Find meaning behind the words this season

Sign with words hope, peace, joy and love

Peace and goodwill. Comfort and joy.

You hear these words everywhere you go this time of year, in holiday cards, in songs, in greetings and on signs.

I noticed a slight variation this week on my favourite church sign. It said, “Wishing you peace, joy, happiness and strength”.

Strength. It was an interesting choice of words. Yes, more than anything right now, we need strength and resilience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find meaning behind the words this holiday season.

May you experience,

Kindness and generosity of spirit
Love and laughter
The comfort of warm food and fond memories
Precious time to reflect and recharge
Moments of happiness and joy
And strength and acceptance to bring you peace this holiday season

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Don’t miss next week’s special year-end edition of Top 10 Happy Acts, my favourite blog posts to help you get through another COVID winter.

And to the stranger who showed generosity of spirit and bought our hot chocolates at the McDonald’s drive-through in Kingston last Wednesday, thank you for paying it forward! We reciprocated and hope the person behind us enjoyed their McHappy Meal and chocolate shake.

Here’s to all the jolly old Saint Nicks

My daughter Clare with Santa

Last week, I took Friday off to do some Christmas shopping. I happened to walk past the mall Santa who was sitting alone on his red throne with his mask half-dangling beneath his snowy white beard.

A young family was just leaving, and I thought how sad it was that he was sitting there all alone. Usually there would be a line-up a mile long to see him, and I shouted, “Hi Santa” and gave him a big wave on the way by.

I started thinking about all the COVID Santas. Most of these guys are in their 70s, putting their health at risk letting tiny unvaccinated toddlers and babies sit on their lap to keep a time-honoured tradition alive and create special memories for their families.

We always knew Santa was a hero, but this year he’s earning his black buckled belt in kindness.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank everyone who dons a red suit this time of year to make a child smile. Thanks Santa! (And if it’s not too much trouble, if you can add to your list an end to COVID in 2022, that would be great!)

Let the season of giving begin with giveshop.ca

Kid's sleigh for sale
Want this sleigh for your holiday greenery display? You can buy it on giveshop.ca for $20 with proceeds to United Way

November 30 is Giving Tuesday, the day when charities, companies and individuals join together to give to their favourite charities after the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Luckily for those of us in Ontario, there’s a new website in town to make Giving Tuesday easy—giveshop.ca.

Giveshop was founded in Ottawa with a mission to help Canadians support their favourite charities and schools. It’s basically like Facebook marketplace. You put used items up for sale, or shop online, but all the funds go to charity.

Giveshop is still growing its community, so the majority of items listed are in the Ottawa area but there are charities listed in Kingston, Toronto and Vancouver. Some of the charities you can choose to direct funds to include Autism Speaks Canada, Make-a-Wish-Foundation of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, CHEO Foundation, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, and United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

I listed two items for sale in support of my company’s United Way campaign, a bike and kid’s sleigh. It only took a few minutes to list my item, set a price and upload a picture. You can choose both the charity you want to support, and a specific campaign. Donors receive a charitable receipt for the purchase price.

As you start your holiday shopping, why not make it a goal to sell one used item cluttering up your house on Giveshop for every item you buy?

If you’d like to support our work campaign, choose United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington for the charity and Empire Life Charitable Campaign for the campaign.

TIP: Giveshop just launched its desktop app. I’d recommend accessing it mainly from your phone. The mobile app is less buggy and very easy to use.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get in the spirit of the giving season and become part of the giveshop community. Happy giving!

Bike for sale
Buy me on giveshop.ca!

In quest of the best BBQ

BBQ meat on a platter

If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, you’re familiar with the show’s formula of hitting the open road in quest of finding the best greasy spoons and BBQ joints in the southern U.S.

Finding finger-licking good BBQ in Canada is no easy task. In fact, in eastern Ontario, there’s only one contender. To discover the holy grill of BBQ, you need to travel to Muddy’s BBQ pit in Keene, Ontario.

Muddy’s BBQ pit opened up in July 2010, when owner Neil Lorenzen needed a home base for his budding BBQ catering business.

As Neil says, there’s no bad day for BBQ. On a hot summer’s day, you can have a pulled pork sandwich, dripping with flavour and a cold beer. On a cold rainy fall or spring day, you hunker inside, watch football, drink beer and chow down on beef brisket or fall off the bone ribs.

The first time we visited Muddy’s was three or four years ago when Clare was playing hockey regularly in the Peterborough area. It was a cooler November day and the girls were famished after a rowdy game with the local Keene team. We walked into Muddy’s and knew we found our new go-to food joint for weekend road trips.

