Life is a minestrone. Served up with Parmesan cheese.

How to make Minestrone Soup and Build a Successful Business

How to make Minestrone Soup and Build a Successful Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

Today, my wife, Sue, made a huge pot of minestrone soup. It smells delicious and I can’t wait to tuck into a big bowl, when I come back from my trip to Calgary, especially as its minus 15 degrees outside. 

As I watched her chopping the ingredients, it made me think about how life really is like a bowl of minestrone. 

You have to have your basics, the onions and carrots, zucchini and celery, the potato and pasta. These are the building blocks. They give the soup substance.

Then she adds the tomatoes, their colour really adds a rich vibrancy to the soup. Then the garlic and Italian spices give it identity and the stock fills up the pot and gives volume to the whole thing. 

In life and especially in business, we need to look for the right ingredients, which need to be carefully selected, so that they will work together as a whole. 

If you are setting up a business or assessing an existing one and you are looking at the ingredients you need to create or reorganize, in order to have an effective workforce, perhaps you should consider these: 

Leadership – The outcome of every meal depends on the cook. They need to be able to decide what it is they want to cook, find the right recipe, select the ingredients, be adaptable if things aren’t tasting just right and see the process through to the end. 

Are you a good leader? Do you set clear, measurable, achievable goals and do you provide the tools your employees need to work efficiently? 

Goal – This is when you decide what it is you want to cook, look at the recipe and decide what you need to do to succeed. If all members of your workforce have a common goal, it will make life much easier and you will stand a better chance of success. 

Organisation – when Sue makes her soup, she gathers together all the ingredients, but doesn’t just throw them all into the pot straight away. Some things need to be sautéed first, then others are added and left to simmer and there are some that are added at the end. You may have the personnel to form the basis of your company, but always be prepared to add to that group, even if it’s on a short-term contract or in the role of consultant. 

Collaboration – each ingredient is carefully selected. Too much or too little of any one of them could alter the outcome and not be so desirable. Look for people who can work well together, but also look for people with varying talents. Each of your team should be able to offer particular skills which will enhance the group. 

Commitment – A soup can be allowed to simmer but, at some stage you need to know when to turn up the heat. There will be times, in business, when everyone needs to put in that extra effort and go the extra mile. It may be tough, but when everything comes together, you realise that the result can be oh, so satisfying. 

Also, don’t forget, when all the work is done and it’s time to serve up the finished project, presentation is key. 

In Sue’s case, she’ll add a sprinkle of Italian Parsley, grate the parmesan to go on top and have some crusty bread warming in the oven. 

You need to be able to stand by your project, have all the information you need at hand and be able to convince a client that you are the best. 

So, decide what it is you want to cook, allow the time you need to prepare it, have the right ingredients to make it happen and, like Sue’s Minestrone, everything will turn out just fine and you’ll have people coming back for more!

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Study the past if you would define the future.

Looking at the Past and Reflecting on the Present

Looking at the Past and Reflecting on the Present

Posted by martin.parnell |

As I sat here thinking about the past year, I decided to take a look at events that have happened on this day, January 8th, over previous years. Here are just a few examples of some that I found, as listed by 

  • 1790- President George Washington delivers first State of the Union
  • 1877- Crazy Horse fights final battle
  • 1946- Elvis Presley receives his first guitar
  • 1962- Mona Lisa exhibited in Washington 

It struck me that there are often times that things occur that are so profound, they are remembered as historical events even though they may not affect everyone and some that occur that may not affect us at the time, but may resonate, in the future. 

When Crazy Horse led his starving people to Fort Robinson on the Red Cloud Agency in north-western Nebraska, he had reluctantly led them to life on a reservation where most indigenous peoples still find themselves today. When Elvis Presley was given his first guitar, who knew how this might lead him to becoming one of the best-known entertainers of all time? There aren’t many people who wouldn’t recognise the Mona Lisa and her famous smile. 

I then decided to take a look at some events which occurred on tomorrow’s date, January 9th and found an equally varied selection: 

  • 1431- Judges' investigations for the trial of Joan of Arc in Rouen, France, the seat of the English occupation government.
  • 1760- Afghans defeat Marathas in battle of Barari Ghat. 
  • 1909- Ernest Shackleton as part of the British Nimrod Expedition reaches a record farthest South latitude (88°23' south) 
  • 1941- 6,000 Jews exterminated in pogrom in Bucharest, Romania
  • 2007- Apple Inc CEO Steve Jobs launched the iPhone

I found it interesting to note how some of the issues mentioned can relate to more recent events, e.g.  there is still fighting and unrest in Afghanistan and Catalonia is fighting for independence from Spain.

On 12 September, we saw updates to the iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV, as well as the 10th anniversary iPhone X, with its brand-new virtually full-screen OLED design  and NASA’s Juno spacecraft is orbiting Jupiter.

And so, as I look to the future, I wonder what events will occur that will have my grandchildren looking back on, in their futures, as news-worthy or life-changing.

With ever-advancing technology, the world is communicating as it never has done before and yet, sadly, some people find it easier to send a text then to sit and have a face-to-face conversation and many of us have to make a concerted effort to live active lifestyles.

In business, we are constantly seeing new innovations which affect the way we work and feel the need to chase increasingly-challenging goals. Changes occur and events happen on a daily basis, both personally, nationally and globally.

