Keys to a Happy Life

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Many blogs refer to this subject: keys to a happy life. Most of them advise things like – taking time for yourself, taking up a hobby, spending time with family and friends, de-cluttering your life, or making life changes that allow you more freedom like starting a .com business or blogging for a living, or travel.

Well that’s all fine and dandy-for most people. But what about those of us who are really in the grinder? Single moms or dads, families with special needs children, families that are either out of work or have so many jobs to make it by they only have time to fall asleep on their feet, soldiers in combat, elderly men and women that have no one?

What about us?

Let’s take it from the top.

  1. Taking time for yourself.

This is the one that is thrown at me a lot. I am the mom of a special needs child and a teenage daughter that has so much going on that her head is going to explode soon. My husband is gone for six weeks at a time and I live fifteen hours away from my closest family. I am on 24 hrs a day alert. I am the sole caregiver and ring master of my circus. My stress is off the charts and everyone pesters me to take time for myself. I try, but mostly I fail. When you have no one to step into your shoes, it’s hard to take that time. I can’t just go out for the night with the girls. I don’t really have “girls” and the ones that I do have are the ones that I would normally trust to watch my son so I could go out. See the problem?

What about time alone for a bath and some candlelight relaxing? Can’t do it while my son’s awake because he barges into the bathroom constantly. He doesn’t get the “door is closed so you have to wait” concept. After he’s asleep is just as bad because he wakes up a lot and once again will barge into the bathroom.

So. time for myself…yeah right.

Time for myself comes in tiny little bursts. If he’s occupied watching a cartoon, I get until the commercials come on again. Sometimes I can get by with sitting on the couch with him and reading while he is chattering on beside me. I’ve come to understand that it’s not the amount of time you get it’s what you do with the time you have. It’s like a power nap. Two minutes of complete abandon while staring out the window as dinner cooks is just as good as an hour of spa time. Well, maybe not just as good but it’s as good as it gets and that has to be good enough.

2. Take up a hobby

Hobbies are great! But if you have the problems I’ve mentioned above or if you are struggling to make ends meet then you start to think that hobbies are for the elitists of the world. Let’s face it hobbies take money. Whether it is learning to paint or knit or learning to play a guitar, it’s going to cost you money. Then you get into the Etsy and Pintrest trap- “if I make this I could sell it, then I wouldn’t be poor anymore!”

Well, if you have the time to dedicate to the craft you have chosen then, yeah, you could probably make a living, but face it, if you can’t get a bath in you probably can’t become a mogul in the hobby area. Plus if you are trying to sell stuff then it’s not really a hobby anymore is it?

The other downside to hobbies is the time it takes. You have to dedicate a lot of time, preferably uninterrupted time, to pursuing a hobby. That is not always possible with a full life of children, jobs, and stress. But I’ve come to understand that a hobby is not an activity to keep you busy, it is merely practicing the art of self distraction. It is the art of finding something to get your mind off your daily grind. It can be something complicated like learning to knit or it could be just starting out the window and daydreaming about the proper way to scale an ice cream mountain. The point isn’t activity, the point is brain escape.

3. Spending time with family and friends.

This one is hard. For the really lucky ones family and friends are all around almost to the point of distraction, but to the unlucky ones they don’t exist. In this day and age people are scattered to the winds and getting together is something that happens rarely if at all. When I was a kid we always had family dinners on holidays. There were about nine of us and it was a big day. However, due to jobs that have taken us to the far ends of the Earth and deaths there aren’t anymore holiday dinners. We can’t seem to make it happen anymore. It is a sad loss.

Plus everyone is so busy with jobs and kids that there aren’t really a lot of times that line us when we can get together. Sometimes I don’t get to see my friends for months. Our lives are just too complicated. So I’ve learned that it isn’t about the quantity of time that you spend with your family and friends it’s the quality. I may not get to see my mom more that once every couple of years but when I do see her I make it count. I may not see my friends for weeks on end but email and text are precious connections that I don’t give up.

4. De-cluttering your life.

This one is kind of self-explanatory unless you don’t have anything to get rid of. This is a country of consumerism. It’s all about buying the next best thing. However, there are many that can’t afford to buy all these material goods, so they really can’t get rid of anything to de-clutter. I’ve learned that it’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about uncomplicating our lives. It’s about removing the static that invades our lives and becomes like a fog. It’s about not bothering to keep up with everything.

If it’s causing strife to try and keep up with the news-stop trying. If you are going nuts trying to keep up with all the crazy drama going on in your circle of friends, don’t try so hard. Let it go. You don’t need it. Mental clutter is much more damaging than material goods. That’s why live and let live are such good words to live by. Another good mantra is “not my circus- not my monkeys.”

5. Financial freedom – start a .com or blog for a living

This one gets me every time. They say the key to happiness if financial freedom. Yes, it is, not having to worry about where your next meal is coming from or if you can pay for your son’s prescription is happiness. Sometimes it’s down right ecstasy. But…

Starting a .com or blogging for a living is a big hoopla. First you have to have some kind of contribution to the world, you have to have something that people want or need. Not all of us have that. Second you need the technological know how to execute the plan. Let’s face it, we’re not all computer gods. I know I’m not. Third you have to have the time to posts a million times a day.

For example – there are blogs out there that have thousands of followers after only a few months whereas I have been blogging for a couple of years with only a couple hundred followers. Is it because I don’t have great content? