Swimming in a fish bowl

Author and her husbandWe’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.”

-Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

This isn’t the blog post I was planning to write. I had planned to write a funny, light-hearted post about 25 years of marriage.

Yes, Dave and I are celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this week. We’ve been two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl running over the same ground for 25 years and for the record, there’s no one I’d rather splash around with in the fish bowl of life.

But today, as I sat on the dock, my eyes filled with tears and I began crying.

Crying hopelessly for two dear friends who after decades of marriage had their happily ever afters stolen from them–one friend who lost her husband to brain cancer and another who had to put her husband this week in a home because of Alzheimers disease.

It’s just so unfair and incredibly sad.

But if there’s one thing 25 years of marriage has taught me, and the events of the last few weeks, it’s that there are no guarantees.

No guarantee people will grow old together.

No guarantee you will remain in love.

No guarantee that the phrase in sickness and in health will take on so much meaning.

No guarantee life won’t turn out the way you planned it.

To Dave, I simply say thank you for 25 wonderful years. I hope I never take you for granted, and whatever fate befalls us, I hope you will continue to be my faithful partner, swimming in circles, by my side.

And to Jack and Tom: I wish you were here.

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Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

Accept we are not in control

Comic Mind full or mindfulSpecial guest blog by Ray Dorey. You can read more of Ray’s adventures at www.storiesfromdoreyville.wordpress.com.

“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control.” – Character of Simon Masrani, Jurassic World.

I think I laughed out loud when I first heard this. I’d always believed the polar opposite. But as I’ve come to learn, these words from a fictional movie about a dinosaur park couldn’t ring more true.

I have somewhat of an obsession with “to do” lists – summaries both personal and professional, detailing all of my goals and tasks for a given period of time.

In my job, I have every day of the week planned nearly down to the minute. All meetings and objectives are scheduled to optimize efficiency and ensure completion.

And whether personally or professionally, I had always at least partially measured my success by how many of the items on my list were completed in the time I had prescribed.

But as we all know, life often doesn’t care about our tidy lists. It can be so easy for our plans to fall off the rails, and that can lead quickly to frustration – and possibly anxiety if we allow it.

I’ve learned that what is far more important than measuring ourselves strictly to planned objectives, is how we choose to react to the inevitable surprises and challenges that get interjected without notice or reason.

The past two years have been especially challenging for me personally. I’ve suffered multiple retinal detachments in both of my eyes, requiring surgery and extended recovery periods. In an instant, all of my immediate plans were abruptly pushed to the side, and longer-term plans became a complete blur (pardon the pun).

But my recent health issues have also strangely been among the most positive things to happen to me. Throughout seemingly endless visits to my ophthalmologist, I encountered and empathized with many others fighting their own vision issues, from the very young to the elderly.

My experience has taught me patience, perspective, and what is truly important in life. During recovery, when I couldn’t do much but keep my head down and stare straight at the floor, I would write (using my one good eye of course). I’d often scribe summaries of everything I was grateful for – from my parents, siblings, and faithful canine companion, to the air I breathe. It didn’t take long to fill at least a page and a half every time.

I watched a documentary recently about mindfulness, the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment. Participants at a weekend retreat were first required to purge distractions including leaving their smart phones in their rooms. Two of the exercises stood out. In the first, attendees simply walked across a room. But they did so very slowly, and were encouraged to be mindful of every step, including awareness of the position of their body and the feel of their feet on the floor. In the second exercise, participants ate a quiet meal, chewing slowly and focusing carefully on the taste and texture of every bite. On the surface, both exercises appeared ridiculous, but I understood the lessons they were meant to teach – to concentrate on the here and now and truly savour each precious moment.

I now follow a couple of Twitter feeds to provide daily reminders to slow down and value each moment. Buddha Quotes (@ByBuddha) and Daily Zen (@dailyzen).

As I write, I often glance at my dog, sleeping peacefully on the couch. I envy her, for I doubt she ever worries about the future. If she could write, her daily “to do” list would most likely be limited to four core activities: eat, drink, play and sleep. Not in any particular order, and just responding to needs and wants from one “now” to the next.

At the risk of oversimplifying, we really need to learn to “go with the flow.” There’s no problem in trying to maintain control – we all have responsibilities that we must try and manage. Just be cognizant of the fact that challenge lies around every corner, and we must be mentally prepared – and conditioned – to cope.

This week’s #HappyAct is to focus on the present moment. Every minute you spend worrying about future events robs you of your enjoyment of the here and now. Practiced mindfulness can easily lead to deliberate happiness.

Get into the swing and brush up on your game

 

Girl learning to golfA couple of weeks ago, we met my brother and his wife at one of those indoor golf simulators, where you can play a round on a world-class golf course while swilling a pitcher of beer from the comfort of a couch. I had forgot how much fun these places are.

This was the first time we took the kids out for a golf excursion. The same tired phrases uttered by my mother and father thirty years ago became a steady stream out of our mouths, “Keep your head down, don’t take your eye off the ball, don’t stop mid-swing, follow through”.

