Five great summer reads to add to your list

blogger reading a book

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been breezing through books these past few months like the warm summer winds gusting across the lake. Chalk it up to the summer of Covid. Here are my recommendations to add to your summer reading list:

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. There’s a reason why this novel has been on the bestseller list for the last 32 weeks. It is the story of a young girl who grows up in the marshes of South Carolina who faces prejudice and accusations of murder. Gripping, insightful and a beautiful portrait of our natural world, it will leave you breathless. The first 30-40 pages may make you wonder what everyone is raving about, but don’t give up. You’ll soon be unable to put it down.
  • Fifteen Dogs by Canadian Andre Alexis. Two Greek Gods walk into the Wheatsheaf Tavern in Toronto and make a bet—what would happen if dogs were given human intelligence? The result is a bizarre and thought-provoking journey into the human psyche, as told through the lives of dogs.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: This story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who survives and perseveres by stealing books is a beautiful tale.
  • The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: A young English nurse is brought to Ireland to watch over a young girl who hasn’t eaten in four months, a modern miracle. A fascinating story by the author of Room.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: A riveting novel about a young woman who embroils herself in the lives of the people she watches during her daily commuter train ride.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy one of these great reads. What’s on your summer reading list? Leave a comment–I’m looking for recommendations!

Running is my therapy

Meme from movie Elf, I just like to run
Special guest blog by Mathew Smith
I stumbled upon an activity last summer that made me very happy.
Pound, pound, pound. My feet slammed against the cement sidewalk with a force they haven’t exerted in decades. I was running, actually running!
I hadn’t felt like this since I was a kid. That feeling of speed and energy. It made me smile, one of those you-can’t-help-but-smile smile, a natural smile from that primitive part of the brain. I felt alive! I felt strong! I felt like giant breaths of air were coming into my lungs and going right to my legs bringing them the energy and oxygen they needed to keep pumping.
I turned another corner and had to lean into it–I was running that fast. I could actually feel the wind whip by my face, and the sidewalk was whizzing by. It was exhilarating.
I got home shining in sweat, legs wobbly, gasping for air…no I was not near death, I was feeling better than I’d felt in years. Who knew jogging could do that?
How did someone like me start running?
I was searching for answers as to why I felt so tired, uninspired, and unmotivated all the time. I happen to run, forgive the pun, across a book titled Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas. What caught my interest was that Scott’s stories were so relatable. He was using running as a way to boost his energy, feel motivated in life, and ease his mental ups and downs.
Even though I am not an athlete at all I was drawn to the idea of running. Then the science behind it closed the deal for me. There were actual details, facts, studies on how the brain reacts to running. It turns out running does a whole bunch of great things for the brain, your mood, and your energy level. Some scientists claim it is better than any antidepressant.
It is a well-known fact that exercise is great for the body. Running is one of those great ‘cardio’ gems. It gets blood flowing, really flowing for the half-hour or hour you run. But, as an added bonus your body keeps burning calories and moving blood around for hours afterward. This is especially good for the brain.
There is also something special about running compared to other cardio exercises like biking. It seems to harken back to our early years living on the savannah, hunting over long distances to stay alive. Our ancient ancestors were designed to be able to run long distances and those who could survived and past on their running genes.
Studies have found that something happens to the brain when you run, that it almost disconnects with your body,  to be able to deal with the pain and strain your muscles endure. Sounds bad, but, it turns out this is a great thing. You get a big dose of endorphins, which make you feel great, and the break from mind and body clears your head. It’s almost like your brain goes on autopilot as all the energy you have goes into running. Your brain takes a breather. Which is great if you are someone who is anxious, dwells on problems, or just has a brain that feels like it won’t stop.
Then there are the social aspects. I found a running club in town that met two times a week. It was organized by The Running Room store and they touted it as inclusive to everyone. Hmm, I was a bit skeptical. I was picturing twenty gazelle type runners wearing those bright one-piece spandex suits and mirrored sunglasses talking about marathons and half-marathons. I called the store and asked about the running club–was it actually free? As a first time runner would I be okay?
I was told it was free (yippee). I was told there were plenty of first-timers, even non-runners (walkers they are called), and there would be a group I would fit into. I guess I was going to find out on Sunday morning if this was the crowd for me.
Saturday night, 2 am, I found myself driving home a couple of guys I had went out with that night. They were pretty drunk and planning on sleep their hangovers off in the morning, while I knew I had to get up early and make my way back downtown to go running. When the alarm clock went off five hours later I was feeling good.
As I drove to Running Club I recalled the previous night, having a beer with the guys talking about life. They had complained about their jobs and the struggles to make ends meet. They rehashed old memories, their glory days of years past (decades past in most cases). They didn’t mention any future plans, goals, or anything like that. To them, it was like life was something to endure.
The exact opposite atmosphere almost smothers me as I walk in the door of the Running Room. Even though it is eight am on a Sunday morning the room is buzzing with energy. Positive energy. There are half a dozen older ladies huddled by the door in their sweatpants and bright white running shoes. They are gabbing and laughing and saying, ‘good morning’ to all that enter. I’m instantly feeling better. Yes, there are a few one-piece spandex suited gazelles in the room, but, for the most part the crowd is middle-aged non-athletic looking people.
I actually spot a guy I know from my job. I’m kind of surprised to see him because he doesn’t strike me as a ‘runner’. I have only seen him in a chef uniform as he teaches in the culinary arts program at the college. He says, ‘Hi, are you part of the running club?”. I tell him this is my first time. He says this is his first time at this running club. He is with a friend and looking to do the ten-kilometre run. Then he is meeting someone about a second job because the summer is quiet for him and he hates to be bored. Multiple jobs and ten km runs, um, overachiever club?! This makes me worry. Is everyone here like this? Am I going to fit in?
I join a group and go for a run and soon realize something funny happens when you run with people. Your mind starts to relax and you feel more open. It may be that you are not face to face with someone, so it makes it easier to talk, or it could be that you feel good and just want to chat? So, I chat. I found it interesting to hear tidbits of the other runner’s lives because the crowd was so diverse. A mixed bag of people; a computer guy, a student/waitress, a teacher, a chemical engineer, a retired couple.
Our leader that day, Chris, is working on a Master’s degree in poetry. A poet who runs?! I was quickly learning that runners are not the typical athletic type. They come in all shapes and sizes. I might actually fit in here. It’s easy to talk to these people and I quickly feel part of the group. There was so much positive chatter about the future; everything from running goals to life goals. These were happy, motivated people. This was a great atmosphere for sparking happiness.
So what we have is an activity that has scientifically proved health benefits, an uplifting crowd of followers, little cost, and is for everyone under the sun? Who can say no to that? Your #HappyAct this week is to take a step, or many, towards those happy feelings that come with a jog.
Mathew Smith | You can meet up with Mathew every Sunday morning at 8am at the Running Room on Princess St. once the Covid-19 restrictions allow the Running Club to start up again.

