Having just come through the long, grey days of January, I think it is forgivable for us to be more focused on self preservation than engaging in acts of kindness.  I have witnessed a lot more short tempers than I have selfless acts in support of others and confess that I may have contributed less than positive vibes sometimes too.  Maybe that’s just the reason we all need this month’s #FabFeat “pillar of positivity” –  PRACTICING ACTS OF KINDNESS.

The wonderful part about practicing acts of kindness is that not only does it improve the lives of those you help, it has also been found to benefit you as the giver of kindness.  This isn’t surprising; everyone can think of a time when they experienced that warm glow after assisting another – friend or stranger.  Recently, research into acts of kindness have provided more information about how best to maximize the positive outcomes.  For instance, when the acts are performed together, they provide the giver with greater joy.  When the kinds of activities are varied, the benefits are again multiplied as we become less acclimated to doing the same thing all the time.

Performing acts of kindness also has a positive impact on our perception of ourselves as compassionate people resulting in feeling more useful, confident, and optimistic.  In turn, others are inspired by your example making practicing acts of kindness a contagious activity; you can help others reap the benefits of kindness in a “pay it forward” kind of upward spiral.

acts-of-kindnessI have always been the kind of person who wants to support others.  I am an avid volunteer and intuitively know when someone needs a little TLC.  My 50 Feats adventures allowed me to find new ways to practice this pillar, from building a playground to planting trees to working with kindergarten kids learning  about science.  Each activity provided me with yet another benefit of practicing acts of kindness:  social connection. I fondly remember the conversation I had with the Motts employee from Georgia who had immigrated to the States and was thrilled to be able to give back by building the playground as part of their corporate initiative.    I smile as I think about the expressions of awe on the faces of those little scientists as I played marine biologist Sue holding up the octopus and learning as much from them as they did from me.  Interestingly, these acts cost me exactly zero dollars; my time and interest were the only assets I needed to bring to the table.

Practicing acts of kindness can be easily included in your daily activities.  Below are few ideas that might “jump start” your practice:

Random Acts of Kindness: Think about how you might engage in a few small (or large) acts every week. Track them in a journal to remind yourself of these activities and reflect on how it felt to help someone else.

Spending Money on Others:  This activity doesn’t involve a lot of money. Research has found that spending as little as five dollars on others can increase your (and their) happiness levels.  Buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive through, leave a five dollar bill in your favourite book at the bookstore for the person who buys it, smile and say hello to a stranger.  It’s just that simple.

Random Acts of Kindness week runs from February 12 – 17, 2017. Visit https://randomactsof.us/ for more information and  join me in sharing your own ACTS OF KINDNESS through the following:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats


“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
– Leo Buscaglia



optimismIf I asked people who know me to describe me, I suspect many would mention my smile and a laugh that is loud, heartfelt, and contagious.  In the past when I have done presentations about living with depression and anxiety, I have received comments that I don’t “look like a depressed person.”  My response is always the same: “I’m not a depressed person, I am a happy person with a depressive disorder.”

However, like everyone, I have times that are challenging, days when happiness doesn’t naturally bubble to the surface.  And, like many people, when I am dealing with a depressive episode, it can feel almost impossible to identify, let alone focus on, something positive.  Enter the next #FabFeat “pillar of positivity” – cultivating optimism.

Sonja Luybormirsky describes the practice of cultivating optimism in the following way:  “Finding the silver lining in a cloud.  Not only celebrating the present and the past, but anticipating a bright future.” I was particularly taken by this quotation as it reflects my own philosophy of life.  While I cannot say that things happen for a reason given so many horrible and heartbreaking events in this world, I do believe that I can take away learning, meaning, and purpose from things that do take place; that represents the “silver lining” for me.  For example, when I was downsized from my Human Resources position of 26 years, I had the opportunity to return to school, complete my Master’s degree, and am now able to work in my new mental health career as a Recovery Support Worker.

The benefits of cultivating optimism are significant including  increased motivation to achieve goals; more effective coping skills; positive mood; higher energy and morale.