Muddy's BBQ pit

Since it was a quiet day, they took us around back for a tour of the smokers. They had six to eight smokers going that day full of their signature brisket, pulled pork and ribs. They even smoke their potato salad. My mouth is drooling even thinking about the rich, smoky creamy potato concoction, which is to die for. They said they smoke about 600 lbs a meat a week and are booked every weekend in the summer with catering gigs.

Yes, you gotta love everything about Muddy’s. First, there’s the joint itself. From the road, it looks half barn, half converted garage with a patio and picnic tables out front, and high top wooden bar stools and counters for mowing down on the grub which is served without plates, in wrapped foil.

Then there’s the décor. You’ve got your regular road signs, sports memorabilia, and big screen TVs like you’d find in any sports bar, but just like the BBQ on the grill out back, they take it up a notch with Heinz ketchup punched tin lights hanging from the ceiling, cool stickers slapped on the exposed metal pipes, and signature pig signs.

Inside decor of Muddy's BBQ pit

But the BBQ, oh the BBQ. On your first visit, you have to try the carnivore sampler, a smorgasbord of their favourite signature dishes including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages, and beans. The ribs are definitely my favourite. They are in a word, perfect. Smoky, flavourful, perfectly cooked so the meat does literally fall off the bone (people always say this but it’s never true except at Muddy’s). If you go, make sure you buy some of their signature rub to take home. It’s a staple in our cupboard now for salmon and steak.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a trip to Keene before Muddy’s closes on December 16 for the season. And if you live too far away, feel free to substitute your local BBQ joint. Just know it won’t be the same. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Muddy’s BBQ pit. They’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Muddy's BBQ pit sign

Hope for a better tomorrow

rainbow of children

Tomorrow we kick off our United Way campaign at work. Our theme this year is “A better tomorrow” to reflect, positivity, hope and to inspire change.

I’m hopeful our Empire Life campaign will be a success. Each year we raise more than a quarter of a million dollars for United Way programs and agencies across Canada, an impressive feat considering we have less than 1,000 employees.

But I’m hopeful for so much more. I’m hopeful that the worst of COVID is behind us, at least in Canada.

I’m hopeful that the lessons we’ve learned about the great divide between the privileged in our society and those less fortunate are taken to heart, and we take a critical look at our systems, supports and programs to make change for a better tomorrow.

I’m hopeful that companies will be brave and bold as they envision the future of work to provide a more holistic, balanced approach so employees around the world can lead richer, more rewarding lives.

I’m hopeful we can finally turn our attention to the greatest challenge we face: the climate crisis and saving our planet for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children.

These are big hopes, I know, but I can at least do my part by giving to United Way and help build a better tomorrow, one person, one program at a time in my own community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to give to your local United Way. Did you know the KFL&A United Way was recognized once by Charity Intelligence Canada on their top 100 Rated Charities list for 2021? They also recently announced a special Women United Challenge Grant. Under the existing Leadership Challenge Grant, supporters who give $1,200 or more and increase their donation or those who make a new $1,200 gift will see their donation matched. With the addition of the Women United grant, women donors will see their donation matched by both grants – tripling their impact through United Way KFL&A.

Take pictures at a National Historic site at sunset

Sunset over Kingston from Fort Henry hill

This past year and half has been tough, but my heart especially has gone out to teenagers. At a time when they should be living carefree in the halcyon of their days, they’ve endured lockdowns, restrictions on the number of friends they could see, and unable to attend concerts, events and parties.

During lockdown, one of the favourite things Grace and her friends liked to do was go to a local Kingston restaurant, get take-out and eat it on the grass at the top of Fort Henry hill at sunset. A couple of weeks ago, I took Clare and two of her friends to Fort Henry to take pictures as the sun went down.

Fort Henry hill is a spectacular location. To the east of the majestic limestone walls of the fort, you see one of the six Martello towers perched on point jutting out into the blue waters of the St. Lawrence River. To the west, you get a magnificent view of downtown Kingston, with its stately church spires, City Hall and the historic buildings of Royal Military College in the foreground.

As I wandered the grounds around the fort, serenaded by the mystical sounds of Pumpkininferno gearing up for its opening night, I watched photographers set up their cameras to capture the sunset, students and couples sitting admiring the view, and Clare and her friends taking selfies and photos against the stunning backdrop.

Fort Henry walls
Martello tower in the St. Lawrence

The sky deepened blue, then a hint of orange starting appearing on the horizon. Wisps of clouds dotted the sky, scattering fractured light throughout the sky. As the sun set lower behind the buildings, the clouds cast swaths of brilliant orange across the entire sky and soon the sun was a single yellow orb surrounded by fire. It was so breathtaking. The crowds of people that were descending Fort Henry Hill all stopped to admire the spectacle.

Here were my photos of that special night.

Two teenagers taking photos
Clare on Fort Henry hill as the sun sets over Kingston

This week’s #HappyAct is to take pictures at sunset at a historic site in your city and be grateful that we can now start doing so many of the things that were denied us for so long.

