When the unexpected happens

So the other day I went into work and got laid off. On the up side, I was home by noon. On the down side, it sucked as it was unexpected.

Looking for work can be both grueling and exhilarating. The possibilities can be endless! Where do I want to go next? What do I want to do now? Should I start up my own business again and look for consulting contracts? Should I stick to full time and target companies I’d love to work at? Maybe I should start something totally new. There can be excitement in the unknown. But then there are the days when the phone is silent and the inbox is still. That can be quite scary.

No one ever said that life was guaranteed to be predictable and it’s easy to get totally side swiped when something like a job loss comes your way. It can be tempting to slide into a rut of unproductive self-pitying Netflix bingeing when you don’t know how long the break will be. I haven’t figured out how to see into the future, so here are my tips for staying positive and productive when the rug gets pulled out from underneath you for an indeterminate period of time:

  1. Make a list. The afternoon I was laid off, I installed a To Do app on my phone called Any.do. On it I started listing things that I wanted to accomplish. Not all of them were job hunting related – some of them were things that I needed to do but hadn’t had the time to get around to doing, like get my passport renewed. It was helpful, especially in the first few days, to be able to cross off at least one or two things from my list every day.
  2. Call 5 people and set up coffee dates. Make at least 3 of them people you know in hiring positions at companies you might like to work for. They may not have a job that’s currently open but it’s a good opportunity to talk about what you’re looking for and what their biggest gaps/pains are to see if there are any possible connections to be made. You never know when a discussion over coffee will lead to a job down the road. One of the 5 should also be a good friend you can just unload to.
  3. Pick a project or a hobby to work on. It could be something new you’ve always wanted to do or something you’re in the middle of but never had the time to dedicate to. For me, I’m working on painting the roof of one of my boys’ bedroom ceiling. It’s painted the same colour as the wall except for the center where there is a big Minecraft-like hole through the roof and the sky with clouds can be seen. I love painting so this is a good relaxing, get-to-my-happy-place activity that keeps me grounded and sets my mind at ease.
  4. Organize something. It could be your office, your pantry, the playroom, your closet or all of the above. There is a certain satisfaction from creating organization from chaos that helps a person feel like they do have their life under a bit of control after all.

Do you have any other tips to share that I’ve missed here?

If you’re free for a coffee, I’ve got some time to spare these days. And if you know of anyone looking for help building their Microsoft practice, taking their relationship with Microsoft to the next level, evangelising their product or project internally or externally, or generating demand with current or new customers, please pass along my name. I’d love to connect with a Microsoft partner looking for help in any or all of these areas.

My LinkedIn profile can be found at https://ca.linkedin.com/in/rmorton.

The so-called Mommy Wars only exist if we let them

Every holiday, there are a myriad of complaints about how Pinterest is ruining everything. Craft crazed moms building monumental homages for their little chicklets to hand out to every kid in the class while supposedly lesser moms are crushed by the guilt of not being mom enough. Ugh.

My kids gave store bought valentines’ to a handful of friends at school. We took cupcakes made from a box with less than perfect icing mushed on top by 6 year olds and a cacophony of sprinkles. Eat them or don’t eat them I say. Enjoy the valentine or don’t. I had fun with my boys putting together our Valentine’s day items for their friends. On the flip side, I also enjoyed sorting through the homemade valentines with little bags of candy that the boys brought home. I admired the creativity and thought that went into them. I appreciate that for some people, putting together these wonderful little bundles is pure enjoyment and fun.

No one can make you feel guilty unless you allow it. Know your strengths and talents and appreciate those of others. I may not send my kids to school with perfectly crafted homemade cards or snacks made from scratch all the time but I am thankful for those that do, as long as they enjoy doing it.

What makes me sad and to be perfectly honest, a bit angry, is reading about women who stress themselves out and beat themselves up

…because they aren’t able to breastfeed their kids until they are preschoolers,

…because they aren’t a stay at home mom,

…because they are a stay at home mom,

…because their kids don’t have perfect Christmas gifts, valentines, Easter goodies, Halloween treats, and St. Patrick’s day whatevers to give out to their classmates.

Repeat after me: No one can make you feel guilty unless you allow it.

If you’re not sure if you’re doing something for the good of your child or to assuage your own guilt, ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I enjoying this?
2. Is my child enjoying this?
3. Is this a learning experience for my child?

