Ein prosit!

Oktoberfest beer hall in Bavaria

There’s nothing that says fall more than Oktoberfest.

Each year at this time, I start dreaming of swilling pints of beer from froth-filled glasses, eating warm, freshly-baked pretzels, and singing ein prosit by the hour with newfound friends.

While Oktoberfest is celebrated around the world, most local Oktoberfest celebrations can’t capture the magic and spirit of the authentic German festival, except Canada’s grand celebration in Kitchener-Waterloo.

I’ve been to Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest many times and to the real Oktoberfest in Munchen, Germany. Many people don’t realize that in Germany, Oktoberfest actually kicks off in September. This year it runs from September 17 until October 3 and is expected to attract six million visitors.

In Germany, it is a national celebration with the whole country shutting down or taking vacation to celebrate for two weeks. In Munich, the festival is held on the Theresienwiese fairgrounds with dozens of beer tents, performance stages, carnival rides and attractions to keep festival-goers entertained between pints.

The first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, we arrived at the fairgrounds around 1 p.m. That’s another big difference between Germany and our Oktoberfest celebrations—in Germany, many of the events are in the afternoon, so you start drinking early. We sat down in one of the festival tents and quickly made friends with a group of German men who were visiting from out of town.

Fraulein servers in traditional colourful Bavarian costumes, their biceps bulging out of their costumes, wound their way through the crowded tables, carrying six gigantic beer steins in each hand. On stage an oom pah pah band played polka music. There was lots of toasting, singing and every hour, you’d sing ein prosit, and raise a hearty toast and chug to the cry of Oans, Zwoa, G’suffa! 

Truth be told, I don’t remember how we made it home that night, but I do remember the memories that have lasted a lifetime.

Here are three Oktoberfest celebrations in Ontario to check out:

  • Kingston-Waterloo: on now through to October 15. While the Concordia Club is generally considered the most authentic hall, both the Alpine Club and Transylvania Club provide authentic experiences. Bingeman’s used to be more the draw for the university students in town.
  • Prince Edward County Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1
  • Toronto Oktoberfest: September 30-October 1 at Ontario Place

This week’s #HappyAct is to get your leiderhosen on and raise a toast to fall. Ein prosit!

Be the next contestant and C’MON DOWN!

The Price is Right studio audience

I’ve always had a secret fantasy of winning big on a game show.

Growing up, my favourite game shows were The Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right. I remember watching Bob Barker with his long sleek microphone, pearly white smile and slicked back hair. Barker hosted the show for 35 years, from 1972 to 2007 before Drew Carey took over as host.

There was always that moment of anticipation when the next member of the studio audience would have their name called and you’d hear Barker exclaim, “C’mon down, you are the next contestant on The Price is Right!”

Well, if you live close to Kingston, you can live out your game show fantasy next month by buying tickets to The Price is Right Live Stage Show at the Leon’s Centre on Tuesday, September 20.

Yes, you could be the next contestant to spin the Big Wheel, play Bullseye, Cliff Bangers or Bonkers and win big. The Leon’s Centre website says about 60 prizes are up for grabs with a retail value of $25,000 US.

In 2001, my girlfriend Mary Beth and I planned an epic, once in a lifetime trip to Los Angeles, an extension of a work conference. We had rented a convertible, booked tickets to see James Taylor at an outdoor amphitheatre and the Ellen Show and had talked about going to see The Price is Right. Then 911 hit and all our travel plans were quashed.

Back in those days, to get picked to be in the studio audience, you had to stand in a long line, wear crazy costumes and impress the show’s handlers who would scan the crowd for the best TV-worthy contestants. Now, you just have to fill out a form and declare you’re not an employee of CBS to get tickets for the TV show.

Of course, if you buy tickets for the Leon’s Centre stage sure, you’re a sure thing to be part of the studio audience.

But beware, before you get ready to drive away in your BRAND NEW CAR!!!, California contestants get a form to fill out to pay taxes on it (I’m not sure what the rules are here in Canada for the stage show.)