We may not all be history-makers, but, in our own ways, we can make a difference. Whether it’s doing something to help ease the life of someone else, by making their working conditions more pleasant, spending some of our spare time volunteering or just being there when someone we know needs a hand or someone to talk to, to others, our actions can prove to be not just memorable, but life-changing.

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There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.

Alfred Wainwright
Too Cold for Penguins but Not for Cochrane Runners and Walkers

Too Cold for Penguins but Not for Cochrane Runners and Walkers

Posted by martin.parnell |

Sunday, December 31st was scheduled for my 8th Annual Run / Walk. This event had never been cancelled but the weather the week leading up to the event had been brutal and the forecast for that day was -32C. Oh boy. 

The day before, I asked Paddy, Operations Manager at the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sport Centre, if he had any thoughts for a back-up plan. He kindly offered to let people use the indoor track, free of charge, instead of going outside. Great idea. 

So, I sent out postings and emails letting as many people as possible know that it was still a go. I had my fingers crossed that the weather would break and warm up. No such luck. Sunday morning I was up at 5.30am and checked the current temperature. It was -48C with the wind chill. Not good. 

On reaching the Center, my first task was to mark the route by spray-painting orange arrows.  Every 30 seconds the nozzle to the spray can froze and I had to keep going back to the car and unfreezing it. At one point I was driving along the side of the path and spraying the arrows from inside the car.

This year we were attempting to raise $5,000 for Free to Run, an organization that uses sport to empower and educate women and girls from conflict-affected communities. The money would enable them to build an ice skating rink for girls in Afghanistan and also allow a group of girls from other provinces to participate in a week of winter sporting activities, in March. 

Soon, 9.00am came around and a hardy group lined up at the start, outside the main entrance. I blew my whistle and away we went. The route took us around the building, through the Bow River Edge camp ground, along the Bow river pathway and down to the old bridge which was the turnaround spot. One loop is around 2.5 kms and in the first hour I managed to cover 4 loops. By this time, my hat and facemask were caked with ice and snow. After a short break I headed out again and was joined by a few more run / walkers. 

Leanne Brintnell, from Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, had arrived and was organizing the band HYMN, who would entertain everyone with some beautiful traditional music. She would also be selling products made by women in Afghanistan. 

The day wound on with runners coming and going. Everyone doing their part and, by making donations, they were also making a difference. At 2.40pm it was time to do the final 2km, “Cookie Loop”. A bunch of kids lined up and I blew the final whistle and away we went. Twenty minutes later it was done. The kids got their medal, we packed up and everyone headed home. 

In total there were 65 participants, 30 of which were brave enough to run/walk outside. We raised an amazing $2,936.  We still a have way to go to reach the $5,000, so if you would like to donate to this worthy cause and  help us reach our goal then please go to and hit the big “DONATE” button. Thank you. 

I later checked the Globe and Mail website and read a story about how the King Penguins, at the Calgary Zoo, were brought inside due to the extreme cold and the headline in today’s Calgary Herald online reflected this. It read “Cochrane runners go where Penguins fear to tread”.

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Books are a uniquely portable magic.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Books, the Perfect Gift idea for Last-Minute Shoppers

Books, the Perfect Gift idea for Last-Minute Shoppers

Posted by martin.parnell |

I’m sending this blog a few days early, because I doubt many of you will be logging on to read my latest thought, on Christmas Day. As I’m posting it just before your last chance to do any gift buying, I thought I’d try and offer some help. 

For the past few weeks, my wife, Sue, has been wearing a button which reads “All I want for Christmas is Books.”  I should mention that she has only worn it around the house, as this is a message specifically for me. (Other family members got the message long ago.) 

This is great, as I know that whatever book I choose for her, it will be greatly appreciated. It does help, of course, that she has a “Wish List”. I’m mentioning this because, just in case you still have some last-minute Christmas shopping to do, I would suggest that you can’t go far wrong with a book, in some form or another. 

I prefer the traditional type that you hold in your hands and requires a book mark, “A great stocking stuffer that the craftier ones amongst you can have great fun making and personalising”, according to Sue. However, for some people an audio book is more convenient and there are others that would rather read books downloaded onto their laptop or Kindle. 

Whichever way you enjoy a good read, you know the pleasure a book can give whether it’s one that you have specifically requested or a complete surprise. We love to give books for gifts, especially to children. We tend to go for the classics, in the hope that they will be treasured, for years to come. Browsing around your local book store or searching through suggestions online, can be fun, but a bit bewildering, especially if you are limited for time. 

So, I thought I’d try and help out by suggesting some titles you might like to consider: 

  • For young children:   “Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter or   “Nuptse and Lhotse Go To The Rockies” by Jocey Asnong. 
  • Children 6 – 10:  “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery or “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg.
  • For teens and young adults: Check out “The Yellow Hoods” series by local author Adam Dreece. 

I could suggest a huge number of books for adults, but I’ll just stick to a few I’ve personally enjoyed or look forward to reading – once I’ve opened my Christmas parcels! 

Everyone, but especially runners and dog lovers will enjoy “Finding Gobi” by Dion Leonard. A fascinating and amusing non-fiction read is “The History of the Snowman” by Bob Eckstein. Thriller readers will be happy with “A Legacy of Spies” by John le Carre, but if you think that might be a bit heavy-going, then how about the latest from Stephen King, co-written with his son, Owen, entitled “Sleeping Beauties”. 

On the business side, one book I really enjoyed was Lois Creamer’s “Book More Business –Make Money Speaking”. No nonsense and lots of great tips to apply in 2018. 

