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Grandparents: I had a Soft Spot for Grandpa

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”  ~A.A. Milne

The love between a grandparent and a grandchild is something special.  It’s something quite different from that of a parent and child.  Grandparents often hear our secrets, spoil us rotten, and understand us in ways that few others do. We believe we can do anything and it’s because they told us so.

I recently reached out to three people I know to share what they loved most about their grandparents.

This week, I’ll share their heartwarming stories in three separate posts.

Get your kleenex ready.



Alec Whitfield
Stories shared by his granddaughter, Emma

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A favourite picture of the two of us.  This photo reminds me of how consistent my Grandpa was in my life.



Grandpa was the kindest, gentlest, loving man I have ever met.  
It’s not something that I can easily explain, but there was an extra special bond between my Grandpa and myself and it was just “fact”–and I think we both liked it that way.

I had a soft spot for Grandpa and he had a soft spot for me.  

He was quick with his humour, often rolling out pun after pun with a quiet giggle to follow. He was always searching out a new joke to share at Rotary, usually so full of low brow humour that the groans were as loud as the laughter.

One thing that I especially loved about my Grandpa was that he was always playful.  He was known on one occasion (and with some help of my Grandma), to show up as the 4th player at a ladies’ bridge lunch in a dress and bonnet.

For weeks I would get a call here and there…”We found another one, you rascal!” followed by giggles of laughter.

On many occasions as we were leaving London to head back to our home in Toronto, I would take it upon myself to run around the basement hiding pictures of my sister and I (taken from the photo boxes) in drawers, on the laundry line, under cans of soup–wherever Grandpa might find them.

When my Grandparents came to Toronto–I was moved into my sister’s room so that they could use my bedroom.  And once they left, I returned to my room, only to find a picture of Grandma and Grandpa tucked under my pillow, left by Grandpa.


My Grandpa wrote my sister and I letters from about the time we were 8 and 9 years old.


We received these letters on our birthdays and while we attended summer camp. The letters were like mini history lessons. My Grandpa had pretty much a photographic memory (which actually kept him from being enlisted in the war because the company he worked for, Emco, was being used for ammunitions and he was the only person who knew all the parts codes from memory!)

He knew how to work hard.
He was one of 13 children, in a family raised in South-Western Ontario, mostly in London, where he was responsible for peeling potatoes at a young age and walking the railway tracks to look for coal or wood that had fallen off the trains so that he could take them back to help heat the family home.


I will say that the person who reminds me most of my Grandpa is my husband.


They only met once for a short afternoon in the winter before he passed away, but my husband and Grandpa share so many similarities when it comes to humour and disposition that I swear in another life they must have crossed paths!

Grandma and Grandpa both died in 2013. Grandpa passed away on April 1st (perhaps fitting that it was April Fool’s for a man who loved a good laugh) and my Grandma the following August.  I take great comfort in knowing they are together, hand in hand, exactly how they’d like to be.


After he passed away, and before my wedding day, I got a tattoo of his signature on my wrist.  A reminder of the imprint his words and his stories and his wisdom have had on my life.

It is rarely a day that goes by that I am not reminded of something he did or said.  I take those moments as his way of letting me know he’s always with me.


Writer’s Note: This story was shared by Alec’s granddaughter, Emma.  I met Emma when I was in university at Brock.  We were both in the education program.  We haven’t seen each other in 15 years and only connect by seeing each other’s lives through Facebook posts.  

But I remember when Emma’s grandpa passed away.

She wrote the most beautiful post, sharing all of the things she loved about him.  How he was the first person to teach her how to write a cheque, how they played competitive games of scrabble together…her words were simple and honest.  I could tell how much he meant to her.

So when I decided to put together this blog post, I immediately thought of her.  A quick message through Facebook and it was as though 15 years hadn’t passed.  Within the day, Emma sent me her story about her grandpa.  I hope you enjoyed reading it.  

Where Writers Write

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Scraps of paper from a purse during a morning commute, napkins from a little coffee shop, paper menus from a diner late at night – the beginnings of some of our favourite books.   Likely scribbled in haste to capture the thought before it was gone.

Yet it’s funny that we have a romantic view of where writers write.

