Discover an undersea world

My friend looking at a shark

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade

-The Beatles, Octopus’s Garden

In January, on a very snowy winter afternoon, my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon at Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. I’d never been to the aquarium before, but Dave and the kids had raved about it so I was looking forward to exploring it, especially the shark tank and tunnel where the sharks swim right over your head.

It was an amazing mid-winter afternoon escape. We watched one of their divers feed the stingrays just feet away from us. Stingrays are incredibly graceful, floating and gliding effortlessly, but at feeding time, they’ll flock around the diver like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, opening their mouths to gobble up the fish being offered.

Stingrays

At one point, since we had been hoofing it around the city in blustery snow all day, we just sat and watched one of the huge tanks for a half an hour. The longer we sat and watched, the more species we saw. Bright playful clown fish, luminescent mandarinfish, and fish with wonderful names like Love Bird Parrot and Moorish Idol formed a moving kaleidoscope before our eyes. It was very peaceful and beautiful, and dare I say, zen.

Fish tank

The main attraction was the Dangerous Lagoon which is North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel and which Ripley’s describes as a breathtaking underwater gallery. We hopped on the moving sidewalk three times to watch and wonder at the magnificent sharks, sea turtles and sawfish swimming just inches above and beside us.

Shark in tank

This week’s #HappyAct is to escape the cold and snow, and dive into an undersea world.

Looking for something ultra cool? Every second Friday, they host a jazz night with live music and cash bars throughout the aquarium. Or have a slumber party and sleepover with the sharks. You can drop off the kids or stay for a family experience.  You can sign up for their Scales and Tales e-newsletter with exclusive offers, news and behind-the-scenes info. They even have PD Day camps if you’re looking for something for the kids on the next PD day.

If you don’t have any plans to go to Toronto and live in Eastern Ontario, try the Aquatarium in Brockville. Here is an old blog post I wrote about it a few years ago.

Ed. Note: Have you ever wondered how The Beatles came up with the lyrics to Octopus’ Garden? As the tale goes, Ringo Starr wrote the lyrics after spending a day at sea in Sardinia with comedian Peter Sellers. A waiter mistakenly brought him squid instead of fish and chips and he said, “It was okay. A bit rubbery. Tasted like chicken.” The captain went on to tell Starr about how octopuses travel along the seabed picking up stones and other shiny objects and create gardens with them.

Stingray

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Ten lessons on love and relationships from The Bachelor

Batchelor meme

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, the girls and I thought we’d share our observations on love and relationships from our favourite show, The Bachelor.

  1. Don’t wear a chicken outfit or sloth costume on your first date—you will probably end up going home
  2. It’s never a good idea to tell two people you love them on the same night
  3. It’s much easier to think you’re in love on a helicopter date
  4. Never date a guy named Juan Pablo
  5. You know it’s going to be a good date if there is a limo or hot tub involved.
  6. If your date asks you if you want to spend the night in the Fantasy Suite, ask if there will be cameras involved
  7. When it comes to following your head or your heart, your heart will always win out (just don’t follow something else)
  8. Wear waterproof mascara, because at some point, you know it will all end in tears
  9. Always choose the person who makes you laugh the most
  10. And finally, if you’re a virgin, The Bachelor might not be the show for you

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The most important man in your life

My mechanic

I’ve been keeping a little secret from my husband: he’s not the most important man in my life.

The most important man in my life likes things fast, is good with his hands and is a man of few words.

His name is Jeremy Tinline, and he is the head mechanic and owner of Vic’s Auto in Kingston.

When it comes to your mechanic, you want someone you can rely on, who will see you at a moment’s notice, who will take care of your every need and make you feel safe.

Jeremy and his team at Vic’s Auto do just that. Whenever I’ve had an issue with my car, they take me right away, often will give me a loaner for the day, and always make sure I’m back on the road in no time.

As a small business owner, Jeremy is usually in the shop early in the morning, and can still be there working after 5 when I come in to pick up my car at the end of the day. He is a man of few words, but of much action and integrity.

The day I asked Jeremy if I could take this picture of the two of us, he first looked surprised, then grinned, checked his hair, and posed for several selfies. I got the impression people don’t thank him enough for doing the great job he does every day.

This week’s #HappyAct in honour of Valentine’s Day, is to show your mechanic or a person in your life who helps keep you safe or lightens your load some love.

