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

Celebrate longevity

author with flowers

By special guest blogger, Dave Swinton

This week my wife quietly celebrated a major milestone in her life. Twenty-five years working for the same company. Quietly and effectively without fanfare.  Laurie and I celebrated our 25th anniversary two years ago and by my reckoning have known each other since we were 15. That’s almost 40 years since we first met in Grade 10 music class. I knew even then that she was the one for me (too bad she didn’t).

My parents would have been married 60 years if my mother hadn’t passed away six months before their anniversary.

What makes these milestones even more amazing is our current cultures’ desire to change their iPhones every year and jobs 8-10 times during their careers.

Why do people stay committed to their jobs and to each other for so long?  It is much more than that old Roots sweater in your closet that you refuse to throw out because it fits your curves just right. Although there is a certain comfort level in the same job and the same partner, you have to be open to embrace their strengths while supporting and accepting their weaknesses. You will even find yourself finishing their sentences and rolling your eyes when they do things the same way they did so long ago.

For some, relationships are meant to be long and treasured, whether it be at work or at home.

Thank God I have a partner who even to this day I cannot bear to live without.

This week’s Happy Act is to embrace and celebrate longevity.

The return to common decency

 

sidewalk messages

Special guest post by Jill Yokoyama 

It looks like COVID-19 is going to be with us for awhile and every day the situation seems to get more serious.  I would like you to cast your thoughts back a few weeks to the middle of March, when all these changes were so new to us and we were trying to follow the instructions from our medical experts.

How did your interactions with your family and friends change?  If you are like me, you cancelled planned visits and get-togethers with extended family and friends; cancelled work and music rehearsals; you might have even cancelled a long-planned vacation.

As we all tried to stay home I noticed a change in my community on my daily “physically-distanced” walks. I noticed entire families going for walks or bike rides together.  I noticed families doing activities together in their front yards and on their driveways–barbecuing, making sidewalk chalk designs, playing ball, blowing bubbles.

I noticed messages of affirmation and encouragement written in chalk on the sidewalk or painted on stones. These heart-warming messages of support let us know we care for our communities and we will all get through this together.

In the 21st century we seem to have developed such busy lives that leave little time for each other. I wonder if one of the positive outcomes of COVID-19 will be a new focus on the simpler aspects of our lives such as spending time with family and friends at home and playing games together.

When COVID-19 is a distant memory, will we return to our busy lives or will we see a permanent shift in how we live our lives? Only time will tell. Stay well, my friends, and most importantly, stay home.

Ed. note: Jill submitted this post without a title. I chose the title, “The return to common decency” for her. It is a quote from Albert Camus’ The Plague written in 1941. Camus wrote, “The only means of fighting a plague is common decency.”

sidewalk sign be kind

 

A Family Affair

Girls on beach

Our annual family vacation is always a highlight for us. While we usually head south to the Carolinas, this year we spent a week in Costa Verde, Cuba with the girls at an all inclusive resort.

When you get back from vacation, people always ask, what was the highlight? It’s easy to give the obvious answer: palm trees swaying in the warm ocean breeze, spectacular sunsets over crystal blue waters, 30 degree temperatures and sipping on a pina colada before lunch at the swim up bar. But that’s not my answer. My answer would be family time.

We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner al fresco as a family each day. The girls played beach volleyball, we swam together, snorkeled, and swam with the dolphins at Bahia de Naranjo nature reserve.

Our last night, we gathered in the main square awaiting the nightly entertainment. We were playing one of our go-to family card games, Cheat, a favourite of Dave’s Mom. All the young kids at the resort were up on stage singing and dancing, the nightly “pre-show” entertainment to keep the little ones busy.

A French woman from Quebec struck up a conversation and asked us what we were playing. I tried to explain how the game worked. As we were chatting, the Spanish version of the Hokey Pokey “Chi Chi Wa” came on and all four of us put our cards down and started acting out the moves, which ends with you twirling around with your backside and tongue sticking out. I’ve never seen my girls so carefree and happy.

