To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.

Bill Bryson
Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, even your Local Store

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder, even your Local Store

Posted by martin.parnell |

As I mentioned, in my last blog, we have had some guests visiting, from England. 

Phil, is an old friend from mining college and had visited me many years ago, when I worked in Yellowknife. His wife, Mandy, had never been to Canada. 

They were only here for a week, but made the most of their time with trips to several areas, including Lake Louise, where they enjoyed a two-hour hike and Banff. As with all our visitors from England, they were impressed by the might and beauty of the mountains and stunning views. 

We took them to Winsport (Canada Olympic Park), where they watched a game of ice-hockey, saw ice skaters train and observed athletes competing in Skeleton. They also enjoyed a tour of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which was established in 1955 to "preserve the record of Canadian sports achievements and to promote a greater awareness of Canada's heritage of sport." 

We saw a play at The Pumphouse Theatre, Calgary called “Silence and the Machine”, which featured brilliant, local actor, Greg Wilson and, on Saturday morning, before leaving for the airport,  watched novice riders put their horses through their paces at an Extreme Cowboy Alberta event, at the AG center. 

Locally, we walked the trail to the RancheHouse and along to the Man of Vision statue. In Downtown Cochrane, they were amazed by the choice of flavours at Mackays ice-cream, including Nanaimo Bar, Rocky Road, Root Beer and Haskap Berry and were fascinated by the “cowboy gear” at Lammle’s Western Wear and Tack.

Later, we all enjoyed a lovely meal at the Greek Plate restaurant and a game of pool at the Rockyview hotel. 

Two places, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, certainly made a big impression on them. The first was Dollarama, where Mandy bought a selection of Hallowe’en crafts for her granddaughters, some “slipper” (non-slip) socks, to put away for Christmas gifts and a selection of colourful journals, which were a steal at $3 or $4 each. 

We then crossed the road to Canadian Tire, which Phil had specifically asked to see, as he’s very keen on DIY and wanted to check out the tools section. We ended up spending over an hour in the store. Mandy was taken with all the Hallowe’en decorations, especially the huge ones for your yard and Phil was very impressed by the wide selection and price of the tools. 

Coming from England, they were, needless to say, surprised to see guns and ammunition for sale and had a long chat with the guy behind the counter, who patiently explained you couldn’t just go in a buy one and how you have to acquire a licence etc. 

Another section that intrigued them both, was where all the fishing gear is on display, with the different  rods, reels and colourful lures and baits, some of which, Sue explained to Mandy, she had purchased, in the past, to make jewellery, minus the hooks, of course. 

I must confess, I had never thought of Dollarama and Canadian Tire as “tourist destinations”, but I’ll bear it in mind, in future! 

Mandy and Phil can’t wait to come back and I look forward to their return visits, when we’ll be able to share with them the joys of the rodeo and pow-wows, during the summer and the skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Having visitors certainly helps to remind you of different aspects of our community that are interesting and unique to both our local community and Canada. 

So, next time you’re out and about, take a few minutes to really appreciate all that Cochrane and area has to offer and look it through the eyes of a visitor.

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Thankfulness creates gratitude which generates contentment that causes peace.

Todd Stocker
Be Thankful and Share your Good Fortune, this Thanksgiving

Be Thankful and Share your Good Fortune, this Thanksgiving

Posted by martin.parnell |

My wife and I are currently hosting some visitors from England and, today, they will experience their first Canadian Thanksgiving. 

I decided to find out just where this annual tradition originated and discovered that the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving are more closely connected to the traditions of Europe than of the United States. 

Long before Europeans settled in North America, festivals of thanks and celebrations of harvest took place in Europe in the month of October. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “The very first Thanksgiving celebration in North America took place in 1578 in Canada when Martin Frobisher, an explorer from England, came in search of the Northwest Passage. He wanted to give thanks for his safe arrival to the New World. That means the first Thanksgiving in Canada was celebrated 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts! 

Another reason for Canadian Thanksgiving arriving earlier than its American counterpart is that Canada is geographically further north than the United States, causing the Canadian harvest season to arrive earlier than the American harvest season. And since Thanksgiving for Canadians is more about giving thanks for the harvest season than the arrival of pilgrims, it makes sense to celebrate the holiday in October. 

For a few hundred years, Thanksgiving was celebrated in either late October or early November, before it was declared a national holiday in 1879. It was then, that November 6th was set aside as the official Thanksgiving holiday. However, on January 31st, 1957, Canadian Parliament announced that Thanksgiving was to be moved to the second Monday in October. This was because, after the World Wars, Remembrance Day (November 11th) and Thanksgiving kept falling in the same week. 

Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most of Canada, with the exceptions being the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where it is an optional holiday.

It should also be noted that many favourites foods, on Thanksgiving dinner tables across Canada, trace their origins to food made by First Nations peoples long before Europeans set foot in North America. Besides fish and game such as buffalo, elk and caribou, native feasts held centuries ago at various times of year would have included roasted fowl such as pheasant, grouse and turkey, root vegetables such as turnips, potatoes and carrots, the "three sisters" of corn, beans and squash (including pumpkin), nuts and berries. In some locales, wild rice and cranberries might have been served, and on the coasts and in the far north seafood would have been a staple.

These foods were indigenous to the country, says Chef David Wolfman, a culinary arts professor at George Brown College in Toronto for 20 years. Some may have been unfamiliar to European explorers and settlers but were all adopted of necessity. As they were passed from generation to generation, they became "traditional," he says, explaining this sharing of knowledge and foods is very much in the spirit of First Nations culture.

At the same time as sharing our Thanksgiving meal, we will take the opportunity to give thanks for many other  aspects of our lives, not just the food on our plates, but the friends and neighbours with whom we share it and the good fortune to be healthy and happy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Create your legacy, and pass the baton.

Billie Jean King
Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

Life is a Relay: Part III-Passing the Baton

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part III, the final section, Passing the Baton:

Usain Bolt was a member of the gold medal winning 2012 and 2016 Jamaican Olympic 4x100 men’s relay team. One of the key factors for victory: successfully passing the baton.

In February 2015 I was hospitalized because of a massive blood clot on my brain. Suddenly from running multiple marathons, I needed help to walk the 20 feet from the hospital bed to the bathroom.

My recovery was slow and I was on a cocktail of drugs. But after 2 months I was allowed to go for short walks and in May I inched my way along to the finish line of the 2015 Calgary Marathon 5 km walk.

The months rolled by and one morning, in late October, my wife Sue, showed me an article in the Guardian newspaper. It was about the 1st Marathon of Afghanistan and a young woman named Zainab, who had become the first ever Afghan woman to have run a marathon.

What struck me were the challenges she faced in training. Normally, runners are normally dealing with issues of hydration, nutrition, blisters. For Zainab the issues were verbal and physical abuse. People would yell at her “get off the streets” and “you’re a prostitute” and they’d throw stones at her to stop her. She ended up training by running around and around inside her walled garden.

When I read this I vowed that if I was ever able to run again, I would support the women in the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan. At the end of May I ran the 2016 Calgary Marathon and at the end of October was on a plane to Kabul.

