Life hacks from a 90-year old

My 90-year old father-in-law and his two daughters
Dave’s sisters, Liz, Mary Anne and their Dad

This weekend, we attended a very special celebration, the 90th birthday of my father-in-law, John Swinton.
 
I’ve blogged about John before. He is quite the character and comes with many self-anointed titles. Master Storyteller. Grand Champion of Cards. Number One Habs Fan. I’ve been blessed to spend a lot of time with John this past year, and have been the recipient of his many wisdoms (as he would tell you). Here are words to live by, courtesy of the big guy:
 
 On gender identity and gender neutral names
“You can call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner.”
 
On entertaining a crowd
“Always tell your best joke first and get them laughing, then they’ll be putty in your hands all night.”
 
On women
“If the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy” (from one of his favourite characters, Red Green.)
 
On his hometown
“I was born in Harriston because I wanted to be close to my mother.”
 
On marriage
“Marriage is a life sentence. If I had killed your mother by now, I’d be out on parole.”
 
And if you’re slow getting the teapot on the table after dinner,
“After 35 years, you’d think a man could get a cup of tea!”
 
All kidding aside, we love you John and hope you enjoy many more celebrations to come.

On life
God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

90 birthday cake
Old photos
90 years of memories and accomplishments

Believe in the illusion

Daughter Grace with a drink

Last weekend, Clare had a hockey tournament in Barrie. It was supposed to be a fun-filled family weekend of shopping, eating out, spending time with her team and celebrating Grace’s birthday since my baby turned 19 last week.

It was probably one of our worst family weekends ever.

Clare woke up the Friday morning with a stuffy nose, claiming it was allergies. After 5-6 hours of driving, it had developed into a full-fledged head cold. She was miserable. Grace was upset because her big birthday weekend was ruined and we spent the next 24 hours in the car or hotel room yelling at each other or sulking before turning around and driving home the next day.

There was one shining moment during that wash of a weekend. After buying drive-through Wendy’s for Clare to eat in the hotel room by herself, Dave and I did take Grace out for a nice birthday dinner at Milestones. We bought her first drink: a bellini.

If you saw any of my posts on Facebook last weekend, you’d never know our weekend was such a bust. You’d see a funny video of the kids acting silly during the car ride, a picture of Grace smiling at the restaurant with her bellini, and the pathetic Santa display in the lobby of our crappy hotel that made us laugh.

That’s the beauty of Facebook, social media and our memories. Ten years from now, we may look back on those posts and only remember those happy moments, not the tears, fighting and miserable parts of the weekend.

Not a bad thing, really.

This week’s #HappyAct is to believe in the illusion. Tis the season of believing, after all, and who knows, someday, at least in our minds and memories, it may become the truth.

What do you do if you’re not sure what makes you happy anymore?

Sign what makes you happy

My horoscope yesterday said, “Do what makes you happy”. The problem is, I’m not sure what that is anymore.

Call it the pandemic blues, call it middle age (okay, I’m being kind to myself here), but I’ve found myself pondering this question the past 24 hours.

What used to make me happy was simple. My family, my beautiful lake and property, visiting with friends and neighbours, little things like the refrains of the piano drifting through the air while I sit on the back deck with a glass of wine.

These things still make me happy, but I’ll admit, it’s more subdued now.

I wish I was one of these people who found a new passion and purpose during COVID. I haven’t. I’ve fallen into the cohort known as “languishers” the term coined by the New York Times to describe those of us feeling joyless and aimless, and “slipping slowly into solitude.”

With things opening up, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to reach out and connect with people, but I’m not. I was talking to a friend at work the other day who felt the same way. It’s not that we have social anxiety, it’s not that we don’t miss people and would love to see them again, we just don’t have the energy.  

They say one antidote to languishing is to immerse yourself in a project. But that takes energy too.

So dear readers, this week my #HappyAct is to ask you for advice. How do you figure out what makes you happy again? Please, leave a comment.

Coming to grips with the five most terrifying words you will ever ask yourself

Author with her daughters on the beach

One of the best Quora posts I ever read was someone who posed the question, “Is this all there is?” The author bared his soul, sharing his story about how he struggled with this question and how the implications of his answer compelled him to make monumental changes in his life.

For many of us, our lives are never ending hamster wheels. Get up. Work. Make dinner. Squeeze in an hour of exercise. Watch TV for an hour. Do it all over again. At some point, we will inevitably ask ourselves, is this all there is?

