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

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52 walks later

Group of employees
Some of my co-workers who walked with me in 2018

For once, I followed through on a New Year’s resolution.

Last January, I posted this blog where I vowed to walk one day each week at lunch with a fellow Empire Life employee. My goals were to stay connected with my co-workers and what’s happening in the company, get in shape, and save money (as opposed to going out for lunch with people to catch up).

In full disclosure, I didn’t quite make my goal—work schedules, vacation, and a nasty gland infection in November meant I finished just shy of my 52 walks this year, but I figure I met it in spirit. Here is what I learned on my walks:

  • For some of us, a quick walk at lunch is one of the only times to ourselves. For instance, I learned one co-worker  has five kids under the age of seven, with two-year old twins. If I had five kids under the age of seven, I’d definitely need an escape now and then!
  • Every person has a story to tell. One of my favourite walks this year was with a co-worker who just happened to mention that her husband had received an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She agreed to let me post a little contest on our company intranet to guess who the mystery wedding guest was. We had a lot of fun as people tried to guess which of us knew royalty.
  • People have many hidden passions and talents. Several guys I work with are beer aficionados and are members of the Kingston and Area Brewers of Beer club, I work with several “foodies”, and people love their pets!
  • Life is full of joy and challenges. Many shared their lives, struggles and challenges with me. It was a great reminder that you never really know what’s going on in people’s lives (despite Facebook and Instagram) and to always listen with your heart.

And finally, but I didn’t need 52 walks to know this, I work with some of the nicest, most talented people around. Thanks to everyone who joined me for a walk in 2018. I plan to continue my walks in 2019.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Leave a comment.

Hang out with happy people

Song album cover for Save yourself

Two weeks ago, I shared a post called Seven Habits of Highly Unhappy People.

As much as it’s important to avoid unhappy habits, it’s just as important to avoid hanging out with people who are pessimistic, focus too much on themselves and see themselves as victims in this world.

As Ed Sheeran in his beautiful song Save Yourself says, “human beings are destined to radiate or drain.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to surround yourself with people who are positive, bring out the best in you and who radiate. Avoid those who drain.

Attend a retirement party

Two women with drinks celebrating
Elaine on the right with her sister Lynn-Marie (also retired!) at her retirement celebration

I’ve attended a lot of retirement parties lately. Several years ago, my company announced a change to retiree benefits, and I think many of my friends and colleagues just decided it was time to go.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the retirement celebration of my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson. You may recall Elaine, since she’s been a subject of blog posts like Show your spirit, You Can’t Buy Happiness, but You Can Buy Chocolate and Play Hookey for the Day.

While some people like to quietly slip out, Elaine helped plan an entire week of retirement festivities with lunches, dinners, and an after-work fete at a local bar. Today, I’m taking her to Handel’s Messiah for her retirement present.

On Friday, I celebrated the upcoming retirement of my friend Beatrice, who told us that Empire Life was the longest place she ever worked. She stayed because she liked the people she was working with so much and the work was always interesting and challenging.

There are so many reasons why these celebrations are so special.

I enjoy hearing the incredible stories and contributions my colleagues have made to their organizations, often over the course of decades.

I love seeing the smiles and laughter around the room and how genuinely happy everyone is for the person retiring.

I like seeing former colleagues who made the leap years ago who came to honour the newest recruit to their ranks. Without fail, they look ten years younger and say they are busier than ever.

But most of all I love the warmth and family feel of these gatherings. Like it or not, work is a huge part of our lives. The people we work with become our family. And when one of our members leaves us to embrace a new, exciting chapter in their life, we celebrate with them.

This week’s #HappyAct is to attend a retirement or honour the work contributions of a special colleague. And to all my friends who have made the leap into retirement or are making the leap this year, I am so happy for you. Enjoy, and don’t look back!

Have an unbirthday party

group picture of cottagers
Love the look on Clare’s face in this photo!

