Play hookey from work

Friends at the Kingston sign

It was our Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

For 10 years, my BFF at work, Elaine Peterson and I had talked about going for a patio lunch and not going back to work. We finally did it on Friday.

Now before you HR types get all bent out of shape, we did this with the full knowledge and approval of our bosses, and booked it as vacation time. Whatever points we lost on the spontaneity factor were more than made up for the excitement of looking forward to our afternoon of hookey.

Our first stop was Confederation Basin to put the “I” in Kingston. Earlier this summer, Kingston erected a new sign where tourists can take their picture. There may be no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in Kingston.

Then we headed up Brock Street to Atomica for a leisurely patio lunch. If you’re not familiar with the Black Dog Hospitality Group of restaurants in Kingston, which includes Dianne’s Fish Bar, Le Chien Noir, Harper’s Burgers and Atomica, they are a favourite of the locals.

We split a yummy caeser salad; Elaine had one of their signature pastas, and I had their Retro pizza. The best part about not being “on the clock” is you can relax and just take in your surroundings (a couple of drinks each helped too.)

For instance, as I was sitting on the patio, I noticed a statue of a beaver on top of the building across the street. I’ve probably walked past that building a gazillion times and never noticed that beaver before. We also watched a young couple next to us get googlyeyed and the guy at the end of the patio shovel his food in with his fork like it was a backhoe.

beaver statue

Two hours and two drinks later, we decided to wander down to Ahoy Rentals to go canayaking (a new term I made up after a couple of beers). We got sidetracked at Battery Park by the breakwater. I was telling Elaine how as a kid I would jump from rock to rock on the breakwater in Port Credit where I grew up, but how they put a fence up so people couldn’t go out on the rocks anymore.

In Kingston, there’s just a sign warning people to proceed at their own risk, so we proceeded. At the end near the lighthouse, we could see Elaine’s office. We texted her co-workers to look out the window to see us waving, but they were too busy working (hah!) We talked to a retired RMC professor who kayaked past us and waved to the boaters.

Woman at lighthouse

Since it was already four o’clock and we were thirsty again, we decided to pass on the kanayaking and headed up Princess Street to Barcadia, a bar with old arcade games. Elaine had brought some rolls of quarters, so we raced sports cars through the streets of Paris and Moscow, played baseball (I was the home run queen and beat her in the bottom of the eighth), Pacman and pinball.

It was too nice a day to stay inside, so we checked out some of the stores on Princess Street, then topped the afternoon off with a “It was just a dream” fro yo at Parfait.

While it was well after dark when I got home, in the old days, we probably would have gone into the wee hours of the night. Still, it was an awesome afternoon playing hookey, and on the plus side, we were both able to enjoy a beautiful weekend. This week’s #HappyAct is to plan an afternoon playing hookey–just don’t get caught!

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Planes, trains and automobiles

jeep on safari

Adventures by automobile…on safari

Planes, trains or automobile–it doesn’t matter, for me, it’s as much about the journey as the destination itself.

I’m writing this blog today on the train, my fingers skimming over the keys as the coach lurches back and forth. By the time it posts, I’ll have flown thousands of miles return to Salt Lake City, and spent two days in the car driving back from vacation from South Carolina with Dave and the kids.

Planes are still magical to me, now matter how many times Air Canada loses my luggage, how bad the food is, or how long I have to wait at the airport. As soon as the plane lifts into the air, I marvel at watching the clouds, the magnificent land formations and patterns below and the sun rise and set over the wings.

Trains take me back to my youth. I grew up beside train tracks. The trains were so close to our house, my bedroom windows rattled when the commuter and freight trains sped through our station. The train was our escape from suburbia to downtown Toronto.

I still love taking the train. You can work, gaze out the windows, chat with your neighbour, or have a coffee or glass of wine. On today’s trip, I saw a deer grazing in the sodden fields and swans gliding gracefully in an estuary near the Trent River .