Ed. Note: Pumpkininferno is running from now until October 31, 2021 at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg and at Fort Henry.

Martello tower and downtown Kingston at sunset
Orange sun and clouds

The secret to driving up vaccination rates in Canada

Poster of Peterborough Public Health Unit marketing campaign, Get a Shot to Take a Shot

Every day, we track the numbers, both good and bad–the number of COVID cases and people in the ICU (our hearts go out to you friends in Alberta), and on the positive side, the percentage of people who have been vaccinated. In our region, we’re doing well, ahead of average at 82% fully vaccinated and on track to hit a 90% vaccination rate by November.

The Ontario government decision to introduce vaccination passports has had an impact on vaccination rates, but not necessarily in the way people anticipated. The philosophy was, make people show proof of vaccination for workplaces, bars, restaurants and concerts, and they’ll get the shot.

And while that has no doubt encouraged some people to roll up their sleeves, it was reported in our local paper this week that 136 healthcare workers at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are at risk of losing their jobs for not getting vaccinated. As for dining in restaurants, people have made out just fine eating at home, grabbing take-out or dining on patios this past eighteen months, so it’s unlikely a vaccine passport would be enough to make them change their mind.

Clearly Canadians need a jolt, something that would strike at the very fibre of their being, so critical to their daily lives to make them roll up their sleeves.

A few weeks ago, I was standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart looking for a birthday card when I overheard two guys talking. The one father said, “Yeah, we heard they had a clinic here today, he needed to get the COVID shot for hockey, they won’t let him on the ice without proof of vaccination.”

And then it hit me. Hockey will drive up vaccination rates in this country. Because every kid over 12, every parent, coach, brother, sister, aunt, uncle and grandparent who love to watch their kids play the game need to be vaccinated to enter an arena.

If there is one thing Canadians love and can’t live without, it’s hockey. The smart people at the Peterborough Health Unit figured this out. They’ve partnered with the Peterborough Petes hockey team, to offer Peterborough residents the chance to win free hockey tickets if they get a COVID shot in the next two months in their ‘Get a Shot to Take a Shot’ campaign.

Yes, hockey will be our salvation. Thank god for hockey.

So in the spirit of the greatest game on earth, be a team player, take your best shot, and stay off the COVID injured list.

This week’s blog post is dedicated to our good friends Keith and Betty-Jean who visited with us this past weekend. Keith and Betty-Jean were two of the first hospitalized COVID patients in Ontario in March 2020. This weekend, they shared their COVID story with us. They count themselves lucky to be alive today. Take this disease seriously, people. Get the shot.

Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors
Our friends Betty-Jean and Keith, COVID survivors

Leave the porch lights on

Musicians performing on the porch at Westporch

Wherever would we be this past year without our front and back porches? They’ve been a respite from the four walls closing in on us during lockdowns, and a safe haven for gathering and visiting during the pandemic.

So what better way to hail the newfound hero of our homes than with live music?

This weekend, my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon in lovely Westport, Ontario strolling the streets for the town’s inaugural Westporch event. Westport is a quaint cottage down, nestled between Big Rideau Lake and the Rideau Canal and Wolfe Lake. It’s also one of the prettiest drives in Eastern Ontario, especially during the fall.

Yesterday, the town was alive with music. There were nine or ten porches with different musical acts ranging from folk, classic rock, bluegrass, swing and jazz to the headliners, the East Coast Experience.

It was a beautiful day, with people perching on hay bales or sitting in the town’s Muskoka chairs listening to tunes under bonny blue skies. There was hot dogs and chili, popcorn and cotton candy, dogs everywhere and artist displays. As we strolled along Spring Street listening to a Bruce Springsteen cover, one of the local inn owners offered us some free beer or wine.

They had me at beer.

We ended the afternoon slapping our knees and tapping our toes to the seafaring tunes of the East Coast Experience before heading to Scheuermann’s Winery for a glass of wine overlooking the lake.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on such a great event. We’ll be back. This week’s #HappyAct is to celebrate the porch—play some music, have a visit, or just sit a spell. Just make sure you leave the porch lights on.

The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
Music on the porch in Westport
Friends in Westport harbour
Author and friend at winery
The end to a picture perfect day at Scheuermann’s Winery

Shop, sip and stroll

My family on Princess Street in Kingston, Ontario

Yesterday, we spent a brilliant sunny September afternoon, shopping, sipping and strolling on Princess Street in Kingston. The city closes the street to traffic one Saturday each month, allowing people and shopkeepers to spill out into the street.

In a society smitten with cars, there is something anti-Uber appealing about being able to wander at will on a street bustling with activity. There were buskers, musicians, people having lunch and cold beer on patios, and lots and lots of dogs! It was just so great to see people out and about again, and feeling their energy.

