A country mile

country fieldOne of the many things I’m thankful for is living in the country. While I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, I’m forever grateful we made the decision more than 20 years ago to get out of the city and move to rural roads where the air is fresh, the mosaic fields of fall spread before you like a harvest feast, and you can walk or drive for a country mile without seeing another car or person.

What I didn’t count on was how much the simplistic charm of the little hamlets and crossroads, and the people who inhabit them would grow on me.

For instance, I was driving to Tamworth the other night for a 4H meeting. The sign at the church in Croyden said, “Rhonda. Sunday. 6:30.”

It made me wonder who was Rhonda and what was she doing at the Croyden church on Sunday at 6:30? Was she getting married? Or was it an unhappy occasion—a memorial service for Rhonda? Was she young or old?

I did wonder if perhaps my friend Rhonda Nontell who has a cottage nearby was giving a gospel performance at 6:30 in Croyden, but then the sign would say “Rhonda. Sunday. 6:30. $5.” I mean most of us would pay at least $5 to see that performance.

These are the things that keep me up at night.

And then there is the country wave. When I first moved to this area 20 years ago, my best friend’s Mom Audrey educated me on the country wave. The country wave is different if you’re walking or driving.

When walking, the proper way to wave to people is a slight nod of the head or raise of the hand for a half-wave. No full-out wave, or Queen wave, just an acknowledgement you saw them driving by.

If driving, there are two approved country waves. There’s the two finger wave, where you just raise two fingers off the steering wheel or the four finger wave with your four index fingers extended. A slight nod of the head is acceptable.

Over the years, I’ve experienced everything from discovering a newborn fawn at the end of my driveway, to eating my breakfast cereal with an escaped cow staring at me through the kitchen window, to chickens on our hot tub. Yes, country living is definitely better by a country mile.

This week’s #HappyAct is to give thanks for where you live. Here are some pictures I took on my drive and walk on the country roads near Tamworth the other night.

horses

country sign
This is the first sign I’ve seen for turtles and snakes

barn silosunset over a field

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Bring back Happy Days TV

Does anyone else wonder what happened to happy TV? Everything on TV is so dark these days.

Clare is a huge Archie comics fans, so when she heard they created a TV show based on the comic series, she was excited to start watching it on Netflix. I thought it might be fun to see how Archie, Jughead, Veronica, Betty and the gang were portrayed on the small screen, so I watched the first few episodes of Riverdale with her.

It became clear in the first ten minutes this was NOT the Archie comics I grew up with. Moose shot by a rogue serial killer, Veronica ordering hits on her ex-boyfriend, characters cruising the woods after dark looking for a potential hook up. WTF?!?

I miss the days of happy TV. The days of Friends, Seinfeld, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and yes, Happy Days, when teenagers were teenagers who hung out in soda shops or coffee shops, and when the biggest drama was who you were going to ask to prom.

We were telling Clare the other night about Fantasy Island, where people flew in (who can forget Tattoo yelling, “ze plane, ze plane”) each week to live out their fantasies and The Love Boat, where Julie, Isaac and the crew helped people find love by the end of each episode. Call me nostalgic, but I miss those shows.

When did shows like NCIS, Dexter, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead take over the airwaves? The next generation of dark TV is even darker, shows like 13 Reasons Why, Stranger Things and Riverdale, ridden with themes like suicide, murder and blackmail.

No wonder teenage mental health is in crisis. TV used to be a place where we could escape the harshness of the world; today angst, anxiety and negativity washes over us from the airwaves.

This week’s #HappyAct is to boycott dark TV. Let’s all call on Netflix and HBO and the networks to bring back happy days TV, shows with positive messages and themes. Clare last week said she’s had enough of Riverdale. Let’s follow her lead.

Take me out to the ball game

baseball stadium

Special guest post by Mark Gauthier

The weather is easing up and I’ve seen a few robins out in the backyard which is a sign of good things to come. Some people smell that earthy dog smell that’s uncovered after the snow washes down the gutters but I smell Rawlings, peanuts and beer.

Baseball.

