Stop and read the signs

Gillies Bridge, Carleton Place

If you look around, there are signs everywhere but sadly, not many people stop and read them.

I do, I always have. I’m not sure if it’s the historian in me, or just an innate curiousity–I figure if someone thought it was important enough to erect a sign in a certain place, then it’s worth reading. It’s a trait that drives my family crazy.

On Friday, I went for my usual pre-game walk in Carleton Place before Clare’s hockey game. I was familiar with Carleton Place because Clare had competed in regattas there many times, but the arena was in a different part of town.

I started walking on a section of the Trans Canada Trail and came across a bridge that spanned the Mississippi River. There were several interpretive signs on the bridge, so I stopped to read them. Directly across from me was another bridge named Gillies Bridge in honour of John Gillies who built it in 1884.

Interpretive sign

John Gillies was the name of my father. Not the same John Gillies who built the bridge, and no relation to my knowledge, but it immediately caught my interest.

According to the Lanark County tourism website, lumber was king in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century and John Gillies “was one of the industry’s crown princes”. He acquired the first sawmill in Carleton Place in 1866 and built the operation to employ 200-300 men to produce more than 20 million feet of board lumber a year. His mills eventually covered 300 square miles and spanned the greater part of six townships.

His Gillies Machine Works was his retirement project. After selling his mill operation, he built the Machine Works in 1875, manufacturing steam engines, water wheels, gearing, shafting and boat engines.

I thought this was ironic given Dave’s and mine luck with boat motors.

I stopped to admire the old abandoned millworks on the island, and then kept strolling, taking pictures of the old stone buildings since it was such a gorgeous sunny morning.  

It was interesting to read about this famous namesake, and in a strange way, made me feel closer to my Dad, who has been gone for more than 20 years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to stop and read the signs some time. You never know what you’ll discover.

Abandoned mill
Mill property
Old sprinkler on Mill

The rainbow connection

Double rainbow

What is it about rainbows that make us look up with wonder and smile?

Last week, I saw the most incredible double rainbow. It appeared one morning on my way to work and I stopped to take a picture of it. My boss did the same thing and when we walked into the office, there were a bunch of people milling around the glass doors, gazing out at the beautiful arched spectacle framing the sky.

It’s easy to understand why we’re so enamoured with rainbows.

Rare, beautiful, magical, their kaleidoscope of colours are a miracle of nature.

Pure, elusive, we recognize they are a gift from heaven and we gaze at them with childlike wonder.  

They teach us that when things are dark and gloomy, light and beauty may be a raindrop away.

They represent hope and wonder and remind us of the importance of stopping to take in the moment, because at any time, their elusive beauty may fade away.

Just like the words in the song, even though they are mere illusions, we are transformed into lovers and dreamers while we remain under their spell.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find your rainbow connection even if you don’t see a rainbow.

Beneath the canopy

Forest canopy

A trail beckons
Overgrown, almost indiscernible
Leading me away from my thoughts
Between fallen branches and stumps
To the secret waterfall

Silent and barren
Still
Forlorn
Waiting for spring’s rebirth

I gaze up to the canopy above
Soft green leaves
Cradle the sky
Enfolding me in their arms
Protecting me

I stop and listen
And am rewarded
The forest reveals itself
Chattering like two old ladies on a park bench

The jays’ jeers and caws
Echo through the leafy canopy
Overpowering the faint chirps and peeps
Of warblers and songbirds

The rustling leaves dance in the wind
A lone leaf spirals downward
Swaying back and forth
Down, down
Landing gently on the forest floor

I look down
The canopy above is reflected below
A sea of scattered yellow leaves
An early surrender
To fall’s call to arms

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time beneath the canopy.

Editor’s note: I wrote this poem in the woods near my house. I’ve always found the woods a very peaceful place and studies show spending time in nature can be directly correlated to a person’s happiness.

I wanted to comment on a recent trend, Forest Therapy Walks. The whole idea of calling a hike in the forest a “therapy walk” makes me cringe, but nomenclature aside, I’d advise against joining a group of people. Group walks are great if you want to learn about the native species or meet new people, but if you truly want to connect with nature, explore on your own.

Forest canopy looking up
Sunlight in a forest

Be the next contestant and C’MON DOWN!

The Price is Right studio audience

I’ve always had a secret fantasy of winning big on a game show.