When I arrived I met another marathon participant. Her name was Kubra and she was being supported by Free to Run, an NGO working with girls and women in communities impacted by war and conflict. Unfortunately her training had been interrupted by a bombing at her school, and she thought she would only be able to run the 10km. I asked if she would like to try and run the marathon together, with the aim of finishing within the cut-off time of 7 hours. She said yes.

The race started at 8.00am on November 4th and was held in the town of Bamyan, 140km north-west of Kabul. The course was brutal. It was an out and back and started at an elevation of 9,000 feet.  The out section then had an elevation gain of another 1,200 feet. Kubra and I started a routine of running 9 minutes and walking 1. The key was to take hydration, nutrition and electrolytes at regular intervals. We reached the turnaround at 3 hours 36 minutes and I knew that at this rate we wouldn’t make the cut-off time. Also, Kubra was struggling. She was suffering from stomach cramps.

We continued with the 9 and 1’s but Kubra’s cramps were getting worse and we started to walk. I knew Kubra was mentally tough and over the next two hours I used all my experience from 330 marathons to keep her going. I told her to take things in “10 minute chunks”, keep moving and not to look beyond that. With 6 hours 45 minutes gone we still had 1 km to go. We looked at each other and started running. We crossed the finish line at 6 hours and 52 minutes. We had 8 minutes to spare.

I had gone to Afghanistan to support the women and running with Kubra had helped me do it. Kubra had already exploded from the blocks with her efforts to promote women and girls rights and was hitting her stride with the work she was doing with Free to Run. During the 7 hours we were running we worked together for a common goal. Kubra had completed the marathon and the baton had been passed.

Now, I’m at the end of this relay and it’s time to hand off the baton.

I’d like to ask Gitti Sherzad to come up to the stage.

Gitti arrived in Calgary from Afghanistan at the age of seven with her parents and younger sister Gee-Sue. She is studying at the University of Calgary and Gitti and her team are presently organizing their first fundraiser to help victims of the devastation from the recent terrorist attacks in Kabul. These funds will go directly to the families most in need.

Gitti is doing something to make a difference. She’s exploded out of the blocks and is starting to hit her stride. Gitti, I’m handing over the baton to you. Take it and run with it.

So have you started your relay yet? What will it take for you to explode out of the blocks?Find your passion and you’re on your way. 

Hitting your stride can be a long journey. The key is an openness to take a chance and a willingness to persevere. 

At the end of the relay it’s time to pass the baton. So reach out to someone, share your experiences and make a difference in their life. 

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The road to success is always under construction.

Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

Life is a Relay: Part II-Hitting your Stride

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a Relay. This is part II, Hitting your Stride:

Usain Bolt’s best relay spilt is 8.7 seconds and he hits his stride in 60 m’s. In a 100m relay, the path is very clear. You have a lane and you have to stay in it. However, in life the path is not quite so clear.

My running journey continued and took me to the 2004 Boston Marathon but then in 2005 I signed up for a four month cycle trip in Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. Along the way I played soccer, ping pong and ran with the kids and I realized the power of play and sport.  I doesn’t matter your age, gender, culture or religion sport brings people together.

This experience stayed with me but I didn’t know what to do with it until one evening in February 2009 a friend introduced me to Right To Play.

This organization uses sport and play based programs to teach kids life skills such as leadership, team building and conflict resolution. That night something had clicked and I knew I wanted to help.

In mid-2009, I was training for my first 100 mile race, the Lost Souls Ultra and while out on a 5 hour run, I came up with the idea of “Marathon Quest 250”. This would involve attempting to run 250 marathons in one year in order to raise $250,000 for Right To Play.

So on January 1st 2010 at 9.00am a group of us lined up on the 1A, outside of Cochrane. It was -32C. The gun went off and 5 ½ hours later we were finished. One down 249 to go. During the year my favourite days were Thursdays when I’d run a marathon at one of the local schools.

I’d go in for morning assembly and talk to the kids about Right To Play. Then I’d go outside and run 100 times around a school building or the soccer field.  Round and around.

The kids would then come out and join me for the first couple of loops. Then they’d wave goodbye and head to classes. I’d keep going and they’d wave to me from inside. At lunch time they would come out for two more loops. As we ran they’d feed me lunch. They’d give me apples, carrots and snickers bars. I was like a running Guinea pig, sort of a “Pet for a Day”.

Then they’d go in for afternoon classes. I’d keep going and at end of the day, after six hours of running, the kids would join me for the last two loops and we’d finish the marathon together and have high fives.

But what really blew me away was when they came up to me and gave me their pocket money for the “other” kids. They understood how lucky they were with their school, homes and toys and then I shared with them that some children don’t get the chance to play. These children might have to spend 6 hours a day fetching water from a tap in a village or live in refugee camps where it’s too dangerous to go off and play.

I could have had the worst week of running marathons but my spirits soared every Thursday after running at a school.

In total I ran at 60 schools with over 12,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Marathon #250 was completed on December 31st and we had raised $320,000.

I had found my path by using running to help underprivileged children and I was hitting my stride.

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Follow your passion; it will lead you to your purpose.

Oprah Winfrey
Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

Life is a Relay: Part I-Exploding out of the Blocks

Posted by martin.parnell |

On June 23rd 2017 I stood on the Jack Singer Auditorium stage in Calgary and gave my TED Talk, Life is a relay. This is part I, Exploding out of the blocks:

I’ve often heard it said that “life is a marathon, not a sprint”. However, having run a few of marathons, I’ve come to believe that life is actually a relay.

I love watching the Olympics. One of my favourite events is the 4X100 relay race. The athletes line up, the gun goes off and they explode out of the blocks. Hitting their stride, they hurtling down the track with one objective in mind. To pass the baton to the next runner.

In life, exploding out of the blocks is that moment when you find your passion, the thing you were meant to do. Hitting your stride is the journey you take. You may not know the destination but you’re on the right path. Passing the baton is reaching out to someone and sharing your experiences.

Usain Bolt’s reaction time at the start of a race is 0.155 seconds. However, it took me a lot longer to explode out of the blocks.

On December 9th 2001 my wife Wendy died of Cancer. Over the following year I struggled with my grief and often felt empty and alone.

One evening, in December 2002, I got a call from my younger brother Peter. After some small talk he got to the point “I challenge you to a marathon” and with hesitation I said “You’re on!”

Now the only problem was, I didn’t run. I was 47 years old and I had always had a bit of a rocky relationship with sport.

This is “Baby” Martin, a child only a mother could love. Back then I was known as a “Huggable” child. My size caused issues in school. When it came to sport in England it was soccer, cricket and rugby and I always got picked last for the team. I’m what you could call a “Reverse-Olympian”, they’re generally very good at one sport while I’m rubbish at lots of sports.

So that same night Peter challenged me I headed out. I was in my canvas tennis shoes, cotton jogging pants, fleecy top, woolly hat and big mitts. I ran 1 km out and 1 km back. Returning home I was cold and wet and thought to myself “This is ridiculous, I’ve done 2 km and have another 40.2 to go. How on earth could anyone run that distance!” however I knew I couldn’t back down from a challenge from my brother.

