Challenge a steadfast belief

Women having lunch on a patioOne of my many faults is I tend to be a bit stubborn and steadfast in my beliefs. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to challenge a bias I’ve held for the past twenty years that Hamilton wasn’t a nice city on our annual spring girls’ weekend in Dundas, Ontario.

We arrived in Dundas at noon just in time for the start of the Dundas BuskerFest. The scenic main street of this little town, only a hop, skip and trapeze jump out of Hamilton was the perfect setting to watch street performers dazzle and amaze. We had a delicious lunch in one of the town’s outdoor patio courtyards and browsed the quaint shops on the main street.

Next, we headed to our bed and breakfast, SummitHaven a charming yellow brick church dating back to 1869, lovingly restored by its owners. Our lower level suite had three bedrooms, a full-service kitchen and lovely sitting area, the perfect base for touring the area.

Summit Haven bed and breakfastThe day was too spectacular so we set out to hike and discover Hamilton’s waterfalls. I’ve blogged about how much I love waterfalls before, and had been told Hamilton was the “city of waterfalls”. In the twenty years I’ve been visiting Hamilton, I’ve never gone to see a single waterfall. We visited three last weekend.

The first one was a small waterfall at the beginning of the main trail loop in the Dundas Valley Conservation Area. The 3 km trail was a perfect length for the end of a busy day, and featured a cascade, ruins, a meandering stream and gorgeous woods.

women standing in ruinsLeslie still wanted to see more, so we drove down to Sherman Falls, a stunning 17 metre waterfall tucked in the woods across from one of the best restaurants in the area, the Ancaster Old Mill. We ended the day back at BuskerFest, watching the fire show and grand finale of all the performers.

The next day, I dragged my besties to the historical reenactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek at Battlefield House and Museum. I have driven past this park many times, but never explored it before. It’s definitely worth the visit, but especially on this day when the park was transformed into an early 19th century encampment of military soldiers.

Sherman fallsWe met the Earl of Moira, learned how to load and shoot a musket rifle, and watched the 200+ reenactors play out the battle, which was a turning point in the War of 1812 between the British and the Americans.

Our last stop was another waterfall just up the mountain—the Devil’s punch bowl. Since we were running out of time, we just hiked the short path along the escarpment, but there is a 10 km hiking trail that looked very scenic.

The best part of the whole weekend, other than seeing Leslie and Danette of course, was everything was free.

This week’s #HappyAct is to challenge a steadfast belief. It might open up your mind and world to new adventures. Thanks Leslie and Danette for another great girls’ weekend!

Plant a tree and help Forests Canada reach their Canada 150 goal

Family planting trees

Planting trees at Lemoine’s Point in 2013

Friday was Arbor Day. Clare and I celebrated Arbor Day selling seedlings at her school. This is the fourth year we’ve held this popular fundraiser and once again I was surprised and touched by the interest and support in our little community — we sold out of our 1,500 seedlings.

After travelling so much in the past month, and seeing from the skies and road how much of our land is being developed and the shrinking tracts of forests, I feel even more passionate about what we’re doing and the need to plant for the future.

Some times I think we’ve forgotten the important benefits of trees. Did you know,

  • One large tree can supply a day’s supply of oxygen for four people?
  • Trees clean our air, absorbing carbon dioxide and other harmful chemicals and releasing oxygen
  • Trees cool our planet by providing shade and through the evaporation of water from their leaves. The cooling effect of one large tree is equivalent to 10 room size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • Trees create an ecosystem that provides habitat and foods for birds and animals

Clare selling seedlings for the school

The Ontario Government and Forests Ontario are inviting Canadians to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by taking part in the Green Leaf Challenge and plant three million trees in Ontario. The Ontario government has committed to planting 50 million trees by 2025 and is making it easy for landowners to participate by offering subsidies and tax savings. Add your trees to their online counter at greenleafchallenge.ca.

Here is how you can get involved and help.

