Sunday morning hockey

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 | | 0 comments

On Sunday morning, my son and I were up early for his hockey practice. It’s always a struggle to wake him up, but he fights it a little less on hockey mornings.

He asked if I would carry him down the stairs and assumed I’d also transport his favourite blankets, two teddy bears and a special pillow. There was no reason for me to agree to the extra items or carry him in the first place, but I know that he won’t want to be carried downstairs forever and I’ll miss these days.

While putting on his hockey equipment, he asked me if we were early or late and for the first time this season I told him we were early. He reminded me that I said he can put on his equipment by himself when/if we weren’t late, so he took over and only asked for a bit of help from me. He told me that other boys on his team don’t have their mouth guard tied to their mask, like he does, and that some of their mouth guards are blue. He wants a blue one, he told me and I agreed that we’d look into that when his current mouth guard needs to be replaced, which I hope is about 10years from now.

Arriving at the rink, he seemed confused by the nearly empty dressing room, confirming that he really doesn’t know what early feels like!

The practice went well and my son skated quickly when the drills called for it, turned slowly when asked to stop and perfected a full body spinning slide along the ice (this is a new move for him). During the end-of-practice scrimmage, he volunteered to take the first shift as the goalie, despite my repeated requests that he avoid this position at all costs. Leaving the crease on the second shift, he scored a couple of goals and by my unofficial count his White squad outscored Team Grey.

Back in the dressing room, he threw his gloves on top of his bag and sat back with an air of satisfaction about a rare win. I took off his skates and noticed the tremendous amount of snow that caked his laces, likely picked up from a dozen or so spinning slides.

“Daddy,” I heard him say, his words garbled by his mouth guard, “Where’s the weapon?”
I don’t normally bring weapons with me to the rink (likely against league rules), so my mind raced to understand what he was asking for. Someday, I could see him becoming a dangerous scoring threat, but does he already see his hockey stick as a weapon? I know he doesn’t lack for self esteem, but this seemed like a stretch.

“What do you want?” I asked.

Again, he asked about the weapon or was it Webkinz? I was certain we were past the dreadful Webkinz stage and thought I might actually prefer he was asking for a weapon.

“I can’t understand you, Alex,” I said, and reached for the strap on his helmet that would get us one step closer to removing the mouth guard.

“Nooooo!” he said as he pushed my fingers away from his helmet.

“Spit your mouth guard out, Alex!”

He did, then said “Daddy, where’s the button?” touching the side of his helmet near the spot that my fingers had been moments before.

The button?

I finally had it. He just wanted to take off his own helmet.

19 things to try at work today

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 | | 2 comments

Most people I know have jobs. And if you have a job, chances are good that sometimes you: get bored, feel unchallenged, wonder what more you can do, worry that you’re getting stale, worry that you aren’t promotable, wish you earned more, want a leadership role or simply wish the days would go by faster.

With that in mind, I created a list of things you can try today that will help with all of the above:

1. Bring one really great idea to every team meeting
2. Volunteer to lead the team meeting
3. Ask your boss if you can do more...or better yet, figure out what needs to be done and just do it.
4. Ask to shadow someone in a different department
5. Offer to mentor someone
6. Find a community organization looking for a speaker and talk about what you do
7. Write an article for the company newsletter
8. Research another business (even in a different industry) and try to borrow their best idea for your place of work
9. Learn a new skill that would make you better at your job (does your company have internal training? Would they pay for external course?)
10. Ask a co-worker if they need help with something... ignore them when they refuse and help anyway
11. Partner with someone you don’t normally work with...then give them all the credit for a job well done
12. Think of a way to improve a really important aspect of your business, write a plan outside of work hours and present it to your boss (offer to take the lead on the project, of course)
13. Find someone whose strength is your weakness and pick their brain over coffee
14. Find someone whose weakness is your strength and offer to coach them (coffee works here too)
15. Create some goofy way to have fun with your co-workers when things get a little too tense
16. Find a really great article that applies to the work you do and share it with your team
17. Offer to host a lunch and learn where you teach your co-workers a new skill. Make it a series.
18. Try to make friends with another department and find something you can do together that brings value to both teams
19. Talk to the end users of your product or service and ask how you could be better?