I realised I needed help so I joined the Sudbury Rocks running club. They taught me about nutrition, hydration, shoes, and pacing. Over the next two months my mileage increased from 5km to 10km and in April I ran the Ottawa half marathon. Finally it was July and I was at the start line of the 2003 Calgary Marathon. Next to me was my Brother Peter. And to show you how big a challenge this was, on the other side was my other younger brother Andrew who had flown in from England.

This was Global Sibling Rivalry.

The gun went off and I flew from the start line. Then, at the 2 km mark disaster struck. I stepped in a pot hole and smash, down I went. My knees were bleeding and my hands were all scraped up. Well, I brushed myself off and kept going. I finished the marathon in just under 4 hours and in the brotherly stakes Andrew came first I was second and Peter was third.

I felt elated to have completed the marathon. While dealing with my grief Peter had reached out to me and, in running, I had found my passion. Finally I had exploded out of the blocks.

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What does it take to be the first female anything? It takes grit, and it takes grace

Meryl Streep
First ever Afghan Women and girls to go Camping and Kayaking

First ever Afghan Women and girls to go Camping and Kayaking

Posted by martin.parnell |

On December 31st 2016, my 7th Annual Run / Walk was held at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre in Cochrane, Alberta. In the past the fundraiser has supported Right To Play and a playground in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania. The 2016 event raised over $7,000 for a project to support the NGO Free to Run and their goal of bringing sports and outdoor activities to women and girls in Afghanistan. This is their story, curtesy of a Free to Run blog (September 22nd 2017):

This summer Free to Run embarked on an unprecedented camping and kayaking expedition in the Panjshir Valley. Eleven female participants from multiple provinces in Afghanistan participated. Not only was it their first experience in Panjshir Valley, but it was the first time they had ever camped outdoors or kayaked. It was also the first time an Afghan female had ever kayaked in the country! 

Upon arrival in Panjshir, the team visited the grave of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a famous Afghan political and military leader. The team then journeyed another two hours into the valley to set up a temporary camp at the base of one of the tallest mountains in the region. They had an introductory meeting over green tea and sweets with the district governor, police chief, and elders, who were all interested in their experience as female adventurers. Although there were several concerns as to whether the team would be able to summit the mountain to the glacial lake at the peak, the participants managed to convince them of their capabilities with stories of running marathons and hiking through other Afghan mountains.

After several well-wishes, the team pulled all their gear and food from the van and set off on a short one hour hike up to a plateau camp for the night. Although only two participants were formally trained on setting up tents, the others took to it with enthusiasm. All of their tents were set up before dark. After dinner around a large campfire, the team turned-in for the night. They were up again before dawn so they could get an early start and beat the summer heat. Although the climb was very steep, the girls remained in good spirits by playing music, singing, and sharing stories about their home provinces. 

They arrived to the lake at an approximate altitude of 4,425 meters five hours after departing from base camp just in time to picnic on the shores for lunch. A few hours of napping in the sun and exploring the lake, they started on the descent. After 10 hours of hiking, the team started their second campfire to make dinner. They talked about the day, and were very proud of what they accomplished. Some of the village elders came to visit and were happily surprised to hear of their success. “No women, not even most of the men in this village, are able to get up to the lake!” they said. 

The next day the team packed up camp to return to Kabul, where they would get their first lesson in kayaking on a lake in the outskirts of the city. While the original plan was to kayak the Panjshir River, the authorities were worried about the girls’ safety due to the conservative culture of the valley. Free to Run found an alternative solution which was to kayak on a lake outside Kabul. 

Before the participants could get into boats and start practicing strokes, Joe had to teach all but one of the participants how to swim. “They were exceptional in their attitude, confidence, and willingness to try. Of all the non-swimmers I have taught to kayak, which is not many, they were easily the most fearless,” he said. 

A few hours later, the participants were gliding through the water in their own kayaks. Others practiced swimming nearby, waiting for their turn in the kayaks. Although Afghanistan is a dry landlocked country, it is also home to many rivers and lakes traversing thousands of Kilometers.

“Afghanistan has a huge potential for kayaking, both touring and white-water. It will take time, energy, patience, and a collective effort, but in the long run it is inevitable,” said Joe.

Our thanks to the entire Free to Run community for making it possible to have another ground-breaking sports program in Afghanistan. In the words of 21 year old Fatima, who participated in this expedition:  

"Girls who do sports can be an example for others who live in narrow minded places. We can encourage other girls to do sports on these trips."

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It's all in the mind.

George Harrison
Don't get in a Pickle, embrace your Age and Get Active

Don't get in a Pickle, embrace your Age and Get Active

Posted by martin.parnell |

On the cover of the current Kerby News, a 55+ newspaper, it states “Pickleball: a sport suited for older adults of all fitness levels”. Legend has it, according to Rita McGillivray, that a family, in Washington State invented the game because their dog Pickles, loved to chase whiffle balls. It was in fact invented by a former US senator, in the 1960s, as a fun game for his children, two years before they acquired their dog, Pickles. The game became very popular and was eventually introduced to Canada. 

McGillivray goes on to explain that Pickleball is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong. Players use a round paddle (bat), with which they have to hit a lightweight ball, with holes in it, over a lowered badminton net. When my wife and I play tennis, we often see people playing Pickleball on the other court and, in winter, it’s a very popular indoor activity at our local leisure center. Most of the players appear to be in their senior years, as that front cover would suggest. 

However, I was surprised when I went on to read the article to see that, Jason Bridger, senior marketing manager of the Calgary Sport and Social club said the average age in their 30 teams is 30 and the Legends League is for the over 35s. Although Pickleball is, no doubt, suited to active seniors, it’s a great activity to be enjoyed by all ages. 

Personally, like that US senator, I think it’s a game for all the family and don’t see why children shouldn’t be encouraged to play. It just goes to show, preconceptions can be deceptive and one has to be careful what one reads into headlines. 

I have come across 80 year-olds who regularly run marathons and 30 year-olds who do no exercise and are much less fit. But, it’s never too late to start. Pickleball may not appeal to you and you may have tried other activities, like running or biking that you don’t enjoy, but keep looking. 

I checked out some of the activities at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Leisure Centre, here in Cochrane. Currently on offer they have not only the pool, with its various areas for all ages to enjoy and regular Aquasize sessions, but there is an excellent gym and you can drop into other sessions such as Badminton, Curling, Thai kickboxing, Zumba, various forms of yoga, lacrosse, indoor soccer and, of course Pickleball, and that’s not including the hockey and ice-skating, to be enjoyed during the winter months. 

If you think about it, many of these can be enjoyed by all ages, you just have decide what you’d like to do and give it a go. Obviously, some sessions are specifically geared to children, but do check into them. Don’t be put off by the preconception that your age, whether young or old, may be a barrier. 

If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Cochrane, check out the sports facilities in your local area and see what activities are on offer. The ones I mentioned are all scheduled for indoors, but whilst the weather is still good, you could always opt for a game of tennis, go outside and kick a ball around with the kids or just take a stroll around the neighbourhood and, while your about it, why not ask a friend or neighbour to join you, whatever their age.