Don’t miss next week’s blog post for Vaentine’s Day: Ten lessons on love and relationships from The Batchelor.

Me and my mechanic

Seven life hacks for cabin fever

Girl sleeping with dog
Don’t fight the urge to hibernate, embrace it and a big warm fluffy puppy

This past week, in its infinite wisdom, the Limestone District School Board declared four “snow days”, cancelling all buses to the elementary and high schools. I use “snow days” in parenthesis, because for those of you who live in Eastern Ontario well know, there was no snow on Monday and Tuesday, just bright brilliant sunshine. They cancelled school because (insert whiny wimpy voice here), “it was too cold”.

With a snowstorm the prior weekend, what ensued was six days of raging cabin fever for kids across the county and anxiety for the poor high school students whose exam schedules were being bounced around like juggling balls at a summer’s busker festival. By Thursday, kids were begging their parents to drive them to school.

Hopefully the school board has learned its lesson and is reviewing its policies on bussing, but in the meantime, here are some tried and true hacks for combating cabin fever during inclement weather.

  1. Need exercise? Have a dance-off and bust-a-move.
  2. Fix it up. Tackle that home reno or clean up project you’ve been putting off forever. You’ll thank yourself when the weather is sunny and warm and it’s already done.
  3. Take a nap. Our bodies are meant to hibernate in winter. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and luxuriate in a long winter’s nap.
  4. Discover the artist in you. We rarely make time to try a new craft or hobby. Maybe you are a budding Picasso or Rembrandt and just don’t know it. Pick up a brush and try your hand at something new.
  5. Fight boredom with board games. Risk, Monopoly, and my personal favourite Stock Ticker are great ways to kill an afternoon.
  6. Go outside and play in the snow. During one of the “we have to cancel school because it’s too cold outside” days, Clare played outside for three hours and made this cool snow fort. Go for little walks and let the fresh air revive your spirits.
  7. Don’t watch TV endlessly. It’s OK to indulge in a movie or Netflix binge-watching, but at some point boredom will inevitably settle in.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make a plan for that next snow day…they are calling for snow on Tuesday, but maybe even Monday will be too cold to send the kids to school. #TriboardTuesday

Snow fort
The snow fort Clare made when she played outside for three hours on one of the days the school board said it was too cold to send kids to school

The miracle spread: peanut butter

peanut butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Thursday, January 24th is National Peanut Butter Day. I didn’t even know they had a National Peanut Butter Day but I’m definitely on board.

On a cold wintry morning, nothing satisfies the craving for belly timber more than the smooth rich taste of peanut butter.

Canadians have always been a little nutty over our favourite spread.

In fact, it was a Canadian, Marcus Gilmore Edson, a pharmacist from Montreal who first invented peanut butter. Edson developed a process in 1884 to make peanut paste from milling roasted peanuts between two heated plates.

In 2010, Smuckers, the manufacturer of Jif peanut butter stopped selling the popular brand in Canada due to low sales. Canadians were so upset, they took to social media. It took us seven whole years, but we finally convinced Smuckers to stock Jif on our shelves again in 2017. The CBC did a story on it.

There’s even a song called Peanut Butter. It was recorded by the Marathons in 1961 and made it into the top 20.

Why this love affair with the sultry spread? First, there’s the names. You can’t help but love a food called Skippy, or Jif (I’ve read Proctor & Gamble wanted a short and catch brand name to compete with Skippy, so they chose Jif because it was easy to say, spell and remember.)

Then there’s the classic struggle of loyalty and temptation between choosing Smooth or Crunchy. I started out a Smooth girl early in life, had a short fling with crunchy for awhile, then returned to my first love, definitely a smooth operator.

But the main reason why we love the miracle spread so much is the nutty, salty, smooth taste that tantalizes our taste buds and spices up any meal or treat.

Peanut butter is a good source of vitamin E, B6, niacin, calcium, potassium and iron, is packed with protein and is rich in healthy monounsaturated fat.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spread a little cheer on a cold wintry morning with a healthy dollop of peanut butter on your toast, or rustle up an old fashioned PB&J for lunch. Better yet, why not donate a jar or two to your local food bank? Peanut butter is always one of the highest demand items.

Here’s a list of the 21 Best Peanut Butter Recipes ever from Huffington Post and one of my favourite recipes for peanut butter cookies.

