Visit a Charles Dickens village

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

Our British Heritage runs deep in this region. Kingston was, after all, the first capital of Canada and north of Kingston, in the area once known as Upper Canada, there are dozens of quaint villages that transform into magical towns hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens at Christmas.

One of my favourites is the tiny village of Delta where thousands of visitors assemble each year to take an evening stroll through Lower Beverly Park to see the 90,000 lights, visit Santa’s workshop and take a wagon ride through the village. The local church hall serves hot meals, and in the centre of the village, the Delta Mill is open for tours.

The Old Stone Mill in Delta is a national historic site and treasure. It was built in 1810 and is still a working gristmill (they grind their own flour in the summer months). In December, antique candles light up the mill as they flicker in the six-foot window sills of each window.

Once inside, you are transported back to the days of Dickens. Caped carollers sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the smells of hot cider fill the air. Local volunteers share their knowledge and history as they take you for a tour and explain how flour is ground. You almost expect to see the ghost of Christmas past or Ebenezer Scrooge emerge from the mill’s shadows.

This week’s #HappyAct is to transport yourself back in time with a visit to Delta. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

The mill and park are open every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.

Some other great towns to visit during the holidays include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Merrickville and high on my wish list, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a Father Christmas Festival and transform their picturesque seaside village into a winter wonderland.

Old Stone Mill in Delta

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Ever happy in Toyland

Girl and mother in funny hats in toy store

“Toyland, toyland
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy there”

Lyrics from the holiday classic “Toyland”

The best way to discover your inner child is to spend an afternoon in a toy store.

Years ago, I worked for a company called Discovery Toys. I was their writer, so my job was to play with the toys and write all the catalogue and promotional copy.

Their slogan was “Play is a child’s work”.

Play is how children learn, but as adults, play serves a different purpose. Toys have the power to transport us back in time to when we didn’t have a care in the world. Our imagination immediately gets reawakened and once again life is full of possibilities.

Play allows us to forget our current cares and troubles. We can reinvent ourselves for a moment in time and be whoever we want to be: an astronaut, a ballerina, or a warrior.

Perhaps the greatest gift of all, play allows us to see the world through a child’s eyes again.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pay a visit to Santa’s toy shop, or MasterMind Toys if you can’t make it to the North Pole. Here are some pictures Clare and I took on a recent excursion to MasterMind. And if you happen to be in Quebec City, be sure to check out toy store Benjo—a magical place.

Girl and hockey game
Clare beating me at table top hockey

Girl and elephant

Girl and giraffe

 

The neuroscience of happiness

happy brain

I was sitting in my doctor’s office last week reading a National Geographic article on empathy and the brain. It told the story of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived an explosion in 1848 that drove an iron rod through his left frontal lobe. Those who knew him described him before the accident as friendly and respectful. After the accident he was uncaring and indifferent. It’s a fascinating read on why people commit heinous crimes stemming from a common thread of having a lack of remorse and empathy for others caused by a deficiency in the neuroscience of the brain.

For centuries, the brain has been a mystery to the medical profession and researchers. But we have learned quite a bit about the chemicals our brain produces and how they impact emotions and happiness. Here are a few interesting facts.

  • Dopamine is the chemical that spurs you to action when you want something. The anticipation of the reward releases dopamine which creates energy for you to achieve your goal. One easy way to release dopamine is to always be setting goals before new ones are achieved.
  • Endorphins are the chemicals associated with the fight or flight response and give you the ability to power through situations. You often hear of professional athletes achieving endorphin highs as they train, but you don’t need to push your body to the max to release endorphins in a positive way. Laughing and stretching can release endorphins, acupuncture, and even simple things like eating chocolate, spicy foods or smelling vanilla and lavender.
  • Oxytocin has been referred to as the “cuddle chemical”. It’s released when you experience a closeness or feeling of trust or intimacy. Giving hugs, petting dogs, and simply just socializing with others can release oxytocin.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think how you can get the neuroscience of your brain working for your happiness.

The crappy act revisited

Dog with sunglasses
Our one dog now, the Bellediot–beautiful but stupid as a bag of hammers

My life is starting to resemble a country song. We had to put my old dog down, two of my appliances died, our car was in the shop and we got a ticket for parking in front of a hydrant, bills are piling up and to make matters worse, I’ve had a throat infection that’s only getting worse which means I’ll have to go back to the doctor for another appointment.

As Dave says, there are weeks when the happy act should really be The Crappy Act. It’s made me reflect on how to keep chipper when life gets you down. Here are a few things that work for me.

  • Taking care of myself. Easier said than done, but I’ve always been a huge advocate of listening to your body, and when I’m feeling poorly I try to slow down and take care of myself. Note to self: make another doctor’s appointment tomorrow.
  • Being grateful for what I have instead of what I’ve lost. I loved Murphy our old dog, but we still have our Great Pyrenees, Bella, the stupidest dog on the face of the planet. Even though her various nicknames range from Bella the Fart Smeller, to Bella the Drywall Eating Dog, to the Bellidiot, we still love her and I’m grateful my big fluffy polar bear of a dog is still here to greet me every night when I come home.
  • Remembering that no matter what challenges we are facing, there is someone sitting next to me dealing with far more serious issues. I was reminded of this twice this weekend.
  • Knowing this too shall pass.
  • Oh, and chocolate and ice cream don’t hurt either (and are cool on the throat).

Hope everyone else had a happy week….and thanks for the kind words about Murphy. Our gentle giant is in a happier place.

