Just a ramble

Kathy Larson
Feb. 20, 2022

It’s Sunday morning, it’s cold outside, and I really don’t feel like doing much of anything.

I’ve become hooked on the game Wordle. Have my sisters to thank for that. Lol. I am very happy that they introduced me to it though — it’s my early morning addiction and I can’t wait to see how I have done compared to them. What I love about Wordle is that it is a relatively quick game; solve the word of the day and you’re done. Once I’ve solved it and shared my score (usually 5/6, sometimes 4/6) I am happy to get on with the rest of my day. I don’t waste any time thinking about mistakes I made or if I can do better on the next challenge — it’s done, and that’s it until I open it up the next morning.

I also like the brief connection with my sisters first thing in the morning. Most days we only share our scores, but occasionally we add a few words of conversation. It’s a small thing, but a good thing.

This week I began writing again. For real. It has been a long, long struggle to get back to wanting to write. For so many years I just pushed writing aside, choosing to do anything else, where once upon a time I did anything I could to find any extra scrap of time that I could use to indulge my passion.

When I sat down at the keyboard for the first time this past week I was amazed at how familiar it felt, how absolutely lovely it was to see words appearing as I typed them. I don’t even care if most of them are garbage — I’m just so happy to be doing something that makes me happy. For years I’ve treated myself as a failure for not having made a successful career out of my writing; I wouldn’t write because I judged myself too harshly.

Then, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I realized just how much I missed writing. Words make me happy. Stringing words together in sentences makes me ecstatic. Joining sentences together into paragraphs, into pages, into chapters and essays makes me positively starry-eyed. For too long I’ve been focused on the wrong thing — trying to impress others, to seek validation in their opinions — when, really, I only ever had to worry about myself.

This past summer I boxed up all but a few of my manuscripts, my files of story ideas, my files of weird news articles, strange phrases gleaned from conversations, images clipped from magazines, words scrawled on bits of napkins, receipts and corners of pages torn from notebooks, because I had given up on myself as a writer. It was something I tried, I told myself, something else that I had failed at.

I think when I did that a switch got stuck somewhere inside me — like a light switch that is stuck halfway between on and off. The light will flicker intermittently until someone comes along and flicks it all the way one way or the other. All the empty space in my office that had been filled for so long with pages and pages of words that I had written kept flickering in my mind’s peripheral vision, like that cluster of stars in the night sky that you only see when you’re not looking directly at them.

Thank God, thank the muses, thank the Divine, thank the guardians, guides and angels — thank the Universe — that I decided to flip the switch to on.

I like feeling happy again.

A few thoughts on happiness

by Kathy Larson

Feb. 16, 2022

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This wasn’t a book I sought out on my own. It was given to me by my sister-in-law, Connie. She said it was okay; I said I’d give it a try.

From the beginning I was a little skeptical about someone writing about trying to bring more happiness into their life, or, more specifically, about them trying to determine if they were happy in their life. I thought it would just be another one of those painful self-awareness books exhorting us all to be our best selves!, or live our best life!, topics for which I have very little patience.

In hindsight I think that could have been a clue.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I didn’t have a clue about whether I was happy or not. I thought I was happy, but was I? Really?

Certainly, life had not turned out the way I had imagined it would some forty-odd years ago when I was a 21-year-old bride staring into a future that seemed to stretch on forever.

We think we know ourselves when we’re that age, think we know EVERYTHING, and think there is nothing we can’t do. Then life happens and before you know it you’re struggling to keep up, struggling to change with every new day, every new challenge. You’re learning that you don’t really know who you are, don’t really know anyone, for that matter, and it scares you. Luckily, you also learn how to grow up, to face your fears, to meet your challenges, and, even if the results are not always what you thought or hoped they’d be, you learn to accept them and ready yourself for whatever comes next.

Then, forty years go by. One day you look at yourself and wonder who you are. Wonder who the man you married is. Wonder where the people you thought you were went. You start reading a book on happiness and your mind is flooded with questions. All of them leading to one single question: Am I happy?