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Like the ocean, life ebbs and flows with the occasional rip

Kamil Ali, Profound Vers-A-Tales
How to Reset your Goals and Swim with the Tide

How to Reset your Goals and Swim with the Tide

Posted by martin.parnell |

Like me, my wife, Sue took up running later in life. In 2010, at the age of 58, she ran her first marathon, the Queen’s City Marathon, in Regina. Fast forward a few years and she decided that she wanted to go back to Manitoba this year and run that same marathon, as it actually fell on September 10th, her 65th. Birthday. 

Training was going well until she developed a hip problem and fasciitis in her right foot. Despite the weeks of physiotherapy and cortisone shots, Sue’s dreams of the finish line were dashed and she had to accept her doctor’s advice and give up running, for the time being. 

Not being daunted by this news, Sue set to thinking what else she could do to celebrate this milestone.  She has been making the most of the new pool in Cochrane. Her love of swimming stems from living most of her life near the sea in Dorset, England, where, even as a schoolgirl, she would often go for a “quick dip” before breakfast. 

Sue’s no longer as fast as she used to be, but she loves to get in the pool and swim a few lengths, getting into a rhythm and clearing her mind. She decided, as she wouldn’t be running, to celebrate her birthday, she’d “swim her age” instead.  And so today, I joined her in completing 65 lengths of the pool (actually, it was 66, because if you swim up you need to swim back). 

Sometimes, despite all the planning, training and goal-setting, life takes a turn and your plans are thwarted, through no fault of your own. Instead of accepting defeat, sometimes you just need to change course, set new goals and take a different approach. 

This isn’t always easy. If you have set yourself goals and you are part-way through achieving them, it can be disappointing and stressful if you have to change track. In Sue’s case it made sense. She could have sought out more treatment, tried to run with an injury and caused herself more problems or accept the doctor’s advice.  But what if you are working toward achieving your set goals and someone else changes them for you? You may have a new boss, the company you work for may decide to change course and the goals you had may no longer seem appropriate. 

This is when you have to ask yourself “Are the goals to benefit me or the team?” Personal goals are something we should all set for ourselves e.g. to become more efficient, to hone our skills or simpler things like just getting to work on time. These should have a timeline and be achievable, but even these may have to be adapted due to events beyond our control.  The bigger goals are the ones usually set for us that tend to affect overall performance and may require cooperation from colleagues. They may be the ones agreed on when you were appointed to the job, or at your annual review. 

When these “goal posts” are changed don’t become dismayed, just ask for clarification of what future expectations might be and if they demand changes to your role in the workplace. If necessary ask for guidance as to how these might be achieved. Most importantly, be adaptable and look upon this turn of events to learn and apply new or different skills.

If you adopt a positive approach to change, be prepared to reset your goals and learn to go with the flow. Things will turn out swimmingly!

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The labour movement is people. Our unions have brought millions of men and women together, made them members one of another and given them common tools for common goals.

John F Kennedy
Remember the Pioneers as you celebrate Labour Day

Remember the Pioneers as you celebrate Labour Day

Posted by martin.parnell |

This weekend, Cochrane has been enjoying various ways to celebrate Canada’s Labour Day weekend. Events included pancake breakfasts, a rodeo, a dance and, as in many Canadian towns and cities, the annual parade.

Labour Day in Canada falls on the first Monday in September and, for many, it signals the end of summer. But, having looked into its history, I discovered that, what evolved into just another long weekend, began as a massive working class demonstration in the streets of Toronto. I decided to delve deeper and came across an article that shed more light on the background to Labour Day. So, I thought I’d share it; 

The First Labour Day by Joanna Dawson:

“In a time when workers’ rights are taken for granted and even workers’ benefits have come to be expected, it’s no wonder that the origins of Labour Day are confined to the history books.

Canada was changing rapidly during the second half of the 19th century. Immigration was increasing, cities were getting crowded, and industrialization was drastically altering the country’s economy and workforce.

As machines began to replace or automate many work processes, employees found they no longer had special skills to offer employers. Workers could easily be replaced if they complained or dissented and so were often unable to speak out against low wages, long work weeks and deplorable working conditions.

This is the context and setting for what is generally considered Canada’s first Labour Day event in 1872. At the time, unions were illegal in Canada, which was still operating under an archaic British law already abolished in England.

For over three years the Toronto Printers Union had been lobbying its employers for a shorter work week. Inspired by workers in Hamilton who had begun the movement for a nine-hour work day, the Toronto printers threatened to strike if their demands weren’t met. After repeatedly being ignored by their employers, the workers took bold action and on March 25, 1872, they went on strike.

Toronto’s publishing industry was paralyzed and the printers soon had the support of other workers. On April 14, a group of 2,000 workers marched through the streets in a show of solidarity. They picked up even more supporters along the way and by the time they reached their destination of Queen’s Park, their parade had 10,000 participants – one tenth of the city’s population.

The employers were forced to take notice. Led by George Brown, founder of the Toronto Globe and notable Liberal, the publishers retaliated. Brown brought in workers from nearby towns to replace the printers. He even took legal action to quell the strike and had the strike leaders charged and arrested for criminal conspiracy.

Conservative Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was watching the events unfold and quickly saw the political benefit of siding with the workers. Macdonald spoke out against Brown’s actions at a public demonstration at City Hall, gaining the support of the workers and embarrassing his Liberal rival. Macdonald passed the Trade Union Act, which repealed the outdated British law and decriminalized unions. The strike leaders were released from jail.

The workers still did not obtain their immediate goals of a shorter work week. In fact, many still lost their job. They did, however, discover how to regain the power they lost in the industrialized economy. Their strike proved that workers could gain the attention of their employers, the public, and most importantly, their political leaders if they worked together. The “Nine-Hour Movement,” as it became known, spread to other Canadian cities and a shorter work week became the primary demand of union workers in the years following the Toronto strike.

The parade that was held in support of the strikers carried over into an annual celebration of worker’s rights and was adopted in cities throughout Canada. The parades demonstrated solidarity, with different unions identified by the colorful banners they carried. In 1894, under mounting pressure from the working class, Prime Minister Sir John Thompson declared Labour Day a national holiday.”

Over time, Labour Day strayed from its origins and evolved into a popular celebration enjoyed by the masses. It became viewed as the last celebration of summer, a time for picnics, barbecues and shopping.

No matter where you find yourself next Labour Day, take a minute to think about Canada’s labour pioneers. Their actions laid the foundations for future labour movements and helped workers secure the rights and benefits enjoyed today.

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Believe in your heart that you're meant to live a life full of passion, purpose, magic and miracles.

Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Being Passionate about More than a Game of Soccer

Being Passionate about More than a Game of Soccer

Posted by martin.parnell |

On a Saturday morning, I enjoy nothing more than going for a run with friends and then returning home to a bacon and eggs breakfast, followed by watching a Premier League soccer game, from the UK. This Saturday, Sue and I had travelled to the town of Wetaskiwin, to check out the Reynolds Alberta museum, which I highly recommend, and watch some NASCAR races at the Edmonton International Raceway.  

I didn’t do my usual run or have my bacon and eggs, but I still managed to catch most of a soccer game, in this case CrystalPalace v Swansea. 

At one point, the commentator remarked that attendance at the game was around 26,000 

Another Premier League team, Tottenham Hotspur, are currently based at Wembley Stadium, whilst their new ground is being built, and the capacity there is some 90,000.                 .

