Back to Business

Last weekend, my daughter Taylor was reading something intently on her iPad.

“I’m reading your blog,” she said.

“Oh my gosh,” I said.  “I haven’t posted anything in ages.”

“Is that because you don’t have anything to write about?”

“No, it’s because now that I’ve gone back to work, I don’t have time.”

“Maybe you could write about how you’re addicted to Hay Day,” she said.

Point well made.

I was first introduced to Hay Day last fall, by Jack and Taylor.  Although in all my years of growing up on a farm I never once lifted a pitchfork, the concept of my own virtual farm intrigued me.  Before I knew it, Jack and I had launched a joint venture on my iPad.  At first I needed Jack’s coaching to help me find the hidden boxes filled with goodies and figure out how to price things for quick sale on my roadside stand.  But in time, I needed his help less and less and relied on him only when I couldn’t be Hay Day-ing myself.

“Hey Jack, I’ve got to go to the grocery store, but my boat will leave in half an hour and I’m still waiting for a pumpkin pie to bake.  Can you make sure that you load it in twenty minutes or so?”

Since returning to full time work this past January, I’ve had to adjust my Hay Day activities, getting my Monday to Friday farming fix only in the evenings.  But on weekends still I check in every couple of hours to make sure I’m optimizing the output of my production buildings.  Bacon pies, carrot cakes, strawberry ice cream cones, juices, jams, cheeses, and even knitted sweaters and hats, pour out of my little farm on a daily basis.

Connecting with friends on Facebook made the game even better.  Early on, I connected with Taylor, some of her friends, and my twenty-something year old nieces.  Playing a game with young people made me feel ‘plugged in’ and every time I helped fill one of their boat orders or revived one of their fruit trees, I felt like I was sending them a little bit of love.  One person couldn’t possibly fill all those crates on the boat!  I had to rely on other people too, often strangers, to help me fill boat orders.  Before long, my farm was fully knitted into the bigger community that is Hay Day.

A couple of months ago, Jack abandoned his farm in favour of Clash of the Clans and Taylor recently packed it in for Video Star.  My nieces also seem to have moved on, with Facebook updates now lauding their achievements on Candy Crush.  More and more, the strangers who help my boat have farm names comprised of Russian and Arabic characters and I’m coming to accept that playing Hay Day may no longer qualify me as ‘current’ here in North America.  I’ve been playing for almost a year now and my friends are all gone; I’ve succeeded in expanding my farm to the max and have amassed a virtual fortune of gold coins.  And yet, I still can’t seem to bring myself to give it up.

For me, the appeal of Hay Day is its industriousness.  On a farm, there is always something that needs to be done, and together, all these little actions lead to something bigger. 

Three years ago, when I said goodbye to my corporate job, I pictured a new and improved life of leisure.  I imagined myself spending time writing in my journal.  I would take long walks in the woods.  I would watch Dr. Phil and read magazines.  Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I am not wired for a leisurely life. 

The magazines I had wished I had time to read all those years, turned out to be full of fluff.  Every time I sat down with my morning coffee and tried to read one, I felt my mind wandering to other more important things I felt I should be doing.  So instead, the cupboards got cleaned, the baseboards got a fresh coat of paint and the crabgrass got pulled from the lawn.  I felt better when I was getting something ‘done’ but the endlessness of household chores made the whole enterprise seem futile.  The clean house got dirty again.  The gourmet dinner was soon eaten and forgotten.  The cupboards got re-cluttered and the baseboards got scuffed.  Even my marketing consulting projects were temporary.  Companies brought me in to do my thing, and then I moved on. 

Hay Day helped me remember how much I like running a business.  I like being involved in making stuff and selling it.  I like being part of a team and striving to achieve long term goals.  And I like being involved in something beyond myself. 

For the longest time, I thought that I worked in business because I had a mortgage to pay.  But thanks to Hay Day, and a brand new role at a company that is full of opportunity and void of bureaucracy, I now know that for me, industry isn’t just a means to an end. 

This is What Happens When Worlds Collide

One year ago today, momversusmarketer was born.  Like all milestones, it seems like I was slugging it out on the elliptical just yesterday when the idea hit me.  On the other hand I find it hard to picture a time before the blog existed.  With 34 posts under my belt, I’ve covered a lot of territory.  Everything from strategic commentary on RIM’s management re-structure to personal reflections on my Mother’s life and the lessons she taught me.

