Look for a silver lining

light in a dark cloudy sky

I’m into week six of living life indoors with a broken ankle.

Aside from the chronic nerve pain, I’ve been surprised that I’ve been able to keep my spirits up for the most part. And in a strange way, there have been some silver linings.

I’ve started on some writing projects I never seemed to have time for.

I’ve been able to spend days home with Bentley, although he mainly just looks at me with sad, accusing eyes.

I’ve spent time on the phone catching up with friends.

For the first time ever, I’m caught up with my bills, correspondence and filing.

I’ve learned that as long as you have the right system, you can be self-sufficient and do things on your own (although I still say you can’t drink a proper cup of tea from a Yeti).

And finally, I’ve learned that even if someday I am limited in my mobility, I’ll be OK. I used to think that if I didn’t get outside every day, I would literally wither away. I now understand how some seniors choose to stay indoors where it is warm and safe during the winter months.

As I gaze out my sunroom windows on this snowy morning, I’m looking forward to my first walk in the fresh snow, but I also know now that if someday, that walk isn’t possible, I can still be happy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to look for the silver lining.

Five inspiring Netflix picks for February

There’s something about watching a great film that can brighten up even the dreariest of winter days. Here are five Netflix movies to inspire you.

  • Blinded by the Light: an endearing British film about a Pakistani teenager who discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen. A story about family ties and values and following your dreams.
  • Eddie the Eagle: if you watched the Calgary Olympics in 1988, you know the story of Eddie the Eagle, the British ski jumper who captured our hearts with his determination to jump despite all the odds (and little training!) With Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton.
  • The Fundamentals of Caring: I loved this quirky tale of a teenager with muscular dystrophy who bonds with his caregiver on a cross-country journey to see a big pit. Terrific cast, including Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, Craig Roberts, and it took me a minute to place the Mom, but Jennifer Ehle from Pride and Prejudice fame.
  • The Swimmers: full disclosure, I haven’t watched this one yet, but it’s next on my list. A true story of two Syrian sisters who escape war to pursue their dreams of being competitive swimmers.
  • My Octopus Teacher: a documentary by diver Craig Foster who develops a unique bond with an octopus while filming off the coast of South Africa. Beautiful, inspiring with amazing underwater cinematography.

There you have it. Happy viewing!

Ed. note: If you’re a movie buff and live in Eastern Ontario, make sure you get tickets for the Kingston Canadian Film Festival in March. The line-up will be announced on February 2 and tickets go on sale February 6. Last year, I saw the amazing film Scarborough at the festival.

Take this simple positivity test and remember the magic number

three smiling boxes and one frowning box

What if I told you the secret to happiness and success is a line and a number?

The line is called the Losada line and the number is 2.9013 which is the ratio of positive to negative interactions you need to have to be happy and successful. Simply put, you need to have at least three positive interactions to every negative one to be happy.

The Losada line and ratio came out of a study done in 2005 by two psychologists, Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson who analyzed the interactions of management teams and how successful they were. The mathematical formula they used was subsequently challenged and discredited by some experts, but many psychologists still cite their work and adopt the principles of the Losada line in sport, business, and to help individuals achieve positive mental health.

They found if teams generate more than 2.9013 positive feelings, emotions or interactions to every 1 negative feeling, emotion or interaction, the team has positive energy needed to feel good about themselves and flourish. A 5:1 ratio is a culture everyone wants to be part of. Teams below the Losada line of 2.9013 have a deteriorating culture, and at 0.73 to 1, the team culture destructs.

In another study, Dr. John Gottman looked at similar research in marriages. Gottman claims he can predict divorce with 90% accuracy by counting the number of positive versus negative interactions a couple has.

In marriage, the magic ratio is 5:1 (why the ratio is higher in marriage is an interesting question, presumably because marriage is hard and there are two individuals’ happiness at stake!)

Happy couple have at least 5 positive interactions for every negative one. You can read more about Gottman’s study and the types of positive interactions between happy couples here.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the personal positivity test and strive to increase your personal to negative interactions to 3:1 or higher. Gottman also has a quiz on his website called “How Well Do You Know Your Partner” (note you have to provide your email address to get the results emailed to you but a summary pops up on the screen as soon as you provide your email).