Of course, with adults, as well as children, if you want a Christmas – themed read, you can’t go wrong with one of the classics like Charles Dickens’  “A Christmas Carol” or the more recent “The Christmas Train” by David Baldacci. 

Books, especially the hardback versions, can be expensive, so why not check out your local thrift store? We have picked up many second-hand books and audio books for just a dollar or two. 

I do hope this has been of some help and I hope you receive some good reads this Christmas. 

I would tell you which books are waiting for Sue, under the tree, but she occasionally reads my blog! 

Merry Christmas.

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No one has ever become poor by giving.

Anne Frank
How to Support others Locally, Nationally and Internationally during the Holiday Season

How to Support others Locally, Nationally and Internationally during the Holiday Season

Posted by martin.parnell |

As I mentioned, in my last blog, I’m currently making preparations for my 8th. Annual Run/ Walk event, to be held, on December 31st from the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre, here in Cochrane. Participation is by donation and all of the money goes to the charity that I have chosen to support, that particular year. Although, sometimes, I think it’s the charity that has chosen me!

This year, I will be supporting girls in Afghanistan, through the charity Free to Run. This is a NGO, whose mission is to use running and outdoor adventure to empower and educate women and girls who have been affected by conflict. Now I know that there are some people that wonder why I don’t solely support local or National charities. My answer to that is “I do”.

Personally, my wife and I support several charities, including CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the blind), the Alzheimer’s Society, the Alberta Lung Association, the Cochrane Food Bank and The Cochrane Activettes, to name but a few.

But it’s not all about donating money, sometimes, just giving of your time can make a huge difference to a worthy cause.

It was with this thought in mind, that I was moved by a story, by Sarfraz Manzoor, published in last Sunday’s British newspaper, The Observer, about a Muslim couple, who decided to enter the fostering system, in the UK.

This is part of their story:

Just before Christmas seven years ago, Riffat and Sajjad were at home when the phone rang. It was the foster agency letting them know that three children they’d never met would be arriving shortly. The children – two sisters and a brother – were in urgent need of short-term care. Sajjad and Riffat had been approved as foster carers only two months earlier and these would be their first placements.

“We were excited, but I was also a bit nervous,” recalls Sajjad, 50.

Both Riffat and Sajjad are observant Muslims of Pakistani heritage. Riffat, 46, was wearing a headscarf when we met, and prays five times a day. How did they cope with the arrival of three white English children raised in a Christian household?

 “I will never forget that day,” recalls Riffat, who grew up in Pakistan and moved to Britain after marrying in 1997. “It really was like being thrown in the deep end.”

That evening, once the children were asleep, Sajjad headed out on an urgent shopping mission. “We are Muslims and we’d never had a Christmas tree in our home,” says Riffat. “But these children were Christian and we wanted them to feel connected to their culture.” So he bought a Christmas tree, decorations and presents. The couple worked until the early hours putting the tree up and wrapping presents. The first thing the children saw the next morning was the tree.

“I had never seen that kind of extra happiness and excitement on a child’s face,” remembers Riffat. The children were meant to stay for two weeks – seven years later two of the three siblings are still living with them.

Riffat has grown used to surprised looks from strangers and people asking if the reason she has such fair-skinned children is because she married a white man. But she focuses on the positives – in particular how fostering has given her and Sajjad an insight into a world that had been so unfamiliar. “We have learned so much about English culture and religion,” Sajjad says. Riffat would read Bible stories to the children at night and took the girls to church on Sundays. “When I read about Christianity, I don’t think there is much difference,” she says. “It all comes from God.”

Just as Riffat and Sajjad have learned about Christianity, the girls have come to look forward to Eid and the traditions of henna. “I’ve taught them how to make potato curry, pakoras and samosas,” Riffat says. “But their spice levels are not quite the same as ours yet.” The girls can also sing Bollywood songs and speak Urdu.

“I now look forward to going home. I have two girls and my wife waiting,” says Sajjad.

I love this story because Riffat and Sajjad didn’t let the barriers of race, religion or culture stand in the way of their desire to help others in need.

I sincerely hope there are lots of people out there who feel the same and will be joining me, on December 31st. and, if you can’t make it. You have the opportunity to donate directly to this worthy cause through my website . Just hit the big red “DONATE” button.

If you think that a local or national charity is where you would like to donate your well-earned money, then that’s great too.

All I ask is that you consider the act of donating and making a difference in the life of someone else, next time you go shopping and are tempted to buy just one more decoration for the tree, one more stocking stuffer, or that extra box of chocolates.

Happy Holidays!

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Beginnings are easy. The thing is to finish the race.

Victor Belfort
Finish the Race Attitude: How to Make it Work for you in 2018

Finish the Race Attitude: How to Make it Work for you in 2018

Posted by martin.parnell |

What is a “Finish the Race Attitude”? Well, Attitude is defined as “A way of feeling or acting toward a person, thing or situation” and “Finish the Race”, is getting things done!

In this blog I want to talk about the three steps to having a “Finish the Race Attitude”: Goal Setting, Goal Execution and Goal Completion. 

Yogi Berra, baseball legend, said — “We're lost, but we're making good time.  Is that how you feel about elements in your business? Zig Ziglar, Speaker and Author said “You need a plan to build a house. To a build life, it is even more important to have a plan or goal” and the key to successfully achieving that goal is to write it down. 

Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, recently studied the art and science of goal setting. She gathered two hundred and sixty-seven people together — men and women from all over the world, and from all walks of life, including entrepreneurs, educators, healthcare professionals, artists, lawyers and bankers. She divided the participants into groups, according to who wrote down their goals and dreams, and who didn’t.

She discovered that those who wrote down their goals and dreams on a regular basis achieved those desires at a significantly higher level than those who did not. In fact, she found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams, simply by writing them down on a regular basis. So for those of you that do write down your goals ask yourself these questions:

Do you review them monthly? Do you review them weekly? Do you review them daily?

Why daily? The key is to look at what you are doing on a daily basis to see if it’s aligned with your goals. If it is great, if it’s not then ask yourself “Should I be doing this?”.

So remember: In Goal Setting: Write it!

The Second Step I want to talk about is Goal Execution. Fine, so I’ve written my goal down but it’s so big, so over-whelming I just don’t know where to start. As the old saying goes “How do you eat an elephant, one piece at a time”. In 2010 I undertook to run 250 marathons in one year. Initially, the excitement of the challenge and the fact that I had people join me on the run kept me going however after a few months the excitement and the people disappeared. 

It wasn’t so much a physical challenge as a mental one. I was running 5 marathons a week and by mid-year I was literally running on empty. I remember waking up at 5.00am after running 4 marathons that week. The rain was pounding on the bedroom window and I just wanted to stay in bed, have a cup of tea and read the newspaper. The only way I could face the day was by “Chunking it down” in 10 minute blocks. 

I got up and in the first 10 minutes had a tea and breakfast. Then, for the next ten minutes, I’d go and just dress up in running gear, no harm in that. The rain was still pounding down. Next, I’d get in my car and take a ten minute drive to where I would start my run. This was the difficult 10 minutes. I’d then say to myself “Martin just go and run for 10 minutes, if you don’t like it then turn around and come back”. 

Well, after 10 minutes I was out there and turning around was not an option. Chunk it down. Use the technique on anything you’re tackling: Blogs, newsletter, cold calls and even writing a book. 

I’ve had two books published, MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and each have between 65,000 to 70,000 words. By chunking it down to 500 words a session and setting aside time each day to work on it, the manuscript was completed in six months. Could I have done it quicker? Possibly, but the bottom line was got it done. The power of consistent action cannot be over emphasised. 

So remember: In Goal Execution: Chunk it! 

The third step I want to talk about is Goal Completion. At the end of the day you’ve either successfully completed your goal or you haven’t. One of the hardest things is to take on something and it doesn’t work out. 

In 2013 I set a goal of running the Calgary Marathon while attempting to set a Guinness World Record for the fastest time in full lacrosse gear. The purpose being to raise $10,000 for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. The rules stipulated that it had to be under 4 hours and I had to wear a helmet, elbow pads, shoulder pads, and gloves while carrying a lacrosse stick and ball. 

On race day the temperature started at 15C and increased to 20C. My black helmet, probably not the best colour, became an oven. I started to overheat and my heart rate went through the roof. Up to the 38 km marker my pace was on target but then the wheels came off. I was dizzy and my legs went to rubber. I crossed the line at 4 hours 18 minutes and they rushed me into the medical tent. 

Nelson Mandela says “I never lose, I either win or learn”. So what did I learn? Well, it was probably one of the stupidest goals I’ve ever set however from a fund raising point of view it was a success. I think I got a number of “Pity Donations”. The temperature had done me in and there wasn’t a lot I could do about that. Sometimes when you take on something and given it your best shot it still doesn’t work out. The key, accept and move on. 

That’s why, when we do have successes, it’s so important to celebrate them along the way. This year I facilitated a number of workshops for indigenous men and women in Morley on “Unlocking your Potential”. We talked about Goal Setting and Goal Execution and then shared our thoughts on celebrating on Goal Completion. 

Some of the things they would do included: Have a steak dinner at Montana’s with friends, have a BBQ with supporters and friends, show certificate, take family to Disney World, house warming party, go mud bogging with truck, go camping with friends, have a special gathering, share with others. The key is share your successes. 

So remember: In Goal Completion: Celebrate it! 

In finishing, I want to leave you with 3 “It’s”. In Goal Setting, Write it; in Goal Execution, Chunk it and in Goal Completion, Celebrate it. 

If you follow these three steps then you will well on your way to having a “Finish the Race Attitude" and an incredible 2018.

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I’ll even let you hold the remote.

Adam Sandler
Happy Birthday to the Man who makes our TV set a Little less Remote

Happy Birthday to the Man who makes our TV set a Little less Remote

Posted by martin.parnell |

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog about those handy little things that, for some of us make life a little easier. I was reminded of this when I noted that today, December 4th is the birthday of inventor, Robert Adler.

According to Wikipedia, Adler was born in Vienna in 1913, the son of Jenny (née Herzmark), a doctor, and Max Adler, a social theorist.  He earned a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Vienna in 1937 and, following Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany in 1939, Dr. Adler, who was Jewish, left the country. He traveled first to Belguim, then to England, where he acted on the advice of friends, and immigrated to the United States. He began working at Zenith Electronics in the research division in 1941. In his lifetime, Adler was granted 58 US patents.

The invention Adler is best known for is a wireless remote control for televisions. While not the first remote control, its underlying technology was a vast improvement over previous remote control system.

