Pass down a holiday tradition

Girl walking in snow

We have a holiday tradition that makes people gasp in horror. We open our presents on Christmas night. Not Christmas Eve, Christmas night.

It’s a tradition that stems back to the days when my grandparents owned a greenhouse in the 1930s in Cooksville (now Mississauga) at the corner of Highways 5 and 10, Dundas and Hurontario Streets. Christmas was one of their busiest times of the year, and they would often still be preparing floral orders and making deliveries right up until lunch time on Christmas Day. The only time they could sit down to relax and open gifts was after dinner.

It was a tradition my parents continued when we were young, and a tradition Dave and I have passed on to our children.

I love opening gifts at nighttime, with the fire crackling, the Christmas tree lights shining and a glass of Bailey’s in your hand. You don’t have to worry about jumping up and getting the turkey in the oven or baking pies and it prolongs the anticipation beyond Christmas morning. It also lets us get outside and enjoy the beauty and peace of the day.

I knew the circle was complete when on one of our nightly walks this week, Clare asked, “Mom, can we open presents Christmas night again this year? I really love it.”

My work as a parent is done.

Whatever your traditions or faith, I hope you have a joyous holiday. What’s your favourite holiday tradition? Leave a comment.

The legend of the tole-painted plate

tole painted plate

It’s legendary in our household–the tale of the tole-painted plate.

Years ago, when Dave and I were first dating, I had taken a folk art painting course. I was terrible at it, but my instructor was very talented and at the end of the course I bought a beautiful tole-painted plate of a wintry scene.

It was December and because I felt so guilty spending money on myself before Christmas, I wrapped up the plate, wrote “To Dave” on the tag and tucked it under the tree.

To this day, I still hear about it, but somehow all three of us–Dave, me and the plate have survived 27 years of marriage.

I think he secretly cherishes the tole-painted plate. He says every time he looks at it he thinks what a lame gift it was and that I’m psychologically scarred because I can’t just buy something for myself and feel good about it.

My response is at least I don’t buy ice fishing huts and gear and hide them in the barn from my wife.

This week’s #HappyAct is when you’re out frantically finding that perfect last minute gift for the someone special on your list, buy a little something for yourself. I do have one little problem this year though. The thing I bought for myself I can’t exactly write “To Dave” on the tag. Guess I’ll have to give it to myself from Bella. Dogs are very good shoppers after all.

Visit a Charles Dickens village

Christmas carollers
Carollers at the mill in Delta, Ontario

Our British Heritage runs deep in this region. Kingston was, after all, the first capital of Canada and north of Kingston, in the area once known as Upper Canada, there are dozens of quaint villages that transform into magical towns hearkening back to the days of Charles Dickens at Christmas.

One of my favourites is the tiny village of Delta where thousands of visitors assemble each year to take an evening stroll through Lower Beverly Park to see the 90,000 lights, visit Santa’s workshop and take a wagon ride through the village. The local church hall serves hot meals, and in the centre of the village, the Delta Mill is open for tours.

The Old Stone Mill in Delta is a national historic site and treasure. It was built in 1810 and is still a working gristmill (they grind their own flour in the summer months). In December, antique candles light up the mill as they flicker in the six-foot window sills of each window.

Once inside, you are transported back to the days of Dickens. Caped carollers sing God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman and the smells of hot cider fill the air. Local volunteers share their knowledge and history as they take you for a tour and explain how flour is ground. You almost expect to see the ghost of Christmas past or Ebenezer Scrooge emerge from the mill’s shadows.

This week’s #HappyAct is to transport yourself back in time with a visit to Delta. As Charles Dickens wrote, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

The mill and park are open every Friday and Saturday night until Christmas.

Some other great towns to visit during the holidays include Niagara-on-the-Lake, Merrickville and high on my wish list, Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia where they have a Father Christmas Festival and transform their picturesque seaside village into a winter wonderland.

Old Stone Mill in Delta

Ever happy in Toyland

Girl and mother in funny hats in toy store

“Toyland, toyland
Little girl and boy land
While you dwell within it
You are ever happy there”

Lyrics from the holiday classic “Toyland”

The best way to discover your inner child is to spend an afternoon in a toy store.

Years ago, I worked for a company called Discovery Toys. I was their writer, so my job was to play with the toys and write all the catalogue and promotional copy.

Their slogan was “Play is a child’s work”.

Play is how children learn, but as adults, play serves a different purpose. Toys have the power to transport us back in time to when we didn’t have a care in the world. Our imagination immediately gets reawakened and once again life is full of possibilities.

Play allows us to forget our current cares and troubles. We can reinvent ourselves for a moment in time and be whoever we want to be: an astronaut, a ballerina, or a warrior.

Perhaps the greatest gift of all, play allows us to see the world through a child’s eyes again.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pay a visit to Santa’s toy shop, or MasterMind Toys if you can’t make it to the North Pole. Here are some pictures Clare and I took on a recent excursion to MasterMind. And if you happen to be in Quebec City, be sure to check out toy store Benjo—a magical place.

Girl and hockey game
Clare beating me at table top hockey

Girl and elephant

Girl and giraffe

 

The neuroscience of happiness

happy brain

I was sitting in my doctor’s office last week reading a National Geographic article on empathy and the brain. It told the story of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who survived an explosion in 1848 that drove an iron rod through his left frontal lobe. Those who knew him described him before the accident as friendly and respectful. After the accident he was uncaring and indifferent. It’s a fascinating read on why people commit heinous crimes stemming from a common thread of having a lack of remorse and empathy for others caused by a deficiency in the neuroscience of the brain.

