Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 25, 2013

Of all the things we look for to enhance our lives, we humans, the one that seems to be the object of the most energy, time and money is happiness. Historically we are so desirous of that quality, that it was mentioned prominently in one of the greatest documents of all time—the U. S. Declaration of Independence.

Television commercials are rife with suggestions of all that you need to purchase in order to become happy. Books have been written on the topic, movies have been made, and entire courses of study have been crafted and taught in our colleges in our efforts to define and condense a definition of happiness and how best to go about achieving it.

Everyone has an opinion about this subject and it should come as a surprise to anyone that I do, too.

First—in my humble opinion—I think we are confusing two words: happiness and contentment. We think “happiness” and the images that come to mind are smiles, laughter, a feeling of euphoria enveloping us, making us feel lighter than air so that we are always up, always, no.

If that is how you are and how you feel, you may have accidentally ingested some whacky gas. You need to go see a doctor. Asap.

I believe the definition of happiness that we want is the one that means contentment. We want to know that we matter. We want to know that the work we do is appreciated. We want to love and be loved. We want to be able to work and earn enough money to meet all of our essential needs, and some of our non-essential “wants”. We want to feel good about getting up each day, because we have a plan for the future. We want to know that we are someone going somewhere. We want to have moments in the day when we sit back and say, “ahh.”

How do we manage to do—to become—all of this?

I really do believe it begins with a decision. How we look at ourselves, our friends and family, our environment—this outlook plays a large role. And how we perceive ourselves, and everyone and everything else is a deliberate choice. Do we like ourselves? My friends, we really need to do that. We are the only us we have. We have to live our entire lives with ourselves. So we might as well like ourselves. We can decide to like our work, too—and if we absolutely cannot, then we need to find work that we can like.

It doesn’t happen overnight. We can start by appreciating the small things. The laughter of a child. The beauty of a flower. Does your grocery store sell flowers? Mine does. Sometimes I buy them, but I always stop to look at them, for a moment. What about the smell of fresh bread coming from the store’s bakery? Or the scent of a really good burger from your local burger joint?

Did you know that every day comes complete with one free sunrise and one free sunset—yours to enjoy at no extra charge? You can do things for others that cost nothing. Open a door, give a smile, say “thank you”.

These are little things, but knitted together become so much more than the sum of their parts. If you want to feel good about yourself, then feel good about yourself. You are alive. You have challenges? Name me one person who doesn’t. We all have challenges, except those poor souls already interred beneath the grass.

I believe that finding a sense of happiness, of contentment, is vital to our psyches. I believe that we can control that feeling, by choosing it. And I believe with everything that is in me that once we do, once we start that first bit of deliberately choosing to be happy, then the feeling begins to mushroom and grow within us.

It’s like emotional dominoes. Once you get the first one moving, the rest cannot help but fall.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

September 18, 2013

We’ve been pretty lucky over the last ten years or so when it comes to vacations. Prior to 2000, we’d only experienced two trips away. One was up to a lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. The other had been our “honeymoon” that we took to Las Vegas on our 17th wedding anniversary. The lack of travel and vacations away hadn’t bothered me as much as it had my beloved. I’d grown up with the attitude that vacation trips were rewards you gave yourself once every few years. That attitude came from my mother, of course, and was an attitude shared by many in her generation.

My husband has almost always had a thirst for travel.

You know how some things in life have stayed the same with regard to affordability and some have come down in price? Travel really is more affordable now than it was in the early years of our marriage. Here in our neck of the woods you can get all-inclusive packages to places like the Dominican Republic for a week, including airfare for under a thousand dollars per person—sometimes as low as six hundred. If you live in any of the port cities like New York, Philadelphia, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale or Miami, you can take a cruise for a very reasonable amount, too—and they are always inclusive of meals if not soda and alcohol.

We’ve traveled quite a bit these last ten years, sometimes going away more than once a year for pleasure. This year we had only one trip for pleasure and that was a week or so ago. Most of our vacation trips have been awesome, but I guess you can’t always hit them out of the park.

