Take back Christmas

Bentley beside my holiday urn

I watched Bad Mom’s Christmas last week. There’s a line in the movie when Moms Amy, Kiki and Carla rebel against the pressure of trying to create the perfect Christmas for their families and declare they are “taking back Christmas”.

I’m not sure at what point Christmas became a thing we needed to take back. If I had to pinpoint a timeframe, I’d say somewhere in the early 2000s, when gifts spiralled into electronics costing hundreds and thousands of dollars, pre-lit trees made an appearance, and suddenly decorating your yard became a Griswold-like affair.

Wise man Dave especially hates how commercialized Christmas has become. I’m still a lover of the holiday season, but admit I sometimes feel the pressure of finding the perfect gift, and especially this year, finding time to decorate, bake, send out cards and all the trappings and wrappings of Christmas.

So this year, I’m pledging to Marie-Kondo-the-flock-of-sheep out of Christmas by only doing things that bring me joy.

This is what brings me joy over the holidays:

  • Collecting pine boughs and decorating festive urns (what doesn’t bring me joy? When Bentley eats all the twigs with the red berries I picked)
  • Watching a small town Santa Claus parade—highlights this year were the unicycle club from the local high school, seeing our friend Jay ride the beat up Zamboni they use to clear Sydenham Lake rink, and of course the jolly old elf himself—even Dave was singing Christmas carols
  • Going to a church cantata or concert and listening to holiday music
  • Watching Christmas movies eating homemade caramel corn in front of a crackling fire and festive tree
  • Getting together with the neighbours and of course, spending time with family

You’ll note shopping and wrapping didn’t make my nice list, so I think I’ll cut back this year.

So who’s with me? This week’s #HappyAct is to take back Christmas or Hannukah, or whatever you celebrate. Seek joy and peace this holiday season and avoid the trappings.

Santa Claus float in parade
Old Zamboni in parade

Kind it forward

Dalai Lama quote: When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner peace and happiness

“Do things for people not because of who they are or what they do in return, but because of who you are.”
– Harold S. Kushner, prominent American rabbi, and author.

Today is World Kindness Day, a day to celebrate and promote good deeds and kindness. Last week I reflected on the state of kindness in the world in “Take the high road”. This week, I’m adjuring all of us to do one #KindAct to spread happiness and kindness in the world. Here are some ideas on how you can kind it forward:

Ways to kind it forward

  1. Reach out to a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.
  2. If there’s been a rift, forgive them. Apologize and be a good listener.
  3. It seems everyone is sick with some kind of cold or flu right now. Take someone who’s feeling under the weather a bowl of soup, magazine or some baked goods.
  4. Many communities right now are holding food drives for their local food bank. I spoke to our local food bank the other day and their shelves are desperately low and they anticipate higher demand with food prices soaring. South Frontenac Township is holding a food drive during the whole month of November. You can drop off items at the arena, 4432 George Street or 2490 Keeley Road.
  5. This one’s my favourite: do a random act of kindness that will make someone’s day, like buy a coffee for the next person in line or the drive-through or leave a beautiful card with an inspirational saying in a neighbour’s mailbox.
  6. Hug your family and tell them you love them.
  7. Be kind to yourself.

Kindness isn’t a day. It isn’t a single act. It defines who we are as individuals and a society and who we aspire to be.

The best way we can make the world more kind is simply engaging, listening and caring for others.

What will your act of kindness be today? More importantly, what will it be tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that? Leave a comment—I’d love to hear about how your day went.

Take the high road

Sign that says "I would rather be annoyingly positive and optimistic than destructively negative and hateful"

Is it just me, or does it feel like nobody takes the high road anymore?

Last week, I was out for my lunchtime walk, and I came across an altercation at the local high school. There was an older student on the one side of the road screaming at two kids across the road. The language was deplorable but it was the intensity and hatred that made me stop in my tracks.

I wasn’t sure whether I should intervene, or just mind my own business and keep walking. I was concerned it could escalate into something far more serious. I hesitated for about half a minute, then walked up to the girl who was yelling and swearing and her friends, asking if there was a problem and whether I could help.

The girl glared at me and said, “Those two have been staring at me non-stop for the past three days. They needed to be put in their place.” She had other choice words for the two kids that I won’t repeat here.

Now, I don’t know what transpired between these two groups of kids, and I know it’s high school, but I will say this whole incident really disturbed me.

First, I can tell you I never once spoke to anyone like that in high school. Sure, there were cliques and kids who didn’t like each other and didn’t get along, but you mainly stuck with your own friends and avoided them. No one ever stood in a street and hurled vitriole and swear words at the top of their lungs for the whole world to witness.

