I #ChooseToChallenge but respectfully

Author and her daughter holding their hands high in solidarity for International Women's Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. This year the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. The rallying cry is not just to celebrate women’s achievements, but to call out gender bias and inequality so “collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

As someone who has witnessed gender bias and inequality and tried to advocate all my life for gender equity, I will hold my hand high to show my support with women across the globe but with one important caveat: I #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

We are living in very strange times indeed, times when even when you are trying to do the right thing and speak up, you can be vilified for your words.

Last month, actress Olivia Wilde praised her boyfriend, Harry Styles publicly on her Instagram feed for taking a supporting role in a film she directed featuring a strong female cast. She said “Little known fact, most male actors don’t want to play supporting roles in female-led films. The industry has raised them to believe it lessens their power (i.e financial value) to accept these roles, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get financing for movies focusing on female stories.”

The backlash was fast, furious and full of vitriol, accusing Wilde of praising Styles for doing his job or as one person said on Twitter, “the bare minimum level shit”.

What’s the lesson here? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

C’mon everybody. Speak up. Choose to challenge, but be damned sure you say the right thing.

I’m honestly getting really tired. Tired of people trying to do the right thing and being raked over the coals, tired of the haters, tired of the nastiness overshadowing the real, important conversations and hampering real change.

So yes, we must #ChooseToChallenge, but please, help make this world a happier and more productive place and #ChooseToChallenge respectfully.

Beautiful music for a crazy world

For the past three weeks, I’ve been listening to classical music in the car. I find when I’m in Toronto, I naturally gravitate to classical. It’s almost as if my brain seeks a soothing balm to the incessant noise and traffic, even though the roads and city neighbourhoods were quite blissfully quiet during this recent trip during lockdown.

I was listening to Classical 96.3 whose tagline right now is “Beautiful music for a crazy world” (I thought this was hilarious). I think we all need more beautiful music for a crazy world and there is no music more beautiful than classical.

My love for classical music started in my childhood. My Dad loved jazz, my brother classic rock, but it was Mom who introduced me to classical. Then in high school, I played the flute in my high school and local community concert band, where I developed a new appreciation for some of the great classical compositions as a musician. I also have to thank the parents of one of my friends, Jim and Audrey McMurray for continuing this love affair. I have many fond memories of having a glass of wine before dinner at their cottage, with the sounds of classical music floating in the air alongside the lake breezes and sparkling water.

While I was driving into Toronto, Classical 96.3 played this beautiful composition called “And the Waltz Goes On” by none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins. Even though he is known as an Oscar-winning actor, he has been composing music for the past 50 years and in 2011, released his first classical album called “Composer”.

I loved watching this video clip of Andre Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra perform it. Anthony Hopkins is in the audience, and you see the emotion on his face as these brilliant musicians bring his masterpiece to life. He tears up at one point. The musicians are so expressive, but it is the audience who steal the show. You can see at first their anticipation for what is to come, then the joy and delight on their faces as the music sweeps them away, literally as they begin swaying in the aisles and dancing in their seats. It is so much fun to watch and even more moving to listen to.

I wish I could instil an appreciation for classical music in my children. Believe me, I’ve tried. Perhaps some day, but for now, I’m happy in finding at least my own solace in beautiful music for a crazy world.

Living in a world of 24/7 news

CP24 news page

Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.

These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.

Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.

Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.

When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.

I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.

Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.

This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:

  • Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
  • Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
  • Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.

I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.

I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.

Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.

Happy? New Year–try going for joyful and hopeful instead

There are two sayings we bandy about at this time of year: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This year as I was writing out Christmas cards, I found myself naturally avoiding those usual seasonal sayings and writing sentiments instead like, “Joyous wishes” and “I hope you can find moments of joy” for friends who had lost loved ones in this particularly difficult year.

Alan McPherson, a retired minister with the Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton says there is a difference between happiness and joy. “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”

Who knows what the new year will bring. With the second wave of COVID-19 still having an icy grip on the country and most regions in lockdown, happier times seem a way off. But we can always find joy each day in simple acts. Curling up with a good book. Catching up with an old friend. Going for a walk on a bright wintry day and hearing the snow crunch underfoot.