  • May 6th is Community Planting Weekend sponsored by Forests Ontario. There are tree planting “bees” happening in York Region, Windsor, Niagara Falls and Cambridge. Here in Kingston, we’ll be planting trees with the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority at Lemoine’s Point Conservation Area, starting at 9 a.m. at the north entrance off Bath Road at Coverdale. Bring boots, a shovel and gloves. All are welcome.
  • If you are a lot owner, learn more about the 50 million trees challenge and log any trees you plant on the greenleafchallenge.ca website
  • Register to become a Forests Ontario member. Receive Our Forest magazine (it’s also available online if you’re an Issuu subscriber).

This week’s #HappyAct is to plant a tree. Happy planting, everyone!

Surround yourself with youthful enthusiasm

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Science Fair at Queen’s University. The fair is for students in grade 5-12 and this year there were 289 exhibits. Clare was the very first student to register her exhibit on global warming.

Clare didn’t win any prizes, but was rewarded in so many other ways.

Dr. Neal Scott spent a full 40 minutes talking to her about the Arctic and promised to email her pictures of polar bears from one of his summer expeditions to the Arctic with his students. The very next day we were looking at incredible photos of polar bears in our inbox.

Dr. Arthur MacDonald, one of the leading physicists in Canada, and the keynote speaker at the fair also spent time talking to Clare about her project. In his keynote address, he talked about her, saying it was wonderful to see such youthful enthusiasm and passion in students today.

Here were a few things I learned touring the exhibits:

  • Even though music has no scientific impact on the growth of plants, plants that were exposed to heavy metal music grow faster than plants exposed to classical music (go figure!)
  • An arch bridge made of popsicle sticks is stronger than a truss bridge made of popsicle sticks
  • Swell water bottles are the best for keeping water cold and were twice as effective as a regular plastic water bottle
  • Ball spin, and the dimples on a golf ball help make them fly farther
  • Beet juice is a secret weapon for melting ice, and could help reduce the amount of salt we use on the roads in Canada (although I couldn’t help thinking it would be weird to be driving on pink roads all winter)
  • Potatoes may be our next fuel source

It was exciting to see these wonderful bright minds tackle some of the world’s problems.

Then this week, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with an equally inspiring group of young people. Grace was asked to speak about her transition to high school to a group of Grade 8 students with autism as part of an orientation night.

We spent time learning how to open a combination lock (kids with autism often struggle with fine motor skills), reading schedules and talking about the challenges they’ll face making friends. Their honesty, courage in facing the unknown and often unfriendly world, and sense of humour impressed me beyond belief.

The next time you hear someone despairing about the next generation, and “kids” today who seem to be forever on their devices, I can safely say, don’t worry, our future is in good hands.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with the future leaders of tomorrow. Let their passion and youthful enthusiasm infect and inspire you.

science fair exhibit

Clare’s wonderful playdoh depiction of the earth 30 years from now when our green forests and blue oceans transform due to global warming

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

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.

Walk a country road

Woman and dog walking on country road

Our road with our new yellow line. Clare liked this angled picture best

It’s another glorious Thanksgiving weekend.

When Dave and I used to live in the city, we’d go for a drive in October in the Caledon Hills or the Hockley Valley. This area will always have a special place in our heart, because it’s where we got married 24 years ago this month.

As much as the drive was beautiful, I would yearn to get out of the car and walk the country roads.

There’s something special about walking a country road. Seeing the farms and fields ablaze in autumnal hues, feeling the warmth of the fall sun on your face, gazing up at piercing blue skies that perfectly frame nature’s masterpiece, and wondering what picturesque view lies beyond the next bend in the road.

Mushrooms

Clare took this amazing picture of a mushroom village we discovered

Yesterday, Clare and I walked our country road. Today, I plan to discover new roads with my best friend Leslie as we go on the Westport studio tour. I can’t imagine a better way to spend Thanksgiving Sunday.

This week’s #HappyAct is to escape for an hour this weekend from family gatherings and gobfuls of turkey and get out and walk a country road. Enjoy the brilliant sunshine, fall colours and promise of adventure around every curve.

Ed. note: Interesting side fact. Until this year, our road never had a yellow line. The roads crew painted it on Canada Day weekend. We cheered when we saw them (when you live in the country, this is our excitement), but I’m still not used to it. Maybe when winter comes, I’ll appreciate our bright yellow line.

Poison ivy

Poison ivy leaves turn a beautiful red in the fall, but they are still lethal–avoid them at all costs!

Country road