Second, this girl said these kids had been “staring” at her for the past three days. If that was their biggest crime, I can only imagine how this girl will cope some day when she experiences real conflict at home, with her friends or in the workplace.

I think what upset me the most though was this girl thought it was OK to act and speak like that. In fact, not only did she defend herself and her actions, she took pride in her response, saying someone had to stand up to them, they deserved it.

I just couldn’t stop thinking, if this is what our kids think is normal and acceptable behaviour, what hope do we have as a society of being kind to each other and battling the divisiveness that seems to be permeating our culture?

To me, it’s simple. You never know what people are dealing with in their lives. That’s why you should always take the high road and turn the other cheek.

It comes down to two basic tenets: treat others with kindness and respect.

This week’s #HappyAct is to always take the high road. Have a kind week.

Stop and read the signs

Gillies Bridge, Carleton Place

If you look around, there are signs everywhere but sadly, not many people stop and read them.

I do, I always have. I’m not sure if it’s the historian in me, or just an innate curiousity–I figure if someone thought it was important enough to erect a sign in a certain place, then it’s worth reading. It’s a trait that drives my family crazy.

On Friday, I went for my usual pre-game walk in Carleton Place before Clare’s hockey game. I was familiar with Carleton Place because Clare had competed in regattas there many times, but the arena was in a different part of town.

I started walking on a section of the Trans Canada Trail and came across a bridge that spanned the Mississippi River. There were several interpretive signs on the bridge, so I stopped to read them. Directly across from me was another bridge named Gillies Bridge in honour of John Gillies who built it in 1884.

Interpretive sign

John Gillies was the name of my father. Not the same John Gillies who built the bridge, and no relation to my knowledge, but it immediately caught my interest.

According to the Lanark County tourism website, lumber was king in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century and John Gillies “was one of the industry’s crown princes”. He acquired the first sawmill in Carleton Place in 1866 and built the operation to employ 200-300 men to produce more than 20 million feet of board lumber a year. His mills eventually covered 300 square miles and spanned the greater part of six townships.

His Gillies Machine Works was his retirement project. After selling his mill operation, he built the Machine Works in 1875, manufacturing steam engines, water wheels, gearing, shafting and boat engines.

I thought this was ironic given Dave’s and mine luck with boat motors.

I stopped to admire the old abandoned millworks on the island, and then kept strolling, taking pictures of the old stone buildings since it was such a gorgeous sunny morning.  

It was interesting to read about this famous namesake, and in a strange way, made me feel closer to my Dad, who has been gone for more than 20 years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stop and read the signs some time. You never know what you’ll discover.

Abandoned mill
Mill property
Old sprinkler on Mill

Living a life of service

Queen Elizabeth II

The tributes for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II continue to pour in. Despite differing opinions on the institution of the monarchy and legacy of colonialism, the world seems united in celebrating a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to public service and who for 70 years was a stable, reassuring presence in turbulent times.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately of what it means to live a life of service. Ghandi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Most of us live a life of service in small ways, as parents, good neighbours and community members, and in some cases, in our career choices. Health care providers, first responders and elected officials all dedicate their lives to helping or serving others. But for many of us, the concept of living a life of service is not how we would describe our day-to-day life or even our purpose in life.

Living a life of service is different than having purpose. You can have purpose, a passion or focus that makes you happy and feel alive but doesn’t involve serving others.

The world and the people in it seem a bit lost these days. Perhaps the best way to find ourselves again is to be more intentional in leading a life of service.

Related posts:

Down east sayings to make you giggle

Man holding bottles of wine
Terry with his favourite wines

The West is beautiful, but you can’t beat the warmth, humour and light o’ life attitude of Easterners.

When we arrived in Antigonish a few weeks ago to spend a few days with Danette’s parents, her Dad Terry greeted us with a big hug and holding two bottles of wine in his hands, Four Skins and Kiss Me Arse.

The next day Terry walked out wearing a t-shirt that said, “It’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits”.

We visited one little fishing wharf where every building had a funny sign on it, some even upside down. There was The Lost and Found Bouys shack and the Little River Fisheries and Heritage Museum, Closed for Innovations.

Lost and Found Bouys fishing shack

We sure had lots of giggles on our trip and thankfully not the shits. We learned “The older the crab, the tougher its claws” and if someone was running late, they were “off like a herd of turtles”.

Yes, we can all learn a thing or two about keeping life light and happy from our friends down east. And remember, if yer not happy where yer is, yer never will be happy where yer to.

