Spend time with a different type of screen

Dog in screened porch

I’ve always loved a screen porch. There’s just something special about feeling like you’re outdoors, in nature but without the bugs, and spending quality time talking, playing cards, reading or doing puzzles.

The other night after dinner, I wandered into the front room and asked Dave where the girls were. He said he thought Clare was in the screened porch doing school work.

I went to join her and found Grace sitting on the futon, gently strumming her guitar while Clare sat in the lounger under a fluffy duvet writing out an assignment. I joined them and we just sat there for about an hour, listening to the chords float into the air, the birds chirping outside and watching the cotton candy sky swirl above the leafy treetops as the sun went down.

It was a special moment in a special place and I was so grateful to be able to spend time with my girls, with no phones, computers or devices to take away from the peace, serenity and tranquility of our beautiful surroundings.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with a different type of screen. Here’s a picture of Bentley after a swim in our screened porch.

Immerse yourself in art

Van Gogh immersive exhibit

Last weekend, my girlfriend Leslie and I went to the Van Gogh Immersive Exhibit in Toronto.

It wasn’t at all what I expected, but was quite interesting. I expected to walk through a gallery of rooms of Van Gogh’s art projected on walls, but you actually enter one room and stay there the whole time as the theatrical experience engulfs you.

It was a massive space—the exhibit is showing at The Toronto Star building at 1 Yonge Street and I suspected the space on the first floor was the former printing plant.  

The first time we watched the 35-minute production, we simply admired Van Gogh’s masterpieces paired with classical music as they surrounded us in 360-degree views projected on the walls and floor.

Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, lilies and almond blossoms surrounded us, followed by a starry night, scenes of fields and cafes, and portraits of courtesans, farmers and compatriots of his day.

The second time we watched it, the images transformed in a new way, dancing across the walls, rising and falling, coming to life. The smoke from a cigar billowed upward, a steam train rolled across the countryside, and a windmill slowly turned amongst threatening clouds as the animated images immersed us in their beauty and brushstrokes.  

Art aficionados and purists may balk at commercializing works of art and masterpieces, but for me it created a new and wondrous appreciation of the work of Van Gogh.

Here are some pictures of the exhibit. The Van Gogh 360 exhibit is on until May 30 in Toronto and this summer at Lansdowne Place in Ottawa. Be sure to put it on your summer vacation happy act list.

Van Gogh a starry night
A starry night
Van Gogh painting
Van Gogh art
Van Gogh lillies
Van Gogh masterpiece
Van Gogh's lillies

Discover the spiritual insights of Haiku

Haiku poem

By guest blogger Alison Taylor

The second decade of the twenty-first century has been one that will go down in the history books that is for sure. I have made a conscientious effort to stay focused on the positive.

One of the positive things that has happened to me is the discovery of poetry. I really was not much of a poetry fan and have avoided it for most of my life. However, with most of my days spent in front of a screen, I needed something that was a departure from the digital “screen in your face” world.

I discovered Haiku. Funny enough I discovered my new appreciation for the art via social media, but then it morphed into a challenge for me. I started writing random thoughts using Haiku.

Haiku is a form of poetry that originates from Japan and consists of three phrases with a 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern.

I found a notebook I bought a few years ago while in York, England. So I already was starting from a happy memory of a place I love and it set the stage for my Haiku writing adventure. I would transport to somewhere else with my notebook and write. No big commitment needed, just let my mind wander and three sentences later a Haiku was born.

I started sending my friends some inspirational Haiku’s when they were having a tough day. Then I added it to notes in birthday cards and now it just calms my mind and a Haiku will pop into my head and I write it down. Here are a couple I wrote for this blog. Maybe you want to give it a try?

The quiet and calm
Sun down, stars are appearing
Night time once again

Find your Happy Act
You may be surprised, who knew?
A smile on your face

And for Laurie as she ends one chapter of her career and embarks on another:

It is not goodbye
It is a new beginning
It is happy times

Listen to a happiness podcast

happiness podcasts poster

There’s a not-so-new craze sweeping the nation, and all it takes is a device and twenty minutes of your time.

It seems everybody these days is listening to podcasts. According to buzzsprout, 9 million Canadian adults listen to podcasts every month.

