Category Archives: finding true peace

Slow Down

I write this at the start of a new year and a new decade. Today is Saturday, January 4th, 2020. It is 2 PM, and so I’m not at my usual Starbucks writing post. Instead, I’m sitting in an overstuffed leather chair in my home study. On my legs sits my lap table, with its cushioned bottom and bright blue plastic surface. On the lap table is my MacBook with its defective keyboard. It is a computer recalled by Apple, but one that they refuse to fix because I purchased it from a third party. The house is quiet, as only William is home. He is in the family room and busy doing his own thing. My sole contact with him today was to ask him how he was feeling, as he is recovering from a cold. “Better,” was his reply.  

Julie is at work in her new office space. Will and I helped her move a few days ago. It was there that I pulled out my back. Although improved, it is still quite sore, and I find that the padding of my comfortable recliner provides better support than the mesh back of my rolling desk chair.  

I awoke a little before 4 AM today, but I hit the snooze bar a few times before I got up. While I was in bed, my back felt normal. However, it felt tight and sore as soon as I went from a horizontal to a vertical position. After dressing, I went outside and brushed a light dusting of snow off of my 11-year-old blue Honda Fit. Twelve minutes later, I was in the drive-through line of the Dunkin Donuts on New York Street. “Medium black, and a medium with cream,” I announced into the speaker. I recognized the responding voice as the Hispanic man who usually works that shift. Despite my using a different vehicle, he knew me. When I reached the window, he was ready with my coffees in a carrier, and his terminal out to accept my Apple Pay. We wished each other a good day and drove the three additional blocks to Tom’s house.

Tom was waiting for me, and in his customary fashion, he put his finger to his lips, warning me to be quiet as the rest of the house was sleeping. I always find this humorous, as he is much louder than I am. I gave him his black coffee and sat next to him on the long bench that he uses as a desk chair. Tom is always researching something, and we chatted about his latest discovery before we started to write this week’s post for his construction blog. I had already uploaded a bunch of photos that I thought would be useful. With his approval, we started the composition, which was on repairing a sunroom. I have a love of construction, and after years of listening to Tom describe the process, I can usually compose a post that only requires a few revisions. With edits complete, I published the post to his website, and then linked it to Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Instagram.

“Do you want to go to breakfast?” Tom asked. “Sure,” was my reply. I was assuming that we were going to go to Harner’s, a pleasant and cheap breakfast joint in Aurora. So I was surprised when he turned onto I88 and headed into the city. He was taking us to our favorite breakfast spot, The Palace Sandwich Shop. There we were greeted by Brandy, the waitress who asked how we were doing and how Tom’s son, Charlie, was. Tom said that Charlie was excellent and recalled the time when Charlie, at age 5, punched George, the restaurant’s owner, directly in the…let me just say below his stomach. On a previous trip to the restaurant, George told Tom that he would never forget Charlie because of that event.

I ordered two eggs over easy with bacon and a fruit cup. Tom ordered the Western Skillet. Our conversation continued, jumping from topic to topic as we talked about politics, movies, real estate, and food. With breakfast complete, Tom generously paid the bill. Brandy wanted to take a picture of Tom to place on the restaurant’s Instagram feed. He held his hand in front of his face and so the photo only showed his hand and me standing in the background. It is doubtful that I’ll make the Instagram cut.

Back in the car, our conversation continued. I started to offer unsolicited advice, and at one point, Tom called me “dad” in a genial tone. Back in Naperville, he wanted to show me a neighborhood that he is thinking about. Tom feels that his house is too big for three occupants, and he has been considering moving to a smaller dwelling. We drove up and down the streets of this pleasant neighborhood to get a vibe for the community.

I returned home to a quiet house and went up to my bedroom to find Julie just finishing a shower. She was getting ready to go to work. She left, and I was left in a quiet house.

I had productive plans, but my sore back continued to bother me, and despite taking a double dose of Alieve, it was tight and tender. I watched YouTube videos until I reached my saturation point and then headed downstairs to the kitchen. In the fridge, I found the pizza box from the Lou Malnati’s pizza that Julie ordered the day before. It was a deep dish spinach pizza with a butter crust. I put two slices on a little aluminum tray and popped the tray into our toaster oven for 8 minutes. Hot and crispy, the pizza served as an excellent lunch. 

Which brings me sitting in my overstuffed leather chair, looking out at the snow, typing, thinking. Soon Julie will return home, and we will plot a course for the rest of the day.