Long may your big jib draw. Til next week…

Sign on lobster shack

A community success story

Volunteers holding fruit and vegetables in a warehouse
Volunteers Kristine Erdman, France Spence and Anne Newell at Kingston’s Food Redistribution Warehouse

This week I want to tell you about a community success story.

For the past few days, I’ve been working at an amazing facility here in Kingston called the Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The warehouse officially opened its doors in March and has quickly become a critical hub for collecting and redistributing food to those in need in our community.

I was at the warehouse all day on Wednesday. It was a constant hub of activity with trucks delivering entire skids of oranges, fresh berries, bread and other perishable supplies. I watched a truckload of milk being wheeled into their massive industrial freezers, ready to go to places like the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston and other agencies serving meals in the city. On Tuesday nights, they have a “bread group” that collects all the leftover bread from Cobb’s Bread and brings it to the warehouse.

The warehouse was the brainchild of a dedicated group of partners in Kingston which included the City of Kingston, United Way, Kingston Community Health Centres and Lionhearts who recognized the growing risk to food insecurity during the global pandemic.

Warehouse
Kingston’s Community Food Redistribution Warehouse. The large white structure on the left with the silver doors is one of their massive freezers.

I talked to Shawn Seargeant, Manager, Operations at Lionhearts when I was there. Lionhearts was founded in Kingston in 2014 by a group of community-minded individuals who wanted to help marginalized people in our community. They started serving 50 meals a day which quickly multiplied to 150 meals a day, then 400 meals a day at four different locations during the pandemic.

Shawn said the warehouse has been a godsend. They now have the facilities to take in excess food from restaurants and suppliers across the city, store it properly and redistribute it to agencies and programs in our community.

I asked Shawn and a few other people working there if other cities or centres had a warehouse like this. Guelph, with its large agricultural base has something similar, but for the most part Kingston is one of the few cities on the leading edge of solving the problem of food insecurity and providing universal access to food.

Before I left on Friday, I wandered into another section of the 11,000 square foot warehouse and found my friend France sorting vegetables and fruit with two other dedicated volunteers. France told me she loves working at the warehouse a few hours, three times a week—the volunteers there are a big family. I thanked them for making a difference in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to learn more about food insecurity in your community and help be a part of the solution. Here are a few ideas:

  • Grow your own fruit and vegetables in patio containers—donate extra produce to a neighbour, colleague or local charity.
  • Make a food donation to your local food bank. Summer is typically a time when the shelves start to empty out.
  • Build a food lending library in your neighbourhood. Stock it with extra fresh produce, or dried goods, free for the taking.
  • Roll up your sleeves and spend an hour or two working at your local community garden. Most neighbourhood cities have community gardens now that grow and supply fruit and vegetables to local food banks.
  • Support your local farmer’s markets—buy and shop local.
  • Be grateful every day for the food on your table and reduce food waste in your household.

If you’d like to learn more about the incredible work Lionhearts is doing, watch this video…

Explore a new neighbourhood

Graffiti
Street art installation on the Waterfront Trail at the Cataraqui River in Kingston

About a month ago, I started a new job. One of the perks of changing jobs is I’ve been able to explore a new area of Kingston on my daily walks at lunch.

This isn’t the touristy part of the Kingston. You won’t find photos of the north side of Princess Street in the glossy travel brochures, but I‘ve found my new little neighbourhood has heart and soul in spades and is full of hidden gems.

My first stroll took me down the Waterfront Trail along the Cataraqui River near the old Woolen Mill. There were dozens of swans gracefully swimming in the river, and turtles basking in the sunshine on the shore. A group of school girls were having their photos taken on the big grassy area by the water and people were out jogging and walking their dogs.

Across the trail was a street art installation with the most amazing graffiti. The sign said people were free to paint over any of the sections, but you could tell the graffiti had been there for some time.

Graffiti
Graffiti

The next day I walked up some of the back streets, past brightly coloured orange, yellow and green houses like you’d find in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, and homes with kiosks out front saying, “Take what you need, leave what you can”. I found a poetry garden with a poem by Lorna Crozier and sidewalks with chalk signs that offered up lemonade and free dog biscuits.

Green coloured house
Yellow coloured house

Another day, I was walking along Rideau Street and saw a young woman walking a dog with gorgeous black, brown and white markings. The dog promptly stopped and sat down at the corner. I was curious why the dog stopped so I stood and watched. The girl looked over and smiled and waited.

