You Might As Well Love It

Well, having survived the “snowmageddon” of last week, here we are in the midst of yet more snow.  Welcome to February in Canada!  Everywhere I turn, I am greeted by complaints and the sounds of people who are feeling a certain way right about now;  lots of winter behind us, and lots of winter still ahead of us!   One of my friends posted on Facebook this morning, “snow, snow go away, come again another. . . year!”  When I stepped outside the other day and greeted a neighbour with “what a beautiful day!” all she had to say back was, “I hate winter!”  Does everybody feel that way?

Well, Gus doesn’t!  This guy has the right attitude.  He can’t wait to get outside in the snow and run around, even if he’s just been roused from the coziest sleep.  You would think he was let loose in a combined fluffy playground and buffet!  He will run like crazy and dig his face deep into the snow, and then stop and take a great big mouthful of the stuff for a snack.  It’s hilarious to watch.

Sometimes he’ll just sit quietly in the snow on the deck, and it seems like he’s just admiring how beautiful it really is.

I think he’s got the right idea.

Let’s face it, even if the groundhog was right, winter is going to be here for a while.  We might as well find something about it to love.

Like how beautiful the trees look. . .

Or how peaceful it is to walk down the snowy path. . .

Or all the fun things you can do with the snow besides shovelling it. . . (okay, you do need thumbs for this!)

How many times in our lives are we going to be stuck with events or situations that might not be our first choice?  Let’s face it, if I was offered a free trip to some sun-soaked beach destination I’d be out of all this beautiful winter in a flash!  But, here I am for the duration, so I’ve decided to make the best of it.  There is always a way to put a positive spin on wherever you are, and whatever you are dealing with.  Research has proven that people who are optimistic and focus on the positive side of events always fare better, and live longer, healthier lives.  So, pull on those snow pants and lace up those waterproof  boots or skates, and get out there and enjoy this stuff.  You might even find someone out there to play with!

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Who needs the gym?

Okay, so it’s the second week of January.  This is the hottest time of year for sales of gym memberships and fitness equipment.  Save your money and get a dog!

If you’re bundled up, the fresh air, sunshine and the crisp snow are more powerful stimulants than anything they’re pumping into the stale air in one of those windowless gyms.  Besides, you don’t have to listen to that droning disco music in the background!

I make a point of running around with Gus – up and down the hills, and across the snowy fields.   I get my leg exercises by kicking up clumps of snow for him to jump for.  To be honest, just tromping through the heavy snow with boots and snowpants often feels like I’m  wearing extra leg weights.

When we’re all done, I feel just as “worked out” as if I’d been at the gym.  The bonus is that it doesn’t cost anything, and I get a wonderful sloppy thank you from my workout buddy!

Don’t Be Afraid To Make The First Tracks

So here we are again.  The fields are covered in snow.  The sun is blazing, despite the -15 degree temperature.  It’s a beautiful day to be outside, as long as you’re dressed for the weather.

I love to stand at the top of the hill and look down onto the sparkling expanse of snow below.  I’m always a bit reluctant to take the plunge and begin tramping ahead with Gus.  Somehow it seems a bit sad to puncture the pristine snow with my clompy boots and his prancing paws.  Never mind.  On we go, and before long, the field is a mess of footprints and pawprints; leaving evidence of everywhere we’ve been.   For the past two mornings we have spent ages outside in the fields; running and playing in the snow, and working up a sweat despite the freezing temperatures.  We’ve had the best time.

It’s a bit like life itself, isn’t it?  When we are about to begin something fresh and new, we stand on the brink, contemplating what we are about to dive into.  It’s often a mix of excitement, wonder and trepidation all rolled together that can keep us perched there; immobilized.  As if we’re afraid of ruining that perfect image before us with our footprints and actions, as we forge ahead into new territory.

You’ll think I’m nuts, but I’m reminded of something silly from my childhood.  When we were little, my siblings and I used to argue over who got to “break the rink” on a new jar of peanut butter, by being the first one to dig a knife into it.  (Boy, were we easy to entertain!)  I guess we knew then that it was less important to gaze at the perfectly smooth surface than to get on with taking the plunge, and enjoying what would come next.

