Let the sun shine in

While November is often thought of as a drab and dreary month, there is one redeeming grace. As a blanket of leaves forms on the ground, light floods into spaces that were previously dark or shadowed from canopies.

Let there be light. We need more light right now.

The psychological benefits of light are well-known. Increased hours of sunlight heighten the brain’s production of serotonin, which improves mood, alertness, productivity, sleep and mental wellbeing.  

Recently, we redecorated our sunroom. We love how the light fills the room. It is a very happy room in our house. But you don’t need to redecorate your house to find more light. Here are some simple things you can do to take advantage of the limited light in the darker winter months:

  • Go for a walk each day at lunch or rearrange your schedule to do at least some form of physical activity outside each day in daylight
  • Change your window coverings or clean your windows to let in more light. Using mirrors or rearranging your furniture can also result in more indoor light.
  • COVID is a perfect excuse to keep extending patio season. Visit a local brewery and have a pint outdoors or have your morning coffee bundled up on the front porch. On Saturday, we watched the sun go down sitting on a hay bale in front of a fire at Slake brewery, a new microbrewery in Prince Edward County. It was spectacular.
  • If you can, move your workspace to a place by the window or with better light. If no one is home, I often will dial into meetings from my sunroom.
  • Take Vitamin D during the winter months if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or try a light therapy lamp.

This week’s #HappyAct is to let the sun shine in and keep smiling.

Take a scenic drive to see the fall colours

Fall colours

Yesterday, for our 28th anniversary, Dave and I went for a scenic drive to see the fall colours.

We headed north up highway 38, and took the back roads through Parham, Mountain Grove to Arden to our first stop, Springwood Cottages Resort on Kennebec Lake. Dave follows them on Facebook because they are one of the largest dealers in used pontoon boats in our region. The owner was telling us they have as many as 60 pontoons in stock during high season, and he’s been going through stock like hotcakes during COVID.

If you’re from Ottawa or Toronto and looking for a great little cottage resort to get away to, we’d highly recommend Springwood Cottages. They have 22 unique cottages, all different sizes on a beautiful spot on Kennebec Lake, a premier fishing lake. The owner said they’ve been booked solid all season. The resort is for sale for $2.4 million.

We walked away, no pontoon boat in tow (sigh) and headed east along Highway 7 to Maberley, where we turned north through Fall River, making our way through the beautiful backroads toward Lanark. The Lanark highlands is one of the richest maple syrup producing areas in Ontario. Glorious red maples shone amidst the mosaics of yellows, browns and oranges on roads lined with quaint cedar rail fences.

Country road

Our next stop was Balderson Cheese Factory, which dates back to the 1880’s then Perth for lunch at the Hungry 7 Restaurant. The Hungry 7 is a great little spot to stop if you’re travelling between Toronto and Ottawa. We discovered it last year after one of Clare’s hockey weekends, and it’s become a fast favourite. All the food is fresh, with delicious flavours. I had a butternut squash soup; Dave and Clare had a blackened chicken sandwich. Their house dressing (which they change regularly) was to die for.

From Perth, we headed south past Murphy’s Point Provincial Park to the Narrows Lock 35 on the Rideau Canal. The Narrows Lock is perhaps one of the most interesting locks on the Rideau. It is in the middle of a lake, and there was no reason to build it. The reason was money and time. When they were trying to excavate the area, they hit bedrock and they also encountered a malaria outbreak. To speed up construction, Colonel By decided to build a dam and lock at the natural narrowing of the lake. It was a very pretty spot with a magnificent view of Big Rideau looking west.

View up Rideau Lake

Our final leg took us through Newboro, where we had to stop at Kilborn’s on the Rideau, a wonderful shopping destination, the picturesque village of Westport and home. We had planned to stop at Foley Mountain for a hike, but people told us they were lined up to the road at Foley Mountain, so if you plan to go, maybe try mid-week.

We’ve already scoped out our next day trip. The fall colours are glorious again this year, make sure you get out for a scenic country drive.

Author and her husband at Rideau Canal

Ode to the stinky bulb

garlic

There’s a big stink in my little town and we’re proud of it. That’s because my neck of the woods is fast becoming known as the garlic capital of eastern Ontario.

Every year, the Verona Lion’s Club hosts a garlic festival on the Saturday of the Labour Day weekend. This year it’s a “farmer’s market” on a much smaller scale due to COVID, but it will still be a reeking good time.

I love garlic. I love it in everything: pasta sauce, salad dressings, roasted vegetables and potatoes. You name it, it’s usually better with garlic. Plus the medicinal benefits of garlic are legendary.

Google the health benefits of garlic, and you get a list as long as your arm: it prevents hypertension, heart disease, some cancers, it helps scars heal faster and fights bacterial and parasitic infections, it’s known for warding off the common cold and the list goes on and on. You can even apply it topically for skin conditions like eczema and athlete’s foot or on a splinter.

One thing I didn’t know was that garlic is also considered a powerful aphrodisiac. It contains allicin, which apparently increases the blood flow to the sexual organs making it the sexy bulb (if you can get past the stinkiness of your partner).

