Give someone a hand up

Come in we're open sign

Special guest post by Agent00$0ul”, marking the anniversary of COVID-19. It’s estimated more than 200,000 Canadian businesses could shut their doors permanently due to the pandemic. Let’s show them our #locallove.

“Hello, Ivan”.

He peered up at me from behind the register. A barrier of plexiglass separated our two masked faces. The part of his face I could see transformed to a quizzical look, one eyebrow raised.

“It’s been a year, my friend,” I said. I didn’t expect him to remember my order by heart like he did pre-COVID. 

I pulled a $10 bill from my coat pocket and slid it across the counter. “I want you to have this.”

He was surprised, but appreciative. He knew why I was doing it and I knew a few of his customers were doing the same. He put the bank note in his pocket. “Thank you.” 

I placed my order. The restaurant was nearly empty–three or four diners seated at tables separated by stacked chairs on tables wrapped in caution tape. The complimentary copies of The Sun newspaper, usually neatly stacked in a pile in a corner on the condiments table, were nowhere to be seen. Same too for the condiments themselves. It was high noon on a Wednesday. The scene was surreal…. the place should’ve been packed. 

The absence of customers gave me some time to catch up on things with Ivan while my comfort food was being prepared. I explained that the pandemic caused my employer to make the difficult decision to permanently close the office. I would be working from home until retirement. That decision removed the need for me to visit Ivan’s place of work at least once, maybe twice a week on a regular basis. 

Ivan always punched in my order before I made it to the cash, holding off on the drink selection because I was never consistent on that one, fluctuating between Diet Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t watching my weight) and Cherry Coke (stressed out and guilty I wasn’t managing my office work). Either choice was fast food methadone, supplied by Ivan the enabler.

I have the impression that Ivan got to be where he is today because of some unfortunate past events. He’s a smart guy. An ‘it-getter”. Pleasant. Respectful. Sharing. Still, he plays the economic hand he’s been dealt every day without regret or remorse. His reality is a twenty-minute bus ride to reduced hours of work. 

He told me the pandemic has been hard on him financially. Hours have ticked up slightly since the restaurant reopened with limited seating. Prior to that all sales were curbside pickup, drive through, or Uber Eats. He hoped he would be given the vaccine soon since he was over 50 with pre-existing conditions. He was skeptical because he didn’t fall under the definition of “front line worker”. The irony wasn’t lost on me as he shared this information from behind the barrier of plexiglass between us.

As I returned to my car, lunch bag and Cherry Coke in hand, it felt good to have given Ivan a hand up, rather than a hand out. The circumstances were different than most “new normal” days that caused me to see Ivan on a work day.I probably won’t see him again anytime soon… possibly never. I should have given him $20. 

This week’s #HappyAct is to think of the folks in the service sector who have been impacted by this pandemic. Help them out if you can. I handed out $5 Tim Horton’s prepaid cards to the six stylists at my barber shop. $30 equates to 1 1/2 haircuts, I missed two cuts during the lockdown so I’m actually up $10. Consider helping out the service sector workers you have in your circle if you are able. Be the creator of your own happy act. 

Living in a world of 24/7 news

CP24 news page

Kamala Harris. Larry King. Amanda Gorman. Julie Payette. Alexei Navalny.

These names are now as familiar to me as my own family’s. That’s because for the past two weeks, I’ve become a news junkie, hooked on CP24 and CNN.

Two weeks ago, I drove to the city to live with Dave’s Dad to help him out for a bit. John lives on his own so the television and 24-hour news shows are his constant companion.

Until now, my strategy when it came to coping with Covid and the barrage of news was to go cold turkey. It always wasn’t that way.

When Covid first hit, like the rest of the world, I became glued to the television and internet to witness the unbelievable events unfolding from China. I’ll never forget seeing the first images of Chinese officials in white hazmat suits, disinfecting the streets of Wuhan and the abandoned scenes of a city in full lockdown. It seemed impossible, like something out of a science fiction novel or movie script.

