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.

Sleeping with an elephant

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls in what some are calling the most historic U.S. election since Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.

As the tiny mouse living next to the mammoth elephant*, Canada is holding its breath to see who will be President when all the votes are counted on Tuesday night.

There is so much at stake, but I won’t waste time recounting the issues that have filled our airwaves and papers for the past six weeks.

One thing is certain, I have never been more happy to be Canadian.

Over the past decade and the past year in particular, it feels like the great divide between our two countries has deepened to a wide chasm.

We have been physically divided by a closed border due to COVID-19. Our countries have been divided on foreign policy, racial injustice and climate change. The greatest divide, I’ve come to realize, is cultural.

If America had a motto, other than America First, it would be “every man for himself”. In Canada, it would be “all for one, and one for all.”

I don’t think it would have mattered who was President during the pandemic—the country would have wound up in exactly the same place. The culture of, I’m going to do what I want, it’s my god-given right and no one can stop me, has resulted in the U.S. having the highest infection rate in the world.

So as we hold our breaths and await the results Tuesday night, let’s collectively give thanks and continue to cherish and hold dear what makes us uniquely Canadian. We the north, all for one and one for all.

*In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in a speech to the Washington Press Club, described living next to the United States by saying, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Always check all the boxes

Years ago, when I was applying to universities, Western University sent me a letter indicating I was on their waiting list to get into their teaching program. I had already received acceptances from the other universities I applied for, so I didn’t check the box to indicate I’d like to be kept on their waiting list and send the letter back.

What would have cost me five seconds of my time and a postage stamp was probably the biggest mistake in my life. And yes, if you read my blog from last week, this is one of my biggest regrets.

I would have loved to be a teacher. I once had a psychic tell me they saw me teaching small groups of people and to this day, when I get to run training sessions at work, I absolutely love it. Before I started my career, I seriously thought of going to China or Japan to teach English. Regret #2.

Instead, I wound up in insurance.

On career days at school, when they ask little Jimmy or Susie what they want to be when they grow up, nobody ever says “I want to work in insurance”. All of my friends in our industry say the same thing, we never planned to work for an insurance company.

But life has its own plans, and sometimes following fate’s footsteps isn’t such a bad thing.  

This has hit home for me several times over the years and especially this year during COVID.

I went to school for journalism, and even before COVID, most of my friends who went into mainstream media were forced to make career shifts as the industry became decimated and reporters and journalists were being laid off.

This year, I have been able to continue to work, and safely from my own home, while others in industries and professions that would have been thought imaginable are struggling.

Did I sell out? Maybe. Do I wish I had checked that box? Most definitely.

But I’ve been grateful to have a rewarding career and work with amazing, talented people who care about each other and the work.

Who knows, I may still teach some day. I believe it’s never too late to take on new challenges.

One thing I promise you, next time I’ll check all the boxes.

Living a life of no regrets

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other night about regrets and the impact they have on our lives and relationships.

Regret is a negative emotion, but it can have positive outcomes. It can give us insight and help us make sense of the world and our place in it, and impel us to make positive changes in our lives.

Left to fester, however, regret can make us doubt our decisions and path in life, and create a devalued sense of self-worth. It may lead to us withdrawing within ourselves and to feelings of unhappiness and depression.

We can regret actions we’ve taken, or actions we didn’t have the courage to take.

It was a heartfelt conversation, and my friend and I learned this the other night about dealing with regret:

  • First, it’s never too late. It’s never too late to say I’m sorry, to reach out, to take action.
  • Accept that sometimes life has its own plan and your path is where it decides to take you.
  • When it comes to regret and relationships, know that the other person’s perception of what happened may be completely different than yours.
  • Forgive yourself, forgive others and move on. We are all human, we make mistakes.

No one lives a life of no regrets. If someone says they have no regrets, they’re lying. But hopefully our regrets are few and we’ve learned from them.

It’s not over until the heron leaves

Here we are. Despite Covid, despite Trump, nature has blessed us with another spectacular show of fall colours in Eastern Ontario.

I find this time of year, I bring my camera with me wherever I go, longing to capture that perfect shot, but rain and clouds have been my nemesis this fall. Every time I head out, the clouds roll in and the trees seem to transform from a brilliant debutante into a dowdy old maid.

I was paddling in our back lake the other day, and here’s the good news, the heron is still here.

Herons are the first to arrive each spring, and the last to leave each fall. In the spring, you’ll see their majestic return as the first creeks and streams open up, well before the ice has melted from the main part of the lake.

In the fall, after the loons fly south, the turtles stop sunning themselves on the logs, and the beavers stop being so busy, it is the solitary heron standing sentinel over the chilly waters.

Some people say it’s not over until the fat lady sings. I say it’s not over until the heron leaves, so get out and enjoy the last of this brilliant fall weather.

Here are some photos from my fall photo essay Autumn ablaze last year and from my latest outings. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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

Watch your thoughts

Lao Tzu quote on thoughts

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny”—Lao Tzu 

For the better part of 2020, many of us have been alone with our thoughts, and understandably, those thoughts have been more dark, troubled and worrisome.

I think this quote in large part explains what is happening in the United States right now. Alone with their thoughts, people have lashed out and acted out. It makes me wonder about America’s destiny. I truly believe they are at a turning point in their history.

Every event of historical significance has begun with a thought or difference in thoughts: the American civil war, Aryan supremacy and the Holocaust, communism.

Our thoughts can be a friend, giving us hope, comfort and fortitude, and urging us to do and act better.

Or they can be our enemy, closing our ears and hearts to differing opinions and causing us to act in shameful ways.

We may feel like the world is out of control right now. But we always have control of our thoughts.

Visit an amazing place

Brockville railway tunnel

We may not be able to travel right now, but you don’t need to go far to find some amazing places to explore.

I live north of Kingston in South Frontenac township, and while I’ve always known how amazing this area is, many people may not be aware the United Nations thinks it’s amazing too, which is why they have designated the Frontenac Arch a UNESCO designated biosphere.

In Ontario, we have three UNESCO designated biospheres, Long Point, Georgian Bay, and Frontenac Arch. You can read all about them and their amazing sites at visitamazingplaces.ca.

There are 686 UNESCO world biospheres in 122 countries. Biospheres are protected areas that are significant for their biological diversity and ecological systems and that exhibit a balanced relationship between people and nature through sustainable development.

The Frontenac Arch extends from Sydenham and Westport, down to Gananoque and over to Brockville. It is where the grandeur of the Canadian Shield meets the St. Lawrence River valley. It is home to windswept pines, shimmering waters, boreal forests, trails and fields and such diverse and at risk species like barn swallows, blanding and mapped turtles, bald eagles, and black rat snakes, all of which we’ve seen on our lake.

Here are some of my favourite places on the current “most amazing places” list*

Brockville Railway Tunnel: Dave, Clare and I visited the tunnel just a couple of weeks ago. Canada’s first railway tunnel, it opened in 1860 when the Brockville & Ottawa Railroad (B&O) was incorporated to link Ottawa with the Brockville waterfront. The tunnel has been outfitted with an impressive light show, making it a must-visit spot in Eastern Ontario.

Brockville railway tunnel

Brockville railway tunnel

Mine Loop Trail at Gould Lake: mica, a thin shiny silver mineral was mined in this area at the turn of the century. Mica was used by the electrical industry as an insulator in items such as toasters, and as windows in items such as lanterns. The mine at Gould Lake is exposed, but there’s an even more amazing one you can explore at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park (closed right now due to COVID).

Rock Dunder*: probably one of the most popular hikes in Eastern Ontario, this former scout camp property takes you past beautiful lakes to a summit with a breathtaking view of the Rideau canal.

Jones Falls: be sure to start this leisurely stroll at the top of the falls at the stonearch dam, an engineering marvel, then meander down past the locks and buildings that date back to the 1840’s.

This week’s #HappyAct is to explore an amazing place in your region.

More happyacts on some of the amazing places to explore in the Frontenac Arch

*Rock Dunder isn’t on the current list, but it’s made the list in the past

Dave and I at the summit at Rock Dunder

tree at summit

Seven ways living through the year of COVID is like an episode of WKRP in Cincinatti

It’s been a weird year, a year where sometimes it feels like we’re living in a bad sitcom or reality show.

