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

A tribute to my beautiful daughters on Mother’s Day

The author's daughters on a boardwalkThere was a time in our lives when Dave and I didn’t think we could have children.

Then Grace was born.

Followed four years later by another baby girl, Clare.

We always said we would be happy even if we weren’t blessed with children. I know this to be true, but I always thought of having kids like a kaleidoscope.

Without children, the wheel of life takes us on a journey of twists and turns, revealing an array of pretty patterns and colours. With them, the cylinder opens wide, to unfurl a mesmerizing display of brilliance and untold adventures. Children are not are whole lives, but they make our lives whole.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the greatest gift in my life: the gift of being a Mom. Here is my love letter to my beautiful daughters.

Thank you Grace and Clare.

For making me laugh,
For hugging away my tears.
For making our family and table full,
For the endless hours skating on our beloved lake, and talking on our evening walks.

For filling our house with music
For infuriating me,
For doing your chores even when I don’t ask you to
For the highs and lows and all the in betweens

For your silly, stupid jokes,
For making me feel like a child again,
For telling me I’m beautiful when your beauty outshines us all
For being my friend.

It has been a pleasure and joy to watch you grow into the spirited, independent young women that you have become.

Be bold. Be strong. Be true to yourself. Live your dreams.

And know that I will always be here for you.
Love, Mom.

Girls in bathtub

Girls at a Santa Claus parade

Where do you turn when you feel all alone?

sign that says this too shall passI’ve learned something important about happiness this week. It’s hard to be happy when you feel all alone in the world.

This week, for reasons I won’t disclose I’ve felt very alone and isolated. In fact, I can’t ever recall feeling quite this way before. I struggled to find my own inner happiness. I tried, oh, how I’ve tried, but I’ve learned it’s difficult to be happy when you feel all alone.

Here are some of the things that helped this week. Hopefully they will help you too if you ever find yourself feeling this way.

  • Being around other people. On Friday, I went for a skate at Market Square in Kingston. Just being around other people laughing and having fun outside on a beautiful cold winter’s day made me feel better
  • Spending time with my animals. No matter what, your pets will always love you.
  • Spending time outside—feeling the sun on my face, going for a walk on a crisp wintry night surrounded by the stars
  • Calling an old friend and hearing a friendly voice
  • Playing the piano. When I play the piano, I forget everything else and just concentrate on the notes, and the beautiful melodies floating up from the keys.
  • Writing—I guess it’s no surprise I’m writing this post at 4 in the morning when I couldn’t sleep

When all else fails, indulge in a good bout of tears, preferably in a hot tub under the stars. At least, that’s what my Mom always used to say (well, not the hot tub part–that piece of wisdom is mine).

This week’s #HappyAct is to share a comment on this week’s post. Have you ever felt all alone in the world? What did you do? And don’t worry about me. I’m hopeful, this too shall pass.

Ed. note: While generally I try to post positive, uplifting happy acts each week, I believe it’s just as important to know and spark discussion on what makes us unhappy.

Say what you mean

cat in the hat say what you meanWhy can’t people just say what they mean?

Being clear and honest would solve so many problems.

Relationships would be stronger because we would forge stronger connections from shared understanding.

There would be less uncertainty and confusion in the world.

We would make less mistakes.

We would save precious time from trying to interpret what the other person is saying or what they want.

Saying what we mean could also help advance our interests.

Look at Donald Trump. One of the key reasons he has gotten this far in the U.S. presidential race is because he says what he means. If Hillary Clinton stopped playing the political game, and just once, came out and blasted him, and said what she really felt, I wonder if she would see a spike in the polls in her favour.

Our reluctance to say what we mean is even more of an epidemic at work.

There are some professions where I swear they actually train you to speak in euphemisms and jargon. It drives me crazy.

Last week I got an email from a colleague. The first line was, “Here is the PPT that I presented to the RLT based on the work that the INV team did.”

Now, as it turns out, I actually understood the email because sadly, I’ve worked there long enough that half of these terms are second nature to me. But god help any new person in the organization, or someone who isn’t exposed to jargon and acronyms as much as I am.

Saying what you mean is even more important for some people, for instance, people with autism.

Because Grace has a tendency to interpret everything I say literally, I’ve learned to be as specific as possible in my language. For instance if I said, “I don’t care if you want to do X, you have to get your homework done first” or whatever the issue we were discussing, she would literally interpret it that I didn’t care about her. Having an autistic child makes you think about your language choice very carefully.