I hope that you:

1. Pick at least one thing from the list that would make a difference in your work day and make it happen
2. Share this list with your co-workers, friends or anyone who might need it
3. Write back to me to tell me how this list made a difference in your work day

I look forward to hearing from you!

Watching hockey

Monday, October 24, 2011 | | 0 comments

For the past few weeks, my job has been taking a lot out of me. Last night, after dinner, homework and dishes, I collapsed onto the couch.

I told my son there was a hockey game on TV and waited for the groan and the begging to watch one of his shows instead. But, to my surprise, he seemed excited to watch the game and plunked himself down on the couch, tucked right under my arm, snug up against me.

He realized he had forgotten to bring snacks to the couch and ran to the kitchen, returning with a bag of something that he wanted to share with me. After a few minutes, he asked, “Daddy, when can we go to a hockey game, just you and me?” He said he wanted to buy a “little dude,” like the one I have, motioning toward a miniature Toronto Maple Leaf figurine holding the Stanley Cup. I’ve owned the little dude for a few years, but can’t remember where it came from. My son must assume that I bought it at a hockey game.

He asked me if they sell nachos at hockey games because he really loves nachos. His eyes lit up when I told him that they did and again, he repeated his love for nachos.

Sitting there with my son reminded me so much of growing up and looking forward to Saturday nights when my whole family would sit on the couch and watch hockey games.

During the game, my mom would sneak away to make big bowls of butter popcorn with her noisy air popper that barely filled the first bowl, but produced so much by the third and fourth that no bowl could contain it.

We didn’t have a lot of sugar growing up, but my mom allowed us to have soft drinks while we watched hockey, usually ginger ale and sometimes we even had scoops of ice cream in our cup to make “floats.”

We asked my dad if he could take us to games and some of my favourite childhood memories are of Friday nights spent at the old arena with my family, watching our junior hockey stars.

Our Saturday night game always involved the Toronto Maple Leafs, teams that were never very good, sometimes even among the worst teams in the league. But, to have a bowl of hot popcorn, a ginger ale, and to lie on the couch, surrounded by my family while we watched the game, it was impossible not to become a fan of Saturday nights and the Maple Leafs.

With my son beside me, I realized that taking him to a hockey game is one of those special moments for us both that simply has to come true. I’m going to look into Kitchener Rangers tickets for a Friday night, sometime soon. We’ll share an order of nachos and see if they sell little dudes holding the Stanley Cup.

Moments and memories like this are part of my 500 words.

What happens when we disconnect?

Saturday, October 22, 2011 | | 0 comments

Like many people, I spend too much time being “connected.” I’m reachable by email, text, BBM, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I know this will sound strange, but sometimes I even talk to people on the telephone. I carry two smartphones with me almost always (work and personal) and I just can’t deny that being this connected gets in the way of my 500 words.

I’m working on it, and this week I’ve received some unexpected help. As of today, I’ve been without high speed internet and a home phone for three days. My next blog post will be about the frustrations with my service provider, but for now I’m treating this like an experiment in being “unplugged.”

I noticed very quickly that I hardly miss my home phone at all. Aside from my parents and in-laws, the only calls that come into my house are from telemarketers (oh, how you have failed me Do-Not-Call-List) and I’m quite enjoying the break from phone numbers that begin 1-800.

Living without my high speed internet has been a far greater struggle, but I’ve found the break to be very revealing. Many of the times I’ve longed to log on have simply been to read the same online newspaper that I would have checked five minutes earlier. I wonder about the last 10 status updates from my friends, but doubt that my life is any worse off, with only a few people who might now be left wondering why I haven’t wished them a happy birthday (I promise I’ll catch up). I’ve realized how much the force of habit is driving my time online and it’s time I replaced this habit with playing more with my kids.

An added benefit has been the failure of my phone to work at the arena where my son plays hockey on Saturday and Sunday mornings (the heat doesn’t work either, but I suspect this is unrelated) and I’m so glad I’m not distracted as I watch him have such fun on the ice.

