Tag Archives: gratitude

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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What the 2010s Meant To Me

New Year's festivitiesIn recent weeks, not only have we been bombarded with retrospectives from the last year, but as with any year ending with a “9”, we’ve seen our lives flashing before our eyes with scenes from the last decade as well.

One evening, as I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic (again!), just for fun, I asked myself what were my own favourite moments of the last decade.

It was a fun activity that completely took me out of the drudgery of traffic. My spirits were lifted as I rattled off a list of great memories. When I got home, I took out the iPad and started noting them, one-by-one. In the days that followed, more ideas kept coming to mind and the list continued to grow.

Just like everybody else, I experienced personal and professional highs and lows. But it was because these experiences that I will remember this decade fondly as the one where I experienced the greatest and most significant personal growth.

Despite what I thought was a pretty good tool kit for handling stress, this past decade offered a pressure cooker of situations that tested my tool kit to its limits when anxiety took over. With the help of a psychotherapist, I was able to establish better boundaries which not only contributed to enhancing that tool kit, but also helped to prevent some situations from festering into anxiety in the first place. Continue reading

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The Extreme Joy from a New Chair

As much as I love my living room set, the reality is that if my back is not feeling well, lying on my couch is not a good place for me due to a disc issue. If I am there vertically, it’s fine, but horizontally, it doesn’t support me in exactly the right spots. And if Ivy the Wonder Cat decides to join me and sit on my stomach while I am horizontal, it seems to throw my spinal alignment off.

I certainly don’t blame the sofa, I tested it thoroughly before buying it and it is quite comfortable, but when my back is aching, I end up on the floor, preferring the flat surface for prolonged periods of TV binge watching or movie watching. But on cold winters’ days, which seem to be 183 days of the year here, that floor can get chilly.

One day I was running errands when I saw a lady at a busy intersection waving a sign indicating that the nearest furniture store was having a moonlight madness sale. I thought to myself that it might not hurt to take a few minutes and see if there were any good deals.

I toured the store, checking out the seemingly endless selection of lounge chairs and it didn’t take long for me to narrow the search to a few favourite models of reasonably-priced recliners that felt like they supported me in all the right places.

One model in particular seemed to be stealing my heart. Not only was it supportive, but it also felt like I was lounging in a cloud. Five minutes later, after almost falling asleep, I knew that this was the one. If my back was not happy, it would have screamed at me by now. Continue reading

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50 Reasons Why I Love Having a Cat in My Life

1. For a cat, life is pretty simple.
2. She doesn’t linger about the past.
3. She doesn’t worry about the future.
4. She lives in the moment.
5. She is a constant reminder about keeping things in perspective.
6. She reminds me not to sweat the small stuff.
7. She doesn’t judge me… or at least, I don’t think she does.
8. Transporting those 33 lb bags of kitty litter keeps me fit.
9. The loud meowing greeting I get when I get home from work is always a treat! It could be that maybe she’s just hungry and wants her food now, but I hear “I missed you” in every meow.
10. When I come home from work and I need to make the immediate transition to cat dad, it helps me to leave the office at the office. Continue reading

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50 Reasons Why I Love Writing

1. It allows me to express myself in ways that I can’t in my day-to-day life.
2. It allows me to use my imagination and to be as whimsical, as dramatic, as light or as dark as I want, when the world would typically frown upon it in my day-to-day dealings.
3. I can make characters say what I wouldn’t dare say in my own conversations.
4. I can infuse my characters with feelings that I wouldn’t necessarily reveal in my day-to-day life, a process which can be very cathartic.
5. It feeds my appetite for creation.
6. I like writing because in the journey of preparing a first draft, it is just me and my thoughts. The creative process of a first draft is not a collaborative effort, which allows the artist in me to bring my vision to fruition on my own.
7. In a manner of speaking, each writing project is “my baby”. It is a joy to see what happens to each one as time goes by.
8. It allows me to put my own particular fingerprint of style and perspective on something that may have been said 1000 times before, but in my voice, it can sound completely different.
9. It enables me to be open and receptive to sources of inspiration around me.
10. Because of writing, I find myself more open to serendipitous moments. 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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Why Am I Walking So Fast?

I was walking down the street one evening after work, when I caught myself. I was walking at a brisk pace.

What’s wrong with walking at a brisk pace? Nothing if you are running late or have a long list of things to do and only a little time to accomplish them.

But I wasn’t late nor did I have a long list of things to do. But I was still on autopilot, at a pace more typical of “The Busy People’s Walk”. The brisk pace seems to be the norm these days, even when there’s no reason for it.

