The Joy of a Comfy Hammock

Just a few years ago, I experienced an important first in my life: the first time I enjoyed a moment of serenity, relaxing in a comfortable hammock.

This happened pre-Covid-19 closures, of course, while visiting a friend’s cottage.

The minute I laid eyes on it, I felt a little rush of adrenaline accompanied by a sense of wonder deep inside. I had never been in a hammock before and in fact, “relaxing in a hammock” was on my bucket list.

I confess, my bucket list isn’t filled with thrill-seeking sports or activities to draw out extreme emotions. After a busy career that drew out my extrovert energy on a daily basis, my dream activities are much more subtle and quietly introspective in nature. Peace and calm, as I experience now in my home in the country, is very much in line with these dreams.

Whenever I noticed a hammock making a cameo appearance on a TV show or in a movie, it always seemed to be in an ideal setting, on a perfect day, when the character was enjoying a quiet, easy-going moment. Deep down, I longed for more times like that.

I asked the hostess if I could give her beautiful hammock a try, to which she graciously confirmed that I could.

It was one of those rope-style ones that looked like a fishing net. I knew I had to be ever so cautious in getting into it as I knew my coordination (or lack thereof) sometimes translated into an accident waiting to happen. If I didn’t do this carefully, I could easily end up going through, around or under the netting, to the great amusement of the other guests.

Fortunately, with slow and gentle movement, I managed to wiggle myself into a comfortable position and found a new happy place to add to my permanent collection.

While on the one hand I felt a little antisocial, stepping away from the party for a moment of solitude on a hammock, overlooking the river on a beautiful summer day, it was a moment of sheer bliss. I would even go so far as to say that this was a life-changing moment, thinking to myself that if I had the opportunity to get one, and the right trees around to support one, I would definitely do it. (#retirementgoals)

Fast forward a few years, my partner and I decided that it was time to take the plunge and to look for a place together. At the time, there was not a lot of inventory on the market, but my partner found a home that ticked most of the boxes for us. I checked out the listing on line, and it did indeed offer many of the features we were looking for. He contacted our real estate agent and made the arrangements to go see the property.

The morning we pulled into the driveway, I could not believe my eyes: a rope-style hammock was gently swaying in the breeze, in an inconspicuous spot, under a canopy of gorgeous, mature trees.

The universe works in mysterious ways sometimes. Was this a sign?

The rest is pretty much history. The house was indeed what we were looking for. We put in an offer, we completed the inspections and bought the house. Unfortunately, the day we got the keys to the house, the hammock wasn’t there anymore, but that just opened the door to a new shopping opportunity to find the exact hammock I wanted.

With my retirement fast approaching, my partner knew that I had been thinking about it (actually, I never stopped talking about our friend’s hammock). He generously gave me the green light to pick one out and to buy it.

Given the Covid-19 lockdowns, in-person shopping wasn’t really in the cards, so I turned to the Wayfair website. With the multitude of options, I was able to comparison shop and narrow it down to a model that appealed to us the most.

When it arrived a few days later, I was filled with delight as I opened the box with the same flourish as a kid on Christmas morning, to the point of nearly smacking myself in the face with the wooden frame. Who could blame me? The arrival of the hammock made me feel that much closer to retirement.

After this narrow brush with a potential hospital visit, I took a deep breath, got into the moment and slowed down.

I carefully unrolled the fabric hammock and proceeded to clip it into the hooks in our trees. I could already envision leisurely afternoons sprawled out on the hammock with my sun hat and a good book. My plans were set.

There was only one hitch though, we were incredibly busy with the house. Regular readers know that right after retirement, I was busy with yard work and cleaning up after a very generous apple tree. And this was on top of a few home improvement projects that were delayed due to Covid-19 closures or the temporary unavailability of supplies.

The hammock had to wait, at least in the short term, given the accumulation of time-sensitive tasks.

But as time went on, the universe did offer its fleeting moments when the stars lined up perfectly: picture perfect weather, ideal temperatures, no pesky flying insects, no farm machinery operating in the fields nearby, and no appointments or errands on a given day. Those were the magical days I was able to give myself permission to take a break, to take out the hammock and to fully enjoy being in the moment.

When that happened, I would look up at the sky through the branches overhead, appreciating the sunshine, the blue sky, the perfect summer days, and the peacefulness of rural life. In those moments, I felt a profound sense of relaxation and gratitude.

To me, the hammock became the ultimate symbol of earned time off from a busy and sometimes hectic work life.