If I rate myself according to Rubin’s Eight Splendid Truths I would say I am semi-happy. I try to make others happy by being happy myself; like most people, though, this is tough to do ALL. THE. TIME. I try to focus on things in my life that make me happy. This one is even tougher to accomplish, because I tend to end up feeling guilty and selfish if I spend too much time focusing on things that only make me happy. Then, I don’t feel happy anymore. Catch-22 anyone?

Her Fourth Splendid Truth states that ‘you’re not happy unless you think you’re happy”. Huh? I’ve tried going about my day telling myself ‘you are happy!” over and over again, but when there is evidence to the contrary floating all around me I end up feeling silly and beleaguered and resentful. Anything but happy.

I won’t go through all the Splendid Truths, just suffice it to say that they boil down to something we all know and have heard a million times – you alone are responsible for your own happiness and no one else’s. You can make people happy by being happy, but, no one can make you happy, and you can’t make someone be happy if they choose not to be.

Generally speaking I’d say I’m a reluctant optimist. I believe that things will work out — eventually — and I accept that they may not work out exactly as I’d like. I believe that most people are good at heart — even though they may do things that would seem to prove otherwise. Though the glass is half full for me, I’m extremely careful about where and how I set it down — in case it spills and I’m left with nothing. My proven strategy to getting through life is to expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Perhaps not the best recipe for happiness, but it’s gotten me this far.

After finishing The Happiness Project I immediately began contemplating starting my own happiness project. Because it’s apparent that I could stand to be a little more happy. The problem is that thinking about getting started has made me feel very unhappy. At this particular time in my life I’m dealing with a whole lot of stress and uncertainty and though it sounds counter-intuitive, taking time to focus on my personal happiness just seems impossible.

So, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done — take each day as it comes — and approach it every morning with a positive attitude and the belief that today will be a good day. Maybe it won’t be a particularly happy day, but it can be a good day.

I liked Rubin’s book; it gave me a lot to think about. In the end, though, I think it’s as simple as this: Happiness is a choice — you can choose to be happy or you can choose to not be happy. Maybe choosing happiness is the harder choice, but it’s also the better choice. As the Grail Knight says to Indiana Jones: Choose wisely.

Zero to sixty — the finish line is in sight!

As with everything I do, procrastination plays a HUGE part. I’ve been thinking about finishing this list off and on over the last couple of weeks. Today just might be the day I do it.

51.  Seeing Bruce Springsteen in concert — twice! The first time was a birthday present from Tim. (He always gives the best presents!) I was so excited and didn’t even care that our seats were in the nosebleeds at Coliseum Stadium in Edmonton. When we got there though, we were redirected to the box office where our nose-bleed seats were exchanged for second row seats on the sidelines right next to the stage. I nearly died. Being that close to the Boss and his E Street band was amazing. The second time was a trip to Toronto for his Wrecking Ball tour. 63,000 people in Rogers Stadium, and Tim, me, my sister Lori, her husband Ted and my sister Tracy were part of the magic. I didn’t sit throughout that marathon of a concert and I belted out every song. Have I mentioned that I LOVE Bruce Springsteen?

52.  Teaching myself to crochet. I love handmade things. Anything that someone puts themselves into to create is wonderful in my books. I’m drawn to things like needlepoint, knitting, crochet, sewing — anything tactile. So, years ago I tried knitting and it didn’t go well. I can do a lovely stocking stitch, but that’s about it. When I got pregnant all those years ago I wanted to make a blanket that I could bring our baby home from the hospital in. I turned to crochet. It took me nearly the entire nine months to make it and it was a little lopsided, but I did wrap our son in it for his trip home. That blanket is stored away in a box along with other treasures from Landon’s childhood. Where it, and they will wind up is a mystery. I just like taking them out from time to time and holding them. I unfold that blanket and smile.

53.  Bungee jumping. Another birthday present from Tim. This one was for my 40th birthday. I was petrified when I was standing up there on that tiny platform, but then I told myself “if you can jump out of a plane, you can jump off this” and I did. It was incredible. I highly recommend it.

