A Place That Feels Like Home.

This picture is courtesy of Alicia and Neil’s Photography.

Have you ever arrived at a new place, a place that felt so familiar, or so right for you, that it instantly felt like home?

The Seasons, Reasons, and Geography in Our Lives.

When I was about 9 years old, I saw the mountains for the first time. We were driving in the car.  Suddenly the distant gray shapes became benevolent giants, covered in evergreens, towering over us.  Looking out the window at that moment, I felt I was home, and that sensation has never left me. Until my late teens, I lived close to the Rockies and spent many happy camping trips enjoying their magic.

Life led me in a different direction, though, and I have lived most of my adult life on the prairies. When I moved away from Alberta years ago, there was a part of me that assumed I would somehow end up back there.  In reality, though, one practical decision after the next, I now lead a happy life far away from the mountains.

I took a day trip out to the Rockies, a few summers ago, while visiting family.  Although a lot had changed, I got the same sensation when I saw them.  The thiness of the air, the joy of climbing up a path, lumpy roots under my feet. The sounds, the colours.  Everything about that geography felt like home, like I was built for it.

On our car ride back, I realized that I’d forgotten my sweater in one of the hiking paths. I had to laugh. I never lose sweaters.  Never! I had to leave the mountains, but my lucky sweater stayed behind. I hoped no one would find it,  so it would decompose and become part of the soil; it’s threads intertwined eventually with the roots and flowers.  Maybe a bird would use pieces of it for her nest.  These silly ideas made me smile, as I watched the familiar shapes, contrasted against bright storm clouds, growing smaller in the rear window.

In the end, I love my current home in a prairie city.  This region offers its own delights: a summer swim in refreshing lake waters, the animated skies reaching from horizon to horizon, the swaying fields changing shades with the wind and light. I love my quality of life here, too, and am thankful for all it gives me. I wouldn’t want to move away, certainly not at this point in my life.

When we are on a path that is followed by choosing what feels right as life unfolds, there is a wisdom in knowing how to derive happiness from the route on which we find ourselves. Our experiences sculpt our understanding of life, and lead us down the roads we need to travel.

I spent years living near the mountains, and it fed something deep in my imagination.  The geography in the mountains expressed the poetry in my spirit, and now my spirit expresses the poetry of my experiences.  In the end, for me, the answer lies in the art of accepting with grace the different chapters in life, and not resenting their end.

Still, I will always love the mountains.

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” ~Socrates

How about you?  Is there a place that you have visited or lived in that felt like home, right from the first time you saw it?  Maybe it’s a city, maybe it’s a greographical region?  Dive in if you’ve any thoughts to share on this topic!

 

Playing It By (Y)ear.

Post by Carina Spring.

“…if one is lucky enough to be blessed with good health, growing older shouldn’t be something to complain about. It’s not a surprise, we knew it was coming – make the most of it. So you may not be so fast on your feet, and the image in the mirror may be a little disappointing, but if you are still functioning and not in pain, gratitude should be the name of the game.”

~Betty White at 89 years of age.

A few years ago, I was listening to a program on CBC.   The lady speaking was a breast cancer survivor.  She was talking about how most people complain when their 40th birthday rolls around, but her experience had changed her perspective. As she approached her 40th year, she felt the birthday was a gift.  She threw a party for all of her friends, and family, and joyfully celebrated the start of a new decade in her life.  I’ve tried to remember her message of being thankful for each year.

March 20th was my birthday, and I looked forward to it all week.  It was also the first day of spring, the International Day of Happiness, and a Friday!  When I got home, I went on the Internet to check out one of my favourite blogs, http://thecreativitycauldron.com/, and learned that the blogger – the lovely Bekki Hill – had included me in her nominations for the Liebster Award.  What a timely coincidence: Preparing a post with my responses will give me a unique way to reflect on the year that’s past, and the year to come.

On Saturday morning, I woke up to find a musical keyboard set up in the family room.  A fantastic gift because I’ve always wanted one, but never felt I could justify buying one since I don’t actually know how to play!  I really enjoy figuring songs out by ear and, now that I have a keyboard, I might even take lessons at some point.

For me, the keyboard is also a symbolic reminder to learn as I go, rather than wait for circumstances to be perfect. To jump into another year enthusiastically, as it unfolds, one moment at a time.