For centuries, the brain has been a mystery to the medical profession and researchers. But we have learned quite a bit about the chemicals our brain produces and how they impact emotions and happiness. Here are a few interesting facts.

  • Dopamine is the chemical that spurs you to action when you want something. The anticipation of the reward releases dopamine which creates energy for you to achieve your goal. One easy way to release dopamine is to always be setting goals before new ones are achieved.
  • Endorphins are the chemicals associated with the fight or flight response and give you the ability to power through situations. You often hear of professional athletes achieving endorphin highs as they train, but you don’t need to push your body to the max to release endorphins in a positive way. Laughing and stretching can release endorphins, acupuncture, and even simple things like eating chocolate, spicy foods or smelling vanilla and lavender.
  • Oxytocin has been referred to as the “cuddle chemical”. It’s released when you experience a closeness or feeling of trust or intimacy. Giving hugs, petting dogs, and simply just socializing with others can release oxytocin.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think how you can get the neuroscience of your brain working for your happiness.

The crappy act revisited

Dog with sunglasses
Our one dog now, the Bellediot–beautiful but stupid as a bag of hammers

My life is starting to resemble a country song. We had to put my old dog down, two of my appliances died, our car was in the shop and we got a ticket for parking in front of a hydrant, bills are piling up and to make matters worse, I’ve had a throat infection that’s only getting worse which means I’ll have to go back to the doctor for another appointment.

As Dave says, there are weeks when the happy act should really be The Crappy Act. It’s made me reflect on how to keep chipper when life gets you down. Here are a few things that work for me.

  • Taking care of myself. Easier said than done, but I’ve always been a huge advocate of listening to your body, and when I’m feeling poorly I try to slow down and take care of myself. Note to self: make another doctor’s appointment tomorrow.
  • Being grateful for what I have instead of what I’ve lost. I loved Murphy our old dog, but we still have our Great Pyrenees, Bella, the stupidest dog on the face of the planet. Even though her various nicknames range from Bella the Fart Smeller, to Bella the Drywall Eating Dog, to the Bellidiot, we still love her and I’m grateful my big fluffy polar bear of a dog is still here to greet me every night when I come home.
  • Remembering that no matter what challenges we are facing, there is someone sitting next to me dealing with far more serious issues. I was reminded of this twice this weekend.
  • Knowing this too shall pass.
  • Oh, and chocolate and ice cream don’t hurt either (and are cool on the throat).

Hope everyone else had a happy week….and thanks for the kind words about Murphy. Our gentle giant is in a happier place.

Did Les Nessman have it right? My ideal office of the future

Les Nessman fake door sign

I’ve been watching with interest the discussion online about ideal office space and I’ve come to the conclusion Les Nessman had it right.

You may recall the classic episode from the 70s show WKRP in Cincinnati, where news director Les Nessman draws imaginary lines around where his office door should be and asks the rest of the office to respect his space.

There’s been a huge shift in the past five years to open, collaborative workstations.

The idea behind these workspaces was noble. Force people out of their offices and workstations, and you’ll foster collaboration, drive innovation and break down silos.

But as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and most employees who work in these cattle stalls report being unhappier at work and less productive.

They say noise levels and lack of privacy make it hard to concentrate and do “heads down” work and god forbid you try to have a conference call or hangout with someone. I was reading an article the other day where one employee said it’s actually hurt collaboration in their company, because most people now wear headphones all day and don’t talk to each other.

I have friends that work in some companies where they don’t even have a workstation any more. There is a space for their team and transient workstations for the days they are working in the office.

Now some may say, what’s the big deal, sounds great. People are working from home, they don’t need regular workspace. So what if it’s noisy?

Others say it is a big deal and we need to come up with a new approach that will achieve the original goals of openness and collaboration, but address the needs of modern work. I saw a design last week that had bizarre small desks that could move and looked like a honeycomb. It made me think of a hamster wheel. No thanks.

You see the problem is many of these so-called “experts” who are designing modern workspaces are overlooking some very basic realities and needs of office workers today.

The first is the importance of natural light. Number two is addressing the plague affecting office workers of the 21st century: inactivity. The third goes back to where I started this blog, Les Nessman and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which states people by nature need to satisfy their physiological needs first (eating, drinking, shelter), then feel safe. It’s tough to feel safe in open workplaces.

So it got me to thinking if I could design my ideal work space, what would it look like.

Everyone would still have a desk or place to work with natural light. You’d sit in pods of four or maybe six with people you like. The pods would have chairs that are like ultramatic beds. Push a button and you are sitting up, or recline for casual conversation. When you didn’t want to chat anymore, you’d push a button and sound-proof glass would come up and you turn your chair like you’re on the Voice, and presto, you have peace and quiet for concentrated work.

There’d still be open, airy spaces where you could chat, have a quick meeting or just take a break. In every pod, or maybe in a separate area, there would be treadmills and exercise bikes fully wired so you could participate in a meeting or listen to a webinar while getting exercise.

There would be a Dog Café where you could bring your dog to work and visit with them over coffee or take them out for a walk at lunch. It would be street level and become a tourist attraction—people would come from miles to see the dogs in the window.

And last but not least, there would be a beer fridge and free beer for everyone on Friday afternoons.

Yes, that workplace of the future would make me happy.