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.

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

I #ChooseToChallenge but respectfully

Author and her daughter holding their hands high in solidarity for International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. The rallying cry is not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to call out gender bias and inequality so “collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

As someone who has witnessed gender bias and inequality and tried to advocate all my life for gender equity, I will hold my hand high to show my support with women across the globe but with one important caveat: I #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

We are living in very strange times indeed, times when even when you are trying to do the right thing and speak up, you can be vilified for your words.

Last month, actress Olivia Wilde praised her boyfriend, Harry Styles publicly on her Instagram feed for taking a supporting role in a film she directed featuring a strong female cast. She said “Little known fact, most male actors don’t want to play supporting roles in female-led films. The industry has raised them to believe it lessens their power (i.e financial value) to accept these roles, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get financing for movies focusing on female stories.”

The backlash was fast, furious and full of vitriol, accusing Wilde of praising Styles for doing his job or as one person said on Twitter, “the bare minimum level shit”.

What’s the lesson here? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

C’mon everybody. Speak up. Choose to challenge, but be damned sure you say the right thing.

I’m honestly getting really tired. Tired of people trying to do the right thing and being raked over the coals, tired of the haters, tired of the nastiness overshadowing the real, important conversations and hampering real change.

So yes, we must #ChooseToChallenge, but please, help make this world a happier and more productive place and #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

Make love a daily ritual

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I promise each day
To say I love you

There are few words in the English language that convey such emotion as the simple, four-letter word love.

Just thinking of the word love makes you feel warm all over, giddy inside, happy and fulfilled.

I made a vow when I was quite young to tell the people I love that I love them every day. You see, when I was 12, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I knew the day would come when I might not be able to say those words to her anymore, so we made a pact to say we loved each other every day. She died when I was 19.

I’ve continued that daily ritual in my marriage and with my children. Not a day goes by where I don’t tell them I love them.

If there’s one thing this past year has taught us is, life is short. This week’s #HappyAct is to make sure the people you love know how you feel about them. Don’t leave words unsaid.

Happy hearts day, everyone. And for those of you with a more amorous turn who like a play on words, feel free to make love a daily ritual too!

Tails from Bentley

Special guest blog by Bentley the dog

Greetings, or as I like to say, happy tails! I can’t believe it’s been only weeks since I left the streets of Cairo, flew on a plane and arrived in Canada. A nice man named Kevin greeted me and drove me to meet my new family. We had lots of laughs and pets in his driveway, then it was time to go home.

The minute I walked in the door, I knew I found my furrever home. The oldest girl, Grace gave me a big hug and had a new toy and sign ready for me, saying “Welcome home”.

My new home is doggie paradise. My owners posted pictures of me on Facebook and all their friends said I won the doggie lottery. Apparently their house is known as a“doggie spa” because it is pawsitively awesome and regularly gets five tail wag reviews on PupAdvisor from four-legged visitors.

My new house is all one level and has a wood stove for me to curl up beside in the winter and a beautiful sunroom with all windows. I have six acres to roam on a spring-fed lake. My family keeps telling me we will go fishing and swimming in the summer, but for now, it’s all frozen and snowy. I have already been ice fishing and skating and like to blow bubbles in the ice fishing holes and minnows bucket!

I love watching the birds on my property. I especially love chasing the squirrels. When my owners let me out the front or back door, I go tearing after them and five or six squirrels will go flying off the bird feeders onto the fences and trees in a flourish. It makes me howl every time! My family doesn’t mind because it keeps the squirrels away from the bird feeders.

It took me about a week to adjust to everything. My tummy was off a bit, so my Mom gave me pumpkin in my food for a few days. On Christmas Eve she made a pumpkin pie. She left it on the counter and asked my Dad to get the tupperware container down and cover it up. He got the wrong one that doesn’t close properly and so before bed, I smelled the pumpkin, thinking it was for me and put my paws on the counter and ate half of it.

Another time, a neighbour dropped some apple crisp off at the front door and got stuck in the icy snow in their driveway. When they all went out to help them get unstuck, I helped myself to half a brie and lovely charcuterie board on the dining room table. I know I shouldn’t, but if stupid humans leave food out like that, I can’t help myself. I’ll have to train them better if I’m going to keep my boyish figure.

My family is home during the day and spend their time looking at screens a lot. They take lots of breaks to play with me and take me for walks. They keep using words like “Covid” and “virus” and assure me we will visit more with other people and dogs when those strange words are over.

My favourite place to sleep now is in my Dad’s chair in the sunroom. It fits me just perfect, I can look out the windows and it makes me feel closer to him when he is away at work. Mom says it’s like I’m a prince on my throne.

Grace keeps bringing stuffed toys home for me. My ETTR (estimated time to rip apart) is 24 hours. I’m trying to improve my time to get into the Guinness Book of Dog Records. I figure I have a good shot if she keeps bringing dollar store items. I also like to go around and pick up hats, mitts and socks. Mom is trying to teach me to drop the dirty items in the laundry basket for biscuits.

