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.

Make friends with fearsome creatures

rat snake in corner of hot tubLast weekend, I opened my hot tub lid to find this handsome fellow, a five-foot black rat snake luxuriating in the steam on the corner of the tub.

Later that morning, I was cleaning the chicken coop, and a garter snake wound its way from our barn to the back woods. After lunch, our resident water snake Sammy spent the afternoon with us curled up on the end of our dock. Clare and I avoided using the ladder so we wouldn’t disturb him and swam around him for the rest of the afternoon.

It was a three snake day.

Snakes are one of the most beautiful, misunderstood creatures on the planet. I remember years ago visiting a small zoo called Reptile World in Drumheller Alberta. The owner was from Australia. He loved snakes but was deathly afraid of cattle, which we found kind of funny since he was now living in Alberta.

It’s amazing how many people are afraid of snakes. In some cases, their fear stops them from doing the things they enjoy. And yet, nearly every species of snake in Ontario is completely harmless. We only have one poisonous variety, the Massassagua rattlesnake and it will only bite if threatened.

Most snakes are extremely timid, but will act aggressive if they are threatened. I’ve seen milk snakes in our garden raise their heads as if to strike when a dog is threatening them, but never strike. Some snakes will imitate rattlers by raising and rattling their tail, but it is almost always a defence mechanism and they don’t bite.

Snakes also are a sign of a healthy ecosystem. They eat rodents and can even help prevent lyme disease since small rodents can be carriers of the debilitating disease.

water snake on dock

Sammy our resident water snake

We are very fortunate to live in a region where there are many species of snakes but most are now endangered or threatened, such as the black rat snake.

This week’s #HappyAct is to not let foundless fears get in your way of enjoying the last vestiges of summer. Make friends with fearsome creatures.

 

 

The most important decision you’ll ever make

Picture of girls in newspaper

Grace and Clare on the front page of The Frontenac News

Last weekend, both girls competed in a regatta in Carleton Place. It was a long, 14-hour day, but they both did amazingly well for their first regatta and were featured on the front page of our local paper this week, showcasing their fourth place medals for the K4 500 metre race.

For years, Dave and I tried to minimize the amount of scheduled activities our kids were involved in to keep life sane, but we always knew there would be a time in our lives when our weekends and evenings would be spent chauffeuring our kids to various tournaments, races and activities.

With 4H, kayaking, hockey, and baseball we are finally there.

Life is busy and good, but it does mean we have to sacrifice our own interests for the kids, and I’ll admit, some days I resent not having any time to myself.

I was complaining this to a friend the other day, and asked her how she dealt with raising two children. She said she had felt exactly the same way, and asked the same question years ago to a friend of hers who had four teenagers. Her friend’s answer was “I just decided that this would be the best time of my life.”

In a few years, Grace will be off to university. Clare will be in her final years of high school. The day is nearing when it will just be Dave and I staring at each other over the dining room table.

So I have decided these are going to be the best years of my life. I will embrace every practice and local fair, cheer at the top of my lungs at every baseball and hockey game, and occasionally steal time for myself to keep me sane.

For I know I will never get this time back with my children. I will never be able to rewind time. I resolve to make these the best years of my life.

Gentleman, start your engines

fire crew at demolition derby on stand bySometimes you have to kick the dust up and get a bit of mud on your tires.

Last weekend, Clare and I went to the Odessa Fair to watch the demolition derby.

North Americans have long held a fascination with demolition derbies. Derbies started back in the late 1940’s or early 1950s at local county fairs, probably an extension of the American love of the automobile. Car drivers ram into each other until only one car remains running.

For most local fairs, they are still one of the main attractions. The Odessa Derby started off with an audience participation vote of the car with the best paint job. We liked the one with the teeth marks on the side (I think it won), then it was time for the first heat of minis.

Each heat always starts the same way. Five or six cars enter the ring. The master of ceremonies announces a “gentleman’s bump then it’s full on carnage.

Cars at demolition derby

Drivers have to modify their vehicles for safety. All glass and flammable material need to be removed from the car. The gas tank is removed and replaced with a small two-to-three gallon tank, located behind the driver’s seat and the battery has to be relocated to the floor of the passenger side. Drivers use sheet metal, small oil drums, or beer kegs to protect their fuel tanks. No head on collisions or driver door hits are allowed.

We watched heat after heat of bumper busting, engine roaring, mud flying fun. At one point, the mud was flung so far, it landed on our shirts.

 

People watching at the derby is almost as much fun as the derby itself. The locals who knew the fairground backed their trucks up between the grandstands. One guy even had a home-rigged viewing platform with awning on the back of his truck.

In two words, it’s pure fun.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a seat in the grandstand for the demolition derby in your hometown. Here are three derbies coming up in our area this summer:

 

Strawberry fields forever

strawberry fieldsLast Monday, we piled into the car and headed to one of our favourite local strawberry farms, Paulridge Berry Farm just north of Napanee.

It’s a rite of passage each spring, picking berries. Strawberries are the first berry to ripen in the spring. I think for Canadians, it’s reaffirming. We take to the fields, celebrating the passage of winter and heralding the advent of the harvest season, grateful that another season of crops are bearing fruit.

When Dave and I were dating, we’d pick berries at Andrews Scenic Acres, north of Milton (I see it now also has a winery—time for a return trip!) My favourite part of their operation was the frozen yogurt machine at the entrance—you could have fresh frozen yogurt on the spot with fruit picked from the fields. In the fall, they’d have corn roasts and we’d have fresh apple pie in front of the fireplace in the barn. Many of my most well-thumbed recipes in my recipe box to this day are from Andrews Scenic Acres.

family sitting on a wagon

My other favourite part of berry picking is the wagon ride. In an age of trains, planes and automobiles, it’s nostalgic to lumber across open fields on a wagon, baskets in hand, to the perfect patch.