Optimism is something that can developed and enhanced through exercises and practices.  Below are few that can help you to cultivate your own silver lining:

  • The Best Possible Self: Take about 10 minutes and write about your best possible future self:  your life as you always imagined it would be, having achieved all the things you wanted to the best of your abilities. Let the writing flow.  After you have finished, reflect upon how you feel.  Are you inspired to make these goals and dreams come true?  A variation on this practice is to write about a goal that you wish to accomplish in five years, describing it in terms of the steps you have taken to successfully get there.
  • Doors: Closed and Open: Reflect upon a time in your life when something in your life didn’t turn out as you had planned – a relationship, a job, a project. Now consider what happened after that particular “door” closed.  What door opened to you that would not have otherwise been an option?
  • Identify Barrier Thoughts: Increase your optimistic thinking by becoming more aware of your automatic pessimistic thoughts.  For example, each time you have a negative thought, place a penny in a jar while replacing the pessimism with a more favourable thought. Since the brain cannot focus on two opposite feelings at the same time, you are training your mind toward hardwiring positivitiy.

Time to build our optimism muscles together.  Join me in sharing your own ways of Cultivating Optimism:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill (who lived with bipolar disorder)

#FabFeats: Practicing Gratitude

Even though I love the holiday season, I experience stress during the hustle and bustle that accompanies this time of year and I know I am not alone in getting a bit tense and anxious.  The first #FabFeats “pillar of positivity” I have chosen, therefore, is the practice of gratitude.

Robert Emmons defines gratitude as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” Brene Brown (brenebrown.com), who has conducted extensive research on gratitude, has discovered that a commonality among people who are living joyful lives is their inclusion of gratitude in their daily activities. While our Neanderthal ancestors needed to begratitude attuned to threats to survive, unfortunately, even though we no longer regularly battle wild animals for survival, our brains are still wired towards a negative focus.  The practice of gratitude reconnects us to an awareness of the positives in life.

The benefits of practicing gratitude are numerous: less depression, anxiety, envy; better able to cope with stress; increased social bonds; more energy, hopeful; more frequent positive emotions; higher self esteem.

I have experimented with a number of gratitude techniques in order to find those that resonate particularly with me.  Below are a few exercises and suggestions that you may wish to try:

  • Keeping a gratitude journal:  There are many variations on the gratitude journal.  Research suggests that writing once or twice a week rather than daily is most effective.  Keep an ongoing list of people for whom you are thankful and why.  Going into detail can be more beneficial than making a longer, but more superficial, list.  In the end, do what feels comfortable for you and put some time aside so that you are present and aware when you are recording in your journal.
  • Write a Gratitude Letter:  Take a few minutes to write a letter to someone expressing thanks for what they have contributed to your life.  Be specific.  If possible, personally deliver the letter and read it aloud to the person. Not only will you benefit, so will the receiver of your letter.
  • Fill a Gratitude Box:  Decorate a box and place items that remind you of a happy memory (concert ticket stub, thank you note received, picture, etc.) in it.  Every week, spend a few minutes looking through the items and reliving the experiences.
  • Create a Gratitude Board:  Create a collage of things for which you are grateful and place it in a spot that you will regularly see it.  Change up the items from time to time to keep it fresh.
  • Throw a Gratitude Party:  Invite some friends over and ask them each to write a short note about something for which they are grateful.  Read aloud or share the notes with each other.

It’s time to start the movement – Join me and we will infuse our holiday celebrations with gratitude.

Looking forward to seeing how each of you expresses your Practice of Gratitude:

Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.

Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.  -Brene Brown



#50 Fabulous Feats: The Movement

Here it is: the last of my 50 Fabulous Feats!  When I began this journey on my 50th birthday, I couldn’t have imagined the incredible people, places, and things I would encounter along the way.  I began the blog as an applied positive psychology experiment and, while it involved less than sound research methodology, I feel quite confident that I am the better for having engaged in this array of awesome activities.  As I complete my 50 Feats, I have been reflecting on the learning as a result of practicing these pillars of positivity:

File 2016-02-21, 6 53 35 PMPracticing Gratitude:  According to Robert Emmons, gratitude is “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.” For me, it involved giving back to my community, particularly in recognition of the privilege I enjoy.  My passion in mental health was reflected in my contributions to the Women and Wellness fundraiser through Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara Branch.  My wish to support those living without the basic life necessities that we take for granted including food and shelter led me to volunteer with the great people at Start Me Up Niagara and the Coldest Night of the Year walk as well as the Niagara Region when it conducted its first point-in-time survey of homelessness.  The wonderful 100 Women Who Care – Niagara further showed me both the needs within my community and the positive difference a small group of people can have when they come together for a common cause.    Research more reliable than my own experiment has identified the benefits of practicing gratitude to be higher self-esteem, energy, and hopefulness; increased ability to cope with stress; decreased envy, loneliness, and anxiety; and a building of social bonds. I know that as I look back, these outcomes resonate with me.