It struck me that it’s extraordinary how so many people can come together and share the  passion  of supporting 22 guys passing a ball around, in the hope that someone will manage to kick it into the back of a 8ft. high, 24ft wide net. 

It also struck me that it would be amazing if that same number of people could come together and share that same degree of passion for a different, common cause. 

And, of course, it’s not just in England. The same could be applied to fans of the Calgary Stampeders or Toronto Maple Leafs, just name a team and thousands of fans will be there to support their favourite team, on a regular basis, which is great. Given half the chance, I’d do the same. 

Imagine, though, if that same number of people decided to spend one Saturday or any day for that matter, volunteering for a worthy cause.

Now I don’t doubt that many of those spectators watching the game in London, probably do volunteer, but I also suspect that many don’t. 

In Canada, I have found that volunteering is far more common and, in fact, if you should attend a Canadian Citizenship ceremony, you will hear that it is made abundantly clear to new citizens of this country that they are expected to volunteer, in some capacity. 

If you have never volunteered do try to find an opportunity to do so, just a couple of hours a week or whenever you can spare the time can be a big help and there’s nothing quite like sharing a passion to help a worthy cause, to give back and make a difference. 

But, going back to the attendance numbers, wouldn’t it be amazing if that many people raised their voices, not to tell the ref he needs glasses, to sing about “forever blowing bubbles” or if you’re a Liverpool supporter, declaring “You’ll never walk alone”, but instead raised their voices in support of or to speak out about issues that affect us all. 

It really would be amazing and could make such an impact. So, if you’re a regular sports fan and support a particular team, take some time to consider if there might be a worthy cause to which you could bestow as much passion.

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Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now

Bob Dylan
You are Never too old to Follow your Dream to the Finish Line

You are Never too old to Follow your Dream to the Finish Line

Posted by martin.parnell |

Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am a little partial to running the odd marathon. Therefore, I was intrigued to read an article from CBC Edmonton’s Wallis Snowden, about Roger MacMillan, (photo credit) from Fort Saskatchewan. Roger celebrated his upcoming 80th Birthday, by running his 100th Marathon, in Edmonton, on August 20th. 

Not only do I admire him for reaching this milestone, but mostly for his attitude towards running and keeping active, particularly in later life. Roger completed his first full race at the age of 69 and has since completed several “big ones” including New York, and Dublin. 

It was then that he set himself a target of running 100 marathons before his 80th Birthday, which is on October 30th this year.  “Don't win the race, just finish it. You have to take it easy. I'm not a racer," Macmillan said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

Like me, he hadn’t really considered running, until something triggered his desire to run his first race.

In 2002, I was 47 and had never been a runner. However, I accepted a challenge from my younger brother, to run the Calgary marathon. My first run was 1km out from my house and 1km back. It was not a good experience and I realized I needed support and advice. So I joined a local running club and had soon completed my first 10km race.

For Roger, it was watching the achievements of a co-worker. "I was working at an office up in Fort McMurray and a guy kept coming in to work with running T-shirts on and I wanted one," Macmillan said with a chuckle.

"I entered a 10K race in Edmonton and I got my T-shirt. I couldn't walk for about a week, but I was hooked."

Macmillan wore bib number 100 when his children and grandchildren gathered to watch him cross the finish line at the Edmonton Marathon.

His message is clear and he advises other seniors to stay spry “a body in motion stays in motion.” he says, adding “you don't necessarily have to run marathons, but keep moving."

He’s absolutely right. You don’t have to take up running, a good walk will reap benefits for anyone, of any age.

Macmillan walks every day, 365 days a year because, as he says, “You’ve got to keep moving and hopefully live a little bit longer."

I knew he was a man after my own heart when I read that:

1. He took up running later in life.

2. He sets himself goals.

3. He tries to send a message about keeping active.

4. He knows that it’s not about winning, but the taking part.

Also, that this ex-pat celebrated after the big race with a nice cold pint of Guinness, which is precisely what I do, after all of my marathons and Ultra-marathons.

Cheers to you, Roger, a true inspiration.

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Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Learning to be Patient, in a High-Tech World

Learning to be Patient, in a High-Tech World

Posted by martin.parnell |

In 2008 the Town Council of Cochrane, where I live, recognised the need for a new swimming pool and many of the residents, me included were delighted. However, as costs escalated and the opening date was delayed from March, to June and then July, it sometimes felt like it was never going to happen. However, on Sunday July 30th our new leisure center was finally opened to the public. 

Last Wednesday, I went down for a swim and to check out the other areas. The facility is very impressive, another feature for Cochrane to be proud of and it was great to see so many people there, families, individuals, youngsters and seniors, all enjoying the facility. 

In total, the centre covers 150,000 square feet and includes retail space, a new curling rink which has six full sheets and three for junior players, and will be open for other uses in the off season. There are also fitness rooms, programming space and tenant space that will help bring SLSFSC as close to revenue neutral as possible. The pool, itself, contains a lazy river, leisure pool, hot tub, wave chamber, two slides, an eight lane pool for competitive swimming, warm water therapy pool and a small spray park. 

So, despite the setbacks with completion and cost of the project, in the end, it was well worth the wait and, as we know, that can be said of so many things. 

But, in this age of ever-advancing technology, it is easy to become impatient. These days, nearly everyone now has access to a computer and most people have phones to carry around with them, whereby they can receive instant texts, calls and emails and take a photo or video whenever or wherever they are. 

Gone are the days when you had to take your camera on holiday, reload the film and wait to get your pictures developed, in the hope that at least some of them have turned out OK.

You can get information about anything by pressing a few keys and have access to people almost anywhere in the world. Which is all good, in a way. 

Sometimes, though, having to wait for something isn’t a bad thing. It brings with it that feeling of excited anticipation and then the joy, when it finally arrives.  Even more so when it’s something we’ve worked for or maybe an item we’ve saved for. 

There’s an old saying, “Patience is a virtue...” and it is something that we need to remember and perhaps teach our children and grandchildren. 

Technology is advancing at a rate never seen before and I can’t even imagine what devices our grandchildren will be using come the 2030s. But, there will always be things that need waiting for and, hopefully, they will be able to appreciate the experience. 

After all, for our great, great, great - grandchildren, Santa Claus isn’t going to come any sooner!

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I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.

Ani DiFranco, singer, songwriter and businesswoman.
How to Celebrate the Diversity of "Taste"

How to Celebrate the Diversity of "Taste"

Posted by martin.parnell |

In Britain, they say “You either love it or hate it, there’s no middle ground. Along with furry handcuffs and snow globes, jars of the stuff are on the list of things most frequently confiscated from hand luggage, at London City airport. In fact, the UK airport recently declared an “amnesty”.

According to The Guardian newspaper, “In an unusual move, London City Airport is offering travellers the chance to swap any jars exceeding the permitted 100ml size for a travel-friendly 70g miniature.”  I would point out, that the confiscated jars and their contents are not wasted. They are being donated to local charity Community Food Enterprises for distribution to smaller charities in local communities

I’m talking, of course, about Marmite. 

Personally, I love the stuff, especially spread on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Along with my three sisters and two brothers, I was brought up with it being a constant in our lives and we all took to it, from an early age. 

But, it’s all a matter of taste and I admit it is an acquired one. 

