It’s great to reconnect with old friends

Gus & the animals

This morning, Gus and I stayed local for our walk.  As we made our way across the familiar fields behind the high school, I heard the distinct hum of machinery in the distance.  Sure enough, it was the giant lawn machine from the Town, doing maintenance work on the soccer fields.   As we came into view, I noticed that the driver actually turned his rig in our direction and began to move closer.  He then lifted his hand in a hearty wave.

I realized then that the driver was a man that we had met when Gus was much younger; probably two years ago.  At that time, we used to see him frequently on our jaunts through the fields.  He would often stop and chat with us, and he really loved Gus.  I’m not sure why our paths haven’t crossed much since then, but here he was again, after so much time.

He pulled up and climbed down from his seat.  He was really happy to see us, and he told me that he had thought that we might have moved, since he hadn’t seen us for quite some time.  Gus greeted him like a long lost friend, and went into full puppy mode; jumping and running around madly in circles.  He finally settled down and dropped his ball at the man’s feet.  Our friend picked it up and played fetch with Gus for a while, as I chatted with him.  After ten minutes or so, we said a warm goodbye, and we each went on our separate ways, with a promise to look out for each other in the months ahead.

There’s something about connecting with an old friend you haven’t seen for a while that just makes you feel good.  One of the positive things that I was able to draw from the tragedy of my father’s death was the chance to reconnect with many special people from my past, as they called or came to visit me.  Marriage, careers, life events, and even simple geography often cause us to drift away from people who were significant in our lives during earlier times.  It’s not that we stop wanting to be friends.  It just happens that our paths start to head in different directions, and before we know it, months and then years have passed since we’ve been in touch.

This might seem silly, but to me, an old friend is like a favourite sweater.  Slipping back into those friendships has made me feel wrapped in a familiar feeling of cozy warmth and comfort.  I’ve had the chance to laugh and remember times from high school and university and beyond, and I’ve got caught up on the recent events in the lives of my friends and their families.  Most importantly, many of my friends and I have made promises to each other that we will make the effort to stay in touch.  We have all agreed that it is well worth it.

I’m reminded of a rhyme that the mother of one of my earliest chilhood friends wrote in my autograph book when I was six or seven years old.  It read:   “Make new friends but keep the old.  The new are silver, but the old are gold”    Good advice!

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Going on a vacation is easier than you think

Oakbank pond in the morning sun

Wow!

This morning, like every Sunday morning, I drove my kids to work.  It’s a short drive; only about 15 minutes from our house.  I always bring Gus along for the ride, and then we usually come back home and head out for our walk.  Today as we drove along the street, I was looking at the familiar scenery.  It suddenly occurred to me that Gus and I didn’t have to come home first; we could go walking in this other neighbourhood for a change.  I definitely wasn’t prepared for the experience that we ended up having.

Morning shot of the pond with ducks

As you can see, I was snapping pictures the whole time we were out, because I was awestruck by the beautiful scenery.  I have driven by this pond and the surrounding neighbourhood for years, and yet rarely ventured out of my car to walk around.  How foolish of me.  I can’t believe what I’ve been missing.  I only had my Blackberry for a camera, but I hope you can get a taste of some of the spectacular scenes we encountered during our 90 minute walk.

Berries growing by the pond

Berries growing by the pond

Ducks on the pond

Ducks on the pond

These are some of the images we came across this morning.

Gus was quite mesmerized by the whole experience as well.  At first, he was wary of the new environment, because there were so many different sights, sounds and smells.  Then he relaxed and began to explore along with me.  He was particularly intrigued with all the ducks that swam over to check him out.

Gus checking out the ducks

Gus checking out the ducks

After a while we left the pond and began to explore the rest of the neighbourhood.  It amazed me that I have driven through these streets so many times, and yet I’ve never really taken the time to get out and go walking around.  It is really beautiful.  There is a historic area, and a beautiful path that leads through the woods to a restored house from an early settler.