If you can’t say yes to at least one of these questions, put down the glue gun and walk away. Sure, some people may judge you, but that’s their issue so don’t make it yours.

Oh, and the Mommy Wars? They don’t exist unless we let them. They start in your head…in imagining another mom has everything put together and somehow you are less. Banish the thoughts at the source. Because the Mommy Wars only exist if we let them.

Guelph Day Camps

Like many parents, we’re always on the lookout for child care options to cover off PD days and school breaks. For those of you in Guelph, here’s a compilation of day camps that I’ve been gathering that I thought might be useful to others. It’s probably not exhaustive – if you know of others, please comment and I’ll add it to the list!


Psssst…pro tip: You can use the little download icon (Download daycamp spreadsheet) to download your own copy of the spreadsheet or click on View full daycamp spreadsheet to view the full spreadsheet in your browser.

[UPDATED March 2, 2015] Added Creative Encounters, Puslinch Power camps, and Camp Conestogo.

[UPDATED June 13, 2015] Added Play with Clay camp info

Our Edible Front Yard and a #WorkWonders Giveaway

My husband and I have a deal. He cuts the grass and I garden. I told him early on that if it was up to me, any grass that was not useful (i.e. not used to run around and play on) would be removed and replaced with either a garden or something low maintenance like rocks and shrubs. I have no desire to toil to maintain something I get no pleasure from and has no use to me.

Until this house, it was never an issue. For the first years of our marriage, we lived in townhouse condo where, other than a small back garden, all the outdoor maintenance was done for us. Now we have a fair sized front and back yard. The back gets lots of use…the front not so much. A few years ago my husband got tired of cutting the front grass for the sole benefit of the neighbours and started researching grass alternatives. He settled on clover and went to work. Our front yard now sports a full and lush crop of drought tolerant clover which, other than whipper-snippering some of the taller weeds that pop up every once in a while, doesn’t even need to be cut. People walking by stop to knock on our door and ask us about it.

This year, we decided to go a step further and make our front yard useful. When I was a child, we lived in the country with about 2.5 acres of land. Much of that was taken up by a large vegetable garden and mom would allocate a corner for me where I would plant cucumbers, pumpkins, carrots and zinnias to my heart’s content. I loved it and thought now would be a good time to get back into it.

We face south so our front yard is much sunnier than our back yard and since it wasn’t being used for much else, it made sense to think about putting the vegetables there. Last year John and I had many discussions about building the gardens. My criteria was that they needed to be raised a minimum of 18 inches and couldn’t be more than 3 feet across to accommodate my bad back. I also was leery of building them from wood as I envision us staying in this house for the next 25 years and don’t want to have to rebuild them when we’re old and decrepit. They need to have some staying power. We settled on galvanized steel and John found a place in Toronto that makes raised garden beds.

We lured family to our house with promises of food and beer and put them to work moving the big dirt pile from our driveway into the raised gardens. Even the kids were put to work!

I only managed to get 1 of the 6 containers primed before they got filled with dirt as it kept raining on me. Which is okay I suppose as my ideas for how to make them look less industrial and more blended with our home keeps changing. At first I was just going to paint them a dark brown colour, now I’m leaning towards doing some outdoor mosaic work. This may not get started for a while but eventually, they’ll look awesome!

Back in April, I started some indoor seeds in defiance of the winter that stubbornly stayed  with us until late into the spring.

John rigged up some florescent lights in a mobile greenhouse frame which we set up in the kitchen.

Not all my seedlings made the transition to the outdoor gardens (I’m still learning!) but it was great to see them sprout up and share the wonder of nature with the boys.

Our gardens are now growing blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, carrots, sweet peppers, sugar peas, eggplant, broccoli, cucumbers, lettuce, Swiss chard, garlic, onions and herbs. Whew! I’ve also planted nasturtiums in the two gardens closest to the road to spill over the front and be ornamental as well as delicious.

We’re starting to see some of the “fruits” of our labour growing – here’s hoping we get to eat some of it soon too!

There’s a lot to keep track of – which seeds I used, what worked and what failed, what I did when, etc. I looked at a number of options to use as a garden diary but in the end, I came back around to my favourite tool – OneNote. Combined with OneDrive to sync my notes between my phone and my notebook and it’s been invaluable. I’m sure I will be thanking myself immensely next spring when I have my notes and photos to read through. This is what I love best about technology – when it transcends being an end in itself but instead becomes an enabler for making life that much better and richer. 