“Taste” is a word we apply in all sorts of circumstances. Not only do we refer to having a taste in food, but also in  how we take our coffee, the way we dress, the books we read, the art we appreciate, the people whose company we enjoy, the list goes on. 

But, much as we can be quite specific in our taste for certain things, we also have to learn to be tolerant of the taste of others and the choices they make. 

It’s fortunate if you find a partner, whether personally or in business, who shares some of your tastes, but it’s also good to have some diversity. It broadens your outlook, can introduce you to new ideas and concepts and encourages you to explore areas you might not, otherwise have thought about. 

They say opposites attract and that can often be true. Take, for example, the case of film icon, Marilyn Monroe and intellectual playwright, Arthur Miller. Surely you could not find a more unlikely match. They met when during her filming ‘As Young As You Feel’ in 1951. He had made the trip west with friend and director, Elia Kazen, who was under contract with Fox and had some business with the studios.

Marilyn’s acting coach, Natasha Lytess recalled Marilyn telling her “It was like running into a tree! You know, like a cool drink when you’ve got a fever.”  Marilyn and Arthur married in 1956. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last, but that initial attraction was a force to be reckoned with and they both found some common ground that initially brought them together. 

You may not enjoy the same movies, you may not have the same approach to business practices, but it’s important to realize that diversity can be a valuable asset and open you up to a whole new world of ideas and relationships. 

So, if you’ve never tasted Marmite, why not give it a go?

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Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.

Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond
How to Climb your Mountain one Step at a Time

How to Climb your Mountain one Step at a Time

Posted by martin.parnell |

For the past two weeks, our 13 year-old granddaughter, Autumn, has been staying with us. She has come from the small town of Moose Creek, on the outskirts of Ottawa. 

Autumn hasn’t been to Alberta since she was very young and didn’t remember the mountains, so, on Sunday, my wife and I took her to Banff. 

She was amazed at what she saw, especially the mighty Mt.Rundle. She talked about how high it was at 2,948 meters and how hard it would be to climb. We compared it’s height to those of Mt.Kilimanjaro (5,895 meters) and Everest (8,848 meters).

 Having climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in a time of 21 hours, in 2013, I was able to describe to her some of the challenges one might face, when climbing a mountain. I told her that, in the end, as with any daunting challenge, it all comes down to detailed preparation and “chunking it down”, looking at it in stages to be reached, one at a time, to reach your goal. 

It’s the same in business. Sometimes, a task can appear to be so overwhelming that it’s hard to get started, but, I believe almost anything is achievable if you take it one step at a time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the whole thing, look at it in doable “bite-sized” chunks. Set yourself a timeline and stick to it. 

When I was running my 250 marathons, in 2010, there were days when I was desperately tired, or I was coping with an injury or maybe the weather was against me. When you wake up to hear the rain pouring down or the paths are icy and slippery, it’s hard to get motivated. My strategy was to just tackle my day in 10 minute chunks, from putting on my running gear to having breakfast and making those first few steps, along the pathway. 

It was the same when, in 2005 I cycled the 6,500miles through from Cairo to Cape Town and, in fact, when I had finished, I wrote about it in my first book “How to Eat an Elephant”, which is, of course, one bite at a time. 

Another key element of tackling any task is preparation. If you are well-prepared and have all the tools required, you won’t waste time in the process. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for support and be open to delegating tasks which can be done by others. It’s all a matter of staying calm, keeping control and having the right attitude. 

Now, go climb your mountain!

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When things go wrong, don't go with them.

Elvis Presley
How to know when Giving Up is the Right Thing to do

How to know when Giving Up is the Right Thing to do

Posted by martin.parnell |

There was a time when, once I had begun reading a book, I felt obliged to finish it.

Needless to say, this led to some hours of boredom as I must have thought, albeit subconsciously, that not to do so would be “giving up”. 

That is no longer the case. I will always give the author the chance to engage me and have been pleasantly surprised, at times, when a novel or piece of non- fiction has made me have a change of heart and decide to carry on to the end. 

But. I am now quite happy to say to myself “This book’s not for me” and move on to something else. It’s the same with movies. I watch them mostly at home and so, if I have been watching for half an hour and am feeling restless, I will switch it off. 

The thing is, knowing when to call it a day and face the fact that something is not working for you. 

In business, we also have to be prepared to admit when something isn’t working.This can be very hard, especially if a lot of time and money has been invested.

There will always be tricky patches, when snags occur or fatigue sets in, perhaps there is a change of personnel or you come across unforeseen challenges, sometimes it’s just a case of persistence or finding ways to combat these issues and re-engage in a project. 

But what if you get to the stage when you realise that no matter what strategies you might introduce, it just isn’t working? 

In her 2012 article for the Harvard Review, “12 Guidelines for Deciding When to Persist. When to Quit,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter states:

“Persist and pivot, and the effort could go on to success. Pull out in the messy middle, and by definition the effort is a failure. The issue is deciding which direction to take.”

She then goes on to give set a questions you might ask yourself, or your team, to help you come to a decision;

  1. Are the initial reasons for the effort still valid, with no consequential external changes?
  2. Do the needs for which this a solution remain unmet, or are competing solutions still unproven or inadequate?
  3. Would the situation get worse if this effort stopped?
  4. Is it more cost-effective to continue than to pay the costs of restarting?
  5. Is the vision attracting more adherents?
  6. Are leaders still enthusiastic, committed, and focused on the effort?
  7. Are resources available for continuing investment and adjustments?
  8. Is scepticism and resistance declining?
  9. Is the working team motivated to keep going?
  10. Have critical deadlines and key milestones been met?
  11. Are there signs of progress, in that some problems have been solved, new activities are underway, and trends are positive?
  12. Is there a concrete achievement — a successful demonstration, prototype, or proof of concept?” 

Once these issues have been addressed and the questions answered, you may be guided as to how to move forward, what action to take.

Kanter advises, “If the answers are mostly Yes, then don’t give up. Figure out what redirection is needed, strategize your way over obstacles, reengage the team, answer the critics, and argue for more time and resources. Everything worth doing requires tenacity.

If the answers trend toward No, then cut your losses and move on. Persistence doesn’t mean being pig-headed.

These suggestions may not help when I’m deciding which book to pick up next or which movie might be worth recording, but, hopefully, they will help when you have a similar decision to make, in business.

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Never ruin an apology with an excuse.

Benjamin Franklin
Do the Right Thing and Admit when You're Wrong

Do the Right Thing and Admit when You're Wrong

Posted by martin.parnell |

“We all make mistakes”, is a very true statement. There isn’t one of us who, at some time or other hasn’t made an error, whether it be in judgement or action, nobody’s perfect.

When you are the boss, it’s probably harder to admit when this happens, as you are the person others look up to, you are expected to have all the answers, know what to do in every situation and always get things right.

So, what should you do, when it’s you who makes a mistake?

"Admitting that you're wrong is a sign of strength," says Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid (Hudson Street, 2013). "It takes character and leadership to do it well."

It also sets an example for your employees, creating a culture where they feel free to experiment and fail. That freedom allows for greater creativity and quicker solutions when people make mistakes.