I’m not a doctor, but I remember working as a summer student for the City of Mississauga forestry department. I spent the entire sizzling hot summer sandwiched in our crew cab between two older Ukrainian guys, Peter and John who literally reeked of garlic. They were the strongest, healthiest dudes I ever met.

Garlic is also one of the easiest plants to grow and critters tend to leave it alone—a bonus in the country. You plant it in October, and harvest it in the summer. Once the scapes (the green curly part on the end) starts to curl, you cut them off so all the energy goes into the bulb. I make garlic scape pesto with my scapes which is yummy as a base for pizza or on pasta or burgers. It’s delish.

This week’s #HappyAct is to join me in paying tribute to the stinky bulb. My garlic was puny this year, so I will definitely be stocking up on some new varieties to plant at this year’s garlic festival.

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

A Family Affair

Girls on beach

Our annual family vacation is always a highlight for us. While we usually head south to the Carolinas, this year we spent a week in Costa Verde, Cuba with the girls at an all inclusive resort.

When you get back from vacation, people always ask, what was the highlight? It’s easy to give the obvious answer: palm trees swaying in the warm ocean breeze, spectacular sunsets over crystal blue waters, 30 degree temperatures and sipping on a pina colada before lunch at the swim up bar. But that’s not my answer. My answer would be family time.

We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner al fresco as a family each day. The girls played beach volleyball, we swam together, snorkeled, and swam with the dolphins at Bahia de Naranjo nature reserve.

Our last night, we gathered in the main square awaiting the nightly entertainment. We were playing one of our go-to family card games, Cheat, a favourite of Dave’s Mom. All the young kids at the resort were up on stage singing and dancing, the nightly “pre-show” entertainment to keep the little ones busy.

A French woman from Quebec struck up a conversation and asked us what we were playing. I tried to explain how the game worked. As we were chatting, the Spanish version of the Hokey Pokey “Chi Chi Wa” came on and all four of us put our cards down and started acting out the moves, which ends with you twirling around with your backside and tongue sticking out. I’ve never seen my girls so carefree and happy.

The French woman said to me, “Vous avez une belle famille”. It was one of those wonderful, sublime moments when I felt pure contentment and at peace with the world and so very grateful.

We are home now. Already we have migrated to our old habits, watching devices in different rooms, going our separate ways in our busy lives. But at least we have the memories of the past week. Here are a few pictures of our trip.

family on a boatpalm tree at sunset

Me and Clare on the rocks

 

girl swimming with dolphin

 

The world’s longest skating rink turns 50

Me skating in front of a big beaver

One of our true national treasures is the Rideau Canal Skateway. Since skating has always been a passion of mine and I lived in Ottawa for a year, skating on the canal always brings back a flood of memories.

When I was a student in Ottawa, I’d skate to school, skate to the movies, and skate downtown to the bars and back. One of my favourite memories was turning the corner near the Laurier bridge at night right at that serendipitous moment when fireworks were going off over the majestic spires of the Chateau Frontenac to honour the opening of Winterlude.

There’s no better time to skate on the canal than Winterlude, Ottawa’s outdoor winter festival, and yesterday, we spent a cold frigid February day on the canal. Since two sections were still closed—be sure to check the interactive ice conditions map on the NCC website if you go, but they were saying the full canal should be open today—we made our base Fifth Avenue and skated north and south as far as we could go.

My husband and daughter on the ice

We watched them film a Hallmark movie in the little park under the romantic stone bridge (Dave thinks he got in a scene). We watched a guy juggle hockey pucks and sticks—only in Canada! We ate beavertails, which is mandatory if you skate on the canal in case you didn’t know. And we skated, and skated, and skated, until my wool socks chafed at my ankles.

This year, under the Bank Street bridge, the NCC has erected a photo exhibit of 50 years on the skateway.

Juggling hockey pucks

There was a picture of Douglas Fullerton, the chair of the National Capital Commission from 1969 to 1973 who came up with the idea to make it a skateway and helped the canal open in 1970. There were pictures of 7-year old Justin Trudeau on the canal as a boy, and the unsung heroes who flood the ice every night. Since I lived in Ottawa, and skated at night all the time, I would see the NCC workers, huddling out in the freezing cold digging holes in the ice and then using their long hoses to flood it so it would be in pristine condition the next day for the hordes of visitors.

Ice sculpture
You could make your own coloured ice block and add it to this ice sculpture

After we could skate no more, we visited the ice sculptures and interactive outdoor installations on Sparks Street (very cool, pun intended!), and walked past the Parliament buildings, the war memorial and the Chateau.

I can’t imagine a better day or way to spend a winter’s day.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and embrace winter, ideally on the world’s longest skating rink. Happy skating!

Snowplows on the ice
The unsung heroes who keep the skateway clear

My daughter on the ice

Girls eating maple taffy
Eating maple taffy as the sun sets on a great day

An afternoon at the Canadian Canoe Museum

Haida Gwaii canoes

When the weather is blustery outside, a great way to while away the afternoon is indoors at your local museum.

Last week, Dave and I spent two hours wandering around the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.

The history of the museum is quite interesting and I found as I wandered around its circular exhibits, a strong connection to its history and contents.