Of course, nothing beats the ultimate reward: eating the sweet, succulent fruit. There is nothing sweeter than a freshly picked strawberry.

This week’s #HappyAct is to visit your local berry farm.

Be sure to check in advance on their operating hours and to see what’s in season. This may be the last weekend for strawberries, but it won’t be long before raspberries and blueberries will be ripe, including the wild raspberries on my property.

Here is a great recipe for homemade strawberry shortcake. Enjoy!

Yummy Strawberry shortcake

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup softened butter
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp baking power
1 tsp grated lemon peel
3/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450. Grease a cookie sheet. In medium bowl with a mixer, blend all ingredients. Drop dough in 8 equal mounds on the cookie sheet and cook for 10 minutes or until golden.

strawberry shortcake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl with strawberry basket

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

family in strawberry field

Enjoy the finer things in life

bottle of wine and wilton cheeseI’ve come to terms with certain truths in my life. I know I will never be rich. I’ll never own a Coach purse, have a designer kitchen, or set foot in a Ferrari or Porsche, let alone own one.

But when it comes to certain necessities, I am unwavering in my devotion to the finer things of life. Good bread, wine and cheese are three staples I won’t skimp on.

Here is a list of my favourite finer things:

  • Best bread: Pan Chancho bakery in Kingston. I had two colleagues from TD Bank in Toronto who insisted on coming to Kingston every year for meetings just so they could stock up on loaves of bread to take home on the train. Their olive bread is addictive.
  • Best ice cream: Kawartha Dairy wins by two scoops every time. I discovered Kawartha Dairy thirty years ago on weekend trips to Minden, the Kawarthas and Bancroft to friends’ cottages. Luckily you can get their rich and creamy ice cream everywhere now, even Costco.
  • Best cheese: Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Wilton Cheese Factory in Wilton is the best little cheese factory in eastern Ontario. Sure, there may be good fancy artisanal cheese places out there, but you won’t find better cheese at a reasonable price. People drive for miles for their cheese curds.
  • Best honey: This one has to bee my bestie Elaine Peterson’s Bee Happy Honey. You can buy Elaine’s honey at the Memorial Centre Farmer’s Market in Kingston on Sundays and other local markets
  • Best butter tarts: Mrs. Garrett’s of Garrett’s Meat Shop in Inverary—gooey, rich, huge and delicious! Don’t forget to pick up a pumpkin pie for a second dessert while you’re there.
  • Best coffee: Cooke’s Find Foods coffee. Get it in Kingston and Picton–guaranteed to perk you up.
  • Best wine: So many wines, so little time. Since I’m no connoisseur, and still have to buy wine on a budget, I won’t even attempt to try to list my favourites, but the amazing array of Ontario wines from the County and Niagara will keep us all happy for a very long time. I will give a shout out to my newest local winery, Scheuermann Winery in Westport. Leslie and I visited it last fall and enjoyed a bottle of their Romatique. Worth the drive to Westport.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy the finer things in life. What’s one of your favourite finer things? Leave a comment.

Have a Zootastic experience

author at zoo entranceOn road trips, no matter how long the drive, we try to break up the trip by stopping somewhere interesting for a couple of hours. Recently, on our way home from South Carolina, we stopped at Zootastic Park near Lake Norman, north of Charlotte, North Carolina.

We love small zoos. You can get up close to the animals, the exhibits are closer together and you actually get to meet and talk to the zoo staff who are usually friendly and knowledgeable.

As soon as we arrived at Zootastic Park, we knew we had found a gem. As I was walking to the bathroom, one of the zoo staff passed me with a baby wolf in his arms. Next door, there was a birthday party in full swing with lemurs leaping around the room.

Parrots and peacocks greeted you at the entrance, and you could buy carrots and grains to feed the animals. Dave and I have been up close to giraffes in Africa, but we have never fed one before.

In the big cats area, I made a new enemy. Their lynx did not like me…one bit. Every time I talked to him he would growl and look at me menacingly with his luminous yellow eyes. It was very eerie. I’ve never seen an animal react like that at a zoo before, probably because you don’t get the opportunity to get so close to them.

Girl with parrot

The owner was an interesting guy. He had been in the animal trade for more than 30 years, worked on Wild Kingdom (google it kids), lived in South Africa, and was now making a go of this little zoo in North Carolina.

They even had an old fashioned carousel for the little ones. The owner told us he traded it for a camel, straight up.

Here are some of our favourite “little” zoos to visit this summer:

  • Jungle Cat World, in Orono, east of Toronto
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg (50% admission for Moms on Mother’s Day!)
  • Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington—free 364 days of the year
  • Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, 45 minutes outside of Halifax where you can say hi to Shubenacadie Sam, their resident groundhog. We’ve visited Wiarton Willie in Wiarton too–the only North American groundhog we haven’t paid a visit to yet is Punxsutawney Phil.

I haven’t been there, but my friend Mary Beth tells me the zoo in Syracuse is good too. I was sad to find out one of our favourites, Reptile World in Drumheller, Alberta closed. The owner there loved snakes but was terrified of cattle, which we found hilarious considering he lived in Alberta.

Girl feeding giraffe

Many zoos offer summer camp programs for kids—what an awesome summer experience.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a zootastic experience with the whole family. Go ape for the apes, wild for the big cats and batty for the bats.

Girls on a carousel