The word’s been around for almost 150 years and yet it’s become the Hamlet of our sports culture with phrases like,

“Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and a full count” or this beauty, “Gettin’ to first base”.

We all know these sayings and I bet you can walk down King St. and the majority of people would know exactly what you’re talking about.

It’s a beautiful game. Not only what happens on the field but off the field.

There’s the scoreboard–every statistic tells a story from an RBI to a stolen base, you can pick up exactly what happened at what time throughout the game. No other game can tell a story like baseball.

Off the the field there’s the chatter. Every fan has a tale to tell on what brought them to the game. Don’t believe me? When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series after a 108 year drought, it affected so many people’s lives and not just because of the drought being over, it was the fans that were affected. Generations who never saw them win a championship were remembered at grave sites, arm patches and photographs. That’s what baseball does to a nation, or the Chicago Cubs.

This field, this game — it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.
—Terrance Mann, Field of Dreams.

Even with the digitization of America, there’s something about the game that peels back the skins of time and reveals its heartbeat, our childhood, our innocence and our love of all that was good in its most simplistic form. It’s in the sounds of the game from the pop of the bat to that heckler in the stands the best and the worst of who we are. It’s in the smells of the turf, the beer and the hotdogs. Seeing the score board and reading the game and one of my favourites, the taste. Hot roasted peanuts and hot dogs. Baseball makes a lot of sense.

This #HappyAct is a little project that will take you into the summer, and hopefully if the stars align, the autumn.

Go see a baseball game. There’s many to choose from The Blue Jays, The Chiefs or the Ottawa Champions. If you’re feeling ambitious, take a trip and make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown or one of baseball’s greatest parks. Go by yourself or best yet, bring the family.

For more Cubs action, visit Mark’s blog, canuckcubbie.com.

Spice it up

carrot and squash soupWhen it comes to food, I have a terrible handicap. I’m Scottish.

Scots aren’t exactly known for their culinary prowess. I had a meat and potatoes kind of childhood. Growing up, the only spices I remember in my house were salt, salt, and more salt.

Today we are blessed to live in an era when delicacies and aromatic spices from around the world can be found in any market. We just need an adventurous spirit to experiment with different flavours and combinations.

My favourite “go to” spices these days are cumin, curry and coriander. This weekend I made a yummy carrot squash soup with coconut milk with these three spices from Greta Podleski’s new cookbook, Yum and Yummer. I was too lazy to roast the sweet potatoes and carrots, so just dumped them in the pot. It was spicy and delicious.

When Dave and I were in Zanzibar, we toured a spice plantation. Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island—it was a key trading route and stop in the nineteenth century for slave traders and spice merchants off the coast of Africa. We learned about the medicinal properties of spices, ate cinnamon shaved right off the tree, and brought back a treasure trove of spices in our suitcases. I still use all of these spices in my dishes.

man in coconut tree
Our guide climbing a coconut tree in Zanzibar

Most spices have medicinal properties. Cinnamon has been called a medical powerhouse, lowering blood sugar, aiding digestion and battling ailments like bronchitis. I sprinkle cinnamon on my coffee at work every day for a healthy, tasty start to my day. I even use cinnamon in some of my rice dishes and most of my baked goods.

And then there’s the Italian spices—oregano, basil, thyme. So many spices, so little time!

Four spices that I haven’t cooked with as much are cardamom, tamarind, saffron and garam marsala. If any of you have any great tips or recipes for these spices, please share.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spice it up. Put the salt shaker away and discover the spice of your life.

Inspired reading and viewing: I watched a movie a few weeks ago that will inspire you to spice up your culinary creations—The Hundred Foot Journey. It’s the story of an Indian family that starts a restaurant directly across from a French haute cuisine restaurant in the French countryside. The story centres around Hassan whose secret spice box propels him to become one of the top chefs of France. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time—I’m reading the book right now.

Enjoy the finer things in life

bottle of wine and wilton cheeseI’ve come to terms with certain truths in my life. I know I will never be rich. I’ll never own a Coach purse, have a designer kitchen, or set foot in a Ferrari or Porsche, let alone own one.