I do feel inconvenienced in some ways – I’m behind on emails to my family and some close friends and I’m unable to post these blogs until service is restored. I try to work from home every Tuesday so I can take the kids to school and avoid the draining commute for one day, but will have to scrap that plan tomorrow because my work requires me to be connected.

I expected the period without my home phone and high speed internet to make me feel so much like a primitive caveman that I’d want to run outside and kill a sabre-toothed tiger with my homemade spear, but it’s actually been a very welcome relief from the daily pressures I’ve likely put on myself to stay connected.

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure my caveman analogy is historically accurate, but with no way to do a Google search, I’ll just let it slide.

Specializing in pest control

Friday, October 21, 2011 | | 0 comments

As much as I’d like my 500 words to focus only on those things that matter most, there are times I need to take care of unpleasant business. For the past few weeks I’ve been dealing with a bee problem at my house and realize that my use of bee killing spray is doing almost nothing to stop it.

I’ve decided I need some sort of exterminator, but a quick look at my yellow pages reveals that what I really want is “pest control.” Who knew?

The first listing is a giant advertisement for “Mr. Pest Control” that includes pictures of seven different types of insects, a bird that oddly seems smaller than all of them and a mouse that looks about the size of a koala bear. He “specializes” in 12 different types of pests and the language geek in me wonders if this truly counts as a specialized business? Noticing his phone number ends in M-I-C-E, I suspect I know his true specialty.

The next listing is for “AAA Get Them Out.” I wish them luck in their business, but just can’t see their franchising plans taking off without a name change.

Next, I notice a company called “Bugs Or Us.” Their ad includes a hand drawn insect, riding what appears to be a chariot, pulled by a mouse. The insect is saying, “We’re out of here!” and I find it surprisingly easy to choose the bugs over this company and keep looking.

“The Exterminator Inc” mentions that they are now “Rentokil Pest Control” and you just know there’s a story that goes with that. The name “Rentokil” confuses me – am I renting this service? Would you kill my bees faster if I agreed to buy and not rent?

“Global Pest Control” avoids the branding issues of the previous companies, but my bees are hiding between four bricks in the corner of my house and I really have no need for global coverage.

Some companies offer unmarked vehicles as I assume it is horribly embarrassing to have your neighbours find out you have bees living between the bricks in your house? As long as they don’t put a sign on my lawn saying “We’re here because this idiot let his house get infested with bees!” I’m sure I can live with whatever perception this might create.

The last ad that catches my eye is for “Rid-a-Critter” and what stands out most is that he calls himself “The Skunk Man.” Like many of the other ads, the skunk man has a list of critters that are his speciality and I have to wonder how many people take him up on “opossum?” He invites customers to “call anytime” and “ask for John,” which presumably is the skunk man’s alias.

Does John realize he’s opened himself up to opossum calls at 3 a.m.?

Something tells me his marriage to The Skunk Woman is on very thin ice indeed.

A Thanksgiving mystery

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | | 0 comments

Thanksgiving was originally a time to give thanks for a good harvest season. These days, good harvests aren’t trending topics with too many people, so we’ve turned the holiday into a time to give thanks to any and all of the blessings in our lives.

I was fortunate this year to have Thanksgiving meals, complete with periods of thankfulness, with both my extended family and my in-laws. Everything was wonderful, until last night, when I got home from dinner number two.

A wave of fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks and I soon found myself in bed. Within an hour, I realized I had some sort of stomach ailment and, before the morning, it had also hit my wife and daughter. It was interesting to note that my son seemed unaffected and I realized this could be a useful clue in solving the case of what do I have and who gave it to me?

I really don’t know why I bother with these types of investigations as I don’t know how I will ever be certain I’ve solved the case. And, if I was ever to know who precisely had given me their sickness or accidentally poisoned me, what do I intend to do? Confront and scold them for their shocking lack of judgment and appalling display of selfishness? Tell them I’m thankful they live in different cities and don’t have the regular opportunity to inflict me with their diseases and venomous food?

If I assume I’ve either picked up a case of stomach flu or food poisoning, my investigation must consider several factors. If someone I came in contact with was sick and gave me their germs, when exactly did this happen? Is it possible this person or persons was no longer showing signs of their malady?

