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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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“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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How the Olympics Inspire Me

Even though I am not what you might call a sport enthusiast, I definitely enjoy watching the Olympics.

Over the years, I have watched a wide range of Olympic events, including some that I admit I probably would not have watched had they not been under the Olympic banner. This year, between the CBC network’s curated coverage, supplemented by so many streaming opportunities for specific events, it made it so easy (and maybe a little addictive) to follow the action.

The variety reminds me a little of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” that I used to watch as a kid (back when we only had 12 channels). The packaging of that show appealed to this curious young mind as it was a veritable smorgasbord of sporting events to discover. If I was more athletically inclined, who knows what inspiration could have been sparked later in life.

Unfortunately, my weak eye-hand coordination, my lack of overall coordination, my lack of physical stature and the lasting trauma of dodgeball in my pre-teens, prevented me from pursuing a career in sports.

Even after the Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s not like I was running out of viewing options, given the long list of binge-worthy streaming programming I had accumulated over the years. The Olympic coverage remained an enjoyable change of pace that I looked forward to.

Plus, as a recent retiree, watching the Olympics seemed even more special and more symbolic to me, as I could take in more coverage than I usually would have back in my working days. This year, the Olympics were an additional reminder of my new found freedom from the “9 to 5”.

Why do I watch the Olympics? Continue reading

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Where Did the Running Season Go?

When I look at the calendar, it blows my mind that we are already at the end of what I refer to as “my running season” (typically, the period from March to November) and yet I still haven’t gone running yet this year.

How did that happen? How did a whole running season escape on me?

Thankfully, it’s not like I was sidelined due to injury or anything like that (been there, done that!), but I think we can all agree that 2020 was far from normal for anyone.

Much like every year, when the ice build-up on the wintry sidewalks was melting, making them less of a hazard for slipping and breaking an ankle or a hip (a legit concern for us folks on the cusp of “elderly”), I had every intention of getting out, building up my walking routine and slowly graduating to running.

At the dawn of the Covid-19 lockdown, I was working from home and during most lunch breaks, I was outside walking two kilometres to get some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. In reality, that wasn’t too far off from my routine had I been working from the office. Over time, my pace increased with no noticeable complaints from the legs, knees, hips, IT bands or shins. I felt like I was making good progress.

Over the span of a few weeks, I had just graduated to the walk-run combo for my two kilometre circuit, so I was almost there and planning to increase my distance. Continue reading

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Why “1000 Words per Day” Might Not Be for Everyone

With the finish line in sight for retirement from career #1 and my transition to career #2 as a writer, I look forward to some solid years of finally getting a lifetime of ideas, plots and characters committed to paper.

Some of those characters (and their families) have been taking up residence in my head for so long that I look forward to sending them eviction notices from my brain.

But in writing circles, I often hear why wait until tomorrow what you can do today? …Why wait until retirement?

The answer is a pretty simple one: at the end of most work days, I’m tapped out.

I am extremely fortunate that my career already offers me the opportunity to create, write, proofread and edit a variety of corporate documents.

That is a choice I made and I stand by it, as it has offered me the gift of thirty years of challenging emails, memos, presentations and user manuals. What is most rewarding is that in writing for different target audiences and on behalf of a variety of executives with differing styles and approaches, my creative muscles have been stretched like silly putty in multiple directions. I couldn’t have asked for better training in writing. Continue reading

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The Housing Market Roller Coaster (Episode 8)

When my house sold, I no longer had to live within the boundaries of a home staged for showings. I could finally spread out, enjoy my space and not obsessively pick up crumbs before they hit the floor.

It was finally time to go back to “normal” life and to start preparing for the move to our home in the country.

The drive to my cat’s hotel was an opportunity to reflect on the emotional ups and downs of the process and the huge milestones that were behind us.

It was also an opportunity to “high-5” myself, psychologically speaking. The nervousness and the anxiety I felt before we put in the offer on our future home was off the charts, and rightfully so. It’s not like we buy or sell houses every day. The last time I did this was 19 years ago, and much has changed in the industry in that time.

For someone who likes to be organized and whose pride wanted his home to show as well as possible, there was indeed a lot of work required to be prepared and to do it right.

But the reassurance from my real estate agent that this could all be accomplished within reasonable time frames was the antidote to my nervousness and the encouragement to face my fears.

Just the same, I was guarded as I knew that once the train left the station, there wouldn’t be much opportunity to slow down until we were comfortably seated in our new home with the cat purring contentedly in my lap… in about 3 months. This period also came with Julie Chen’s Big Brother voice permanently in my subconscious saying “Expect the unexpected” at least a few times per day, just to keep me on my toes.

That was when I put into practice what I know works best for me: I made a list… several lists, actually. I broke down the large tasks of buying and selling into smaller sub-steps, laid out in chronological order, and scratched items off the list as I completed them.

This method works for me because I am not looking at a mountain of activity as one large unmanageable obstacle. I seem better able to wrap my head around many small tasks and to accomplish a few each day with steady and consistent action. If I don’t, that is when the racing thoughts can take over and rob me of valuable sleep.

Another element to trying to remain composed through it all was laying appropriate boundaries around my worry, and not letting a 5 minute task occupy an hour’s worth of head space. It sounds obvious, but sometimes the “what ifs” can get the best of me. It’s just part of my professional programming and a reflex to be prepared for any eventuality. Shutting it off can be a challenge sometimes.

This major life event was the ultimate test of my “list method”, and it seemed to work, even though it wasn’t without its share of smaller-scale freaking out moments anyway.

