Go wild for wildlife

Moose in a pool

Last week, I blogged about the abundance of birds who have made this spring a delight. It’s only fair that I give the same air time to the animals who have reclaimed the land during COVID-19.

There have been many news stories about foxes, raccoons and other animals being seen more frequently in urban areas. Just this past Friday, a moose decided to take a dip in a south Ottawa pool. It was a hot and muggy day, so who would blame him. I heard a deer wandered in front of one of our local radio stations here in Kingston last week too.

For those of us who live in the country, run ins with wildlife are a regular occurrence. But even at our house, we had three interesting wildlife encounters in this past week alone.

Last Saturday, I was woken up by a strange screeching sound around 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I went back to bed, but in the morning, the ruckus continued and we discovered two porcupines screaming at each other in the tree down our path. I’ve seen and heard a baby porcupine cry when it went too far on a branch and couldn’t get back to its mother. They make the weirdest sound, something between a screech and a squawk. Well, the first porcupine at the top of the tree was squawking at the other one to get out—it was his tree. Finally, the second one climbed down the tree and loped down the path in defeat. Watch this video to see what they sound like.

The next day, Clare and I were sitting on the dock when we heard rustling in the underbrush on the hill between the lake and our deck. The last time we heard this, our neighbour’s dog Buddy was chasing a baby fox across our property. This time, it wasn’t Buddy, or a fox, but a fast moving brownish animal with a bear like face and a stubby tail. He went up the hill toward the house, but then came down the path and stopped behind the canoe, only about 10 feet away from us. It was a fisher.

Now I don’t know how much you know about fishers, but you definitely don’t want one on your property. They are vicious and one of the only animals that will kill a porcupine (I thought of our prickly friends from the day before and hoped they made a clean getaway). Fishers have rapier like claws and will kill cats, small dogs, and any small animals.

There was even a story in the Whig-Standard a few years ago of a fisher that dropped from the trees on a local hunter (a relative of my friend Karen who took the black-necked swan photos from last week). He said the only thing that helped him not be seriously injured was he was wearing a hood.

I was surprised at how fast this particular fisher could move. After hiding behind the canoe, he went back up the hill. Clare said she saw him as she was walking up the path, his brown face peering out between a crevice in the rock face only about twenty yards away. We’re still a little freaked out every time we pass the cliff on the way to the lake.

Our final wildlife adventure came two nights ago when we heard something moving on our front porch. We have a bad habit of throwing our recycling on the porch, then taking it to the barn the next morning. I had tossed out a coffee cake container, and there was a very handsome raccoon helping himself to the crumbs. Raccoons can be nasty too (we’ve lost several chickens to raccoons) and last winter, we had one big fat fellow eating our bird seed every night on the back deck, but at least this guy was kind of cute.

This week’s #HappyAct is to go wild for the wildlife. What encounters have you had in the wild?

It’s for the birds

Birdhouse and wren
Our little house wren on the post beside her new home

There have been several interesting and unexpected phenomenon that have come out of COVID-19. One is how the animal world has reclaimed territory as humans have retreated. Nowhere more can this be seen than in the abundance of migratory birds in Eastern Ontario this spring.

While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a birder, I have enjoyed watching and identifying all the species that we’ve seen on our property in the past few weeks as the weather has gotten warm.

We’ve had all the usual suspects: blue jays and eastern kingbirds, goldfinches, woodpeckers and robins. The herons, loons, barn swallows, kingfishers and red-winged blackbirds have all returned to the marshes and lakes.

But I can’t recall seeing so many different types of birds like we have this year. We’ve seen flickers, cowbirds, bobolinks, baltimore orioles, rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeaks, yellow-rumped warblers and blackburnian warblers. We’ve even had two wood ducks show up several mornings in the trees watching us eat our breakfast.

And the songs, oh the songs. This morning, as I was planting my annuals and perennials, I was serenaded by a beautiful brown house wren who has taken up residence in one of our birdhouses, while a rose-breasted grosbeak tried to drown her out with his own magnificent melody. If you look up the song of a grosbeak in the bird book, it says, “rising and falling passages, like a Robin who has taken voice lessons.

My friend Karen sent me a picture of two black-necked swans that flew over their boat at their hunting camp near Tamworth. They are considered “exotic” so you would normally never see them in this region.

Yes, it’s been a banner year for the birds. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and make a new fine feathered friend. Happy birding.

Black-necked swans flying over a lake
Rare sighting of two black-necked swans

Celebrate longevity

author with flowers

By special guest blogger, Dave Swinton

This week my wife quietly celebrated a major milestone in her life. Twenty-five years working for the same company. Quietly and effectively without fanfare.  Laurie and I celebrated our 25th anniversary two years ago and by my reckoning have known each other since we were 15. That’s almost 40 years since we first met in Grade 10 music class. I knew even then that she was the one for me (too bad she didn’t).

My parents would have been married 60 years if my mother hadn’t passed away six months before their anniversary.

What makes these milestones even more amazing is our current cultures’ desire to change their iPhones every year and jobs 8-10 times during their careers.

Why do people stay committed to their jobs and to each other for so long?  It is much more than that old Roots sweater in your closet that you refuse to throw out because it fits your curves just right. Although there is a certain comfort level in the same job and the same partner, you have to be open to embrace their strengths while supporting and accepting their weaknesses. You will even find yourself finishing their sentences and rolling your eyes when they do things the same way they did so long ago.

For some, relationships are meant to be long and treasured, whether it be at work or at home.

