Find your happy place

saying about happinessA couple of week’s ago, I posted this image on Facebook.

All my life I’ve lived by water. Growing up in Port Credit, I lived by the Credit River and Lake Ontario. I’d spend my summers swimming in the Credit or at one of the many beaches along the lake. (Sadly, the beaches are often closed now due to high eColi readings and only a crazy person would swim in the Credit River anymore).

In Ottawa, when I was studying my Masters degree at Carleton University, I lived by the canal and not far from the Ottawa River. I biked in the summers along the river and canal, and skated to school and downtown in the winter on the world’s longest skating rink.

When Dave and I decided to get out of Toronto, we targeted five areas. The area north of Kingston, with its honeycomb of lakes was at the top of our list, and today I live on a lake and work at an office where I can see Lake Ontario from our offices.

There’s a scene in Happy Gilmour, where Happy’s golf coach tells him to go to his happy place.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find your happy place. Mine is water. What’s yours?

Thank a community leader

Charity cheque presentation
Brit Smith from Homestead Land Holdings presents $3 million to the UHKF, Susan Creasey is on the far right

Years ago, when I first moved to Kingston and was involved in a charity event, I called someone named Brit Smith to ask him for a donation for our cause. He said yes.

Brit Smith has been saying yes to the Kingston community for 50 years. Recently, he pledged to donate the remaining $3 million dollars needed to Kingston General Hospital to purchase and install a new MRI machine. He was moved to make such a generous donation after hearing that up to 1,000 people may be waiting for scans. Thanks to his donation, KGH will get the machine a year earlier than planned.

I found this wonderful Kingston Whig-Standard article about him published last year when he was awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for his role and service in the second World War. He’s 95 now and still is active in his family-run business, Homestead Land Holdings going into the office every day.

I’ve never met Brit Smith. Some day I would like to meet him and thank him in person for saying yes to me all those years ago and for his generous ongoing support of our community.

We are so lucky to have so many incredibly gifted, generous people in our community who devote their time and energy to helping others.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank a community leader. Send them a tweet, an email, a note on LinkedIn or give them a call. Here are a few leaders I would like to personally thank:

Thank you Bhavana Varma and the United Way for being such an inspiration, force for change and voice for those in need in our community.

Thank you Sheila and Peter Kingston, Susan Nicholson and Les Herr, and Susan Creasey. And thank you, Brit Smith.

Savour more than just the meal

Morrison's Sign

Special guest blog

I could have went to Tim Horton’s this morning. I could have ordered a breakfast bagel and a double cream large Dark Roast. Yeah, I could have done that. Hell, I could have went through the drive through. Wait, there’s also Rotten Ronnie’s as an option, they have great coffee.

I went to Morrison’s Restaurant. That unassuming nook across from Market Square with the flashing sign reading Sea Food and Steaks.

A place where Nutritional Information need not apply. This is the place that could have been up the road from that nuclear bomb shelter, Ford Fairlane parked out front, a couple of “Hoods’ leaning against the car making plans that end in Daddy -O listening to a radio warning of a Cuban Missile crisis.

It’s not. It’s in Kingston. Downtown. Today.

I read the menu, but didn’t have to. I knew exactly what I wanted. “

Give me the Three Egg Special, over hard.”

The old lady in the white T-Shirt wrote it down. She wrote it down? Yeah, that’s exactly what she did. She didn’t have to. Everybody orders that.

I swear it was five minutes later when she came back.

The breakfast came with home fries. Not the frozen McCain’s crap. This was the real thing that resembled quasi mashed potatoes.

Boo freakin’ ya!

I sat there and savoured the bacon bliss. Inhaled it before my fork sliced through the cholesterol carnage.

Then I sipped the coffee. No flavoured wussy latte stuff. This could have stripped the paint off of that Fairlane. I thought about putting ketchup on my eggs. It was tempting but I wanted it straight up, no frills, just a slathering of salt and pepper. Ok, a lot.

My world is all black and white today. Salt and pepper. Today, I’m getting my news from the Globe and Mail print edition. When the news was as current as yesterday.

For a moment, that coffee tasted sweeter than my wife’s kisses.

The toast? Wonder Bread. Nothing from Texas style. it was either white or brown.

She put butter on it. Not margarine. Butter tastes great!

Sitting there staring at the empty plate waiting for the bill to come, I thought about those mornings when my grandmother would make me bacon and eggs. The sun shining through the kitchen window, the dog licking up a fallen piece of bacon and the smell of Maxwell House instant coffee. Yeah, those were the best days of my life.

Then I think about my wife’s kisses this morning. I think about our son’s wave and smile as he crosses the gate leading into the school yard, ”Bye, Daddy!

No, the best is yet to come.

I asked the old lady what kind of coffee it was.

“Mother Parker’s. We only serve the best here.”

This week’s #Happy Act is to go get a Two Egg Special and savour more than just the meal.

Mark is a dad, husband, screenwriter, brew master and die hard Cubs fan who was recently named the “Unofficial” blogger for the Chicago Cubs in Canada. You can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter @canuckcubbie.

Make fear your friend

Halloween costumes of QR codes
We go big for Halloween at our work–the year we dressed up as QR codes

It’s Halloween, time of ghosts and goblins, spooks and spirits. A time when our imaginations run wild and fear permeates the soul.

Halloween is such a fun holiday. From picking the perfect pumpkin, to dressing up in costumes and trick or treating and all that delicious candy, what’s not to love?

If Halloween is so much fun, why do we make fear our friend for only one week of the year?