The path leading to the historic house

The path leading to the historic house

We peeked in the windows of the old house, and then we continued through the woods until we came to a clearing.

The clearing

The clearing

Gus had a great run through the open space, and then we found ourselves in a residential area.  We had a lovely walk through the streets, and said “good morning” to so many new people and dogs we encountered out walking.  After a while, we turned back to the area near where we had started.  There is an old church there, and people were starting to arrive for morning mass.  Just at that point, the church bells started to ring.  I remember hearing that they have a professional bellringer there, and that the music on a Sunday morning is quite remarkable.  I have to agree.  As we walked by, the bells began to play “Danny Boy” – it made me feel like we were in a movie, or in some foreign country.  It was truly magical.

The old church

The old church

We continued on our way, past the area where they always re-enact battles during the Thornhill Village Festival.  We paused by the wall to admire the view.

By the old stone wall

By the old stone wall

Then we turned back towards where we had left the car.  I remembered that there was a big park in the other direction, and it was such a beautiful morning that I was in no hurry to head home.  So off we went.  I’ve been in that park before, but it somehow looked different in the morning sun.  Gus had a great time tearing through the trees, and he found the best stick ever!

Gus running with huge stickRows of tall trees behind Thornhill Pool

Gus with his big stick in the sun

Eventually I decided that it was time to head for home.  We made our way back to the car and, only 15 minutes later, we were back in our own driveway.  I couldn’t believe it.  I really felt as though we had been away on a holiday, in some place far from home.

Is it possible that, right under your nose, there are incredible places that you pass by all the time without noticing?  We always yearn for a break or a vacation away from home, and yet that isn’t always an easy thing to arrange.  After my experience this morning, I have promised myself to really open up my eyes to everything that’s right in my own backyard, and to go exploring like this at least once every week.  I’m pretty sure that Gus will be happy to come along with me for the adventure!

The day can be whatever you choose it to be

Gus happy on a windy fall day

I’m always amazed to see it.  Over the last few weeks, the fall mornings have become darker, colder, windier, and wetter.  At six o’clock, when I stagger downstairs to make my morning coffee, it takes so much effort  just to shake myself awake and think about the day ahead.  As I look outside into the dark and drizzly yard, I have been feeling an overwhelming urge to crawl back upstairs and snuggle under the covers, where it is still warm and cozy.  Then I look over at Gus.

At this point, he has also made his way downstairs after slowly rousing from his own cozy bed.  He always takes his time, and stretches and yawns before gradually getting up.  Here is where the difference between us ends. While I am still fumbling with the coffee, Gus always goes and stands by the back door.  He will wait there patiently until I let him out.  When the door is finally opened, he explodes out into the yard, like a shot from a cannon.  He lets out a yelp of joy, and then he proceeds to tear around the yard at top speed.  If he finds a toy he’s left lying there, he will pick it up and shake it back and forth for a bit.  Then he will drop it and run wildly again, until he has checked out every corner of his space.  The whole time he is doing this, his tail is wagging like crazy, and you can see by his behaviour that he is just so completely happy! This routine is the same every day, no matter what the weather is like. When he eventually comes into the house after his morning ritual, he is always in such a great mood, and it inevitably rubs off on the rest of us.

On the deck with a ball on a rainy morning

Yesterday, as I watched this display, I thought about how Gus perceives the morning.  He doesn’t focus on the darkness, the rain, or the chill in the air.  He is just so happy to be in a place he loves, out in the fresh air and in the freedom of the yard.  He is so full of positive energy, and it often seems to be in defiance of the atmosphere around him.  It made me stop and think.

By 7:30, as I drove through the grey drizzle on my way to work, I had made a decision.  I was on my way to give a three hour lecture on connective tissues on a dreary Friday morning.  It was the end of a long and stressful week for my students.  I knew that things had the potential to be pretty low energy when I walked into the room. It suddenly hit me how I had a the ability to choose the energy that I brought into that classroom. So here’s what I did.