Grace has a boyfriend and he is a cat person (horrors). I have made it my secret mission to convert him to become a dog person so we snuggle a lot and play together. I think my master plan is working.

I am so happy in my new home. We believe in our hearts we were MFEO (Made For Each Other). I know this wonderful new life of mine would never have been possible without Golden Rescue and my generous sponsor. From the tip of my tail, I want to say thank you so much for bringing me to such a wonderful place.

Happy tails, Bentley!

The year in review: my favourite happy acts from the year of COVID

Two girls graduating

Each year at this time, I select my top ten favourite blog posts for my annual year in review.

I was a bit worried this year that pickings would be slim. Truth be told blogging about happiness during a global pandemic is a bit of a tough slog. With little prospects for fun excursions, and at times struggling with my own mental and physical health, there were many weeks when I wondered what simple act could I share this week to make the world a happier place?

But as I re-read the posts two things hit home. You can feel moments of happiness and gratitude at the most unexpected times and by doing the simplest of acts.

The other realization was happiness cannot be viewed in isolation. We are vastly impacted by events happening around us. My blog this past year has been as much a reflection and chronicle of the times as anything else.

Here were my favourite happy acts from a year that will go down in the history books as a year to remember:

There you have it. Another year under the bridge, another year of happy acts. Here’s to a happier 2021 for us all.

The best Christmas gift ever

golden retriever

One of the first blog posts I ever wrote when I started sharing a happy act a week to help make the world a happier place was, “Hug a dog”.

There is nothing like the love and licks of a furry four-legged friend to make bad days better and good days epic. When our two large dogs passed away within the same year, we held off getting another dog. Our schedules were hectic and we thought we’d just look after friends’ dogs when they were away.

Then COVID hit and everyone got a dog. Friends who have never had a dog before were getting puppies. We started searching for the right dog online but even mutts were going for $1,200 and pickings were scant.

We were dogless in lockdown during a pandemic. It just wasn’t right. We wrote out our Christmas lists and each made the same wish to Santa: please bring us a puppy.

Our wishes came true this week when we adopted a one and a half year-old golden retriever rescue dog from goldenrescue.ca. He flew all the way from Cairo, Egypt and already has nuzzled his way into our hearts and his furever home.

He is a big, gentle loving soul who loves to play, walk and snuggle. We can’t get over how good he is already. His worst habits are stealing the toilet paper roll off the holder and picking up Dave’s socks from the floor which he always brings and presents to me proudly. My goal is to teach him to put the socks in the laundry basket—one less chore in the house.

But we need help with a name. He came with the name Bailey, but I had a dog for 17 years named Bailey and every dog has their own unique personality. Here are some suggestions that have already come in from friends on Facebook.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make someone’s Christmas wish come true and give the best present ever, or at least help us name our newest family member. I hope everyone has a wonderful and joyous Christmas. Be sure to read next week’s annual year-end wrap up of the best happy acts of 2020.

  • Beau
  • Cairo
  • Tucker
  • Harley
  • Jasper
  • Red
  • Rusty Griswold Swinton (since we got him at Christmas)
  • Nugget (like a gold nugget)
  • Elvis (my choice, the rest of the fam are nixing this one)
  • Duke
Dave and Clare walking the dog
Doing his first Christmas bird count

The four most important words you can say

View up the lake

I was standing on my dock today, watching the sun sparkle on the water on yet another glorious summer day, and all I could think was “How lucky am I?”

How lucky am I to be able to wander up my driveway on a jet black night, gaze at the stars and milky way, and watch meteors stream across the sky?

How lucky am I to have a family who loves me and makes me laugh and who I still want to spend time with more than anyone else in the world?

How lucky am I to be healthy and happy in a world where at every turn, there is a constant reminder we should never take our health for granted?

How lucky am I to have never enough, but enough, money for my wants and needs?

How lucky am I to have a spouse and partner who deserves his crown as the President Choice of Husbands?

How lucky am I to have friends and neighbours who look out for each other and know the value of community?

How lucky am I to watch the grin on my first-born’s face as she lands a five-pound bass after it dances across the water?

Some people say, just be lucky you’re alive. But being alive doesn’t make you lucky or happy.

I have had my share of loss, grief, pain, fear, doubt, and uncertainty.

But how lucky am I?

Note: There’s still time to catch the Perseid meteor shower. The Perseids peak every August as the earth passes through the debris of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. They are supposed to be even more spectacular this year. Last night didn’t disappoint. I saw three meteors, one fireball that spanned the entire sky. We found 11 p.m. to midnight to be the best viewing time. Look to the northern part of the sky near the big dipper. For more on star gazing, see my post gaze at the stars.

