Take the “life in one picture” challenge

Author on island with a canoe

I recently saw a photo on LinkedIn. It was of four generations of couples kissing and it was captioned “life in one picture”. It was so simple, yet beautiful.

This week’s #HappyAct, is a challenge. If you had to capture your life in one photo right now, what would it be? Share your pic. Here’s mine.

My happy place has always been near the water. This picture of me was taken this week on our staycation—Dave and I spent the day paddling on Desert Lake. We stopped at this beautiful little island for a swim and lunch, and to watch a mother loon in the bay swim with a baby on her back. This is my life, in one picture, and I’m ever so grateful.

What do you do if you’re not sure what makes you happy anymore?

Sign what makes you happy

My horoscope yesterday said, “Do what makes you happy”. The problem is, I’m not sure what that is anymore.

Call it the pandemic blues, call it middle age (okay, I’m being kind to myself here), but I’ve found myself pondering this question the past 24 hours.

What used to make me happy was simple. My family, my beautiful lake and property, visiting with friends and neighbours, little things like the refrains of the piano drifting through the air while I sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.

These things still make me happy, but I’ll admit, it’s more subdued now.

I wish I was one of these people who found a new passion and purpose during COVID. I haven’t. I’ve fallen into the cohort known as “languishers” the term coined by the New York Times to describe those of us feeling joyless and aimless, and “slipping slowly into solitude.”

With things opening up, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to reach out and connect with people, but I’m not. I was talking to a friend at work the other day who felt the same way. It’s not that we have social anxiety, it’s not that we don’t miss people and would love to see them again, we just don’t have the energy.  

They say one antidote to languishing is to immerse yourself in a project. But that takes energy too.

So dear readers, this week my #HappyAct is to ask you for advice. How do you figure out what makes you happy again? Please, leave a comment.

Of manors and mansions

Bantry House, County Cork, Ireland
Bantry House, County Cork, Ireland

The popularity of the Netflix series of Bridgerton has transported us back in time to another era. Set in the early 1800’s in regency London, it is steeped in the stories of lords and ladies, dukes and duchesses attending balls and paying morning visits in the drawing rooms and parlours of the grand mansions and manors in England.

I have to confess to be a little smitten with this show and period, and it reminded me of happier times touring towns like Bath in England, and manor houses across the English, Irish and Scottish countryside.

Most of the museums and homes used for the sets of Bridgerton are open to the pandemic (but closed now due to COVID), so you can plan to visit them soon.

The exterior scenes of the marital home of Daphne and Simon were shot in Castle Howard in York, while the interior shots were filmed at North Mymms Park, Wilton House, also used as Buckingham Palace in The Crown, and Badminton House in Gloucestershire. The Bridgerton’s house in town is Ranger’s House on the outskirts of Greenwich Park in London and houses a world-class art collection. And some of the scenes filmed at their neighbours’ house, the Featheringtons were filmed at the famous Number 1 Royal Crescent in Bath.

Now is a great time to do some armchair travelling and plan your next visit to a grand manor or mansion. Here are some of my favourites I’ve toured over the years:

  • Chatsworth House in Bakewell, England. The seat of the Duke of Devonshire, this majestic home in Derbyshire has stately gardens and is open daily to tourists. Chatsworth was the location for Mr. Darcy’s home, Pemberley in the Kiera Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s famous for its majestic entrance hall, conservatory, and marble sculpture gallery, and themed gardens with water features.
  • Bantry House in County Cork, Ireland. We stopped at this stately home for an afternoon while touring the Sheep Peninsula in Ireland. Set on the outskirts of the market town of Bantry, it has magnificent views of the seaport and stunning gardens. It recently became a Bed and Breakfast.
  • Years ago, I was lucky to be invited for private tea at Brodie Castle in Forres, Scotland. My friend June and I had been touring the UK, and her parents’ best friends were the caretakers of this lovely estate near Inverness. At the time, the family still lived on the estate, and it was fascinating to get a private tour and get a sense of what it was like to live in a grand manor.
Chatsworth Hall, Derbyshire England
Chatsworth House, England: note this photo looks like a painting, but it is an actual photo I took when I was there
Entry at Chatsworth Hall
My best friend Leslie in the famed entry hall at Chatsworth
Statue gallery at Chatsworth Hall
The statue gallery at Chatsworth

Closer to home:

  • One of my favourite day trips for those of us lucky enough to live in Eastern Ontario is Boldt Castle. Built by American millionaire George C. Boldt on a heart-shaped island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands, the setting and love story of George and Louise Boldt will captivate you as much as the castle itself.
  • Paletta Mansion in Burlington: This 11,000 square foot mansion ranks amongst the finest great estate homes in the GTA.  It’s set on the shores of Lake Ontario and has terraces, boardwalks and a small stream running through it home to ducks and waterfowl. The day I strolled its grounds in January, there were couples who brought lawn chairs to simply sit on the terrace and have a coffee. It’s a popular site for weddings.

This week’s #HappyAct is to tour a grand mansion or manor, or at least plan to visit one soon.

Looking for a Spring escape when the borders open up? Stay at the Vanderbilt Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina for $149 a night.

Leslie again at the famous Royal Crescent in Bath, England, where the Featheringtons live in Bridgerton

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

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.

Where eagles dare

December is always an interesting time on our lake because we get unique guests: migrating birds and ducks heading south as the northern lakes freeze.