Before I quit my corporate job, I kept my work-self and my home-self pretty separate from each other.  But now, working on marketing consulting projects at my dining room table with a load of laundry tumbling around in the background, my worlds collide.

And it’s not just me.  The digital age is bringing all of us together in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

I heard a debate recently over whether it was appropriate for a company to demand access to a potential employee’s facebook profile as a condition of employment.  As you can imagine, the candidate was hesitant to grant this access.  What if someone, somewhere in the annals of the monolith that is facebook, tagged a photo of her from years gone by wearing a wet t-shirt and drinking beer from a funnel?  Would it cost her the job?  As long as she didn’t wear that wet t-shirt to work, or drink beer from a funnel at the company picnic, it shouldn’t be a problem, right?  But the nagging question is whether or not the company would be willing to see beyond the photo and trust that most people have the good sense to know there is a time and a place for this sort of thing.

We worry that a temporary lapse in judgement will be taken out of context and used against us.

While working as a waitress at Pizza Chief one summer, I deeply regret the angle at which I was holding a young family’s pizza while focussed the jug of root beer I was placing down.  Much to my horror, the pizza slid from the pan onto their table, partially upside down in the ashtray.  With two hungry kids and a 1980’s industrial oven that required 20 minutes to produce a fresh pizza, the mother chose to brush off the ashes and eat the messy pie rather than wait for another.  Imagine the YouTube potential had all this been caught on video!  Most restaurant servers have at least one embarrassing story to tell, but what if all these mis-steps were posted for pre-employment scrutiny?  Would we eventually all end up having to dine out buffet style?

Transparency is something we demand of corporations, something we desire of our government and something that we count on in our closest relationships.  But when it comes to our interaction with the world at large, transparency makes us vulnerable and that can be scary.  By far the most frightening blogs I posted over the past year were the ones about my Mom.  After posting each one, I closely monitored my readership statistics.  I could see that people were reading them but the posts received no comments.  I worried that my brothers had taken issue with how I described our Mother.  I worried that my business colleagues were thinking that the disciplined business professional they once knew, had into a sappy navel-gazer.

Interestingly, although the online comments were thin, I have since learned that these were some of my readers’ favourite posts.    In writing these pieces, I exposed a part of myself that few had seen before.  Private thoughts turned public.  People got a more complete picture of who I am, where I came from and the experiences that shaped my whole person.  And having this insight has made all my writing a little more interesting to read.

So perhaps more transparency is a good thing.  Sharing our flawed human experience can help us connect to each other.  It can give us broader insights that might make us more forgiving of future mistakes.  And knowing that passing words and actions can have permanence in today’s digital age may even contribute to increased civility at large, by motivating people to hold themselves to a higher standard in their day to day lives.  Wise words to live by — If you won’t be proud of it in the morning, don’t do it tonight.

I must admit, I’m pretty proud of momversusmarketer.  By merging multiple sides of myself (mom, marketer and writer) I’ve developed new insights that I think have made me better on all three fronts.  Inner collaboration.  Like swamp-water from the soda machine; the magic is in the mixing.

Bird Calling

Many years ago my Mother installed a simple goldfinch feeder in her backyard garden, and it instantly attracted scores of brilliant yellow male finches and their less spectacularly feathered mates.  Always a pretty place to spend time, my Mother’s garden came alive in a new way.  Sitting on the patio together, she and I would motion excitedly whenever a particularly impressive number of birds were gathered to feast on the feeder.  The all time record was nine; one on each of the six feeding pegs and three more on top of the feeder, impatiently waiting for their turn.

Demand was so high that my Mother installed a second feeder, which led to the curious discovery that finches prefer to hang upside down while feeding.  The original upside down version would be packed with birds while the right side up model, that was identical in every other way, attracted only one or two of the most desperately hungry souls.

Shortly after Craig and I married, we purchased a new build home.  When the lawn was finally laid, a finch feeder was one of the first things we installed in the backyard.  I was cautiously optimistic, given that the popsicle stick trees planted on the boulevards of our ‘new-home-wasteland’ neighbourhood offered little protection for birds from weather or predators.

