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.

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate

sign that says you can't buy happiness but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thingI’ve discovered a new favourite haunt in Kingston, Cacao 70 on King Street. This popular chocolateatery franchise has several locations in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and opened a restaurant in Kingston last summer.

Cacao bills itself as a unique place to drop by after a hectic day at work or school and relax and share a moment with friends. In addition to its heavenly decadent chocolate menu, it serves sandwiches, salads and boasts a great brunch menu.

Cacao 70 didn’t disappoint.

The minute you walk in the door, you know you’ve entered chocolate heaven. The melding smells of sweet milk and dark chocolate stick to your nostrils and you immediately forget about lunch. Just bring on the dark stuff.

I’ve been to Cacao two times in the last two months, once with my girlfriend Elaine for her birthday, and once with the girls. Elaine and I ordered sandwiches. My chicken salad sandwich was one of the best sandwiches I ever had. Cacao makes their sandwiches on thick, toasted delicious homemade bread. The chicken had an amazing mix of flavours.

chocolate wafflesWe made sure we had room left to split a chocolate birthday fondue. Cacao’s fondues come with fresh fruit, waffle squares and brownie chunks for dipping. One piece of advice: don’t overdip! While it looks like you have this huge bowl of chocolate, it’s really a half-bowl, but in the end we discovered it was the perfect amount as we mopped up the remaining drops of chocolate with our fruit.

The second time I went to Cacao, I took the girls after we packed hampers for the Salvation Army before Christmas for a special Mommy daughter lunch. This time I had a chocolate strawberry crepe. Grace went for it, ordering two chocolate dishes, the chocolate waffles with whipped cream and a chocolate fondue. Everything was decadent.

kids eating chocolate treatsI’m already planning my third trip. Maybe this time I’ll try the chocolate banana pizza, a volcano ice cream cup or a vintage hot chocolate. Oh, the choices.

This week’s #HappyAct is to indulge in a chocolate fantasy meal. Because as the sign says, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy chocolate which is basically the same thing.”

Ed. note: I know writing this at the beginning of January may seem cruel for those of you who hope to lose weight in 2017. I’ve got the perfect solution. Use your chocolate extravaganza experience as an incentive and reward. Stick to your weight loss regime. When you successfully meet your first goal, whether it’s a month of healthy eating, or your first few pounds off, treat yourself to a Cacao dish!

Friends eating chocolate fondue

chocolate crepes

Hail to the harvest moon

harvest-moonLast night, I drove to Kingston to meet friends for dinner. As I got closer to Kingston, I could see the moon starting to crest the treetops across the fields. The giant orange orb played peek a boo, before revealing itself and rising magnificently in the sky.

This summer and fall have been spectacular for full moons. September was the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the start of the autumnal equinox. Last night’s moon was a supermoon, when the moon is closest to the earth.

Throughout the year, the moon rises about 50 minutes later each day. The Harvest Moon rises only 23 minutes later each day, giving the illusion of experiencing full moons over several consecutive days.

In astrological circles, full moons can portend times of change in your life or flashes of insight or perspective. Common mythology also has it that full moons are times when crazy things can happen. When I used to work in a hospital, the nurses swore they saw the wildest things on nights when there was a full moon.

Whether you believe this or not, there is something spiritual and powerful about a full moon.

This week’s #HappyAct is to keep your fingers crossed that the skies clear and witness the rise of the supermoon. Let the power of its light inspire positive change in your life and revel in its mystical beauty.

8 things to do on the May two-four to recharge your batteries

pig roast

Make a day trip to The Day of the Pig in Parham–the hoppin’ place to be on Sunday

The May two-four. The first official long weekend of summer. Since our family rarely goes away in the winter months, I find the Victoria Day weekend a lifesaver. It’s the first real chance after a long winter with no vacation to recharge our batteries. And I don’t know about you, but my batteries were running dangerously low before this weekend.

Whether you’re camping, cottaging or just enjoying time at home, my happy act this weekend is for you to enjoy the weekend to the fullest.

Here are eight things you can do to recharge your batteries on the May two-four

  1. Drink alcohol. Alcohol is known to be a great stress reliever. My favourite bevies of choice on the long weekend are a cooler on the dock, beer—any beer, any time, or a nice glass of red wine before dinner with appetizers on the back deck
  2. Take a cat nap in a lawn chair
  3. Plant some flowers
  4. Sleep in every day. Don’t make any plans before 10 a.m.
  5. Get out on the water—go for a kayak, fish or take a Thousand Islands cruise and enjoy the sun shimmering on the water
  6. The best part about long weekends is they give you a bonus day. Use it to the fullest by planning a special outing. If you’re in the Kingston area, why not head up to Seed to Sausage and The Day of the Pig in Central Frontenac today—an old fashioned pig roast with live music and artisanal cheese and beer makers from across Eastern Ontario to tantalize your taste buds.
  7. Watch some fireworks
  8. Do nothing at all. Sit. Relax. Watch the world go by. Just enjoy being.