54.  Learning the hard way that pyramid schemes are nothing but a scam. A friend and I, back in the days when money was a bigger issue than it is now, decided to risk investing in what was a ‘sure thing’. The only thing ‘sure’ about it was that we were going to lose the money we invested. Some things you’ve just got to learn firsthand.

55.  Losing friends and learning that sometimes it just happens. Then realizing that friendships give you so much to be grateful and thankful for, that, even when they are over, they’re still part of who you are.

56.  Sharing my love of theatre with my granddaughter and my love of gardening and cooking with all my grandchildren. The opportunities get fewer each year they grow older, but for the times that I have been able to share with them I hope it’s made an impression.

57.  Being able to go to the last Black Family Reunion in  2017 and having my grandchildren meet all my crazy-wonderful family. We had realized by this time that my dad was terminal and that it would be his last reunion, also it was just after his 80th birthday and a few months before his and mom’s 60th anniversary. There were other milestones celebrated at that reunion as well, and I’m so glad we were there to share in them all.

58.  Eating New York style pizza for the first time at Grimaldi’s under the Brooklyn Bridge. That experience explained to me why I had always loved and revered Gondola pizza from Manitoba! And it has inspired me to try making my own Neapolitan style pizza. It’s a work in progress.

59.  Learning to like myself — it’s been a long, hard road, and there are times when I still don’t like myself that much, but mostly, I think I’m okay. If I could undo all the wrong I’ve done, I would, but then, who would I be?

60.  Embarking on a new life story at the age of 60. And the journey begins. . .

and. . . I’m 60

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Life has a way of showing you just what you need to see exactly when you need to see it.

I celebrated my 60th birthday yesterday. The day started out like any other — we woke up, we said good morning to one another, and we talked about what we were going to do. With the understanding, of course, that somewhere in those plans was a birthday dinner with family and friends.

My assumption was that it would be our son and his family, maybe my brother and his wife, perhaps one of my other brothers who live a few hours away and a few friends.

When we set out for town in the morning, to get breakfast and run errands, I was feeling emotional — I wanted more than anything not to be having this birthday. What was the big deal, anyway? Sixty, it’s just a number, and I’ve never liked having a big fuss made over me. Why couldn’t we just have a bbq on the deck, open some beer and wine and call it done?

All I can say is thank God I didn’t get my way.

Tim took me to The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. The one in downtown Edmonton. We’ve been going there once or twice a year for over 40 years. Crazy. I had expected to see the group I mentioned earlier and I wasn’t surprised when I saw them sitting there. And suddenly, I was happy. Because, this, I realized, was something they were happy to be doing for me.

Then, they surprised me after all. As I was turning around to grab Tim my mother walked up to me and gave me a big hug. Beside her were two of my sisters. I couldn’t believe it. They flew in to help me celebrate this milestone that I’d been treating like a millstone. A little later, after having been fooled into thinking no one else was coming, my youngest sister and my niece from Lloydminster arrived. More tears of joy and gratitude.

It was a wonderful celebration and I can’t explain how absolutely wonderful and special it made me feel. In the big course of things, a birthday really is just another day. It will pass, and then there will be another day. BUT, what yesterday showed me about birthdays is this: it’s not just about you and how you feel about it, it’s about all the people who make you who you are and how they feel about you. It’s about letting them show you their love and being able to show them in return, just how grateful and blessed you are that they are in your life.

And Dad, I know you were there, too. I had a dream last night that I was lost and in trouble. You helped me out, helped me find my way to safety. Everywhere I looked were dimes, bright, shiny and new dimes. They were pouring down from the sky and as I gathered them up I felt you smiling down on me. I love you. I miss you. Thank you for our family.

And I begin again. . .day 36 of 100

Well, really that should be day 19, because I missed a whole bunch of days while I was busy cruising through the Panama Canal!

What an absolutely amazing experience that was! We saw six countries in 14 days.

Had a ton of fun on the ship – from eating and drinking to dancing, playing Deal or No Deal, eating and drinking, watching great entertainment every night, playing numerous games of backgammon and Racko, eating and drinking, visiting exotic ports of call and swimming, soaking in hot tubs and enjoying meeting so many nice people – we did it all.

