Stay in a luxurious over-the-water bungalow

Imagine your dream escape.

An over-the-water bungalow in a secluded locale

Silence and serenity your only companions

Gaze into the waters below and watch another world unfold

Every amenity within reach

There is nothing to do but relax

Except maybe curl up with your favourite book

Or wet a line and see if you can catch your dinner

Fresh grilled fish. A delicacy

The late day sun casts a reddish glow across the sky

Its yellow orb casting shadows over a breathtaking view

Until the moon appears, cresting the skyline

The end to another spectacular day in paradise

Thinking this isn’t possible right now? Well, think again. Come visit us any time in our beautiful over-the-water bungalow. Here’s a picture of our sweet little escape and of the fish I caught! And remember, you can always dream. The picture above was an ad I saw on TravelZoo. $1,899 for two to stay for a week at over-the-water bungalows in the Maldives, fully refundable. Hope this week’s #HappyAct made you smile!

Ice hut
Author with pike caught through the ice

Living vicariously through others

Author on Dubawnt River in NWT
On the Dubawnt River in NWT

By special guest blogger Dave Swinton

One thing the pandemic has taught me is you can escape through the magic of Youtube.

When I was younger we were always looking for our next adventure. One summer when I was 13, a friend of mine, his father and I built and launched a pontoon boat made completely out of wood. With an old kicker motor and a thirst for what lay around the next bend, my friend and I set off every day to fish, swim, and explore the Grand River in all its glory. As I got older, and went off to school in Thunder Bay, we ascended the top of the Sleeping Giant and descended to the depths of Ouimet Canyon (if you haven’t heard of it, look it up). We hiked, skiied and snowshoed new territory every weekend. We ice fished lakes from dawn till dusk and purposely got lost because this is where we found our true selves. 

I’ve been to places few people have ever been. Whether it be a 9-day river trip in the Arctic or a safari in Tanzania, my thirst for adventure is never far from the surface.

But the inevitable dance with age is starting to catch up with me. Sore knees, hips, and shoulders are starting to diminish my dreams of trips. My mind is still filled with adventures. Hiking in the Himalayas, far north canoe trips, road trips, lost lakes. But who am I kidding, some of these may never happen.

I’ve had some willing partners over the years, some of who are now gone but my thirst for adventure continues. 

But I’ve found a new set of partners on YouTube. They have specialized camera equipment like GoPros and DSLR cameras and drones which make you feel like you are right beside them.

A couple of weeks ago, I discovered a YouTuber named Foresty Forest. The man has literally converted his van into a liveable space and spends his days hiking and mountain climbing all the gorgeous peaks of British Columbia. His stamina for climbing is off the charts and sometimes he climbs multiple peaks every day. The vistas he captures are stunning and his minimal dialogue is very enjoyable. I’ve also hiked the Himalayas with a Nepalese man named Ram and his company Mountain Ram Adventures without ever leaving the comfort of my house. One day I’m fishing Lake of the Woods, the next night I’m canoeing in Quetico.

My thirst for adventure will always be satisfied.

This week’s Happy Act is to live vicariously through others, because that’s all we have right now.

Giraffe at Lake Manyara, Tanzania
Lake Manyara, Tanzania

A vision for the future of Kingston in a post-COVID world

Abandoned limestone building

A new year is upon us. A time for hope, setting goals and envisioning a new future.

This year, I believe one of our greatest challenges will be to have a vision for the future for our towns, cities and communities in a post-COVID world.

Life will get back to normal as the vaccine rolls out, but things may not look the same. Businesses will have closed, for rent and lease signs may become permanent fixtures in downtown cores, and we may see an exodus from cities as people now have the choice and freedom to work from anywhere. Which leaves us to beg the question, how can we keep our cities vibrant and relevant in a post-COVID world?

I was thinking about this today while walking along the waterfront behind our new hospital, Providence Care in Kingston. On a cold day in January during lockdown, there were runners jogging through the grounds, families toboganning on a popular hill, and people walking their dogs along the trail by the water.

This particular area of Kingston is interesting because there are many old beautiful abandoned limestone buildings on the property near the waterfront. I started imagining what the scene could look like six months from now when COVID was under control and the weather was fine.

This is what I saw: waterfront galleries, stores and craft cooperatives in the limestone buildings along the water.

Outdoor patios and seating like in the Distillery District in Toronto and nice restaurants extending out over the water like the pavilion at Dow’s Lake in Ottawa.

An area where street musicians and performers could play like The Forks in Winnipeg or Jackson Square in New Orleans.

Miles of boardwalk with lookouts and views where you could watch the sailboats go by.

Kingston has an astonishing 280 km of waterfront. It sits on Lake Ontario, is at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and is bisected by the Cataraqui River which feeds up into the Rideau Canal.

