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

Listen to live music

band on stage
Celtic band Irish Roots playing at the Verona Cattail Festival

This weekend is a big deal in my small town. It’s the weekend of the annual Verona Cattail Festival. It kicks off with a parade that lasts about 10 minutes and has more people in it than watching it, features a Red Green Cardboard Duct Tape Boat Race where entrants make a boat out of cardboard and duct tape and everybody cheers as the boats sink, a pancake breakfast, fish fry and antique car show (on today if you’re looking for something to do and like antique cars).

For me, the highlight of our little festival is the music on the main stage. The organizers do a great job attracting talent from all genres. Last night the best act was a group called the Bon Evans Band—a guy who looked and sounded like Cat Stevens who played all originals, but the celtic group and Rockabilly Allstars were fun too.

The reality today is, most of us listen to music through some sort of device. It’s great that music is now universally accessible thanks to iTunes and iPods, but we’ve lost that experience of seeing the musicians on stage, hearing the music live and watching the performers interact with the audience. Many artists now have to charge exorbitant amounts for their concerts since it is their primary source of income.

At one point last night, I was watching the band. The sun was setting over the fields. Beside the stage were two Canadian flags gently billowing in the wind. Beside the stage Clare was dancing with friends and an older couple were dancing. It was a one of those blissful moments when you realize there is no place you’d rather be and no better place in the world to live than in Canada.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to some live music. The more intimate the venue, the better. Tap your toes, get up and dance, let the music take you away. A plug: if you’re out on a Saturday night in Kingston, my co-worker Tim Aylesworth and his buddy Craig Jones are always playing at Tir Nan Og Irish Pub on Ontario Street on the patio–he’s a great singer songwriter.

Live in a happy place

According to Jetpac City Guides, I live in the happiest city in Canada, Kingston, Ontario.

Child smiling in Kingston
My youngest daughter Clare is all smiles after a day in downtown Kingston

Jetpac makes travel apps, and they looked at over a million Instagram photos to count and size the smiles on people’s faces. We’re a university town so there’s a high likelihood the reason we ranked high on this very unscientific study is because we have lots of university students who use Instagram, but Kingston regularly places high in the annual studies of the best places to work and live in Canada.

It’s been almost 20 years since we moved to the Kingston area and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions we ever made. I love going back to Toronto, I love the city, but we would never ever have been able to enjoy the quality of life we enjoy now.

And here’s the rub: this just didn’t fall into our laps. It was a conscious decision; we had a goal and a plan. We targeted five regions in Ontario. We could have wound up in Sault St. Marie, northern Ontario (the snow!), or Muskoka, but we landed in beautiful Eastern Ontario, and we have come to love and consider this community our home

So this week’s Happy Act is to ask yourself, am I happy where I live? Do I feel part of my community? Do I love my home? Hopefully your answer will be yes, but if the answer is no, what changes can you make to be happy where you live? Maybe you could get more involved in your community, or maybe it’s just a simple change to your home (when we first moved to our house, the lack of sunlight drove me crazy, but we have a beautiful sunroom now). True, happiness comes from within, but living in a happy place can only help.