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

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! ❤

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.

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.

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.