Yes, we can always find joy. And we always have hope.

Have a joyful and hopeful New Year everyone.

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

Gaze in childlike wonder at a Christmas window display

Christmas window skaters in the park

I was walking in the village of Tamworth the other night, waiting for Clare’s hockey scrimmage to begin when I stumbled across a beautiful Christmas window display at the real estate office on the town’s main street.

It was a miniature wintry scene of a mountaintop village with many moving figures. There were children tobogganing down a tube run, skaters gliding in circles around a pond, skiiers swishing down a slope, even a child making snow angels. The village had a popcorn shop, and there were little buckets of popcorn moving on a conveyor belt as the popcorn popped with twinkling lights.

I must have stood there for ten minutes looking at the window. Each time I looked, I saw something new: two lumberjacks ice fishing under a full moon, a mountaintop lodge near the ski hill with an apres ski bar, people walking their dogs and beautiful birch and pine trees framing the whole scene. It was truly magical.

I remember as a little girl my Mom taking me out of school to spend a special day together before Christmas. We’d go to downtown Toronto to go shopping and see the Christmas windows on display at Simpsons and Eaton’s department stores. They were always magical and each year had a different theme. The window displays were so popular that they’d plan school trips for schoolchildren to see them and skate at Nathan Phillip’s Square.

In a year when we won’t be able to enjoy the many traditional holiday gatherings and celebrations, this week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy the magic of the season through your favourite Christmas window.

Some other towns where the downtown shops have their windows done up beautifully this year include Perth and Napanee. What’s your favourite Christmas window? Leave a comment.

Christmas window popcorn shoppe
Christmas window hockey player

Good riddance to the Year of the Rat

Sometimes when I can’t make head or tails of what’s happening in my life or the world, I look to the most scientific, reliable of sources: my horoscope.

This weekend my horoscope was “If you don’t like what’s going on around you, remove yourself from the situation and do your own thing.”

Good advice, which I plan to follow.

It’s also not surprising that 2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese Zodiac. To be exact, the Year of the Rat doesn’t end until February 11, 2021, but just like the year of Covid, most of us can’t wait to kick 2020 to the curb.

Rats are tricky, deceiving creatures. If you were born in 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1986, 2008 or 2020, you are a Rat (with apologies to all you lovely rats out there).

In the Chinese Zodiac, the Rat is the first of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first.

What’s more, according to Chinese astrology, the year of their birth sign will bring people nothing but bad luck because it is believed that people will offend Tai Sui, the God of Age. Rats needed to be extra careful to avoid misfortune in 2020 since it is the year of their birth sign. 

The last year of the rat was 2008, the year of the financial crisis.

Rat also rhymes with bat. Coincidence? I think not.

If I haven’t convinced you yet this year was destined to be a dirty, dastardly disaster of a year, read the Rat horoscope for 2020:

“Rats are destined to experience a lot of challenges and ill fortune due to being in opposition to the Tai Sui star (or God of Age). Rats will now and then feel exhausted. Life will be easiest in the middle of the year. In autumn and winter, they should pay attention to their skin and respiratory protection. Vulnerable to sicknesses, like colds and fatigue, the Rat will have to be extra careful in 2020. At the first sign of symptoms, head to your general practitioner immediately. The faster you get medicine and the treatment you need, the quicker you will heal.”

There you have it. The good news is, the Year of the Rat is almost over.

This week’s #HappyAct is to join me in saying good riddance to 2020.

You filthy rat.

Treat yourself to a decadent donut

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

If you are like me, then you’ll remember how a donut used to be such a treat when we were young.

In high school, it was fun to drop by Donut Man on Lakeshore Road in Port Credit for a donut, and how many times have you ever stopped in for a coffee and donut at Tim Hortons? But the quality of Tim Horton donuts has taken a nosedive since they are no longer baked fresh on the premises.  Eating a Tim’s donut became a disappointing experience and I stopped buying them.