We might picture a beautiful mahogany desk.  From the window, light spills across papers and there are books stacked on every flat surface.  There’s soft music playing in the background as they punch away at their computer, or even better, a typewriter.  Or maybe they slide a beautiful pen across paper.  

Not in my world.

This is just a little post to share where I do my writing…


Being “Innovative” is Easier than you Think
On my iPhone 6, it’s 3 a.m., and I’m writing in my Notes app.   Our son, who’s a month and a half old, is lying in my lap.  I’m just waiting for him to fall asleep so I can put him into his space pod (what we lovingly call the 4 Mom’s swing – the only thing he will sleep in).  It’s been two hours of waiting so far.  Every move I make triggers a flailing of his arms and legs.  I keep writing.

The Best Job Posting I’ve Ever Read
Standing near the stove in the kitchen.  Our youngest is in the Baby Bjorn and the fan above the stove is on high.  The rumble puts him to sleep and I write.  Our oldest is running around the house playing like a madman.

I Still Find Her Letters
Standing near the stove again.  God I love this fan.  Our little one is sleeping and our oldest is snoozing comfortably upstairs in his crib.  Good thing.  He’d be wondering what’s wrong with Mom?  Why is she crying?

Coffee Drinking, Bacon Inhaling Ninjas
Hello fan, we meet again.  Yes, my writing time includes a stove top, 14 pounds strapped to the front of me and a napping toddler.  But I’ll take it.    

Reckless, Stupid, and Irresponsible: The Pursuit of Dream Jobs
Paw Patrol.  He LOVES it.  One is sleeping on my chest and the other teething, grumpy, and in need of a little down time.  He has his blanket and the only cartoon he’ll watch.  

Where Writers Write.  

Anomaly.  One in the crib and the other sleeping in a swing.  I have no child attached to me.  This feels strange.  I sit on the floor, computer on coffee table. I might actually have a cup of hot tea.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love being a Mom.  Toothy smiles, belly laughs over the silliest of things, and days filled with play and trips to the park.  

I also love when they sleep.  When the house is unusually quiet and I can sneak a little bit of time for myself.  It’s then that I write.

The title of this blog was inspired by an article I recently read:  Where Writers Write: Discover the weird and wonderful writing sanctuaries of some of your favourite authors.  It’s a great read and I think you might like it.  

Some set up camp in a bathtub to do their writing or in a shed outdoors.  Although a bit unusual, they were able to find quiet places to think and get away from it all.

Maybe my stove top is more romantic than it seems.


Reckless, Stupid and Irresponsible: The Pursuit of Dream Jobs

I recently asked a friend, “What is your Dream Job?”   It’s always fun to hear what people would love to do.  Here’s what he said…

I’m pretty lucky that I’m doing exactly what I love and if I were independently wealthy I likely wouldn’t change much.

Lucky.  We have this belief that somehow there are a few people out there, the lucky few, who get to do work they love.  But I don’t think it’s luck.  

There was a lot of ‘background noise’ from family, etc. who thought someone starting a PhD at 30 was crazy, irresponsible, etc (stupid was the word most often used) but I just let that noise fade into the background.

The funny thing is that once people saw how passionate I was about my area, how much I loved working hard on something I loved, the laughter ended and I think people got a bit jealous that they didn’t have that same passion for their own work.  

-Wyatt Simmons

So why is it reckless to pursue something we love?  

Stupid isn’t a word I’d use to describe someone with a PhD, who has published multiple books and articles, and travels around the world to speak at conferences about his research.  What if he would have listened to them?

This week I asked five people to share their dream jobs and explain what’s holding them back.


Dream Jobs

If there was nothing holding you back, what would you love to try?

My plan is to get a used Mini Cooper, paint it, and drive around Canada and the US making street espressos, lattes, and flat whites for some lucky people. My car will be a beacon of rich, creamy caffeine for unsuspecting souls in dire need of a double shot.
– The Espresso Dragon

My dream job would be a travel blog writer (and get paid to do it).  It combines three things I love to do:  travel to new and exciting places, plan, act, reflect, and write, and finally to help people by giving good advice.  -Brooke Daniels

I would still love to do my PhD and over the past few years I’ve been very drawn to entrepreneurship. I’ve gone through a few iterations of what this might look like, ranging from very unique C2C solutions to more straightforward service & product driven businesses. I’m still undecided.   -Sarah

My dream job would be with the FBI on their behavioural analysis unit…yes like Criminal Minds!  I studied some psychology and actually majored in criminology for two years.  -BAUgirl


Why Not?