There aren’t many pure pedestrian streets in Canada, but here are five of my favourite neighbourhoods where you can shop, sip and stroll this fall:

  1. The Distillery district in Toronto: this unique area just east of downtown Toronto is home to 47 Victorian industrial buildings that were once home to the Gooderham & Worts distillery. An eclectic collection of art galleries, restaurants and shops, it’s a great location to while away an afternoon. My favourite time to visit is in December, when it’s transformed into a traditional European Christmas market.
  2. Granville Island, Vancouver: Vancouverites cherish this beloved part of their city which was redeveloped in the 1970’s into a cultural and artistic hub. Stock up on candied salmon and fresh produce at the public Farmer’s Market, and admire the spectacular views of Vancouver’s harbour where you may be lucky enough to spot a seal or whale.
  3. Rue de Petit-Champlain in Quebec City: one of the most historic and prettiest streets in Canada, this thoroughfare is lined with patios and boutiques. We have fond memories of eating al fresco at Le Cochin Dingue during a rainstorm the last time we were there. The servers were so attentive, providing us with blankets and hot drinks to keep us comfortable.
  4. The ByWard Market in Ottawa: One of Canada’s oldest public markets, you can find just about anything you need in this historic area of Ottawa, plus indulge in a Beavertail while you shop. Ottawa is one of the few cities with a true pedestrian mall, Sparks Street, but it’s always been a bit on the sleepy side except during events like Winterlude.
  5. The Forks in Winnipeg, an abandoned railyard located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, has been a meeting place for over 6,000 years. Indigenous peoples traded at The Forks, followed by fur traders and settlers. This dynamic gathering spot is home to live events, a farmer’s market and arts and crafts galleries attracting locals and visitors alike.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make the most of this glorious fall weather and shop, sip and stroll. Enjoy!

Chip truck on Granville Island
Granville Island, Vancouver
Pirate ship in Vancouver harbour
You can watch pirate ships go by from the island!
Even old smokestacks become a work of art on the island

My top ten favourite patios in Eastern Ontario

Family and friends at the Amadeus patio in Kingston
With our friends Gary and Jill on the Amadeus patio

Throughout COVID, outdoor dining has been a lifesaver, both for small restaurateurs trying to keep afloat, but also for those of us desperate for a meal out.

There’s nothing like sitting outside on a warm summer’s eve, enjoying a drink or delicious food with friends or family on a patio. One of the many charms of Kingston is its plethora of patios, including its quaint interior courtyard patios, hidden away from the bustling crowds and its streetside tables where you can watch all the action.

Here’s my list of top ten Kingston patios to visit before summer’s out:

  1. Chez Piggy: still the quintessential indoor courtyard patio in Kingston, you feel like you are in a bistro in France while enjoying the very best in fine dining
  2. The Toucan: great food and bench style seating makes it easy to strike up a conversation with people nearby
  3. Woodenheads: still a favourite of mine for their delicious wood-fired pizza and Pollo Stagione salad, plus their interior courtyard is a cool oasis on a hot day
  4. Lone Star’s Margaritaville: come for the salsa, Corona, tunes and good times vibe
  5. The Battery Bistro at Fort Henry: perched high on Fort Henry hill, with spectacular views of the St. Lawrence, Lake Ontario and downtown Kingston, one of my favourite places to have a cocktail
  6. The Wharf and Feather Waterfront Patio Bar: recently rebranded, the waterfront patio at the downtown Holiday Inn offers great views of the ferries and tour boats in the inner harbor and gastro pub fare
  7. Kingston Brew Pub: sit on the covered verandah out front or venture into the inside courtyard to enjoy home brew at Kingston’s first brew pub—this place will always have a special place in my heart as a fun gathering spot
  8. Amadeus: we met our good friends Jill and Gary here at the end of July. With hanging vines and greenery and multi-levels, you can get your oom-pah-pah on and fill of German fare
  9. Jack Astors: normally, I try to avoid chains, but you really can’t beat Jack Astor’s spectacular rooftop patio overlooking market square and Lake Ontario
  10. Not in Kingston, but definitely worth the trip is The Cove in Westport. Owner Seamus Cowan recently expanded the patio behind his popular inn and spot for live music. You can see waterviews from both sides and you’ll dig the cool stage Seamus built out of cedar rails to showcase the local talent.

This week’s #HappyAct is to dine al fresco at one of the many beautiful outdoor patios in your region.

Bonus patio: Did you know you can dine on the patio at Casa Loma in Toronto? It’s called The Gardens at Casa Loma, but hurry, it closes in early September. You can make a reservation on line on OpenTable.

Chez Piggy patio
Chez Piggy patio
Patio at Casa Loma