Scour a book sale

Books on table

There’s one sale we watch for every year: the Kingston Seniors’ Association annual book sale. It was yesterday, so we hopped in the car and headed down to see what printed treasures we could find.

I love books, and while I see why people like eReaders for times like when you’re travelling, to me, there’s still nothing like the feel of the printed page in hand.

Here were some of the books I scored yesterday:

  • Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson
  • A Good Year by Peter Mayle. If you’ve never read any of Mayle’s books about living in Provence, you’re missing out on a real treat
  • Flags of our Fathers—the New York Times bestselling book by James Bradley about the six United States Marines made famous by Joe Rosenthal’s photograph and statue in Washington D.C. of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, also made into a major motion picture
  • A lighthearted read by Judy Blume called Summer Sisters—perfect for the dock this summer
  • The Wonder, a story about a mystery in an Irish village over a century ago written by the same author of The Room, Emma Donoghue
  • Catching Fire—the second in the Hunger Games trilogy—I read the first one and have seen all the movies, but haven’t read the other books
  • Nelson Mandela’s biography, Long Walk to Freedom

I also picked up a Pride and Prejudice retelling, a novel based in Paris for Grace , a Vince Flynn book for Dave, some sheet music and more.

A bagful of books was only $20.

This week’s #HappyAct is to scour a book sale in your area and see what printed treasures you can find.


Giving beyond the holidays

Loblaw gift card

This week, Loblaw Corporation announced it will give anyone who registers online and who states they bought certain types of bread at their stores from 2011 to 2015 a $25 gift card as a goodwill gesture for price-fixing that took place in their stores during that time period. Registration will open around January 8th.

I plan to register, but I also plan to give my gift card to the local food bank when I get it. I can’t take credit for this idea—at a retirement function the other day, people were talking about the Loblaw gift card and someone suggested we all register and do this.

We give so much to the people we love over the holidays. This week’s #HappyAct to to continue the spirit of giving beyond this weekend.

And kudos to Loblaw Corporation. I’d much rather see millions of Canadians receive a gift card in a positive gesture that can do great good than see the money frittered away in a nasty class action lawsuit.

Be sure to check back next week for my top 10 happy acts of 2017. Happy holidays!

May the songs of the season fill your heart with joy

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

One of the greatest joys this time of year is the music of the holiday season. Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of pathetic Christmas songs on the radio lately (what are some of these artists thinking?)

Music has always been a huge part of the holidays for me. This year, I’ve been to five events and concerts. While I enjoy the kids’ school concerts and piano recitals, my favourite concerts have been our local church cantata, and the Kingston Choral Society’s concert of the Messiah at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, which was magnificent. This Thursday, I’m hoping to catch one of the final advent lunchtime concerts at St. George’s cathedral with guitar player Jeff Hanlon.

Here are a few interesting facts about seasonal music:

  • The singer who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” Thurl Ravenscroft was the same singer/actor who was the voice of Tony the Tiger, the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes “
  • The word carol actually means dance or a song of praise and joy. Carols used to be written and sung all year-round, but over time, the tradition of singing carols is now associated with Christmas.
  • Many modern-day Christmas songs were actually written by Jewish composers like Irving Berlin and Johnny Marks
  • Jingle Bells was actually written to celebrate Thanksgiving (my Ryerson alumni team got this answer wrong at a recent trivia night)
  • If you’re looking for some last minute gifts, Sia, 98 Degrees, Josh Groban and Gwen Stefani all have new Christmas albums out this year.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to old familiar carols play and songs of joyful ring. What’s your favourite Christmas song? Leave a comment.

Church concert
Christmas concert at Trinity United Church in Verona

Know where you belong

sign that says happiness is knowing where you belongI’ve spent the last four days in Toronto. It struck me more than ever, that even though I was born there, I don’t belong there.

Toronto is an amazing city, but like with any large city, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.

Toronto the good

Stunning skyscrapers, lakefront paths and parks, festivals and events, fine dining and shopping, and people of every faith, race, culture living for the most part in respectful harmony.

Toronto the bad

Relentless traffic, air pollution, soaring housing prices, long commutes and endangered greenspace from concrete sprawl.

Toronto the ugly

Poverty, homelessness, and indifference. Both days, walking the few blocks to my course in the financial district, I walked past at least a dozen people sleeping on the street. One man was lying in the middle of the sidewalk sideways and was so still, he could have been dead. Everyone, EVERYONE including me stepped around him and walked by. I’m still ashamed.

This week’s #HappyAct is know where you belong. United Ways across the country are kicking off their campaigns. Get involved, give and help change lives locally where you belong.

Gentleman, start your engines

fire crew at demolition derby on stand bySometimes you have to kick the dust up and get a bit of mud on your tires.