The collection of canoes that now call the museum home was started by a guy by the name of Kirk Wipper. He was given a dugout canoe in the 1950s, which inspired his passion for collecting canoes. Kirk was the founder of Camp Kandalore, a well-known summer camp north of Minden. I spent many a summer near Camp Kandalore since my best friends’ cottages were just a few lakes away.

native canoe

The collection became the foundation for the museum’s artefacts, and now the museum has more than 600 canoes.

There’s the iconic red canoe famously painted by Robert Bateman. Bateman by the way had a family cottage very close to Camp Kandalore. It just went up for sale a few years ago.

There’s Gordon Lightfoot’s canary yellow canoe, memorialized in song. The make was Old Town, still one of the best canoes made in Maine, and the same make as our trusty green canoe given to us by friends for a wedding gift.

Canoes given to members of the Royal family

One exhibit showcases the canoes given to members of the Royal family in Britain. Prince Andrew, of course, came to Canada to study at Lakefield cottage just north of Peterborough.

As you wander around the exhibits, you traverse the routes and passages of the early fur traders and voyageurs through Canadian culture and history. You pass Haida Gwaii canoes, masterful in their carvings and paintings, a canoe laden with thousands of pounds of blankets, food, and other goods fur traders would transport to Hudson Bay posts, and beautiful birch bark canoes used by Algonquin and Iroquois first nations peoples in the areas north of the Great Lakes.

Canoe laden with trade goods
Contents of a typical trade canoe

One mural had this message on it. “In the Athapaskan languages, there is not word for wilderness. Wherever the Dene travelled, it was home. The land belonged to the Creator, and in the Dene expression, was only borrowed from their children’s children.”

Yes, on a wintry afternoon, this museum felt like home.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan a trip to Peterborough and spend time in this unique little museum. The museum is trying to raise $65 million to move to a new location on the water near the Trent Lift Locks in a couple of years. What a wonderful time to visit. I plan to be there on opening day.

Man portaging a canoe

Walk through a sky with a thousand suns

Sunflower

I have found a very special place here on earth.

A few weeks ago, when I asked the kids what they wanted to do during their final week of summer, Grace said, “I want to go to the sunflower fields.”

So after spending the day at Sandbanks Provincial Park, we stopped at Sunflower Fields ice cream shop, just outside Picton. We filled up on Kawartha Dairy ice cream, then spent an hour wandering through acres of sunflower fields.

Sunflower fields ice cream shop

Our trip to heaven on earth was about two weeks too late. Most of the stalks had already lost their flowers, but it was still spectacular.

The fields of gold and green shimmered in the late day sun. Bees buzzed brimming with nectar and pollen and cicadas hummed their pleasure. The warm rays of the sun bent down to kiss the regal remaining stems that turned their round faces upward.

Author Corina Abdulahm-Negura once said, “A sunflower field is like a sky with a thousand suns.”  This week’s #HappyAct is to find and visit a little piece of heaven on earth. It’s corn maze season. Why not get lost in one?

Here were some of my favourite photos we took that day.

Girl and sunflower

 

 

Girl and sunflowers

 

gangly sunflowerFunny signCricket on sunflower

Sunflower fields

Sunflower

Happy trails

Girl at trailhead

Eastern Ontario is a hiker’s and biker’s paradise thanks to the miles of abandoned rail beds that have been converted into trails.

A couple of weeks ago, Clare and I hiked a new portion of the trail. We started in Harrowsmith, which is the junction of the K&P Trail and Cataraqui Trail. It was a windy spring day, and the fur of our great Pyrenees Bella shimmered and rippled in the breeze like the rushes in the neighbouring wetlands. It was a great day to get out, enjoy the spring sunshine, clear our heads and get some exercise.

Dog in breeze

The Kingston and Pembroke trail was an old railway that ran from Kingston Renfrew. It was abandoned by Canadian Pacific Railway between 1962 and 1986 before being taken over by the City of Kingston and Township of South Frontenac. Most of the trail is now complete up to Sharbot Lake, except for a small stretch near Tichborne.

The Cataraqui Trail is 104 kms long and was the rail line operated by Canadian National. The 78.2 km section from Smiths Falls to Harrowsmith is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Harrowsmith is an excellent starting point since the two trails connect there with four different routes to hike.

We watched ducks and geese in the marshes, saw baby cows in the farmer’s fields and ate lunch overlooking a beautiful vista.

I’m always surprised how many people in Kingston don’t venture north of the city. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and discover the beautiful trails north of the city. And best of all, it’s free!

Signpost on the K&P Trail

Happiness comes in waves

Sign about happiness

I came upon this sign last week on Broadway on the Beach in Myrtle. It said happiness comes in waves.

It was for some surf shop, but I thought it was very true. Happiness comes in waves. Some days the surf is calm, and you wade easily through the still waters. Other days moments of sadness or happiness wash over you like crests of a wave, all part of the normal ebb and flow of life.

When this happens, you just need to ride the wave.

My #HappyAct this week was literally riding the waves. The kids bought mini surf boards in Myrtle, so we spent the week body surfing—so much fun!