The hammock became the reminder to myself that it was OK to “be” rather than “do”, as I seemingly had been programmed for productivity throughout my whole life. I just needed to practice being in the hammock more and not feeling guilty about it.

With fall well underway now, in some ways, I regret that the hammock didn’t get out more than it did this past season.

I accept that the property kept me very busy this year, as I was basically in a steep learning curve and often in catch-up mode. Next year, if I can start the seasonal yard work as soon as the snow melts, and keep up with it in small, steady installments, I should be able to start the season in proactive mode than reactive mode. That measure alone should free up more time for the hammock next year, to fully appreciate the stillness I seek (and have found) in retirement.

To me, hammock time is not only my reward for a busy career, but it is also the focal point of self-care, healing and replenishment of my energy, for the next chapter of life.

Did you enjoy this post? If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox. Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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City Boy Discovers Chainsaw

A few years ago, if someone had told me, “Someday you will own a chainsaw”, I would have politely recommended that they seek help from a medical professional, as there was no way that this city boy would ever own a chainsaw.

Never say never.

Here we are… living in the country and I now own a chainsaw… not out of frivolity, but out of necessity.

I have to admit it, I really enjoy using the chainsaw (but just to clarify, not in a horror movie kind of way).

We are most fortunate to be living on a beautiful tree-lined lot, surrounded by many mature trees. However, it doesn’t take a violent storm to generate an assortment of fallen twigs and branches across our lawn. A gentle breeze is all it takes, which is pretty much a daily event.

Last year, I wrote about how living in the country had become a nonstop game of “Pick-up sticks”. Every day, I was outside picking up branches and sticks. It wasn’t a complaint, as I was enjoying the fresh air and sunshine while doing it, it was just an observation. However, it was something that I had never experienced while living in my condo in the city. The most cleanup I ever had to do there was picking up garbage produced by my fellow humans or unscooped doggie waste, but never branches.

Here, in the country, the big question is what to do with the branches, when you don’t own a wood stove or fireplace. Letting them accumulate is not an option, as these make great shelters for rodents who may opt later to move up the property ladder and sneak into the house. Disposing of the branches is the only option, but the sanitation department will not take them as-is. The branches need to be broken down.

With the number of branches we have to process on a regular basis, pruning shears and hand saws just won’t cut it, please forgive the pun. Continue reading

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Farewell, My Beloved Office Chair

I think it would be fair to say that in retirement, I dearly miss my colleagues. After working together for so many years, of course I miss our day-to-day interactions, working together to solve the problems of the universe. In doing so, we shared many memorable moments and even some funny times too that will be the source of many fun walks down memory lane in the future.

But there is another component of the office that also tugs at my heartstrings… I would like to introduce you to my beloved office chair.

It may be a sad sight but this chair has seen me through hundreds of work emergencies, interactions with clients, operational policy decisions, corporate reorganizations, and masterpieces of corporate writing. Through it all, it has been faithfully there, providing support and comfort through great times and challenging times.

I don’t know exactly how old it is, but when the pandemic forced us to work from home, it was indeed showing its age despite the fact that it fit me like a glove in all the right places. The last time I saw it, it looked worse than in the picture, as some of the stuffing was now escaping through the open fabric.

Nonetheless, this chair was like magic. If I ever had a twinge in my lower back, it acted like my own personal chiropractor. After sitting in it for 30-45 minutes, I would get up and hear a “clickity-click” in my back, and minor issues seemed to vanish.

For someone whose office was generally neat and tidy, the state of this chair stuck out like a sore thumb.

Back in the pre-Covid 19 days, passersby were known to stop, point and whisper. When they did, I just whispered to the chair, “It’s OK, people just don’t understand. You are great you just the way that you are!”

On several occasions, management had generously offered to swap it out for another one, but I politely declined their offer to replace it. The problem was that this specific model was discontinued and finding a substitute was no easy task. Continue reading

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Country Roads, Dirty Car

When making the decision to move to the country, there really isn’t a reference manual of things to consider before taking the plunge… except perhaps Erma Bombeck’s classic, “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” (which, by the way, it really is!)

Just the same, I took the plunge into rural life in good faith, knowing I would learn or figure things out as I went along.

But had there been such a handbook, I am certain that there would have been a whole chapter warning Type A people like me to forget about keeping an immaculately clean car. Even if you do succeed in cleaning your car, it probably won’t stay that way for very long.

That’s just the way it is… or at least that is what I have experienced over the last year.

I’ve never been one to ever have a cluttered car, and that part hasn’t changed. But I always tried to keep the interior as clean as possible. And when Covid-19 first hit, my car was sanitized so frequently, you could have performed surgery in there.