Eugene Polley, anther engineer at Zenith  invented the first wireless remote control, replacing the signal cable based remote control devices, which never were a success. The Flash-Matic used directional flashlight in the transmitter device, and photo cells in the television set itself. One of the major shortcomings of this technology was that if the television set was exposed to direct sunlight, it could inadvertently trigger one of the remote control functions. The company president sent the engineers back to the drawing board to come up with a better solution. 

A system based on radio waves was briefly considered but rejected because the signals could easily travel through walls and could inadvertently change the channel on a neighbour's television. Furthermore, the marketing people at Zenith desired a remote control which did not require batteries, as it was perceived at the time that if the battery died, the customer might think something was wrong with the television set itself.

Adler's solution was to use sound waves to transmit signals to the TV. The first remote control he developed, the "Space Command", used aluminum rods, analogous to tuning forks, struck by hammers toggled by the buttons on the device, to produce high-frequency tones that would be interpreted to control functions on the television set.

In the 1960s, Adler modified the remote control to use ultrasonic signals, a technology which went on to be used in television sets manufactured for the next 25 years, until replaced by infrared systems which could transmit more complex commands, although, ironically, they still needed batteries to work.

Present-day remote controls are commonly consumer infrared devices which send digitally-coded pulses of infrared radiation to control functions such as power, volume, channels, playback, track change, heat, fan speed, or other features varying from device to device. Remote controls for these devices are usually small wireless handheld objects with an array of buttons for adjusting various settings such as television channel, track number, and volume.

An article in the New Yorker, reported a story about one member of the Z-Wave Alliance, an association of about two hundred and fifty so-called “home-control” manufacturers and service providers.  This past August, he climbed nearly twenty-seven thousand feet to the peak of Cho Oyu, in the Himalayas. With the push of a few buttons, he used his smartphone to adjust thethermostat, flip the lights, and unlock and lock the doors of his New Jersey home. 

Remote control has continually evolved and advanced and now include Bluetooth connectivity, motion sensor-enabled capabilities and voice control.

So, the next time you use that remote control to record your favourite program, let you skip through all those TV ads or simply turn up the volume, from the comfort of your armchair, give a thought to Robert Adler.

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Help others to achieve their dreams and you will achieve yours.

Les Brown
Building an Ice Skating Rink for Girls in Afghanistan

Building an Ice Skating Rink for Girls in Afghanistan

Posted by martin.parnell |

On December 31st 2017 I will be holding my 8th Annual Run / Walk at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre. It all started in 2010 when, on December 31st, I ran my final marathon of Marathon Quest 250, completing 250 marathons in one year. It’s hard to believe that every year since then the community of Cochrane and beyond has come out, often in temperatures of -20C and lower, to help others. The first five years it was to support Right To Play and their play based educational programs in Benin, West Africa. 

In 2015 the funds went to Boma La Mama to build a playground for a Kindergarten class in the village of Mto wa Mbu in Tanzania. That year we raised $12,000 and these funds provided a swing set, a round-a-bout, teeter totters, a see-saw and a bouncy castle.

Last year we raised $7,000 for Free to Run, an organisation that uses sports to empower and educate women and girls from conflict affected communities. The funds were used for an unprecedented camping and kayaking expedition in the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan. A group of eleven female participants from multiple provinces in Afghanistan participated. Not only was it their first experience in the 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. 

This year we are again supporting Free to Run. This time we want to raise $10,000 to build an ice skating rink for Afghan females in the town of Bamyan, in the foot hills of the Hindu Kush Mountains. A small rink was built this January for the girls and young women and for the first time ever they got a taste of gliding on ice. Said one young lady from the program, “for me, ice skating was amazing because when I started skating, I was wondering, 'How is it possible to stand on a small blade and keep our balance?' It's another reason we can have confidence; if I can stand on ice with a blade, then anything is possible.” Last year, funding was provided by the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan however this is not available this year.

On Sunday, December 31st registration is by donation and goes from 8.00am to 2.30pm. You pick the distance: Marathon, Half marathon, 10 km, 5 km or 2 km “Cookie Loop”. Volunteers from the Calgary branch of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan will be on the sign in desk and will be providing Afghan music, dance and tea. They will also be selling goods made by women in Afghanistan. 

This is a family friendly event so why not combine it with a swim or session on the bouncy castles. 

So Cochrane, let’s keep these Afghan girls and young women on skates. 

If you can’t make it then please consider making a donation at Just scroll down and hit the big red “DONATE” button on the left hand side. Thank you.

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Sometimes, little things make a big difference.

Nino Varsimashvili Actor
Why it's Important to Celebrate the Things we Take for Granted

Why it's Important to Celebrate the Things we Take for Granted

Posted by martin.parnell |

Last Tuesday, Google commemorated the 131st. Anniversary of the hole punch, a handy little device invented by Friedrich Soennecken who filed the patent, in Germany, on November 14, 1886, for his Papierlocher für Sammelmappen. I must admit, it would never have occurred to me that something like a hole punch would have a birthday and it got me thinking about some of the other little tools and devices that are commonly used and yet we probably take for granted.

How about the stapler?  An American inventor, Samuel Slocum, was raised in Usquepaugh, Rhode Island, where a Mr. William Lockwood, sometime after 1772, first invented the common pin with a head, to keep it from slipping through cloth. Samuel moved to London and become a pin maker. While in England, he invented a machine for the production of pins. These pins later became flat head pins (similar to staples). He later moved back to America and invented a "Machine for Sticking Pins into Paper", which is often believed to be the first stapler. In fact, this patent from September 30, 1841, is for a device used for packaging pins.