Cultivating Optimism:  Sonja Lyubormirsky describes optimism as “finding the silver lining in a cloud.  Not only celebrating the present and past, but anticipating a bright future.” I feel a kindred spiritedness with Dr. Lyubormirsky as many of my feats focus on the silver lining and hope associated with the ability to live well with mental illness.  I had the opportunity to share my story of ongoing recovery from the perspective of someone both living with mental illness and as the mother of a young adult son who also has mental health challenges.  Rather than focusing on the struggles, and there are many of them, we have chosen to2016-06-23 17.53.48 create our own silver linings.  One of my favourite feats continues to be when Christian and I got matching semi-colon tattoos symbolizing the importance of recognizing mental illness as a pause in the story and not the end.  Equally as memorable was my opportunity to meet Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (I call her my “rock star researcher”) whose Broaden and Build Theory was foundational to my 50 Feats; she posits that positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love help people to be open to new ideas (broaden) that, in turn, allows individuals to grow their physical, intellectual, and social resources (build) which can later be drawn upon for coping and resilience in the face of challenges.  In addition, cultivating optimism has been found to support the achievement of goals, positive mood, and high energy.  I feel strongly that my own positive focus has been the driving force for my psychological growth and ability to bounce back – Thanks Barbara! 

Practicing Acts of Kindness:  We all have the ability to practice acts of kindness – selfless acts in support of others.  Interestingly, such activities have been found to produce greater benefits for the giver than the receiver – truly a win-win proposition.  From blood donation (while I wasn’t able to do so for health reasons, others told me that my cb4blog inspired them to donate in my stead) to building a playground with likeminded strangers to planting trees to reduce my carbon footprint, I accomplished these fabulous feats spending zero dollars in the process showing that such acts are accessible and possible for everyone.  Reviewing the benefits of elevated happiness, increased compassion, social connection, confidence, and optimism, I wholeheartedly believe I was the benefactor in every case.

Nurturing Social Relationships:  Researcher/storyteller Brene Brown writes: “we are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” This statement struck a cord for me not just because I have always been relationship-driven in my life, but also because those of us who live with mental illness share a common dichotomous challenge:  when we are unwell, we tend to socially isolate at a time when we need to connect more than ever.  Many of my feats revolved around activities with others – friends and strangers alike.  Whether eating snails, horseback Riding 18riding, learning to cook, or touring local sites and sounds of Niagara, the experience was enhanced because I was sharing it with others.  According to research, those who cultivate connections have the benefit of strengthened immune systems, longer life, lower levels of anxiety and depression, and greater empathy. Excitingly, the positive results of nurturing social relationships are bi-directional which means that not only was I made happier by my connections, but, as a more positive person, I also enjoy a greater likelihood of acquiring new friends.

Developing Coping Strategies:  Sonja Lyubormirsky describes coping strategies as “what people do to alleviate the hurt, the stress or suffering caused by a negative event or situation.”  Engaging in problem-focused and emotion-focused techniques and practices allow me to not just survive, but thrive while living with mental illness, supporting post-traumatic imagegrowth and transformation.  In some instances, my “feats” were very specific to me:  the makeover that invaded my peri-personal space; travelling alone to Ottawa; and successfully navigating the mental health system of “hospital-land” with my son.  In each case, I emerged with a sense of meaning and purpose, one of the benefits supported by the research into coping strategies.

Savouring Life’s Joys: According to Dr. Fredrickson, savouring involves “considering good events in such a way that you willfully generate, intensify, and prolong your heartfelt enjoyment of them.” Savouring allows you to triple the pleasure through anticipation, experiencing, and remembering events.  As I write this, I am smiling as I think about my first feat of riding a motorcycle, re-experiencing that enjoyment after all these months.Motorcycle  My nose piercing still glints at me every morning when I look in the mirror and, if I close my eyes, I can feel the whoosh and hear the roar of the wind as I ziplined down the Niagara gorge.  Savouring is the gift that keeps on giving.