I was pleased that the humour in some of the situations encountered along the way was not lost on me, even when I accidentally locked myself in my own powder room while changing the doorknob.

Of course, I couldn’t have made it through without the moral support of family, friends and colleagues, the expertise of the professionals we hired at critical decision points, and of course, the best partner in the world.

It really was cause for celebration to be on the other side of the mountain, to resume a new normal and to start the countdown to the big move.

When I brought Ivy the Wonder Cat home, her standard operating procedure for rediscovering her surroundings was pretty much the same as any other time I brought her home from her cat hotel. She walked around the entire house a few times, sniffing every step of the way. She located her food, her litter box and her sleeping quarters, which all seemed to meet with her approval. Before I knew it, she was pretty much back on track and in her usual routine.

However with the dawn of COVID-19, it appeared that the rest of the process of preparing for the big move would be anything but normal. With stay-at-home advisories, social distancing and lockdown procedures, was it going to be business as usual for the big move? How long would these measures be in place?

Fortunately many of the services required to prepare were deemed essential by the province, much to my relief, including booking movers for our closing date.

I was also able to purchase a huge stack of boxes and packing supplies with the intention of using free time constructively, and to get as much packing completed in the time that we were told to stay home.

Nevertheless, the realization that the biggest steps, the buying and selling, were well behind us brought huge pride and gratitude. Unfortunately, under this new normal, the celebration of these milestones would have to wait a little.

To return to Episode 7 of the Housing Market Roller Coaster, click here.

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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When My Retirement and Writing Dreams Got More Vivid

In February, there were two news items that hit the airwaves that made me feel goose bumps all over:

On February 19, 2019, it was the headline “Netflix to Open Dedicated Production Hub” followed closely on February 28, 2019, with the article “And, action! Filmmaking complex gets go-ahead”.

Regular readers and close friends know that my big plan for retirement is to write. The form of writing I might consider has yet to be determined. But I am convinced that once I have developed a few of my story ideas into outlines and then into drafts, the most appropriate format might become self-evident.

But if I listen to my gut now, something tells me it might be more along the lines of television, plays or movies, more than novels, just given the time I have spent studying television, as opposed to just watching it.

Plus I have always been fascinated by the process of making stories come to life in the television or cinematic medium, to the point of volunteering for my local community television station 20 years ago, and staying with it for 3 years.

Working in a creative medium with other like-minded people was an experience I will always fondly remember. At that point in my life, I didn’t realize the extent to which I was missing a creative component. When I found community TV, things really came together. Continue reading

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When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

In the fourth season of Bewitched, in an episode called “No Zip in My Zap”, Samantha is in a bit of a conundrum as her magical powers are clogged given Darren’s insistence that she live a mortal life.

In that episode, when “the dam breaks”, the accumulation of spells that didn’t conjure up anything all bear fruit at the same time, creating chaos in the Stephens’ household. “Doctor Bombay, Calling Doctor Bombay…”

As a writer, has that ever happened to you?

I am delighted that at this time in my life I am able to keep sharpening my writing skills in the corporate environment, while in my free time, producing a steady stream of blog posts, while working (slowly) on a few creative writing projects.

I am very happy with that combination and am not pressuring myself to do more. This works for me, right now.

By regularly tapping into my creative spirit in different ways, I feel that I am answering my calling and preparing for the next chapter in my writing life. But that has not always been possible.

Have you ever had those times when the ideas are flowing and you are yearning to write, but life just keeps throwing you curve balls preventing you from doing what you love most? Continue reading

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How Old Blog Posts Can be Like Old Home Movies

This fall, I celebrated my fifth year as a blogger with great joy (… and surprise) at having achieved this milestone.

From the beginning, I always thought of the blog as my rehearsal space to sharpen my creative writing skills, as I began the transition from full-time career #1 to full-time creative writer. The fact that many of you have joined me in that journey and encouraged me along the way has been incredibly heartwarming and a source of boundless gratitude. Thank you everyone!

I admit that some weeks it was incredibly difficult to find the time or inspiration (or both) to produce some fresh content, as well as to stay on top of my social media presence to get the word out there. But with only a few weeks off here and there, I managed to keep at it and to not give up. For that, I am incredibly proud!

When time has been in short supply, I had to focus my efforts on moving the blog forward, and not looking back. Then weeks turned into months, and months turned into years, and BOOM! Five years went by and I suddenly had a repertoire of almost 300 blog posts. How did that happen?

And that is where the fun began. When time finally permitted, I went back and read some posts from my first year. Continue reading

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50 Reasons Why I Enjoy Running

1. It gets me out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.
2. It’s a versatile activity: when running with friends it can be a very social activity, but when running alone, it can offer great moments of introspection.
3. There are several great programs and clinics offering information and instruction on how to run injury-free. Checking one out can be the difference between hating the sport and loving the sport.
4. Running helps me to clear my head.
5. Running can be a good activity for stress management.
6. Running puts a smile on my face.
7. Running is a great conversation starter with other runners.
8. The subtle changes I see and feel in my body, when a belt can tighten a notch or when something from the back of the closet suddenly fits again.
9. Overall, I feel more confident when I have been running.
10. Running only seems to require discipline in the beginning. Over time, the sense of progress, achievement and well-being seems to help discipline take care of itself.
11. When I am running regularly, the sense of progress and achievement seems to motivate me to make better, healthier choices overall.
12. The feeling of “ugh, I need to work out” disappears as soon as I am done, which means less guilt for the rest of the day.
13. There is a wonderful sense of community among runners.
14. I sometimes get my best writing ideas while running.
15. I sometimes solve problems while running. Continue reading

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