Then there’s the toothbrush. In ancient times, twigs and bones were used for the cleaning of teeth. The first tooth brushes were invented in China in 1498, where coarse boar hairs were attached to handles made of bamboo or bone. Boar bristles were used until 1938, when nylon bristles were introduced by the company Dupont de Nemours.

There are the bigger items, too. How much time would we spend doing our laundry, if it weren’t for the invention of the washing machine? How many of us remember the days when you had to stoke up the fire to heat the hot water or light a fire in order to boil a kettle or cook a meal? But, let’s not forget, not everyone is so lucky and may not have access to the things that that make our lives a little easier, tasks a little simpler or save us time.

According to the website it is estimated that only 2.4 billion people, or 34.3 percent of the world's population, are Internet users, meaning they have access to the Internet either through a computer or mobile phone. And what about the resources we use? Todd Lindeman’s 2015 article, in the Washington Post, stated that, at that time, 1.3 Billion people, across the globe were without access to electricity.

 The World Health Organisation and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme in 2017, reported that 844 million people in the world do not have clean water and, as we know, some of them are right here in Canada. So, although it may be amusing to contemplate the things we have in our homes and offices  that we wouldn’t think of doing without, let’s be thankful not just for all the things that make our lives simpler, but the things that make our lives so much better compared to many people  in the world.

As we approach the holiday season, why not think about giving a donation to a charity that can improve the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves?

I’m now going to go into my fitted kitchen pour some clean water from the tap into the kettle, turn on the electricity and, after a few minutes, pour hot water into the teapot and make my tea. When I’m done, I’ll put  my cup into the dishwasher, before jumping into my car, heading off to the gas station, where I’ll fill up my vehicle with a tank full of gas.

And while I’m doing all this, I’ll reflect on this blog and reminded myself of the privileged life I lead.

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I believe the world is one big family and we need to help each other.

Jet Li
What a Difference a Year makes, when it's Full of Adventure

What a Difference a Year makes, when it's Full of Adventure

Posted by martin.parnell |

Just out of interest, I decided to look back, through my previous blogs, and see what I’d written about, this time last year. As it turns out, it was probably the one and only time I hadn’t actually posted one, as I was on my way back from Afghanistan. I had gone to the city of Bamyan, to run in the 2nd Marathon of Afghanistan, in support of a group of women and girls who wanted the freedom to run and be able to take part. 

While I was there I met a young university student, named Kubra, who had had her training curtailed due to a bombing at her school, several months earlier. The race was a grueling affair and she had some issues, but I ran with her and we managed to finish with-in the cut-off time. Kubra is now working for Free to Run, as Programme Coordinator. It’s an organisation that supports women and girls, in worn-torn countries, to pursue running and other sporting activities. 

Two weeks ago the 3rd Marathon of Afghanistan was held. This time there were 12 girls and women, supported by Free to Run, in the marathon and they all finished. Kubra was one of them.

On December 31st every year, I host a fund-raising event, my Annual Run/Walk. I invite people to come and run with me, anything from 2km to a full marathon.  On returning from Afghanistan, I contacted Stephanie Case, founder of Free to Run, and asked if the 2016 event could support the girls and women in any way. Stephanie suggested funding a camping and kayaking trip. So, on a cold wintry day in Cochrane, 120 runners and walkers headed out along theBowRiver. We raised $7,000. 

With me on theAfghanistan trip, was film director, Kate McKenzie and in March of this year, a trailer for “The Secret Marathon” documentary was released. We continue to seek funding for the film through donations, grants and corporate investment. We are planning to release the film in the spring of next year. 

Following my trip, I was introduced to the organization, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, who promote the rights of girls and women to pursue an education and, in May, Sue and I attended their Gala evening and met some wonderful people who are really making a difference. 

In June I was a presenter at TEDx YYC. My topic was “Life is a Relay“and I talked about how I think life is like a relay race and we all, in the end, need to “pass the baton”.  On stage, at the end of my talk, I passed the baton to Gitti Sherzad, a young Afghan women who was planning a fund raiser for families traumatized by the May terrorist bombings in Kabul. Gitti’s fund raiser was held in September. “Pillars for Afghanistan” was an evening of Afghan music, dance, art and food and over $8,000 was raised for the families. 

All through 2017 I have been working on the manuscript for the final book in my “Marathon Trilogy”. The first two were “Marathon” and “Running to the Edge”, and so far, “The Secret Marathon” is on track for a September, 2018 publication date. 

But time marches on and I’m only six weeks away from the 8th Annual Run / Walk. This time I’m fund-raising to build an ice skating rink for the Afghan girls in Bamyan. 

It’s always interesting looking back, to see the path that you’ve traveled and now it’s time for me to look forward, to the year ahead. 

I wonder what I will be writing about, this time next year.

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Not being able to sleep is terrible. You have the misery of having partied all night… without the satisfaction.

Lynn Johnston Canadian cartoonist
How the Lack of a Good Night’s Sleep can Affect your Life.

How the Lack of a Good Night’s Sleep can Affect your Life.

Posted by martin.parnell |

I don’t need to tell you that there’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. It means you’ll wake in the morning feeling refreshed, re-energized and ready to face the day.

Having said that, we also know how rotten we can be left feeling when we don’t get an undisturbed night. When we toss and turn and think we haven’t slept at all and the only thing that tells us otherwise is the fact that we wake up, in the morning! 