I walked in and said my usual “Good Morning” to the class.  Then I announced that, despite it being a miserable, rainy, grey Friday, we were not going to let it get to us.  I told the students that we were going to shift the energy, and we were going to do so by focusing on what was positive about the day.  We went around the room and, starting with myself, each person took a turn and completed the sentence “I feel good about _____________” by sharing some small thing they were happy about.  The comments ran the gamut, from simply being happy to be there, to looking forward to specific events, or to seeing friends and family on the weekend.  It didn’t really matter.  What happened, though, was quite remarkable.  Within a few short minutes, the room full of students was buzzing and laughing, and almost everyone was smiling, as we all shared our positive comments.  As a group, we had chosen to shift the focus of the day and, along with it, the energy in the room.

That positive energy stayed with us throughout the whole three hour class.  In fact, for one of the most boring lectures I have to teach, it was actually a lot more fun than usual.  I was struck by how differently things had turned out from how they might have been, if I had just walked in and made some comment about the crummy weather, and then started into my lecture.

I guess the lesson for me was that we really do have the power to choose how we want each day to begin, despite what the weather is outside.  Even more striking was the realization of how great the impact of my choice was on so many other people around me.  It was kind of exciting and scary at the same time.    Now all I have to do is remind myself of this each morning, when I’m tired and fumbling about in the dark, trying to get my coffee going.  I’m lucky though, because all I will need to do is look out in the yard and see Gus racing happily about, and it will all come back to me.

Bring home the big stick

Bringing home the big stick

You might have seen us one day.  Very often on our walk, Gus will discover a stick lying by the path, and he’ll decide to carry it home.  Now, this probably doesn’t seem unusual.   Most dogs will pick up sticks.  But most dogs don’t go after the kind of sticks that Gus does.  As you can see from the photo above, the sticks that Gus brings home are often bigger than he is.  Sometimes we even have trouble on the sidewalk because his stick takes up so much space!

It’s not uncommon for people walking or driving by us to honk, laugh, and give Gus the thumbs up sign as he proudly marches home with his trophy.  It’s quite a sight to see.

I’ve always said that I would do well to have the kind of confidence that Gus does.  When he comes upon a giant stick lying there, you can just see him considering it, and sizing it up.  Then, without hesitation, he will pick it up and position it in his mouth for the long walk home.  He never seems to even entertain the notion that he won’t be able to manage it.  Occasionally I have even tried to discourage him, saying “no Gus, that one’s too big!”  But he will always forge ahead; often wrestling with the largest sticks until he can get a good grip on them.  His behaviour shows that he doesn’t even consider the possibility that he won’t be successful.

You probably think that I’m crazy for letting him carry all this wood home.  Take a look below, and you’ll see what he accumulated during a couple of weeks last fall.  I guess I just feel that, since he’s so confident and determined, he’s entitled to have the reward of carrying his treasures home.

Gus's collection of sticks

When you are setting goals for yourself, do you reach high and go after the biggest stick?  If you’re like me, you often hesitate and feel limited by all the reasons why the goal will be challenging to achieve.  Can I really do it?  Am I qualified enough?  Will people listen to me?  This would be like Gus looking at a stick, and hesitating while thinking, “Is it too big?  Will it hurt my mouth?  Will I bump into things on the way home  with it?”  When we focus on the obstacles in our path, then we have a tendency to trip over those obstacles, and allow them to get in the way of achieving our goals.  Or perhaps they make us worry too much, and cause us to drop our standards and set our sights on some easier goal.  It’s like settling for a smaller stick because you feel that it will just be easier to manage.

If, like Gus, we refuse to think that way, and we just know that we can carry home that big stick, then we don’t even see any obstacles, and our actions will surely lead us to be successful.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look on my front porch!