But when it comes to certain necessities, I am unwavering in my devotion to the finer things of life. Good bread, wine and cheese are three staples I won’t skimp on.

Here is a list of my favourite finer things:

  • Best bread: Pan Chancho bakery in Kingston. I had two colleagues from TD Bank in Toronto who insisted on coming to Kingston every year for meetings just so they could stock up on loaves of bread to take home on the train. Their olive bread is addictive.
  • Best ice cream: Kawartha Dairy wins by two scoops every time. I discovered Kawartha Dairy thirty years ago on weekend trips to Minden, the Kawarthas and Bancroft to friends’ cottages. Luckily you can get their rich and creamy ice cream everywhere now, even Costco.
  • Best cheese: Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Wilton Cheese Factory in Wilton is the best little cheese factory in eastern Ontario. Sure, there may be good fancy artisanal cheese places out there, but you won’t find better cheese at a reasonable price. People drive for miles for their cheese curds.
  • Best honey: This one has to bee my bestie Elaine Peterson’s Bee Happy Honey. You can buy Elaine’s honey at the Memorial Centre Farmer’s Market in Kingston on Sundays and other local markets
  • Best butter tarts: Mrs. Garrett’s of Garrett’s Meat Shop in Inverary—gooey, rich, huge and delicious! Don’t forget to pick up a pumpkin pie for a second dessert while you’re there.
  • Best coffee: Cooke’s Find Foods coffee. Get it in Kingston and Picton–guaranteed to perk you up.
  • Best wine: So many wines, so little time. Since I’m no connoisseur, and still have to buy wine on a budget, I won’t even attempt to try to list my favourites, but the amazing array of Ontario wines from the County and Niagara will keep us all happy for a very long time. I will give a shout out to my newest local winery, Scheuermann Winery in Westport. Leslie and I visited it last fall and enjoyed a bottle of their Romatique. Worth the drive to Westport.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy the finer things in life. What’s one of your favourite finer things? Leave a comment.

Do the juicy wiggle

When my kids started talking about the juicy wiggle, I thought it was a new chewing gum or crank bait.

After shooting me that, “Oh Mom, how can you be so old and ignorant” look, they educated me it’s the latest dance craze by RedFoo.

I never jumped on the Gangnam Style bandwagon or struck a pose and Vogued. Most dance fad songs have always made me want to run screaming from the dance floor. Not the juicy wiggle. It will want to make you get juicy and “move your hips and dance like fish”.

The funniest thing about the juicy wiggle is both of my kids do it slightly different. Grace looks like a classic go go dancer, while Clare looks like her spine has elasticized, causing her arms and body to flail like an octopus being electrocuted.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get juicy and do the Juicy Wiggle. Here is a video of my kids and their friends doing the Juicy Wiggle, and the official Redfoo video. Love the outfits!

Have something to look forward to

 

Swinton family in front of waterfall
On our vacation last year in Grand Falls, New Brunswick

A couple of years ago, I was watching Barbara Walters year-end special on the Most Fascinating People of 2015. She asked comedian Kevin Hart to complete the sentence “Happiness is…” and he replied, “Happiness is having something to look forward to.”

I thought it was an unusual but honest and insightful answer. The daily rhythm of life can become tedious. Most of us work to live, and the reality is in North America, the balance of working and living is out of whack. We work too much, and don’t take time to enjoy life.

That’s when you need to have something to look forward to. I find this longing grows even more in the winter months. By mid-February, Dave and I begin to yearn for our next adventure. We start pouring over calendars and road atlases and looking up vacation rentals on vrbo.com and airbnb.com. Where will the winds take us? What will our next adventure be?

My brother Don is the king of having something to look forward to. He takes about four or five trips a year. As soon as he unpacks his bags from his last vacation, he is planning his next trip. I think he would shrivel up into a hole if he didn’t have something planned. And as it happens, Don is a pretty happy guy.

This week’s #HappyAct is plan your next vacation, a weekend away, a special night with friends. While away a snowy Sunday making plans and dreaming of your next adventure, big or small.