Find your true north

Ottawa River

One of the many things that makes this country great is the natural beauty of our landscapes, rich resources and biodiversity.

This summer, why not explore all Canada has to offer by visiting a Nature Conservancy of Canada property?

The NCC was founded in 1960 by naturalists who decided to take action to protect natural spaces and promote conservation. Today they have thousands of acres of natural properties across Canada and offer volunteer opportunities for Canadians to help in conservation efforts. They recently launched a new website naturedestinations.ca and are inviting Canadians to explore their properties.

There is probably a Nature Conservancy of Canada property near you and you don’t even know it. I just learned about three properties close to me: Whitefish Lake nature reserve, a 120 acre property along the shores of Whitefish Lake here in South Frontenac, Brighton Wetland, one of the last undeveloped shorelines on Presqu’ile Bay, and a property with the longest underwater cave system in Canada under the Ottawa River.

Some other land parcels worth exploring are the Green Mountains Nature reserve in Quebec’s Eastern townships, Cockburn Island in Lake Huron and the Eastern Georgian Bay Coast Natural Area.

Want to learn more about the work of the NCC? On August 23rd the NCC is looking for volunteers to restore habitat in one of their Warkworth properties in the Rice Lake plains.

You can also sign up for their blog.

Today’s #HappyAct in honour of Canada Day is to explore all this great land has to offer this year. Happy Canada Day!

Ed. note: If you are in Eastern Ontario, another great property to check out is the Depot Creek Conservation Area at 6329 First Lake Road. This 71-acre property was purchased from artist Kim Ondaatje who still lives next door in Blue Roof Farm.

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The cottage life

I can’t imagine anything more Canadian than heading to the cottage for the long weekend.

Life is definitely sweeter at the cottage. It’s as if the kaleidoscope of life’s daily challenges stops turning the moment you turn off the paved highway onto the cottage laneway.

You roll down the window to drink in the fresh pine air, and slow down to a normal pace (and to avoid the potholes and washboard).

The moment you step out of the car, you leave the city and its troubles behind you. All that matters is whether you have enough wine, ice cream and bug spray for the weekend, whether it’s going to rain, and who the best Rummoli or Boggle player is.

I live on a lake but the lure of the cottage has never left me. I’ve been blessed over the years to have wonderful friends who have kindly shared their cottages with my family. They are always my most favourite weekends of the year.

Time stands still at the cottage. No one cares if you sleep in til 10, eat lunch at 2, nap at 3 and declare cocktail hour at 4. There is time to actually read…books of all things.

There’s more time outdoors, kayaking, swimming, boating, and playing horseshoes. And then there’s eat and drink (and lots of it).

But the thing I love the most about cottage weekends is the precious time spent with family and friends and the warmth and camaraderie of these gatherings that have created so many wonderful memories over the years.

This week’s #HappyAct is to experience the cottage life this summer. Here are some pictures from last weekend and our annual girls’ spring get-together at my best friend’s cottage north of Minden. It was the first time we invited Grace and Clare, “the next generation” to join us for a girls weekend.

Young girl on dock

Girls and dog at cottage

Girl in boatLake at sunset

Shut up and fish

Author with fish

I remember driving home years ago listening to the CBC, when this song came on the radio. It was about a guy whose wife gave him an ultimatum, saying if he went fishing that day, she’d pack up her bags and leave him. That was the first time I heard Brad Paisley’s The Fishing Song. The lyrics go something like this.

“Well, I’m gonna miss her,
When I get home.
But right now I’m on this lake shore,
And I’m sittin’ in the sun
I’m sure it’ll hit me
When I walk through that door tonight
That I’m gonna miss her
Well lookee there, I gotta bite…”

I mean really. Can you blame the guy? I would have went fishing too.

We went fishing tonight to cap off Father’s Day. Dave always said his favourite time to fish was Sunday nights, when the lake was quiet and he knew the cottagers were stuck in traffic on their commute back to the city.

It was a beautiful evening—still blissfully warm with blue skies and feathery clouds. A deer meandered down to the shore to drink in the cool lake water on our neighbour’s property as we cast in the weed beds. Owls serenaded us with their nightly calls in the distance.

Deer at lake

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many things I love about fishing is it is a time to be still and quiet. It’s great to talk and spend family time together, but sometimes it’s even better to just shut up and fish.