Plus when you get to a certain age eating a donut becomes a big deal because it settles around your middle like a …. well, like a donut!

Thank goodness 2020 is not a complete washout due to the rising popularity of gourmet donut shops. I had the pleasure of visiting Sunshine Doughnuts in Burlington, Ontario on one of the bright, sunshiny days we had recently.

It is a delightful walk through the downtown and the décor is colourful and happy, like a frosted confection. Donuts are made fresh each day in all kinds of exciting flavours and designs, with lots of yummy fillings. I tried a classic apple fritter. It was enormous and so delicious, with soft, chewy dough, bits of real apple, and a sugary coating. If not for Covid, I would have been licking my fingers. I don’t know how many calories were in that donut and I don’t care, it was worth every calorie!

Speaking of donuts, Melbourne Australia has just come out of one of the strictest Covid lockdowns in the world after 111 days. On October 26, 2020 they declared their first “double donut day” with 0 new cases and 0 deaths. They are now at their 11th day of double donuts – woo hoo! I am so happy that my friends and relatives in the state of Victoria are able to resume their normal lives after such a long period of severe restrictions.

The choice of donuts as a symbol of their happiness makes perfect sense.

If you love a sweet treat and maybe want to reward yourself some time, indulge in a gourmet donut. Guaranteed to lift your spirits in the sweetest way!

Thanks to Jill Yokoyama for guest blogging this week. To learn more about how donuts became Australia’s symbol of hope in the fight against Covid, check out this story from The Guardian newspaper. What’s your favourite donut shop? Leave a comment!

Be like Bill Murray

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd photo

If you’re like the rest of the world right now, you’re desperately looking for the next great show to watch on Netflix.

If that’s the case, add The Bill Murray stories to your viewing list. Dave and I watched it last week, and it’s a funny, entertaining and enlightening chronicle of a man who has embraced the idea of living in the moment and spreading joy to people he meets.

An alum of Saturday Night Live and Second City, Bill Murray is a legend for his comedy and long list of film credits from Ghostbusters to Meatballs to meatier roles like Lost in Translation. But his real legendary status stems from his random encounters with normal people, which has “earned him nothing short of godlike admiration from people around the world.”

The documentary shows him doing dishes at a London house party, playing football in the park with a bunch of university students and serving up drinks at a bar in Austin Texas. People love him, not because he is a celebrity, but because he becomes one of them.

We had our own Bill Murray story in our little neck of the woods a couple of years ago. It was a Saturday night, and our local pizza joint, The Pizza Place in Harrowsmith was rocking. In walks Dan Aykroyd with Bill Murray (the Aykroyds have a family cottage in our area and Dan is a regular around here). The guys took pictures with the locals, and it made it into the local paper.

Sure, maybe only celebrities can crash a wedding or walk into a house party uninvited and be welcomed with open arms. But we can all be a little bit more like Bill Murray and go with the flow, take an interest in others and make the most of the moment you’re in with the people around you.

Screams and curtain calls

cast of play
Cast of Murder Afoot

Special guest blog by Ray Dorey

It was a dark and stormy night. At least it was dark. Not so sure about the stormy part. But there was definitely a nip in the air that October evening, as my friend and I ventured into Fort Fright, a popular Halloween attraction at the Fort Henry historical site in Kingston.

You might not know it by the amount of time I spent cowered behind my friend, but I loved every minute. I suppose I have my dad to thank for that. Halloween was always one of his favourite times of the year.

What made Fort Fright so special were the scare actors. Real people wearing makeup and costumes, and with an agenda to extract the most fear from the masses winding their way through the dimly lit passages.

Fort Fright

It looked like so much fun that a crazy idea popped in my head. I wanted to be a scare actor. Why not?

The following August, I reached out to express my interest. I interviewed shortly after, and was subsequently hired as a member of the Fort Fright scare acting team for the 2018 season. I was ecstatic beyond words.

