Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March 30, 2016

I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for my vibrant and yes, somewhat offbeat and often quirky sense of humor. Life is hard, and if you couldn’t laugh at yourself and the way you end up on your ass from time to time, how would you get through it? I’ve heard it said that the human body cannot produce laughter and ulcers at the same time – that it’s chemically impossible for it to do so. I don’t know if that’s true, or not. But it sure sounds as if it should be.

It’s hard not to be tense in these times. It’s also hard to, as they say, “not let the turkeys get you down”. Like everything else in life, keeping a good sense of humor, and exercising it on a regular basis is a decision.

But it’s a decision well made.

My daughter and I are in our fifth week of our fitness regimen. Most days we go together, but some days because of her schedule, she meets me there. The facility is beautiful, and though we have missed a couple of days due to being under the weather, we don’t either of us let that bother us. A missed day does not a regimen break. And trust me, over the last few weeks we’ve each had plenty to chuckle about as we’ve tried to get back into the swing of things. Even self-depreciating laughter helps.

On Monday, when we’d finished the last element of our routine—the swim—we were relaxing in the hydro-therapy pool, which we do every time we go there. This is a hot tub with jets, and is about twice the size of any one I’ve seen at any hotel. It isn’t as hot as a regular Jacuzzi, just warm enough to help sore and recently worked muscles. A father was bringing his small daughter, complete with water wings, into the pool. The child’s mother was already in the water, so daddy lifted her, intending to hand her over. The moment her small body cleared the edge of the pool, the toddler began to pump her legs, mid-air, for all she was worth.

Jenny and I burst out laughing, because we were both reminded of our puppies being lowered into the bathtub.

Watching kids play is a good way to grab yourself some lighter mood. They are totally invested in their world, and in that world there is nothing but play. Do you still play? Maybe not in the sandbox, but do you take time to just have fun? It’s a difficult habit to cultivate, because the adult in us insists that we need to be serious and do what needs doing and not waste any time! I just love those memes on Face Book, that talk about being too tired to “adult” today. Aside from making me smile, they tell me I’m not the only one to feel that way, and that’s always a comfort.

I was beginning to fall into the trap of thinking that the time spent at the gym and the pool—about nine hours a week counting travel time—was infringing on my more serious and important “work time”. It took me a couple of weeks to convince myself that if I just stick with it for a few more weeks, then my energy will improve so that the time I do spend working will in fact be more productive. It’s getting there. Already, my daughter has confessed she isn’t nearly as tired during her work day as she was pre-exercise program. It does this mother’s heart good when her child who is not a child can admit that her mom was right, after all.

It is hard to keep your sense of humor in fit shape, just as it’s hard to keep your body that way. And like your body, if you let your humor go without proper exercise, it takes a while for you to get it back where it should be.

I have a no-fail prescription for that situation. It’s my go-to emergency plan when I feel myself falling into a bad mood, or when I am just really sad, and I don’t want to be that way anymore. Yes, sadness and even bad moods have their place and their purpose. But they’re like going to the toilet. Everybody does it but nobody wants to stay there all day, or even dwell on the experience beyond what’s necessary.

So go to YouTube and look for laughing babies. Just like laughter and ulcer formation can’t co-exist, neither can your down mood and laughing baby videos.

They’ll get you cracking up, every time.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

March 23, 2016

Last week, the Prime Minister of Canada made his first official visit to the United States. As part of this visit, he and his wife were the guests of honor at a State Dinner given by the President and First Lady at the White House. It was the first time in nearly twenty years that a Canadian PM was so honored.

I like Justin Trudeau, and that liking has little to do with his politics. I liked his father, too. When Pierre Trudeau was first elected PM, I was a teenager. He was different from what I was used to seeing, in my young life, and changed the way I looked at our elected officials. Instead of being old and stodgy, he was younger, and had flair and style. There were several instances when he did things a little off the wall. The time, for example when he jumped in the House of Commons (I believe he was Justice Minister at the time). The sound of his feet hitting the floor reverberated very loudly inside that august chamber. He said he was just trying to make sure everyone was awake.

 Then there was the time he was caught on camera and lip readers claimed he dropped an F-bomb; he denied it and stated he said “fuddle-duddle” instead. The father was fresh and dynamic and outspoken, and I liked that.