Growing up, my favourite game shows were The Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right. I remember watching Bob Barker with his long sleek microphone, pearly white smile and slicked back hair. Barker hosted the show for 35 years, from 1972 to 2007 before Drew Carey took over as host.

There was always that moment of anticipation when the next member of the studio audience would have their name called and you’d hear Barker exclaim, “C’mon down, you are the next contestant on The Price is Right!”

Well, if you live close to Kingston, you can live out your game show fantasy next month by buying tickets to The Price is Right Live Stage Show at the Leon’s Centre on Tuesday, September 20.

Yes, you could be the next contestant to spin the Big Wheel, play Bullseye, Cliff Bangers or Bonkers and win big. The Leon’s Centre website says about 60 prizes are up for grabs with a retail value of $25,000 US.

In 2001, my girlfriend Mary Beth and I planned an epic, once in a lifetime trip to Los Angeles, an extension of a work conference. We had rented a convertible, booked tickets to see James Taylor at an outdoor amphitheatre and the Ellen Show and had talked about going to see The Price is Right. Then 911 hit and all our travel plans were quashed.

Back in those days, to get picked to be in the studio audience, you had to stand in a long line, wear crazy costumes and impress the show’s handlers who would scan the crowd for the best TV-worthy contestants. Now, you just have to fill out a form and declare you’re not an employee of CBS to get tickets for the TV show.

Of course, if you buy tickets for the Leon’s Centre stage sure, you’re a sure thing to be part of the studio audience.

But beware, before you get ready to drive away in your BRAND NEW CAR!!!, California contestants get a form to fill out to pay taxes on it (I’m not sure what the rules are here in Canada for the stage show.)

If you want to win big, you can still get tickets on the Leon’s Centre website. Tickets range from $49-$59.

But here’s the million dollar question (wait, that’s another show)—is it prices from a year ago or today’s crazy inflationary prices?

I guess I’ll have to start studying up. Good luck contestants!

Slow down, you move too fast

Song lyrics

For many of us, life is about to get really busy again after two years of discovering a slower pace of life. When things become crazy and out of control, remember to slow down and make the morning last.

You never know what you will see when you slow down. The other day, I was running late and hitting land speed records on my back roads over to Sydenham. I came up behind a farmer’s tractor and had to slow down and follow him around the curves. While I crawled behind the tractor, I looked to the left and saw a beautiful herd of deer in the field grazing on the green tufts shooting up through the last remains of snow. If I hadn’t slowed down to follow that tractor, I would have never seen such a beautiful sight. 

So remember,

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last…

I got no deeds to do
No promises to keep
I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep
Let the morning time drop all its petals on me
Life, I love you
All is groovy

Still one of my favourite Simon and Garfunkle songs of all time. Here they are performing The 59th Bridge Street Song live.

Top ten travel happy acts for 2022

Stormy beach in North Carolina
Carolina beach before the storm

Normally in December, I do a round-up of my favourite happy acts of the year. But as I’ve said more than once during COVID-19, it’s tough blogging about happiness during a pandemic. So this year, I’ve decided to choose my top ten list of travel-related posts to give us something to look forward to in 2022. Some of these are great staycation ideas, others involve finding adventures further afar.

  1. Explore the backroads and hamlets of Eastern Ontario in Take a Scenic Drive and Visit an Amazing Place.
  2. Experience the feeling of skating until your feet chafe in The world’s longest skating rink turns 50 celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
  3. Bridgerton fans: experience what life was like in Regency Europe by visiting English and Irish manors in Of manors and mansions when lords and duchesses attended balls, paid morning visits and strolled in stately gardens.
  4. On a glorious autumn day, there is no better experience in the world than picking grapes and helping with the harvest in Harvest the grape.
  5. In Walk through a sky with a thousand suns, we explored a sunflower farm in Prince Edward County.
  6. The Carolinas have always held a special place in our hearts, find out why in Carolina on my mind.
  7. On a wintry day, one of the best places to visit is an aquarium. Read about my girls’ weekend winter getaway to Ripley’s Aquarium in Discover an undersea world.
  8. There’s a reason why British Columbia has “Beautiful British Columbia” on its license plates. See why in Happy in beautiful BC.
  9. Hamilton, Ontario, a great tourist destination, really? Explore all it has to offer in Challenge a steadfast belief.
  10. Make a date to explore your local zoo or one of the smaller zoos in your region where you can get up close and personal with the animals in Have a Zootastic experience.