And then there is the automobile. The love affair of North Americans with the automobile is well documented. For me, cars have always been more of a practical need, a way to get from point A to point B. That all changes on a road trip when you never know what adventure lies beyond the next bend and what new vista there is to explore.

This week’s #HappyAct is to channel your inner John Candy and Steve Martin and embark on a journey by plane, train or automobile—don’t worry about the destination, just have fun getting there.

Have something to look forward to

 

Swinton family in front of waterfall

On our vacation last year in Grand Falls, New Brunswick

A couple of years ago, I was watching Barbara Walters year-end special on the Most Fascinating People of 2015. She asked comedian Kevin Hart to complete the sentence “Happiness is…” and he replied, “Happiness is having something to look forward to.”

I thought it was an unusual but honest and insightful answer. The daily rhythm of life can become tedious. Most of us work to live, and the reality is in North America, the balance of working and living is out of whack. We work too much, and don’t take time to enjoy life.

That’s when you need to have something to look forward to. I find this longing grows even more in the winter months. By mid-February, Dave and I begin to yearn for our next adventure. We start pouring over calendars and road atlases and looking up vacation rentals on vrbo.com and airbnb.com. Where will the winds take us? What will our next adventure be?

My brother Don is the king of having something to look forward to. He takes about four or five trips a year. As soon as he unpacks his bags from his last vacation, he is planning his next trip. I think he would shrivel up into a hole if he didn’t have something planned. And as it happens, Don is a pretty happy guy.

This week’s #HappyAct is plan your next vacation, a weekend away, a special night with friends. While away a snowy Sunday making plans and dreaming of your next adventure, big or small.

Play tourist in your own town

Newspaper clipping of huge fish caughtOne of the things I love about living in Eastern Ontario is how easy it is to play tourist in your own town.

Yesterday, we took Clare and her friends to Eastern Ontario’s newest tourist attraction—The Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing in Brockville. This was probably one of the most interactive, engaging tourist attractions I’ve visited and it was a definite hit with all ages.

Here’s our top 10 list of favourite things we did during our three-hour visit.

  1. Getting our picture taken with a huge mackerel and otter
  2. Broadcasting the weather live on Aquatarium News Network
  3. Rowing a skull in a virtual race
  4. Watching the otters at feeding time
  5. Racing sailboats in the wind tunnel
  6. Doing a ropes course of barrels, masts and planks
  7. Learning about water and how locks work
  8. Gazing at fish through portholes and glass tunnels
  9. Touching starfish and crabs in the touch tank
  10. Discovering the secret passage in the captain’s lounge

Sound like fun? Aye captain. This week’s #HappyAct is to play tourist in your own town this month.

Kingston friends: Next weekend, there’s three premier events you won’t want to miss in our own backyard—the Tall Ships are sailing into Brockville, the 180th Kingston Fall Fair takes over the Memorial grounds, and the North American police equestrian championships are taking place at Kingston Penitentiary with proceeds to United Way.

Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing

Girls looking at fish from a porthole

Fall Fan Fair

Girls from 4H club

Grace and her 4H friends in the pens before the goat show

Demolition derbys, horse pulls, rides and greasy food. You know it’s fall in Ontario when the fall fair rolls into town.

Yesterday, we spent the day at the Coe Hill Fair, just south of Bancroft. Grace is a member of the Napanee 4H Goat Club and she was showing her goat, Cloud in the goat show.

The Coe Hill Fair was founded in 1882. Before automobiles, a special train came from Trenton to bring exhibitors and fair goers to the fairgrounds. Today, the Coe Hill train station sits on the fairgrounds.

You never know what you will find or who you will meet at a fall fair. As soon as we walked into the fairgrounds, we met friends Reg and Barb Watson. Reg regularly shows his poultry in the fairs north of Kingston. We watched the poultry judge lift each chicken out of its cage, feel its neck and feathers and measure its wingspan. Reg took first prize for his Silver Duck Wing and Rhode Island Red.