What are some reasons why you wouldn’t give it a go?

By the time this occurs, I hope to be a grandfather and have my espresso-mobile double as a babysitting vehicle.  – The Espresso Dragon

I don’t know who would hire me to do it and I’m not sure I would have enough followers if I started my own blog since I need this to pay the bills for all the travelling I am planning on doing.  – Brooke Daniels

I’m risk adverse by default, and that doesn’t always jive well with entrepreneurship! Perhaps it will be something I explore while I’m also working full time, or maybe I’ll luck out and get fired which would force my hand! – Sarah

I stopped pursuing my dream because of “the” guy. I met a guy with whom I was engaged to and he really did not see himself with that kind of career woman…so, I switched!  Regrets…I have a few….  -BAUgirl

To me, these jobs aren’t out of reach.  They’re not impossible.  Especially when I know this group of people.  

They are intelligent.  Driven.  Always challenging themselves and always learning something new.  I admire each of them for different reasons.  If anyone could make their dream jobs a reality, it’s this bunch.  

And yet, I don’t know if they will.  This may sound harsh and that’s not my intention.

We love how dream jobs sound in theory, myself included, but according to the Huffington Post, only about 30% of us actually do it.  Why is that?

Because there’s a chance that it won’t work out.  We hear stories about people who went bankrupt.  Stress that broke up marriages.  Best friends who were once partners but haven’t spoken in a year.

Our imaginations take over and we picture the worst.  And when those closest to us, family and friends, begin to doubt the possibility of us being successful, it seems downright impossible.

And yet around 30% of us still do it.

I spoke with a few friends who are retired.  I wanted to know what advice they’d give.  What would you say to someone who plans to pursue their dream job in retirement?  Should they wait?  Is retirement all it’s cracked up to be?  

Deep down, I hoped they’d say, Do it now.  You never know what’s going to happen.  Retirement isn’t what people think it is…[insert personal story that would inspire me to take a leap].  

But here’s what they said…

[In retirement] we have more time and security to think about what we want to do.  We can exercise more care and caution when it comes to making personal compromises.  I think this inspires a new kind of energy to whatever becomes the “dream job” because it’s not the job itself, whatever it is, that is the ideal but how it is achieved in the balance of a new, more carefully examined life.   -Cate

I retired, spur of the moment.  I had no plans.  I find that of all my friends who retired, I apparently am the only one not dealing well with it and that’s probably because I loved working.  I find I sit on the couch and watch TV or I am on the computer all day.  I do volunteer twice a week at the Hope Centre but that does not give me the excitement I had when I worked.  It just kills time.

I would say go for it.  The only thing that can happen, is they either make it or they don’t, but at least they tried.  Who knows, if it fails, something different might come out of it and it becomes something better. Time, well, there is nothing but time.   -Connie

Life is unpredictable.  Achieving your dream job at any time of your life is contingent upon what rightly requires your best energy and attention.  Your dream job needs to fit into the vagaries of what makes up your very real life and it’s immediate demands.  This is not terrible.  This is in line with a new kind of personal growth; something that evolves organically and from within rather than being imposed upon you from some external source.  This is life-affirming and personally enriching if it is successful.  – Cate

Life-affirming.  Personally enriching.  

Yes, you need to be smart about the decisions you make and think about the best interests of those around you.

Yes, you are your worst critic.  And you may have others join in to share how “stupid” you’re being and suggest that you think it through.   

And yes, it is scary.  You don’t know how things will turn out.

But I still want to be in that 30%.  

Reckless, stupid, irresponsible, and happy.

Coffee Drinking, Bacon Inhaling Ninjas

Friendly twitter ninja. Coffee scholar. Bacon junkie. Thinker. Music aficionado.

Subtly charming coffee expert. Friendly thinker. Total music ninja.
Wannabe pop culture specialist.


Our online bios are all starting to sound the same.  Future anthropologists will think that we only consumed bacon, drank coffee, and were actually a generation of ninja warriors.

It’s a shame.  A world full of interesting people, each with their own “thing,” are being whittled down to a generic one liner.

But how do you write something that truly captures who you are?  It’s not easy.