The biggest stick

After I finished posting this, I came upon this quote that I think is quite relevant – I think you’ll agree.

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” — Michaelangelo

When it’s over, it’s over; move on

Happy Gus

l wish I could be more like Gus.  No,  don’t want to be able to run on all fours or lift my leg to pee, I just wish that I  was able to handle some situations the way he does.

Take yesterday, for example.  We started out in the field as usual.  It was a beautiful morning, and we were having a great time with some new friends.  Unfortunately, there were two separate incidents when I had to apologize and we had to change course, because Gus wouldn’t give up a ball that belonged to another dog.  I’ve written about this before.  He just gets so worked up and has to run after that ball, no matter who it belongs to.  He even jumped up on a very nice man, who had been throwing the ball for him, when he tried to put the ball away out of sight.  I really felt awful.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish that I could forget all my manners and act crazy from time to time.  What I wish is that I was better at letting things go once they’re over.

We left the field and the balls behind, and Gus trotted along happily, as if nothing had ever happened.  It wasn’t so easy for me to get over how I was feeling.  I kept on walking, as I tried to shake off my frustration with Gus’s behaviour.  The next thing I knew, we had been out for two and a half hours!  It wasn’t a total loss, because it was a gorgeous day, and we both got a ton of exercise.  Gus behaved great for the rest of the walk, and we ended up in a beautiful ravine. We met lots of people who commented on how wonderful he was, but  I still kept thinking about his earlier bratty behaviour. When we finally got home, the first thing I did was to explode in frustration about what had happened.  This was after two and a half hours of trying to walk it off!!

Dogs have this incredible ability to live in the moment.  I’m not sure if it’s a survival skill, but their focus tends to be limited to what’s right in front of them at that particular instant.  I remember when Gus was a puppy and we took him to classes.  We were told that we had to reward his good behaviour immediately after it happened, or else he wouldn’t associate the treat with what he had done.  The same went for correcting problem behaviour.  We learned that if we hesitated for a minute before corrrecting something he had done, it would confuse him because he would have already moved on to something else.  The moment would have passed.

I’ve seen this play out in other circumstances as well.  I’ve learned over the years that the dogs in the field tend to sort out their differences among themselves.  If one dog is annoying another, or takes a ball that belongs to someone else, the ensuing “vocal” behaviour tends to make it clear what the issue is, and the situation usually resolves pretty quickly.  Usually after “speaking his mind” in this way, Gus will go right up to the other dog and begin licking it affectionately; as if to say, “Hey, we’re okay with each other, right?”  No hard feelings, no grudges.  On to the next game of tag.

This is what I really wish I was better at.  I don’t hold grudges, but as you can see from what happened, I tend to hang on to things long after they’re over.  I don’t really know why I’m this way.  I just tend to feel things quite deeply, so it often takes a me a while before I can shake something off and move on.  I have made a personal commitment to work at being more like Gus, and to learn how to let things go, especially if they really aren’t that serious.

This morning on our walk we ran into one of the people from yesterday in the field.  I apologized again, and told her how frustrated I had been with Gus’s behaviour.  She looked at me like I was crazy, and told me that it really wasn’t any big deal.  Gus was right again – it was definitely over.  And on we went. . .

Oh, what a beautiful morning!

Beautiful tree in the parkWith my apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein. . .

This is the first thing that Gus and I saw as we headed into the park beside our house this morning.  I just had to stop and try to capture it.  It is a perfect fall day.  Crisp, clear, and cool, with a stunning blue sky and blazing bright sun.  I know this is really corny, but the words to that song from Oklahoma just jumped into my head!  I really don’t have much to say today, except for this:  GET OUTSIDE AND ENJOY THIS INCREDIBLE DAY!!!!!!!!

There’s something about this time of year that always makes me feel so good.  Gus felt it as well.  He was so happy to be out in the park,  I could hardly get him to sit still for a photo.