I’m sure many of you are wondering why I am writing about such an ordinary day. There is a part of me that would like to answer that question by stating that no day is average or typical. There is another part of me that would like to say the opposite, that today was indeed ordinary. My stream of consciousness is moving me in the latter direction, so I think I’ll go there with today’s post.

In the past, I was always busy, and I always felt like I didn’t have enough time. However, I have been fortunate as of late to have time, and with time I have discovered an entirely new dimension to life. I find a particular joy in the fact that the Dunkin Donuts man and Brandy, the waitress, know who I am. I celebrate that I can spend long periods with my friend, Tom, and never get bored. I have the time to look forward to when Julie will return home. If she is excited and wants to do something, that would be great. However, if she is tired and crabby, I’m OK with that too.  

Since I have allowed myself to slow down colors seem more vivid, sounds are sharper, tastes have become more intense. I don’t feel like I’m wasting time, I feel like I’m experiencing it more naturally. I am more connected and grounded to the world around me.  

I have stopped asking myself the question, “What will I do when I grow up.” I’m no longer frantically seeking my next career. Instead, I’m trying to listen to my heart, and I’m trying to allow God to act through me. That latter point is a bit scary, as I’m a bit of a control freak. However, when I stop trying to control everything around me, stuff happens. I have become ever more aware that my talents are best utilized on a small, one to one scale. I always thought that I had a higher and more grandiose purpose, but now I embrace the above reality.

I feel moved to slow down enough so I can see the next steps that I should take. My current back issues have forced a further slowing, and so I embrace the pain as it allows me to listen to thoughts with greater clarity. 

If I can’t be a good father, husband, friend, or customer, can I be anything authentic? These roles define me. They are not roles that take me away from my life’s mission, they are my mission. I feel that additional tasks and drives will present themselves as long as I keep myself open, willing, and authentic.

In a day, I will start a modified fast, which will consist of one meal a day with bread and water for the other two. I hope to continue this plan for 21 days as I pray and meditate to open myself to the will of God. I can assure you that the thought of me giving up control to anyone is a frightening thing to do. I will try to use the support of those people who love me as I attempt this difficult challenge. I know that I will need to continue to slow down and “be.” I’m not expecting a radical transformation. To be honest, I don’t know what to expect. 

My retirement has been different from what I initially envisioned. It has become more personal and rich. I wish I could describe this to you in a more elegant fashion, but the words to do so escape me. However, dear reader, I am not static, I am definitely moving forward.  



Here is the audio reading of this podcast:

The (Almost) Free Secret To Happiness

We arrive at his college with anticipation. We had been talking to Will on the phone, but this would be the first time that we would see him in situ since we dropped him off at his dorm, which was over a month ago.  

We text Will as we approach, and he responds that he will meet us in the Domino’s Pizza parking lot. I’m grateful for this as parking would be difficult since Violet, the van is almost 9 feet tall. She doesn’t play well with parking garages.

Will is happy to see us and spends the day showing us his classrooms and sharing stories. I am proud of him and happy. I’m pleased that he is adjusting to college life, but I’m even more glad that he is a kind and gracious host. His mature actions turn Parents’ Weekend into a happy experience.  

Exploring Will’s college campus.

Julie had called about a hotel room, but the only rooms available were $300 per night. Instead, she booked a camping spot for $30, and we headed there after our day with Will. We arrived after 10 PM, but Violet, the van, is self-contained, and setting her up is easy.  

Violet, the van makes camping easy.

I pull into the campsite, and we get ready for bed. I have camped a lot in Violet, but this would be the first time that Julie will be spending the night, and we both wonder if two can comfortably sleep on Violet’s small and non-standardized bed.  

Will said that he would be happy to go to brunch with us on Sunday, with the stipulation that it would have to be after 11 AM. With the lack of a morning deadline, we sleep in. Upon awakening, I start my Gas One butane stove up. I place my $7 Walmart kettle on it and fill the kettle with a bottle of water. After a few minutes, the kettle’s whistling alerts me that it was time to make the coffee, which I do one cup at a time. Julie sips her coffee as she looks out of Violet’s large sliding door window at the green grass and trees of the campground. I ask her how she slept, “Fine,” was her reply. Her response signaling that we could take a more extended camping trip together.

Making coffee one cup at a time.

We decide to walk around the campground, which is quiet and serene. It abuts a calm lake dotted with small boats. The setting is idyllic. I feel the happiness that I always do when I’m camping. At peace, feeling the calm of nature.

The campground was idyllic.