While it might be great for my cardio, it’s not exactly conducive to stopping and smelling the roses along the way.

I laughed to myself and thought, “Slow down! Enjoy the moment!” At the same time, it evoked childhood memories from when my Dad used to tell me (in French) “T’es pas au feu”, meaning “You’re not on fire”, whenever I was unnecessarily rushing through something.

Funny enough, even after consciously slowing myself down, somehow my walking speed started creeping up again and I had to remind myself that I am, in fact, not on fire and could enjoy a more leisurely pace. I slowed myself down again.

The question is… why? Has my auto-pilot always been stuck in rush mode? Continue reading

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My Top 10 Favourite Halloween Costumes

Over the years, I haven’t been one to shy away from dressing up for Halloween (… or any other day of the year, when the occasion called for it). I have always found it to be a lot of fun to step out of character for a day and take on another persona for the pure fun it.

Over the course of a half-century, I have had plenty of opportunities to try on different costumes. What surprises me is that the ones that seem to be the most memorable were not necessarily the store-bought ones, but the ones that involved an injection of creativity to complete the look.

Here are a few of my favourites:

10. Bugs Bunny

The most memorable store-bought costume had to be my favourite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. Because I wasn’t in growth spurts around that time, I am pretty sure I wore it for (at least) two consecutive Halloweens.

It was pretty simple really, a grey polyester jumpsuit with a white chest and belly that I could hop in and out of in seconds, and a plastic mask with a little elastic in the back that needed a little reinforcing for the second year.

Add a carrot, fresh from our garden, with the stems still on and I was as happy as a clam. It really was a simple pleasure.

9. Groucho Marx

Inspired from an episode of “All in the Family” where Mike and Gloria were dressed up as Groucho and Harpo Marx, Mom helped me make a home-made Groucho Marx outfit. For the costume, she raided my parents’ closet for a white shirt, jacket and pants that would appear baggy on me, and then drew on a moustache and bushy eyebrows. Combined with plastic glasses and a plastic cigar from my toy box, and a repertoire of horrible jokes, it was an easy yet effective home-made costume that was a lot of fun. Continue reading

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What Surprises Me Most After Four Years as a Blogger

Last year, I posted a blog entitled “The Ups and Downs of Blogging Statistics” in which I admitted to checking out my blog statistics and keeping an eye on trends, but not obsessing about them, given that this was “rehearsal” time for me.

Blogging was a building block for me to refine my writing creative skills in preparation for my aspirations as a creative writer. My blogging was for the fun of it, and you were more than welcome to join me along the way.

But four years into the blogging journey, there is one aspect that often surprises me: the posts that keep getting viewed weeks, months or even years after I have originally posted them, and getting fairly consistent views over the long term.

As a blogger, I don’t sit down and think to myself, “This post will get a thousand views”, it doesn’t work that way. And even after posting the link on Google, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and sometimes Pinterest, we are sometimes at the mercy of the algorithms for how much prominence (and page views) a post might get.

I have read a good number of articles on blog promotion, and I have definitely taken experts’ advice to try to maximize clicks whether through a well-chosen title, a sharp picture to accompany it, adherence to a consistent posting schedule, as well as seeking lessons learned by the most viewed posts. Continue reading

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My New Blogging Strategy: Banking Blog Posts

In 2015, I wrote about a weird phenomenon that was happening within my blogging processes. No sooner than I would start outlining and building a blog post, the little writer’s voice within would pitch another idea at me, and I would start working on that one.

Having a run of good ideas is certainly not a bad problem to have. I definitely counted my blessings in that regard. But in its wake, I was being left with a series of incomplete posts, a phenomenon I called The Graveyard of Blog Posts.

As summer began, I was itching to get to work on another creative writing project and wondered how I could keep the blog going for a couple of months while giving my writer’s voice a fresh challenge.

As I was browsing through my drafts folder, the list of posts that were waiting to be finalized had recently grown some more and was looking pretty impressive. I knew that some of them were just waiting for a final conclusion to nail the point I was trying to make or some “icing on the cake” wording to make it pretty.

The point is, I had several that were almost ready to be posted and patiently waiting in the wings.

Maybe that was my answer!

I made it my goal to try to finalize 8 or 9 posts over two weeks, which should give me enough completed weekly posts to put the blog on autopilot with fresh content until Labour Day, and a couple of months to let my mind wander in another creative direction. Continue reading

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