Much to my delight, and the surprise of anyone who visited us, our feeder attracted a steady stream of finches.  More than once, a visitor gasped at the sight of a brilliant yellow bird in our backyard and declared that someone’s pet had gotten loose.

I’d share the secret formula with anyone who was willing to listen. “Go to Canadian Tire, pick up a feeder (the upside down kind), fill it with thistle seed, hang it in your yard and you’ll have goldfinches too,” I’d explain.  “Even if you’ve never seen one in your neighbourhood before.  Trust me, they’ll come.”

They came to mine for years.

And then they didn’t.

Maybe I kept my feeder too long and seasons of rain resulted in a musty smell that kept the birds away.  Maybe it was my new neighbour Winnie who installed her own goldfinch feeder on the other side of the fence.  Like the rest of her property, her feeder was immaculate and it never ran empty.  So I scrubbed my feeder clean, threw out all of my seed and started with a fresh bag.

But they didn’t come back.

It crossed my mind that Winnie probably wasn’t buying her seed at Canadian Tire.  These were Oakville finches after all; maybe their palates had become more refined than the average bird.  So the next year I purchased fresh seed from a fancy garden store.  I threw out my old feeder and bought a new one.

Still no birds.

Maybe it’s the kids, I thought.  As they grew, our backyard had become noisier than it used to be, although neither Craig nor I would ever have been described as soft-spoken.  Regardless, I couldn’t very well get rid of the kids.  Year after year, the feeder sat full of seed but empty of birds.

Last spring, Winnie moved away and although you might think this would re-ignite my efforts to lure the goldfinches back, I was so distraught to have lost my good friend and gardening advisor that I found it difficult to get motivated to spend much time on the backyard.

But by the time spring rolled around this year, I was feeling a bit brighter.

I placed a shiny new feeder right outside our kitchen window.  We eat every meal at the table next to this window and the kids do their homework there.  If my feeder attracted finches, one of us would surely spot them.

I can’t say that I’ve seen the birdie line ups of my Mother’s feeder, but I have seen five or six so far, and it gives me a thrill far greater than it probably should.  I’ve begun setting up my laptop at the kitchen table in an effort to catch a glimpse of them.  While I wrote this there have been two, a male and a female.  The male is an other-worldly hue of brilliant yellow, and both birds dangle beneath the feeding posts from twiggy legs.

Watching them makes me wonder how these fragile creatures survive the elements.  But I suppose that when we need to be, we’re all stronger than we look.

I’m sure glad to see them.  And I hope they tell their friends.

My List of Awesome

I’ve always known that I was a late adopter.  I don’t have an iPhone.  I’m still a little afraid of online banking.  And when I was working I was always the last to know the office gossip.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that I just recently learned about Neil Pasricha’s 1,000 Awesome Things project.

It started almost four years ago when he set out to blog about the awesome little things in his life and the world around him as a way to cheer himself up.  He vowed to write about at least one awesome thing five days a week until he had catalogued a thousand of them.  And he did, counting back from 1,000 right up to today when his #1 awesome thing was posted …. “anything you want it to be”

What an awesome project!   Indeed, we probably all experience a little bit of awesome every day.  We probably walk right by a bunch more without noticing.  But taking time to acknowledge that awesome has the potential to make each of us a bit happier.  Certainly a worthwhile exercise.

So today, I share with you my own personal list of favourite awesome things:

#10 – Fitting everything in the dishwasher.  There is nothing quite like solving the jigsaw puzzle of efficient dishwasher space utilization so that you don’t have a single plate left in the sink or pot to scrub at the end of the day.

#9 – Watching a hamster run on its wheel.  I can practically hear his little heartbeat, buzzing with glee as he spins around and around.  That is one happy hamster.

#8 – Catching a glimpse of a mother robin feeding her babies.  One spring we had a robin build her nest on the fence right outside our kitchen window.  Those slimy chicks with their beaks squawking open, and mother bird tirelessly feeding morsels into their bottomless pits, was the most amazing sight.

#7 – Flipping your pillow over.  The smooth, cool side, fresh against your warm cheek is sometimes the perfect ticket back to dreamland.

#6 – When your Dad who never wears a suit, wears a suit.  Not sure why, but it brings a happy little tear to my eye.