And don’t worry if you score low initially on the personal positivity test. I expected to because I’m at home nursing a broken ankle right now. Think of it more as a check in with how you’re feeling, then start working towards improving your positive interactions and on a path to better mental health and happiness.

What’s your word for 2023?

Bertrand Russell quote

I always like this time of year. Whether you believe in making New Year’s resolutions or not, it’s a chance to reflect, look forward, set goals, reinvent ourselves if we want to, and redefine our place and contributions in the world.

It’s also interesting to read the year in review articles and columns that come out around this time. As someone who’s interested in writing, I’m fascinated by the “word of the year” choices.

2022 was the first year Oxford allowed members of the public to vote on the word of the year and 93% voted in favour of a phrase I’ve never even heard of before: goblin mode which won out over metaverse” and “#IStandWith. Merriam-Webster chose the word gaslighting.

I googled “goblin mode” and a wide range of definitions came up, none of them complimentary. It means acting in a way that is reckless, self-indulgent, with no consideration for the well-being of others or social norms or expectations. To embrace your inner goblin is to indulge in a type of behaviour that is lazy, slovenly, or greedy, a means of escape, which Oxford says reflects the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the past 12 months in our post-COVID world.

I think it’s sad that these two words are seen to represent the way the world is feeling right now.

I prefer to choose different words for 2023 based on this quote from philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell: wisdom and courage. Russell wrote this passage in 1953 in Human Society and Ethics, but to me, it resonates today more than ever.

“I allow myself to hope that the world will emerge from its present troubles, that it will one day learn to give the direction of its affairs, not to cruel swindlers and scoundrels, but to men possessed of wisdom and courage.

I see before me a shining vision: a world where none are hungry, where few are ill, where work is pleasant and not excessive, where kindly feeling is common, and where minds released from fear create delight for eye, ear and heart.

Do not say this is impossible. It is not impossible. I do not say it can be done tomorrow, but I do say that it could be done within a thousand years, if only men would bend their minds to the achievement of the kind of happiness that should be distinctive of man.”

What’s your word or quote for 2023? Leave a comment.

11 Best Happy Acts of 2022

Cabin on a lake

What better way to kick off a new year than a top ten list? This year I’ve I’ve chosen 11 posts for all you Spinal Tap fans out there that will hopefully inspire you to make a positive change in the year ahead, with a few fun posts thrown in “for shits and giggles”.

Happy reading and may 2023 bring joy, health and happiness.

Thoughts to live by:

#11: The end or the beginning by my President’s Choice of Husbands

#10: See past your thoughts

Great yarns and just for laughs

#9: The legend of the jacket

#8: Down east sayings to make you giggle

#7: OGs of our day

Happiness at work

#6: The key to job satisfaction in a post-pandemic world

#5: Make decisions that make you smile

Connecting with nature

#4: Explore a deserted beach featuring the haunting Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island, Georgia

#3: Poem Beneath the canopy

Getting involved in your community

#2: As a blogger, you always wonder if your posts resonate with people. In June, after I posted this community success story about the Food Redistribution Warehouse in Kingston, a friend reached out to say they started volunteering there after reading my post.

And finally, before you make your New Year’s Resolutions for 2023, be sure to read

#1: The 75 Easy Challenge

Thanks to all my loyal readers who follow this blog and read my posts on Sunday mornings. If you want to subscribe to receive posts by email, just click on the three dots in the upper right-hand corner and enter your email. Here’s to many #HappyActs in the year ahead.

Angels amongst us

Angel decoration

Some people believe there are angels who walk amongst us. I’m not sure if that’s true but it’s comforting to think that when our loved ones pass away, they ascend to a heavenly place, then send guardians to watch over us and be by our side here on earth.

We found this beautiful angel in Dave’s sisters’ Christmas decorations earlier this month.

At first, I put it aside to give away, but as I went through all her pretty trinkets and baubles, many from a trip MaryAnne took to Germany’s Christmas markets several years ago, I found myself drawn to this particular angel.

The detail is exquisite, from her dainty hands holding a long silver horn to the magnificent wings etched in glitter and flowing silver cape. Her porcelain face, with expressive eyes and red, slightly upturned lips exudes calmness, love and peace. She has quickly become my favourite Christmas decoration and watches over us in our sunroom.