It is 4:45 in the morning, and I drive 12 minutes to my friend Tom’s house. I pick up two cups of coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way; one with cream for me, and the other black for Tom. He is already waiting for me, and we sit on his front porch and talk about everything from politics to the weather. Eventually, we pile into his pickup truck and run various errands. We continue our banter as we ponder an endless list of topics. We enjoy each other’s company. I am having a good time.

The main job of the day is to grind down the surface of a patio in preparation for a new coat of paint. This involves several machines, which are both expensive and very heavy. At one point, I operate one machine as Tom stands on it to add extra weight for higher grinding power. In between my labors, I grab my Canon 5D Mark IV and snap pictures of the process. These will be used for Tom’s website and blog. I enjoy learning things, and on that day I learned about cement refinishing. 

Learning how to refinish a patio.

That evening I return home and download the photos. My regular computer is in the shop, and so I can’t use my professional photo editing software. Instead, I have to make do with a consumer-level program on my backup travel computer. This is challenging as I need to extract every capability of the software to achieve an acceptable result. I find the process mildly stressful, but also exhilarating and fun. Another opportunity to learn and to be creative! Also, I know that I’m helping my friend Tom. Tom is always helping me, and it makes me happy when I can return the favor and help him.

It is Sunday, which is the day that I clean the house. I took this task over from Julie several years ago. I can’t say that I enjoy scrubbing toilets, but I do like having my living space clean and tidy. On completion, I pause and examine my efforts. My results give me a sense of calm, and I savor that feeling. 

During the afternoon, I get calls from my daughter Grace, and my daughter Kathryn, who is serving in the Peace Corps. It feels lovely to connect with them. I am so grateful that they want to talk and share with me.

Another one of my jobs is to make Sunday supper. I generally like to cook from scratch. I have a rough idea of what I want to make and research a recipe on the internet. With print-out in hand, I head to “Fresh Thyme,” a small grocery store near my house. For such purchases, I prefer going to a little store as I tend to get confused and agitated in larger and noisier establishments. “Fresh Thyme” is not only small, but it also has limited choices making decisions simple. I buy what I need and head home.

Going to a small grocer makes shopping easy.

That evening my dinner includes a salad, grapes, roasted carrots, steamed rice, and lemon chicken. I enjoy researching a recipe, creating dishes, and using a gadget (in this case, the Instant Pot). Julie said that the dinner was excellent…a bonus!

Sunday supper.

On Monday we watch a movie on my computer. I problem solve and figure out how to project the video from the laptop to the TV. I explain the process to Julie so she will have the ability to do the same in the future. Teaching and sharing information gives me joy.

Dear reader, you may wonder how all of these mundane examples relate to finding happiness. For me, they resonate with the core things that make me happy. The above scenarios have examples of me connecting with people who I care about. They demonstrate learning new things and the use of technology to expand my abilities. They illustrate different ways to be creative. They allow me to share my knowledge with others by teaching. They identify that I am most at peace in a tidy and organized space. They illustrate how I thrive in the serenity of nature.

These are the things that give me satisfaction in life. All of them are nearly free.

You may have a different set of things that make you happy. Explore your feelings and examine the common elements of those things that satisfy you. Look for the essence of these common elements. Perhaps you like to go dancing, but why? Is it the exercise, or the music, or the social interaction? A core essence is generic and can be found in many other activities and situations. Those other activities and situations will probably make you happy too.

Also, explore things that stress you and make you unhappy. Distill the essence of these activities and situations. Use this knowledge to avoid negative people and situations.

You may notice in my examples that I didn’t mention the many things that we are TOLD makes us happy. I didn’t say a big house, a fancy car, or other material things. I didn’t discuss popularity or celebrity. I didn’t cite designer clothing or elaborate beauty regimes. I feel that in some cases, these things can make us unhappy. Getting in debt over possession purchases is stressful. Trying to find happiness by seeking external approval can be a never-ending struggle. Attempting to feel better about ourselves by the clothing that we put on our backs or creams that we smear on our face is folly.  

Dear reader, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a beautiful house if you can afford it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make an effort to be liked, and I’m not saying that you should not have flattering clothes. What I am saying is that for most people, these things do not add to their happiness quotient, and when they try to substitute them for your core happiness elements, it can be dangerous. Happiness can not be found by running a credit card to its limit, and that package from Amazon will at best have a temporary, mood-elevating effect.

Discover the real core things that make you happy and pursue them. Listen to your soul instead of worshiping advertisers and influencers. Transcend commercialism to find your inner peace.