Peanutty Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 ½ cups peanut butter

1/3 cup butter or margarine

¾ cup sugar

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla

1 cup rolled oats

¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

8 squares semi-sweet chocolate or 1 cup chocolate chips

In a mixing bowl, cream peanut butter and butter. Gradually beat in sugars. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add oats, flour, baking soda. Blend into creamed mixture, just to combine. Stir in chocolate chips/chunks. Drop by tablespoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Always look on the bright side of life

screen shot 2019-01-13 at 10.19.55 am

There’s a great scene in the movie You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks’ character claims the movie The Godfather is the “ I Ching… the sum of all wisdom…the answer to any question.”

Sorry Tom, you’re wrong. The sum of all wisdom, the answer to any question, can be found in the brilliant anthology of Monty Python.

It has been 60 years this month since the British troop Monty Python was formed. The troop featured five bright lights in British comedy: Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Terry Jones. American Terry Gilliam did the animation.

I grew up watching Fawlty Towers, Benny Hill and Monty Python. If you’re not familiar with these British trailblazers in comedy, you have to google some of their skits. They were nothing short of brilliant.

Together, the Python comedy troupe produced 45 television episodes, five films and a blockbuster Broadway musical.

Here are a few interesting facts you may not know about Monty Python

  • In The Holy Grail, they wanted to use real horses, but didn’t have enough money so they used coconuts instead.
  • Their first full length feature film, And Now For Something Completely Different, was meant to be a showcase for Americans who had never seen the show before.
  • All five members attended and met at the most prestigious universities in Britain: Jones and Palin met at Oxford, while Cleese, Chapman and Idle all attended Cambridge.
  • Beatle George Harrison was a huge fan of the show and came to the troupe’s rescue when financing for their controversial 1979 film “Life of Brian” fell apart. Harrison mortgaged his house for the movie to be made because he wanted to see it, kicking in $4 million pounds.
  • Always look on the bright side of life has become one of the most popular songs played at British funerals and is often song at British soccer games when teams are losing.

I always say the truest test of an artist is their ability to stand the test of time. My daughter Clare a couple of months ago came into the living room when we were watching The Holy Grail. She said, “What is this?” and started watching it with us. At one point she turned to us and said “This is like Sharknado, but even better!”

Much, much better.

This week’s #HappyAct is to always remember the bright side of life and celebrate the 60th anniversary of Monty Python by watching your favourite Python movie or skit. Some of my favourites are The Lumberjack Song, The Argument Clinic, Not Dead Yet, and all of Holy Grail.

Maybe this year I’ll finally get to see Spamalot on stage. Eric Idle also just released an autobiography in 2018 called Always look on the bright side of life.

What’s your favourite Python sketch? Leave a comment.

Ed. Note: About a year ago, I watched a fascinating documentary that aired behind the scenes footage and interviews with the cast. Hopefully they’ll air it again this month, so watch for it.

52 walks later

Group of employees
Some of my co-workers who walked with me in 2018

For once, I followed through on a New Year’s resolution.

Last January, I posted this blog where I vowed to walk one day each week at lunch with a fellow Empire Life employee. My goals were to stay connected with my co-workers and what’s happening in the company, get in shape, and save money (as opposed to going out for lunch with people to catch up).

In full disclosure, I didn’t quite make my goal—work schedules, vacation, and a nasty gland infection in November meant I finished just shy of my 52 walks this year, but I figure I met it in spirit. Here is what I learned on my walks:

  • For some of us, a quick walk at lunch is one of the only times to ourselves. For instance, I learned one co-worker  has five kids under the age of seven, with two-year old twins. If I had five kids under the age of seven, I’d definitely need an escape now and then!
  • Every person has a story to tell. One of my favourite walks this year was with a co-worker who just happened to mention that her husband had received an invitation to the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. She agreed to let me post a little contest on our company intranet to guess who the mystery wedding guest was. We had a lot of fun as people tried to guess which of us knew royalty.
  • People have many hidden passions and talents. Several guys I work with are beer aficionados and are members of the Kingston and Area Brewers of Beer club, I work with several “foodies”, and people love their pets!
  • Life is full of joy and challenges. Many shared their lives, struggles and challenges with me. It was a great reminder that you never really know what’s going on in people’s lives (despite Facebook and Instagram) and to always listen with your heart.

And finally, but I didn’t need 52 walks to know this, I work with some of the nicest, most talented people around. Thanks to everyone who joined me for a walk in 2018. I plan to continue my walks in 2019.

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Leave a comment.