I’ve been struggling to write a bio that is truly me.  I recently turned to the web to find inspiration.  I found it.

Smart, simple, playful, effective, and fun.  Charlene D’Aoust decided to take the humble bios of her colleagues and rewrite them in a blog post, titled: “10 Reasons Why I Love Working at 88 Creative.”  She showcased their unique skills and shared what she admired about each person.  She did an incredible job.

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10 Reasons I Love Working at 88 Creative (to read full post)


These bios give a sense of each person – their strengths professionally and what people love about them personally.  They also show that quality writing can breathe life into something that’s usually mundane.

Thank you, @charlene_daoust!  My notebook now includes snippets of your post.  Lines I love, notes about tone and how you structured each bio.  More inspiration as I work to craft my own.


This week, take a look at your bio.

Does it reflect who you are as a person?  If it does, that’s great! They aren’t easy to write. If your bio doesn’t,  maybe it’s time to rework it a bit.

Find three bios you love.  Search organizations that share the same values or interests as you.   Look up people who inspire you.  Whatever you do, don’t Google, “How to Write a Good Bio.”  You won’t find yourself there.

Yes, you’ll be lurking a bit but those three bios will say a lot about you.  You’ll likely be drawn to a writing style that matches your personality.  Maybe you’re a laid back kind of guy and will like bios that are short, humble, and easygoing.  Or you might come across a bio that describes your values and skill set in an artful way.

It’s hard to write about yourself.  But it’s easy to see yourself in someone else’s writing. Learn from them and make it your own.

Once you’ve reworked your bio, read it to a friend, family member, or colleague.  You’ll know you’ve hit the mark when they say, “that’s so you.”   If they don’t, ask them to choose one word to describe you.  Figure out a way to have it come through in your writing.

You may be thinking that what I’m suggesting is too personal and unnecessary.  It leaves us in a vulnerable place.  Why does someone need to know that I like chick flicks?  Why? Because someone else will say, “so do I!!”  Relating to each other is what humans do.

Without a little vulnerability, we’re just a bunch of coffee drinking, bacon inhaling ninjas.




I Still Find Her Letters

She’s been on my mind so much lately that it makes sense to write about her.  It’s during
those rare, quiet moments in the day that I find myself missing her.

It’s likely because I’ve been writing.  It was our thing.

















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Five years ago, my grandma and I wrote and published a book together.

It was a collection of short stories about her life in Northwestern Ontario.









Where other kids in class had grandmothers who baked cookies and wore aprons, my grandma wore cargo pants, snowshoed through the wilderness, and could shoot a rifle better than most men.

She was a beautiful writer, a skilled pianist, and an avid curler. 




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She would curl in men’s bonspiels just for fun.  She loved a challenge.

She always said there was only one guy she was unable to beat.










I encouraged her to write short stories about her life.  She’d send them to me in the mail. Stories on loose leaf paper and in various notebooks.   I loved seeing her handwriting mixed in amongst our mail.  








She shared her adventures as a child.  Going bird hunting with her dog, Buttons.  Building ramps to try her hand at ski jumping.  Avoiding church by going for long nature walks
with her Dad.

She described in such beautiful detail what she loved about flowers, nature, and being outdoors.








She wrote about my grandpa. Neighbours called him a “wild one.” He loved to fight at dances but also liked to waltz.  He was misunderstood by many but she knew his kind heart.

She told of their life together living in the wilderness.  The crunch of snow under their snowshoes, the swift rapids they travelled, and the many times they almost died.







Writing the book took about a year.  I’d stay up until midnight, sometimes 2 or 3 a.m.  Writing, revising, laying out pages.  I’d grab some sleep and get up early so I could continue writing at a Starbucks near work.  It was still dark when I got there.

My laptop, latest draft covered in scribbles and notes, a tea, and a pen.  I’d write until the coffee shop was filled with morning sun.  I’d lose track of time.  I was happy.




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I learned the process of self-publishing and how to register for an ISBN.  Another published writer helped me over email and answered my many questions about what to do next.

I learned about bleed and trim and felt like a researcher trying to track down old survey maps and information from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

I helped coordinate interviews with my gram and newspaper writers back home, in hopes that an article in the local paper would help promote her book and upcoming book launch.

She sold 1,500 copies.  I was so proud of her.