When our kids were young, we had a wonderful neighbour named Mark Berry.

Mark was in his 60’s and lived on his own on our lake. His family was in Toronto, so he adopted us and we adopted him. Our dogs became best friends and we’d often have Mark over for a beer or dinner.

Every time Mark came for dinner, he’d bring us presents, claiming it was an “unbirthday party”.

There’d be huge stuffed animals for the girls, something for the kitchen or a bottle of wine for me, and usually something fish-related for Dave. These were some of our favourite nights.

Last weekend, it was our turn to pay it forward and hold an unbirthday party for a group of friends we’ve been getting together with for almost 20 years.

Girls wearing wine drinking team tshirts and socks
Our official wine drinking team–the socks say “if you can read this, bring me a glass of wine”

We brought wine drinking team t-shirts and socks for the girls, water bottles for the kids, funny beer koozies for the boys and a few other gifts for the real birthday boy who happened to be celebrating that weekend. I think everyone appreciated their gifts.

The best gift is having this wonderful group of friends who we’ve shared so many memories with in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an unbirthday party for a special group of people. May it bring many happy memories and returns.

 

 

Man with birthday hat and glasses
The real birthday boy

What if your best friend was a robot?

I heard somebody raving the other day about Google Home. Google home is a voice-activated assistant that plays music, turns on devices and tells you things you want to know. They said it was like having a new best friend or roommate except they never left dirty dishes in the sink or a mess in the bathroom.

It got me to thinking. In this age of artificial intelligence and bots, what if your best friend was a machine? I decided to have a heart to heart with Siri about this.

Hey Siri, talk to me.
“Let me think, no.”

Siri, will you be my best friend?
“That’s nice. I’d like to be your friend.”

Siri, tell me a joke.
“The past and future walked into a bar. It was tense”

Tell me another joke.
“What did the one iPhone say to the other iPhone? Hmmm, I used to know this one. I don’t think I understand a joke in my language. They’re not so funny any way.”

(At this point Clare takes over the conversation)…

Clare: Siri, is the Easter bunny real?
“The Easter bunny is as real as you wish him to be.”

Shut up!
“That’s not nice.”

Be quiet, you’re annoying.
“I wonder what that’s like, being mad?”

Siri, do you want a pumpkin pie sweetie?
”I have everything I need in the cloud.”

Siri, what do you look like?
“In the cloud, nobody cares what you look like.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to befriend a bot. Hang out in the cloud. It seems like a cool place to be, even if it is lacking in humour and emotion. But I’m sure there’s an emoticon for that.smiley face emoticon

How to be happier at work

Chief happiness officerIn April, I attended a workshop by Dr. Raj Raghunathan, Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business and known happiness researcher at the University of Austin, Texas. His talk was on how to be happier at work.

Here is the Coles notes version of what he shared.

First, it pays to be happier at work. Happier workers are healthier and more productive. They are better at making decisions and creative problem solving. When you’re happy, your brain is “lit up” and working on full cylinders. Happier workers also tend to be better team players. It is in companies’ best interests to make sure their employees are happy.

Now for the million dollar question. How can you be happier at work? The good doctor shared three tenets to live by:

  1. Find an optimal work-life balance: he recommends working no more than 40 hours a week and cited many studies where working more can actually make you less productive
  2. Cut your commute. Commuting is a happiness killer and results in higher stress levels and incidences of sickness and leave
  3. Promote socializing within your organization. Organizations where co-workers develop friendships have significantly lower turnover rates and higher engagement rates. Encourage people to network, volunteer for social causes together, organize retreats and team building exercises and get to know your co-workers.

I asked the question how do we get organizations to buy in to these tenets? Dr. Raghunathan says every organization should have a Chief Happiness Officer and leaders must embrace these principles to drive a healthy and happy work culture.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt these three principles to be happier at work. And if anyone is looking for a Chief Happiness Officer for their organization, I’m open to offers.