It’s for the birds

Birdhouse and wren
Our little house wren on the post beside her new home

There have been several interesting and unexpected phenomenon that have come out of COVID-19. One is how the animal world has reclaimed territory as humans have retreated. Nowhere more can this be seen than in the abundance of migratory birds in Eastern Ontario this spring.

While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a birder, I have enjoyed watching and identifying all the species that we’ve seen on our property in the past few weeks as the weather has gotten warm.

We’ve had all the usual suspects: blue jays and eastern kingbirds, goldfinches, woodpeckers and robins. The herons, loons, barn swallows, kingfishers and red-winged blackbirds have all returned to the marshes and lakes.

But I can’t recall seeing so many different types of birds like we have this year. We’ve seen flickers, cowbirds, bobolinks, baltimore orioles, rose-breasted and black-headed grosbeaks, yellow-rumped warblers and blackburnian warblers. We’ve even had two wood ducks show up several mornings in the trees watching us eat our breakfast.

And the songs, oh the songs. This morning, as I was planting my annuals and perennials, I was serenaded by a beautiful brown house wren who has taken up residence in one of our birdhouses, while a rose-breasted grosbeak tried to drown her out with his own magnificent melody. If you look up the song of a grosbeak in the bird book, it says, “rising and falling passages, like a Robin who has taken voice lessons.

My friend Karen sent me a picture of two black-necked swans that flew over their boat at their hunting camp near Tamworth. They are considered “exotic” so you would normally never see them in this region.

Yes, it’s been a banner year for the birds. This week’s #HappyAct is to get out and make a new fine feathered friend. Happy birding.

Black-necked swans flying over a lake
Rare sighting of two black-necked swans

Celebrate longevity

author with flowers

By special guest blogger, Dave Swinton

This week my wife quietly celebrated a major milestone in her life. Twenty-five years working for the same company. Quietly and effectively without fanfare.  Laurie and I celebrated our 25th anniversary two years ago and by my reckoning have known each other since we were 15. That’s almost 40 years since we first met in Grade 10 music class. I knew even then that she was the one for me (too bad she didn’t).

My parents would have been married 60 years if my mother hadn’t passed away six months before their anniversary.

What makes these milestones even more amazing is our current cultures’ desire to change their iPhones every year and jobs 8-10 times during their careers.

Why do people stay committed to their jobs and to each other for so long?  It is much more than that old Roots sweater in your closet that you refuse to throw out because it fits your curves just right. Although there is a certain comfort level in the same job and the same partner, you have to be open to embrace their strengths while supporting and accepting their weaknesses. You will even find yourself finishing their sentences and rolling your eyes when they do things the same way they did so long ago.

For some, relationships are meant to be long and treasured, whether it be at work or at home.

Thank God I have a partner who even to this day I cannot bear to live without.

This week’s Happy Act is to embrace and celebrate longevity.

Go easy on yourself

inspirational saying

Each day since COVID hit, I’ve been sharing a daily dose of sunshine with my co-workers–a joke, a funny meme or just a thought to stay connected as we worked remotely.

Well, I’ve developed terrible tech neck and shoulder pain from working long hours due to a bad ergonomic set up, so I asked my friend Jessica Schonewille to send last Friday’s daily dose of sunshine. It made me smile and laugh. Here’s what she wrote:

“Happy Friday, friends! Laurie headed out early so I get the honour of brightening your day.

I’ve noticed some people discussing all the plans they had to get done during the quarantine–cleaning out closets, cabinets and cupboards–but they haven’t done anything on their list. A few even said they feel like a failure.

Well, that’s bullshit! (pardon my français). We’re living in unprecedented, unnatural times. Just the fact that you got out of bed this morning is something to celebrate! I realized an hour ago that I’ve been wearing my shirt inside out all day. It’s also the same shirt I wore yesterday. But who cares? Heck, my uncle used to say you could wear one pair of underwear for four days: frontward, backward, then inside out frontward and backward. Glass half full: I’m a day ahead of schedule. We’re winning, folks!

So my dose of sunshine is to remind everyone to go easy on ourselves. Don’t expect too much. If you don’t have the energy to tackle a home project, don’t worry–there’s plenty of time for that in the future. No desire to learn something new right now? Don’t stress about it. Something, someday, will fire up your passion and get you excited. Or not. And that’s ok.

If I don’t say it enough, I love you guys!

So…happy Friday! ❤

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.

Play with happiness

Each one of us is struggling these days to stay motivated, find comfort, and stay happy during COVID-19.

On Friday, I participated in a group counselling session offered by my company. The theme of the discussion was dealing with self-isolation. It was interesting to hear how COVID-19 was affecting people in different ways and the strategies people were using to cope with self-isolation. If you’re as lucky as I am to have an employer who is proactively offering opportunities to take care of your mental health, I highly encourage you to take advantage of them.

If you don’t, the good news is there are many wonderful resources online to tap into. Last week, I shared Yale’s online happiness course. Another great resource is the Conference Board of Canada who has been producing short videos on mental health.