I’m not sure if every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, but at this most joyous time of year, let us believe there are angels amongst us.

Merry Christmas

Angel decoration

Won’t you be my neighbour

Group of neighbours

The neighbour’s annual Christmas holiday gathering 2021

Last week after I wrote my blog, I went for a nice walk in the snow to look for the eagles that soar over our lake this time of year. I slipped on a slight skiff of snow on ice and fell and broke my ankle. Two trips to the hospital, one surgery, a cast and crutches later, I’m now staring down 6-8 weeks of sitting on my couch with all our holiday plans scuppered.

As the week wore on, we started getting calls and texts from neighbours who said they were planning to pop by with food. Not just food, full meals of pork roast and potatoes, Morroccan chicken with salad, pulled pork, beef brisket, ribs and chicken wings and treats and wine. We have enough food in the fridge now to last until Christmas without having to cook a meal!

We’ve always been blessed with best neighbours. As a kid growing up in Port Credit, our neighbourhood and the people in it were our entire world. All the neighbourhood kids hung out together playing street hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. The Moms of the Neighbourhood were a powerful posse, watching over and taking care of us. On the one hand, it was great. If you needed help–you could knock on any door, but the downside was there were about 25 other parents watching your every move who could get you in trouble!

I appreciated this amazing group of women even more as a teenager when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. For seven years, they visited, brought us food and helped drive my Mom to appointments, and then doing the same for my father after she passed away.

In 1995, Dave and I made a huge leap of faith and moved to a small farmhouse outside of the village of Sydenham where we didn’t know a soul. Our first two sets of neighbours were a family of sheep farmers and a single guy, a military communications officer named Kramer.

Kramer was like the Kramer of Seinfeld fame with a big personality and a big heart, but with a lot less hair. He would show up at our door out of the blue with a whiskey bottle in hand or come for dinner, and stay until the wee hours of the morning. We’d push him out the back door, watching him stumble and weave across the lawn in the moonlight and up the steps until he was home safe.

On the other side of us was a lovely family of five called the Orsers. They too became fast friends and we’d visit back and forth, especially during lambing season when Dave and I would spend hours in their barn, petting and holding the baby lambs. During the ice storm of ’98 when we lost power for two days, Neil and Pat and the kids all bunked down at our house since we had a wood stove.

When Kramer moved to the Wasaga Beach area, we said our sad goodbyes and welcomed new neighbours into our midst: a young couple by the name of Jeff and Karrie. Jeff and Karrie became some of our closest friends. It was Jeff who found our beloved cat Angus dead, hit by a car on the road and gently put him in a box and broke the news to us when we came home from work. It was Jeff and Karrie who babysat Grace for the first time, giving us our first afternoon out as new parents. They live in Edmonton now—our kids are all grown up, but we still keep in touch.

Teenagers Grace and Clare with two children next door

When we made the move from Sydenham to Verona, we thought the same thing: there is no way we’ll ever have such great neighbours, but yet again, we were wrong. Our one neighbour Mark Berry reminded me so much of my Dad who had passed away just after we moved into our beautiful lakefront property.

Mark was the inventor of the “unbirthday party”. He’d putter over to our house on his tractor bearing gifts for us and the kids “just because”. His dog Buddy became best friends with our border collie, even sleeping some nights on our deck in our lawn chairs in the summer. We were very sad when he moved back to Toronto to be closer to his children.

Fast forward to today, when once again we have the best neighbours ever. Through the years, our little tight-knit community has grown even closer. Whether it’s popping by for a drink, getting together to celebrate one of the kids’ birthdays next door, graduation celebrations, Canada Day fireworks, or our Christmas Eve tradition of gathering at one of our houses, our time spent together has become some of my favourite memories here on the lake.

They’ve become extended family, and have been a huge life support for us, especially this year. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without them.

So thanks my dear friends and neighbours, for your love and support, friendship and all the delicious food that is now overspilling from my fridge. I look forward to sharing many more precious memories in the years ahead with my favourite neighbours, the best neighbours in the world!

Clare trick or treating with the neighbourhood kids

Clare trick or treating with the neighbours’ kids this year

Neighbours making pizza

Pizza making party next door!