Pot bellied pig

Leeloo the pig, follow him on Facebook

Walking towards the goat pens, we came across Leeloo the potbellied pig. Leeloo is a local celebrity with his own Facebook page along with pigmates Sparky and Eli. Sparky is the TELUS pig you see in commercials. Eli became famous when his owner adopted him and started an animal rescue facility outside of Guelph. Dave knew about Leeloo, Sparky and Eli after hearing an interview about them on the CBC.

After filling up on sausages (sorry Leeloo!), roast beef on a bun and french fries, we headed over to the goat show ring. The judge had just flown in the night before from Ohio. This guy knew his goats.

While judging the milkers, at one point he said, “This goat has a good mammory system, well attached with lateral support.” I asked Dave if I had a good mammory system, well attached with lateral support. He didn’t answer me.

We were the only spectators in the stands for most of the show. You should have seen us do the wave.

Husband and wife in stands at the goat show

Dave and I just before we did the wave at the goat show

 

In the end, Grace took second prize for showmanship and a bunch of fourth place finishes in the confirmation judging, which is more about the size and shape of the goat.

We toured the exhibit barns of quilts, flower arrangements, photography exhibits and all the usual homemade delectables of pies, jams and vegetables. We listened to live music in the grandstand and watched the horse and cow shows. We barely saw Clare who spent the entire day riding the carnival rides.

It was a good day.

Silkie chickens

Beautiful silkies in the poultry barn

This week’s #HappyAct is to take in a fall fair. Here are some upcoming fall fairs in Ontario. You can find a full listing here.

  • Centreville Fair, Sep 2-3
  • Georgetown, Sep 9-10
  • Kingston, Sep 15-18
  • Norwood Fall Fair, Oct 8-10th—I haven’t been to this one, but our friend Keith tells us it’s the best little fair in Ontario
  • And the granddaddy of them all, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Nov 4-13. Grace will be going to the Royal this year, showing her goat Cloud on the Sunday.

Pamper yourself

The magn

The magnificent stone fireplace at the Chateau Montebello

As I shared last week, lately my batteries have been running dangerously low. Luckily, after two Fridays off and some precious down time, I’m now feeling a bit more like my old self again.

This weekend, Dave and I splurged and went for an overnight getaway, sans kids to the Chateau Montebello, in Montebello, Quebec. The largest log lodge in North America, the glory days of the Chateau are clearly in its past, but it was still charming in all its grandeur and brimming with history.

Built in only three months in the 1930’s, the Chateau has hosted world leaders and celebrities. Adjacent to its grounds is the Manoir Papineau, home to Louis-Joseph Papineau, the leader of the rebellion in Lower Canada in 1837. Both the Chateau and the Manoir are on the banks of the Ottawa river, a quiet oasis from the hubbub of Montreal and Gatineau.

Chateau MontebelloWe NEVER do this, but for the first time ever, Dave and I booked spa treatments on a weekend getaway. I had a facial and a rice body polish. Dave had his first massage ever.

After 90 minutes of pure heaven, I sat on the balcony of the spa overlooking the river trying to remember the last time I felt this way. I was so relaxed, I literally couldn’t get up–it felt like my bum was glued to the seat. I pried my newly polished torso from the chair and headed back to our room to meet Dave for dinner.

It turned out being pampered was a family affair this weekend. When we arrived the next day to pick up the kids from Dave’s sisters in Westport, I found Clare on her massage table. Maryanne, a registered esthetician who runs The Pampered Ladybug out of her house, gave both the girls pedicures and Clare a manicure.

This week’s #HappyAct is to pamper yourself—get away for a night, book a massage (check your health insurance—if you go to a registered massage therapist, there’s a good chance your benefits might cover the cost) or treat yourself to something you normally never would do. You deserve it.

girl getting a pedicure

Clare getting a pedicure from The Pampered Ladybug

painted toenails

The final results

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.