She was so excited.  I looked forward to her phone calls.   To hear about the compliment she received at the post office the other day or the person at the grocery store
who wanted to take her out for coffee.  

She loved when people told her the book made them cry.
To her, it was a measure of her writing.  She knew she had reached them.



Each time we spoke, she gave me a count of how many books were left.  As the number dwindled, I think she worried about the day when they were all gone.  That day never came.


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When my gram passed away almost two years ago, we found 20 books left in a box in her bedroom.  They were divided amongst our family as keepsakes, which is funny because we all had bought at least 10 copies each.  But for us, it was a little piece of her that still remained.

She left personal items for each member of our family.  For me, she left her writing.





I am so thankful for the experience of writing with her.  Instead of talking to each other once a month, we talked multiple times a day.

Talking about sections to rewrite, debates over grammar, and her putting me in my place because I wanted to include personal stories that she didn’t want to include.

I was lucky to share some very private moments with her and to learn more about the woman I admired.  It made me love and miss her even more.  





I still find her letters throughout the house.  Tucked inside books here and there.   


On those days when I realize how long it’s been since we’ve talked and I miss the sound of her voice, I take out her book or read her letters, just to hear her again.  That’s the power of writing.  I can hear her sarcasm, her sense of humour, her say-it-like-it-is approach to life.  Her.  The book and her letters give me her again for a little moment in time.  


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Writing her obituary was the hardest and most important piece I’ve ever written.

I knew what she hated.  She disliked the term “love of her life.”  She found the long list of family members’ names to be impersonal.  Write about the person.

Her voice was in my head.  I knew she’d care about how it was written
and we both had high expectations.  I still think that I could have done a better job.


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In true grandma fashion, she left us a letter in her safety deposit box.  She knew we would find it.  She wanted to say goodbye and to tell us how much we meant to her. 



“Someday you’ll write your own [book].”  Gram told me on the phone one day.
I will.  And it will be dedicated to her.






This week, take a few moments and write a letter to someone you love.  No email.  Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Tell them what you love about them and why they’re an important part of your life.

It will be a little piece of you that they’ll always have.



The Best Job Posting I’ve Ever Read

Lots of plaid, hipster glasses, dogs, and coffee. An outsider’s take on #HootsuiteLife on the west coast.  I know someone who works at their office in Vancouver.  His tweets and Instagram photos of team retreats, office antics, and camaraderie are endless.  He tweeted the job posting one day.

I’ve never worked at Hootsuite but after reading this job posting I wish I did.

I was surprised by the writing style.  It came across as very personal.  Usually job postings feel formal and detached.  They follow a formula; the job description is riddled with verbs and buzzwords and the list of qualifications is there to weed people out.

This was totally the opposite.

Rather than trying to weed people out, it felt like Hootsuite was encouraging others to join them.  It was refreshing that a global corporation could have such a small startup feel.  The language was honest.  They didn’t want people with egos.  They wanted someone with exceptional talent that could still have fun.  And most impressive of all, they wanted applicants to know they’d support their career pursuits.  The nerd in me LOVED this.  I’ve never seen anything like this in a job posting before.

See for yourself…

Hoot 1Hoot 2(a small portion of the job posting shared above)

What do you think? Does this sound like a place where you’d like to work?

I’m not saying that we all need to apply for a job at Hootsuite.  I’m sure there are a lot of great places to work that have an amazing culture.  You may even work there already.  And if you don’t, the good news is, you can start creating it tomorrow.    

This week, bring a little Hootsuite to your workplace.

Buy a new plaid shirt.  Get some new glasses.  Bring your dog to work (or get a new dog). Bring in your coffee press.  Just kidding.  Get a group of coworkers to go out for a drink after work one night. Ask a colleague for their help on a project.  Go work in another part of the office and talk with someone you don’t know all that well.  And don’t forget to have some fun.

Culture is contagious. Get it started.

Being “Innovative” is Easier Than You Think

An opportunity to be “innovative” presents itself every day. It doesn’t need to involve brainstorming wild ideas with a group of people at a whiteboard.

Simply including the word in job titles or the name of a team doesn’t make it happen either. It’s simply being creative with what we already have in front of us.

Here are some easy things you can do day-to-day to keep an open mind.