#5 – Skating on an outdoor pond.  Wholesome Canadian fun, and always a glorious winter day…. otherwise you’d choose to skate inside!

#4 – Smelling the top of a baby’s head.  It’s why I’m first in line to hold my friends’ babies.  When you’re holding them it’s often other people in the room who get to enjoy the cute faces they make, but I get to bend my head down and take in the sweet scent of that downy head of hair.  Nothing better.

#3 – The first shoots of green peeking through the garden in spring.  I will never get over the miracle of how plants survive the harsh winter.  Up from the cold dark ground, sturdy peony shoots appear and I know that within weeks mother nature fairy dust will have transformed them into huge plants with abundant flowers.

#2 – Writing in a brand new notebook.  Yet to be marred by coffee stains and spelling mistakes, with a new notebook anything is possible.

#1 – Being hugged by a small child.

AWESOME!

If you haven’t already checked it out, here’s a link to Neil’s Awesome Things www.1000awesomethings.com

 

The War on Virtual Clutter

I’m drowning in email and it’s my own fault.  Every morning I wake up to a red light blinking on my BlackBerry alerting me to messages that have been slipped into my inbox while I slept.  By the time I got the kids off to school this morning seven had piled up: a LinkedIn update at 1:07 a.m., a discussion group update from CPG Supergroup! at 4:43 a.m., a daily deal from Kijiji from 6:48 a.m., a deal from LivingSocial at 7:06 a.m., my Daily AM e-blast from Marketing Magazine at 7:58 a.m., another daily deal from Kijiji at 8:17 a.m., and a newsletter called BOOST from The Company of Women at 8:51 a.m.    I feel a bit exhausted just looking at them all.

One of the Kijiji Daily Deals is for paintball and the Living Social Deal is for indoor golf, two activities I have absolutely no interest in.  But even if the deal was for my favourite Lululemon yoga pants I’d have a hard time taking any action.  Online shopping is something that I have done very rarely and although I’ve never had a bad experience there is a voice in my head that constantly whispers: “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

The CPG Supergroup! discussion update was at least mildly interesting today.  A member has asked the group where a small start up company can find financing, to which someone has helpfully replied: “Often small firms look to family and friends…”   No shit, Sherlock!  But further down, a debate has begun about which retailer is likely to do well in the coming holiday season.  If I had time to read
it, I’m sure it would be thought provoking.   I’m relieved to see that the discussion about whether entrepreneurs are born or made seems to have finally died off after months of long-winded comments.  Last time I checked in, some guy had finally written the ultimate answer: “Both.”

A few months ago I discovered that someone had signed me up to a Facebook group called “Abolish the HST”… a cause that I do not support.  For a while I participated in the discussion, making known my point of view on the topic.  For almost a week I read every comment that was posted and did my best to respond, as seemingly the only person in the group who had an alternate point of view.  I got so bent out of shape about the rhetoric that was circulating that I could actually feel my blood pressure rising.  So for health reasons I had to quit the group, but I’m still haunted by the thought of what that angry mob is saying to each other as we head into the provincial election.

So I do know how to ‘unsubscribe’ and return my inbox to a state of calm; one that contains only messages from real people who have a specific message for me, Diane Williams.

At the moment, I’m reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  Gretchen is a lawyer turned writer who decided to research the topic of happiness and experiment with a variety of tactics in a year-long effort to increase the amount of happiness in her life.  My decision to leave my high pressure job in order to spend more time on what is most important to me, is similar.  Although I have been thinking of it as a quest for simplification, my belief was that it would result greater happiness for our family.  Sure enough, chapter one of Gretchen’s book is titled Vitality and her steps taken to boost overall energy levels during the first month of her project included “Toss, Restore, Organize.”  Simplify.

I agree with Gretchen that clutter is a drain on energy; not just physical stuff but also the “psychic clutter of loose ends.”    And my email clutter would fall into this camp.  The e-newsletters that I receive are full of helpful tips for the marketer/mother/modern woman/small business owner/fitness enthusiast/aspiring writer in me, but it’s like trying to rake leaves in the fall.  They’re falling out of the sky faster than I can deal with them all.  And yet I find them difficult to toss, convinced that there is valuable knowledge inside.  Only when the pile of unread email becomes so unwieldy that I can no longer find the messages I need to read, do I go to the bottom of the pile and reluctantly delete the very oldest versions.   I hate doing it but I can’t deny that I feel better when the clutter is gone.