All that changed when I moved to a rural address, where gravel roads are pretty common for getting around the community. And given that we live on a gravel road, I tried and tried, but there is no way that the car can tip-toe its way through the dust and dirt to get to our house. Continue reading

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Overcoming My Fear of Pie Crust

For years, I avoided it.

The few times I experienced it were beyond stressful.

When I was forced to switch to a gluten-free diet, it became the impossible dream.

I am referring to pie crust… specifically, making pie crust.

Pie crust was one of those life skills that I just never seemed to pick up.

Back in the pre-gluten-free days, I did give it my best shot on a few occasions trying to make normal pie crust. I would get all the ingredients ready and clear off plenty of counter space for the rolling process. But somewhere along the way, I never really got the feel for it.

To me, it seemed that there was such a narrow window of opportunity to bring pie dough across the finish line. The dough couldn’t be too wet. The dough couldn’t be too dry. And you couldn’t roll it for too long or else risk overworking the dough, resulting in a crust the texture of cardboard.

These three factors, combined with my uninspiring results, were enough to keep me away for months at a time.

Rolling the dough was the part that challenged every ounce of patience within me.

The dough would stick to the rolling pin, the counter, my utensils and my hands… everything except the pie plate to which it was supposedly destined.

I would try a light sprinkling of flour on the counter and on the rolling pin to prevent the dough from sticking, but by the time I had something resembling a fully rolled out pie shell (if I got to that point at all), it seemed like the entire kitchen was covered in a light dusting of flour.

My pies would not be complete without a side order of anger, anxiety and high blood pressure. Continue reading

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“Help Wanted”: Resisting the Urge to Apply

As I headed into retirement, I admit that I felt a bit of fear that with all of the free time in front of me, I would suddenly be handed suggestions on places to volunteer and to help out in the community.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

What I didn’t expect was that I might become my own worst enemy in that regard.

With the steady increase of Covid-19 vaccination rates, much like everyone, I welcome the freedom that comes with the reopening of non-essential businesses.

I also look forward to the gradual (safe) reopening of restaurants and theatres to enjoy the date nights that used to be part of our weekly routine.

But for businesses to be able to deliver the services we’ve missed for so long, there is some serious hiring going on.

Help wanted signs are everywhere. I see them hanging in shop windows in town. I see them in Facebook groups. I see them in the community paper. Even the advertisement emails that I receive daily by the dozens are hinting that if you are a fan of the store and would like to discuss career opportunities, to please contact them.

Ironically – and don’t ask me why – but something stirs deep inside of me. It’s hard to describe. It’s a call to action of some kind. It’s like a quick response in my subconscious saying, “I can do that” and a gravitational pull toward the computer to update my CV… Could that be a Pavlovian response of some kind? Continue reading

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Overthinking the Food Court Experience

A few weeks ago I was so delighted to have the opportunity to step out of rural village life for a couple of hours and make a trip to the city. Even though the occasion was a simple dental check-up that would likely only last 15 minutes, I still looked forward to the change of scenery.

Clearly I didn’t get out enough over the last 17 months, if a trip to the dentist was so highly regarded as a joyful escape.

I knew that by the time my appointment would be finished it would be close to lunch time. I strategically parked my car at a nearby shopping mall where I knew I would have had plenty of gluten-free options to feed my ravenous appetite, following weeks of yard work and apple picking that had my metabolism revving on high.

When the dental appointment was over I made my way back to the mall and started exploring my options. Regrettably, a couple of my favourite vendors were no longer there. I understood the way that the waves of the pandemic had not been kind to businesses given the unfortunate closures that resulted.

But the flow chart for deciding what to have for lunch was considerably more complicated than it used to be. Covid-19, thou art an insidious bitch!

By that point, I estimated that I had likely applied hand sanitizer at least 47 times in my journey to, from and during the dental appointment. I had no issue with the extreme precautions to keep everyone (including myself) safe. However, even if I ducked into the washroom to wash my hands for several minutes, the potential residue of a morning’s applications of hand sanitizer might have left a lingering aftertaste. I already found that out the hard way. I eliminated hand-held foods from the list of potential meal options.

Next was the issue of where to sit to enjoy my meal. Continue reading

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My First Wheelbarrow

It is hard to believe but at age 55, I am the proud owner of my first wheelbarrow.

I may need to qualify that further by saying my first wheelbarrow in my adult life. In my childhood memories, I do have glimpses of playing with a little plastic wheelbarrow but I don’t vividly remember whether it was mine, was it at a babysitter’s, or was it at a friend’s place. I don’t remember one being around our house, so it must have been at someone else’s house.