Many studies have shown the detrimental effects of lack of sleep. Why else would it be used as a form of torture? I did some reading and it became clear that there are obvious downsides to being overtired, we forget things, we get cranky and we feel less sociable. You have to admit that you don’t function well after a night of poor sleep and work can suffer as a result. That’s because sleep fuels our cognitive processes, attention span, mental alertness, focus, concentration, thinking, communication, learning, and reasoning abilities. 

Some effects that we may not think about are the health issues a lack of sleep can trigger. These include:

Depression - A 2005 sleep study actually found that individuals diagnosed with clinical depression sleep an average of 6 hours a night or less, while those diagnosed with insomnia were approximately 5 times more prone to depression and anxiety disorders.

A decrease in libido - Studies have traced lack of sleep directly to lowered libido in both men and women, due to lack of energy, frustration, and stress. For men with sleep-depriving conditions, testosterone levels may actually decrease.

Weight Gain -Sleep deprivation can lead to poor, sugar-rich, high fat, processed food choices. And when you’re robbed of sleep for a few days in a row, you’re more likely to succumb to hunger and convenience foods while having little energy for exercise, which inevitably leads to weight gain.

If you are a true insomniac, you may be at risk of developing conditions including cardiovascular issues, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Not to mention the dangers it can cause. Nobody should be driving, operating machinery or even doing that spot of DIY, if they are overtired. Mistakes can be made and they can be costly.

Would you want an exhausted person driving your child’s school bus or rewiring your house if they were asleep on their feet? Of course not. So, if lack of sleep is so bad for us adults, what effect can it have on our children?

A recent CBC report highlighted a study published in the current issue of the journal Sleep Medicine, which examined data from two surveys of U.S. adolescents conducted over many years, from 2009 to 2015, "When the mobile technology really saturated the market among adolescents," said Zlatan Krizan, a psychologist specializing in sleep and social behaviour at Iowa State University and co-author of the study. 

They included questions about how many hours of sleep they reported getting. Almost 370,000 adolescents participated. It appears that teens are getting less sleep than they did before smartphones became commonplace, prompting concerns about potentially serious health consequences.

Over the course of that six-year period, they found "a seismic shift in the amount of sleep that a typical teen gets," said Krizan. He and his colleagues found that teens were 16 to 17 per cent more likely to report getting less than seven hours of sleep a night in 2015 than they were in 2009.  The recommended amount of sleep for 13 to 18-year-olds is 8 to 10 hours per night, according to the U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers looked at other factors besides electronic devices that might affect the amount of sleep teens were getting, including working after school, homework and watching TV, but the number of hours spent on those activities remained "relatively stable or reduced" between 2009 and 2015. 

"The only factor that also increased during the time that could be responsible for the shortened sleep is social media, news online and the kind of activities that mobile phones are used for," Krizan said. “Teens who used the technology for two hours or less a day didn't appear to suffer any adverse effects on their sleep. But once you get five hours of use a day or more, you really see a heavily curtailed sleep.”   

Getting enough sleep in adolescence is "crucial," the study noted. In addition to immediate effects, such as performance in school, sleep habits established in the teen years can contribute to sleep patterns and health for adulthood. As in adults, lack of sleep in teens, has been linked to health problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to depression and substance use. 

When it comes to younger children, "If children are not sleeping well the consequences may be problems with behaviour, attention, learning, and memory," says Dr. Shelly Weiss, author of Better Sleep for Your Baby & Child: A Parent's Step-by-Step Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits and Pediatric Program Director at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. 

So, it would appear that lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on all of us. I know it’s easy for me to point out the issues relating to lack of sleep, but not so easy to come up with a solution to deal with it.

I have read several suggestions:  herbal remedies, sipping warm milk and honey before bedtime, creating a “sleep-friendly” environment, adopting a bedtime ritual, taking a hot bath, melatonin etc. The list goes on. 

At the end of the day, if lack of sleep becomes an issue with you, talk to your family doctor.  After all, it’s far more sensible than putting your health, safety, sanity or work in jeopardy.

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Fear makes us feel alive and know we are stepping outside our comfort zones, which is exciting.

Dr.Steve Orma, PsyD, clinical psychologist,
How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

How being Scared with Friends can be a Good Thing

Posted by martin.parnell |

Tomorrow evening, as in many countries, children across Canada will be donning their Halloween costumes and heading out to go trick or treating. 

The strange thing is, at any other time of the year, if you told them that there were ghosts, zombies and monsters on every corner, they would be terrified. But not tomorrow night. The more horror the better.  They will laugh at skeletons dangling from trees, giant spiders crawling up the sides of houses and pumpkins with terrifying faces. 

I wonder if it’s because we regard Halloween as “fun’. Something we enjoy together and, of course, there’s the build-up. Some children will have spent weeks deciding on what they want to be, when it comes to their costume, maybe they spent time making it. Many stores stock Halloween products well in advance and maybe kids get acclimatised. Then, there’s the candy. Go out and be scared, but reward yourself with a bag full of candy. And it’s not just the kids. Many adults will be dressing up too, going to parties or curling up, in front of a screen to watch a scary movie. We too like to take that step out of our comfort zone. 

But, for many adults, they don’t need the excuse of Halloween to go out and deliberately place themselves in a position to be scared. Do you know someone who has done something that has made them feel afraid? Maybe they went skydiving, climbed a mountain or rode a roller coaster. I was at Science North, in Ontario, last year and plucked up the courage to handle a tarantula, so as to show my grandkids that spiders are not to be feared. Actually, I was terrified, almost as much as when I bungee jumped over Victoria Falls. 