The son is different, too, but not in such a dramatic way. I like that he is not a lawyer. He’s been a bouncer, and more recently, a teacher. He has a lovely wife, and three children, and when they are all together, you can see that family, for them, really does come first. How many other world leaders and their wives take their children out “trick or treating” in their neighborhood on Halloween (Mrs. Trudeau was in costume)?

Family came first at the State Dinner, too. Not only did Justin and Sophie Trudeau bring their children with them. As part of the Canadian Delegation, they brought their parents—Justin’s mother, and Sophie’s mother and father.

I’m not particularly political. I don’t care for dogma. I care for honesty and heart. I care for accountability, and a degree of humility. I believe Justin Trudeau has all those qualities. I like positivity, and the campaign he ran for the office to which he has been elected was a very positive campaign. There was no mud-slinging from his corner at all. Despite the ads the opposing parties aired, all targeting him, he refused to let the tone of his campaign turn negative.

Of course, he hasn’t been tested yet, and he’s new to the job, so time will really tell if he’s a good leader or not. But when he became our Prime Minister, he brought an air of optimism with him, and that is something we very much need in this day and age. It’s hard to stay upbeat and optimistic in these often harrowing times.

It’s hard to keep looking for the good in others when it seems only the bad makes the headlines. Sometimes we have to actively seek out that which is good, and just, and remind ourselves that we humans are capable of great kindness, generosity and love.

So it was fun to see how well the man some here have dubbed “Prime Minister Center Fold” was received not only by the officials of the American government, but by the people. One of things that Justin has said many times is that our similarities are greater than our differences, and being a diverse society, such as we are, makes us stronger. I like to believe he’s right. I’ve traveled a fair bit, though all of that travel has been on this side of the globe. I’ve been to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and Bermuda. I’ve visited, so far, 27 of the 50 United States. Some states I’ve been to more than once. And in my experiences, I’ve never felt like a fish out of water. I’ve always been able to find common ground.

We all, for the most part, love our families and want the best for them. We all, for the most part, want to live in peace, and find happiness. We all share a single planet, and we depend upon that planet to sustain our lives.

We may disagree on how to achieve our common goals of peace and prosperity; but those are really only details. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

March 16, 2016

Time keeps moving at an almost alarming pace for me. I know it’s because I probably have more years behind me than I do ahead of me. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I was a child, and thought the days lasted forever. But I’m wondering if at some point, the actual counting of the days stops.

And no, I don’t mean in the ultimate sense.

Here it is March again, and where I live, it looks as if it could almost be spring as there is no snow in sight. Last spring happened only a little while ago, and next spring isn’t really that far off. It’s like we’re on a gently moving merry-go-round, and oh, look, there’s spring. Yes, it’s in the cycle and will come and go and come again. The lines separating the days and weeks and months are blurring. It’s just this merry-go-round, it doesn’t stop until the end, it’s all one unit of time—my time.

Each day matters, in that they’re, every single one of them, a precious gift. Time is a precious gift, and it’s up to us to use that gift wisely. Of course, the definition of ‘wise’ is very subjective, isn’t it? 

Time management has never really been my forte, despite the fact that I’m very anal about some things. There are days when I have so much to do, it feels as if nothing gets done, or perhaps it’s me, and I’m so busy worrying about what gets done that nothing can get done. I have a bad habit of approaching chores and tasks like I did 20 or even 30 years ago, in the days when my energy was greater and my drive perhaps a bit more focused. One thing I’m having trouble doing is giving myself permission to not be as energetic, or as organized, or even as focused as I used to be.

Maybe the real challenge for me is simply accepting that I am getting older. No, I’m not old yet, but I am getting older. And being older, I don’t have to be in the fields all the time. I can relax, have fun, or just let my mind wander when I feel like it. Sometimes I have trouble adapting to my changing reality.

My beloved is having a similar difficulty, only for him facing reality these past few weeks has been a bit more stark of a process. It’s that time, where he works, to do the annual maintenance of the equipment that is used to turn big rocks into little rocks and gravel. He’s been out of his truck and having to do physical labour for a month now. He truly can’t do things the way he could 20 years ago, and because he can’t, the pleasure in the doing has been drained away from him. I think, though, that he’s turned that difficult corner, and instead of thinking so much about what he can’t do any more, he’s begun, finally, to look forward. And because he can’t do what he’d originally planned to do once he hangs up his hard hat for good, he—like me—has adapted. And surprisingly, in much the same way.