He suggests you practice these five tips to help you own your mistakes in a way that strengthens your company:

1. Take ownership. 
As the leader, you are responsible for what goes on at your company, so you need to own the problem and the solution. "Never make excuses," Winch says. "That doesn't strike confidence in a leader."

Commend employees who take ownership of their mistakes as well. By showing respect and support for them, you create a culture that addresses mistakes without blame. "Taking responsibility when things don't work is more conducive to growth," Winch says.

2. Be sincere. 
When you deliver an apology, your audience will be looking for signs of a canned or stiff delivery, and they'll take them as signs that you don't mean what you're saying, says Kurt Dirks, a professor of leadership at Washington University who studies successful apologies. To win them over, simply be yourself.

"Trying to go by a script only undercuts the potential impact," Dirks says. "Be who you normally are." That honesty -- in your words and your delivery -- will show that you actually mean it.

3. Show what you've learned. 
A good apology explains what happened and why. Start with why you made your original decision and the logic that led to that choice. Next, explain what you learned about why it didn't work and how that new information will inform how you move forward. If you haven't figured out the lesson yet, then you're not ready to deliver the apology. "You should feel empowered," Winch says. "If you don't, then you haven’t figured out all the fixes, opportunities, and messages of hope yet."

With any mistake, no matter how small, there is a way to prevent it from happening again. Even if the mistake was simple -- like not thinking through an idea -- you can improve your thought process so it doesn't happen next time. Sharing your lessons will also show your employees how to think about mistakes and move forward.

4. Make proactive changes. 
Talk is cheap, so people need to see that you will actually follow through. When you outline your plan for change, mention a step you've already taken toward those ends. "The more specific the better," says Dirks.

For example, you might mention a new process you instated to improve communication or a new approach you're taking in product development. “As long as you can explain how you're rectifying what went wrong and own it, then you'll come across as a person in a position of strength," Winch says.

5. End on a high note. 
When you talk about a mistake, acknowledge anyone who might have been harmed in the process. Sometimes, the harm is overt, like in the case of BP's oil spill, but often it's more subtle, like when employees invest hope and time in a project that fails. "If anyone has been harmed, show empathy," Winch says.

But always bring it back to what you learned and how you plan to use this experience as an opportunity to grow. "You want to end with a message of hope in every situation," Winch says.

The ability to admit when you're wrong, as a leader, is your greatest opportunity to learn and grow. Admitting fault in the right way can make your employees and company stronger.

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Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.

Steve Jobs
The Tim Hortons Dutchie Marathon-Food for Thought

The Tim Hortons Dutchie Marathon-Food for Thought

Posted by martin.parnell |

On July 1st it was Canada’s 150th birthday and I wanted to celebrate.  An idea started to form the week before and it all stemmed from a little treat that my wife Sue brought home from Tim Hortons, a Dutchie doughnut. My love of the Dutchie goes back a long way. As a lad in England, once a month, my dad took me to the car auctions in Exeter. On the way  we’d stop at a Wimpy’s restaurant and dad would buy me a milky coffee (now called a latte and twice the price) and a glazed-covered doughnut.

Immigrating to Canada in 1977 I stumbled across its Canadian counterpart and my relationship with the Dutchie began. Then, one dark day in 2013, I heard the news,  “Tim Hortons removes the Dutchie from its counters”. Over the intervening years I have tried the chocolate dip, Boston cream and apple fritter but they weren’t the same.

Then, in the last week of June, Sue came home with the real deal. Apparently, Tim Hortons had decided to bring the tasty delicacy back, for Canada’s birthday. As I was enjoying the raisin speckled delight an idea popped into my head “Why not run a marathon fueled by Dutchies?” The marathon part I had already decided on as I wanted to pay homage to one of Canada’s greatest heroes Terry Fox. But I would now also pay homage to one of Canada’s greatest doughnuts, the Dutchie.

I had tried something similar in 2010 during “Marathon Quest 250” when I ran 250 marathons in one year in support of Right to Play. Mackay’s ice cream in Cochrane was one of my sponsors and I ran the distance fueled on cones and water.

So, I needed to do my due diligence and went to Tim Hortons website to check out the nutritional facts on the Dutchie. I found one contains, calories 240, Sodium 200mg, Total fat 6g, Saturated 3g, Total carbs 40g, Fiber 1g, Sugar 17g, Protein 5g, Calcium 2% and Iron 15%. The numbers looked good and I figured that for a 5 hour marathon I would need 5 Dutchies.

I set off at 6.30am on a cool but clear July 1st morning. My route was a 1 km loop around my house and along the Bow River. After 5km I had my first half-Dutchie, microwaved for 10 seconds to give it that freshly baked taste. Around and around I went. My running buddy Wayne joined me and he ran 16 kms or one and a half Dutchies.

During the run I kept up with social media sharing such things as my favourite movie: “A fist full of Dutchies”; favourite book: “The Girl with the Dutchie Tattoo”; favourite song: “If I had a million Dutchies”; favourite quote: “Make the Dutchie great again”; favourite monument: “Stone Henge Dutchies” and favourite TV show: “Dutchie is the new black”.

At 4 hours 49 minutes and 16 seconds the Tim Hortons Dutchie marathon was done.

As I soaked in the hot tub, I thought how lucking we were to live in a country where I had the freedom to do something as wacky as the Dutchie marathon.

Eight months ago I had run a marathon in Afghanistan in support of girls and women. They were running for freedom.

Happy Birthday Canada.

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Everyone enjoys being acknowledged and appreciated. Sometimes even the simplest act of gratitude can change someone's entire day. Take the time to recognize and value the people around you and appreciate those who make a difference in your lives.

Roy T. Bennett
Reflect on the Number 150 and Celebrate those Closest to You

Reflect on the Number 150 and Celebrate those Closest to You

Posted by martin.parnell |

Many people in Canada are currently celebrating the 150th. Anniversary of the enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act) which confederated Canada, on July 1, 1867. We are seeing and hearing the number 150 everywhere

This brought to mind a posting on the website of my friend, Alan Stevens, entitled YOU'RE DUNBARRED! In which, he wrote:

“On the train to and from Scotland last weekend, we rattled past the beautiful Scottish coastal town of Dunbar. It put me in mind of a number. A hundred and fifty to be precise.

Anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar came up with a theory twenty five years ago about the number of relationships we can keep up with. The number, known as Dunbar's number, is estimated at around a hundred and fifty. He based this on research into the size of ancient villages, Roman legions and nomadic tribes, but also upon the capacity of a region of the brain known as the neocortex. So how does this relate to social networking?

On the face of it, the Dunbar number seems ridiculously low. Many of us have thousands of contacts on social networks, and we exchange messages with them constantly. However, if you consider the number of people that you know really well, and have probably met at some point, it looks a lot closer to a couple of hundred. The implication is that most of your important interactions take place with a relatively small number of people.

If you think about your social media use, you will probably find that there aren't that many people you know and trust really well. Professor Dunbar also suggests that we have a close inner circle of just five people, and networks of up to 1500 who we recognise facially, but don't know that well. In short, it's worth remembering that despite having many thousands of friends and followers, the close circle that we know well is really important. Those are the people we should really value and spend time with.”

Whether it’s within our family, our close circle of friends or colleagues, relationships matter.