To begin with, it was cool just working at Fort Henry every night, and being surrounded by all of the history. Our locker rooms were at the end of one of the parade squares, near the spot where I saw my first Tragically Hip concert. As I walked in each night, I would look to where the stage once was, and envision Gord Downie rocking and bouncing the microphone stand off his head.

The character I would assume for the month was an evil brain surgeon in the haunted hospital. I would lope around an operating table carrying a bloody, rubber brain, lurching out at guests as they nervously passed. Over time, I developed a few lines of dialogue, and I would learn to adapt my theatrics to the mood of the crowd.

Fort Fright actors
The doctor will see you now

Throughout October, I worked my full day job in Brockville, rushed home, and then was off to Kingston to work at Fort Fright for the evening. I actually used some vacation time to give myself a break from working double shifts. When it was all over, I had attended all but one evening that the attraction was open. Not surprisingly, I was tired some of those nights, but the adrenaline would kick in hard as the first visitors approached my post.

The job wasn’t without its risks. There was one night when I scared a big, burly man walking through with his date. My pleasure at nailing the scare just as quickly changed to horror when he turned towards me with an angry glare, and for a moment, I thought he was going to pulverize me. Thankfully, he thought better of it and continued on, as I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

But truly, the best part of the experience were my co-workers; energetic, passionate professionals all. And always anxious and friendly to offer guidance to the rookies such as myself.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Truly the most fun I’ve ever had doing a job. I can’t imagine my fall without it.

Second stage

In the midst of my foray into scare acting, several friends suggested that I should try my hand at more conventional acting. I balked a bit at first. Running around with a mask and jumping out at people was one thing. I couldn’t imagine myself being part of a formal production.

There was a local venue that I had driven by many times but had never entered; the Royale Theatre Thousand Islands in Gananoque. I knew they occasionally held open auditions for various performances, so I began following their Facebook page for notifications.

It was early February when they posted for a play called MURDER AFOOT. I attended and was provided with a script and a brief synopsis. The director assigned and rotated different roles while we read in a circle. When I left after about 45 minutes, I wasn’t really sure what to make from the experience. Of course, I was glad I had attended, but I had no idea how I had done.

About a week later, I was offered a role. I could not have imagined then how much I was going to enjoy every minute of the experience.

The play itself was a comedy murder mystery. My character was businessman Thomas Tottering, Vice President of Platt Shoes, engaged to Penny Platt, the daughter of the Company owner.

The rehearsal process itself was fascinating. We would start each session with warm-up, memory and accent exercises. MURDER AFOOT was set in 1930s England, so one challenge I had was learning a British accent for my role.

Rehearsing was much more than just memorizing lines. I was learning timing, inflection, and interacting with other characters. I was also learning how to enter and position myself on stage without blocking other cast members. During breaks, we would all be sized for costumes.

Over the course of about two months, it was thrilling to see the progression in everyone’s performance, as we would make tweaks and improvements along the way.

And I can’t say enough about the entire cast and stage crew. Again like my co-workers at Fort Fright, all talented and dedicated people. I was only one of two people in the play who were completely new to the theatre. The others had all performed in previous productions. We were all volunteers with a passion for the local arts community, and the Royal Theatre Thousand Islands.

Surprisingly, as opening night approached, I really wasn’t nervous at all. I was in fact energized and confident, eager for the show to start. As I waited off stage for my first scene, I had a few butterflies, but they quickly vanished with the delivery of my first line.

Three days, and four performances went by in a flash, and I can still remember the bittersweet experience of our last show, knowing that this would be the last time I would be in this character, delivering these lines, with this cast.

But it won’t likely be the last time I set foot on that stage.

This week’s #HappyAct is to embrace the unconventional. Discover those opportunities out there waiting for you to explore elements of yourself that you weren’t sure existed.

You can read more of Ray’s adventures and short stories at storiesfromdoreyville.wordpress.com.

Author and his mom
With my Mom after a performance of MURDER AFOOT