So today, I’m going to take proactive action and stop the most unwanted of these emails from coming.  I haven’t done it yet but I’m going to.

It does strike me as ironic that here I am writing about getting rid of junk email, to an audience of subscribers that have MY blog landing in their inbox every week or so.
But I’m buoyed by the fact that I wouldn’t dream of hitting ‘unfollow’ for a number of the people I follow on Twitter.  SarahKSilverman is hilarious, as is sween and ComicBookGrrl.  On the other hand, andersoncooper and (disappointingly) rickmercer, I could do without.

I hope you don’t choose to ‘unfollow’ my blog.  But if you do, I suppose you weren’t reading it anyway.

For more information on The Happiness Project, check out http://www.happiness-project.com/happiness_project/about.html

 

How Kijiji Restored My Faith in the Universe

Whenever I complained about the price of something, someone was sure to suggest Kijiji as a place to find great stuff at an awesome price.  Maybe it was, but it sounded risky to me.  After all, isn’t the internet jam packed with scam artists looking to steal my identity, or worse?  One minute I’m checking out a used desk in someone’s apartment and the next I’m tied up in storage locker someplace with a pool ball strapped in my mouth.

But having inherited the contents of my Mother’s china cabinet and added this to the stack of decorative plates, crystal and knick knacks passed down by my Grandmothers, I found myself with an unmanageable hoard of stuff and no place to store it.  The kids’ outgrown toys were also becoming out of control and the thought of organizing a garage sale made me cringe.  Surely the risk of selling online was far less than that of buying.

I began by posting some decorative bowls.  An antique dealer had appraised them at $100 each but was not interested in purchasing them himself.  Another resale china shop offered $5.  Surely Kijiji could fetch me something in the middle.  I priced them at $150 for the pair.  Two framed prints went up next, priced at a reasonable $30 apiece, followed by a pile of Jack’s outgrown clothing including a number of Gap Kids sweaters and a pair of Keen sandals that he had never really worn.  Finally, I posted Jack and Taylor’s huge collection of Fisher Price Geo Trax.

In the buy and sell section on the day I visited, there were over 400,000 ads posted in the Greater Toronto Area; over 24,000 in art and collectibles.  By that evening, my
ads were buried on page 24.  Unless someone was specifically searching for RS Prussia fruit bowls, who would ever find them deep in all those pages?

Still, I got an immediate response to Jack’s clothes.  I agreed to meet my buyer at a shopping mall a short drive away.  Although it was a public meeting place and I had Taylor with me, I felt butterflies as we waited.  Finally I spotted a tall pregnant woman striding towards us.  She had long brown hair, impeccable skin and looked like she had just stepped out of J. Crew ad.  She smiled warmly and handed me a wad of cash even before she began to look through the stuff I had brought.

“Hey!  I’m so sorry I’m a bit late.  I’ve never been to this mall before.”

“No problem at all,” I said.

“Is this your little brother’s stuff?” she asked Taylor.

“Do you know if you’re expecting a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“It’s a girl,” she said with a smile.

“Oh, that’s so great. It’s really nice to have one of each,” I said.  “So here are the sandals right on top.”

“They are awesome!  My husband loves his Keens and has been insisting that we get my son a pair but they’re so expensive.  This is great!”

Taylor and I wished her luck with the new baby and made our way back to our car.  The $50 in my pocket felt great but I was even more pleased that this lovely woman now had Keen sandals for her son.

My next transaction was the sale of the Geo Trax train set.  I offered to meet the buyer somewhere central but she was eager to have the set before she left on vacation.   Perhaps she was fearful I might sell it to someone else while she was away.   She offered to pick it up at my home that evening. I told her that we were out and she offered to come later that night but I hesitated to give her our address until we were home.  What if this online stranger was planning to rob the house?  The emails were signed with a woman’s name, but wasn’t that the oldest trick in the book?

I turns out she was a woman, and when I answered the door I marvelled at how remarkably fresh she looked for a young mother at 10pm.  Perhaps she was just grateful to be out of the house alone!