I know my answer.  While there are days when life’s routine wears me down, I have lived a good life.

I have watched the migration of the wildebeast and zebras in the setting sun of the Serengeti.

I have strolled along the banks of the Seine, the Thames and the Hudson.

I have explored the stopes of a gold mine thousands of feet underground, and hiked to the peaks of majestic mountains.

I have swam with dolphins, raced through forests on dog sleds, and snorkeled with schools of exotic fish in clear sparkling waters.

I have hiked glaciers on mountainsides and ziplined through the canopy of the rainforest.

I have known the love and respect of a wonderful man who has been my soul mate and partner for more than 30 years.

I have experienced the joy of watching my children grow, from taking their first uncertain steps, to watching their chubby little legs race down our hill to the lake on a warm summer’s day, to blossoming into the beautiful, strong, independent young women they’ve become today.

I have cherished friends who know me better than I know myself.

And I have enjoyed the peace and tranquility of living for almost two decades on my beautiful spring-fed lake and all the joys it brings each season.

I hope life brings more adventures, but if this is all there is, I’m OK with that. I choose to find joy each day in my small, simple life, and be grateful for the life I have lived.

This week’s #HappyAct is dedicated to the memory of my sister-in-law, Karen Gillies who passed away this week and who was taken from us far too young. An amazing wife, mother and friend, she embodied kindness and grace. Karen told us that she had come to accept her fate. I derive some comfort in knowing that Karen would have answered the question, is this all there is, the same way.

 Author at the top of Whistler mountain

Home sweet home

blue jays at bird feeder
We cut our pumpkins in half this year and have used them as makeshift bird feeders. The birds and squirrels love it!

Dorothy said it best, there’s no place like home. For the past two months we’ve been away almost every weekend to Peterborough for hockey. While I love watching Clare play, it means we haven’t been home much.

This weekend is the first weekend I’ve spent the whole weekend at home. I forgot how much I enjoy being at home.

First, there’s the joy of sleeping in. Being able to get up when your body is finished resting, and not having to rocket out of bed, and get the kids on the bus and rush off to work is one of the best parts of any weekend.

I can sit (hallelujah!) and read the papers and enjoy my coffee and look out my sunroom window at the squirrels and blue jays at the feeders.

We go for long walks in the daylight, a real treat at this time of year. Late in the day, as the sun fades, we start a fire, and sit with a glass of wine before making supper. We may even go for a long winter’s nap.

I remember one time when Clare interviewed Dave’s mother for a school project, she asked Donna, “What’s the one biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime?” Donna responded, “People don’t sit anymore; they are always rushing to do something.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy time at home. As your body goes into hibernation mode this winter, don’t fight it, embrace it.

What’s it to ya?

Sign that says the right way to hang toilet paper is over the roll

A friend of mine shared a story at work the other day about a family gathering she was at. Her nephew was getting ready to go outside and had his left boot on his right foot and his right boot on his left foot. His grandfather pointed it out, suggesting the kid may want to change. The kid replied, “What’s it to ya?”.

The grandfather thought about it for a moment, realized he didn’t care, and said, “Nothing. Fill your boots.”

We all laughed, and started talking about things that drive you crazy if they’re not done “the proper way”.

For instance, we agreed the proper way to hang toilet paper is with the paper on the outside, not the inside, and yet some misguided people still hang it the wrong way!

Somebody else said they hate it when people cut toast because toast shouldn’t be cut. Who knew there was toast etiquette?

When you load the dishwasher, do you put the cutlery in facing up or down?

I remember when I was a teenager making grilled cheese with a friend. She told me I was doing it wrong (in my family, we always made cheesie melts in the oven instead of toasting them in a frying pan).

My best friend Leslie still tries to convince me to this day to make bacon in the broiler instead of on the stovetop because she says it’s easier to clean up and tastes better.

This week’s #HappyAct is to remember one phrase the next time someone tries to get you to change something that, in the end, doesn’t affect them one iota. What’s it to ya?

 

Live a right life

Saying live a right life

This week’s #HappyAct is courtesy of a colleague who posted this saying on his Instagram account, “Do everything with a good heart and expect nothing in return and you will never be disappointed.”

He said he has made many mistakes in his life (haven’t we all), learned many lessons and changed behaviours. His mantra from now on was going to be “live a right life”.

His words really spoke to me. I’m not sure how many people do things nowadays with a pure heart, expecting nothing in return.