A family member giving me their sickness reminds me of a game I played as a young boy in school. In the game, someone was secretly told they were the “murderer" and told to wink at people as they passed by. The person receiving the wink would wait 10 seconds, then fall down to indicate they had been “killed,” the time lapse working perfectly to mask the identity of our classroom serial killer. In the game of family sickness, the murdered victim has left the dining room table and driven home before they know they’re about to get sick, without so much as a wink of warning.


The problem with pinpointing the source of food poisoning at a family meal is that half the family didn’t order the salmon, while the other half had the veal-we all ate the same stuff! So, how are some of us feeling miserable and others feel just fine? And, is it possible that the idea of everyone contributing a dish to the meal is actually just a way to ensure no one can ever know who left their creamy dressing in the car too long? Ah yes, the wonderful alibi of the pot luck.

Well, I’m sure I’ll never figure this out and have to admit that the exercise is a complete waste of time.

In keeping with my 500 words, I’m moving on. To give this some closure, I’m going to blame all of this on heat stroke.

That’s right. When, oh when will I learn to wear my hat?

A family walk at night

Thursday, October 6, 2011 | | 0 comments

Spending time with my family is quite likely the most important part of my 500 words and often it’s the unplanned and simple things that we do together that mean the most to me.

Last night, my wife decided she was going to go for a 20 minute walk and the kids quickly included themselves in the trip. I’m back on a morning walking routine, so I thought about using this time to do something else, until my son said, “Daddy, please come?” and I realized that my priorities were out of whack.

The kids love being outside at night and my son especially loves to ride his bike in the dark, so he was quick to put on his helmet and get a head start on the walkers. My daughter decided to walk with us, but also wore her iPod, which meant she yelled instead of speaking to us.

My son rode his bike out of sight, causing my daughter to turn to us and scream, “HE SHOULDN’T BE RIDING THAT FAR AHEAD OF US INTHE DARK!” which was the exact mix of sweetness and bossiness toward her brother that has become her trademark.

Unannounced, my wife broke into a jog. My daughter started to giggle, but it was entirely too much for my son who burst into laughter at the sight of his mother running! There’s nothing at all funny about the way she runs, but I suppose they just haven’t seen it before and found it hilarious. It’s never easy being mommy!

Halfway through our walk, my son decided he didn’t want his bike anymore and asked if I would carry it the rest of the way. I decided some time ago that carrying children’s bicycles is one of my least favourite things to do and declined the invitation. He wasn’t happy, but I felt he needed to live with his decision. Within seconds the disappointment had faded.

On the way back, my son made up a game where he would ride his bike up to me and we would bash our fists together as he passed, both of us making the sound of an explosion. He called it “giving me props,” and I’d have to have a lot more street cred to know whether that’s actually the proper label for our bike game.

Along the way, I thought about the great time we were having, getting outside on a perfect fall evening, and all of it hadn’t cost us a dime!

My wife and daughter had settled into a nice walking pace while Mr. Props and I and our exploding fists walked on ahead. As it appeared we would beat “the girls” home, we crossed the road to add a little time to our trip.

We clearly added too much distance and it looked like my wife was going to beat us into our driveway. My son said, “Daddy, you’ve got to beat her!” and I didn’t want to let him down, so I broke into a ridiculous version of speed walking. It wasn’t going to be enough, but I had another gear left and found myself in a full sprint for the final 50 yards.

Ducking under the tree branches that nearly touch down on my front yard, jumping out from a shadow to bound over the steps, I reached the door just ahead of my wife and declared victory.

Only then did I hear the kids behind me, doubled over with laughter.

And there was something different about their laughing this time.

They were laughing at me.

Why I volunteer

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 | | 0 comments

Nearly three years ago, I decided I was going to change my career. At the same time, I decided that once I found my first position in my new field that I’d get involved in my local professional association, the Waterloo Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).

After being a member for a year, I was offered the chance to serve on the Volunteer Board of Directors as the Membership Co-chair and I jumped on it. The board is filled with really wonderful people and already I feel like I’m making friendships that will last throughout my career and beyond.

But the real story is how I came to know that volunteering or “getting involved” was going to be part of my 500 words.

