note in his pocket. “Thank you.” 

I placed my order. The restaurant was nearly empty–three or four diners seated at tables separated by stacked chairs on tables wrapped in caution tape. The complimentary copies of The Sun newspaper, usually neatly stacked in a pile in a corner on the condiments table, were nowhere to be seen. Same too for the condiments themselves. It was high noon on a Wednesday. The scene was surreal…. the place should’ve been packed. 

The absence of customers gave me some time to catch up on things with Ivan while my comfort food was being prepared. I explained that the pandemic caused my employer to make the difficult decision to permanently close the office. I would be working from home until retirement. That decision removed the need for me to visit Ivan’s place of work at least once, maybe twice a week on a regular basis. 

Ivan always punched in my order before I made it to the cash, holding off on the drink selection because I was never consistent on that one, fluctuating between Diet Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t watching my weight) and Cherry Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t managing my office work). Either choice was fast food methadone, supplied by Ivan the enabler.

I have the impression that Ivan got to be where he is today because of some unfortunate past events. He’s a smart guy. An ‘it-getter”. Pleasant. Respectful. Sharing. Still, he plays the economic hand he’s been dealt every day without regret or remorse. His reality is a twenty-minute bus ride to reduced hours of work. 

He told me the pandemic has been hard on him financially. Hours have ticked up slightly since the restaurant reopened with limited seating. Prior to that all sales were curbside pickup, drive through, or Uber Eats. He hoped he would be given the vaccine soon since he was over 50 with pre-existing conditions. He was skeptical because he didn’t fall under the definition of “front line worker”. The irony wasn’t lost on me as he shared this information from behind the barrier of plexiglass between us.

As I returned to my car, lunch bag and Cherry Coke in hand, it felt good to have given Ivan a hand up, rather than a hand out. The circumstances were different than most “new normal” days that caused me to see Ivan on a work day.I probably won’t see him again anytime soon… possibly never. I should have given him $20. 

This week’s #HappyAct is to think of the folks in the service sector who have been impacted by this pandemic. Help them out if you can. I handed out $5 Tim Horton’s prepaid cards to the six stylists at my barber shop. $30 equates to 1 1/2 haircuts, I missed two cuts during the lockdown so I’m actually up $10. Consider helping out the service sector workers you have in your circle if you are able. Be the creator of your own happy act. 

Living in a world of 24/7 news

CP24 news page

Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.

These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.

Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.

Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.

When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.

I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.

Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.

This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:

  • Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
  • Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
  • Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.

I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.

I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.

Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.