See past your thoughts

Dog walking in the woods

Have you ever gone for a walk or a drive, and arrived not remembering anything you’ve seen along the way because you were so lost in your thoughts?

It happens to me more than I would like to admit.

I’m conscious of it now, so when it happens, I stop in mid-stride if I’m walking, scold my brain, and start looking at the world around me. I make a conscious effort to be in the moment, listen to the wind in the trees, the birds, see the snow glistening on the pines and just take it all in.

It’s easy to become prisoners of our thoughts. It’s hard work to see past them.

1,000 days

People wearing masks in 1918 in California

Very early on in the pandemic, an older caretaker of a church told Dave, “It will be a 1,000 days, every pandemic takes a 1,000 days.”

The Spanish flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. By my count, we are at 675 days which means we have about 10 months left of living with COVID.

For the first time in almost two years, I am quietly optimistic we are beginning to see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel.

Early on, the other catchphrase was herd immunity. The pandemic will subside when a large proportion of the population has either contracted the disease or developed enough antibodies through vaccines to protect themselves from contracting the disease. With the highly contagious Omicron variant, we are now seeing herd immunity in action.

This week’s #HappyAct is to allow yourself to hope. Stay strong during these last few critical weeks and months and let’s all continue doing what we need to do to support our beleaguered healthcare workers who have been the real heroes on the front lines.

I choose to hope the end is near, and I for one, can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

Ed. Note: This post is not based on any scientific evidence. Please take it as it’s intended, hopeful musings that brighter days lay ahead.

The 75 Easy Challenge

Bentley the dog ready for his 75 Easy Challenge
Bentley ready to take up his 75 Easy Challenge

You may have heard about the 75 Hard challenge that’s taken over TikTok and the internet. Created by fitness guru Andy Frisella, it’s a challenge that is supposed to toughen you up mentally and physically. He calls it “ironman for your brain”. The challenge involves doing five things for 75 days straight:

  1. Drink 3-4 litres of water a day 
  2. Follow a diet with no cheat meals or alcohol
  3. Workout twice a day for 45 minutes, and one of the workouts must be done outdoors 
  4. Read 10 pages of a non-fiction or self-help book each day
  5. Take a progress picture each day

We were talking about the challenge in the car yesterday, and I said, “that’s way too hard and life’s challenging enough right now, I’d rather do a 75-day easy challenge”. Here’s what our 75 Easy challenge would look like:

Laurie’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Drink two glasses of wine two days a week, one white, one red
  2. Complete one puzzle
  3. Read the newspapers and actually get moving before 10 a.m. on the weekends (shoot, I guess I’ll have to start the challenge tomorrow)
  4. Walk from my home office to the kitchen fridge and back at least twice a day
  5. Wear something other than slippers and leggings at least once a week

Dave’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Ice fish twice a week
  2. Pet Bentley 10 times a day, including once on the belly
  3. Read 30 pages of either John Sandford, Wilbur Smith or Ken Follett a night
  4. Drink one bottle of Baileys or Cabot Trail maple cream, with or without coffee
  5. Bring his minnows in every night so they don’t freeze on the front porch (to help with #1)

Clare’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Eat two Mr. Noodles a day, one small bowl and one large bowl
  2. Limit her screen time on her phone to less than four hours per day
  3. Wear an actual winter coat each time she leaves the house
  4. Watch at least one hour of Netflix or DisneyPlus a night
  5. Clean up after herself in the kitchen at least once a week (again, see #1)  

Grace’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Keep her voice down to under 100 decibels when talking on the phone late at night
  2. Journal every day
  3. Write and re-write her study schedule daily
  4. Pick two items of clothing up off of her floor each day
  5. Learn one new song on the guitar each week

Bentley’s 75 Easy challenge

  1. Chase the squirrels from the bird feeders twice a day
  2. Sleep on one couch at least once every night
  3. Eat two dog treats a day without trying to slobber
  4. Actually come when my humans call, “Come, Bentley”
  5. Bark for only 10 minutes a night on the front porch at absolutely nothing

There you have it. Hey, at least we’ll feel good when we’re all successful at the end of the 75 days. This week’s #HappyAct is to make up your own 75 Hard or Easy Challenge. What will it be? Leave a comment.

It’s written in the cards

Tarot cards

It’s always fun this time of year to scour your horoscope to see what’s in store for the year ahead.

We took it a step further and did tarot readings for everybody in the house this week. Here’s what the cards told us:

  • Grace has a secret admirer, but there is also distrust of acquaintances who are seeking to betray her.
  • There is a mystery that will affect Clare for the better. Her confiding disposition may generate a friendship that will warm into love.
  • I drew cards that foretold of successful ventures in business and riches, the ship and anchor. I guess my ship will come in this year.
  • Dave? Well, he doesn’t believe in this mumbo jumbo stuff. We’re still trying to convince him to let us do a reading. For now, let’s say there will be water and fish in his future.

This week’s #HappyAct is to buy a cheap card of tarot cards (only $9.99 on most sites) and see what’s written in the cards for you this year. Happy reading!

Tarot card reading

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

The missing ingredient in remote work

Work desk

The debate on the future of work rages on (you can read about my vision for it here). This fall, many companies announced they would start bringing people back in the office. With a fourth wave of the pandemic underway, many of those same companies have deferred their plans indefinitely, making remote work here to stay.

For those of us toiling away in our bedrooms and basements, we’ve had plenty of time to contemplate what’s missing in remote work.

The prevailing wisdom is what’s missing from remote work is the four C’s: collIaboration, connection, communication and culture. While all of these things have suffered a decline to varying degress, they are not missing from remote work. We’ve still managed to collaborate, communicate and stay connected with work colleagues.

