What do you do if you’re not sure what makes you happy anymore?

Sign what makes you happy

My horoscope yesterday said, “Do what makes you happy”. The problem is, I’m not sure what that is anymore.

Call it the pandemic blues, call it middle age (okay, I’m being kind to myself here), but I’ve found myself pondering this question the past 24 hours.

What used to make me happy was simple. My family, my beautiful lake and property, visiting with friends and neighbours, little things like the refrains of the piano drifting through the air while I sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.

These things still make me happy, but I’ll admit, it’s more subdued now.

I wish I was one of these people who found a new passion and purpose during COVID. I haven’t. I’ve fallen into the cohort known as “languishers” the term coined by the New York Times to describe those of us feeling joyless and aimless, and “slipping slowly into solitude.”

With things opening up, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to reach out and connect with people, but I’m not. I was talking to a friend at work the other day who felt the same way. It’s not that we have social anxiety, it’s not that we don’t miss people and would love to see them again, we just don’t have the energy.  

They say one antidote to languishing is to immerse yourself in a project. But that takes energy too.

So dear readers, this week my #HappyAct is to ask you for advice. How do you figure out what makes you happy again? Please, leave a comment.

The World’s Best Butter Tart

Deep-fried butter tart and regular butter tart

It’s time to set the record straight on a hotly debated topic: who has the best butter tart in Ontario.

Many regions in Ontario and Quebec claim to be home to the world’s best butter tart, but the scientific proof (the crumbs on my shirt) are all the evidence I need we do right here in eastern Ontario.

And you can find them in the tiny hamlet of Inverary, north of Kingston at Mrs. Garrett’s Bake Shop.

Joyce Garrett and her family have been serving up homemade butter tarts, pies, bread and cookies for more than 30 years. Her bake shop is one of those local gems visitors are desperate to discover, and residents cherish.

What makes her butter tarts the best is the perfect mix of mouthwatering pastry and the amount of rich gooey filling in the deep shell. Mrs. Garrett doesn’t know the meaning of the word skimp.

Canadians’ love affair with this quintessential Canuck pastry goes back centuries. According to local foodlore, young French settlers coming to Canada had to improvise and use local ingredients for their pies and pastries. Since maple syrup was aplenty in Canada, the butter tart was born.

Last summer, Mrs. Garrett’s made headline news for the summer’s taste sensation: deep-fried butter tarts.

Dave and I finally tried our first deep-friend butter tart last week. It was yummy, but why mess with perfection?

Midland has a massive butter tart festival in June and the Kawarthas Northumberland region northeast of Toronto even has a Buttertarts tour, complete with 50 stops at local eateries and bakeries.

You won’t find Mrs. Garrett’s at either of these two places. No, to savour the world’s best butter tart, you’ll have to make the trip to Kingston this summer for the ultimate butter tart experience.

Looking for more foodie recommendations in eastern Ontario? Read my post, The finer things in life to see my top picks for bread, wine, cheese, ice cream and more.

Out for a rip

Husband and author on ATV

Does this interminable lockdown have you down? Has cabin fever got you feverish for adventure? The perfect panacea for this perpetual pandemic is to go out for a rip.

We’ve been going out for a rip on our ATV, exploring the back roads and trails in our area the last few nights.

While technically you can go out for a rip in any vehicle like a car, truck, snowmobile, or even bicycle, there’s nothing like the open air and wind hitting your face when you’re on an ATV or bike.  

You also get to explore new terrain in an ATV. We’re very fortunate to have the K&P trail which is open to ATVs north of Verona just up the road from us.

Our area is well known for this pastime, iconicized by the famous Tamworth rapper BRich. Watch his music video Out for a Rip to find out how to do it right. (Foul language warning).   

On my rip with Dave, we whizzed past farmer fields filled with purple and white wallflowers, through old growth forests and cottage laneways. We stopped to see a magnificent barred owl, watching us from the hydro lines, a mossy covered snapping turtle laying her eggs at the top of a waterfall, and to catch the fading sun over a lily-pad covered bay.

With Clare last night, we came across three baby raccoons who clambered up a tree beside the road when we stopped to watch them, a turkey perched in a tree, and two deer.

If you enjoy the freedom of an open road, you’ll love the freedom of an open trail.

This week’s #HappyAct is to go out for a rip, bud.

And I couldn’t resist throwing it back to this post featuring the BRich Sportsnet video, “Get out your swimming trunks—the Leafs are in the playoffs”. Sorry, Leaf fans!