You’re never too old

Teenager Clare with Santa

You’re never too old to learn something new

You’re never too old to get your picture taken with Santa

You’re never too old to dance when no one is watching

You’re never too old to skinny dip

You’re never too old to snuggle

You’re never too old to listen with your heart

You’re never too old to sing loud and clear for all to hear

You’re never too old to seek out new adventures

You’re never too old to love

You’re never too old to share a smile and a laugh

You’re never too old to play

You’re never too old to believe

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to my father-in-law John Swinton who turns 91 tomorrow. Many happy returns.

A Christmas Memories Box

Christmas tree with cardinal garland

We finally decorated the house for Christmas this weekend. Twenty minutes in, Clare shook her head in disgust and asked, “Can someone become Jewish?”

You see my family doesn’t approve of my decorating skills which are somewhere between a cross of Clark Griswold and anything on the Worst Tacky Decorated Homes for the Season list. Last year after we were done, and I asked everyone how the house looked, Clare surveyed the room blandly and said, “It looks like Christmas barfed up all over the house.”

So this year I tried to take their criticism to heart and not put out every broken ceramic Santa and faded snowman cushion.

The one area I refuse to scale back on is tree decorations. Every year when we open up the box with the ornaments for the tree, Clare says we have way too much and should throw some of it away. But I can’t. To me, our battered old green box is a treasure trove of memories. Each ornament tells a story of a different period in our lives.

There are ornaments I painted by hand after I finished a term at university when I was in my twenties, ornaments made by the kids out of popsicle sticks when they were toddlers, and decorations from every trip we’ve ever taken as a family.

There are ornaments that reflect every aspect of our lives: birdhouses and kayaks, dogs, bagpipers, skates, hockey, musical instruments, wine glasses, plenty of fish (we have an entire tree of fish ornaments!), even a Grinch one that says “2020: Stink, Stank, Stunk”. 

There are scores of snowmen because every year Dave’s sister MaryAnne gave the girls a snowman ornament. When they move out, our tree will become less cluttered. And there are at least half a dozen cardinals in memory of loved ones who can no longer be with us in person, but are always with us in spirit at this time of the year. This year I found a beautiful cardinal ribbon garland we added to the tree in memory of my two sister-in-laws who passed away from cancer.

So I will continue unapologetically to put every ornament in my Christmas memory box on the tree. Tacky be damned.

This week’s #HappyAct is to cherish the memories the holidays bring.

Stink Stank Stunk 2020 ornament

Take back Christmas

Bentley beside my holiday urn

I watched Bad Mom’s Christmas last week. There’s a line in the movie when Moms Amy, Kiki and Carla rebel against the pressure of trying to create the perfect Christmas for their families and declare they are “taking back Christmas”.

I’m not sure at what point Christmas became a thing we needed to take back. If I had to pinpoint a timeframe, I’d say somewhere in the early 2000s, when gifts spiralled into electronics costing hundreds and thousands of dollars, pre-lit trees made an appearance, and suddenly decorating your yard became a Griswold-like affair.

Wise man Dave especially hates how commercialized Christmas has become. I’m still a lover of the holiday season, but admit I sometimes feel the pressure of finding the perfect gift, and especially this year, finding time to decorate, bake, send out cards and all the trappings and wrappings of Christmas.

So this year, I’m pledging to Marie-Kondo-the-flock-of-sheep out of Christmas by only doing things that bring me joy.

This is what brings me joy over the holidays:

  • Collecting pine boughs and decorating festive urns (what doesn’t bring me joy? When Bentley eats all the twigs with the red berries I picked)
  • Watching a small town Santa Claus parade—highlights this year were the unicycle club from the local high school, seeing our friend Jay ride the beat up Zamboni they use to clear Sydenham Lake rink, and of course the jolly old elf himself—even Dave was singing Christmas carols
  • Going to a church cantata or concert and listening to holiday music
  • Watching Christmas movies eating homemade caramel corn in front of a crackling fire and festive tree
  • Getting together with the neighbours and of course, spending time with family

You’ll note shopping and wrapping didn’t make my nice list, so I think I’ll cut back this year.

So who’s with me? This week’s #HappyAct is to take back Christmas or Hannukah, or whatever you celebrate. Seek joy and peace this holiday season and avoid the trappings.

Santa Claus float in parade
Old Zamboni in parade