Committing to Your Goals:  Moving towards individual intentions, wishes, and desires has been shown to increase self-esteem, confidence, and provide meaning and purpose, especially when the goals are intrinsic and authentic to you. It is important to note that the benefits arise from approaching something you want rather than from moving away from something undesirable.  I get a little emotional when reviewing this pillar.  Neale Walsch said “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone;”  50 Fabulous Feats empowered me to push my limits and achieve beyond my wildest imagination.  I obtained my Master of Education degree, started my own consulting business, became a certified Coach Practitioner, landed my dream job of Recovery Support Worker, and completed training as a SPARKie with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Sharing these accomplishments through my blog further served to enhance the thrill of each achievement.

Taking Care of Your Body, Mind, and Soul:  The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The importance of taking care of yourself is not a new concept, especially related to the benefits of physical activity.  In fact, some research has found that physical exercise can have as much, and sometimes more, of an effect in improving mental health issues, such as depression, as medication.  My fab feats included not just walking around the neighbourhood (listening to the audio recording of Moby Dick), but also around the Isle of Wight (150 km in 6 days).  IMG_0136From the mental health perspective, I pursued mindful activities including drumming, meditation, and, my favourite, kickin’ back in Kauai in support of reduced stress, stronger immunity, and just plain slowing down in a world that sometimes feels like it moves at warp speed.  Finally, I explored what Sonja Lyubomirsky describes as the “search for meaning in life through something that is larger than the individual self.”  In my case, it was not connected to organized religion (although I wholly support others who choose this path), but through considering various aspects of spirituality including a retreat at a spiritual centre on the one hand, and a psychic reader on the other.  Of note is the prediction from Jewelee that my next position would involve “travelling from one place to another” rather than working at a single location; my time is now spent visiting clients in the community to support their health and wellbeing as an Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACTT) member which infuses my soul with meaning and purpose every day.

And so, I conclude my applied positive psychology experiment in this, my 50th blog.  After spending over a year engaging in novel, engaging activities in support of increasing my own positive affect, however, I believe that the impact of these pillars of applied positive psychology is too important to simply end.  I think everyone can benefit from a little “broaden and build” activity. And so, I am rolling out the next phase of my applied positive psychology experience:  Fabulous Feats: The Movement.   This “final” blog launches a call to action for others to take up the mantle, engaging in your own unique, novel, interesting feats, and sharing them with the world.  I will be assisting the movement through introducing one of the positive psychology pillars and inviting your posts, pictures, tweets, and videos illustrating how you have embraced the ideas through your own activities.  As I complete this post, I am simultaneously unveiling my own Facebook page:  Fabulous Feats, that I would love for you to “like” and where we can all share our ongoing experiences.  In addition, I would love for you to support the movement through the hashtag campaign:  #FabFeats with a quick tweet about your own activities.  SilverLiningFrog.com will continue with posts describing research and suggestions that you might try based upon each month’s positivity pillar.


For December, the focus will be on Practicing Gratitude.  In keeping with the theme, I would like to thank everyone who has supported SilverLiningFrog and my Fabulous Feats throughout the journey so far.  I appreciate you more than words can say.


                                                                                         #FabFeats                               Fabulous Feats 






#49 NaNonFiWriMo

When I attended SPARK training at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one of the ideas generated for SilverLiningFrog.com was to create a book about the 50 Feats experiment.  sparkI didn’t think much more about it until my older son introduced me to November’s National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately called. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to spend the month of November working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. There are groups all over the world that you can join for the month to engage in mutual encouragement, writing sessions, and friendly competition on your way to the 50,000 word count.

I decided to attend one of the Niagara meetings with my son to see if NaNoWriMo might be my inspiration for translating 50 Feats into a book.  The group met at a local coffee shop: we were introduced to 8 others at this session and felt comfortable with the informal exchange of ideas and tips for writing in anticipation of November 1.

While I was, by far, the oldest one in the group, the other element that set me slightly apart was that my creative writing was non-fictional while the rest of the group were  writing Sci-Fi novels.  wnin-logonarrow250Nonetheless, I was inspired  to think about writing from the perspective of a focused process.  If there was a venue for novel writing, perhaps there was also a gathering for non-fiction writers.  I did a little research and discovered National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), a contest that parallels NaNoWriMo in its challenge to non-fiction writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days during November and, thereby, completing a book.  I immediately signed up to participate.  During November, http://www.writenonfictionnow.com promises 5 posts, each including tips from different experts on creativity, productivity, publishing, and writing; video interviews with professional writers; virtual writing days with associated Q&A times; and related coaching sessions.  Unlike NaNoWriMo, the community is only online; there are no in-person meet-ups for writing and encouragement.