Get going!

A season for miracles and giving thanks

What a wonderful time of year.  Though it really hasn’t been a tough winter, it still always feels so good when spring finally arrives.  Over the past few weeks, Gus and I have marveled at the changes unfolding around us.

The last snowball of the season

Snow seems like a distant memory, and the fields are moving from frozen to muddy, to dry grass crunching under our feet.

First spring crocuses

The first brave flowers are poking their heads up through the hard dry ground.

Gus has been very serious about checking them out.

Snowdrops

Everywhere we walk there are new sights and smells as the earth wakes up and reveals the promise of spring once again.  It’s hard not to smile as we stretch our arms and legs  in the warm sun, without the heavy layers we have been used to wearing outdoors.

It’s no coincidence that the theme of rebirth and renewal turns up in many holidays and celebrations at this time of year.  My family observes the Jewish holiday of Passover.  In addition to commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, the symbols that we incorporate into our celebration also remind us of this wonderful season where everything is new and beginning to grow. We include eggs and fresh greens among the items we eat as part of our special Passover meals.   Eggs and bunnies as symbols of new life are part of the Easter celebrations observed by many this weekend.

It’s not hard to view the bursting forth of bright new flowers and new life as a miracle after the barren and bleak winter season we have just finished.  The theme of miracles also shows up in all of the seasonal festivals that take place at this time.  In our traditional observance, we retell the ancient story and we give thanks for the miracles that have allowed us to reach this festive season once again.

Well, as it often does, life imitates life itself.  Yesterday Gus and I lived through our own little story, complete with a small miracle at the end.

So here’s what happened:

We had a wonderful hour-long walk on the most beautiful day.  We were just heading towards home, when along came a kid sitting on his skateboard, flying towards us along the sidewalk.  He wasn’t doing anything wrong at all – just having fun at top speed.  He would’ve zoomed right by us, but something about the sight of him completely spooked Gus.  Now, let me tell you, when 80-plus pounds of Labradoodle decide to take off in the opposite direction, there really isn’t much you can do to hold onto that leash.  So, off went Gus; back in the direction we had come from -running as fast as he could and dragging his leash behind him.

At this point the kid with the skateboard realized what had happened, and he felt really badly.  So he started skateboarding after Gus, trying to catch him for me.  I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Thank you, but please don’t!  He’s afraid of the skateboard!”  Sure enough, Gus was running away from him even faster.  Nice kid – at this point, he heard me and dropped the skateboard and started running after Gus at top speed.   By this point I was running too, trying to catch the kid.  I finally got him to hear me yelling, “Please just stop!  He thinks you’re chasing him!!”  Finally he did.

By this point Gus was out of sight; presumably running all the way home to get away from this terrible scary creature.  Now, you have to realize that going home is great, except it was about 5 km from where we were, and it involved crossing a very busy major 4-lane road to get there.  I called Jeff on my cell phone and told him to get the car and see if he could catch up with Gus before he got to that road.  In the meantime, I ran as fast as I could, trying to find him.  All I could think of was Gus bolting out into that busy traffic. . . I was terrified.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, except for the fact that Gus did run across that busy road, and that somehow he made it across in one piece. Jeff found him panting on the other side, in the field we had crossed through a half an hour earlier.

Some miracles are huge, like the parting of the sea to let a whole nation cross safely.  Some are much smaller, involving only a frightened dog safely crossing a very busy street.  Nevertheless, a miracle is a miracle, and it is truly something to feel thankful for.  At this special time of year, I hope you can find a miracle or two in your own life, and that you can give thanks in whatever way is meaningful for you.  I certainly have.