The kids did pretty well actually—they are both naturally athletic. We all had a blast and it was a great way to spend a chilly Saturday afternoon.

Here are five reasons to brush up on your swing indoors at a golf simulator before heading out on the course:

  1. Most simulators have a maximum two-putt rule–how great is that?
  2. For people learning the game, or casual golfers you can take each other’s shots
  3. When you land in a water hazard, you can choose how you want to play your next shot and where you drop the ball
  4. You don’t have to worry about remembering how many shots you take (although this can be humbling too, I think my brother who is an ace golfer won the round by about 40 strokes)
  5. Did I mention they serve beer?

The funniest moment of the day was when the head of Dave’s driver broke off mid-swing at the tee at a long par 5 and went flying into the simulator screen. Luckily no one got hurt. I’ve seen clubs break before, but usually at the hands of the golfer. I’ve never seen one split apart mid-swing.

This week’s #HappyAct is to get into the swing and brush up on your game, whatever your game may be. Have a great week everyone.

 

Broken golf club

The gallery at a golf simulator

How well do you bounce?

George Patton quoteHere’s a riddle for you. What do Taylor Swift and Wipeout have in common? They are teachers of resiliency.

My kids love Wipeout, that show where people jump from huge balls in a wacky obstacle course. Inevitably, they get knocked down, and the audience waits to see how quickly they can get back up and complete the course.

We all get knocked down in life. It’s how you bounce back, or in the words of TSwift, Shake It Off that is a real test of character. If you can develop resiliency, you’ll have far greater chance of being happy.

Here are 7 things I’ve found has helped build resilience.

  1. Always look for a silver lining. No matter how bad things are, see if you can see a positive —what did you learn about yourself or the other person if someone else is involved, or maybe just be proud of how you handled the situation.
  2. Believe all things happen for a reason. This has been a personal mantra of mine for years. It leads to acceptance faster, and then you can move on.
  3. Share the load. The first thing Dave and I do when we have a bad day is unload on each other. It’s one of the things I love most about him—that no matter what happens, I can come home and share my feelings and he will always listen and support me.
  4. Be self-aware. Take time to deconstruct what happened and why it affected you the way it did. Don’t dwell on the past, but be self-aware to learn and grow. Read my earlier post on developing emotional intelligence.
  5. Refocus on what’s important. Once you’ve deconstructed the event, focus on the future and what’s next. Set goals. Decide where you go from here and take decisive action.
  6. Recharge your batteries. When we’ve been knocked down, it takes a toll, both physically and emotionally. Take time to recharge your batteries. Go for a walk, zone out, do something that will help you get your inner strength and resolve back.
  7. Laugh in the face of adversity. This one’s easier said than done, but sometimes forcing yourself to laugh or trying to find humour in the situation can help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think about how resilient you are. When you get knocked down, how fast do you bounce back? Try some of these tips to help build your resiliency. Leave a comment–how do you stay strong so you can bounce back?

The Science of Happiness Part 3: Don’t be SAD this winter

winter sunsetI came across a fascinating article the other day about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It said up to 4% of Canadians are clinically depressed in the winter. Another 10-15% suffer from SAD, most of them women.

The reasons are interesting. SAD is said to stem from the genes of our cave-dwelling ancestors who thousands of years ago would have hibernated during the winter months.

Fast forward to the average Canadian today. In November and December, we get up in the dark, drive to work as the sun is coming up, and drive home again at night in the dark. There are days when some of us literally do not see daylight. It’s incredibly unnatural and unhealthy.

I’m lucky. I’ve never suffered from any of these conditions, but I do crave sunlight during the winter months. Even doing such a tedious chore as cleaning my windows today made me feel good knowing that the warmth of the sun’s rays would wash through my sunroom during the long winter’s months ahead.

This week’s #HappyAct is to increase your exposure to sunlight. Get out for a walk at lunch. Clean your windows. Get a high intensity ultraviolet light. Do what you need to do to beat those caveman genes.

When it rains, it pours

 

lake and rainI’m sitting in my sunroom looking out at the rain gently fall on the lake. It’s been a tough week on all fronts–work, home life, worrying about the health of loved ones and challenges at every turn.

One of those weeks where you wonder what more can life throw at you.

It can seem almost overwhelming at times. What do you do to get through when life pours down on you?

During the last three days in Toronto, when I spent more than 12 hours in traffic shuttling back and forth between work and Joseph Brant Hospital, I tried to snatch a few precious moments where I could to forget life’s worries.

A short walk in the rain. Treating myself to a frothy overpriced McDonald’s latte.

I came home, hugged my children, slipped into my hot tub, then curled up with my daughters to watch a movie. My worries were still there, but I was home, and with the people I loved, and all of a sudden my problems didn’t seem as insurmountable.

This week’s #HappyAct is to find a few moments of happiness when life pours down on you. Here’s to a better week.