I am a bit of a “cheater” when it comes to writing 50,000 words since much of the writing has already been completed through the 50 Feats blog posts.  However, having incentive to transform the blogs into a comprehensive product focused around the various pillars of positive psychology that I had previously identified for 50 Feats: The Workshop within a set time frame has enormous appeal, especially as I will be engaging in my writing marathon along with a world of kindred spirits.  I can almost feel the energy coming through the wifi to buoy my efforts.

keep-calmMy son has continued to attend the group sessions leading up to NaNoWriMo and excitedly awaits the November 1st start.  Today he told me that the members of his group invited me to attend any of their writing days despite my genre of non-fiction; to them, it is all about the writing and the joy associated with producing your own creation, from a blank page to a book of adventure.  We all have that essence and resolve in common.

And so, as I begin to craft my book, the countdown now begins for the 50th Fabulous Feat.  What will it be?  Stay tuned to find out!








#48 A Night At The Museum

museum-7After my recent adventure at the Niagara Falls Museum, I was excited about having a little more culture with a dash or two of fun this week.  My work friend (having passed FabFeats initiation with “flying” colours as my zip line compadre) suggested that we check out the final night of Open Late at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canal Centre.  The advertisement promised food, music, and the opportunity to participate in “audience-led museum tours as co-curators” for the reasonable price of five dollars.

Our evening began on a comical note as I waited patiently on a bench outside for her to arrive, only to discover some time later through email texting that she had entered through a side door and was already inside, thinking I had been held up in getting there.  Fortunately, almost as soon as we met, they were announcing the first Museum Secrets tour was about to begin.

We found ourselves among a small group of women gathered around a young tour guide named Adrian.  He was just about to start when I recognized one of the participants as someone I used to work with at my last job.  We had a mini-reunion while the tour guide waited patiently.  He then began to explain our awaiting adventure.  The tour would consist of five items, each with two distinct descriptions, one of which was the truth, and one a ruse.  Our task was to determine the correct story.  Adrian told us that museum-8we could not ask him any questions (or at least, that if we did, he would provide no answers) and there was no touching any of the objects.  With this segue, he noted that one of our group members had located the first mystery item by resting her purse on it while she took off her coat.  With a little laugh, and a touch of embarrassment, she withdrew her purse and Adrian asked who might like to read the first description.  My friend stepped up immediately and told us that the big yellow metal object was, in fact, a buoy that had been in the waters of the canal. Or was it?  The next story told of a war time air raid siren.  We looked closely at (but didn’t touch) the item for clues as to its actual origin.  Someone commented on the black hose at the bottom; another suggested the heavy metal did not look very buoyant.  Adrian just smiled and lead us to the next mystery item.

museum-6For the next 30 minutes we weaved our way through the museum, studying an early 1900’s picture (does it depict rum runners or canal workers?), a wooden cone that opened into tiny parts (a model of volume or the conical portion of an eye?), a pair of glasses (to whom did they belong?), and a travelling chest (while it turned out not to belong to an unlucky seafarer who was on board not one, not two, but three vessels that ended in tragedy – including the Titanic – the story itself turned out to be true).  During our travels, we developed a kind of camaraderie as we shared ourmuseum-1 thoughts and had a few laughs along the way.  As we came to the final stop, Adrian recapped our items and possible provenance.  The group then chose based on our best sleuthing skills; the majority of us correctly answered four of the five, with only one woman not tripped up by the sneaky positioning of the glasses beside the Lightening Fastener exhibit causing us to wrongly select Gideon Sundback as their owner.  Before we departed, Adrian had us all raise our right hands and swear to maintain the “mysteries” of the evening and reveal nothing to future participants.


Next up was dinner.  A food truck  sat out front advertising its British fare; Ello Gov’na promised “smashing good nosh” including bangers and mash that my friend decided upon and a roast beef in Yorkshire pudding sandwich that called out to me.  We took our yummy food to the back of the museum and chatted while we watched a ship travel through the canal as the sun began to museum-2set.

