Just before turning 50, I decided that my birthday present to myself was to take two weeks off from work for an easy-going staycation.
Originally, my partner and I had kicked around the idea of a trip to California to celebrate the big occasion, but a lower Canadian dollar made our trip to New York City in the spring a little more expensive than expected. Combined with a special assessment from my condominium corporation, there was a little dent in my cash flow which made California a little pricey at that point in time. After tossing around a few other more affordable ideas, just chilling close to home seemed to be the option that resonated most with me.
It did not take long to find the benefits of two weeks off to take life at a gentle pace, away from the commuting, the meetings and the deadlines. Also, given that I did not have a pressing list of appointments or major home maintenance projects ahead of me, a fairly quiet two weeks increasingly appealed to me. Reconnecting with life’s simple pleasures would be good for the soul: good sleep, good food, time to write, fresh air and exercise.
Vacation time kicked off with an exciting overnight trip to Toronto for a chance to see Janet Jackson in concert. I could not say no to the idea of crossing “Miss-Jackson,-if-you’re-nasty” off my bucket list of concerts, especially since I had never seen one of her live shows before but was always a huge fan of her music and videos.
The opportunity to see Janet worked out beautifully as a way of launching the vacation in style while quickly transitioning my mind away from the office. It was a fantastic show, sure to appeal to all loyal fans, in offering a set list of all of her hits and a few new songs from her latest album “Unbreakable”, packaged together in a high energy concert of brilliant dancing, staging and light show. For me, this Janet Jackson concert was definitely worth the wait.
Not long after returning home, the realization that I was on vacation quickly set in. The problem for me is that this sensation usually heralds a nervous energy spurt to start cleaning in the corners I don’t usually have time to get into on a week-to-week basis. But this time, it felt different. Because I wasn’t trying to wedge in a lengthy to-do list in a matter of a few days, I had the luxury of time to just try attacking one or two items per day. This allowed me to keep the rest of the day to myself and to decide in the moment how to spend it.
However, the recent arrival of Ivy the cat did bring an interesting plot twist in that she is on a definite schedule and, I discovered, gets mildly cranky when the schedule is disrupted. So I needed to strike a balance for both of us.
Within a few days, the pattern was set: wake up, feed Ivy, sip my Nespresso while watching the “CBS This Morning” with Ivy, shower, breakfast and then go for a nice long walk at my favourite park. Then in the afternoon, after lunch, while Ivy would nap, I would alternate between writing and home maintenance chores, then the evening would revolve around clearing off the PVR before the new TV season was in full swing.
I could get used to this!
The part I relished most about those couple of weeks, were my walks along the Ottawa River as the leaves were just starting to change colours. Mother Nature was definitely smiling on me as it only rained two or three times in that two week period, allowing me an almost-daily trip to Andrew Haydon Park to clear my head, to sit, to ponder or just to let my mind drift aimlessly and gently recuperate from the recent pressures of the workplace.
In some ways, it was a time for introspection and asking myself how I would like the last five years of my career to play out. In other ways, it was a time to see myself past those five years and trying to plot the path in preparation for retirement to hit the ground running and to fully enjoy every moment.
At the same time, I was most inspired as I watched baby boomers zip by me with a spring in their step, power walking with vitality, vigour, rosy cheeks and huge smiles on their faces, wishing everyone along the way a good morning. I jokingly (and quietly) muttered to myself “bastards!” as I felt a little jealousy but also a great happiness for them in seeing the joy of retirement glowing in their shining faces.
Then there were also the more gentle paced boomers, savouring every moment of their leisurely walk, chatting, taking stock of the wildlife, trying to figure out what the geese were honking about or what the chipmunks were chasing. I definitely admired them as well, basking in the merits of retirement in a more laid-back style.
Both extremes offered enviable role models. I hoped to see myself somewhere in the middle when it will be my turn.
Sharing this beautiful park by the river with the retirees, in the morning sunshine and fresh air, was a delicious treat and a great break from my day-to-day rushing. When complemented by the time to write, catching up on a few chores, an occasional nap and just generally losing track of time, without going very far, it was indeed the right vacation at the right time for me.
The two weeks ended on a high note, with a birthday party with the family on the Saturday and a quiet dinner with my partner overlooking the Rideau Canal on the Sunday. What wonderful tributes and great times I will remember fondly for many years to come.
As much as I often thought turning 50 was something to celebrate with a bang, these two weeks of more quiet celebration with those closest to me was exactly what I needed. It was time to be good to myself, mind body and spirit, to clear my head and to do what I enjoyed most. Isn’t that what a celebration of life is really about?
And without really looking for it, it also provided a bit of a glimpse into a crystal ball and seeing elements of what retirement could be like for me. Whatever life holds, if I experience half of the joy that those retirees in the park were radiating over those two weeks, I will be a lucky man indeed.
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