Live a right life is going to be my mantra from now on too. Thanks for the inspiration, Paul.

What do you do when you don’t like someone you love?

Hilary Clinton quote: You don't walk away from someone you love

This week’s post isn’t really a post. It’s a question, and I’m hoping all of you reading this will leave a comment to share your insights on this question.

Many of us may have someone in our lives who we love, but we don’t like all the time or approve of their behaviour. What do you do in these cases?

A few weeks ago, I read a Dear Amy column. It was called, “Mother seeks cure for daughter’s affluenza”. It was about a mother who found her daughter’s lack of reciprocity, insensitivity and self-centred attitude appalling.

Amy quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.”

I’m not sure I agree with Emerson’s statement that our purpose in life is not to be happy, but I think there’s some truth in his belief that if you do the things he says should be our purpose, you will have a better chance of being happy.

Amy had some great advice for her reader. She said always make sure the person knows that you love them, even if you don’t like them right now or their behaviour. Loving without expectation, and through disappointment will liberate you from your harsh judgement and should lead to acceptance.

I’ll add one insight. Try to find common ground. In the world of behavioural psychology, there’s even a term for it, “pairing”. Focus on their strengths and what you do like about them.

And finally, never ever give up on them.

So dear readers, it’s your turn. What do you do when you don’t like someone you love?

Have a mother daughter paint nite

Painting of me

Last week, Clare’s school organized a paint nite, hosted by Salmon River studios in Tamworth.

Our project was to paint a portrait of each other. Our instructor Gabriel had us sit across from our partner, then showed us the technique of drawing the person first, then using a pastel outline, finished by light watercolours to complete our portrait.

Since most people who aren’t artists feel inhibited by portraits, Gabriel had us do a short three-minute warm-up activity. We had to stare at our partner and do a pencil drawing of the person without looking at our paper. The results were pretty funny, but I actually liked my blind pencil sketch of Clare better than my portrait of her.

It was inspiring to see the creativity in the room and the final portraits after the hour was over. Some of the kids used bold colours, painting their parents like cartoon characters or caricatures. One Dad painted his daughter as an amazing fairy-like Jedi. There were some incredible likenesses, and all were very special.

One tip Gabriel shared: when drawing portraits, there’s a tendency to make people’s eyes too close together. The distance between the eyes should be the same as the width of the eye itself.

I spoke to Gabriel afterwards, and he said while some instructors follow a very prescribed approach, he prefers to provide just a few simple instructions, then give people’s creativity full reign.

I especially loved that Clare painted me more beautiful than I actually am.

This week’s #HappyAct is to have a paint nite. I should add that while this is a perfect parent/child activity (perfect for Mother’s Day!), this would be a great activity for any teambuilding event, birthday party, or girls fun night.

More about Salmon River Studios: Located in Tamworth, the studio runs summer arts camps for kids, Sunday afternoon pottery workshops for all ages, school programs and more. Check out their website and sign up for a course today.

Drawing of girl
My pencil sketch of Clare

Group paint nite photo

 

Ten inventions that would make the world a happier place

Jetsons comic of the family of the future

The other day I read about a new invention: a tiny implant for your brain that injects medicine. Modern technology has led to advances in communications, medicine, and business. And yet, there are still so many basic necessities of life we still struggle with.

Here are ten yet-to-be inventions I’d like to see in 2018:

  1. A dryer that automatically sorts your socks
  2. A zip-up bathing suit top so you don’t have to wriggle out of your wet clingly suit like Houdini trying to escape from a straightjacket
  3. A teapot that doesn’t spill when you pour it
  4. A massage jacket that gives you a soothing massage when you wear it
  5. A device that could magically remove moles so no one would ever have to worry about skin cancer again…while you’re at it, a cure for cancer, Alzheimers and diabetes please
  6. A jet pack like the Jetsons so you never have to be stuck in traffic or drive your kids anywhere ever again
  7. A blender that doesn’t spout hot liquid like lava from a volcano
  8. A toilet paper roll that automatically refills itself
  9. A duvet cover that has zippers or buttons at both ends so when your husband tosses and turns and all the duvet winds up on your side of the bed and he blames you, it’s easy to fix
  10. A robot that will go around the house and pick up all the mitts, scarves, hats, markers, dishes and clothes that your kids have just left even though you tidied the house twenty minutes ago

Maybe for Mother’s Day, I’ll get my robot. In the meantime, if some smart inventor out there can work on numbers one to nine, that would make me happy.