This year we’ve had some very special visitors. For the past week, we’ve had five bald eagles take up residence on our lake. Now even if you aren’t a “birder”, spotting one of these magnificent raptors is considered a “feather” in your cap. I’ve seen bald eagles many times in Red Lake Ontario, and in British Columbia, but I’ve never been able to see them so close and watch their daily antics and habits.

We saw the first eagle last Saturday—it was literally sitting outside our sunroom windows and it was MASSIVE. We thought at first it was a golden eagle because it was all brown with a hint of gold on its neck, but we are now pretty sure it was a juvenile bald eagle. Many people may not be aware that only mature bald eagles have the white head—juveniles are nearly all brown.

Then the next day a magnificent adult bald eagle landed on the same perch off our deck. All week they’ve been soaring from treetop to treetop,  looking for fish and having a grand old time. There are three adults and two juveniles, and what’s interesting is the adults don’t seem to have much to do with the youngsters—kind of like us and our teenagers right now.

Bald eagle in a snowy tree

I especially like to watch the eagles terrorize the flock of common mergansers on the lake. They like to dive bomb the ducks and let out a few high-pitched chirps. The ducks get all upset and flap their wings and take off. I swear the eagles are actually laughing at them.

They have been a marvel to watch. Here are some pictures I’ve managed to take this week although they are quite shy.

This week’s #HappyAct is to keep your eye out for a different type of raptor in the next few weeks instead of the ones that usually play in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre.

If you are interested in birds, why not join the annual Christmas Bird Count in your region?

The CBC is the largest citizen science project of its kind. It started in 1900 and happens between December 14 and January 5 across the country. Local groups choose a single day during that period and conduct the count—counts are carried out within a 24-km radius. The information is fed into the National Audobon Society which uses it to track species and impacts on bird populations.

The South Frontenac and Kingston bird counts this year are on Saturday, December 19. With COVID this year, they are hoping more people will come forward to simply count birds at their backyard feeders. Here’s where you can find out more information on the Frontenac bird count or message me and I’ll send you the info. Happy viewing!

Bald eagle in tree
Bald eagle flying

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

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.

Take the self-care pledge

Sign that says you gotta nourish to flourish

There’s a new term being used in mental health care circles: self-care. It means doing all the things human beings used to do naturally to be healthy: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise.

Whenever the medical profession comes up with a term to describe what should be a given, you know we’ve gone off the rails as a society.

There are multiple elements to self-care: physical, spiritual, emotional, mental, and social. Self-care is really about “communicating with your soul and saying, Hey, what do you need right now?” I’m just going to focus on physical self-care in today’s post.

The statistics are shocking. One in three Canadians are not getting enough sleep. 6.2% of Canadians don’t eat breakfast and only one third of us pack a lunch for work. Almost a quarter of Canadians don’t eat fruit or vegetables on a daily basis. Four in ten Canadians get less than 30 minutes of physical exercise each day. And let’s not even talk about screen and cell phone use.

Let’s face it. If we were our own mothers, we’d be yelling at ourselves every minute of the day to take better care of ourselves!

What’s brought us to this sad state of affairs? All the obvious answers, when combined together make up a lethal Molotov cocktail of bad health factors: sedentary office-based work, too much screen time, fast food and processed food, driving everywhere, increased stress factors…the list goes on and on.

We have become our own worst enemy. And we need an intervention.

I’ve been particularly bad the past few weeks, eating poorly and compounding my poor health by not taking time to rest when I had a nasty cold. So I’m taking a self-care pledge. I pledge to:

  • Pack a lunch each day
  • Go to bed at a reasonable hour and within the same hour range (eg. between 10 and 11 every night)
  • Walk every day
  • Get up and move every hour
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables

Who’s with me and what will be on your list? Leave a comment.

Plan a red hot date night

Last of the red hot lovers theatre playbill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a hot date on Friday night, and it wasn’t with my husband.

The man I went out with is witty, charming, and loves to laugh. He has a way with the ladies and knows how to carry a conversation.

We chose a romantic restaurant in west Burlington, the West Plains Bistro. I ordered a glass of French merlot and let the full-bodied red scintillate my taste buds as our server lit our candle, creating an intimate warmth and ambiance.

We shared a delicious beet and goat cheese salad, eating off of the same plate, European style. The warm, crusted goat cheese on greens was adorned with capers and roasted chick peas, creating a delightful rich mix of textures and flavours.

My date ordered the grilled pickerel with wild rice. I chose a seafood pasta brimming with lobster, crab, mussels and shrimp. We shared a coconut cream pie with raspberry sauce. Our forks entwined as we devoured the heavenly creamy filling.

Dinner was a delicious prelude to the main event: a live production of Neil Simon’s Last of the Red Hot Lovers by Theatre Burlington.

The three act play takes place in an apartment in New York’s dirty thirties. Barney Cashman decides he wants to have an affair to spice up his love life and invites three different women to his apartment for a mid-day tryst. I warned my date not to get any ideas.

It was steamy, passionate and dripping with sexual innuendo. It was also very funny and in the end, Barney discovers he is a decent, gentle and loving human being after all and can’t go through with it.

At the end of the night, I thanked my date for a lovely evening and drove him home to his apartment. I went upstairs, beat him at cards, then kissed him goodnight.

He was the perfect date, which shouldn’t be a surprise since it was 27 years ago this week I married his son.

I love my father-in-law very much. Here’s to you John, and thanks for being my date Friday night (but I think this week, I better plan a date with your son instead…)

me and my date at dinner