View from the back of an ATV
Snapping turtle laying her eggs
Baby raccoons in the trees
pond with lily pads
My daughter Clare on our ATV

Forgive me/she/her

Pride month poster

June is Pride month. A few weeks ago, I finally changed my autosignature to include my pronouns she/her at the end. I’ve been meaning to change it for almost a year now, but finally got a round tuit at the hardware store when I was on vacation last week.

I’ve always considered myself an ally of the LGBTQ community and am looking forward to seeing a rainbow-filled feed on my social media channels on Tuesday.

But I confess I sometimes do find it hard to navigate this world of diversity and inclusion. It will be only a matter of time before I make a mistake and will have to ask for forgiveness.

For instance, I was writing an email to my team last week. I have a small team and we all know each other pretty well, so our work emails are pretty informal.

I started out writing my normal, “Hey guys, I’ll need to move our regular team meeting…” But then I remembered reading an article that said “guys” is inappropriate since it implies men and excludes others. I say this to my family all the time so hopefully I’m not insulting Grace and Clare the next time I say, “Hey guys, what do you want for dinner tonight?”

I thought about “Hey gang” but was afraid it might be discriminatory against people in actual gangs or imply they were a bunch of miscreants or hooligans.

I tried “Hey folks”, but then wondered if that had southern connotations, even though we don’t live in the United States, or a rural connotation that might be offensive.

I’ve sometimes used “Hey peeps” which seems pretty harmless, but could be racist towards chickens.

In the end, I just went with “Hey team”. Whew, problem solved.

You see my dilemma.

I know I’m being cheeky and there is a good chance someone who is reading this has already taking offence to me making light of an important subject.

I believe people have a right to be called whatever they want, whether it’s he, she, per, ze/ziethey, or they. Addressing people the way they prefer to be called is simply a matter of respect and is no different than when women started challenging the use of Miss and Mrs. as part of the feminist movement.

Personally, I don’t care what I’m called as long as you don’t call me late for dinner.

I know I have a lot to learn. I will make mistakes. I just hope you forgive me/she/her when I make them.

And to all my LGBTQ friends, I love you just as you are. You are authentic, funny and strong, and I am proud to celebrate by your side, a true ally, this month. Happy pride month, everyone!

Ed. Note: The dilemma of how to address people was encapsulated perfectly in the Saturday Night Live skit, “It’s Pat” in the early 90’s. Here’s an episode where the friends of androgynous Pat throw a birthday party for them. SNL was always on the cutting edge of societal issues. While the character of Pat was a caricature, the humour was in seeing how people with good intentions tried to unearth clues as to how to address Pat.

Ten things to avoid if you want to be happy

Road construction

I’ve often said on this blog, it’s just as important to know what doesn’t make you happy, as what does make you happy. Here are ten things that haven’t made me happy in the past year:

1) Talking to car salesmen. Seriously, do these guys go to school to learn how to be schmaltzy and schmarmy? In fairness, the team at Kingston Volkswagen were great and we love our new Tiguan.

2) Teenagers who roll their eyes at everything you say and whose favourite words to describe you are weird and embarrassing (and that’s on a good day).

3) Road construction. My road is a mess right now. It’s year two of what most likely will be three years of construction. We’ve given up trying to keep our cars clean and washed.

4) Real estate prices. What is going on? It makes me sad that home ownership has become out of reach for the younger generation.

5) Wasted food. Remember the teenagers I mentioned above? I wish I had a dime for every bruised banana, unopened granola bar or uneaten sandwich I’ve seen thrown in the garbage. It makes my blood boil.

6) Waiting in lines. This may be a necessary evil right now, but if I see a line longer than 10 people, I don’t bother.

7) Bad online shopping experiences. Online shopping has been a lifesaver for many of us during COVID, but some sites need a lot of work to create a better overall customer experience.

8) Mosquitoes and ticks. Get a bug zapper.

9) Hockey fans who whinge about unfair penalty calls and Leaf fans who think Auston Matthews is a god. Okay, the reffing was a bit blatant last night, but bad calls are part of the game.

10) COVID-19: Don’t underestimate it. Keep wearing a mask, wash your hands frequently and get vaccinated. I know we’re all tired of it, but we’re so close, let’s see it through so we can get back to some semblance of normal.

Five easy peasey no pot meals

Pork tenderloin on the BBQ

I’m almost afraid to say it in case we jinx it, but summer may finally be here.