My story begins with my first time serving on a board. I was an 18-year-old high school student and my guidance counsellor asked me and a girl in my class if we would be the student representatives for a not-for-profit that offered information services about our hometown. I presume we were considered because we were both good students and too polite to ever refuse the assignments.

I remember almost nothing about the services our organization provided and it’s possible this was never shared with us. What I do remember was being asked to sell tickets for a draw for a new car. I was confident I could sell a great number of these tickets, but overestimated the demand for new car raffles and sold exactly one, to my friend’s dad.

Before the draw was held, we were called to an emergency board meeting where we learned the Board President (and the only paid employee) had run off with all the organization’s money. He may or may not have been driving the new car when he fled.

This was horrible news for the organization and hardly the kind of experience I was expecting. I wondered if I would ever again be part of a board.

Years later, after my schooling was complete and I had joined “the real world,” I attended many networking events and meetings. I had well rehearsed “30-second-infomercials” or “elevator speeches,” depending on whether or not I was actually between floors. I had pockets full of business cards, both mine and those I had expertly collected from other networkers, while balancing Phyllo pastries on small napkins. I was never overly satisfied with the relationships I was building, but I never had to worry about refunding ticket money to my friend’s dad so it seemed like a decent trade off.

But a chance encounter one night at an event in Hamilton made me realize that I was doing it all wrong. Near the end of the evening, I heard my name called as the winner of a door prize. I could barely contain my excitement as I walked toward the front of the room to claim my gift basket of bath soaps and various sundries. It turned out that the woman who gave me my prize also worked for the same large company as I did and we struck up a conversation.

She told me that if I wanted to really get to know people in a professional organization that there was no better way than to take on a leadership role. Her own choice was to handle membership because she would have an opportunity to talk to all the new and returning members and often be the first person that these members would seek out at an event. The added benefit was that it was easy to make a difference in this role, by simply caring enough to listen to members and ensuring that they were finding value in their membership. Any sincere person can fill that role and the organization is always better for it.

The lesson stuck with me and I’m very much enjoying the chance to make a difference with the IABC. I know it’s early, but it seems pretty clear that this board experience looks quite a bit more promising than my first.

Living my life in 500 words

Sunday, October 2, 2011 | | 0 comments

A couple of years ago, I was in a classroom, learning the proper way to write a news release. The instructor began the lesson by asking us to remember all the 5,000 word essays we wrote in university. Of those 5,000 words, he argued, there were about 500 that were truly important, the ones that made our point. The other 4,500, he added, were “crap.”

Writing an effective news release, we learned, starts with identifying what really needs to be conveyed and saying it as briefly as possible, often with a goal of about 500 words.

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what really matters to me and how I can make sure I’m building those things into my life. Like many people, I often feel like I don’t have enough time to get to the things that are most important, but more often than not, I realize it’s the choices I’ve made that have cost me the time I need to live according to my priorities.

I realize that I get the same 24 hours a day as everyone else. The magic then is in making choices about how I spend those hours, to ensure I’m making time for what matters and eliminating or ignoring what doesn’t.

It’s about choosing the 500 words that really tell my story.

For me, those 500 words need to be spent on time with my family, especially my kids while they’re still kids. I need to take care of myself, physically and mentally, and learn and grow every day. I can’t forget to slow down and enjoy a coffee with a friend or a good book. I need to write and create and see how far I can take these gifts.

In the last couple of years, I’ve made some choices that have opened my eyes to new possibilities and I think I need to leave some of my 500 words open for new adventures. I’m a work in progress and don’t need to use them all up just yet.

My 4,500 words are things like watching television and spending mindless hours on the internet. I love my sleep, but maybe it’s worth giving up a little and spending more time on things that excite me?

Life is filled with distractions, things that do nothing to bring you closer to your goals and I’m as guilty as anyone of letting these derail me, sometimes even confusing them for worthwhile activities. I figure if I’m clear on my 500, then the 4,500 should be really obvious – everything else.

Now that I’ve shared the thinking behind my plan, I’ll fill in the details in later posts. I hope you’ll be interested to read along and maybe even share some of your own experiences with me, your unique 500 words.