That being the case, I was no stranger to the benefits of a second class lever system, even if it was just to transport a haul of precious cargo like teddy bears, super-sized packs of crayons and the absolutely essential Fisher Price telephone. Even back then, I wouldn’t leave the house without being just a phone call away.

But fast forward several decades and here I am again, hauling stuff in a trusty wheelbarrow. What a full circle moment!

When I told my partner that I was writing this post, he asked if I mentioned how I was initially unconvinced when he first proposed it. I thought it was a good point to add. In never using one in my adult life (to this point), I truly had no sense of its potential.

I didn’t need one during my apartment years since I had no responsibility for the surrounding land or garden.

And for the last 20 years I was living in a condominium where pretty much all exterior landscaping was up to the property management company. I had responsibility over my 15 feet by 15 feet backyard, but let’s just say I never needed a device to haul things from one end of the yard to the other. Even just standing still, any given wheelbarrow covers six square feet, so it was hard to justify getting one.

In our rural property, I am surprised how we survived our first year without one. The reality was we didn’t have a garage in which to store it securely and to shelter it from the elements.

Once the garage was finished, the next hurdle was waiting for the pandemic lockdown to be over to be able to go buy one. Of course we could have purchased one from Canadian Tire with their super-efficient curbside pickup, but we wanted to get a good look, to see a few up close and to test some before committing to a purchase. Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 2)

After a few weeks of non-stop activities surrounding the apple tree that wouldn’t stop dropping bushels of apples, I finally got a day off thanks to thunderstorms.

I took a moment to realize what a struggle it had become to wedge in the apple picking, the sorting and the distribution, between everything else I needed to do and before it got too hot and humid outside. I had to suspend pretty much all other garden maintenance work when I had only a limited window to work with in the early morning.

With the apple tree still dropping apples faster than we could collect them and everyone’s hands cramping from peeling the apples we gave them, I was feeling stressed.

With bags of apples accumulating quickly, getting progressively larger and waiting for the next “disposal”, we were attracting more than our fair share of insects and possibly fauna as I kept spotting partially eaten apples showing up in random parts of the property nowhere near the apple tree.

Funny enough, I realized that in the recent rush of apple activity, I was too busy to notice that my legs and glutes weren’t burning anymore. I guess the body adjusted to the intense activity… hello bright side!

When I took to the Internet to do some research, I discovered that yard work can burn about 300 calories per hour. That seemed to bring a whole new perspective and positive mindset about the time and effort I was devoting to the apples. When stretching, squatting and moving bags of heavy and wet apples was part of my daily morning routine, who needs a gym work out consisting of stretches, squats and weights? Continue reading

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My First Apple Tree (Part 1)

When we first moved into our home in the country, we were quite enamoured by the two apple trees on our property.

For me, apple trees bring back childhood memories of a Macintosh apple tree that sat on the property line between our place and our neighbours’. The girl next door and I climbed that tree, we played in that tree and we daydreamed in that tree.

It was the neighbours’ tree however, and the neighbour took care of it, so none of that maintenance work shows up on my CV of my life experience.
Was I prepared for fruit tree ownership in adulthood?

That first season after the move, neither of the trees on our property bore any significant amount of fruit. We ran through a few scenarios to explain the reasons why: Could it be the trees’ age? Could it be the drought that put the trees in survival mode? Perhaps the trees were biennuals.

Either way, I count my blessings retroactively that the trees didn’t create any additional work for us given how busy we were with other urgent home maintenance projects while unpacking and juggling busy careers.

This spring, the apple trees graced us with beautiful blossoms and the greatest hope that we might see some fruit in the coming months.

In early June, the tree with the yellow transparent apples started dropping the first of its teeny tiny fruit. To me, this was a sign that the tree was well on its way. At that point, the apples were too small for any functional purposes so I just picked them up and put them in the yard waste bags.

But every time I looked up and saw just exactly how many apples were in the tree waiting to reach fruition, I wasn’t sure whether I should be happy or afraid. It was a massive apple tree.

Either way, I had TV-inspired visions of leisurely mornings, pulling out the stepladder, picking a few choice pieces of fruit for that day and then spending time in the kitchen making glorious baked goods.

The Pollyanna in me had a very pretty sweet view of what life with an apple tree could be.

That is… until a couple of weeks later when the apples started to mature, and seemingly all at the same time. Some days, they dropped at a rapid pace like a violent hailstorm of apples. It was in that moment that I knew how Henny Penny felt. Continue reading

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