“The clock tower on/off switch is a bit hard to find,” I said, lifting it out of the box.  “It’s right here.  It chimes when a train passes through or you can push the button on top.”

Piece by piece, I oriented her to the entire set, eager to make sure her kids got full play value from all the accessories.

“This is so great,” she said.  “Our set isn’t big enough for all the boys to play at once.  We’ve been asking for it as gifts but each little set costs a lot of money.”

As I helped her load the boxes in her van, I noted the variety of car seats .  Four boys!  This was a lady with her hands full.  I felt great passing on our beloved toy to her, knowing that her boys would enjoy it for years to come and hoping that it might buy her some extra peace and quiet once in a while.

Later that week I went online to check the status of my remaining ads and drifted into the items for sale.  In the toy section I spied a radio controlled airplane for $40.  The
seller claimed that her teenage son been given it as a gift and hadn’t even opened the box before going back to his video games.  I immediately thought of Jack.  There’s a field near our house where people fly model planes and each time we drive by, he begs for one.

“Those planes are really expensive, buddy.  I think it’s something that we would consider when you’re a bit older.”

But at $40, just the thrill of opening the box would be worth the investment.  Even if it crashed on its maiden voyage I’d have gotten my money’s worth.

I also ran across what can only be described as a golfer on a stick.  The top half was a typical golf club grip but at the bottom was a plastic man with a tiny golf club in his hands.  Pulling and pushing a lever on the shaft made the plastic man swing his club so he could hit a ball.  What a hilarious gift for my golf-loving husband.

I made arrangements to meet Danielle, the seller of the airplane at our local Longos, and Tim, the seller of the golf guy at his home.  Tim’s address had a unit number.  Yikes!  An apartment building?  Thankfully, he agreed to meet me in the parking lot.

Danielle turned out to be a middle aged French Canadian with a kind face, and her airplane was enormous!  It barely fit in the trunk of my Mazda 3.  We chatted about her son and why she had thought he would like the plane, and why she thought he didn’t.  I told her about my son and the ‘airfield’ near our home.  She seemed pleased that someone would finally enjoy her plane.

As I was settling the box into my trunk Danielle drove off, and it crossed my mind that I should have taken inventory of all the pieces before I handed over the money.  Just then, I realized that Danielle had backed her car up beside me and rolled her window
down.

“Diane, we never did put it all together so if you find something is missing or doesn’t work, just call me and I’ll give you your money back.”

I told her I was sure it would be fine, but silently breathed a sigh of relief.

Within moments of calling Tim to let him know I had arrived at his townhouse complex I saw him loping down the path toward me.  He was a slightly shaggy, casually dressed dude who looked like the kind of guy who would be friends with my older brother.  I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the little golfer on the stick he was carrying.

“It’s actually 45 years old,” Tim said.  “I got it as a kid.  Unfortunately, I just noticed that he’s had a bit of an accident.”

Sure enough, the plastic man’s left foot was missing.

“It still works though,” Tim said as he deftly lined up a pebble and shot it across the parking lot.

“That is awesome!  My husband is going to love it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Tim said as I tried to hand him a $20 bill.

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.  Pay it forward, man.  Put that $20 in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmastime.”

Maybe the rest of my stuff will sell on Kijiji.  Maybe it won’t.  But I’ll be back either way.  I’ve discovered that the big payoff isn’t the money to be made or the stuff that is bought.  It’s the shared human experience of having things be appreciated anew, and the reminder that the world is full of kind-hearted and interesting people.

Clearly, the company founders understood this draw.  I recently learned that Kijiji is the Swahili word for ‘village.’

Vacation Revelation

When I left my job, we knew that many luxuries would have to go.  But every family needs a holiday.

We have tried to vacation at home in the past.  In theory we should have been able to forego the cost of a hotel and simply enjoy the many activities available in our local
community, but invariably chores crept in.  We found ourselves taking on gruelling projects like re-staining our backyard fence or cleaning out our basement storage area.  Jack and Taylor would complain about how bored they were, and Craig and I would bitterly wish that we could be so lucky.

So we have concluded that from time to time, it’s important to get away from home.