He’s planning to write when he retires. It’s something he’s done before, because once upon a time, when I was yet an aspiring author, he nagged me. Yes, he thought that I could schedule writing somewhere between folding that load of clothes from the dryer and putting the potatoes on to cook. I had a whole fifteen minutes! Why didn’t I sit down and write? So I challenged him to write his own book, and he did—in the days before computers, when it was either a typewriter or a pen (he chose a pen).

That had been quite the eye-opener for him, and he came away from the experiment with a greater appreciation for my process, and a newly awakened discovery of his own.

Two extended Christmas breaks in the last two years have proven that his occupying the same office space with me is truly a non-starter. The only thing that gets produced in this office when that happens is frustration (mine) and the only thing that gets plotted is distraction (his). Yes, this past December I actually told him to go outside to play and to not come back inside until the streetlights came on. He knew I didn’t mean it literally—it was our code for “you’re annoying me, please stop”.

Once he began to realize that the frustration will cut both ways when he’s retired, he began to consider the situation, and came up with a plan. Not willing to let any grass grow under his feet, he’s already purchased a new desk which he will put together on the weekend. It’ll go in one corner of our living room, and will neatly host his computer.

This should work brilliantly since there are only the two of us in this small house. The other beings who live here, fur babies both, can be counted on, at any given point during the day, to be dozing. And when the dog decides he wants to go outside every fifteen minutes, we’ll take turns.

My husband has nineteen and a half months to go before he’s home, full time. And since we’ve already discovered that time goes by rather quickly, that day will be here before we know it.



Wednesday, March 9, 2016

March 9, 2016

We can’t give up.

I used to think, well, it doesn’t matter on some of the small stuff. Everyone always says, don’t sweat the small stuff, let it go, right? So what’s the harm in that? But the older I get, and the more I see, the more I am coming to the conclusion that when you let go the small stuff, when you give up on the little things, then the act of letting go becomes easier. The practice of giving up becomes a habit. And when quitting becomes easier, when giving up becomes a habit, it very quickly becomes deeply entrenched in our behavior. It becomes a part of the story of who we are.

It’s a choice, to hold on, to keep on, to keep trying. Sometimes it’s the hardest, most difficult choice you can make. But it’s the choice you have to make. It is the choice you must make. You can’t give up.

Sometimes when you pick that easier choice, when it seems it will be a good outcome, to just give up, it turns out not to be so good, and in fact, it can have unimagined consequences.

I know right about now you all are wondering what I’m talking about. Well, it’s several things really, several things that I have been dealing with and things I’ve been witnessing lately in the world around me. I don’t discuss politics or religion in my essays, as you know. I just don’t. But I do discuss life, and really, politics and religion reflect life, don’t they? But I focus on life, and on the everyday living of it, and in the sharing of my own experiences and thoughts with the hope these will be of some use to some of you.

I can tell you what I believe in, without straying from my own dictates with regard to politics and religion.

I believe in showing respect to everyone. I believe in offering a hand up, where and when I can. I believe I have an obligation to do so because I have been blessed by receiving a hand up from time to time. I believe in taking the hand reaching out to me, reaching out in the midst of tragedy and loss, seeking solace. I take those hands because I have been blessed to know tragedy and loss, which allows me to connect with them. It allows me to help, so that the tragedy and loss I endured were not pointless.

I believe in being kind. There have been a very few times in the past couple of decades when people have misinterpreted something I’ve said, or something I’ve written, and decided I’ve been deliberately mean or cold, or shunning, when someone has decided that I was aiming at them, that I was attacking them. Those moments always leave me feeling raw and disillusioned, because I know my heart, and meanness doesn’t live there.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t need to be mean or to try and “get back” at someone who’s hurt me. I don’t need those cheap tricks, you see, because I have Grace. I have been blessed with Grace which is a gift you pass on, you don’t horde it and keep it all to yourself. You have to share it, or it vanishes.

And because I have been so blessed, I know that I cannot give up.

I had to set aside my personal mission to improve my fitness level for several years, but I always believed that I would return to it, that I would be able to take up where I left off, that I would simply carry on.