I continued watching the news as the virus spread, partly out of necessity for my work. But as the months went on, increasingly I found the only way to stay positive was to disconnect entirely from the constant onslaught of news. From time to time, I’d check my favourite websites or watch the evening news to hear the latest Covid numbers and what was happening around the world.

Now for the past two weeks, I’ve been watching TV news non-stop. With all the news on the Presidential inauguration in the States, the Capitol riots, and Covid-19, it’s been an interesting time to be dialled in to current events.

This is what I’ve learned about how to live in a world of 24/7news:

  • Strategy #1: Don’t watch the news and just focus on daily living. A key aspect of positive mental health is to only focus on factors under your control. Going cold turkey forces you to do that and shelters you from the fear and anxiety of constant bad news. I’ve found this strategy highly effective.
  • Strategy #2: Watch the nightly news or limited amounts of news. One thing mental health experts told us early on during the pandemic was to not watch the news before going to bed. I found when I did this, it was like a black cloak had been draped over me and had a severe negative impact on my mental health. I stopped watching the news before going to bed and eventually stopped watching news altogether.
  • Strategy #3: Become a news junkie. Surprisingly, I have found this also to be an effective strategy. It’s been a very interesting time in the world, and I’ve enjoyed being able to hear the commentary, in-depth coverage and analysis during a key news cycle. I can recite what the TSX is at, oil prices, the dollar, global, U.S. and Canadian COVID numbers and trends, and which vaccines are approved, delayed and being rolled out. I’ve found that when you are inundated with information, it becomes much less scary. It’s like Toronto traffic (when there isn’t a pandemic). If you need to only drive in it from time to time, it can be as scary as hell, but live in it every day, and you begin to zone out and not even notice the craziness of it all. There’s also a certain comfort in being well-informed.

I’ve also developed a newfound respect for reporters in these times. I tip my hat to the news people who have worked long hours and had to “be on” 24/7 this past year without the luxury of being able to take a break. On the other hand, there are some news personalities like Don Lemon on CNN that need to go.

I know when I go home, I will go cold turkey again, and that’s just fine by me. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet and a break from the idiot box. The most important thing is to be tuned in to your mental health and do what you need to do to stay positive until Covid is yesterday’s news.

Time to sign off for another week. Good night, and good luck.

Happy? New Year–try going for joyful and hopeful instead

There are two sayings we bandy about at this time of year: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This year as I was writing out Christmas cards, I found myself naturally avoiding those usual seasonal sayings and writing sentiments instead like, “Joyous wishes” and “I hope you can find moments of joy” for friends who had lost loved ones in this particularly difficult year.

Alan McPherson, a retired minister with the Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton says there is a difference between happiness and joy. “Happiness is an emotion. Joy is deeper, more long-lasting. It is based more on inner certainties, not external events.”

Who knows what the new year will bring. With the second wave of COVID-19 still having an icy grip on the country and most regions in lockdown, happier times seem a way off. But we can always find joy each day in simple acts. Curling up with a good book. Catching up with an old friend. Going for a walk on a bright wintry day and hearing the snow crunch underfoot.

Yes, we can always find joy. And we always have hope.

Have a joyful and hopeful New Year everyone.

Good riddance to the Year of the Rat

Sometimes when I can’t make head or tails of what’s happening in my life or the world, I look to the most scientific, reliable of sources: my horoscope.

This weekend my horoscope was “If you don’t like what’s going on around you, remove yourself from the situation and do your own thing.”

Good advice, which I plan to follow.

It’s also not surprising that 2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese Zodiac. To be exact, the Year of the Rat doesn’t end until February 11, 2021, but just like the year of Covid, most of us can’t wait to kick 2020 to the curb.

Rats are tricky, deceiving creatures. If you were born in 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1986, 2008 or 2020, you are a Rat (with apologies to all you lovely rats out there).

