Look up

trees in beautiful BC

I’m tired of watching people looking down all the time at their devices but at others too. It’s time we looked up for a change.

When you look up, you discover a new perspective.

Towering trees, brilliant skies, amazing architecture.

Sunshine, positivity, admiration, kindness.

Leaders who deserve to lead.

Just look up.Kingston city hall

 

goats grazing on a roof
Goats on the roof at Coombs country market in BC
ceiling of BC provincial government building in Victoria
Ceiling of provincial legislature building in Victoria, BC

Running is my therapy

Meme from movie Elf, I just like to run
Special guest blog by Mathew Smith
I stumbled upon an activity last summer that made me very happy.
Pound, pound, pound. My feet slammed against the cement sidewalk with a force they haven’t exerted in decades. I was running, actually running!
I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid. That feeling of speed and energy. It made me smile, one of those you-can’t-help-but-smile smile, a natural smile from that primitive part of the brain. I felt alive! I felt strong! I felt like giant breaths of air were coming into my lungs and going right to my legs bringing them the energy and oxygen they needed to keep pumping.
I turned another corner and had to lean into it–I was running that fast. I could actually feel the wind whip by my face, and the sidewalk was whizzing by. It was exhilarating.
I got home shining in sweat, legs wobbly, gasping for air…no I was not near death, I was feeling better than I’d felt in years. Who knew jogging could do that?
How did someone like me start running?
I was searching for answers as to why I felt so tired, uninspired, and unmotivated all the time. I happen to run, forgive the pun, across a book titled Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas. What caught my interest was that Scott’s stories were so relatable. He was using running as a way to boost his energy, feel motivated in life, and ease his mental ups and downs.
Even though I am not an athlete at all I was drawn to the idea of running. Then the science behind it closed the deal for me. There were actual details, facts, studies on how the brain reacts to running. It turns out running does a whole bunch of great things for the brain, your mood, and your energy level. Some scientists claim it is better than any antidepressant.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is great for the body. Running is one of those great ‘cardio’ gems. It gets blood flowing, really flowing for the half-hour or hour you run. But, as an added bonus your body keeps burning calories and moving blood around for hours afterward. This is especially good for the brain.
There is also something special about running compared to other cardio exercises like biking. It seems to harken back to our early years living on the savannah, hunting over long distances to stay alive. Our ancient ancestors were designed to be able to run long distances and those who could survived and past on their running genes.
Studies have found that something happens to the brain when you run, that it almost disconnects with your body,  to be able to deal with the pain and strain your muscles endure. Sounds bad, but, it turns out this is a great thing. You get a big dose of endorphins, which make you feel great, and the break from mind and body clears your head. It’s almost like your brain goes on autopilot as all the energy you have goes into running. Your brain takes a breather. Which is great if you are someone who is anxious, dwells on problems, or just has a brain that feels like it won’t stop.
Then there are the social aspects. I found a running club in town that met two times a week. It was organized by The Running Room store and they touted it as inclusive to everyone. Hmm, I was a bit skeptical. I was picturing twenty gazelle type runners wearing those bright one-piece spandex suits and mirrored sunglasses talking about marathons and half-marathons. I called the store and asked about the running club–was it actually free? As a first time runner would I be okay?
I was told it was free (yippee). I was told there were plenty of first-timers, even non-runners (walkers they are called), and there would be a group I would fit into. I guess I was going to find out on Sunday morning if this was the crowd for me.
Saturday night, 2 am, I found myself driving home a couple of guys I had went out with that night. They were pretty drunk and planning on sleep their hangovers off in the morning, while I knew I had to get up early and make my way back downtown to go running. When the alarm clock went off five hours later I was feeling good.
As I drove to Running Club I recalled the previous night, having a beer with the guys talking about life. They had complained about their jobs and the struggles to make ends meet. They rehashed old memories, their glory days of years past (decades past in most cases). They didn’t mention any future plans, goals, or anything like that. To them, it was like life was something to endure.
The exact opposite atmosphere almost smothers me as I walk in the door of the Running Room. Even though it is eight am on a Sunday morning the room is buzzing with energy. Positive energy. There are half a dozen older ladies huddled by the door in their sweatpants and bright white running shoes. They are gabbing and laughing and saying, ‘good morning’ to all that enter. I’m instantly feeling better. Yes, there are a few one-piece spandex suited gazelles in the room, but, for the most part the crowd is middle-aged non-athletic looking people.
I actually spot a guy I know from my job. I’m kind of surprised to see him because he doesn’t strike me as a ‘runner’. I have only seen him in a chef uniform as he teaches in the culinary arts program at the college. He says, ‘Hi, are you part of the running club?”. I tell him this is my first time. He says this is his first time at this running club. He is with a friend and looking to do the ten-kilometre run. Then he is meeting someone about a second job because the summer is quiet for him and he hates to be bored. Multiple jobs and ten km runs, um, overachiever club?! This makes me worry. Is everyone here like this? Am I going to fit in?
I join a group and go for a run and soon realize something funny happens when you run with people. Your mind starts to relax and you feel more open. It may be that you are not face to face with someone, so it makes it easier to talk, or it could be that you feel good and just want to chat? So, I chat. I found it interesting to hear tidbits of the other runner’s lives because the crowd was so diverse. A mixed bag of people; a computer guy, a student/waitress, a teacher, a chemical engineer, a retired couple.
Our leader that day, Chris, is working on a Master’s degree in poetry. A poet who runs?! I was quickly learning that runners are not the typical athletic type. They come in all shapes and sizes. I might actually fit in here. It’s easy to talk to these people and I quickly feel part of the group. There was so much positive chatter about the future; everything from running goals to life goals. These were happy, motivated people. This was a great atmosphere for sparking happiness.
So what we have is an activity that has scientifically proved health benefits, an uplifting crowd of followers, little cost, and is for everyone under the sun? Who can say no to that? Your #HappyAct this week is to take a step, or many, towards those happy feelings that come with a jog.
Mathew Smith | You can meet up with Mathew every Sunday morning at 8am at the Running Room on Princess St. once the Covid-19 restrictions allow the Running Club to start up again.