I’m in the second week of resuming that mission, only the second week, having finally resolved my medical issues, and I can tell you this is physically harder than anything I’ve ever done. But I can’t quit.

It would be so easy to quit. It would be so easy to come up with “reasons” not to carry on. Writing this essay, between one sentence and the next, there’s a voice that tells me it really does hurt too much, and I can’t do very much anyway, I’ll never get back to where I was. Too much pain for too little gain. And I need the time this is taking to write, or do more of the housework, or even spend time with family—every one of them a worthy endeavor.

But that’s not my voice saying those things to me. I know whose voice that is and it is a voice I will not heed.

The world right now is filled with voices, too—angry voices. Bitter voices. Voices that decry common decency. Vulgar, common voices. But we can’t let those voices win us over, either. We have to keep doing what is good and just and right, even when it seems as if it’s too much pain for too little gain. We cannot quit.

We can’t give up.

We have to keep doing what is hard, what is inconvenient, but what is also right. Because doing so is moving us all forward instead of making us fall back—and fall down.

 I can’t give up. I won’t give up.



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

March 2, 2016

This past Monday, I was finally able to do something I have dreamed of doing since I had to stop, due to health issues, early in 2011. I renewed my fitness center membership and have had my first work-out.

I am limited in what I can do; I’m 61, after all, and I have very bad osteoarthritis. Being half-crippled with this disease, however, isn’t a free pass to just sit and do nothing. Even in the years since I had to quit the center, I’ve worn a step counter every day, and I’ve kept moving. There are days when the pain is quite severe, but I kept moving, knowing full well that if I didn’t, soon I wouldn’t be able to.

On Monday, my routine for my first visit to the facility was simple, but at this point I’m just so darn glad I’m back, that simple is fine by me. I walked on the treadmill for 10 minutes (not very fast, and no incline for me at this point); then I rode the stationary bike, also for ten minutes. That was interesting once I figured out how to program a course and watch the monitor as the trees passed me on a road in the French countryside. After a brief rest, I then hit the pool, which for me is the main event.

At the time I had to end my swimming, I was swimming 50 @ 25 meter lengths (1,250 meters) a day, nearly every day. I don’t swim fast—completing those lengths took me about 45 minutes, which included a couple of two minute breaks. I don’t swim freestyle, or any other recognizable stroke. I do my own variation of a back stroke. Instead of my arms coming out of the water in a circular motion, I just stretch them out and then use them as if they were oars, to push me through the water. It’s not pretty, but my arms are moving (and against the resistance of the water), my legs are kicking, and I do get from one end of the pool to the other.

Monday, I was only able to do 4 @ 25 meter lengths. But that was better than the number I’d been doing for years, which was none. Also, what made me really happy, was that by the end of the second length, my body recalled how this motion worked, and my soul wept with joy to be back in the water again.

I’m not under any illusions. Despite the fact that I really don’t eat much (just enough to meet the requirements of being a diabetic, really), I’ll never lose dozens of pounds. Not happening because I also have hypothyroidism. But I’ll be moving. I’ll be active. I’ll, by damn, gain energy from the practice of going to the facility and that energy will infuse my brain with creative juices.

I purchased a family membership. I wanted my husband to come with me, but he doesn’t share my attitude of moving through the pain. So my daughter is coming with me when she can. And that’s good, it gives us something to share. She can lose weight, and that is one of her hopes. She also has a bit of early arthritis in her one knee that she broke, so it’s just as crucial for her to keep moving as it is for me.

Since I frequented this facility in the city next to us, they’ve made some pretty impressive changes and improvements. One of those improvements is that there is now a hydro-therapy pool. It’s like a giant Jacuzzi but the water is only warm, not hot—nowhere near as hot as it would be, say, in your own private hot tub (if you had one). That makes sense as a lot of people who use this particular pool are either older, or they’re disabled. Warm is good, hot can be dangerous.

For now, my plan is to go to the center on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I do intend to increase the number of lengths I swim with each visit, and my exercise times perhaps a little each week. We’ll see how that goes.

The most important thing is that I’ve been cleared to swim, and swim I shall. Before I had to stop, my time at the pool was my happy time, in my happy place.

I have no doubt it shall be so again.