This week’s #HappyAct is to enjoy this first glorious long weekend of the summer to the fullest. Have a great long weekend everyone.

Reach out your hand in peace and friendship

Paris, Brussels, Lahore, Pakistan.

The world has become a bloody place.

I don’t claim to understand these terrorist acts, but I have been thinking about what drives a person to destroy human life and what we can do to turn hatred into love and acceptance.

I’ve also had a lot of different experiences in the past few weeks that continue to send these thoughts swirling in my head.

On Easter Weekend, we took Dave’s Dad to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton. There was a special exhibit on Anne Frank that detailed her journey into hiding alongside Hitler’s rise to power. It was the week of the Brussels bombing and as I stood looking at the images of the Nazis in the 1930s, it was easy to draw parallels to today and how circumstances can make otherwise good people conduct acts of horror under the philosophical banner that the end justifies the means in fighting evil.

Leaving Hamilton and arriving at Union station in Toronto during rush hour on Easter Monday for business, I tried to imagine the destruction if a bomb exploded in the station. I thought of those people in Brussels and the images I had seen on television earlier that day of the Easter bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Years ago, I had been in London, England a month before the bombs went off at the Kings Cross tube station. We had been in that station at least two or three times a day.

When my kids ask about these terrorist acts and whether they could happen where we live, my answer is always the same. “Yes, they can, but we cannot live in fear.”

Later that night, over dinner with a friend, we talked about everything going on in the world. We both admitted despite being “good people” and wanting to accept all races, creeds, cultures, we were not above profiling people (see an earlier blog post on stereotyping kids with autism).

Then I went and saw Johnny Reid and his What Love is All About tour at the KRock Centre in Kingston. I’m a huge Johnny Reid fan. I was fortunate to sit next to him on a plane to Nashville once. He was so genuine and generous with his time I became just as big a fan of Johnny Reid the man, as Johnny Reid the musician. During the concert, he said that one of the reasons he loves Canada so much is because it is one of the few countries in the world that truly accepts and celebrates diversity. His message was clear: love is the cure for the evils of the world.

It is hard to hate someone you know. This week’s #HappyAct is to say a kind word, or reach out and offer your hand in peace, friendship and acceptance the next time you experience fear or prejudice without basis. Get to know the person. Together we can try to change the world.

Find your happy place

saying about happinessA couple of week’s ago, I posted this image on Facebook.

All my life I’ve lived by water. Growing up in Port Credit, I lived by the Credit River and Lake Ontario. I’d spend my summers swimming in the Credit or at one of the many beaches along the lake. (Sadly, the beaches are often closed now due to high eColi readings and only a crazy person would swim in the Credit River anymore).

In Ottawa, when I was studying my Masters degree at Carleton University, I lived by the canal and not far from the Ottawa River. I biked in the summers along the river and canal, and skated to school and downtown in the winter on the world’s longest skating rink.

When Dave and I decided to get out of Toronto, we targeted five areas. The area north of Kingston, with its honeycomb of lakes was at the top of our list, and today I live on a lake and work at an office where I can see Lake Ontario from our offices.

There’s a scene in Happy Gilmour, where Happy’s golf coach tells him to go to his happy place.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find your happy place. Mine is water. What’s yours?

Thank a community leader

Charity cheque presentation

Brit Smith from Homestead Land Holdings presents $3 million to the UHKF, Susan Creasey is on the far right

Years ago, when I first moved to Kingston and was involved in a charity event, I called someone named Brit Smith to ask him for a donation for our cause. He said yes.

Brit Smith has been saying yes to the Kingston community for 50 years. Recently, he pledged to donate the remaining $3 million dollars needed to Kingston General Hospital to purchase and install a new MRI machine. He was moved to make such a generous donation after hearing that up to 1,000 people may be waiting for scans. Thanks to his donation, KGH will get the machine a year earlier than planned.

I found this wonderful Kingston Whig-Standard article about him published last year when he was awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for his role and service in the second World War. He’s 95 now and still is active in his family-run business, Homestead Land Holdings going into the office every day.

I’ve never met Brit Smith. Some day I would like to meet him and thank him in person for saying yes to me all those years ago and for his generous ongoing support of our community.

We are so lucky to have so many incredibly gifted, generous people in our community who devote their time and energy to helping others.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank a community leader. Send them a tweet, an email, a note on LinkedIn or give them a call. Here are a few leaders I would like to personally thank:

Thank you Bhavana Varma and the United Way for being such an inspiration, force for change and voice for those in need in our community.

Thank you Sheila and Peter Kingston, Susan Nicholson and Les Herr, and Susan Creasey. And thank you, Brit Smith.