In the Chinese Zodiac, the Rat is the first of all zodiac animals. According to one myth, the Jade Emperor said the order would be decided by the order in which they arrived to his party. The Rat tricked the Ox into giving him a ride. Then, just as they arrived at the finish line, Rat jumped down and landed ahead of Ox, becoming first.

What’s more, according to Chinese astrology, the year of their birth sign will bring people nothing but bad luck because it is believed that people will offend Tai Sui, the God of Age. Rats needed to be extra careful to avoid misfortune in 2020 since it is the year of their birth sign. 

The last year of the rat was 2008, the year of the financial crisis.

Rat also rhymes with bat. Coincidence? I think not.

If I haven’t convinced you yet this year was destined to be a dirty, dastardly disaster of a year, read the Rat horoscope for 2020:

“Rats are destined to experience a lot of challenges and ill fortune due to being in opposition to the Tai Sui star (or God of Age). Rats will now and then feel exhausted. Life will be easiest in the middle of the year. In autumn and winter, they should pay attention to their skin and respiratory protection. Vulnerable to sicknesses, like colds and fatigue, the Rat will have to be extra careful in 2020. At the first sign of symptoms, head to your general practitioner immediately. The faster you get medicine and the treatment you need, the quicker you will heal.”

There you have it. The good news is, the Year of the Rat is almost over.

This week’s #HappyAct is to join me in saying good riddance to 2020.

You filthy rat.

Treat yourself to a decadent donut

Special guest blog by Jill Yokoyama

If you are like me, then you’ll remember how a donut used to be such a treat when we were young.

In high school, it was fun to drop by Donut Man on Lakeshore Road in Port Credit for a donut, and how many times have you ever stopped in for a coffee and donut at Tim Hortons? But the quality of Tim Horton donuts has taken a nosedive since they are no longer baked fresh on the premises.  Eating a Tim’s donut became a disappointing experience and I stopped buying them.

Plus when you get to a certain age eating a donut becomes a big deal because it settles around your middle like a …. well, like a donut!

Thank goodness 2020 is not a complete washout due to the rising popularity of gourmet donut shops. I had the pleasure of visiting Sunshine Doughnuts in Burlington, Ontario on one of the bright, sunshiny days we had recently.

It is a delightful walk through the downtown and the décor is colourful and happy, like a frosted confection. Donuts are made fresh each day in all kinds of exciting flavours and designs, with lots of yummy fillings. I tried a classic apple fritter. It was enormous and so delicious, with soft, chewy dough, bits of real apple, and a sugary coating. If not for Covid, I would have been licking my fingers. I don’t know how many calories were in that donut and I don’t care, it was worth every calorie!

Speaking of donuts, Melbourne Australia has just come out of one of the strictest Covid lockdowns in the world after 111 days. On October 26, 2020 they declared their first “double donut day” with 0 new cases and 0 deaths. They are now at their 11th day of double donuts – woo hoo! I am so happy that my friends and relatives in the state of Victoria are able to resume their normal lives after such a long period of severe restrictions.

The choice of donuts as a symbol of their happiness makes perfect sense.

If you love a sweet treat and maybe want to reward yourself some time, indulge in a gourmet donut. Guaranteed to lift your spirits in the sweetest way!

Thanks to Jill Yokoyama for guest blogging this week. To learn more about how donuts became Australia’s symbol of hope in the fight against Covid, check out this story from The Guardian newspaper. What’s your favourite donut shop? Leave a comment!

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.”

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

If I were Oprah Winfrey–my commencement speech to the graduating class of 2020–The Next Act

Clare at her Grade 8 graduation

My two beautiful daughters graduated this past week, one from high school, one from elementary school. There were no dances, no proms, no gatherings of proud parents watching graduates parade across a stage in gown and cap. There was a 15-minute interval where they picked up their diplomas and awards and had their picture taken with one or two family members, and then that was it.