Where do you plan to visit next year? Leave a comment and here’s to a happier 2022 with many more travels and adventures ahead!

Daughter Grace in a garden in South Carolina
Grace at a manor house in North Carolina
Daughter Clare in a sunflower field in Prince Edward County, Ontario
Clare in the sunflower field in Prince Edward County

Let the season of giving begin with giveshop.ca

Kid's sleigh for sale
Want this sleigh for your holiday greenery display? You can buy it on giveshop.ca for $20 with proceeds to United Way

November 30 is Giving Tuesday, the day when charities, companies and individuals join together to give to their favourite charities after the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Luckily for those of us in Ontario, there’s a new website in town to make Giving Tuesday easy—giveshop.ca.

Giveshop was founded in Ottawa with a mission to help Canadians support their favourite charities and schools. It’s basically like Facebook marketplace. You put used items up for sale, or shop online, but all the funds go to charity.

Giveshop is still growing its community, so the majority of items listed are in the Ottawa area but there are charities listed in Kingston, Toronto and Vancouver. Some of the charities you can choose to direct funds to include Autism Speaks Canada, Make-a-Wish-Foundation of Canada, Muscular Dystrophy Canada, CHEO Foundation, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, and United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.

I listed two items for sale in support of my company’s United Way campaign, a bike and kid’s sleigh. It only took a few minutes to list my item, set a price and upload a picture. You can choose both the charity you want to support, and a specific campaign. Donors receive a charitable receipt for the purchase price.

As you start your holiday shopping, why not make it a goal to sell one used item cluttering up your house on Giveshop for every item you buy?

If you’d like to support our work campaign, choose United Way of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington for the charity and Empire Life Charitable Campaign for the campaign.

TIP: Giveshop just launched its desktop app. I’d recommend accessing it mainly from your phone. The mobile app is less buggy and very easy to use.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get in the spirit of the giving season and become part of the giveshop community. Happy giving!

Bike for sale
Buy me on giveshop.ca!

In quest of the best BBQ

BBQ meat on a platter

If you’re a fan of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, you’re familiar with the show’s formula of hitting the open road in quest of finding the best greasy spoons and BBQ joints in the southern U.S.

Finding finger-licking good BBQ in Canada is no easy task. In fact, in eastern Ontario, there’s only one contender. To discover the holy grill of BBQ, you need to travel to Muddy’s BBQ pit in Keene, Ontario.

Muddy’s BBQ pit opened up in July 2010, when owner Neil Lorenzen needed a home base for his budding BBQ catering business.

As Neil says, there’s no bad day for BBQ. On a hot summer’s day, you can have a pulled pork sandwich, dripping with flavour and a cold beer. On a cold rainy fall or spring day, you hunker inside, watch football, drink beer and chow down on beef brisket or fall off the bone ribs.

The first time we visited Muddy’s was three or four years ago when Clare was playing hockey regularly in the Peterborough area. It was a cooler November day and the girls were famished after a rowdy game with the local Keene team. We walked into Muddy’s and knew we found our new go-to food joint for weekend road trips.

Muddy's BBQ pit

Since it was a quiet day, they took us around back for a tour of the smokers. They had six to eight smokers going that day full of their signature brisket, pulled pork and ribs. They even smoke their potato salad. My mouth is drooling even thinking about the rich, smoky creamy potato concoction, which is to die for. They said they smoke about 600 lbs a meat a week and are booked every weekend in the summer with catering gigs.

Yes, you gotta love everything about Muddy’s. First, there’s the joint itself. From the road, it looks half barn, half converted garage with a patio and picnic tables out front, and high top wooden bar stools and counters for mowing down on the grub which is served without plates, in wrapped foil.

Then there’s the décor. You’ve got your regular road signs, sports memorabilia, and big screen TVs like you’d find in any sports bar, but just like the BBQ on the grill out back, they take it up a notch with Heinz ketchup punched tin lights hanging from the ceiling, cool stickers slapped on the exposed metal pipes, and signature pig signs.