Clare and I each caught a rock bass; Dave had better luck the night before. Murphy sat on the dock and howled. It was a good night.

girl with fish

This week’s #HappyAct is to shut up and fish. Here is a video clips of Maddie and Tae’s Shut Up and Fish to get you in the mood.

Stop and smell the lilacs

Lilacs in front of author's house

Washington is known for its magnificent cherry trees. Ottawa is known for its tulips. In my region, the unofficial flower is the lilac, and there’s no better time to come visit the area north of Kingston than now, when the roads and trails are infused with the intoxicating smell of our lavender treasure.

When I moved to this region more than 20 years ago and experienced my first spring, I was delighted and entranced to see the fields burst into soft purples and whites as the lilac bushes bloomed to life. Hundreds of years ago, wise farmers planted lilacs as wind breaks beside the roads and in fields. Today, if you choose your routes wisely, you drive down country lanes where the lilac bushes stretch in hedgerows for kilometres. It’s breathtaking.

I don’t remember ever seeing so many posts on Facebook and social media as this year of lilacs. I follow Jeff Scott who shares post from his blog, The Countryside View on Facebook. Scott and I need to get together because he blogged about this same topic last week, calling on Kingston and the Township of South Frontenac to explore how we could capitalize on the beauty of the lilacs in this region for tourism (you can read his blog post here.)

Several communities have lilac festivals—I’ve been to two in this area. Warkworth, a charming upcoming arts village near Peterborough hosts one every May. They created a Millennium Lilac Trail, (which is still maturing), and hold all kinds of events, including concerts, street sales and gardening forums to celebrate the lavender flower.

The Franktown Lilac Festival is a one-day event on the last Saturday in May, featuring wagon rides and walks through a field full of lilacs, a pancake breakfast, craft sales and more. Both festivals are a fun day for all ages.

Let’s hope one day soon, we’ll have a lilac festival in our region. The only thing that would make it even better, would be to combine it with a butter tart festival, featuring Mrs. Garrett’s butter tarts!

This week’s #HappyAct is to go for a drive north of the 401, find a country road, and roll down your windows to breathe in the beautiful aroma of lilacs.

lilac trees

white lilacs

 

 

 

 

Let’s hear it for the cheap seats

Face off at centre ice

Yesterday, we watched two great hockey games. And it didn’t cost us a dime.

We cheered on the Queen’s University women’s hockey team to an 8-1 victory over Windsor at the Memorial Centre. There were only about 100 people in the stands.

Then we watched one of Grace’s friends, who plays competitive hockey take on Ajax. It was amazing to me even at that age (14), at that level, what great hockey it was. Kingston came out on top 2-1.

Entertainment costs today have spiralled out of control. According to Forbes magazine, the average ticket price for a Toronto Maple Leafs ticket is now $368.60, the highest in the league.

Last year, the Toronto Blue Jays announced they’d be hiking ticket prices for the 2018 season. 200 level seats within the bases will cost over $50 a ticket.

My brother recently attended the Canada vs. Finland World Junior Hockey game in Buffalo. They paid $120 a ticket and the stands were half empty.

empty hockey stadium

Every week I see Facebook posts of people who have taken their kids to $100 concerts.

It’s almost become cost prohibitive for a family of four to go to any of these events.

In every community, there are local sporting events and concerts for free or that are relatively cheap. You can also get much closer to the action.

Yesterday, I sat right behind the penalty box and Queen’s bench for a period of the game. It’s cool to see the interaction of the officials, coaches and players—you could hear all the conversations and see the coaching staff in action.

And unlike at a Blue Jays or Maple Leafs game where you’d pay $12 a beer and $8 a hot dog, we spent $4 for four bags of popcorn.

So let’s hear it for the cheap seats. If you like hockey, here are some cheap events coming up in our region:

  • The Carr-Harris Cup at the KRock Centre on February 1st—watch Queen’s take on RMC for just $12 a ticket
  • The Queen’s Women’s hockey team is taking on the Western Mustangs today (Sunday, January 21) at the Memorial Centre at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 each and a bag of popcorn is only a buck. You can check out all the Queen’s sports games at gogaelsgo.com. I’ve taken the kids to their basketball double header nights (women and mens) and it’s a great night of entertainment.