My heart goes out to all of these kids, and I couldn’t help thinking, if I was some big celebrity who was asked to deliver a commencement address to the graduating class of 2020, what would I say?

Here would be my Oprah speech:

The Next Act

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

I know this isn’t the graduation you dreamed of.

You should have been dancing. Hugging. Celebrating with your classmates. Dreaming and looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the next act in your life.

But you are not the first class to graduate in uncertain times. There have been those before you who have graduated in times of war and economic downturn.

Graduation is by design, a time of uncertainty and change. But we acknowledge this year is different.

in addition to the natural uncertainty of the questions every graduate faces, college or university, work or travel, you have the pressing uncertainties of a world in flux and change.

#BlackLivesMatter. Climate change. Coronavirus.

You will forever be known as the graduating class of COVID-19.

We are so sorry this happened to you.

It shouldn’t have ended this way, but know how proud we are of you and how confident we are that you will come through this stronger, smarter and more resilient.

Although you may not see this now, you have been given a unique graduation gift.

A gift of time to reflect on your goals, dreams, purpose and future.

A gift of clarity of what matters most, human kindness and acceptance, our natural world, and the importance of family and human connection.

These past few months have given you an education no institution ever could.

So what will be your next act?

Whatever it may be, know there is a difference between “purpose” and “a purpose”.

Purpose is sometimes portrayed as one all-consuming passion. You may not all be Greta Thunbergs, but you can find a purpose in everything you do.

Being a good friend. A good student. A good worker. A good mother or father. Someone who cares and gets involved in their community.

Purpose is not a single act.

Finally, be kind to one another. Seek what brings us together as humans, and eschew those that divide and remember you belong to each other. Do better than our generation has done.

Above all, whatever your next act in life, make it a purposeful and happy one.

And if I really was Oprah, “you win a mask, and you win a mask and you win a mask…”

Two girls graduating

Strange times brew

My husband Dave with beer

Sometimes, when the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket, you just have to remember, in beer we trust.

For the past three months, in the spirit of supporting local retailers, Dave has been stopping in at one of our local microbreweries on the way home from work and buying a healthy helping of hops.

We figured strange times calls for strange measures and the measures we choose are pints and quarts.

We started out with our local “go to” microbrewery, MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company. We love these boys and their delicious brews. What’s unique about MacKinnon Brothers is they grow everything on site on their farm in Bath. They recently expanded, building a big barn where there was once just a small tasting shack. They also throw one hell of a party every year—their Back to the Farm musical bash in August. Try their Crosscut Canadian Ale, or their Red Fox Ale (my personal favourite).

Next up was two Kingston breweries in the west end: Spearhead and Riverhead. Spearhead has a nice Hawaiian style pale ale and Sam Roberts Band Ale. A hoppy type of guy at the best of times, Dave was partial to Riverhead’s Tropical IPA, while I sailed towards their Kingston 1000 Islands Ale or Belgian Blond, being the hot blond that I am. Riverhead has fabulous music nights on Fridays and has been hosting virtual beer nights during COVID-19.

One of the newest craft breweries in Kingston, Daft Brewing in Princess Street is more than just a brewery. When COVID hit, they started producing hand sanitizer. We skipped on the sanitizer but brought home a New England IPA that tantalized my head beer taster’s taste buds. Their bottles have a funky flamingo on them.

Our latest foray was to the Westport Brewing Company in Westport. We took home three packs of Lakeside Lager, Beaver Pond Trail Brown Ale and Upper Rideau Blonde Ale in one litre cans. The owners told us they already have a COVID beer on tap. It’s called “It is what it is” and will be ready next week.

This week’s #HappyAct is to support your local microbrewery and enjoy. Cheers!

Ed. note: SCTV fans will get the play on words on this week’s post title: Strange Brew was a 1983 Canadian comedy featuring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas as Doug and Bob Mackenzie, brothers who work as spies in a brewery to help save the world. That’s your trivia for today. G’day, eh!

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