Of course, there are times, when it is better to not say what you mean. Here are some golden rules of communication to keep in mind:

  1. Think before you speak.
  2. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  3. Always think about whether your words could be interpreted the wrong way or how they would make the person feel.

As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to say what you mean, keeping in mind the golden rules. Share a comment. Why do you think people don’t say what they mean?

Sharing the happy and the bad

Photo album

A page from an old photo album of one of our family vacations in Maine

The other day I met my friend William for lunch. William, a loyal reader of my blog asked me a really funny question. He asked, “Do you plan crazy things each week as a family so you have something to blog about, or are all the fun things you do just a regular part of your life?”

His second question made me burst out laughing. He then asked, “How can it be that your family is so happy all the time?”

It made me think of that quote, “Remember, as far as anyone knows, our family is normal.”

For the record, our family is normal. The kids fight. Dave and I natter at each other over closing the closet doors, how to load the dishwasher, and which way the toilet paper roll should hang on the hanger. (Luckily with three women in the house, we’ve trained our only male to leave the toilet seat down). We have our issues and challenges. Heck we even have a teenager in the house—‘nuff said.

We have our share of bad days and sad days, but we tend not to share these online. When Dave’s Mom passed away last year, we grieved privately.

Some may accuse us of whitewashing our lives on social media and not being authentic. I think it’s only natural we share the happy times in our lives. It’s no different than the days of yesteryear of photo albums and memory books. If you open the dusty pages of an old photo album, what do you see? Pictures of babies being born, graduations, weddings–the special moments in our lives we want to capture, remember and cherish, not photos of times of tears or fears or uncertainty in our lives.

With time, our memories become whitewashed. These images become our past. It is as it should be.

The interesting thing with social media is it can equally compel us to share a glimpse into our authentic selves. I remember reading with tears in my eyes the heart-wrenching posts on Facebook by Jann Arden when her father passed away and Sheryl Sandberg when her husband passed away. These two incredible women bared their souls in a time of immense grief and undoubtedly helped scores of others dealing with loss in their lives.

This week’s challenge is to share something happy and something real online. Be authentic, but know it’s okay to share the happier times. After all, focusing on the good in our lives is not a bad thing.

Lavish praise not criticism

flowers bloomingThe world needs more praise and less criticism.

If you’re a parent, you know the power of praise. Praise is like the warmth of the sun that nourishes and helps the petals of a flower unfold. Criticism will cause the flower to shrivel up and die.

This week’s Happy Act is to praise someone. Your child. Your partner. A co-worker. Tell them what a great job they’ve done then watch them blossom and grow.

Write your own valedictory speech

Girl in grad dress with her grandfather

Grace with her grandfather at her graduation

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of hearing Grace deliver the valedictory address at her grade 8 graduation. I am so proud of the beautiful, smart funny person she has become. But I was especially proud because of what she shared that night and how brave she was.

Her words were insightful. She reflected on her classmate’s accomplishments, and spoke with hope and optimism about the future. I think we all need to take a moment for this kind of reflection especially at important milestones in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own valedictory address. Reflect on your accomplishments and look ahead and envision your future. Here’s Grace’s speech.

Ladies and gentleman, fellow students. At this school, we come here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to learn. I have been at Prince Charles since I was in Junior Kindergarten and I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, this school has helped me to find myself as well as my future.

Every person in this world is smart, whether it is sports, academics or leadership. Every person in this world is smart no matter how you describe it and I’m sure all the parents of the graduates are proud of what they have accomplished in life as a student as well as a person.

Tonight we are celebrating the first chapter in every graduate’s life. On our first day of high school next year we will be starting a new chapter, a new journey and a new way of life. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has made our first chapter incredible—parents, teachers, family, friends, principals, vice-principals and many more.

We have created so many memories in the first chapter. The one memory I’ll never forget is coming second in the girls basketball tournament a few years back. Even though we lost in the finals, we still worked together as a team and we had such a great day.

I can still remember when some of the graduates didn’t know how to tie their shoes and now they are maturing into adults. Even this year as a class, we have created so many memories, such as playing a good game of Dr. Dodgeball in class, our year-end field trip to Canada’s Wonderland or the St. Lawrence Cooking program that we participated in earlier this year. These are all memories that we will never forget.

We all have challenges that we need to face in life, but when we do face them, it makes us stronger, better people. When I was three, I was diagnosed with autism and I had a lot of trouble making friends when I was younger, but I dealt with it because we have to face our challenges in life.

Life is a path and we have to choose our own way. May you always choose the right path. Thank you.”

Copyright Grace Swinton 2016