Gus in the park beautiful morning

Take my word for it, when there is a day like today, you just have to get out there and enjoy it.  Everyone we met seemed to be in a great mood.  We had the most wonderful, mind-clearing, soul-refreshing walk.  Whatever you have planned for today, make some time to get out there and soak it up!

Enjoy!

Watch out – they can really sneak up on you!

Gus and Lucky sneaking up

Uh oh.  I can’t believe it.  Today on our walk, Gus and I took a route that takes us past our vet’s office.  We often go that way just for a change of scenery, and also because we really love Dr. Sermer and her wonderful team, Amber and Sharon.  There’s always a friendly cuddle and a treat for Gus, and we usually have a little visit if they’re not too busy.  I also tend to take advantage of the opportunity to pop Gus on the scale while we’re there, to check his weight.  Today I did that, and I discovered that Gus had gained almost 4 pounds!!!! He’s actually nudged past the upper limit of where his weight should be.  I was horrified.

I feel like such a terrible mother.  How could I let this happen to my baby?

The truth is, if you’re not careful, it doesn’t take much for a few extra pounds to sneak up when you’re not looking.  I should know – I work with this stuff for a living!  I tell my students and clients that the secret to keeping a healthy weight is ridiculously simple:  You have to balance your energy in, and your energy out.  And, you need to get on the scale to check up on things on a regular basis.

So, what happened with Gus?  Well, because of everything that’s been going on, it has been a few months since I last checked his weight.  I think that we’ve just been getting a bit too casual measuring out his food every day.  We tend to eyeball the amount, and I think that we’ve just been gradually feeding him a bit too much, and that’s become the norm.  We didn’t catch it until he gained this much because it has been a much longer time than usual since I last checked it.

Of course, we’ll have to keep an eye on those bits of food that Gus “focuses” on at the table.  As I wrote, he does get mostly vegetables from us, but everything counts!  I guess that’s the other part of the message.  When you think about the “energy in” side of the equation, then you have to look at all the sources of energy – and be aware of those things that you’re not taking into account.  I remember thinking that the leftover bits of food I finished off my children’s plates didn’t count, and the same for any food eaten quickly, while standing over the sink!  But nope, as far as your body is concerned, it all adds up.

Then there’s the other side of things.  “Energy out” refers to all the energy you burn up, through daily activities and exercise.  If you’re trying to inch the scale down, then you can turbo charge things by simply becoming more active.  Of course, intense sessions at the gym are great, but research does show that multiple, shorter bursts of activity throughout the day are just as effective.  Personally, I look for any chance at all to simply MOVE when I can throughout the day.  Just like the nibbles and snacks, any type of activity counts, and is just plain better than sitting on your rear! It all adds up too, in a positive way.

Gus has no trouble with the energy out part.  He gets close to 2 hours of exercise a day, and he runs at full speed for a lot of that time.  In fact, if we’d let him, he’d run after a ball or frizbee until he dropped.

No, I think what happened was just a combination of getting a bit sloppy with his food and treats, and not monitoring it for a while.  In the past, I’ve caught it if he’s put on a pound here and there, and we’ve known that we have to watch out.  This time, I just let it go too long before checking up.

I’ve maintained a steady weight myself for many years now, and I’m convinced that one of the main reasons is the fact that I hop on the scale regularly.  I do eat really well, but I love food and I love eating!  I’m not obsessed with my weight, but I’ve been amazed at how quickly it can add up, especially as I’m approaching the magic “50.”  I’m always glad to keep an eye on things, and to catch it when it’s just an extra pound or two.  I always say that it’s a lot easier to prevent it than to lose it.

So, what about Gus?  Well, I’m actually not that worried.  I know that if we just pay a bit closer attention to the quantities we feed him, and keep him as active as he is, he’ll drop those few pounds in no time.  We’ll pop by the vet’s more often to make sure things are going in the right direction.  In the meantime, there’s just a bit more of him to love!