There are literally dozens of podcasts on happiness. This FeedSpot blog lists 80 of the most popular ones or check out Oprah’s top 16 picks.

I’d recommend the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris. You may know Harris as the ABC news anchor who had a panic attack live on Good Morning America. He turned to meditation and started his podcast, which discusses the benefits of meditation on happiness and explores happiness in the context of current events.

On his most recent podcast, “The Upside of Apocalypse” Buddhist minister, author and activist Lama Rod Owens talks about the benefits of having an existing practice in times of heightened anxiety, the obstacles to empathy in the world right now and social erosion caused by the pandemic.

This week’s #HappyAct is to listen to a podcast on happiness on this International Day of Happiness. What’s your favourite podcast? Leave a comment.

Believe in the illusion

Daughter Grace with a drink

Last weekend, Clare had a hockey tournament in Barrie. It was supposed to be a fun-filled family weekend of shopping, eating out, spending time with her team and celebrating Grace’s birthday since my baby turned 19 last week.

It was probably one of our worst family weekends ever.

Clare woke up the Friday morning with a stuffy nose, claiming it was allergies. After 5-6 hours of driving, it had developed into a full-fledged head cold. She was miserable. Grace was upset because her big birthday weekend was ruined and we spent the next 24 hours in the car or hotel room yelling at each other or sulking before turning around and driving home the next day.

There was one shining moment during that wash of a weekend. After buying drive-through Wendy’s for Clare to eat in the hotel room by herself, Dave and I did take Grace out for a nice birthday dinner at Milestones. We bought her first drink: a bellini.

If you saw any of my posts on Facebook last weekend, you’d never know our weekend was such a bust. You’d see a funny video of the kids acting silly during the car ride, a picture of Grace smiling at the restaurant with her bellini, and the pathetic Santa display in the lobby of our crappy hotel that made us laugh.

That’s the beauty of Facebook, social media and our memories. Ten years from now, we may look back on those posts and only remember those happy moments, not the tears, fighting and miserable parts of the weekend.

Not a bad thing, really.

This week’s #HappyAct is to believe in the illusion. Tis the season of believing, after all, and who knows, someday, at least in our minds and memories, it may become the truth.

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.

Look up

trees in beautiful BC

I’m tired of watching people looking down all the time at their devices but at others too. It’s time we looked up for a change.

When you look up, you discover a new perspective.

Towering trees, brilliant skies, amazing architecture.

Sunshine, positivity, admiration, kindness.

Leaders who deserve to lead.

Just look up.Kingston city hall

 

goats grazing on a roof
Goats on the roof at Coombs country market in BC

ceiling of BC provincial government building in Victoria
Ceiling of provincial legislature building in Victoria, BC

Start with the main in the mirror

Black lives matter mural in Washington

For the past few weeks, I’ve watched the world raise a collective fist on bended knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter.

I have not publicly spoken about the protests and George Floyd until today.

I needed time. Time to process my feelings. Feelings of disbelief that in 2020, systemic racism continues to exist. I am dumbfounded, stupefied, appalled, and ashamed. As Barack Obama said this past week, “This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal’.

I also needed time to think about my response and what we need to do to effect change.

I believe change will come from two driving forces. The first will be companies, organizations, police bodies, justice systems and governments that will begin the slow process of addressing systemic racism, gender inequality, ageism and other forms of discrimination.

The more powerful change will come from us as individuals within. It all starts with the man in the mirror.

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd but there were three former police officers who stood by and watched and did nothing. If even one of those men had intervened, George Floyd would be alive today. What do those men see when they look in the mirror each morning? What change will they make within themselves to make the world a better place?

Some are shaming individuals and brands for not speaking up and showing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, saying if you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem. Not only is that not helpful, it is hateful and perpetuates the same type of ignorant assumptions that the anti-racist movement is fighting against.

One of the reasons I’ve remained silent until now is I didn’t want to be a hollow voice in a chorus of “convenient outrage” as the son of Royson James, a black journalist with The Toronto Star phrased it. Royson, who admits he is “jaded, exhausted” having lived through too many promising moments and forgotten promises asked his two sons their perspectives on this unique period in history. One sees progress and opportunity but fears “convenient outrage” will ebb as in past moments in the history of the civil rights movement.