If you want to win big, you can still get tickets on the Leon’s Centre website. Tickets range from $49-$59.

But here’s the million dollar question (wait, that’s another show)—is it prices from a year ago or today’s crazy inflationary prices?

I guess I’ll have to start studying up. Good luck contestants!

Immerse yourself in art

Van Gogh immersive exhibit

Last weekend, my girlfriend Leslie and I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Toronto.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but was quite interesting. I expected to walk through a gallery of rooms of Van Gogh’s art projected on walls, but you actually enter one room and stay there the whole time as the theatrical experience engulfs you.

It was a massive space—the exhibit is showing at The Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street and I suspected the space on the first floor was the former printing plant.  

The first time we watched the 35-minute production, we simply admired Van Gogh’s masterpieces paired with classical music as they surrounded us in 360-degree views projected on the walls and floor.

Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, lilies and almond blossoms surrounded us, followed by a starry night, scenes of fields and cafes, and portraits of courtesans, farmers and compatriots of his day.

The second time we watched it, the images transformed in a new way, dancing across the walls, rising and falling, coming to life. The smoke from a cigar billowed upward, a steam train rolled across the countryside, and a windmill slowly turned amongst threatening clouds as the animated images immersed us in their beauty and brushstrokes.  

Art aficionados and purists may balk at commercializing works of art and masterpieces, but for me it created a new and wondrous appreciation of the work of Van Gogh.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. The Van Gogh 360 exhibit is on until May 30 in Toronto and this summer at Lansdowne Place in Ottawa. Be sure to put it on your summer vacation happy act list.

Van Gogh a starry night
A starry night
Van Gogh painting
Van Gogh art
Van Gogh lillies
Van Gogh masterpiece
Van Gogh's lillies

Listen to a happiness podcast

happiness podcasts poster

There’s a not-so-new craze sweeping the nation, and all it takes is a device and twenty minutes of your time.

It seems everybody these days is listening to podcasts. According to buzzsprout, 9 million Canadian adults listen to podcasts every month.

There are literally dozens of podcasts on happiness. This FeedSpot blog lists 80 of the most popular ones or check out Oprah’s top 16 picks.

I’d recommend the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. You may know Harris as the ABC news anchor who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America. He turned to meditation and started his podcast, which discusses the benefits of meditation on happiness and explores happiness in the context of current events.

On his most recent podcast, “The Upside of Apocalypse” Buddhist minister, author and activist Lama Rod Owens talks about the benefits of having an existing practice in times of heightened anxiety, the obstacles to empathy in the world right now and social erosion caused by the pandemic.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to a podcast on happiness on this International Day of Happiness. What’s your favourite podcast? Leave a comment.

Top ten travel happy acts for 2022

Stormy beach in North Carolina
Carolina beach before the storm

Normally in December, I do a round-up of my favourite happy acts of the year. But as I’ve said more than once during COVID-19, it’s tough blogging about happiness during a pandemic. So this year, I’ve decided to choose my top ten list of travel-related posts to give us something to look forward to in 2022. Some of these are great staycation ideas, others involve finding adventures further afar.

  1. Explore the backroads and hamlets of Eastern Ontario in Take a Scenic Drive and Visit an Amazing Place.
  2. Experience the feeling of skating until your feet chafe in The world’s longest skating rink turns 50 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
  3. Bridgerton fans: experience what life was like in Regency Europe by visiting English and Irish manors in Of manors and mansions when lords and duchesses attended balls, paid morning visits and strolled in stately gardens.
  4. On a glorious autumn day, there is no better experience in the world than picking grapes and helping with the harvest in Harvest the grape.
  5. In Walk through a sky with a thousand suns, we explored a sunflower farm in Prince Edward County.
  6. The Carolinas have always held a special place in our hearts, find out why in Carolina on my mind.
  7. On a wintry day, one of the best places to visit is an aquarium. Read about my girls’ weekend winter getaway to Ripley’s Aquarium in Discover an undersea world.
  8. There’s a reason why British Columbia has “Beautiful British Columbia” on its license plates. See why in Happy in beautiful BC.
  9. Hamilton, Ontario, a great tourist destination, really? Explore all it has to offer in Challenge a steadfast belief.
  10. Make a date to explore your local zoo or one of the smaller zoos in your region where you can get up close and personal with the animals in Have a Zootastic experience.