Last weekend, Clare and I went to the Odessa Fair to watch the demolition derby.

North Americans have long held a fascination with demolition derbies. Derbies started back in the late 1940’s or early 1950s at local county fairs, probably an extension of the American love of the automobile. Car drivers ram into each other until only one car remains running.

For most local fairs, they are still one of the main attractions. The Odessa Derby started off with an audience participation vote of the car with the best paint job. We liked the one with the teeth marks on the side (I think it won), then it was time for the first heat of minis.

Each heat always starts the same way. Five or six cars enter the ring. The master of ceremonies announces a “gentleman’s bump then it’s full on carnage.

Cars at demolition derby

Drivers have to modify their vehicles for safety. All glass and flammable material need to be removed from the car. The gas tank is removed and replaced with a small two-to-three gallon tank, located behind the driver’s seat and the battery has to be relocated to the floor of the passenger side. Drivers use sheet metal, small oil drums, or beer kegs to protect their fuel tanks. No head on collisions or driver door hits are allowed.

We watched heat after heat of bumper busting, engine roaring, mud flying fun. At one point, the mud was flung so far, it landed on our shirts.


People watching at the derby is almost as much fun as the derby itself. The locals who knew the fairground backed their trucks up between the grandstands. One guy even had a home-rigged viewing platform with awning on the back of his truck.

In two words, it’s pure fun.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a seat in the grandstand for the demolition derby in your hometown. Here are three derbies coming up in our area this summer:


The best advice for uncertain times

trumpocalypseThe Trumpocalypse is officially here.

I was astonished how many people refused to watch the inauguration. I’m not sure if they believed by watching they were endorsing what was happening before their eyes, or if it just sickened them too much to witness the carnage.

As a history major, I wasn’t about to miss this historic moment and witnessed Trump get sworn in with Dave and some colleagues at the Brew Pub, swilling our sorrows in beer.

It was all so surreal. Trump’s stump speech, evoking the vision of a country in decline and decay when unemployment is at one of the all-time lows and the United States is enjoying a period of strong economic growth. The cutaways to delusional loyal Trump supporters, crying in the sparse crowds of the Mall, fooled into thinking this man will make America great again.

The most fascinating part of Friday’s proceedings was seeing the reactions in the faces of the former Presidents and first ladies.

Bill Clinton had a plastered smirk on his face. Hillary sat by his side, with pursed lips and a glint of condemnation and disbelief in her eyes.

Barack Obama probably played the part best, and true to self, was gracious, putting the situation above himself.

But it was Michelle Obama who spoke volumes without uttering a word in her every move, gesture and look. Her sideward glances, lowered eyes and stalwart, I will get through this façade were those of a woman crestfallen, who knew everything she loved and cherished and had fought so hard to build would be disassembled in days by a man she abhorred.

Yes, the Trumpocalypse is here, but don’t despair. There are news reports by the dozens of Americans who are depressed and angry about the state of their country.

The best advice I’ve seen for weathering this storm is from advice columnist Ann Landers. A 24-year old woman wrote to Ann to say with all the conflict in the world and uncertainty, she was experiencing feelings of depression and anxiety.

Ann’s advice to her is this week’s #HappyAct: volunteer in your community. Do something to confirm or restore your faith in humanity. We can’t control the world around us, but we can make a difference and help make the world a better kinder place in our own backyard. It’s a start.

Make an inspiration wall

Grace’s inspiration wall

What inspires you? That’s the question we’ve been asking our employees during this year’s United Way campaign. Once again, the employees at Empire Life have blown me away by their generosity and willingness to be inspired by the incredible work United Way agencies do in our community and to make a difference.

There is so much in the world that is uninspiring today. It is rare to find something that compels you to feel or do something to create change in our society or something unique or beautiful.

I get my inspiration from my children, my friends and co-workers, and the natural surroundings of where I live.

The other day, Clare told me she wanted to start a new project: to create an inspiration wall. She started looking up inspirational sayings online. Her plan was to print them out and post them around her room. (Her teacher said she couldn’t do this at school if you can believe it). Grace created a similar inspiration wall a few years ago.

We need to be inspired at work, at home and in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to create your own Inspiration Wall. Here are some of the sayings Clare planned to use on her wall. Leave a comment. What inspires you?

“Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.”

“When we get to the end of our lives together; the house we had, the cars we drove, the things we possessed won’t matter. What will matter is that I had you by my side.”

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

“If plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

An inspiration wall created by Empire Life customer service teams who adopted the Kingston Youth Shelter for this year’s campaign–there were posters like this all over the floor to encourage people to bring in donations for what the shelter needs.