The door to a house across the street swung open and another young woman emerged and crossed the road with a plastic bag full of dog treats. It was clear this was a daily routine. It was a beautiful moment that I felt lucky to witness that showed how deep and caring the connections were in my new neck of the woods.  

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore a new area of your city. You never know what hidden gems and stories you may find.

Food lending library
Poetry garden
Sidewalk sign lemonade and free dog treats

Take a trip down memory lane

Author with friends at Kingston's waterfront
Our Welli Boot Toss team in 1999. Kingston Brew Pub used to host a charity event in support of Hospice Kingston where you throw a Welli boot as far as you can. I threw my back out shortly after!

I’ve been awash in memories these past few weeks. After 27 years at Empire Life, I am taking early retirement and will begin a new job as Director of Development with the United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington in May.

I’m sure most people on the verge of retirement find themselves taking a trip down memory lane, but for me, it’s been a constant flood of memories since I’ve also been going through my company’s archives these last few months.

I’ve found pictures of me doing crazy things for charity, like jumping in Lake Ontario on December 31, 1999 for Y2K in the Polar Bear Plunge, dressing up for skits as part of our annual United Way campaign, and uncovering every lame Halloween costume I ever pulled together at the last minute. (I was notorious for lame Halloween costumes; it became a bit of a running gag between Dave and me.)

Two girls jumping in Lake Ontario
Jumping in Lake Ontario for charity on New Year’s Eve, Y2K

I also came across photos of people who have passed away, friends young and old who I still think about and miss to this day.

What I didn’t find were any pictures of me working. While I had an interesting and varied career, it won’t be memories of work that I’ll take away from my time at Empire; it will be the memories of the different events, fun times and people who made work-life happy and rich.

This week’s #HappyAct is to rifle through an old yearbook, photo album or drive and take a trip down memory lane. Here are some more of the favourite pictures I found.

Acting in a play
Playing Dr. Evil in one of our United Way skits.
Serving cake at my company's 75th anniversary
Helping serve cake at our company’s 75th-anniversary celebrations almost 25 years ago
Dressed up to judge our Halloween contest
Judging our annual Halloween contest–our President Doug is wearing Dave’s kilt!
Dressed up as Queen Amidala from Star Wars
One of my lame Halloween costume pics, Queen Amidala from Star Wars
Dressed up as KISS for Halloween
One of my best Halloween costumes of all time, KISS with fellow bandmates Jon Begg, Chris Seymour and Tracey Hunt. Any time I had a good Halloween costume it was because my co-workers took pity on me and helped with my costume and make-up

Adopt Happytalism

International Day of Happiness poster

A decade ago, the United Nations held its first ever conference on happiness and established an International Happiness Day to remind us that being happy is a human right and worth celebrating.

This year the significance of International Happiness Day on March 20 and the belief that happiness is a fundamental human right is playing out on the world stage as we watch millions of Ukranians refugees and citizens who have had their happiness ripped from them overnight with every Russian rocket, bomb and artillery strike.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that made it a “fundamental human goal” to give happiness as much priority as economic opportunity. In 2015, the UN launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which seek to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet. It also recognized the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

What’s interesting in all these resolutions is there is no mention of war or conflict and its impact on happiness; the focus is solely on economic factors.

Most likely that’s because in war, there is no happiness.

As we face this global crisis, let’s find positive ways to look after ourselves and each other and adopt Happytalism.

The UN secretariat for the International Day of Happiness is calling on all 7.8 billion people and all 206 nations and territories in our global community to take the “Ten Steps to Global Happiness” challenge and call to action. You can find all ten steps here. I’ve listed my top five, with the last one being my own:

  1. Celebrate the day. Do something special, just don’t let it pass by.
  2. Attend a world happiness event. There are live and virtual events on almost every topic imaginable, from education, health, technology, self and work. See the full list of events here. There’s a small cost to the virtual events, but in many cases, the proceeds go to helping others, like sponsoring a teacher that is helping underserved populations.
  3. Do what makes you happy. Happiness is about practicing self love, mindfulness, acting consciously, and with purpose and intention, positive energy and mindset, and celebrating the things you love that make you happy.
  4. Tell everyone. Spread the word and mission of #InternationalDayOfHappiness. Post something that makes you happy on social media, write a song or letter, make a poster.
  5. Support the people of the Ukraine. Make a donation. This CBC story lists charities you can support.

This week’s #HappyAct is to adopt and spread a more holistic, inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to the world order that promotes sustainable development, eradicates poverty and war, and focuses on the happiness and the well-being of all peoples.

#HappinessForAllForever.