Amen

Home safe and sound

It’s the journey itself that matters most

This morning at the end of our walk, Gus bounded up the front steps and plopped down as he always does to wait for me to toss him his cookie.  There he is in the picture, sitting and waiting for our little ritual that marks our return home.  It suddenly dawned on me that, in the four years we have spent together, Gus and I have been on more than 1200 walks!  When I think about the mileage we have covered, it is truly mind-boggling.  I have worn through several pairs of walking shoes to prove it.  As I pondered this, I was struck by an even more incredible fact.  Despite the distance we have covered together, we always end up in exactly the same place at the end of our walk:  right on our own front porch where we started!  I suppose you could say that, despite all of our walking, we haven’t really gone anywhere at all.

What a concept.  Walking and walking, yet ultimately ending up right back in the same place.  To some, it might seem crazy.  But not to me.

You see, for Gus and for me it’s the walk itself that is the whole point.

Sure, a daily walk is a great source of exercise and fresh air.  I highly recommend it for all the obvious reasons.  But, if you’ve been reading here for a while, you will know that  there is so much more that happens when we are out walking together.  Every day on our journey we meet people and dogs. We make new friends and share experiences.  We are inspired by magical sights right in our own neighbourhood.  In fact, it is while we have been out walking, ultimately going nowhere, that all the important lessons have occurred.

Today is my 49th birthday.  I’ve had a perfectly lovely day.  I got hugs and good wishes from family and friends near and far.  I had lunch with two incredibly special women. I had dinner with my wonderful family.  And I started it off with a very long walk outside with Gus on a beautiful snowy day.

I was thinking this morning that life itself is like these daily walks.  I don’t want to be morbid, but let’s face it, we are all going to end up in the same place we started out eventually.  Dust to dust, and all that stuff.  Each time we mark the passage of another year, it’s as if we are setting out on another walk – one that will end up at our next birthday.  I truly feel that the years themselves aren’t the point at all.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been hung up about revealing my age.   To me, it’s what we’re doing on that journey between the milestones that really matters in the long run.

As I look back on the past year, I am overwhelmed by all that I have seen, done and learned on my journey.  I have met and developed relationships with so many incredible people.  I have marveled at the wonders of the changing seasons and the magical sights that have been right in front of me all the time.  I have learned valuable lessons about myself and what I believe, and I have a clearer sense of who I am and what I value.  There have been high points and low points, but all in all it has been an incredible ride.

Tomorrow is February 11th once again, and I will lace up my shoes and set out off the front porch as always.  I can’t wait to see what I will discover next, as my journey continues. . .

Listen to your heart

“You’re insane!”  The voice of my dearest and most trusted friend rang across the telephone line.  “You’re 45 years old!  Your kids are old enough that you are finally getting some freedom, and you can walk out the door whenever you want to.  You guys are already working so hard, trying to do everything for your family, and you never have time for yourself as it is. IF YOU GET A DOG NOW, YOU’RE CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There we were, four years ago this month, on the brink of the decision to get a dog.  You already know how the story ended. However, this week I find myself thinking back to that time, and remembering the process we went through in making that life altering decision.  I suppose it was the first lesson that Gus taught me, before he even arrived.

At the wise old age of almost 49, I know for sure that the one constant in life is change.  Just when you think you have settled into your groove, and you have it all figured out, something new will come along and rattle your world.  Perhaps you are deciding to give in to that urge to bring a dog or a child into your family.  Maybe you want to go back to school, to change your life’s direction.  Sometimes a challenging new opportunity presents itself at work.  It’s all part of this fabulous journey called life.

So what do you do?  As humans, our natural instinct is to be thrown off balance by the prospect of change to the status quo.  Even if we have chosen that change ourselves, we are comfortable with things the way they are. Even if it is exciting, the future can look awfully scary.  In weighing all the pros and cons, we tend to focus heavily on all the negatives associated with the change, and how it will impact our lives.

I remember methodically detailing all the ways in which getting a dog would strain our resources:  time, freedom, order and money were all going to be affected as we fit this new creature into our already bustling lives.  We would have to alter our daily routine and schedule to accommodate his needs.  We had to adjust our monthly budget to account for his food, pet insurance, vet bills, and supplies. We had to come to terms with the fact that we would have a whole lot of poop to pick up over the course of his life!