There’s Fort Henry with a magnificent view of the river, lake and city, our historic downtown with market square, City Hall and Confederation Basin where the tour boats depart from, the entire Kingston Penitentiary site, and miles of parks and trails.

We are water rich, but to a large degree our waterfront is still largely dispersed. You have to hop, skip and jump like a stone skipping on the waves to get from one waterfront trail and park to another. We also have huge tracts of land and buildings that are sitting idle, just begging to be developed.

In 2014-2016, the City of Kingston developed a master waterfront plan that identified hundreds of projects over a 30-year period. There has been a lot of terrific work that has already been done to make our city the gem it is, but there is so much more to be done.

For all of Kingston’s parkland, we also do not have a single stand-out, signature garden, maybe not quite on the scale of Butchart Gardens in Victoria or the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, but a garden that would attract people to our city and become a place of natural beauty, peace and a place for the community to gather.

This week’s #HappyAct is to envision how our communities will look like post-COVID. Then ask, what can we do to make it happen?

Old limestone building on Kingston's waterfront
Lake Ontario
This abandoned pier is the ideal location for a pavilion style restaurant extending over the water in Kingston
These abandoned buildings would be ideal for retail, craft cooperatives and art galleries

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.

It’s not over until the heron leaves

Here we are. Despite Covid, despite Trump, nature has blessed us with another spectacular show of fall colours in Eastern Ontario.

I find this time of year, I bring my camera with me wherever I go, longing to capture that perfect shot, but rain and clouds have been my nemesis this fall. Every time I head out, the clouds roll in and the trees seem to transform from a brilliant debutante into a dowdy old maid.

I was paddling in our back lake the other day, and here’s the good news, the heron is still here.

Herons are the first to arrive each spring, and the last to leave each fall. In the spring, you’ll see their majestic return as the first creeks and streams open up, well before the ice has melted from the main part of the lake.

In the fall, after the loons fly south, the turtles stop sunning themselves on the logs, and the beavers stop being so busy, it is the solitary heron standing sentinel over the chilly waters.

Some people say it’s not over until the fat lady sings. I say it’s not over until the heron leaves, so get out and enjoy the last of this brilliant fall weather.

Here are some photos from my fall photo essay Autumn ablaze last year and from my latest outings. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Visit an amazing place

Brockville railway tunnel

We may not be able to travel right now, but you don’t need to go far to find some amazing places to explore.

I live north of Kingston in South Frontenac township, and while I’ve always known how amazing this area is, many people may not be aware the United Nations thinks it’s amazing too, which is why they have designated the Frontenac Arch a UNESCO designated biosphere.

In Ontario, we have three UNESCO designated biospheres, Long Point, Georgian Bay, and Frontenac Arch. You can read all about them and their amazing sites at visitamazingplaces.ca.

There are 686 UNESCO world biospheres in 122 countries. Biospheres are protected areas that are significant for their biological diversity and ecological systems and that exhibit a balanced relationship between people and nature through sustainable development.

The Frontenac Arch extends from Sydenham and Westport, down to Gananoque and over to Brockville. It is where the grandeur of the Canadian Shield meets the St. Lawrence River valley. It is home to windswept pines, shimmering waters, boreal forests, trails and fields and such diverse and at risk species like barn swallows, blanding and mapped turtles, bald eagles, and black rat snakes, all of which we’ve seen on our lake.

Here are some of my favourite places on the current “most amazing places” list*

Brockville Railway Tunnel: Dave, Clare and I visited the tunnel just a couple of weeks ago. Canada’s first railway tunnel, it opened in 1860 when the Brockville & Ottawa Railroad (B&O) was incorporated to link Ottawa with the Brockville waterfront. The tunnel has been outfitted with an impressive light show, making it a must-visit spot in Eastern Ontario.

Brockville railway tunnel

Brockville railway tunnel

Mine Loop Trail at Gould Lake: mica, a thin shiny silver mineral was mined in this area at the turn of the century. Mica was used by the electrical industry as an insulator in items such as toasters, and as windows in items such as lanterns. The mine at Gould Lake is exposed, but there’s an even more amazing one you can explore at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park (closed right now due to COVID).

Rock Dunder*: probably one of the most popular hikes in Eastern Ontario, this former scout camp property takes you past beautiful lakes to a summit with a breathtaking view of the Rideau canal.

Jones Falls: be sure to start this leisurely stroll at the top of the falls at the stonearch dam, an engineering marvel, then meander down past the locks and buildings that date back to the 1840’s.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore an amazing place in your region.

More happyacts on some of the amazing places to explore in the Frontenac Arch

*Rock Dunder isn’t on the current list, but it’s made the list in the past

Dave and I at the summit at Rock Dunder

tree at summit

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.