Back in the days when money was no object, we once took three vacations within a span of six months.  Jack and Taylor’s first trip on an airplane whisked us away to a luxurious Acapulco resort with Craig’s parents.  The kids had a great time dashing from pool to pool, sailing down the ‘mountain’ water slide one minute and traipsing across
a wooden suspension bridge the next, safe in the care of their beloved Grandparents while Craig and I took time out to enjoy the on site golf courses.

A few months later we took our first family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.  We stayed on the resort for an entire week in a spacious suite and visited a theme park every day, each more impressive than the last.  We filled ourselves full on the deluxe dining plan, complete with mouth watering desserts and seemingly endless snacks.  And we travelled with another family so the kids always had a willing playmate close at hand.

Our third vacation that year was a mere four days at Fern Resort in Orillia, a family run operation within driving distance of our home.  A special deal had motivated us to book a basic room which meant that I shared a bed with Taylor and Craig shared a bed with Jack.

“Taylor!  Stop digging your foot into my back!”

“Daddy is snoring.”

“Jack!  You just slapped me in the face!”

Three very different holiday experiences.  So that fall, as we began to think about our
vacation plans for the following year, I asked the kids, “Which vacation did you like best?”

Without hesitation, in unison Taylor and Jack said, “Fern!”

Really?  I knew they had enjoyed their stay at Fern but it was no Disney.  Sure there were pools, but no character themed thrill rides or fantastic parades.  In fact, the activities we most enjoyed at Fern couldn’t have been more low-key.  Bingo games in the poolside gazebo, jumping on one of three trampolines and playing endless games of mini putt on a basic course in need of a paint job.  The highlight for both kids seemed to be dangling crude homemade fishing sticks off the dock to catch sunfish.  And yet this, was the vacation they enjoyed the most.

Last week we were back at Fern Resort and I had an opportunity to speak with one of the owners.

Mark Downing and his sister Laura represent the fourth generation in this family owned business, carrying on over one hundred years of history on the property.  You might think that having grown up on the resort and then been handed a thriving business, Mark would be sitting back enjoying the fruits of his ancestors’ labours and letting
peons run the show.  But this is not the man I met.

At our scheduled meeting time he entered the tiny lobby bar with a flourish, carrying a glass of water and plate of carrot sticks.   A few days before, I had seen him attempt to
leap off a ramp in the middle of the lake into a barefoot position behind a speedboat as part of the water ski show.  He does this kind of thing fuelled by carrot sticks?

When I told him about my kids’ love for his resort in comparison to more elaborate vacation destinations and asked him about the ‘magic’ of Fern he had a ready response.

“I’ve heard this comment from other families, so I’m not surprised to hear it.   The difference at Fern is that it creates a community where friendships are built quickly and
easily.  Everything at the resort is designed to promote this sense of community.  Everyone eats together at the same time in the dining room.  We hire staff that are outgoing, salt of the earth types who endear themselves to guests immediately and we treat our staff well so that they come back season after season.  And we offer activities that attract small groups of guests who bond together through a shared experience.

“One year I had a guy come in and tell me that our best asset on the resort was the lake view.  He told us that we should tear down our poolside bar and barbeque gazebo
so that people could see the lake from the lounge chairs.  But if people want to spend their time looking at the lake, they would be going to Muskoka.  At Fern we want our guests looking at each other!”

When Mark told me this, it immediately rang true.  Like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, Fern is a place where our family feels part of something bigger.  After just one visit, we felt that we knew many of the staff and had built friendships with other guests that made us all want to go back.  And when I more closely watched our kids catching fish off the Fern dock, I realized that they spent as much time chatting with the teenage boys hired to put worms on hooks as they did with their lines in the water.

In fact, a main motivator for leaving my career was the desire to build stronger relationships with my family and friends.  Building relationships and enjoying a sense
of belonging is something that is difficult to do in our fast paced society, but I believe that it is something that we all (kids included!) long for.

Sports Director Mike Stewart is a warm and charismatic man with 32 years of tenure at Fern Resort.  On one of our daily morning walks, he summed up the magic of Fern in a simple phrase, “Fern is a feeling.”

He’s right.

We may have some great photos of spectacular sights and sounds from those other resorts but the feeling of Fern is something that seems to live on in our family long after our stay is over.  And that’s exactly why we’ll be back again next year.

For more info on Fern Resort and what it has to offer, check out their website at www.fernresort.com