Challenge a steadfast belief

Women having lunch on a patioOne of my many faults is I tend to be a bit stubborn and steadfast in my beliefs. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to challenge a bias I’ve held for the past twenty years that Hamilton wasn’t a nice city on our annual spring girls’ weekend in Dundas, Ontario.

We arrived in Dundas at noon just in time for the start of the Dundas BuskerFest. The scenic main street of this little town, only a hop, skip and trapeze jump out of Hamilton was the perfect setting to watch street performers dazzle and amaze. We had a delicious lunch in one of the town’s outdoor patio courtyards and browsed the quaint shops on the main street.

Next, we headed to our bed and breakfast, SummitHaven a charming yellow brick church dating back to 1869, lovingly restored by its owners. Our lower level suite had three bedrooms, a full-service kitchen and lovely sitting area, the perfect base for touring the area.

Summit Haven bed and breakfastThe day was too spectacular so we set out to hike and discover Hamilton’s waterfalls. I’ve blogged about how much I love waterfalls before, and had been told Hamilton was the “city of waterfalls”. In the twenty years I’ve been visiting Hamilton, I’ve never gone to see a single waterfall. We visited three last weekend.

The first one was a small waterfall at the beginning of the main trail loop in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The 3 km trail was a perfect length for the end of a busy day, and featured a cascade, ruins, a meandering stream and gorgeous woods.

women standing in ruinsLeslie still wanted to see more, so we drove down to Sherman Falls, a stunning 17 metre waterfall tucked in the woods across from one of the best restaurants in the area, the Ancaster Old Mill. We ended the day back at BuskerFest, watching the fire show and grand finale of all the performers.

The next day, I dragged my besties to the historical reenactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek at Battlefield House and Museum. I have driven past this park many times, but never explored it before. It’s definitely worth the visit, but especially on this day when the park was transformed into an early 19th century encampment of military soldiers.

Sherman fallsWe met the Earl of Moira, learned how to load and shoot a musket rifle, and watched the 200+ reenactors play out the battle, which was a turning point in the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans.

Our last stop was another waterfall just up the mountain—the Devil’s punch bowl. Since we were running out of time, we just hiked the short path along the escarpment, but there is a 10 km hiking trail that looked very scenic.

The best part of the whole weekend, other than seeing Leslie and Danette of course, was everything was free.

This week’s #HappyAct is to challenge a steadfast belief. It might open up your mind and world to new adventures. Thanks Leslie and Danette for another great girls’ weekend!

Plant a tree and help Forests Canada reach their Canada 150 goal

Family planting trees

Planting trees at Lemoine’s Point in 2013

Friday was Arbor Day. Clare and I celebrated Arbor Day selling seedlings at her school. This is the fourth year we’ve held this popular fundraiser and once again I was surprised and touched by the interest and support in our little community — we sold out of our 1,500 seedlings.

After travelling so much in the past month, and seeing from the skies and road how much of our land is being developed and the shrinking tracts of forests, I feel even more passionate about what we’re doing and the need to plant for the future.

Some times I think we’ve forgotten the important benefits of trees. Did you know,

  • One large tree can supply a day’s supply of oxygen for four people?
  • Trees clean our air, absorbing carbon dioxide and other harmful chemicals and releasing oxygen
  • Trees cool our planet by providing shade and through the evaporation of water from their leaves. The cooling effect of one large tree is equivalent to 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • Trees create an ecosystem that provides habitat and foods for birds and animals

Clare selling seedlings for the school

The Ontario Government and Forests Ontario are inviting Canadians to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by taking part in the Green Leaf Challenge and plant three million trees in Ontario. The Ontario government has committed to planting 50 million trees by 2025 and is making it easy for landowners to participate by offering subsidies and tax savings. Add your trees to their online counter at greenleafchallenge.ca.

Here is how you can get involved and help.

  • May 6th is Community Planting Weekend sponsored by Forests Ontario. There are tree planting “bees” happening in York Region, Windsor, Niagara Falls and Cambridge. Here in Kingston, we’ll be planting trees with the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area, starting at 9 a.m. at the north entrance off Bath Road at Coverdale. Bring boots, a shovel and gloves. All are welcome.
  • If you are a lot owner, learn more about the 50 million trees challenge and log any trees you plant on the greenleafchallenge.ca website
  • Register to become a Forests Ontario member. Receive Our Forest magazine (it’s also available online if you’re an Issuu subscriber).