 

Go easy on yourself

inspirational saying

Each day since COVID hit, I’ve been sharing a daily dose of sunshine with my co-workers–a joke, a funny meme or just a thought to stay connected as we worked remotely.

Well, I’ve developed terrible tech neck and shoulder pain from working long hours due to a bad ergonomic set up, so I asked my friend Jessica Schonewille to send last Friday’s daily dose of sunshine. It made me smile and laugh. Here’s what she wrote:

“Happy Friday, friends! Laurie headed out early so I get the honour of brightening your day.

I’ve noticed some people discussing all the plans they had to get done during the quarantine–cleaning out closets, cabinets and cupboards–but they haven’t done anything on their list. A few even said they feel like a failure.

Well, that’s bullshit! (pardon my français). We’re living in unprecedented, unnatural times. Just the fact that you got out of bed this morning is something to celebrate! I realized an hour ago that I’ve been wearing my shirt inside out all day. It’s also the same shirt I wore yesterday. But who cares? Heck, my uncle used to say you could wear one pair of underwear for four days: frontward, backward, then inside out frontward and backward. Glass half full: I’m a day ahead of schedule. We’re winning, folks!

So my dose of sunshine is to remind everyone to go easy on ourselves. Don’t expect too much. If you don’t have the energy to tackle a home project, don’t worry–there’s plenty of time for that in the future. No desire to learn something new right now? Don’t stress about it. Something, someday, will fire up your passion and get you excited. Or not. And that’s ok.

If I don’t say it enough, I love you guys!

So…happy Friday! ❤

Happy Friday the 13th

Grumpy cat meme Friday the 13th best day ever

Friday the 13th has always been a lucky day for me. Here’s how my last Friday the 13th went:

In the morning, I had the opportunity to tour and meet employees in different areas of my company I don’t usually interact with. Getting to know the amazing people I work with better and see the interesting work they do is always one of the highlights of my work.

One of my colleagues was celebrating her 30th work anniversary, so next stop was cake and refreshments.

It was a beautiful warm September day so I enjoyed a quick walk at lunch,  then we treated our writer’s group to an ice cream during a mid-afternoon break. Definitely not your typical day at work!