When the skies turn robin egg blue and the days become wonderfully warm, the last thing you want to be doing is spending your time cooking and cleaning up indoors.

It’s this time of the year, I turn to my easy peasey no pot meals. Here are my top five favourites. Most of these are quick and easy on the BBQ.

  1. Naan pizza: a great go-to for get togethers, especially with kids. Let your guests build their own pizza using Naan bread and their own base and toppings. My favourite base is my famous garlic scape pesto
  2. Pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables, potatoes and naan bread
  3. Grilled chicken fajitas on the BBQ with onions and peppers, lettuce, salsa and cheese
  4. BBQ hamburgers, sausages and corn with garlic butter and a fresh green salad
  5. Leftover Mexican bowls: have leftover rice in the fridge? Layer it with fried onions and peppers, black beans and frozen corn, salsa and a chipotle sauce made of mayonnaise, sour cream, lime juice, garlic and Mexican spices

This week’s #HappyAct is to make a simple summertime dish. What’s your favourite breezy summertime meal? Leave a comment.

Plan the perfect do-nothing vacation

Me and Dave on a boardwalk in South Carolina

I’m starting a week’s vacation, and to be honest, I’m pretty stoked about it. I plan to poke around some garden centres, do a little kayaking, fishing, lots of eating, drinking, and watching Netflix. Basically all the same things I’ve been doing for the past year, minus work.

I used to be one of those people that would never take a vacation day if I didn’t have anything to do. The whole thought of spending an entire day at home was foreign to me. I always had to have something planned, either a big trip, or at least some day trips or overnighters to friends’ cottages or the city. Staycations were not my thing.

Now Covid is giving staycation a whole new meaning.

But there is something liberating about a do-nothing vacation. You can sleep as much as you want. You don’t have to worry about packing or having to be somewhere on time or follow a schedule. If it rains, who cares? It doesn’t ruin your plans because you don’t have any. You can just curl up for a nap, or find something to do inside.

Actually, it sounds rather idyllic except for two things.

My teenagers, both home all week, one home schooling, the other waiting for her summer job to start. All of a sudden, work doesn’t look that bad.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan the perfect do-nothing vacation. What do you plan to do on yours? Leave a comment. Here’s a picture from a do-something vacation from two years ago outside Bubba’s Love Shak on a boardwalk in South Carolina. Sigh.

The future of work

future of work sign

There is a raging debate going on about the future of work. Companies are considering whether to continue to let employees work remotely, return to the office or adopt some form of hybrid model when the worst of the pandemic is over.

As I said last week, we’ve learned much in the past year. But I fear that as a society, we will let a precious opportunity slip through our fingertips: the opportunity to finally redefine our relationship with work, to seek a greater work-life balance and truly imagine a brighter future, one where we don’t just spend our days making a living, but living our best lives.

Here is my vision for the future of work.

First, employees would be able to choose how many hours they want to work a week. Imagine if you could say to your employer, I want to work 24 hours a week, 30, or 32 hours a week so I can pursue my passion, whether it’s painting, writing, running a side business, or volunteering.

Employees would have more flexibility to choose when they work. 6 a.m. to noon? No problem. I was reading one study where 15% of workers said they’d prefer to work in the evenings or at night so they could do things outside during the day. Depending on the role, why not? It could also help with child care challenges for working families.

We need to discover how to bring joy and fun back into our work world. The reality for many office workers is their day consists of never-ending emails and meetings, distractions and interruptions that is making us unhappy at work. When you feel like your day consists of putting out fires and you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do, it’s disheartening. Even before the pandemic, people were habitually checking email 74 times a day and switching tasks every 10 minutes. 

There are many, innovative solutions to making work fulfilling again.

Let’s start by hiring more people. I believe too many companies are running too lean. There are simply not enough people to do the work. If some people opt for shorter work weeks, there could be the opportunity to hire people and distribute work a bit more equitably to help ease stress and workloads.

We also need to be smarter about how we spend our time during the workday. Companies could establish designated meeting times, and work times to help people concentrate and accomplish meaningful work, without disruption.

Several years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The company experienced a 65 percent increase in productivity but also reported employees experienced an increase in work satisfaction. They discovered the most important factor in daily joy and motivation was a sense of progress.

We’ve also learned working from home this past year the importance of human connection. We miss our colleagues dearly.

The future of work needs to include being together again, but not dictated by arbitrary policies. Being able to collaborate, have fun together, celebrate successes are all great examples of when it will make sense to bring employees together in person. Training is another thing we’ve learned is a much more richer experience in person than remote learning.