This week’s #HappyAct is to plant a tree. Happy planting, everyone!

Surround yourself with youthful enthusiasm

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Science Fair at Queen’s University. The fair is for students in grade 5-12 and this year there were 289 exhibits. Clare was the very first student to register her exhibit on global warming.

Clare didn’t win any prizes, but was rewarded in so many other ways.

Dr. Neal Scott spent a full 40 minutes talking to her about the Arctic and promised to email her pictures of polar bears from one of his summer expeditions to the Arctic with his students. The very next day we were looking at incredible photos of polar bears in our inbox.

Dr. Arthur MacDonald, one of the leading physicists in Canada, and the keynote speaker at the fair also spent time talking to Clare about her project. In his keynote address, he talked about her, saying it was wonderful to see such youthful enthusiasm and passion in students today.

Here were a few things I learned touring the exhibits:

  • Even though music has no scientific impact on the growth of plants, plants that were exposed to heavy metal music grow faster than plants exposed to classical music (go figure!)
  • An arch bridge made of popsicle sticks is stronger than a truss bridge made of popsicle sticks
  • Swell water bottles are the best for keeping water cold and were twice as effective as a regular plastic water bottle
  • Ball spin, and the dimples on a golf ball help make them fly farther
  • Beet juice is a secret weapon for melting ice, and could help reduce the amount of salt we use on the roads in Canada (although I couldn’t help thinking it would be weird to be driving on pink roads all winter)
  • Potatoes may be our next fuel source

It was exciting to see these wonderful bright minds tackle some of the world’s problems.

Then this week, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with an equally inspiring group of young people. Grace was asked to speak about her transition to high school to a group of Grade 8 students with autism as part of an orientation night.

We spent time learning how to open a combination lock (kids with autism often struggle with fine motor skills), reading schedules and talking about the challenges they’ll face making friends. Their honesty, courage in facing the unknown and often unfriendly world, and sense of humour impressed me beyond belief.

The next time you hear someone despairing about the next generation, and “kids” today who seem to be forever on their devices, I can safely say, don’t worry, our future is in good hands.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with the future leaders of tomorrow. Let their passion and youthful enthusiasm infect and inspire you.

science fair exhibit

Clare’s wonderful playdoh depiction of the earth 30 years from now when our green forests and blue oceans transform due to global warming

Desperate times call for desperate measures

funny quote on houseworkWe are living in desperate times. No, I’m not talking about Trump, Syria or ISIL. I’m talking about the division of labour in our households.

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper last week. It started last Sunday. We got home from Clare’s hockey game. Dave went to lie down and do his exercises for his knee, Clare flaked out on the couch reading a book, Dave’s Dad sat in the sunroom reading the papers and Grace retreated into her lair to do homework and spend endless hours on her iPad.

Instead of curling up with the latest People Sexiest Man Alive issue, I did laundry, drained and scrubbed the hot tub, made supper and did the dishes. At one point I asked the kids through gritted teeth for help with sweeping the floors and folding some laundry.

Help. I hate that dastardly word. It implies the sole responsibility for keeping a household running is one person’s, with the others just “helping” out.

Then Tuesday came. After a 10-hour day, I came home to find supper not started, the wood not brought in and the dogs unfed even though my children get home 2-3 hours before me and my husband was at home all day (albeit still recuperating from his knee surgery, but well enough to make a salad I reckon).

I resorted to the most shameless, childish trick of all time—the silent treatment. I admit it. I’m not proud of myself, but I was angry, tired, and frustrated. The worst part was I had this utopian hope that with Dave’s surgery, the girls would step up their game and help with the cooking and cleaning. I was so wrong.

One brisk walk and one quiet night helped restore my equanimity, but I wasn’t happy with how I reacted and worse, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. So the next day I came up with the idea to introduce a new rewards system, “Two Things a Day”. I made a chart and explained that everyone in the house had to do two things a day to keep our house running. If at the end of the week, the chart was full, there would be a special reward.