I came home to a beautiful puppy with lots of tail wags and the aroma of homemade stew wafting through the air in the crock pot.

Friday nights we’re usually whipped, but Clare had a hockey practice in Napanee at 8:30, so we packed up the car and hit the road.

Just as I was thinking how tired I was and was wishing I could have stayed at home, we drove into a packed parking lot.

In a serendipitous twist of fate, Clare’s practice landed on the same night in the same area as a free exhibition game between the Kingston Frontenacs and Ottawa 67s. I caught the last half of the game, which turned out to be a barn burner. The Fronts were down 4-1 in the third, scored two goals within 10 seconds, then with one minute left in the game, pulled their goalie and scored to tie the game 4-4.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

This week’s #HappyAct is to channel the good fortunes of the universe, and have a Happy Friday the 13th.

Home sweet home

blue jays at bird feeder
We cut our pumpkins in half this year and have used them as makeshift bird feeders. The birds and squirrels love it!

Dorothy said it best, there’s no place like home. For the past two months we’ve been away almost every weekend to Peterborough for hockey. While I love watching Clare play, it means we haven’t been home much.

This weekend is the first weekend I’ve spent the whole weekend at home. I forgot how much I enjoy being at home.

First, there’s the joy of sleeping in. Being able to get up when your body is finished resting, and not having to rocket out of bed, and get the kids on the bus and rush off to work is one of the best parts of any weekend.

I can sit (hallelujah!) and read the papers and enjoy my coffee and look out my sunroom window at the squirrels and blue jays at the feeders.

We go for long walks in the daylight, a real treat at this time of year. Late in the day, as the sun fades, we start a fire, and sit with a glass of wine before making supper. We may even go for a long winter’s nap.

I remember one time when Clare interviewed Dave’s mother for a school project, she asked Donna, “What’s the one biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?” Donna responded, “People don’t sit anymore; they are always rushing to do something.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy time at home. As your body goes into hibernation mode this winter, don’t fight it, embrace it.

Screw you Marie Kondo

native carvings
First, let me start by saying no artefacts were hurt in the writing of today’s blog and no disrespect to anyone personally, but screw you Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo is the Japanese organizing expert and author of the best selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up whose craze of decluttering and minimalist philosophy swept North America a few years ago. People started throwing items they didn’t need or were just collecting dust in the spirit of simplifying their life.

If you Marie Kondo’d your house, and it made you happy, good for you. I happen to like my stuff and embrace clutter.

It’s not the things themselves, although I find them all beautiful and make my house feel like a home, it’s the memories they represent.

The two stained glass cardinals that sparkle in the sunlight in my living room window remind me of Dave’s mom and his Dad.

The original watercolour of a fish hovering over a lake by local artist Alana Kapell has a spiritual quality and reminds me how lucky I am to live on a lake, and the fish are calling.

A framed handpainted feather of a tropical bird reminds me of the trip Dave and I took to Costa Rica before the kids were born.

handpainted feather

The beautiful hand carved wooden mirror with a rose made locally in Perth Ontario and given to us by my best friend for a wedding present reminds me of Leslie and our wedding day.

The hand carved loons and bold beautiful native fish carving above our entertainment unit reminds me of trips to the St. Lawrence River and Vancouver Island.

These are all my favourite things and I love them. So screw you, Marie Kondo. In the spirit of the holiday gift giving season, embrace your favourite things, find that perfect gift and memory for someone and enjoy.

stained glass cardinal

What’s it to ya?

Sign that says the right way to hang toilet paper is over the roll

A friend of mine shared a story at work the other day about a family gathering she was at. Her nephew was getting ready to go outside and had his left boot on his right foot and his right boot on his left foot. His grandfather pointed it out, suggesting the kid may want to change. The kid replied, “What’s it to ya?”.

The grandfather thought about it for a moment, realized he didn’t care, and said, “Nothing. Fill your boots.”

We all laughed, and started talking about things that drive you crazy if they’re not done “the proper way”.

For instance, we agreed the proper way to hang toilet paper is with the paper on the outside, not the inside, and yet some misguided people still hang it the wrong way!

Somebody else said they hate it when people cut toast because toast shouldn’t be cut. Who knew there was toast etiquette?

When you load the dishwasher, do you put the cutlery in facing up or down?

I remember when I was a teenager making grilled cheese with a friend. She told me I was doing it wrong (in my family, we always made cheesie melts in the oven instead of toasting them in a frying pan).

My best friend Leslie still tries to convince me to this day to make bacon in the broiler instead of on the stovetop because she says it’s easier to clean up and tastes better.