I began to wonder whether or not being just a little scared might actually be a good thing. Maybe if we have been confronted by something that scares us, we feel stronger by facing that fear. After all, it’s an emotion we all share and is crucial to our ability to survive. Without that fear factor in our biological make-up, we wouldn’t be able to respond when we are in danger. 

 I did some research and found an article by Jenn Sinrich, in Reader’s Digest that suggests being scared can, actually have some benefits. Sinrich quotes Debbie Mandel, MA, stress-management specialist, radio show host and author of Addicted to Stress. who says that “The excitement generated can also help alleviate depression by the increase in norepinephrine (adrenaline), which in turn increases arousal, excitement and glucose (converted into energy). Being scared takes us completely away from our everyday worries and depression. It’s nearly impossible to be thinking of our pressures and worries when we’re experiencing fear or feeling scared. It works like an eraser for the mind.” 

We all have to face scary things in our lives, some far more serious than others. Some that no amount of laughter and candy can diminish. But when it comes to the smaller things, maybe it is easier to face them when there’s an adult or bunch of friends along with you.  Dr. John, Mayer, MD, leading practicing psychologist, author and expert on violence states, “The hormone oxytocin has been associated with ‘prosocial’ behavior, making us want to bond with others and seek out the comfort of others. The classic image of people huddling together on the couch while watching a scary movie or hugging at a theatre are perfect examples.” 

If that’s the case, I wondered how this theory might apply to how this state of “fear” might translate to the workplace. Maybe we can utilise that feeling to motivate us, especially when working with colleagues. Debbie Mandel reasons that “Many people need that adrenaline rush of the eleventh hour whether it’s to tackle a project at work or a write a paper on deadline. It also helps you delegate and be part of a team. According to evolution we’re tribal, which makes sense that in a work setting we need members of our tribe or team to help us survive that scary saber tooth tiger that is hitting certain goals.” 

On an individual level, we are told that ‘The acute stress that accompanies fear is also good for you, because it keeps you vigilant and wakes you up to perform better as in public speaking or simply waking up in the morning!  Cortisol levels rise in the morning to wake you up from a prolonged period of sleep.” 

So, I guess being a little scared is no bad thing. I’ll bear that in mind, next time I’m waiting in the wings, ready to go on stage and give a keynote presentation. Maybe I should repeat this mantra:  “Fear is good”.

Who knows, it might even help. Anyway, whatever you are doing tomorrow evening, Happy Halloween!

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Talking to oneself is a recognized means to learn, in fact, self-speak may be the seed concept behind human consciousness.

Kilroy J. Oldster
Talking to Yourself can Help You be Prepared

Talking to Yourself can Help You be Prepared

Posted by martin.parnell |

We probably all know someone who has the habit of muttering to themselves and might put it down to being one of their “little idiosyncrasies”, but according to a Harvard Management “Tip of the Day” for October 12th, they might just be ahead of the game. 

In the article entitled “To Learn Something, Explain It to Yourself Out Loud”, adapted from “Talking to Yourself (Out Loud) Can Help You Learn,” by Ulrich Boser, it suggests that  muttering under your breath can be a helpful way to learn a new concept or skill:

When you’re studying something new, either reading about it or listening to others explain, it, take the time to pause and summarize out loud what you’re learning. This serves two purposes: First, it slows you down — and when you’re more deliberate, you gain more from the learning experience. Second, it cements the new knowledge by forcing you to consider questions like “What do I find confusing? Do I really know this well enough to explain it?” Whether you hit the pause button while listening to a podcast, or stop to reflect while reading a manual, tell yourself what you’re learning — maybe just don’t do it in public. 

I know there have been times when I’ve been reading instructions and have found myself reading instructions out loud, especially when there are several steps. 

In a piece entitled “Self-made millionaire: 3 ways that talking to yourself can help you succeed”, on the CNBC website, Grant Cardone suggests: “In order to be successful, you may want to try talking to yourself. It sounds strange, but I've found that positive self-talk can help a person's attitude immensely. That, in turn, leads to better relationships with others, higher self-esteem and more productive days. Here are three ways to have a more positive attitude in order to succeed in life. Talk to yourself and think positive thoughts. What you say when you talk to yourself creates your attitude. 

People wonder why their life isn't exciting: It's their think and their talk. Your entire life is created by your thoughts—and then by your language. The thoughts that you have are created in part by the language you use. If you think it, you'll say it and then you'll do it. This is why so many people try and change behavior, but it doesn't last. If you don't change your thought process, you won't change your verbal process, and you won't change your actions.” 

Cardone goes on to suggest we also change our vocabulary: “Start using the language that highly-successful people employ every day. Do you think highly successful people with great attitudes, when asked how their weekend was, reply, "It was okay" or "It was same old same old"? No, the people that answer that way are mundane. "Alright, it's okay, so-so, nothing special.” Successful people don't talk like that. Some examples of words to include in your new vocabulary: "Great," "super," "wonderful," "incredible," "excellent."

When I’m preparing new talk, I always say it out loud and sometimes record it, to see if it makes sense and sounds right. I also do this when I’m preparing questions, for my workshops.

It helps to know that the vocabulary and tone sound right and everything is properly explained. Sometimes you can’t quite get that from just reading what you’ve written, when it’s for someone else.

So, next time you see someone muttering to themselves, just remember they may just be learning something worthwhile, or formulating the next great innovation!

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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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