The French woman said to me, “Vous avez une belle famille”. It was one of those wonderful, sublime moments when I felt pure contentment and at peace with the world and so very grateful.

We are home now. Already we have migrated to our old habits, watching devices in different rooms, going our separate ways in our busy lives. But at least we have the memories of the past week. Here are a few pictures of our trip.

family on a boatpalm tree at sunset

Me and Clare on the rocks

 

girl swimming with dolphin

 

The world’s longest skating rink turns 50

Me skating in front of a big beaver

One of our true national treasures is the Rideau Canal Skateway. Since skating has always been a passion of mine and I lived in Ottawa for a year, skating on the canal always brings back a flood of memories.

When I was a student in Ottawa, I’d skate to school, skate to the movies, and skate downtown to the bars and back. One of my favourite memories was turning the corner near the Laurier bridge at night right at that serendipitous moment when fireworks were going off over the majestic spires of the Chateau Frontenac to honour the opening of Winterlude.

There’s no better time to skate on the canal than Winterlude, Ottawa’s outdoor winter festival, and yesterday, we spent a cold frigid February day on the canal. Since two sections were still closed—be sure to check the interactive ice conditions map on the NCC website if you go, but they were saying the full canal should be open today—we made our base Fifth Avenue and skated north and south as far as we could go.

My husband and daughter on the ice

We watched them film a Hallmark movie in the little park under the romantic stone bridge (Dave thinks he got in a scene). We watched a guy juggle hockey pucks and sticks—only in Canada! We ate beavertails, which is mandatory if you skate on the canal in case you didn’t know. And we skated, and skated, and skated, until my wool socks chafed at my ankles.

This year, under the Bank Street bridge, the NCC has erected a photo exhibit of 50 years on the skateway.

Juggling hockey pucks

There was a picture of Douglas Fullerton, the chair of the National Capital Commission from 1969 to 1973 who came up with the idea to make it a skateway and helped the canal open in 1970. There were pictures of 7-year old Justin Trudeau on the canal as a boy, and the unsung heroes who flood the ice every night. Since I lived in Ottawa, and skated at night all the time, I would see the NCC workers, huddling out in the freezing cold digging holes in the ice and then using their long hoses to flood it so it would be in pristine condition the next day for the hordes of visitors.

Ice sculpture
You could make your own coloured ice block and add it to this ice sculpture

After we could skate no more, we visited the ice sculptures and interactive outdoor installations on Sparks Street (very cool, pun intended!), and walked past the Parliament buildings, the war memorial and the Chateau.

I can’t imagine a better day or way to spend a winter’s day.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and embrace winter, ideally on the world’s longest skating rink. Happy skating!

Snowplows on the ice
The unsung heroes who keep the skateway clear

My daughter on the ice

Girls eating maple taffy
Eating maple taffy as the sun sets on a great day

OK child of boomer

Clint Eastwood meme that says Say OK boomer just one more time

It happened. About a month ago, when we were talking, Clare let me have it with “OK boomer”.

After the second or third “OK boomer”, I finally retaliated with “OK, child of boomer”.

Her response? “Mom, that makes no sense, whatsoever.”

For those of you out of the loop, the phrase “OK boomer” became an internet sensation in 2019 when a younger member of New Zealand’s Parliament hurled it at an older colleague in response to heckling. Someone made a TikTok video out of it, and it went viral. Now all the “kids” are using it.

For centuries, generations have struggled to understand one another. Older generations feel marginalized and undervalued. Younger generations feel like they have so much to contribute, but they’re dismissed as young and inexperienced and not given opportunities to prove themselves.

This generates the negative perception of millennials by older people that they’ve got it figured out, and the old farts “just don’t get it”, OK boomer. And so the torch of youth and know-it-allness is passed.

Labelling generations is a relatively new phenomenon. It started in the twentieth century, and took off mid-century when a large glut of babies were born post-war, creating the “baby boom generation” or Boomers.

As an official boomer myself, I usually try to take the high road whenever there is a generational dispute and try to see it from the other person’s perspective.

But I will confess it doesn’t help when millennials have to give a name to things that make it sound like theirs was the first generation to ever grow up. For instance, every time I hear a twenty-something use the term “adulting”, I just want to change their diaper.

This week’s #HappyAct is to either take the high road or the low road the next time you run into a generational dispute. You could try to bridge the generational gap by seeking to understand their perspective. Or if you take the low road and have fun taking the piss out of a millennial. Your choice.

OK child of boomer, gotta bounce, but if you think this post is lit, give me a RT, will ya?

Dear Santa: All I Want for Christmas

author on lake

Dear Santa. I started this note to you on Facebook the other day, but had to cut it short since I had to get to work.

I saw Rudolph on the ice this morning crossing the lake with Dancer and Prancer.  I think they were here on a recon mission. It’s a good thing our lakes are frozen, that way you can travel faster Christmas Eve. I messed up in the kitchen the other night so you may get store bought cookies left out. Hope that’s OK. By the way, the kids were hoping you could define naughty for them. I think they’re getting nervous.

I’m a little late sending you my Christmas wish, but most of the items on it are things you can work on year-round after you deliver toys to all the good girls and boys on Tuesday night. Here it is.

All I Want for Christmas

  • An electric vehicle that’s four wheel or all wheel drive with long driving ranges for people who live in the country who want to do their part to reduce greenhouse emissions
  • A new grocery retailer in Kingston that is environmentally friendly. Santa, since you travel a lot you probably have seen these new zero-waste food stores that have opened in Europe and around the world. Please help bring them to Canada and help us to do our part to reduce excess packaging.
  • An end to exorbitant bank fees—I think it’s highway robbery they charge $3 every time you take money out of a machine if it’s not your bank. I hope all the banks are on your naughty list this year
  • A new dryer that automatically sorts and matches socks (this one has been on my list before)
  • An end to homelessness; everyone deserves a warm, inviting place to call home
  • A hockey rink heater that actually works
  • Most of all, I want you to do what you can for a special group of people who are constantly in my heart and thoughts who are dealing with serious health issues right now; you know who they are. Please help them get better and bring them joy and happiness this Christmas season.

Sincerely,
Laurie

Find perfection in imperfection

christmas tree

We were sitting admiring our Christmas tree last night watching the Sound of Music (or Sound of Mucus, as Dave likes to call it) and wrapping presents, when the lights on the top of the tree went out.

Dave and I just laughed and it reminded me of a few Facebook posts I saw earlier in the week of friends who had brought new trees home, only to find one section of lights on their “pre-lit” tree not working.

This year, after we put our tree up, a whole section of lights wasn’t working, so we went to Crappy Tire and bought a new box of small twinkly warm lights. Of course, we bought the wrong kind (I blame it on Clare) so our tree is a mix of big white lights and small yellowy lights, and now, dark on top.

At this time of year, social media feeds are filled with picture-perfect posts of decorated trees and floral arrangements that could be straight out of Better Homes and Gardens.

Not ours. Our tree is a mishmash of old handmade ornaments made by the kids over the years, three of four different types of garland—strings of red berries, birch bark and glittery tinsel, and a mix-matched collection of decorations.

There’s the requisite collection of fish decorations and ornaments from our various vacations over the years—a lobster from down east, a lighthouse from Cape Hatteras, a bunch of grapes from wine country, even a Montreal Canadiens globe.

And yet, to me, it’s perfect.

This week’s Happy Act is to find perfection in imperfection. Enjoy the spirit of the season. What’s your most treasured ornament on your tree? Leave a comment.

christmas ornaments
Our Cape Hatteras lighthouse ornament and a Russian ornament my friend Miranda gave me
lobster tree ornament
Every tree needs a lobster!