As the evening cooled off, we made our way inside to await the evening’s musical entertainment: Beth Moore Music.  We spent a some time wandering around the various exhibits and had a little laugh each time we heard Adrian taking his next group around for their “mystery tour,” feeling a little smug about knowing the answers, but staying true to our oath of secrecy.  By the time Beth took the stage, it was past 8:30 and I admit to feeling just a bit old as I calculated how late I could stay and still get the requisite sleep needed to fire on all cylinders the next day at work.  She began with a couple of songs on her own, before being joined by two young men on percussion and keyboards.  They were very good and I noted that it was too bad there weremuseum-4 not more people in attendance.  I particularly enjoyed Beth’s explanations of the background to her various lyrics; for me, it really is all about the story.  Reluctantly, my friend and I slipped away after a few more songs in order to make our way home before too late an hour (which, I might add, is definitely different at 51 than it was at 21!).

As I drove home I realized that this event marked my 48th Fabulous Feat.  Stay tuned for the next couple, my SilverLiningFrog friends, as they promise to dazzle and delight.


#47 It’s All About The Story

The Niagara Falls History Museum was the site of my latest feat.  Located in the old niagara-falls-museumStamford Town Hall on Ferry Street, it received a 12 million dollar renovation in 2012 in order to properly preserve and house its more than 26,000 artifacts.  I am embarrassed to say that in all the years I have lived in Niagara Falls, I have never visited the museum.  When Culture Days advertised a behind the scenes tour, I decided it was time to check it out.

Since my older son, Christian, had been having some challenges with his mood as is not uncommon as Fall sets in, I gently cajoled him into accompanying me in order to change up his day by being around, but not overwhelmed by, a few other folks.  When we arrived, we met a lovely woman who was at the welcome desk.  As Maja had us sign us up for the tour, I told her about my positive psychology experiment.  She asked if I did mental health-related training and shared that it would be especially helpful for museum front-line staff who regularly encounter individuals presenting with unusual behaviours and other challenges, possibly related to ongoing mental illness.  I talked about a presentation for the Welland Public Library staff that I had participated in with Canadian Mental Health Association workers and suggested something similar could be arranged.  We exchanged idress-up-museumnformation, and Maja said that she would talk to her Manager and get back to me.  It was only when I began to write this blog that I realized the Culture and Museum Manager is someone I know through his wife and mother, both of whom I worked with at Brock University.  Once again, It seems to me that the Universe has chosen to send its intentions my way.

While we waited for the tour, Christian and I browsed the War of 1812 gallery.  Given the opportunity to don a coatee and hat, and brandish a musket, I dutifully hammed it up for the camera.  It made my kid laugh too, which was a good thing.  Returning to the reception area, about 8 other people were waiting as Christine, our basement-museumguide, joined us to begin the tour. We were quite a heterogeneous group: Christian and me, several middle-aged women, an elderly couple, a Dad and his young daughter.  Christine took us to the elevator and we descended to the basement storage area.  She explained to us that their recent renovations had allowed the museum to properly store the variety of pieces – from ploughs to chairs to pictures to taxidermied animals and birds.  My favourite was Skipper, a dog born without front legs whose owner had fashioned a wheeled apparatus so he could get around on his own.  After his death (from natural causes we were assured), the owner, who was a taxidermist, mounted both Skipper and his skeleton, which were preserved for future generations like us to see.

Christine explained that for years the museum had collected items with an emphasis on breadth rather than depth.  As a result, many of the artifacts have little history attached to them.  The mandate now is all about “telling the story and preserving the ongoing culture and history of Niagara Falls.”  Later, in the War of 1812 exhibit, she illustrated thissoldier-coat concept using as an example a small scrap of material that became part of the collection.  Through research and enhanced preservation techniques, this piece of crumpled uniform was restored and identified by the type of wool and buttons used to be that of an officer; a further investigation found two officers who had died in this battle.  This item now tells its important and personal story to the visitors of the museum about the War of 1812 through a real soldier’s expwallendaerience.

When Christian asked Christine about her favourite artifact, she shared another significant element to the museum’s content: it’s not just about old items; the culture and community of Niagara Falls encompasses both old and new and is meant to tell the story for generations to come.  Christine enjoyed the materials associated with the dawalking-the-tight-roperedevils, including  Nick Wallenda’s 2012  walk “over the mighty Niagara Falls” as is captioned in the signed poster displayed upstairs.  I gravitated to an interactive exhibit that allowed visitors to try their own hand (or more appropriately, feet) at traversing the Falls on a tightrope. My silly antics again received laughs from the boy, who was easily coaxed into taking my picture.