We must value the people who are there for us in good times and bad, put up with all our foibles are honest with us and who know us best.

So, at this time of reflection and celebration, let’s all take a moment to think about the people closest to us and celebrate our relationships with them.

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Communication is one of the most important skills you require for a successful life.

Catherine Pulsifer - Author
How to be Most Effective at Getting your Message Across

How to be Most Effective at Getting your Message Across

Posted by martin.parnell |

Earlier this year, I was invited to give a presentation at this month’s TEDx YYC. 

On Friday, I stood on the stage at the Jack Singer Hall, situated in the Arts Commons building in Calgary and gave a talk entitled “Life is a Relay”. Whilst rehearsing for this type of event, I am always aware of the need to integrate passion, humour, anecdotes and facts, into my talk. 

Along with these are other aspects to be conscious of, such as expression, body language and overall presentation. It all comes down to what I want to say, how I’m going to say it and how it will be interpreted, by the audience. 

In the work place, it is becoming increasingly common for a person to send an email, text, tweet or some other form of modern communication, which is OK for certain messages to get through, however, I would argue that, whenever possible it is better to speak to someone directly, either by picking up the phone or seeing them in person. 

In 2011, Anthony Tjan, CEO of venture capital firm Cue Ball, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review, in which he stated: 

“Like many readers, I have experienced too many unproductive strings of back-and-forth emails or texts that should have stopped in round two, but continue. The problems with trying to resolve sensitive matters over email or text are quite obvious:

1. It is hard to get the EQ (emotional intelligence) right in email. The biggest drawback and danger with email is that the tone and context are easy to misread. In a live conversation, how one says something, with modulations and intonations, is as important as what they are saying. With email it is hard to get the feelings behind the words.

2. Email and text often promote reactive responses, as opposed to progress and action to move forward. Going back to the zero latency expectation in digital communications, it is hard for people to pause and think about what they should say. One of my colleagues suggests not reacting to any incendiary message until you have at least had a night to sleep on it, and always trying to take the higher ground over email. While by definition reactive responses occur in live discourse, they are usually more productive.

3. Email prolongs debate. Because of the two reasons above, I have seen too many debates continue well beyond the point of usefulness. Worse, I have experienced situations which start relatively benignly over email, only to escalate because intentions and interests are easily misunderstood online. When I ask people if they have called or asked to meet the counterpart to try and reach a resolution, there is usually a pause, then a sad answer of “no.”

Email is one of the greatest productivity contributors of the past two decades, and social communication platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have fundamentally changed and positively enriched the means and reach with which we are able to interact. Yet we have to recognize when such digital channels cannot substitute for a live conversation.

Email and social networking modes of communications have created a generation of casually convenient new connections, and even helped us deepen existing relationships, but they can rarely replace the real world. As digital communication accelerates the pace at which people form and broaden relationships, it is also decreasing the rate at which people are willing to resolve issues professionally and directly in-person. The next time you experience an issue over email, ask yourself if it is something that would be better served by a real conversation.”

It is also important to remember that, when someone communicates with us, in person, we are able to read their body language, expression and tone of voice. According to researchers M Mahdi Roghanizad and Vanessa K Bohns, in an article for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, published this year, a new study has found that people tend to overestimate the power of email and are, in fact less persuasive than they think over email and overestimate its power.

Highlights of the research showed: People underestimate compliance when making requests of strangers in person. In two studies, we found the opposite pattern of results for emailed requests. Requesters overestimated compliance when making requests over email.

This error was driven by a perspective-taking failure. Requesters failed to appreciate how untrustworthy their emails would seem to others. Bohns concludes that  "A face-to-face email is 34 times more successful than an email". 

So, I would suggest that, if possible, next time you want to have a discussion, present an idea or share a point of view with someone, why not pick up the phone or, better still, arrange to speak to them in person.

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To reach the goals of your life, you need discipline, you need luck and you need something as important as these two: Vacations!

Mehmet Murat ildan, author and playwright
How to enjoy a Guilt-Free Vacation

How to enjoy a Guilt-Free Vacation

Posted by martin.parnell |

It’s that time of year when many of us are looking forward to our summer vacation. A time to relax with family and friends or go off and pursue a passion.

However, for some people, the thought of taking time off work can create a great deal of stress. On the website Be Well At Work, Suzanne Gelb, PHD, JD, points out some reasons why they might feel this way;

  1. People are afraid of being replaced or they’re afraid of their work piling up while they’re gone.
  2. By taking vacation time they worry that the boss might think they’re not pulling their weight. They need to keep working to prove how valuable they are to the company. 
  3. They think they’ll miss too much work.
  4. They’re afraid they’ll get penalized for taking too much vacation time and be passed over for promotion in the future. 

It is worth considering that, taking a vacation is extremely good for you—and for your employer, too.

In a study conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management, researchers found that taking time off from work can boost your productivity, engagement, and overall happiness.

But even with all the facts swinging in favour of taking that long-overdue trip, it can still be difficult, at times, to get over your “vacation guilt.”

In a blog entitled "Holiday Vacations: Your Time to Rejuvenate" Robert Half gives some tips for enjoying your time off;

1. Create an action plan

Consider all of the potential projects that may need attention while you’re away. Write down an instruction sheet for those serving as backup so they know what to expect and how to handle specific situations. Also provide the names and numbers of contacts who might need to be reached. If you think someone will need to access your computer or other systems in your absence, speak with your manager or IT support to determine the best way to share security passwords with the person.

2. Spread the word

Give plenty of notice to key contacts that you will be out of the office and let them know who has been assigned as your backup. The more prepared people are for your absence, the less likely you will receive last-minute requests on the way out the door.

3. Wrap up your work commitments

Do your best to keep the last few days before your holiday break free from meetings and non-essential activities. That way, you can concentrate fully on cleaning out your inbox, wrapping up projects and tackling any final assignments.

It sounds obvious, but some workers find it hard to complete every task before breaking up for holidays. Make it your goal to wrap up loose ends before your last day, informing colleagues where you’re at with projects then switching on your out-of-office reply on all devices.

It might mean making a checklist a few weeks before the holidays start or allocating a certain period of wrap-up time each day in the lead-up to your break, but it will be worth it.

4. Prepare for your return

Remember that a key part of vacation preparation is getting ready for the days when you’ll be returning to work. Consider which projects will need immediate attention when you arrive. Also allocate time to check messages and meet with your boss and anyone who served as a backup in your absence so you can get updates on what you missed.

5. Step away from the smartphone

One of the challenges is that most of us use our smartphones to keep in touch with not only our work life, but our private life too, so it’s a slippery slope. Once you’re using your phone, it’s hard to switch the work mode off altogether, so for some people not using it at all is the best option.

If necessary, share your phone number with someone who will use it only in a true emergency - not when an employee has trouble remembering the time-saving Excel tip you shared three weeks ago. Also, resist checking in with the office. The more you stay in touch with work, the less of a break you will have. If you must check email and voice mail, limit it to once a day.


So, whatever way you choose to spend your vacation time, prepare well beforehand, try to leave work behind and think how much more enjoyable it will be, not only for you, but those with whom you share your precious time off.

Enjoy! (and don’t forget the sunscreen)

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