Advice on how to train a teenager

two teenage girls

While normally each week on this blog I share a small act of happiness, from time to time I’ve used this platform to ask for advice in my own personal quest for happiness. This week, I ask you dear readers, to share your insights and advice on how to train a teenager.

Yes, both my girls are teenagers now, and as teenagers go, they are great kids. Respectful, hardworking, funny and driven. I love them to bits.

My beefs are small things, like not making a mess on the bathroom counter, putting their dishes in the dishwasher instead of the sink, wasting food, and remembering to do chores like taking out the garbage.

A couple of weeks ago I got the garbage ready in the morning and left it at the door. All my teenager had to do was pick it up, put it in her car, and drop it off at the end of the driveway on the way to work. I reminded her twice the night before and was pleasantly surprised when she grabbed it without needing to be reminded in the morning. It turns out she forgot to stop and put it out at the end of the driveway, took it to work where it sat in her car in 30-degree heat all day, then put it back in the barn when she got home without telling me. A raccoon got into it, and I spent the whole next day cleaning up the stinky mess in the barn.

Now, as a parent, I’d rate my overall performance at a solid 5. I’ve loved my kids, I’ve been there for them as much as possible, but other than that, I’ve barely scraped by. And I’ve definitely had failing marks when it comes to training them to do things like putting their dishes in the dishwasher.

So how do you train a teenager?

I thought of treats, but making them sit and beg for Smarties or Hostess Cupcakes seems a bit degrading.

Punishment seemed a bit harsh for their transgressions and I learned early on taking their devices away is like cutting off an arm. Plus you’re really just punishing yourself since you have to put up with a grumpy bored teenager nagging you all week.

Then a few years ago, I had an evil, wonderful epiphany. I realized if I’m going to punish the little twerps for bad behaviour, I might as well get something I want out of it.

Most of the time, I’ll assign them chores I don’t feel like doing. But last week I hit a new low—I confiscated my daughter’s alcohol. I’ve been enjoying Grace’s delicious Smirnoffs Peach Bellini coolers by the lake. I know I should be ashamed, and have a moment of two of remorse, but then the sun comes out, I have another refreshing sip, and dive in the lake.

Here’s the rub. Whatever I do, it doesn’t make a difference.

I remember when I was pregnant, I listened to one of those parenting tapes. The psychologist shared a story of how he spent years reminding his teenager to take out the garbage until one week, she finally did it on her own. He described it as a success, which I thought was funny given it took years for the kid to finally see it as their responsibility and actually remember to do it.

His message was they’ll eventually grow up, take responsibility and become adults. But in the meantime, my bathroom is a mess and I’m a glorified maid.

So dear readers, tell me and make me happy, how do you train a teenager? Leave a comment!

If I were Oprah Winfrey–my commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020–The Next Act

Clare at her Grade 8 graduation

My two beautiful daughters graduated this past week, one from high school, one from elementary school. There were no dances, no proms, no gatherings of proud parents watching graduates parade across a stage in gown and cap. There was a 15-minute interval where they picked up their diplomas and awards and had their picture taken with one or two family members, and then that was it.

My heart goes out to all of these kids, and I couldn’t help thinking, if I was some big celebrity who was asked to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class of 2020, what would I say?

Here would be my Oprah speech:

The Next Act

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

I know this isn’t the graduation you dreamed of.

You should have been dancing. Hugging. Celebrating with your classmates. Dreaming and looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the next act in your life.

But you are not the first class to graduate in uncertain times. There have been those before you who have graduated in times of war and economic downturn.

Graduation is by design, a time of uncertainty and change. But we acknowledge this year is different.

in addition to the natural uncertainty of the questions every graduate faces, college or university, work or travel, you have the pressing uncertainties of a world in flux and change.

#BlackLivesMatter. Climate change. Coronavirus.

You will forever be known as the graduating class of COVID-19.

We are so sorry this happened to you.

It shouldn’t have ended this way, but know how proud we are of you and how confident we are that you will come through this stronger, smarter and more resilient.

Although you may not see this now, you have been given a unique graduation gift.

A gift of time to reflect on your goals, dreams, purpose and future.

A gift of clarity of what matters most, human kindness and acceptance, our natural world, and the importance of family and human connection.

These past few months have given you an education no institution ever could.

So what will be your next act?

Whatever it may be, know there is a difference between “purpose” and “a purpose”.

Purpose is sometimes portrayed as one all-consuming passion. You may not all be Greta Thunbergs, but you can find a purpose in everything you do.

Being a good friend. A good student. A good worker. A good mother or father. Someone who cares and gets involved in their community.

Purpose is not a single act.

Finally, be kind to one another. Seek what brings us together as humans, and eschew those that divide and remember you belong to each other. Do better than our generation has done.

Above all, whatever your next act in life, make it a purposeful and happy one.

And if I really was Oprah, “you win a mask, and you win a mask and you win a mask…”

Two girls graduating