Thank God I have a partner who even to this day I cannot bear to live without.

This week’s Happy Act is to embrace and celebrate longevity.

Go easy on yourself

inspirational saying

Each day since COVID hit, I’ve been sharing a daily dose of sunshine with my co-workers–a joke, a funny meme or just a thought to stay connected as we worked remotely.

Well, I’ve developed terrible tech neck and shoulder pain from working long hours due to a bad ergonomic set up, so I asked my friend Jessica Schonewille to send last Friday’s daily dose of sunshine. It made me smile and laugh. Here’s what she wrote:

“Happy Friday, friends! Laurie headed out early so I get the honour of brightening your day.

I’ve noticed some people discussing all the plans they had to get done during the quarantine–cleaning out closets, cabinets and cupboards–but they haven’t done anything on their list. A few even said they feel like a failure.

Well, that’s bullshit! (pardon my français). We’re living in unprecedented, unnatural times. Just the fact that you got out of bed this morning is something to celebrate! I realized an hour ago that I’ve been wearing my shirt inside out all day. It’s also the same shirt I wore yesterday. But who cares? Heck, my uncle used to say you could wear one pair of underwear for four days: frontward, backward, then inside out frontward and backward. Glass half full: I’m a day ahead of schedule. We’re winning, folks!

So my dose of sunshine is to remind everyone to go easy on ourselves. Don’t expect too much. If you don’t have the energy to tackle a home project, don’t worry–there’s plenty of time for that in the future. No desire to learn something new right now? Don’t stress about it. Something, someday, will fire up your passion and get you excited. Or not. And that’s ok.

If I don’t say it enough, I love you guys!

So…happy Friday! ❤

Be like Bill Murray

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd photo

If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’re desperately looking for the next great show to watch on Netflix.

If that’s the case, add The Bill Murray stories to your viewing list. Dave and I watched it last week, and it’s a funny, entertaining and enlightening chronicle of a man who has embraced the idea of living in the moment and spreading joy to people he meets.

An alum of Saturday Night Live and Second City, Bill Murray is a legend for his comedy and long list of film credits from Ghostbusters to Meatballs to meatier roles like Lost in Translation. But his real legendary status stems from his random encounters with normal people, which has “earned him nothing short of godlike admiration from people around the world.”

The documentary shows him doing dishes at a London house party, playing football in the park with a bunch of university students and serving up drinks at a bar in Austin Texas. People love him, not because he is a celebrity, but because he becomes one of them.

We had our own Bill Murray story in our little neck of the woods a couple of years ago. It was a Saturday night, and our local pizza joint, The Pizza Place in Harrowsmith was rocking. In walks Dan Aykroyd with Bill Murray (the Aykroyds have a family cottage in our area and Dan is a regular around here). The guys took pictures with the locals, and it made it into the local paper.

Sure, maybe only celebrities can crash a wedding or walk into a house party uninvited and be welcomed with open arms. But we can all be a little bit more like Bill Murray and go with the flow, take an interest in others and make the most of the moment you’re in with the people around you.

Play with happiness

Each one of us is struggling these days to stay motivated, find comfort, and stay happy during COVID-19.

On Friday, I participated in a group counselling session offered by my company. The theme of the discussion was dealing with self-isolation. It was interesting to hear how COVID-19 was affecting people in different ways and the strategies people were using to cope with self-isolation. If you’re as lucky as I am to have an employer who is proactively offering opportunities to take care of your mental health, I highly encourage you to take advantage of them.

If you don’t, the good news is there are many wonderful resources online to tap into. Last week, I shared Yale’s online happiness course. Another great resource is the Conference Board of Canada who has been producing short videos on mental health.

Here’s one to watch from Dr. Bill Howatt, Chief of Research and Productivity on the PLAY model to happiness. Dr. Howatt shares that while half of our happiness is genetic disposition, the other half we can directly influence through PLAY:

  • Finding something you’re Passionate about
  • Living in the moment
  • Finding one Awesome thing each day
  • And finally, Laugh, be silly, vulnerable and laugh often

Certainly COVID-19 has forced us to live in the moment, but the others may be a tall order these days. It’s still great advice at any time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be proactive in taking care of your mental health and PLAY.

Bored out of your skull? Sign up for Yale’s online happiness course

Yale university

Yale University is offering a free online happiness course called The Science of Well-Being.

The idea to offer a happiness course at the university famed for its academia was the brainchild of Professor Laurie Santos who was shocked at the stress and mental health issues students were reporting a few years ago. She developed a course called Psychology and the Good Life, and a quarter of all Yale students signed up for it. It’s now the most popular course the university has offered in its 300-year history.

This year, the university started offering a free online version. It takes about 20 hours to complete and you can learn at your own pace.

The course focuses on the science of happiness and how to rewire your brain and change your behaviours to be happier.

36% of the people who took the course started a new career after completing it and 34% said they got a tangible career benefit from the course.

Here is the curriculum:

  • Introduction—why take this course
  • Misconceptions about happiness
  • Why our expectations are so bad
  • How we can overcome our biases
  • Stuff that really makes us happy
  • Putting strategies into practice
  • Start your final rewirement challenge
  • Continue your rewirement challenge
  • Continue your rewirement challenge
  • Submit your final assignment

It will be interesting to see the changes people make in their lives after this galvanizing period in our history, where we’ve been forced into self-isolation and reflection. Maybe this course will help provide more clarity and help us all on the path to better mental health and happiness.

Happy studies.