I won’t name the resort we went to in central Ontario. I will say that we were both disappointed. I am mobility challenged, and came prepared to use my wheelchair to get whatever distances we had to travel, to get to the lake, or the walking trails. The only problem was it turned out there were no “trails” – we would have had to navigate soft lawn or harder packed, pebble strewn ground. My chair has those small wheels, so that was not happening. Our room was on the second floor which was only a slight problem in that there was no elevator.

The food was good – we had an assigned table in the dining room for every meal (the same table each time) not far from what I presumed was the only washroom, which was down a flight of fairly steep stairs. It wasn’t until after our last dinner that I discovered, quite by accident that across the dining room and out of my line of sight was another washroom, no stairs required.

Every one of those servers saw me with my cane, and the maitre d’ seated us that first night, and not a one of them thought to mention the accessible washroom tucked away in an ell to the main room. But I will assume full responsibility because I didn’t ask, either.

I won’t say that I didn’t have a single crabby moment, because that would be a lie. To my shame, I had several.

There were some very nice things about the resort. The food, as I said, was good and some of the staff very nice. The grounds of this historic estate were beautiful and we did make it from our room to the lake, so that we sat for an interlude enjoying the waves. It was a windy day and I was glad I thought to bring my jacket. My brief foray by the water was nearly worth the rest of the time we spent there.

Fortunately, I had to focus on getting as much writing done as I could during those four days as I am on a deadline, and that I did very well. My beloved went for a couple of walks, and was just as happy to catch up—or try to—on his reading, otherwise. He made use of the outdoor pool—he said the water was fairly warm but getting out of it was a very chilly experience. With the air temperature somewhere around 70, I imagine it would be. If it had been warmer I’d have enjoyed that experience with him.

I did make it to the indoor pool our last night there. It was a fair walk from our room to the pool that was in the main building and required you to go up one short flight of stairs, and down another. The water was very warm, the pool very clean and fairly deserted. The hot tub, however, was, due to a malfunction, a cold tub (only about 85 degrees) which does not do my arthritis any favors.

Ah well, live and learn. I will make a note to myself that just because a resort looks good on its website and boasts several awards, doesn’t mean I can take what they offer at face value. And this past week did remind me of why it is that we tend to vacation outside of Canada. My fellow Canadians may throw rotten tomatoes at me for this one, but I have to be honest. We have stayed other places in some of our major cities and I can say one thing with absolute authority.

My country does many things very well, but offering truly world class accommodations that are good value for the dollar, sadly, is not one of them.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2013

Today marks the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Twelve years later, and no one in the United States, or Canada, has forgotten the events of that day, or the people who lost their lives. We recall the day and our impressions of it, where we were, how we found is one of those days in history that forever will be etched in our hearts and minds. We will forever remember.

This event was even more transforming, for it changed the world in which we live. I can barely recall what the world was like pre-9/11. I wonder if the people of an earlier generation had a similar feeling. Did they, in the years after the Second World War, pause and try to recall what their life had been like before Pearl Harbor?

Blessedly few are the events which shake us to our very core. Yet in recent memory we have had several. Some were manmade like 9/11 and the Newtown school shooting last year. And some were attacks of nature, like the Boxing Day Tsunami that hit Indonesia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011.

If you look back over the last twelve years, it’s easy to see how some people can let fear overtake their lives. Between our own insanity and the vagaries of nature, who can be sure there will even be a tomorrow?

It’s hard to consider, sometimes, that there have been horrific moments in life, all through the ages. There must have been people in every generation who thought that things certainly couldn’t get much worse. I’m sure there have been many who were afraid “the end” was near. Imagine what Londoners thought during the Black Plague. Looking back just as far as the last century in the 1950s, think of the people who built bomb shelters on their property, because they were certain that a bomb was going to drop on them.