 

If I were Oprah Winfrey–my commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020–The Next Act

Clare at her Grade 8 graduation

My two beautiful daughters graduated this past week, one from high school, one from elementary school. There were no dances, no proms, no gatherings of proud parents watching graduates parade across a stage in gown and cap. There was a 15-minute interval where they picked up their diplomas and awards and had their picture taken with one or two family members, and then that was it.

My heart goes out to all of these kids, and I couldn’t help thinking, if I was some big celebrity who was asked to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class of 2020, what would I say?

Here would be my Oprah speech:

The Next Act

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

I know this isn’t the graduation you dreamed of.

You should have been dancing. Hugging. Celebrating with your classmates. Dreaming and looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the next act in your life.

But you are not the first class to graduate in uncertain times. There have been those before you who have graduated in times of war and economic downturn.

Graduation is by design, a time of uncertainty and change. But we acknowledge this year is different.

in addition to the natural uncertainty of the questions every graduate faces, college or university, work or travel, you have the pressing uncertainties of a world in flux and change.

#BlackLivesMatter. Climate change. Coronavirus.

You will forever be known as the graduating class of COVID-19.

We are so sorry this happened to you.

It shouldn’t have ended this way, but know how proud we are of you and how confident we are that you will come through this stronger, smarter and more resilient.

Although you may not see this now, you have been given a unique graduation gift.

A gift of time to reflect on your goals, dreams, purpose and future.

A gift of clarity of what matters most, human kindness and acceptance, our natural world, and the importance of family and human connection.

These past few months have given you an education no institution ever could.

So what will be your next act?

Whatever it may be, know there is a difference between “purpose” and “a purpose”.

Purpose is sometimes portrayed as one all-consuming passion. You may not all be Greta Thunbergs, but you can find a purpose in everything you do.

Being a good friend. A good student. A good worker. A good mother or father. Someone who cares and gets involved in their community.

Purpose is not a single act.

Finally, be kind to one another. Seek what brings us together as humans, and eschew those that divide and remember you belong to each other. Do better than our generation has done.

Above all, whatever your next act in life, make it a purposeful and happy one.

And if I really was Oprah, “you win a mask, and you win a mask and you win a mask…”

Two girls graduating

Start with the main in the mirror

Black lives matter mural in Washington

For the past few weeks, I’ve watched the world raise a collective fist on bended knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter.

I have not publicly spoken about the protests and George Floyd until today.