Inside decor of Muddy's BBQ pit

But the BBQ, oh the BBQ. On your first visit, you have to try the carnivore sampler, a smorgasbord of their favourite signature dishes including ribs, pulled pork, brisket, sausages, and beans. The ribs are definitely my favourite. They are in a word, perfect. Smoky, flavourful, perfectly cooked so the meat does literally fall off the bone (people always say this but it’s never true except at Muddy’s). If you go, make sure you buy some of their signature rub to take home. It’s a staple in our cupboard now for salmon and steak.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a trip to Keene before Muddy’s closes on December 16 for the season. And if you live too far away, feel free to substitute your local BBQ joint. Just know it won’t be the same. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at Muddy’s BBQ pit. They’re closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Muddy's BBQ pit sign

Take pictures at a National Historic site at sunset

Sunset over Kingston from Fort Henry hill

This past year and half has been tough, but my heart especially has gone out to teenagers. At a time when they should be living carefree in the halcyon of their days, they’ve endured lockdowns, restrictions on the number of friends they could see, and unable to attend concerts, events and parties.

During lockdown, one of the favourite things Grace and her friends liked to do was go to a local Kingston restaurant, get take-out and eat it on the grass at the top of Fort Henry hill at sunset. A couple of weeks ago, I took Clare and two of her friends to Fort Henry to take pictures as the sun went down.

Fort Henry hill is a spectacular location. To the east of the majestic limestone walls of the fort, you see one of the six Martello towers perched on point jutting out into the blue waters of the St. Lawrence River. To the west, you get a magnificent view of downtown Kingston, with its stately church spires, City Hall and the historic buildings of Royal Military College in the foreground.

As I wandered the grounds around the fort, serenaded by the mystical sounds of Pumpkininferno gearing up for its opening night, I watched photographers set up their cameras to capture the sunset, students and couples sitting admiring the view, and Clare and her friends taking selfies and photos against the stunning backdrop.

Fort Henry walls
Martello tower in the St. Lawrence

The sky deepened blue, then a hint of orange starting appearing on the horizon. Wisps of clouds dotted the sky, scattering fractured light throughout the sky. As the sun set lower behind the buildings, the clouds cast swaths of brilliant orange across the entire sky and soon the sun was a single yellow orb surrounded by fire. It was so breathtaking. The crowds of people that were descending Fort Henry Hill all stopped to admire the spectacle.

Here were my photos of that special night.

Two teenagers taking photos
Clare on Fort Henry hill as the sun sets over Kingston

This week’s #HappyAct is to take pictures at sunset at a historic site in your city and be grateful that we can now start doing so many of the things that were denied us for so long.

Ed. Note: Pumpkininferno is running from now until October 31, 2021 at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg and at Fort Henry.

Martello tower and downtown Kingston at sunset
Orange sun and clouds

Leave the porch lights on

Musicians performing on the porch at Westporch

Wherever would we be this past year without our front and back porches? They’ve been a respite from the four walls closing in on us during lockdowns, and a safe haven for gathering and visiting during the pandemic.

So what better way to hail the newfound hero of our homes than with live music?

This weekend, my girlfriends and I spent the afternoon in lovely Westport, Ontario strolling the streets for the town’s inaugural Westporch event. Westport is a quaint cottage down, nestled between Big Rideau Lake and the Rideau Canal and Wolfe Lake. It’s also one of the prettiest drives in Eastern Ontario, especially during the fall.

Yesterday, the town was alive with music. There were nine or ten porches with different musical acts ranging from folk, classic rock, bluegrass, swing and jazz to the headliners, the East Coast Experience.

It was a beautiful day, with people perching on hay bales or sitting in the town’s Muskoka chairs listening to tunes under bonny blue skies. There was hot dogs and chili, popcorn and cotton candy, dogs everywhere and artist displays. As we strolled along Spring Street listening to a Bruce Springsteen cover, one of the local inn owners offered us some free beer or wine.

They had me at beer.

We ended the afternoon slapping our knees and tapping our toes to the seafaring tunes of the East Coast Experience before heading to Scheuermann’s Winery for a glass of wine overlooking the lake.

Thanks to all the organizers for putting on such a great event. We’ll be back. This week’s #HappyAct is to celebrate the porch—play some music, have a visit, or just sit a spell. Just make sure you leave the porch lights on.

The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
The original Rosie Yumski in Westport
Music on the porch in Westport
Friends in Westport harbour
Author and friend at winery
The end to a picture perfect day at Scheuermann’s Winery