I read a blog post the other day by TV anchor Betty Liu about fear. In the post, she talked about Felix Baumgartner,  that crazy guy sponsored by RedBull who broke the sound barrier doing a freefall jump from 39,000 feet from an airplane. Felix was torn between two types of fears: the fear of the actual act of jumping out of the airplane, and the fear of not seeing his dream through and not making the jump. At one point, he was apparently so scared about the mission he literally fled the project for several months.

Liu experienced something similar when she had to make a big career decision. In the end, she asked herself a very important question. If I was in the same spot as I was now, would I be happy?

This week’s #HappyAct is to make fear your friend. The next time you are at a crossroads or have a big decision to make, think of the consequences of not taking action. Will staying where you are make you happy?

Have fun trick or treating this week. This week’s tip: Make fear your friend at Fort Fright, on every night this week in Kingston—guaranteed a frightfully good time!

Girl in Halloween costume and helmet
Clare “crossdressing” this year in her costume and hockey helmet

 

Stand on your desk

St. George's Cathedral
St. George’s cathedral in Kingston in full autumn glory

I was watching a biography on the great Robin Williams. They showed that memorable scene from Dead Poets Society where he stands on his desk and asks his students why, and he replies, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

It’s easy to not see what is before our eyes. Case in point. I was driving home the other night and for the first time, saw a bright red roof of a barn shimmering in the late day sun. I had never seen that roof before even though I drive the same route twice a day, five days a week, fifty weeks of the year.

Sometimes we need to make a conscious effort to see things from a new perspective. The risk if we don’t stand on our desks from time to time is feeling uninspired, unfulfilled, bored and unhappy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stand on your desk and challenge yourself to look at things with a fresh eye. If you’re not into standing on your desk, try this. Every day this week, on your daily walk or commute, pause and look at your surroundings with fresh eye. What did you discover? Leave a comment. Here’s what I found one day on a quick walk around the block from my office.

Limestone carriageway
A limestone carriageway, from the days of horse and carriages.
Doorway
One of the many beautiful doorways of Kingston
Frontenac Club Inn
The Frontenac Club Inn on King and William Streets. Note the plaque on the wall–this is the first time I’ve ever stopped to read it, even though I’ve passed it a million times. It is dedicated to the men of the Frontenac Club who fought in the second world war. I learned the Frontenac Club was made up of leading Kingstonians, garrison officers, faculty and officers of Queen’s University and Royal Military College and was closed in the 1930s when the depression hit.

Step right up and make a change

United Way volunteers
Co-workers Elaine Peterson, Jordan Grundy and Jessica Schonewille at the United Way breakfast

This week I attended the kick-off breakfast for the 2014 Kingston, Lennox, Frontenac and Addington United Way Campaign. The room was packed with more than 500 community leaders and volunteers who run campaigns in their workplace. This year, the goal for our region is $3,481,000.

Our company, Empire Life is a huge supporter of United Way and always runs a fantastic campaign. This year our theme is “Step right up and make a change”, and we’ll be planning lots of fun events based on a carnival theme to raise almost $300,000. That’s a lot of change.

Over the years, United Way has become a charity of choice for me. I’m personally invested for two main reasons. One, it is the one charity where my money goes directly back into my own community and is distributed across many agencies and areas of need to help my neighbours, my colleagues, my friends.

The other reason is I’ve seen first-hand the incredible work United Way agencies do. I’ve been on the Board of Kingston Literacy and Skills, volunteered with CNIB, have worked for the day at places like Kingston Interval House and Kingston Youth Shelter as part of the Day of Caring, and visited other agencies through the United Way Seeing is Believing tour.

There is a third reason, knowing some day that could be me. We are all one pink slip, one medical crisis away from our lives changing inexorably. Life is fragile. In a flash, everything you hold dear can change, as we heard firsthand at the breakfast when 15-year old Oscar Evans described how his life changed after a chemical accident at the age of 13 when he became blind. We may all need help some day. I, for one, am grateful the United Way is there when that day comes.

This week’s #HappyAct is to step up and make a change by giving to United Way. If you live in a community where you aren’t as aware of the incredible work United Way does, make it a point of finding out. Volunteer for an agency or ask about a Seeing is Believing tour in your community (there is one in Kingston on September 23, find more details here.) Special thanks to the Empire Life team who braved the miserable rain yesterday at our 6th annual Community Garage Sale for United Way. You guys are amazing!

Cheer from the stands

roller derbyThere are times when standing on the sidelines is just as much fun as playing the game. Last night for Clare’s birthday, we took her and four of her friends to the Kingston Derby Girls end of season match. I’ve never been to the roller derby before. It was a riot.

They billed it as The Best. The Most. The GREATEST night of roller derby in Kingston–the fifth anniversary of Back to Cruel, when it all began.

It took us a bit to pick up the game and figure out the Jammers were the girls with the stars on their helmet and they got a point every time they passed members of the other team. It was a double header, the Kingston Disloyalists versus the London Timber Rollers followed by a hometown match of the Rogue Warriors versus The Skateful Dead. Our favourite skaters were Manic Breeze, Sewciopath and Banger Management.

I don’t know what was more fun, watching the crowd (which by the way included everyone from two-year olds with their parents, to a bunch of Queen’s students making beer statues on the sidelines to people in their sixties and seventies), or following the action on the rink, but it was rockin’.

This week’s Happy Act is to cheer from the stands. Get lost in the game, cheer loudly for your favourite team and have fun. Here are some more pictures of last night’s action. Become a fan—like the Kingston Derby Girls on Facebook.

roller derby

 

Kids watching roller derby
The little kids and one big kid taking in the action