One of my favourite TV shows growing up was WKRP in Cincinnati, which aired from 1978 to 1982 for four seasons. The show centred around a zany cast of characters who worked at an easy-listening-turned-rock-and-roll radio station in Cincinnati. Here’s how living through the year of COVID has been like a WKRP episode:

  1. Walking with our heads down, following arrows on floors, just like the radio station gang did in The Baby episode as they tried to find the hospital room where their boss’s wife was delivering their first baby. “Follow the blue line until it crosses the green line, take the green line until it crosses the yellow, then turn left.” In one scene, DJ Johnny Fever follows the lines with his head down and walks in a complete circle, ending up right where he started. Venus, who’s a germaphobe, sniffs the air when he enters the hospital, then covers his mouth with a handkerchief.
  2. Drawing imaginary lines around our workspaces working from home and creating imaginary office doors like neurotic news reporter Les Nessman did to make smaltzy salesman HerbTalerk respect his office space in this classic episode.
  3. Venus FlyTrap was one of the more serious characters on the show with actor Tim Reid playing the nighttime DJ. The series tackled important issues that resonate today. In this clip, former schoolteacher Venus teaches a young black man about atoms using street lingo. In another episode, after getting angry at Venus for going out with his sister, program manager Andy overcompensates to prove he isn’t racist. In the third season, Venus is tempted to take another job, but later learns it’s a station that plays automated music and they only want him as a token hire.
  4. Herb Tarlek, the station’s only sales guy was portrayed as a loveable buffoon, but with the occasional smart insight. In one episode, Herb said, “You should never take advice from a crazy person.” He could have been talking about Donald Trump.
  5. Daytime DJ Johnny Fever was one of the most popular characters on the show. He called himself “the doctor” prescribing rock and roll to heal what ails us. His lines could be an anthem for 2020. “We ALL in critical condition babies, but you can tell me where it hurts, ’cause I got the healing prescription here from the big ‘KRP musical medicine cabinet! Now I am talking about your 50,000-watt intensive CARE unit, babies! So just sit right down, relax, open your ears REAL wide and say “Give it to me straight, doctor, I can take it!” Watch this compilation of Johnny’s best moments.
  6. One of my all-time favourite episodes was when Johnny and Venus agreed to take an on-air alcohol test to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking. While Venus starts slurring his words and getting tipsy after two or three drinks, Johnny’s reflexes improve and he becomes more clear-headed and coherent after each drink. That’s been my response to the year of COVID —just keep drinking and things will become more clear.
  7. Thanksgiving is coming. Check out this hilarious news report of Les Nessman reporting live on the scene when the radio station released live turkeys over a shopping mall as a holiday promotion stunt gone awry. “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

These lyrics from the show’s theme song say it all,

Memories help me hide my lonesome feelin’
Far away from you and feelin’ low
It’s gettin’ late my friend, I miss you so
Take good care of you, I’ve gotta go

Old faithful

Author in her blue flannel shirt

For the past 20 years, we’ve spent Labour Day weekend up at our friends’ Murray and Libby’s cottage for our annual “Labour Day classic weekend”. This year they came to us due to COVID.

No matter where our Labour Day gatherings take us, I have one old faithful friend who has my back, literally, the final weekend of summer–my checkered blue flannel shirt.

I’m not sure when exactly I inherited it from Dave. It was some time when we were first dating or married, but one day, it somehow ended up in my closet instead of his. It’s been my faithful friend ever since.

Old faithful always makes an appearance on Labour Day weekend. It’s a great dock shirt when the summer sun begins to wane and the cooler autumn breezes return. And it’s a great cottage companion since it doesn’t care how much dirt, grime, wine or food gets spilled on it.

It’s been my faithful friend all these decades and is still as comfortable and comforting as the first day I wore it.

So here’s to you, old faithful, the memories we’ve shared, and always having my back. And here’s to the final days of summer. Enjoy!

Author's husband in the same shirt
Dave wearing old faithful many moons ago