As we arrived back in the lobby area, we again saw Maja who reconfirmed her interest in connecting about mental health training in the future.  We also picked up brochures advertising upcoming activities at the museums including a community yoga series and a Fall film series (programmed by another former Brock colleague, the amazing Joan Nicks).  As we left, Christian commented that he was surprised how much he had enjoyed the afternoon and expressed interest in checking out the yoga program as well.  For my part, I happily noted how anecdotally we had demonstrated the idea that novel, intentional activities, laughter, and social connections can have a positive impact on one’s mood.  Another Fabulous Feat successfully completed, with a dash of mental health education sprinkled in for good measure.

Next up: Open Late at the Welland Canal Centre



#46 Rails, Bridges, and Butcher Shops

In the course of 50 Feats I have had the pleasure of finding out about interesting and informative events taking place in my own community.  This week’s activity came to me from the City of Niagara Falls.  The description invited me to “join the City’s Official Historian, Sherman Zavitz, for a walk into the past as you explore parts of Queen Street, Erie Avenue, Park Street, Zimmerman Avenue, Cataract Avenue, and Bridge Street.”  I quickly filled out my registration form and looked forward to a Sunday afternoon stroll through Niagara Falls.

The day of the event I arrived for the 1:30 start time. I wasn’t sure of the potential interest in the event and, honestly, had envisioned the potential of me and the historian on a personal one-on-one tour. I was pleasantly surprised when I rounded the corner and found about 50 people milling around the stairs of the Queen Street City Hall.win_20160925_14_16_42_pro

This was a feat that I decided to do solo with a view to meeting some new people while learning about Niagara Falls history. As we waited for the tour to begin, I began talking to Ann.  She was carrying a shopping carrier and began to talk to me about Rosbergs  and showed me the plastic bags she would distribute as part of the tour.  She told me about going to the department store after her music lessons as a girl; she described how old Mrs. Rosbergs acted as elevator operator and kept all the young shoppers in line.  What I didn’t realize until later was that Ann was Sherman’s wife, supporting him in the presentation and throughout the tour.

shermanAfter a few minutes, Sherman stood at the top of the stairs and began our tour with a description of the Clifton Town Hill that housed the area’s butcher shops.  We started a slow stroll towards our next destination and I fell into conversation with a woman who told me she had been a bookkeeper at Rosbergs before it closed. She also shared her fond memories of her time at the store.  During the presentation, one of the Rosbergs’ grandsons who had come specifically for the tour, also contributed to the conversation.

At each stop in the tour, we learned about the various buildings, railroads, shops, and hotels.  There was the bank where a famous robbery took place:  the culprits rented the building next door and tunneled though to the vault over several weeks at night, taking almost a million dollars back in the early 1900’s.  They were caught because of a liquor bottle left behind; buying liquor required a recorded name and address upon purchase and the police found the robbers in Montreal, at the very address they had provided.  Just as informative were the two older women who giggled as they told me about their experiences with ordering alcohol “back in the day.”  They said that they had to order food with their alcohol and described the “cardboard sandwiches” that came with their drink order; under no circumstances would they ever touch the sandwiches.  We all laughed together as we walked to the next site.

marilyn-monroe-houseOur next stop was the old post office in Niagara Falls.  It’s claim to fame was its inclusion in the Marilyn Monroe movie Niagara, where she was filmed walking up the stairs.  A beautiful old building, it was under some renovations; one woman said that she thought she had seen a person in one of the upper windows – a worker or someone from the past?

We finished our tour by the Niagara Falls bridge.  Sherman talked about how the railroad had spanned thbridge-nfe United States and Canada over the years.  While many of the hotels had closed or burned down over the years, he described the bustling business that had been part of the core of Niagara Falls in its heyday.  For me, it was a beautiful reminder of why I am a proud resident of Niagara Falls. One of the participants asked if our guide had written any books about the area and, with a humble smile, Sherman told us there were a few.  queen-street-tour-sherma-book

As we completed our tour, I made my way back to my car, feeling happy about the people, places, and things I had learned more about during the afternoon.  When I got home I found Sherman’s Niagara Falls Historical Note with its vignettes about the city and its people.  Another successful feat for the history books!

Next up:  Behind the Scenes at the Niagara Falls Museum







#45 Come Fly With Me!

I am afraid of heights. I have been for as long as I can remember. It’s called acrophobia and is defined by Wikipedia as “an extreme or irrational fear or phobia of heights” and is likely something I was born with along with some of my other non-specific anxieties. So, zipline-2when a friend at work wanted to go on the new Niagara Falls zip line in celebration of a significant birthday, my initial response was a quickening of my pulse at the mere thought of it. However, as Elisha Goldstein suggests, ” life begins at the edge of your comfort zone,” and instead of backing away, I told her I was in!