Where do you plan to visit next year? Leave a comment and here’s to a happier 2022 with many more travels and adventures ahead!

Daughter Grace in a garden in South Carolina
Grace at a manor house in North Carolina
Daughter Clare in a sunflower field in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Clare in the sunflower field in Prince Edward County

Listen to a master storyteller

If you’re looking for something new to watch on Netflix, I’d highly recommend Springsteen on Broadway.

Whether you’re a Springsteen fan or not, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this two and a half hour auto-biographical journey through Springsteen’s life and music. I’d heard of Springsteen on Broadway, but I thought it was some big musical based on his music. I didn’t realize it was the boss himself, intimate, raw, revealed and outspoken on political issues of the day.

The show opened up on Broadway in 2017. In promoting it, the rock legend said “My vision of these shows is to make them as personal and intimate as possible. I chose Broadway for this project because it has the beautiful old theaters which seemed like the right setting for what I have in mind. My show is just me, the guitar, the piano and the words and music. Some of the show is spoken, some of it is sung, all of it together is in pursuit of my constant goal—to communicate something of value.”  

Springsteen undersells himself. He doesn’t just communicate something of value, he weaves golden threads of stories from his childhood, his marriage, the friendships he developed over the years with his bandmates and tales of life on the road. It is master storytelling at its finest.

There were so many things that struck me in the performance, his humour, his openness and honesty about the relationships in his life, but the thing that struck me the most was a new appreciation for his songs and lyrics. The words from classic songs like Thunder Road, Born in the USA, Land of Hopes and Dreams were transformed with new layers of richness and meaning as Springsteen wove his stories through his musical repertoire. At times, he was simply mesmerizing.

Storytelling, in the traditional sense of telling stories through the spoken word has almost become a lost art. But thanks to the boss and Netflix, you can still hear one of the master storytellers of all time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to watch Springsteen on Broadway. I hope some day soon to go to New York and catch it live. What are your picks for Netflix this fall? Leave a comment.

Lyrics from Thunder Road

There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away

They haunt this dusty beach road

In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets

They scream your name at night in the street

Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet

And in the lonely cool before dawn

You hear their engines roaring on

But when you get to the porch they’re gone on the wind

So Mary, climb in

It’s a town full of losers

And I’m pulling out of here to win

See it on the big screen

Daniel Craig as James Bond

We went and saw the new James Bond movie this weekend, No Time to Die. It was the first time we’d seen a movie on the big screen in over two years.

There’s something about seeing a flick on the big screen that can’t be replicated in the comfort of your living room. Everything is larger than life. You feel part of the action, your body’s reflexes twitch at every fight scene, and your torso pushes up against the back of your seat during the car chases as if you were holding on for dear life in the passenger seat of Bond’s Aston Martin. Dolby surround sound rumbles through the theatre and you are transported to the French Riviera, the fjords of Norway or the secret service headquarters of Mi6 in London.

This latest Bond film didn’t disappoint. It was my favourite and a stellar farewell performance for actor Daniel Craig. There was everything you expect and crave in a Bond film, the debonair Bond, a bevy of beautiful female agents, kickass fight and chase scenes, classic lines only Bond can deliver, plot twists, villains and many references and nods to previous films including a volcanic island set for destruction. I jumped in my seat at least four or five times.

This week’s #HappyAct is to throw off the shackles of Netflix, Prime and Showcase and get out and see a picture on the big screen. I highly recommend No Time to Die. Happy viewing!