Here’s one to watch from Dr. Bill Howatt, Chief of Research and Productivity on the PLAY model to happiness. Dr. Howatt shares that while half of our happiness is genetic disposition, the other half we can directly influence through PLAY:

  • Finding something you’re Passionate about
  • Living in the moment
  • Finding one Awesome thing each day
  • And finally, Laugh, be silly, vulnerable and laugh often

Certainly COVID-19 has forced us to live in the moment, but the others may be a tall order these days. It’s still great advice at any time.

This week’s #HappyAct is to be proactive in taking care of your mental health and PLAY.

Bored out of your skull? Sign up for Yale’s online happiness course

Yale university

Yale University is offering a free online happiness course called The Science of Well-Being.

The idea to offer a happiness course at the university famed for its academia was the brainchild of Professor Laurie Santos who was shocked at the stress and mental health issues students were reporting a few years ago. She developed a course called Psychology and the Good Life, and a quarter of all Yale students signed up for it. It’s now the most popular course the university has offered in its 300-year history.

This year, the university started offering a free online version. It takes about 20 hours to complete and you can learn at your own pace.

The course focuses on the science of happiness and how to rewire your brain and change your behaviours to be happier.

36% of the people who took the course started a new career after completing it and 34% said they got a tangible career benefit from the course.

Here is the curriculum:

  • Introduction—why take this course
  • Misconceptions about happiness
  • Why our expectations are so bad
  • How we can overcome our biases
  • Stuff that really makes us happy
  • Putting strategies into practice
  • Start your final rewirement challenge
  • Continue your rewirement challenge
  • Continue your rewirement challenge
  • Submit your final assignment

It will be interesting to see the changes people make in their lives after this galvanizing period in our history, where we’ve been forced into self-isolation and reflection. Maybe this course will help provide more clarity and help us all on the path to better mental health and happiness.

Happy studies.

The return to common decency

 

sidewalk messages

Special guest post by Jill Yokoyama 

It looks like COVID-19 is going to be with us for awhile and every day the situation seems to get more serious.  I would like you to cast your thoughts back a few weeks to the middle of March, when all these changes were so new to us and we were trying to follow the instructions from our medical experts.

How did your interactions with your family and friends change?  If you are like me, you cancelled planned visits and get-togethers with extended family and friends; cancelled work and music rehearsals; you might have even cancelled a long-planned vacation.

As we all tried to stay home I noticed a change in my community on my daily “physically-distanced” walks. I noticed entire families going for walks or bike rides together.  I noticed families doing activities together in their front yards and on their driveways–barbecuing, making sidewalk chalk designs, playing ball, blowing bubbles.

I noticed messages of affirmation and encouragement written in chalk on the sidewalk or painted on stones. These heart-warming messages of support let us know we care for our communities and we will all get through this together.

In the 21st century we seem to have developed such busy lives that leave little time for each other. I wonder if one of the positive outcomes of COVID-19 will be a new focus on the simpler aspects of our lives such as spending time with family and friends at home and playing games together.

When COVID-19 is a distant memory, will we return to our busy lives or will we see a permanent shift in how we live our lives? Only time will tell. Stay well, my friends, and most importantly, stay home.

Ed. note: Jill submitted this post without a title. I chose the title, “The return to common decency” for her. It is a quote from Albert Camus’ The Plague written in 1941. Camus wrote, “The only means of fighting a plague is common decency.”

sidewalk sign be kind

 

The circle of life

Elton John lyric The Circle of Life

My neighbour Kim has been supplying us with fresh eggs since she’s been working from home due to COVID-19.

My other neighbour Charlene gave birth to a beautiful healthy girl, Angeline Grace on Tuesday.

With the fresh eggs Kim gave me, we made homemade banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, quiche and stew for the budding family next door.

There is a circle to all things in life.

Sometimes we don’t understand the circles that seem to swirl out of our control, but their sphere is eternal.

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.

The week the world stood still

My thoughts this week have turned to Anne Frank. For two years, Anne lived in hiding in a small attic with five other people in a secret annex at her father Otto’s work to escape Nazi persecution during the second world war. She was discovered by the Nazis in 1944 and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February 1945 from exhaustion.

All Anne had to occupy her days and her mind was a diary.

For many of us, the world stopped turning this week, save for the insidious march of an invisible enemy moving stealthily through our midst.

It has been horrific to watch the images from Italy.

Overflowing hospital wards, newspapers with pages and pages of obituaries, and lonely lines of hearses outside cemeteries as mourners remain in isolation in their homes.

We are all anxious, scared, uncertain.

And yet.

In the midst of all this chaos, there have been moments of unparalleled compassion, humanity, and sacrifice.

The Italian tenor who serenaded his neighbours from the safety of his balcony in self-isolation.

Neighbours helping neighbours.

Big corporations doing the right thing, looking after their employees as best they can and donating money, food, and rejigging production models to manufacture much needed medical supplies.

A group of kids performing a front porch concert for their elderly neighbour.

And the heroes on the front lines, health care workers coming out of retirement, working long hours in grim conditions and jeopardizing their own health to take care of the sick.

History has challenged us before. It will challenge us again. If the worst most of us have to face in the coming weeks ahead is boredom and uncertainty in self-isolation, we should count ourselves blessed.

Stay well.

Ed. Note. If you haven’t heard of an app called Nextdoor, download it now. It connects people in neighbourhoods and is full of people offering to help higher-risk individuals in their community right now with whatever they need in self-isolation.