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!

Planes, trains and automobiles

jeep on safari

Adventures by automobile…on safari

Planes, trains or automobile–it doesn’t matter, for me, it’s as much about the journey as the destination itself.

I’m writing this blog today on the train, my fingers skimming over the keys as the coach lurches back and forth. By the time it posts, I’ll have flown thousands of miles return to Salt Lake City, and spent two days in the car driving back from vacation from South Carolina with Dave and the kids.

Planes are still magical to me, now matter how many times Air Canada loses my luggage, how bad the food is, or how long I have to wait at the airport. As soon as the plane lifts into the air, I marvel at watching the clouds, the magnificent land formations and patterns below and the sun rise and set over the wings.

Trains take me back to my youth. I grew up beside train tracks. The trains were so close to our house, my bedroom windows rattled when the commuter and freight trains sped through our station. The train was our escape from suburbia to downtown Toronto.

I still love taking the train. You can work, gaze out the windows, chat with your neighbour, or have a coffee or glass of wine. On today’s trip, I saw a deer grazing in the sodden fields and swans gliding gracefully in an estuary near the Trent River .

And then there is the automobile. The love affair of North Americans with the automobile is well documented. For me, cars have always been more of a practical need, a way to get from point A to point B. That all changes on a road trip when you never know what adventure lies beyond the next bend and what new vista there is to explore.

This week’s #HappyAct is to channel your inner John Candy and Steve Martin and embark on a journey by plane, train or automobile—don’t worry about the destination, just have fun getting there.

Accept we are not in control

Comic Mind full or mindfulSpecial guest blog by Ray Dorey. You can read more of Ray’s adventures at www.storiesfromdoreyville.wordpress.com.

“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.” – Character of Simon Masrani, Jurassic World.

I think I laughed out loud when I first heard this. I’d always believed the polar opposite. But as I’ve come to learn, these words from a fictional movie about a dinosaur park couldn’t ring more true.

I have somewhat of an obsession with “to do” lists – summaries both personal and professional, detailing all of my goals and tasks for a given period of time.

In my job, I have every day of the week planned nearly down to the minute. All meetings and objectives are scheduled to optimize efficiency and ensure completion.

And whether personally or professionally, I had always at least partially measured my success by how many of the items on my list were completed in the time I had prescribed.

But as we all know, life often doesn’t care about our tidy lists. It can be so easy for our plans to fall off the rails, and that can lead quickly to frustration – and possibly anxiety if we allow it.

I’ve learned that what is far more important than measuring ourselves strictly to planned objectives, is how we choose to react to the inevitable surprises and challenges that get interjected without notice or reason.

The past two years have been especially challenging for me personally. I’ve suffered multiple retinal detachments in both of my eyes, requiring surgery and extended recovery periods. In an instant, all of my immediate plans were abruptly pushed to the side, and longer-term plans became a complete blur (pardon the pun).

But my recent health issues have also strangely been among the most positive things to happen to me. Throughout seemingly endless visits to my ophthalmologist, I encountered and empathized with many others fighting their own vision issues, from the very young to the elderly.

My experience has taught me patience, perspective, and what is truly important in life. During recovery, when I couldn’t do much but keep my head down and stare straight at the floor, I would write (using my one good eye of course). I’d often scribe summaries of everything I was grateful for – from my parents, siblings, and faithful canine companion, to the air I breathe. It didn’t take long to fill at least a page and a half every time.

I watched a documentary recently about mindfulness, the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. Participants at a weekend retreat were first required to purge distractions including leaving their smart phones in their rooms. Two of the exercises stood out. In the first, attendees simply walked across a room. But they did so very slowly, and were encouraged to be mindful of every step, including awareness of the position of their body and the feel of their feet on the floor. In the second exercise, participants ate a quiet meal, chewing slowly and focusing carefully on the taste and texture of every bite. On the surface, both exercises appeared ridiculous, but I understood the lessons they were meant to teach – to concentrate on the here and now and truly savour each precious moment.

I now follow a couple of Twitter feeds to provide daily reminders to slow down and value each moment. Buddha Quotes (@ByBuddha) and Daily Zen (@dailyzen).

As I write, I often glance at my dog, sleeping peacefully on the couch. I envy her, for I doubt she ever worries about the future. If she could write, her daily “to do” list would most likely be limited to four core activities: eat, drink, play and sleep. Not in any particular order, and just responding to needs and wants from one “now” to the next.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we really need to learn to “go with the flow.” There’s no problem in trying to maintain control – we all have responsibilities that we must try and manage. Just be cognizant of the fact that challenge lies around every corner, and we must be mentally prepared – and conditioned – to cope.

This week’s #HappyAct is to focus on the present moment. Every minute you spend worrying about future events robs you of your enjoyment of the here and now. Practiced mindfulness can easily lead to deliberate happiness.

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

Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

It’s not a dress rehearsal

man and girl dressed up

Clare and David at our friends’ Jill and Gary’s wedding

I’ve always been grateful for the wonderfully different people in my life and how they’ve all taught me something or influenced me in some way.

I have one friend, David who lives in Australia that I’ve known for years, since he’s the brother of one of my closest friends.

David is one of a kind. Flamboyant, funny, thoughtful, witty and a sparkling conversationalist, one of his favourite sayings is, “It’s not a dress rehearsal, baby.”

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We only get one run on or off Broadway, and there’s no script or encore performance.

This week’s #HappyAct is to seize centre stage and live each day to the fullest. Take advantage of opportunities when they come around because they might not come around again. Enjoy the show.

Measuring our Gross National Happiness

Bhutanese childrenWhat if, instead of measuring our Gross National Product, we measured our Gross National Happiness?

It’s not as crazy a concept as you think. In fact, there is one country that has made their Gross National Happiness a priority. Bhutan has been measuring its Gross National Happiness since 1972. The GNH is based on the philosophy that if the government cannot create happiness for its people, then there is no purpose for government to exist.

The GNH of Bhutan is based on four pillars: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation and nine domains to ensure the happiness of its citizens: psychological wellbeing, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience, and living standards.

A person is considered happy if they have sufficiency in six of the nine domains.

Here are a few interesting facts from the Bhutan GNH:

  • The happiest people by occupation in Bhutan include civil servants and monks.
  • Interestingly, the unemployed are happier than corporate employees, housewives, farmers or the national work force.
  • Unmarried people and young people are among the happiest.
  • Men tend to be happier than women

The 2015 GNH survey showed an increase from the 2015 in their overall GNH from 0.743 to 0.756 with 43.4 of the Bhutanese people being deeply or extensively happy, and 91.2% showing sufficiency in at least half of the domains.

I’m not sure I’m willing to leave my corporate job to become a monk, but there are many things we can learn from Bhutan’s GNH.

First, we need to put a priority on the happiness of people. As a nation, we need to measure how well we are doing at creating the right conditions for our citizens to be happy. And finally, North Americans need to relinquish our obsession with work and material things and go back to the basics. Things like spiritual wellbeing, being physically active and healthy, and developing strong communities.

Tomorrow, March 20th is the International Day of Happiness. This week’s #HappyAct is to measure your own GNH. Of the nine domains Bhutan measures, how do you score? Leave a comment.