For full disclosure, I need to tell you that I’m part of a Microsoft Office 365 advocacy program. But anyone that knows me will also know that I love technology and I love Office – I live and breathe this stuff. What I write here are my own opinions.

That’s why I’m so excited to be able to host a special giveaway from Microsoft as part of this blog. The prize is a one-year subscription for Office 365 Home donated by Microsoft. All you need to do is think of something you’ve accomplished lately. It can be big or it can be small. The Office team at Microsoft have put together a #WorkWonders site which highlights all the things that people accomplish and it’s quite inspirational. I invite you to be part of the conversation and to inspire others.

Here’s what to do: Take a picture that represents your accomplishment, think of a caption, put it together with the #WorkWonders hashtag and my twitter handle (@ruthm) or tag me on Facebook. For example, have you coordinated the family calendar online using Outlook.com? Do you balance the budget using Excel? Have you delivered a presentation to the parent council using PowerPoint? Have you researched or organized a home project using OneNote? Then your entry might look like this on Twitter:

“Finally did it! Everyone can access family schedule & Billy won’t get left at school next Tues after all <picture url> #WorkWonders @ruthm”

Have you accomplished a number of things lately? As long as they are distinct and you can put each entry together with a picture and caption as detailed above, send them my way for more chances to win! The giveaway will end at 11:59PM EDT on Monday, June 16, so be sure to get your entry(s) in before then. I’ll be making a random drawing from all the entries I receive and will announce the winner the next day. And remember you must tag me or use my twitter handle or I won’t know that you’ve entered!

I can’t wait to see your entries!


Fine print:

No purchase necessary. Open to legal residents of Canada excluding Quebec who have reached the age of majority in his/her province of residence. Enter promotion before June 15, 2014, 11:59 PM EDT. Entry details can be found in the blog post above. Void where prohibited.

Getting organized in a digital age

I’ve always been a visual learner. Couple that with a diminished capacity to remember anything other than which son likes cheese and which prefers vanilla yogurt over blueberry, and I tend to forget anything that I haven’t written down. Hearing it isn’t enough, I need to see the words to take it in. Better yet, see the words and visualize the scenario or object in my head – then it’s in the vault.

For years I carried around paper notebooks of various sizes and shapes. These helped me remember things, although having to flip through them to refer back to the details I had written was always bothersome. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I left Microsoft and started my new job with Compugen that I fully embraced a digital solution. Sure, I had dabbled in OneNote while at Microsoft but I never gotten into it for my own personal day to day work.

However, in my new role I attend a lot of meetings. A *lot* of meetings. Many of these are customer meetings and so I quickly adopted OneNote as my go to tool for keeping track of who attended, which customer it was about and the salient points for later recall. And from there, I started adding to and organizing my digital notebook into something that makes sense and works really well for me.

So now I’m a OneNote junkie who can’t function without it. I live in it every day. However, whenever I’ve espoused the wonders of OneNote to others in the past, I’ve always been aware that there are free tools like Evernote that do an ok job too. They may not be as feature rich as OneNote, but hey they’re free – that’s hard to compete with. Until now!

This week, Microsoft made a few exciting announcements:

  1. OneNote is now a free download – yay!
  2. OneNote is now available for the Mac. So now it doesn’t matter if you are on a PC, Mac, Windows tablet, Windows phone, iPad, iPhone, Android or using a web browser. You can use OneNote and each device will always be in sync.
  3. There is a cloud API for OneNote which means that OneNote apps can be created in the cloud, compared to add-ins which are installed and used locally on each OneNote installation.

If you’re looking to try it out or you’re already using OneNote and would like some ideas of how to use it better, I’ll share how I do it. This may not be the best method for everyone but it definately keeps me sane.

I keep one notebook for work and one for personal activities (vacation planning, shopping lists, volunteer work, etc.) and save both to OneDrive so that I can access them from anywhere. I’ve organized my work one by types of meetings – customer meetings, 1:1 meetings with my manager, meetings with partners, etc., and activities – event notes, blog ideas, etc. Below is a screen shot of my Compugen notebook opened to the Blog tab, where I jot down and develop ideas to write about on the corporate blog (click for larger image).

Screenshot of my OneNote workbook

Along the right hand side are the titles of each idea, but also there is a Submitted page, with several blog idea pages as subpages under it.  I can show or hide subpages as needed. On my customer tab (which I can’t post here for obvious reasons!), this allows me to have a main page for each customer with sub-pages organized by date underneath for each meeting or conversation about that customer.

