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.

Have an unbirthday party

group picture of cottagers

Love the look on Clare’s face in this photo!

When our kids were young, we had a wonderful neighbour named Mark Berry.

Mark was in his 60’s and lived on his own on our lake. His family was in Toronto, so he adopted us and we adopted him. Our dogs became best friends and we’d often have Mark over for a beer or dinner.

Every time Mark came for dinner, he’d bring us presents, claiming it was an “unbirthday party”.

There’d be huge stuffed animals for the girls, something for the kitchen or a bottle of wine for me, and usually something fish-related for Dave. These were some of our favourite nights.

Last weekend, it was our turn to pay it forward and hold an unbirthday party for a group of friends we’ve been getting together with for almost 20 years.

Girls wearing wine drinking team tshirts and socks

Our official wine drinking team–the socks say “if you can read this, bring me a glass of wine”

We brought wine drinking team t-shirts and socks for the girls, water bottles for the kids, funny beer koozies for the boys and a few other gifts for the real birthday boy who happened to be celebrating that weekend. I think everyone appreciated their gifts.

The best gift is having this wonderful group of friends who we’ve shared so many memories with in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an unbirthday party for a special group of people. May it bring many happy memories and returns.

 

 

Man with birthday hat and glasses

The real birthday boy

Get unplugged

Special guest blog by Alison Taylor

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make me happy. Well, to be truthful, most times it is the simple things.

Living in a country setting really makes you appreciate the quiet calm of the countryside. I am lucky to have access to hundreds of acres of fields and bush that I can walk through with my pal, Molly (friend of the four legged kind).

I like to get away from “devices” and unplug. I don’t disconnect though….I rather connect in a different way and use my senses to observe and interact with the “natural” kind. Sometimes it is the stillness, and peacefulness of the experience. Other times, the wind is howling, snow is crunching under your big boots, and you feel exhilarated.

There can be those moments where you see wildlife and marvel at their resilience, or watch the birds flittering in the grasses and listen to their songs and time stands still.

For me, I like to unplug as much as I can on weekends. My work week is full of the latest buzz words: high tech, digital disruption, seeking electronic efficiencies, etc.  It is nice to spend my weekend on what really matters, and spend time “unplugged” and surrounded by an environment that has stood the test of time and will be around many years to come whether I plug in or not.

Tap into liquid gold

Clare tapping a maple treePing. Ping. Ping.

As the days get longer and the late winter sun grows stronger, families and farms in eastern Canada turn to a time-worn tradition: tapping trees.

Since moving to Eastern Ontario twenty years ago, I have spent many a March in the sugar bush.

In the early years, it was tapping trees and boiling sap in the sugar shack at my best friend’s farm in Parham. For the past four or five years, we’ve tapped a half a dozen maple trees on our property– something fun to make the endless month of March pass by quickly and to teach the kids about being sustainable.

Unless you’ve made maple syrup before, you can’t truly appreciate the work and effort that goes into making that precious one litre of liquid gold.

I remember one year, when the kids were just babies, Leslie and I wading through thigh-high snow, dragging the kids bundled up in snowsuits and scarves behind us on the toboggan to tap trees. We didn’t even make it halfway to the sugar shack before giving up because the snow was so deep.

Then there is the lugging of the buckets. On our property, the maple trees are down at the lake. We store the sap and boil off outside the barn. That means lugging heavy buckets full of sap daily up our big hill. I swear by the end of the season, my arms are about two inches longer than they were at the start of the season.

Finally, the hours and hours of boiling until you hit that critical moment when the sap thickens into syrup and you can sugar off. Most people don’t realize how critical the timing is. Wait too long, and you have crystallized candy on your hands. Sugar off too soon and you’ve wasted hours of boiling to create runny syrup.

Luckily, we learned how to determine the perfect consistency and exact time to sugar off from the very best—Audrey Tarasick, Leslie’s mother. Audrey would stand over the evaporator with her silver ladle, testing every five minutes how thick the sap was by seeing if the liquid formed a half moon drop on the end of the ladle. If it did, the sap was ready to sugar off.

For us, I’ve calculated it costs us about $80 in propane to get our 4 litres of maple syrup. Sure, we could buy it cheaper, but the fun and memories it’s given us over the years are priceless.

This week’s #HappyAct is to tap into some liquid gold this month. Little Cataraqui Conservation Authority’s Maple Madness runs this year from March 11 to 19 (March Break), and on the weekends of March 25 and 26 and April 1 and 2. One litre of syrup will run you $26.25.

Girl with sap bucket

One of our first years tapping on our property

tapped-trees

Hit the buffet

mandarin buffetEach year we have a “last in the lake” contest. The last in the lake gets to choose dinner at their restaurant of choice. Clare has won it the last two years in a row (the date was October 30th for the record) so we made the trek on Friday night to what’s becoming an annual tradition to the Mandarin restaurant.

The Mandarin is the penultimate, king of buffets. Dave and I are skeptics when it comes to buffets—usually “buffet” means mediocre food at best served at room temperature. The Mandarin is the exception to the rule. They know how to do buffet right.

We arrived and were greeted by our hostess who showed us to our seats in the F room. It’s important to remember your room number, because it is easy to get lost (Dave and I both entered the wrong rooms that night after filling up our plates).

The Mandarin isn’t just a food experience. It’s eye candy if you like people watching. You never know who you will bump into or what you’ll see. Grace ran into a high school friend. I saw my co-worker Shelli and took the opportunity to ask her what she thought of their new practice of putting the number of calories on the glass above each dish. We both decided we didn’t like it.

It’s particularly fun to see the different strategies for the buffet. Some prefer a traditional approach, starting with soup or salad, then hit the mains while others go off the board for 200 and mix it up. Some people get small dainty plates of like-minded dishes. Others pile food on their plate in a magnificent mound while you watch in admiration and fear as they wind their way back to their seat from the busy dining room.

I especially like watching kids eat. Grace was a classic example. She started with the hot, traditional Chinese food fare, filled up on a plate of waffles and French fries for her second course, went back for salmon and ice cream and finished with a plate of ribs, green tea jello (which she didn’t eat), chocolate cake and a chocolate dipped strawberry. Nothing short of inspired.

Mid-way through your dinner, as the blood rushes to your stomach to digest the copious quantities of food, your mind starts to wander.

  • How many items are in their buffet? 150
  • What’s the most anyone has eaten? I suggested to the waitress they should have a contest. Give contestants a two-hour window and have designated calorie counters track their every calorie. It would be an amazing marketing campaign for the restaurant.
  • How much food do they go through in one day?
  • The kids wanted to know what happens to the leftovers—do they get donated to shelters?
  • What’s the profit margin on each meal? Our waitress told us it’s just $1 for lunch and a bit higher for dinner—we found that hard to believe but then thought maybe they make profits on the drinks
  • How many people do they serve each day? The room we were in held 64 people for example, and gets turned over 3-4 times during dinner. Our restaurant had six rooms—you do the math
  • When Clare started to slump over in her chair after her fourth plate of dessert, we asked our waitress if anyone has ever fallen asleep at the table before? The answer was yes.

My only regret on Friday night was I didn’t have my phone to take any pictures, well and maybe that fourth plate of dessert.

This week’s #HappyAct is to hit the buffet at the Mandarin. But give up on the calorie counting—it’s just not worth it!