Every year, it is worth embracing the renewed opportunity to experience our existence: with all the beauty and joy, the imperfections and uncertainties. It is another chance to learn, and to grow into who we are, to breathe fresh air into our lungs, and laugh with a loved one.

It will take a little while to get my response post ready for the Liebster Award.  I’ve had a busy week, and won’t have time for a few more days.  Nonetheless, the questions that Bekki provided were great, and I can’t wait to get to it!

Ps: Above is a picture of my new keyboard.

Finding Happiness in Our Everyday Lives.

Happy: A Film by Roko Belic

On Saturday night, I watched a documentary called, “Happy”. Have you seen it?

In the documentary, they traveled all over the globe to show us some of the universal elements of happiness.  According to research, our deepest happiness comes from the simpler things in life – like time spent in loving companionship, nature, and contributing to a greater good.

Interestingly, once our basic needs have been reasonably met, more money does not seem to increase happiness.

Experts say being happy is a skill we can improve with practice!  So here is a brief  list of suggestions, based on some ideas from the film, on how to nourish our happiness.

How to Be Happier

1) An attitude of gratitude. Focus on what you have, and make it a regular habit to remember what you are grateful for in your life. Even if you are facing troubles, even if you are feeling down, take a few minutes to think of the things, even the small ones, for which you are thankful.

2) Exercise! There is a direct correlation between exercising and feeling happy. You don’t need to become the next Iron-Man champion (unless you want to, of course!). Just find something you enjoy. For me, walking is always an excellent way to boost my frame of mind.

3) Connect with loved ones. Make time to enjoy the relationships that matter to you!  If you are feeling lonely, be open to fostering new friendships: volunteer, or take classes. Keep in mind that inter-generational connections are valuable to our well-being, too. And never underestimate the joy found in the companionship of a loving pet.

4) Cultivate caring, and compassion. Research shows that helping others or working toward a good cause makes us feel happier. We become part of something bigger than ourselves, and that changes our perspective. We feel useful knowing that we have something significant to contribute. It’s a way of creating connections, and bringing more meaning to life.

5) Rest! Sleep, and relaxation are so important to happiness. In Japan, they now have a word for working yourself to death: Karoshi. In the documentary, a widow talks about this phenomenon. It’s a disturbing trend: corporate culure needs to change, and so do our attitudes.

6) Enter a state of Flow. Are you familiar with this concept? Think about a time when you were so engaged in an activity that you completely lost track of time, and you sort of forgot about yourself in the process. That is called a state of flow. People who enter this state regularly are happier than those who don’t.  Meaningful work and hobbies are just two of the things that can take us into flow.

Being happy doesn’t mean that one is never sad, angry or frustrated. It is healthy to have natural reactions to situations, but the key is not to get stuck in a negative frame of mind.  We integrate and feel our experiences honestly, finding our way back to a fundamental contentedness.

A Few Quotes:

“Let’s be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ” – Marcel Proust

“There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons.” – Stephen Chbosky

“The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn

You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” Jonathan Safran Foer
“They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.” – Tom Bodett

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles M. Shulz

 

The Shapes in Our Clouds

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

~Pablo Picasso

I was over at thecreativitycauldron.com for Wordless Wednesday.  There was a simple snapshot of a landscape with a caption that read, “May I never get too old to enjoy finding pictures in the clouds.”

Using it as a prompt, I did a quick, child-like drawing with a few colour markers. As the blue that I used for the sky intuitively found it’s way to the land, I thought, “and may those pictures we see in the clouds add colour and wonder to our everyday life.”

 

In 15 Minutes

Post by Carina Spring.

What do you really want to do?  What activity really taps into who you are?  It’s odd how, sometimes, that is the activity we most resist, and can’t seem to find time to do.

I struggle with making time to draw.  It shouldn’t be that big a deal or that hard to do, but, lately, I always seem to have a good reason why I can’t get to it. So today, when I got home from work, I set my timer to 15 minutes, opened a book, and simply started to draw. I tend to draw from my imagination, but I thought I would benefit from some old-school representational drawing practice.

I took a snap-shot of my 15 minute drawing using my cell-phone camera (see above – graphite pencil – no editing). The drawing is unfinished, and I will leave it that way.  My goal today was not to create a perfect drawing, but rather to start drawing again, to develop the core skills.