No, the key ingredient missing in remote work is energy.

There is an undeniable energy in being around and working with people. When you meet or bump into people at the office or work together in person, you feel the energy level in the room rise. Ideas are born, connections are made. Energy fuels creativity, learning, innovation and propels action. We are driven to take action and succeed, which drives a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

It has been said for introverts, this pandemic has been a blessing. It has allowed them to work quietly on their own, focus on their passions and be happy. But for extroverts who rely on the energy of others to give them strength, and help them be the best version of themselves, the pandemic has been crippling.

The problem is introverts and extroverts alike need to be re-energized from time to time, and most remote workers are running on dangerously low batteries.

This week’s #HappyAct is to assess your energy level and needs. How are you doing? Share an idea on how to fill the void so we can all recharge.

Cabin life

Author outside her friend's log cabin

I’ve always had an affinity for log cabins. They make me feel at home. Sadly, they are a dying breed. While custom log home builders are still building majestic post and beam and timber frame homes, you have to comb the backwoods and back lakes of our region to find an original hand-hewn log cabin.

We were having this conversation last weekend at my best friend’s family cottage north of Minden. Her Dad built the main cabin almost sixty years ago and over time, her brother Steve built two more log cabins on the property. Steve said to me at one point, “Nobody builds cottages any more, they’re all homes.”

Log sleeping cabin

Their cottage hasn’t changed much in 40 years. Waterskis and lifejackets hang from the wooden rafters in the ceiling. Next to the old icebox in the kitchen filled with baking supplies is an antique Kellogg Wood Wall phone, the kind where you had to hold a receiver to your ear to hear the person talking.

The walls of the cabin are filled with bric-a-brac, antique cookie tins, pieces of driftwood and kids’ artwork from years gone by. The only thing that has changed is the fireplace. About eight years ago, Steve refaced the fireplace, using weathered river stone. The last few years, he’s been working on restoring another old log cabin on the property. It is a very special place.

Main family cottage
Stone fireplace
Log cabin
The newest log cabin on the property

My favourite vacation rental of all time was a 100-year old log cabin set in a meadow on a hillside on 25 acres just outside of Woodstock, Vermont. We spent a week there when the kids were little, and it too, was special.

The kitchen had an old porcelain style sink with a picture above it of the original homesteaders on the property, sitting in overalls with corn straw hats. The interior of the house had an old wood stove, a long wood dining room table adorned with wildflowers in a vase, and a big wooden staircase that went up to a loft that had two bedrooms, connected by a long walkway.

100-year old cabin
100-year old cabin in Woodstock, Vermont

The best part of the house was its wraparound porch. It was massive, and we practically lived outside for the entire week, eating meals and playing games on the small table with four chairs and sitting in the rocking chairs. On our last day, as Dave and I rocked on the porch enjoying our morning coffee, a deer made his way up the hill towards the cabin, grazing on the dewey grass until he was just a few feet from us.

Yes, if I were going to move, it would be to a log cabin on a lake. For now, I’m grateful for friends who have so generously allowed me to share in the memories of these special places. It has meant the world to me.  

Front porch of log cabin

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

Take the “life in one picture” challenge

Author on island with a canoe

I recently saw a photo on LinkedIn. It was of four generations of couples kissing and it was captioned “life in one picture”. It was so simple, yet beautiful.

This week’s #HappyAct, is a challenge. If you had to capture your life in one photo right now, what would it be? Share your pic. Here’s mine.

My happy place has always been near the water. This picture of me was taken this week on our staycation—Dave and I spent the day paddling on Desert Lake. We stopped at this beautiful little island for a swim and lunch, and to watch a mother loon in the bay swim with a baby on her back. This is my life, in one picture, and I’m ever so grateful.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

My house

There’s a new trend sweeping the nation, something we’re all secretly indulging in and speculating about: what our houses are worth.

According to a Statistics Canada report released last month, the net worth of Canadians rose by $770 billion in the first three months of 2021 with the net worth of households with a major income earner aged 55 or older being over $1.1 million dollars.

The vast majority of this is from house values. At the end of March 2021, the average price of a Canadian home was over $700,000, and that was before the housing market started going crazy.

You don’t have to look further than the crop of SOLD signs on lawns and online to see the frenzy.

We’ve had two friends who have sold their houses in the past few months. Each had more than 50 showings in a week, received more than a dozen offers and had people write letters why they should get the house. In both cases, their houses sold for 20% over the asking price. It’s downright crazy.

For those of us who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s singing along to The Barenaked Ladies, “If I had a million dollars”, it’s a bit surreal. In 1992, when the song was released, the average house price was $149,864. Since 1985, prices have risen by 5.65% annualized over the past 30 years.

If you look at our parents’ generation it must be unfathomable. My parents bought their tiny two-bedroom, one bathroom bungalow in Port Credit, a now bustling suburb of Toronto for $11,000 in 1954. They couldn’t afford the much bigger and nicer three bedroom house up the street for the extra $2,000. It’s still there today, nestled between the mansions that line the street now.

Yes, things have definitely changed since the Ladies sang, “If I had a million dollars…I’d be rich.” A million dollars probably wouldn’t get you a shack in downtown Toronto or Vancouver.

But it is fun dreaming of what we could sell our houses for until you realize you need to buy somewhere else.

Happy speculating.

Ed. Note: If you are thinking of selling and getting out of dodge, check out this Moneysense magazine article featuring the top ten best places to buy in Canada where you’ll get good value for your money. Spoiler alert: beautiful Bancroft, Ontario is #1. Here’s a picture of our house–while it may not be worth a million dollars yet, we’re happy with our million dollar view.