5 Steps to Being More “Innovative”:

1. Stop using the term. Period.

You don’t need to use a word to describe the way we can all see the world every day. Being innovative is to observe, think, and then act. What’s the underlying need? What might work to solve it? Let’s give it a go. Instead it’s become a buzzword that makes good thinking seem out of reach to the average person.

My grandfather had an elementary school education. He lived in a remote area of Northwestern Ontario, where it was sometimes difficult to get into town for supplies. I remember my grandpa’s workshop. It was a jumble of tools, wood, metal, odds and ends from floor to ceiling. It was the place where he could solve any problem, whether he needed to create his own part to temporarily repair an ATV or weld a contraption to store large quantities of fuel. He was always coming up with innovative ideas, and he wasn’t an Innovation Officer or the team lead of an innovation team. It is within reach of us all.

2. Mix it up.

Spend time with people who have different backgrounds, interests, and strengths than you. These are the people who can introduce you to new ideas and information.

An animator from Pixar, a content strategist at Google, a mechanical engineer for GE, a freelance creative director from Los Angeles, a graphic designer from Whirlpool, a video game designer, a recent graduate with her first startup called Bees Downtown…

I’m currently taking an online course with this great group of people. The course, Storytelling for Influence, is offered through the design firm, IDEO. With such a mix of participants, it’s a great opportunity to learn and get ideas from different fields. Yet when it came time to create our smaller working groups, it was surprising to see what happened. Let’s organize by time zone…hey, we’re all in marketing…we all want to convince people to buy our product… It was disappointing that the group didn’t take advantage of learning from people who were quite different from them.

I’m not saying never work with likeminded people. I’m just saying make sure you also look for and take advantage of a chance to mix things up. “Innovation” is about seeing the world in an interconnected way. Kind of hard to do when you’re working and thinking within the same circle.

3. Try a new activity or hobby. Experience something new.

Sign up for that pottery class or start researching nearby bike trails. You will introduce yourself to a new group of people and start noticing connections to your work.

When I first tried yoga, I was teaching a grade eight class. As I was being guided through the poses, I quickly noticed how our instructor would differentiate depending on people’s bodies and their current abilities. The language she used was so accepting and encouraging. “If you are ready for a challenge…if this is where you are today…next time you might try…” It was admirable how she made everyone feel comfortable with where they were and that we all knew what our next steps could be.

I left that first yoga class more aware of the language I was using in my classroom and worked hard to provide a similar environment for my students.

Sometimes it’s what we experience outside of our workplaces that provides us with the new perspectives we need.

4. Read something you normally wouldn’t.

Flip through a magazine that your partner/spouse is reading. Read a different section of the newspaper online, like the obituaries. Yes, you read that correctly. The obituaries.

I know it sounds weird and kind of dark, but I like to read them. A great writer will make you feel like you knew the person or wish you had. The others just blend together with their generic language and colloquialisms. By reading them, it helps me work towards becoming a better writer. I’m learning to make the most out of a few words. It’s pretty challenging to capture the true essence of a person, what you love most about them, in just a few sentences.

Take opportunities to learn in odd places.

5. Look for Inspiration. (This one’s my favourite.)

Open your eyes to the world around you. Look for things that interest you, are clever in design, or make you think.

I took the subway to hot yoga the other night. Across from me was a great poster promoting the places we love around Toronto. The Beach. Distillery District. Kensington Market. Little Italy… I loved the design. It was hand drawn and almost whimsical. I should have taken a photo. If I need to design something in the future, I want to reference it for inspiration.

Or the other day I was waiting on hold for 15 minutes just to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Trying to make the call during a rare moment that both boys were sleeping. 15 minutes…there has to be a better way. Maybe an online booking site? Another idea that might be useful in some way later on down the road. Tuck it away.

Through these five steps, we gather ideas and learn as we go. When a certain project or problem presents itself, then we have a great collection of ideas to pull from and put together in new ways.

So your challenge for this week — change it up! Be wild and let loose.

Purposely sit with colleagues you don’t usually eat lunch with. Sign up for that pottery class that you’ve always talked about. Look up from your phone during your morning commute and see what interests you. Then share your experience in the comment section below.  I’d love to hear about it!

What wild antics did you get up to?  Learn anything new? Congratulations, you’re already being “innovative.”

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