The night time is the right time

whippoorwill

 

Special guest post by Alison Taylor

I have been spending more time in my screened-in gazebo this summer.  Not only during the evening cocktail hour, but as day turns to night.  It is one of the best times to sit back, listen, and watch the show.

There is that magic time when the sun sets and the daytime creatures tuck into bed and the nighttime creatures wake up.

The crickets get going first, then the creepers and tree frogs. Next, the whip-poor-will calls out….and if he is close by, he goes on and on and on. Anyone who has heard one knows exactly what I mean. They are very difficult to see as they are masters of camouflage, but you can’t miss their call. Around our place, they like chatting with their friends and we often hear them calling back and forth in the night.

As I sit still and listen to the nighttime symphony, you can also tune in to all the bugs that are busy buzzing in the night (definitely glad to be in a screened enclosure!)  I’m not sure what different species there are–not a real bug lover–but I can confirm the mosquitos are alive and well.

The best part of the evening is the call of the Great Horned Owl. We also have a few in the area that like to chat with each other. I find their call peaceful and soothing, not like my whip-poor-will friends. When you hear the owls, you get to know each has a distinctive call and they do sound like wise owls as they calmly chat with each other.  I wonder what they are saying?

This week’s #HappyAct is to eavesdrop on nature at that special time from dusk to dark the next time you are in the country.  I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Editor’s note: We are very lucky to have several owl species in Eastern Ontario. While Alison may be hearing Great Horned Owls, she may also be hearing the popular Barred Owl, which is famous for its “who cooks for you” call. If you are ever lucky enough to see these shy magnificent creatures, the Great Horned Owl has yellow eyes and tufts of feathers protruding above the eyes, to make it look like they have horns. Barred owls have brown eyes and no tufts. This is a picture of a barred owl I took at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area–not a great picture, but he was still a handsome fellow. You can see the difference between him and the Great Horned Owl, pictured below. Happy hooting!

 

Barred owl in a tree

Great Horned Owl

Swimming in the rain

raindrops on a lake

My hands move rhythmically beneath the surface of the water
The water parts unwillingly, creating a wake with each stroke

The water is calm and cool
Dark clouds swirl above
Threatening the peace and stillness

The first raindrops fall
Tiny circles ripple across the surface

The drops grow in intensity and size
Until the entire lake is like pebbled glass
Or bubble wrap in an Amazon shipment

The raindrops make a perfect, pitter patter pattern
Pounding down, then reversing upwards to the storm clouds
The skies’ tears flowing freely

I glide through the water
Watching the drops dance and leap like the lead dancers in a ballet
It is blissfully peaceful

A thin veneer of fog forms on the horizon
A rainbow appears and I swim towards my treasure
The droplets cleansing my sins

Ed. Note: I wrote this poem one day last week on my iPhone after I went for a swim in the rain. I’ve never figured out why people don’t swim when it’s raining. You’re going to get wet anyway. I find swimming in the rain one of the most beautiful, peaceful times to swim. Of course, at any sign of thunder and lightening, make sure you get out of the water to be safe.

This week’s #HappyAct is to swim in the rain. Enjoy!

If I could talk to the animals

baby loon

It’s official. I’ve gone Covid crazy and have started talking to the animals. I have become Dr. Dolittle.

I had no choice. After four months of living in close quarters, my family has stopped listening to me. The animals still listen.

I had a spat the other day with a five foot black rat snake that was crossing the road. I started off asking him a joke. “Why did the rat snake cross the road?”. He just lay there, heckling me in silence. Then I told him he better hurry up or some mean person might run him over. I kicked a few pebbles toward him to urge him along. He recoiled and hissed at me. “How ungrateful”, I said.

The next day I had to apologize to a kingfisher when I startled him in the back lake. It was very still, and as I paddled up to him, I let out a huge sneeze. He jumped two feet off the branch and flew away, chattering the whole time. “I’m sorry, your highness”, I yelled as he flew off in a huff.

I presided over a christening for our loon family on the lake. We christened the baby “Letty” since her parents are Lionel and Lucy. They inform me Letty is doing just fine, and has learned to dive and fish.

I swore at a fellow creature when I surprised a mother bear and two cubs on my nightly walk. I was on a desolate stretch when I heard a rustling in the trees beside the road. Thinking it was a deer, I stopped and peered in the woods. I heard a few snorts, then saw two bear cubs scramble up a tree.

“Holy sh**t” I exclaimed, then looked to the left to see the mother standing on her hind feet, staring at me. Running through my head was the silly song, “The other day, I saw a bear, a great big bear, away up there… she looked at me. I looked at her”, then we both took off in opposite directions.

Mostly I’ve been having friendly conversations with our little chipmunk that Clare has been feeding. We talk about the weather, what’s for breakfast, how many nuts he can stash in his cheeks (he says 12), and how many tunnels he’s dug under our lawn.

Oh, if I could talk to the animals, think of what fun it would be…