As responsible adults, we tried to create a spreadsheet; weighing both sides of this monumental decision.  We also listed all the positives associated with getting a dog.  From our research, we knew that dog ownership brings more exercise, stress relief, and a chance for the kids to experience the love and responsibility that go along with caring for a living being.  This sounded great, but was it enough to outweigh all the negatives??  As the Mom of the family, the final say in the decision was mine.  After all, it was acknowledged that it was my life that would be affected the most by this change.

What followed, and what I have since distilled as the original Lesson from Gus, was a process that I realize I have gone back to time and time again through my life.  I did my homework, and I thoroughly researched everything I could that would help me with my decision.   I tried to gather as much information as I could to enable me to project what life would be like with a dog in the family.  I visited friends with dogs and asked them about their day-to-day life.  I compared notes about costs and benefits; love and headaches, and I asked everyone I knew what they thought I should do.

I was completely rational and practical as I weighed all this information. I went in circles, and drove everyone around me crazy as I analyzed it all to death, and tried to put it all together.  What if I resented being tied to the house more?  What if we got hit with  a huge vet bill?  What if he chewed up everything in sight?  Would we be able to fit his walks into our daily schedule?  How hard would it be to train him?  It would be good for us all to get outside more.  We would love having a sweet puppy in the house…

In the end, after so much analyzing that my head hurt, I stopped and took a step back from the issue.  I realized what I had to do to make my decision.

I finally understood that the research was critical, and the analysis essential, but that those parts of the process weren’t going to give me everything I needed to reach my conclusion.  I learned that, in making life decisions, there are some elements that you miss if you only look at the data and the balance sheet.  There’s another part of the process that’s just as important.  It hit me then what I had to do.

So, I closed my eyes, and I took a deep breath . . .  and I listened to my heart.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Eat, play, love

I don’t think that Gus has any idea at all that the calendar has just turned over, but for us humans, it’s hard to escape.  There is something about the approach of December 31 that makes us reflect on what has passed, and on what lies ahead.  It can all get a bit overwhelming.

As a result, I’m sure you noticed that I retreated from blogging for much of December.  My apologies, but for some reason I found myself needing to take a break from “putting it out there.”   I have had a wonderful few weeks of non-routine with Gus, my family, and so many special friends.  I’ve also found myself turning inwards.  I’ve  looked back over the events of 2009, and I’ve reflected a lot on what lies ahead for me in 2010.

This past year will always stand out for me as one of great extremes.  I experienced loss, sadness and grief, but also the incredible gifts of love, support, and inspiration from so many incredible souls around me.  I suppose those two sides of the coin often come to us together.

I have also had the incredible experience of acting on something I am passionate about, and I have been overwhelmed by the positive results and far-reaching ripple effects that have come back to me as a result.  I have felt excited, terrified, overwhelmed and incredibly fulfilled, all at the same time.

As I try to sum it all up and step bravely forward, out into the -20 degree January morning, I find that, as usual, I am drawing another lesson from Gus.  In his world, right now is what truly matters.  Introspection and reflection are great, but he just gets on with it and deals with what’s right in front of him; right here and right now.  And he keeps it pretty simple.

As the title above suggests, life for Gus revolves around three basic things.  In fact, I realized that the last few weeks have been all about those same three pillars for me as well.  I have eaten so much wonderful food (and I have the tight waistband to show for it!).  I have kicked back and enjoyed down time and fun with those who are dear to me.  And, I have been truly blessed with an abundance of love in my life.  Maybe that’s why I’m feeling so good now, as I head into this new year.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  To me, they only set us up for disappointment and frustration, as we try to measure up against unrealistic and unattainable goals.  This year, I’m going to try to keep it simple, the way Gus does.  I’m going to do my best to focus on the here and now, just as it unfolds before me.

My plan for 2010 is to eat well, play often, and love with all my heart.  I think that if I manage to do that, the rest will take care of itself.

Happy New Year!

Love, Janet