What a change. Yesterday morning, the girls did chores around the house without being asked. We had fresh sheets on the bed, swept floors, wood in the wood box and sand for when the snow and ice comes.

It’s early days yet. But I’m hopeful my evil master plan will work, and my family will accept that we are all responsible for doing housework and keeping our busy household running and I will be a happy camper once again.

Ed. note: When Dave and I first got married, we had to take a marriage course. The minister asked, what is the biggest source of most arguments in a marriage? People answered finances, family issues. I answered housework and the class laughed. Guess what? It was housework.

Joy to the world

joy-to-the-worldThe word “joy” is rarely used until the Christmas season arrives when it permeates our language. That’s because many Christians equate joy with the religious love of God for all creatures on earth.

Even if you aren’t religious, the holiday season can be a time of great joy for people who experience deep contentment, gratitude or happiness.

What is the difference between joy and happiness?

Alan McPherson, a retired minister of Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, distinguishes between happiness and joy this way: “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”

Healthpyschology.org has a similar, but slightly different definition, saying happiness is an emotional state of well-being defined by positive feelings ranging from contentment to intense joy.

There are many passages in the bible that use joy and happiness interchangeably and yet religious groups often equate joy with God’s love to mean a more deeper, long-lasting emotion.

For me, the moments of joy in my life are the times when I have felt supremely happy and at one with the world. These moments are rare, but so very special.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find joy this holiday season. Celebrate peace on earth and a time when joyful all ye nations rise. Listen to a choir echoing its joyous strains and repeat the sounding joy. The weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Wear a crown of flames

candle-of-flamesDecember. A time of darkness and quiet. And while the joyous preparations for the holiday season distracts us from the short days and long dark nights ahead, we lament the loss of light.

The season of advent has historically been linked with festivals celebrating the Winter Solstice and the return of the light. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights celebrates by lighting a candle each day for eight days. The Christian Advent wreath traditionally had four candles, one lit each Sunday before Christmas.

In Sweden, families light a candle every Sunday during advent and celebrate St. Lucy’s Day, the day of light. One young girl from each village would be chosen to wear a wreath on her head to form a crown of flames. She would walk through the village singing Christmas carols and bringing treats and food to the villagers.

In Canada, we take arms against the darkness by hanging Christmas lights and lighting candles to cast a warm glow and light into the night.

This week’s #HappyAct is to wear a crown of flames: light a candle, build a fire in the grate. Be at peace with the stillness and quiet of the dark until we herald the Winter Solstice and the return of the light again.

christmas lights

The perfect pairing

Girl at food bothTwo of my favourite words in the English language are free and food. Put them together and I’m in heaven.

This year, we went to the 150th Royal Winter Agricultural Fair to watch Grace, who was selected by her 4H club show her goat Cloud. She did well, placing tenth out of 19 competitors.

Watching the kids from her 4H club do well and seeing all the animals and agricultural exhibits was great, but the absolute best part of the Royal was the food and free samples.

There are two mottos the Swinton family lives by. One is never turn down a free meal. The other is you can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner.

Clare and I scoped out our plan of attack early in the day after grilling two regular Royal grazers at the coffee line-up. The morning run was a choice between homemade cinnamon buns or apple dumplings smothered with caramel sauce and ice cream. Mid-day, it was a toss up between the perogies, back bacon on a bun, poutine or rosti, scrumptious potato and onion pancakes with cheese and sour cream. Our afternoon repast consisted of fresh caramel corn, ice cream and fudge.

And the free samplings, oh the samplings. Smoked sausage and pepperoni. Cheese from the Ontario Cheese producers association. Granola and yogurt. Creamy chocolate fudge.

It was a free food for all.

This week’s #HappyAct is to see what free food you can score. The Gourmet Food and Wine Expo is on at the Metro Convention Centre this weekend. Some restaurants or eateries will offer freebies on your birthday. For instance, the Marble Slab Creamery offers a free ice cream to anyone on their birthday. Panera Bread, Cinnabon and Booster Juice will also give you a free pastry or juice on your birthday if you sign up for their rewards club.

If all else fails, go to Costco!