This week’s #HappyAct is to remember one phrase the next time someone tries to get you to change something that, in the end, doesn’t affect them one iota. What’s it to ya?

 

It ain’t a beauty contest no more

Lush cosmetics

After 26 and a half years of marriage (but who’s counting), as Dave likes to say, “It ain’t a beauty contest no more”.

And yet, after a wickedly long winter, there’s a little part of all of us that wants to rejuvenate and renew ourselves.

Thanks to a new brand of cosmetics, there’s now a relatively expensive way to pamper yourself.

Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics is a line of cosmetics and creams that uses all natural ingredients made fresh. They are opposed to testing products on animals and use no preservatives and have minimal packaging.

My girls discovered Lush a few years ago. I never really tried their products until recently, when Clare brought home a bagful of creams and masks from a friend’s birthday party.

Yesterday I used their Cup ‘o Coffee Face and Body Mask. Within minutes, five months of winter washed away in the shower, leaving my skin soft, glowing and supple.

I felt like a new woman afterwards. Maybe not new enough to win a beauty contest, but I never did do well in the talent and swimsuit competitions anyway.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pamper yourself a little this week. Ed. note: After store hours, Lush offers private beauty nights, great for birthday parties, bachelorette parties or just a girl’s night out.

The most important man in your life

My mechanic

I’ve been keeping a little secret from my husband: he’s not the most important man in my life.

The most important man in my life likes things fast, is good with his hands and is a man of few words.

His name is Jeremy Tinline, and he is the head mechanic and owner of Vic’s Auto in Kingston.

When it comes to your mechanic, you want someone you can rely on, who will see you at a moment’s notice, who will take care of your every need and make you feel safe.

Jeremy and his team at Vic’s Auto do just that. Whenever I’ve had an issue with my car, they take me right away, often will give me a loaner for the day, and always make sure I’m back on the road in no time.

As a small business owner, Jeremy is usually in the shop early in the morning, and can still be there working after 5 when I come in to pick up my car at the end of the day. He is a man of few words, but of much action and integrity.

The day I asked Jeremy if I could take this picture of the two of us, he first looked surprised, then grinned, checked his hair, and posed for several selfies. I got the impression people don’t thank him enough for doing the great job he does every day.

This week’s #HappyAct in honour of Valentine’s Day, is to show your mechanic or a person in your life who helps keep you safe or lightens your load some love.

Don’t miss next week’s blog post for Vaentine’s Day: Ten lessons on love and relationships from The Batchelor.

Me and my mechanic

Seven life hacks for cabin fever

Girl sleeping with dog
Don’t fight the urge to hibernate, embrace it and a big warm fluffy puppy

This past week, in its infinite wisdom, the Limestone District School Board declared four “snow days”, cancelling all buses to the elementary and high schools. I use “snow days” in parenthesis, because for those of you who live in Eastern Ontario well know, there was no snow on Monday and Tuesday, just bright brilliant sunshine. They cancelled school because (insert whiny wimpy voice here), “it was too cold”.

With a snowstorm the prior weekend, what ensued was six days of raging cabin fever for kids across the county and anxiety for the poor high school students whose exam schedules were being bounced around like juggling balls at a summer’s busker festival. By Thursday, kids were begging their parents to drive them to school.

Hopefully the school board has learned its lesson and is reviewing its policies on bussing, but in the meantime, here are some tried and true hacks for combating cabin fever during inclement weather.

  1. Need exercise? Have a dance-off and bust-a-move.
  2. Fix it up. Tackle that home reno or clean up project you’ve been putting off forever. You’ll thank yourself when the weather is sunny and warm and it’s already done.
  3. Take a nap. Our bodies are meant to hibernate in winter. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and luxuriate in a long winter’s nap.
  4. Discover the artist in you. We rarely make time to try a new craft or hobby. Maybe you are a budding Picasso or Rembrandt and just don’t know it. Pick up a brush and try your hand at something new.
  5. Fight boredom with board games. Risk, Monopoly, and my personal favourite Stock Ticker are great ways to kill an afternoon.
  6. Go outside and play in the snow. During one of the “we have to cancel school because it’s too cold outside” days, Clare played outside for three hours and made this cool snow fort. Go for little walks and let the fresh air revive your spirits.
  7. Don’t watch TV endlessly. It’s OK to indulge in a movie or Netflix binge-watching, but at some point boredom will inevitably settle in.

This week’s #HappyAct is to make a plan for that next snow day…they are calling for snow on Tuesday, but maybe even Monday will be too cold to send the kids to school. #TriboardTuesday

Snow fort
The snow fort Clare made when she played outside for three hours on one of the days the school board said it was too cold to send kids to school