Queen's hockey bench

Play hookey from work

Friends at the Kingston sign

It was our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For 10 years, my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson and I had talked about going for a patio lunch and not going back to work. We finally did it on Friday.

Now before you HR types get all bent out of shape, we did this with the full knowledge and approval of our bosses, and booked it as vacation time. Whatever points we lost on the spontaneity factor were more than made up for the excitement of looking forward to our afternoon of hookey.

Our first stop was Confederation Basin to put the “I” in Kingston. Earlier this summer, Kingston erected a new sign where tourists can take their picture. There may be no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston.

Then we headed up Brock Street to Atomica for a leisurely patio lunch. If you’re not familiar with the Black Dog Hospitality Group of restaurants in Kingston, which includes Dianne’s Fish Bar, Le Chien Noir, Harper’s Burgers and Atomica, they are a favourite of the locals.

We split a yummy caeser salad; Elaine had one of their signature pastas, and I had their Retro pizza. The best part about not being “on the clock” is you can relax and just take in your surroundings (a couple of drinks each helped too.)

For instance, as I was sitting on the patio, I noticed a statue of a beaver on top of the building across the street. I’ve probably walked past that building a gazillion times and never noticed that beaver before. We also watched a young couple next to us get googlyeyed and the guy at the end of the patio shovel his food in with his fork like it was a backhoe.

beaver statue

Two hours and two drinks later, we decided to wander down to Ahoy Rentals to go canayaking (a new term I made up after a couple of beers). We got sidetracked at Battery Park by the breakwater. I was telling Elaine how as a kid I would jump from rock to rock on the breakwater in Port Credit where I grew up, but how they put a fence up so people couldn’t go out on the rocks anymore.

In Kingston, there’s just a sign warning people to proceed at their own risk, so we proceeded. At the end near the lighthouse, we could see Elaine’s office. We texted her co-workers to look out the window to see us waving, but they were too busy working (hah!) We talked to a retired RMC professor who kayaked past us and waved to the boaters.

Woman at lighthouse

Since it was already four o’clock and we were thirsty again, we decided to pass on the kanayaking and headed up Princess Street to Barcadia, a bar with old arcade games. Elaine had brought some rolls of quarters, so we raced sports cars through the streets of Paris and Moscow, played baseball (I was the home run queen and beat her in the bottom of the eighth), Pacman and pinball.

It was too nice a day to stay inside, so we checked out some of the stores on Princess Street, then topped the afternoon off with a “It was just a dream” fro yo at Parfait.

While it was well after dark when I got home, in the old days, we probably would have gone into the wee hours of the night. Still, it was an awesome afternoon playing hookey, and on the plus side, we were both able to enjoy a beautiful weekend. This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an afternoon playing hookey–just don’t get caught!

Recognize and relish the moments when you are at one with the world

famous quote about remembering momentsWe do not remember days. We remember moments.
-Cesare Pavese, Italian poet and novelist

Life is a series of moments. Of all the millions of moments we experience, there are rare sublime moments when you feel pure contentment and at peace with the world.

Two Sundays ago, I had three of these moments.

The first was early in the morning. I was walking through our sunroom to take a load of laundry to our laundry room. Grace was playing this beautiful piece on the piano called Nuvole Bianche. As the gorgeous notes from the piano danced through the air like a debutante floating across a ballroom, I looked out the window to see Bella sleeping peacefully under the almond bush. I stopped with the laundry basket still in my arms and just listened and watched. It was so peaceful and I was overcome with an immense sense of gratitude to have so many blessings in my life.

The second moment happened when I was paddling into our back lake, which by itself is a very special place since there are no cottages on it. As I paddled through the channel, I saw a lone snow goose at the end of the lake gliding peacefully across the sparkling waters. She was magnificent, and I just sat and watched for a long time before we both went our separate ways.

The third moment was after my paddle. I was swimming back towards the dock. Clare was sitting on the dock with her arms extended behind her body, her bronzed face turned upwards towards the sun and sun-kissed hair shining in the sun. Once again, a feeling of overwhelming pride and joy washed over me.

This week’s #HappyAct is to recognize and relish the moments when you feel at one with the world–for they are all too rare and fleeting.