Good workplaces will develop a do good culture. Providing opportunities for employees to get involved in their communities, and volunteer for worthy causes will add a new layer of purpose to work. Some companies already offer up to five days a year for employees to volunteer for local charities.

The future of work also includes more vacation. There will be a pent-up demand for travel when borders open up. North Americans could learn from other countries like the UK where residents get 28 days of vacation a year, France 25, and Germany and Australia, with 20 days.   

Finally, companies need to adopt the ner way of business. Ner is the business philosophy where the most important aspect is people and leaders only need to create an environment where people can excel. Companies have no hierarchy, just self-managing teams. Ner companies donate 3% of their profits and 2% of employee time to contribute to social projects and top salaries can’t be more than 2.5X higher the lowest salary. The ner philosophy creates more human, meaningful and entrepreneurial workplaces. And it works. Watch this video to learn more about ner.

Yes, we have a unique opportunity before us: to reimagine the future of work. Companies that are short-sighted will focus on one aspect: place.

Companies that are progressive and visionary will focus on outcomes and a new, more human philosophy towards work.

Who would you rather work for?

Stop being your own worst enemy

skeleton looking at a computer

There’s an enemy we are all facing right now, and it’s the enemy within.

Too many people are working more hours working from home than when they were in the office.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Have we programmed ourselves to delete our off buttons, so we don’t know when to shut down at the end of the day? Is it because we can’t separate work life from home life working out of our bedrooms and basements? Is it because there is nothing else to do in lockdown, and things will return to normal when the world rights itself? Or is there simply too much work and never enough hours in the day to get it done so we just keep working?

I think it is all of these things and it’s extolling a price.

Each month, Morneau Shepell publishes their 2021 Mental Health Index Report. It’s no secret mental health across all age groups has taken a dive since COVID began last March, but the most recent report shows two segments: women and managers are particularly at risk of burnout as they struggle to deal with the demands of work, home life and worries about finances and health of family members.

The report indicated employees are finding it more difficult to feel motivated to work and to concentrate. A startling one-quarter of Canadians are considering a career change despite their employers handling the pandemic well.

We’ve learned much in the past year. I’ve had several friends retire or make the brave and bold decision to simply leave their jobs. We’ve realized humans were not meant to spend entire days in dark rooms on devices. It’s not natural. We’ve also learned there is more to life than work.

As we slowly emerge from the darkest days of this pandemic, we will all be faced with choices. Be brave in your choices, and whatever you do, stop being your own worst enemy.

Next week: part two on the Future of Work

Coming to grips with the five most terrifying words you will ever ask yourself

Author with her daughters on the beach

One of the best Quora posts I ever read was someone who posed the question, “Is this all there is?” The author bared his soul, sharing his story about how he struggled with this question and how the implications of his answer compelled him to make monumental changes in his life.

For many of us, our lives are never ending hamster wheels. Get up. Work. Make dinner. Squeeze in an hour of exercise. Watch TV for an hour. Do it all over again. At some point, we will inevitably ask ourselves, is this all there is?

I know my answer.  While there are days when life’s routine wears me down, I have lived a good life.

I have watched the migration of the wildebeast and zebras in the setting sun of the Serengeti.

I have strolled along the banks of the Seine, the Thames and the Hudson.

I have explored the stopes of a gold mine thousands of feet underground, and hiked to the peaks of majestic mountains.

I have swam with dolphins, raced through forests on dog sleds, and snorkeled with schools of exotic fish in clear sparkling waters.

I have hiked glaciers on mountainsides and ziplined through the canopy of the rainforest.

I have known the love and respect of a wonderful man who has been my soul mate and partner for more than 30 years.

I have experienced the joy of watching my children grow, from taking their first uncertain steps, to watching their chubby little legs race down our hill to the lake on a warm summer’s day, to blossoming into the beautiful, strong, independent young women they’ve become today.

I have cherished friends who know me better than I know myself.

And I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility of living for almost two decades on my beautiful spring-fed lake and all the joys it brings each season.

I hope life brings more adventures, but if this is all there is, I’m OK with that. I choose to find joy each day in my small, simple life, and be grateful for the life I have lived.

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to the memory of my sister-in-law, Karen Gillies who passed away this week and who was taken from us far too young. An amazing wife, mother and friend, she embodied kindness and grace. Karen told us that she had come to accept her fate. I derive some comfort in knowing that Karen would have answered the question, is this all there is, the same way.

 Author at the top of Whistler mountain