I am also shocked and frankly a little frightened of how people are vilifying every word, syllable and utterance that can be perceived negative towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Many celebrities who wanted to show their support and posted black images on their feeds on #BlackOutTuesday were criticized for not using their platforms to educate people.

Wendy Mesley, a respected 40-year veteran of the CBC was suspended last week after using a racist phrase. It was not on the air, and it was not her own words. She was quoting a source or fellow journalist in a staff editorial meeting. A Toronto Sun column hailed this despicable move by the CBC as the “death of modern journalism” saying Wesley was offered up “as a human sacrifice to vultures on a diet of cancel culture.”

We need to change. We need to commit. We need to act.

But the commitment and actions must be pure and swift, not hollow platitudes or hateful criticisms. There are important conversations taking place right now about anti-racism and discrimination in boardrooms, police organizations, governments, and households. The most important conversation is the one with ourselves.

Because it all starts with the man in the mirror.

Putting the social in social distancing

inspirational message

For many of us, social media has been a haven these past weeks. It has allowed us to stay connected, share fears, laughter, stories and uplift one another.

Here are some of my favourite posts from friends and strangers that have brought little rays of sunshine into my day. Thanks in advance to everyone for letting me share your photos and messages–I used first names only to protect your privacy, but you know who you are!

Two dogs looking at a bed

This photo from my friend Trish with the caption, “Is there any room in that bed? That’s actually our bed—you should be at work.”

The wonderful music videos artists and everyday people are posting to share their talents and creativity. Here is my favourite: a couple at their piano singing a parody of Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound. Thanks to my friends Leslie and Jill for sharing.

#socialdistancingpickuplines on Twitter:

  • From Will Ferrell @itsWillyFarell: “You can’t spell quarantine without “u r a q t”
  • “Like the last roll of toilet paper, I’d roll with you any day”
  • “You smell so good, is that Purell you’re wearing?”
  • “Looking for your Prince Charmin? I’ve got a six pack”

A quote from my friend Kellie who has been posting #100daysofgratitude on Facebook:

“i thank You God for most this amazing day; for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

E.E. Cummings

This post from my friend Mark who always makes me laugh.

 

 

 

The daily video jokes my friend Jill is sharing on Facebook from her “Great Big Book of Jokes”.

Photos posted by my friend Cathy of inspirational chalk messages on the sidewalk, seen on her morning walk.

sidewalk message "party at my house when this is over"

And finally, these beautiful words of hope, shared by a fellow hockey Mom on TeamSnap posted above.

This week’s #HappyAct is to put the social in social distancing. Keep them coming everyone. Let’s continue to brighten our days.

Break up with your smart phone this summer

Smart phone

There’s a legion of research on how smart phones are making us unhappy. The most recent article I read was called “Kind of a sad story: Pessimism increases among millennials and Gen Z”. The article talked about how economic, social and political optimism is at record lows with millennials and the fact that 60% of millennials and 59% of Z-ers say they’d be happier if they spent less time on social media.

The obsession with our phones is not just limited to this age demographic. The average person spends 3 hours and 35 minutes a day on their smart phone.

Let me repeat that in case that staggering statistic slipped past you. THREE HOURS AND THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES a day.

That’s insane!

It’s time to kick the smart phone habit. Here are some things to think about to inspire you:

  1. Ask yourself what better things you could be doing with three full hours a day, or three full days a week? You could learn a new sport, tackle a home reno project, go hiking, or here’s a crazy thought, actually talk to your family members.
  2. Catherine Price, author of “How to Break Up With Your Phone” encourages people to ask the three WWW’s when they pick up their phone: What for? Why now? What else? If you are simply reaching for your phone out of habit, or boredom, it’s probably time to find something else more productive to do
  3. This may be a sacrilege suggestion, but make a point of not bringing your phone with you wherever you go. If it’s not within reach, you won’t spend as much time on it.
  4. Finally, ask yourself is it helping you grow as a person, or is it numbing you or making you feel inferior or disconnected? If it’s the latter, you know what you have to do.

This week’s #HappyAct is to break up with your phone this summer. Get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Thanks to Mark Hurst’s Creative Good blog for some of the ideas in this week’s post.