Do you remember the “duck and cover” drills in school? Pure fear in action. There was no way hiding under a desk with your hands over your head would save your ass in the event of a nuclear attack. The only result of those drills was to either instill or allay fear—depending on the mindset of the person performing the drill.

The truth is that life has never been certain, nor will it ever be. Things happen—things we never expect and for sure never want. We really only do have this moment that we are in. We can’t prepare for every eventuality. We can only do the best we can do to cope with the things that come our way.

That is a sentiment that you’ve heard all of your life and in many different forms – “carpe diem” – seize the day. Because this day truly is all you can count on having.

It’s a testament to the incredible resiliency of humanity, and mankind’s unique capacity to have faith despite all evidence, that allows for us to plan for the future, to set our course and aim for our goals.

We somehow manage to eventually find a level of normal after each new flood of chaos and tragedy, and continue on our way through our lives, choosing to believe without any basis in fact, that all will be well and we will live to be a ripe old age.

We know these things and ponder these things, even as today, we pause to have a moment of silence and remember those who are lost.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 4, 2013

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I felt the seasons change about the middle of August this year. I was trying to explain to someone what I meant by that, and I realized that what I was talking about was more something sensed than seen. Autumn has a certain quality to the air, a certain shading of blue to the sky that is just shy of the deep blue of summer. At least around here, and in my perception, they do.

We’re always trying, aren’t we, to fit Mother Nature into our own “human made” little slots? Of course, bless her heart, she doesn’t always fit. But Labor Day has come and gone, and in this part of the world the kids returned to school yesterday, so therefore, summer has waned and autumn is at hand.

The years go so quickly any more. At least this waning summer didn’t seem to pass us by as fast as last summer did. Last year, we spent a total of 3 weeks away from home—two in July, beginning and end, and one in the middle of August. Since those trips were three separate ones, we spent at least a week for each one in preparation of traveling. A total of six weeks in which we were either gone or not paying attention to the weather, and that was half of the summer creeping by without notice.

My beloved and I have mostly stayed at home this year. He has had two “staycations” so far, and they were weeks well spent doing things around the house that had been put off for far too long. He didn’t begrudge the lack of travel, which to me is quite amazing. I’ve dubbed him the traveling fool in recent times, a title he quite likes and up until this year, was well earned.

We were to be heading off to Pennsylvania next week, but our friend and his mother have been having some unexpected circumstances, and out of respect for their needs, we’re staying home. Well, home, as in Canada. We did find a resort not too far from here that had last minute availability, so we’re going away at the end of this week. We’ll take four nights on the south shore of Lake Simcoe. We’re not great fans of canoeing or boating, water skiing or the like. But we do, both of us, really like to sit by the water, have the occasional cup of coffee and read our books.

One of us has a publishing deadline and will therefore be writing a book—but I do have to read what I write, so it’s all good. I don’t really consider this, what I do for a living, to be “work”. Not, at least, in the same way I considered my job work when I was an accounting clerk.

I’m looking forward to my interlude on the lake. We’ve never been to this resort, but it’s only about two and a half hours from home. It’s actually about ten minutes or so from my friend’s house, the one who stayed over last week and who I met when we were both ten.

We may drop in on her on our way there, as she invited us to do so. Now that we have reconnected after several years apart, I would like to keep in touch.

I have a dream, because I believe that as long as you have a dream, you are someone going somewhere. You need to keep looking forward, I think. You need to have something to work toward. My dream is to buy another house. This one, which has a basement and an upstairs, and is situated on land that is terraced, just doesn’t work for me anymore. The goal is to save as much as possible over the next five years, and then see what there is to be had.

I would really like a place that has some water on it, but that is just under the heading of “bonus”. Mostly, I want a ranch style building on a piece of land I can walk on, with room enough for an office and a guest bedroom, and an out building for Mr. Ashbury to tinker in. I might be sixty-five moving into my dream house, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

In the mean time and for now, I’ll be content to have a few days away to absorb some “pieces of quiet” on the shores of a lake, and to spend those pieces of quiet with my husband.