Did Les Nessman have it right? My ideal office of the future

Les Nessman fake door sign

I’ve been watching with interest the discussion online about ideal office space and I’ve come to the conclusion Les Nessman had it right.

You may recall the classic episode from the 70s show WKRP in Cincinnati, where news director Les Nessman draws imaginary lines around where his office door should be and asks the rest of the office to respect his space.

There’s been a huge shift in the past five years to open, collaborative workstations.

The idea behind these workspaces was noble. Force people out of their offices and workstations, and you’ll foster collaboration, drive innovation and break down silos.

But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and most employees who work in these cattle stalls report being unhappier at work and less productive.

They say noise levels and lack of privacy make it hard to concentrate and do “heads down” work and god forbid you try to have a conference call or hangout with someone. I was reading an article the other day where one employee said it’s actually hurt collaboration in their company, because most people now wear headphones all day and don’t talk to each other.

I have friends that work in some companies where they don’t even have a workstation any more. There is a space for their team and transient workstations for the days they are working in the office.

Now some may say, what’s the big deal, sounds great. People are working from home, they don’t need regular workspace. So what if it’s noisy?

Others say it is a big deal and we need to come up with a new approach that will achieve the original goals of openness and collaboration, but address the needs of modern work. I saw a design last week that had bizarre small desks that could move and looked like a honeycomb. It made me think of a hamster wheel. No thanks.

You see the problem is many of these so-called “experts” who are designing modern workspaces are overlooking some very basic realities and needs of office workers today.

The first is the importance of natural light. Number two is addressing the plague affecting office workers of the 21st century: inactivity. The third goes back to where I started this blog, Les Nessman and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which states people by nature need to satisfy their physiological needs first (eating, drinking, shelter), then feel safe. It’s tough to feel safe in open workplaces.

So it got me to thinking if I could design my ideal work space, what would it look like.

Everyone would still have a desk or place to work with natural light. You’d sit in pods of four or maybe six with people you like. The pods would have chairs that are like ultramatic beds. Push a button and you are sitting up, or recline for casual conversation. When you didn’t want to chat anymore, you’d push a button and sound-proof glass would come up and you turn your chair like you’re on the Voice, and presto, you have peace and quiet for concentrated work.

There’d still be open, airy spaces where you could chat, have a quick meeting or just take a break. In every pod, or maybe in a separate area, there would be treadmills and exercise bikes fully wired so you could participate in a meeting or listen to a webinar while getting exercise.

There would be a Dog Café where you could bring your dog to work and visit with them over coffee or take them out for a walk at lunch. It would be street level and become a tourist attraction—people would come from miles to see the dogs in the window.

And last but not least, there would be a beer fridge and free beer for everyone on Friday afternoons.

Yes, that workplace of the future would make me happy.

The shop around the corner: #BuyCanadian

Shop local banner

If there’s been one positive outcome of the acrimonious NAFTA and the free trade talks, it’s the renewed support for Canadian farmers, retailers and manufacturers by shopping local.

We had a great #BuyCanadian experience lately. This summer we renovated our bathroom. Our contractor took us to a bath specialty store for fixtures, but we still needed a vanity and storage.

I googled bath stores in Kingston and found Bath Depot in the Rio Can centre on Gardiner’s Road.

Bath Depot (Bain Depot in Quebec) is a Canadian success story. It was founded by four brothers from Quebec and is unique, because it’s not just a retailer, it acts as a manufacturer, distributor and retailer for its products. The result is great products, made in Canada at reasonable prices. Today it has 25 stores in Ontario and Quebec and more than 200 employees.

They were excellent to deal with and had one of the best selections of vanities, fixtures and accessories to choose from and we love our new bath room.

This summer, we also scoured the big box stores to find replacement vacuum bags for our old vacuum. We had just about given up, when Dave said let’s check John Trousdale’s hardware store in the town of Sydenham. John has one of the best selections of appliances in the area, and will match just about any price. Sure enough, he had what we were looking for.

Some economists say it’s impractical to #BuyCanadian—that there simply isn’t enough Canadian manufacturers and products and we need to keep calm and keep trading on. I say it’s time to support our local businesses and when you can, #BuyCanadian.

Not sure where to find local goods? Check out madeincanada.ca, a site created by a 17-year old Ontario student on his summer vacation that lists Canadian made goods. Not bad, eh?

bathroom
My renovated bathroom with vanity and storage cabinet courtesy of Bath Depot

Picasso’s favourite meal

charcuterie board

Last night I walked in the door, and Clare had this beautiful charcuterie plate waiting for us to sample. Charcuterie has become our new favourite treat on weekends .

Charcuterie is a French word that means cooked meat or flesh. It was used to designate butcher shops in fifteenth-century France that sold cooked pork. They weren’t allowed to sell fresh pork so they devised different ways of cooking the meat, salting, smoking and curing it, and using salt and a variety of spices.

I’m not sure who the first person was to introduce cheese to charcuterie, but remind me I have to thank them. Our board was teeming with Wilton cheese, goat cheese and red pepper jelly.

And of course, you can’t enjoy charcuterie without wine. Last night, Dave and I enjoyed a bottle of The Tragically Hip’s Fully Completely 2015 Grand Reserve to keep it local.

This week’s #HappyAct is to prepare a charcuterie board and enjoy. It’s the perfect dish for entertaining during the holiday season.

What’s your favourite charcuterie item? Leave a comment.