It was the weekend after my friend Shirley’s birthday that we decided we would take advantage of having Monday as a holiday by booking our adventure. She registered us and we both filled out our waiver forms (I confess to being a little anxious as I agreed that the activity “involves many inherent risks, dangers and hazards” followed by an exhaustive list of possibilities including wildlife, falls, and collision with trees or structures.” I decided it was best to not read the fine print too closely). Early that afternoon we were on our way to Niagara Falls.

zipline-5The MistRider Zipline to the Falls is new this summer. It advertises “an amazing rush to soar high and fast towards the breathtaking natural Niagara Falls phenomenon.” There are four 2,200 feet zip lines that run parallel to each other through the river gorge that promised a perfect view of the Canadian and American falls.

We made our way to the Zipline only to find that we had to check in at another building on the other side of Clifton Hill. It was a bit confusing, but we managed to find it after asking a second time. We checked in and asked about pictures that Shirley had been assured on the phone would be available today; we were more than a little devastated to find out the photographers were gone for the day. We asked to talk to a Manager since we didn’t know if we wanted to go if we couldn’t have “proof” of our journey. A young man named Matt met us and explained that the photos were just being pilot tested and there was no guarantee of when they might be available. When he saw our disappointment, he got out his own phone and showed us pictures that he and his Mom had taken themselves and assured us that we could easily get our own pictures with our phones. With this information, we decided we would continue with our plans and joinimageed the others who were part of the 5 p.m. group.

As we waited in line, we struck up a conversation with the couple behind us. They were from New York and had decided to drive back tomorrow, leaving them time to try out the zip line this afternoon rather than battle the border traffic. As we received our helmets and took the elevator up to the landing, we chatted amiably with them about our unique celebration of Shirley’s birthday.  They laughed along with us when we told them that we worked in mental health and said they would enjoy going down the Zipline as a foursome to share our experience!

zipline-4I watched the attendants leaning casually against the glass partition between the platform and the sky and felt my heart beat faster.  For the first time since arriving, I quietly said, “I’m afraid of heights.”  Just a statement, not a game changer. I became a little more anxious as we donned our gear – a durable (I hoped) canvas seat and harness that you stepped into, clipped here and there around your body and attached to the pulley attached to the zip line. I half- jokingly asked the attendant to reassure me that they hadn’t lost anyone yet. She looked to be less than half my age; she smiled and put her hand on my should telling me, “You got this.”  I wasn’t entirely sure this statement was true, but I was strapped in and ready to go; at this point there was only one zipline-3way down.

The glass panel opened and we were on our way.  As previously discussed with our New York friends, we all screamed as we left the platform (I was glad I was able to scream since I had feared I would be catatonically silent). Then, everything became quiet. We were flying.  Shirley, who had shot out in front of us for some unknown reason, later described her experience as feeling a lightness and serenity while enveloped in the tremendous roar of the wind. The journey takes less than a minute and reaches up to 60 kilometres an hour, but it felt to me like I was almost suspended in mid-air; the beautiful views on the gorge, the trees, the falls passed by as if in slow motion. I had no fear; it was peaceful.

At the bottom our foursome reconnected and we all spoke about how amazing our experiences hazipline-6d been.  Shirley and I remained at the bottom for some time enjoying a view of the he Falls from a vantage point that one of the attendants said had not been open to the public for more than 30 years. Finally we conceded to get on the shuttle that took us back up the gorge. We looked at the pictures Shirley had taken and realized they were at least as good, if not better, than any we would have purchased, and we saved money in the end.

We continued to be in awe of our experience for the rest of the evening.  Both Shirley and I are “mature” and experiencing transitions in our worlds, which resulted in not just the fun of zip lining, but also a more philosophical reflection on the life lessons that we could glean from our time in the air:

  • When you are in flight, you can see in front of you and look around you, but you can’t look back;
  • You can experience your own serenity even when the world is roaring around you;
  • New experiences can be scary at first, but once you take the step, the journey can be so worth it;
  • Sometimes what you anticipate to be essential before you begin turns out not to be important at all in the end;
  • Experiences shared are double the fun!

My greatest of thanks to Shirley who helped me to once again live my life just a bit past my comfort zone.

Next up: Walking through history in Niagara Falls