One more thing I have to show you. For any free form folks reading this, OneNote also works great with a stylus. Here is an example of an intense brainstorming team meeting I participated in. As most doodlers know, far from being distracting, doodling can help focus concentration and increase retention so every once in a while, I break out my stylus and go to town!

OneNote Doodle

Any other OneNote aficionados out there that would like to share how they use it? I’d love to hear your methods, tips or tricks.

A smashing Spiderman and Batman craft

Well the boys turned 5 and I don’t know who was more excited about their party – them or me! We had it at a local indoor play centre, Funmazing, that has a piñata pit, so the boys each wanted their own piñata. They cost $25+ each at the store so we decided to make our own – one Spiderman and one Batman. They turned out really well!

How to: Batman and Spiderman Piñatas

First we blew up 2 balloons and I recruited help from Nana and my friend, Barb, to work with the boys covering the balloons in newspaper wet with papier mache paste (2 parts water to 1 part flour).

making pinatasmaking pinatas

It’s helpful to put the balloon in one bowl to work on it and use another bowl for the paste. We did 3 layers, letting each layer dry before starting on the next layer.

We left a hole at the bottom where the balloon poked out. When all the layers were done, I popped the balloon, removed it and then papier mache’d over the hole.

Next, I painted the dried forms white.

painting the pinatas white

I penciled in the lines for the eyes on Spiderman and the eyes and mouth/chin area for Batman. I painted around the white areas and the boys helped fill in the rest with red and blue paint.

painting spiderman and batman pinatas

After 2 coats of red and blue paint, I painted Batman’s lower face with peachy-flesh colour, keeping the mouth white. I used a black sharpie to outline the eyes, draw Spidey’s web, and give shape to Batman’s mouth.

Spiderman looked great but Batman was missing something, so I cut out some ears for him and taped them to the top of his head.

Almost done the pinatas

Adding ears to Batman

Looking good, Batman!!

Batman is complete

You too, Spidey!Spidey!The back of Spiderman's head

Remember I told you I’d papier mache’d over the hole at the bottom where I popped and pulled the balloon from? Well, to get the candy in there, I used an exactor knife to cut a trapdoor in the top and then poked a hole on either site to attach a ribbon to hang it from.

trap door in the top of Spiderman's head

Ribbon attached

Dynamic duo

Next time I’d try to figure out a way to attach the ribbon better – in the end, although both held up to a lot of abuse, the tops where I had attached the ribbon gave away first.

Swinging at Spidey

Beating up Batman

Candy, candy, candy!


Never have I been so satisfied to see my art work destroyed. Smile

Dynamic duo...done.

Windows 7 Desktop Migration Webinar


If you’re in IT and just now considering moving your organization off Windows XP to Windows 7, first of all, what the heck took you so long? And second of all, now that I’ve probably totally insulted you, won’t you join me for a free webinar on how to do it? 🙂

I’m doing 2 webinars, both covering the same material but the first one targeted for healthcare organizations and the second one not specific to any vertical. One is this week on Wednesday and the other is next week on Tuesday. Although the title says Windows 7, you can use the same information moving to Windows 8. Hope to see you there!

Read all about it and register over on the Compugen IT Buzz blog.

A wide spectrum of mothering

On Mother’s Day we strive to honour our mothers and thank them for all that they do. However, there are many women for whom Mother’s Day is fraught with complex emotions because of life’s circumstances. So today, I want to acknowledge the wide spectrum of mothering, taken from this wonderful post on The Messy Middle blog:

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience

To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst

To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day

To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be

To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths

To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren -yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

Happy Mother’s Day to all. And a special thank you to my mom!

A shot of optimism in amongst all the negative crap

I know this YouTube video has been plastered all over the web since it was first posted almost a year ago, but it’s one that I never get tired of watching. In fact, I watched it again tonight and currently have tears and mascara dripping down my face.

I’m posting it here on my blog because it’s such a creative, positive, love-filled video and there are so many negative things going on in the world. I’m posting it here for selfish reasons really – so I don’t have to go far to watch it again and get a boost of uplifting optimism whenever needed.

Even if you’ve seen it before, take a minute, make the video full screen and watch it all over again. If this is your first time…well, crawl out from under that rock and enjoy – it’s gonna knock your socks off!

Here it is…Isaac’s Live Lip-Dub Proposal to Amy…

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