I needed time. Time to process my feelings. Feelings of disbelief that in 2020, systemic racism continues to exist. I am dumbfounded, stupefied, appalled, and ashamed. As Barack Obama said this past week, “This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal’.

I also needed time to think about my response and what we need to do to effect change.

I believe change will come from two driving forces. The first will be companies, organizations, police bodies, justice systems and governments that will begin the slow process of addressing systemic racism, gender inequality, ageism and other forms of discrimination.

The more powerful change will come from us as individuals within. It all starts with the man in the mirror.

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd but there were three former police officers who stood by and watched and did nothing. If even one of those men had intervened, George Floyd would be alive today. What do those men see when they look in the mirror each morning? What change will they make within themselves to make the world a better place?

Some are shaming individuals and brands for not speaking up and showing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, saying if you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem. Not only is that not helpful, it is hateful and perpetuates the same type of ignorant assumptions that the anti-racist movement is fighting against.

One of the reasons I’ve remained silent until now is I didn’t want to be a hollow voice in a chorus of “convenient outrage” as the son of Royson James, a black journalist with The Toronto Star phrased it. Royson, who admits he is “jaded, exhausted” having lived through too many promising moments and forgotten promises asked his two sons their perspectives on this unique period in history. One sees progress and opportunity but fears “convenient outrage” will ebb as in past moments in the history of the civil rights movement.

I am also shocked and frankly a little frightened of how people are vilifying every word, syllable and utterance that can be perceived negative towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Many celebrities who wanted to show their support and posted black images on their feeds on #BlackOutTuesday were criticized for not using their platforms to educate people.

Wendy Mesley, a respected 40-year veteran of the CBC was suspended last week after using a racist phrase. It was not on the air, and it was not her own words. She was quoting a source or fellow journalist in a staff editorial meeting. A Toronto Sun column hailed this despicable move by the CBC as the “death of modern journalism” saying Wesley was offered up “as a human sacrifice to vultures on a diet of cancel culture.”

We need to change. We need to commit. We need to act.

But the commitment and actions must be pure and swift, not hollow platitudes or hateful criticisms. There are important conversations taking place right now about anti-racism and discrimination in boardrooms, police organizations, governments, and households. The most important conversation is the one with ourselves.

Because it all starts with the man in the mirror.

Strange times brew

My husband Dave with beer

Sometimes, when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, you just have to remember, in beer we trust.

For the past three months, in the spirit of supporting local retailers, Dave has been stopping in at one of our local microbreweries on the way home from work and buying a healthy helping of hops.

We figured strange times calls for strange measures and the measures we choose are pints and quarts.

We started out with our local “go to” microbrewery, MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company. We love these boys and their delicious brews. What’s unique about MacKinnon Brothers is they grow everything on site on their farm in Bath. They recently expanded, building a big barn where there was once just a small tasting shack. They also throw one hell of a party every year—their Back to the Farm musical bash in August. Try their Crosscut Canadian Ale, or their Red Fox Ale (my personal favourite).

Next up was two Kingston breweries in the west end: Spearhead and Riverhead. Spearhead has a nice Hawaiian style pale ale and Sam Roberts Band Ale. A hoppy type of guy at the best of times, Dave was partial to Riverhead’s Tropical IPA, while I sailed towards their Kingston 1000 Islands Ale or Belgian Blond, being the hot blond that I am. Riverhead has fabulous music nights on Fridays and has been hosting virtual beer nights during COVID-19.

One of the newest craft breweries in Kingston, Daft Brewing in Princess Street is more than just a brewery. When COVID hit, they started producing hand sanitizer. We skipped on the sanitizer but brought home a New England IPA that tantalized my head beer taster’s taste buds. Their bottles have a funky flamingo on them.

Our latest foray was to the Westport Brewing Company in Westport. We took home three packs of Lakeside Lager, Beaver Pond Trail Brown Ale and Upper Rideau Blonde Ale in one litre cans. The owners told us they already have a COVID beer on tap. It’s called “It is what it is” and will be ready next week.

This week’s #HappyAct is to support your local microbrewery and enjoy. Cheers!

Ed. note: SCTV fans will get the play on words on this week’s post title: Strange Brew was a 1983 Canadian comedy featuring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Doug and Bob Mackenzie, brothers who work as spies in a brewery to help save the world. That’s your trivia for today. G’day, eh!

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.