What about you?  What would you like to set a 15 minute timer for today?

 

A Toast to Saturday Mornings

One of my favourite things about Saturday mornings is that I don’t have to rush off to work. I love to lounge in bed for a while, even when I am up early. Later, I will go for a long walk and enjoy my favourite activities, but not before I drink coffee, and take the time to savour breakfast.

Do you have a favourite breakfast food?  I do – I love toast.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy other breakfast foods occasionally: eggs and bacon, pancakes or French Toast, or muffins (so yummy!). If I have to pick an absolute favourite, though, it’s toast. That’s right: nice, crispy and golden brown. Topped with real butter and raspberry jam, I am in heaven.  I accompany this treat with half a cup of milk, heated for 30 seconds in the microwave, and topped up with hot, medium roast coffee.  Sometimes, happiness is simple.

How about you? Is there a breakfast food that feels like a treat every time you eat it?

The Photograph is by winnond, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

The surprising Beauty and Benefits of Owning a Fish.

Post written by Carina Spring, and her son.  

What kind of animals have been part of your family?

Our animal friends have a way of making a house feel more like a home. Don’t you think?

There have been a few periods in my life when I didn’t have a pet, but over the years so far, I’ve had dogs, cats, budgies (they were my brothers’), and a baby bird that we rescued after a storm, and eventually released. I have so many stories about these animals!

Currently, we have a 20 year old Tortoiseshell cat, as well as a new addition to our family!

Fishy Facts

Have you ever owned a fish?

For the longest time, my son wanted a Betta fish.  I hate to admit this, but I kept thinking, “A fish?  Really?  How boring.”  I didn’t get the point of owning a fish. All that work of cleaning a tank, and no cuddles?

Nonetheless, last spring, we got one.  And you know, I was wrong. I still can’t believe how friendly and interactive this animal is. A lot of people believe fish only come toward you because they think it’s meal time.  It’s not true: Our fish’s behaviour at meal  times is very specific, and very different from other interactions he seems to enjoy with us.

Fish are beautiful and endearing, but that is not all. There are documented, scientifically proven health benefits to owning an aquarium.

The Health Benefits

Fish have been shown to improve our mood,  reduce blood pressure, and calm children. When looking at fish, our pulse slows, muscle tension relaxes, and our skin temperature warms.

Studies with Alzheimers patients have shown that, when an aquarium is placed in the dining room, patients eat more, need less supplements, and even exhibit less aggressive behaviour.

A study even showed that dental patients needed less pain-killers after looking at an aquarium.

A Soothing room-mate

An aquarium in the bedroom can add beauty to the space, and help you sleep better. Our Betta is in my son’s bedroom, and the soft sound of the water and gentle glow of the light help my son relax and sleep well.

Fun Fish Tales

My son wanted to share a few fun anecdotes about Mr. Betta.  Does anyone reading know if this is typical of a Betta?

~When my husband pours (special, treated) water into the tank, Mr. betta swims through the stream, rather than away From it!

~Mr. betta likes to use the soft current of the filter (kept on minimum for a Betta!) as a “water slide”. He will go up to the filter, let the current push him down, and then repeat until he gets tired.

~He will chase my son’s wiggling finger with remarkable speed!

~Turns out cats aren’t the only ones who get the “evening friskies”!  Mr. betta seems to have a lot of energy right before bed-time. 

Mr.Betta’s Home

Originally, we had him in a 3 gallon tank. We’ve since upgraded him to a 10 gallon tank. Having seen the difference in his behaviour and colouring, I recommend anyone with a Beta consider getting a 10 gallon tank with a filter and heater. Lots of plants, too!  Your pet will be much happier, and live longer.  We’ve also found it easier to maintain.

The neatest thing is that my son has taken on the responsibility of caring for the fish, and unfailingly follows through!

Interested in getting a Betta?  Check out the following link to learn more: http://www.firsttankguide.net/betta.php

 Mr Betta is now a part of the family!

Well, we’d love to hear about your pets!  And let us know if you’ve ever owned fish!

 

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATION! Be sure that your fish was sourced responsibly. Avoid buying fish that were taken from their natural habitat. More info on that in a future post!

*Editor’s Note: In the first comment, AncientMariner explains how using fish from their natural habitats might actually help protect that habitat. A good point!