Aside from some mild sea-sickness I enjoyed every moment of it.

I’d guess the only purging I did while on our trip was of the reality kind, as in I left reality at home. Cruising really is the great escape.

It’s very expensive to have your phone on all the time – $7.00 a minute to make a call, plus roaming charges. Internet is available at the bargain price of $1.00 per minute – if you buy the 15 minute/day package. So the only thing I used my phone for was the camera and to hold my room key. It was actually quite liberating.

I thought I’d be able to blog while we were in port but I was so busy with excursions and trying to keep to deadlines, plus the fact that I didn’t travel all that way to miss out on the sights, that I simply decided blogging could wait. I’m glad I made that decision. The last thing I want is for this blog to become an obligation, something I feel anxious or uptight about doing.

Today, I knew I was ready to get back at it. I wanted to sit down and get my thoughts out.

So let the 100 days begin again.

Here a few photos from our fabulous trip.

July 4th – July 17th

Day 186 – 199 — Wowza!  199 days blogged about.  NOT — to clarify — 199 blogs, but 199 days recounted in my blog.

I’ve been busy with summer and holidays, hence the break in writing.  I left on July 7th to go have a little mini-holiday with two of my sisters.  We went to my one sister, Lori, and her husband’s cottage in Northern Ontario.  Near Kenora.  I may have written about it in the past.  It’s a lovely place.  We spent the better part of a week just sitting on the dock, drinking various cocktails and beers, playing Scrabble, and jumping in the lake when it got too hot.  I am proud to say I got a tan.  Some have even said:  “you look great — all tanned and relaxed” so that made me feel pretty darned good.

Prior to leaving for my little holiday I had spent time trying to get my house in order.  Cleaning, gardening, making sure the bills were paid, etc.  Boring, but necessary stuff.

I had high hopes that Tim would have the pergola finished when I got back, but alas, it was not to be.  He has got the main beams up, so now I’m just praying that he gets it done before the end of summer.  If we have a nice autumn I’ll still be able to enjoy it for a bit.  In Tim’s defence, I have to say that it rained a lot the week I was gone.  It rained only once while I was at the lake, and only for a little it one afternoon.  And it was warm rain.  Not like the cold rains of Alberta, at all.

When I arrived in Calgary Monday night for my connecting flight I was very disheartened when the pilot came on to tell us that the temp was 15 degrees.  I nearly gasped.  For the past week I had been enjoying temps in the high 20’s and low 30’s.  Talk about a shock.  Still, when I stepped off the plane in Edmonton, where it was a wonderful 2 degrees warmer, it felt good to be home.

As much as I always dream of getting away, I’m always grateful and happy to get back home.

With so much of summer still stretched out before me I’ve got lots of plans and lots to do.  I’m going to make the most of every moment and be joyful in the moment.

A few shots of my sister’s place in Ontario:

Saturday morning

I’m sitting here drinking my coffee with Bailey’s — my usual Saturday morning libation — and I just finished updating my memory jar.  I got a little behind this past week.  So much going on, but it’s always there in the back of my mind and I try hard to remember the little things that made me smile so that I can write them down.

I like this exercise.  It’s been good for what ails me.  Focusing on the little, happy moments in my day has made me see how good my life really and truly is.  There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it into the posts because my goal is to keep them short, but that’s the wonderful thing — I see and feel how much I have to be happy and joyful for on a daily basis.

The things that tended to bother me before are still there, I just don’t focus on them and therefore they don’t ruin my day.  I acknowledge them and then move on, knowing that I’m going to find that something memorable later on, or, maybe I already did and all I have to do is think on that, instead.

Here’s a few ‘extras’ that didn’t make it into the memory jar this week:

– I made homemade tomato soup with peppered goat cheese — yum!
– I lost another pound!- the Grade 5’s gave me a lovely card signed by all of them, plus they gave me a ton of hugs
– Tim worked days this week, no more nights by myself
– I passed the halfway mark in Anna Karenina
– I received a Chapter’s gift card as a farewell gift from my coworkers — yeah!  more books!

That’s it, folks.  Have a happy day!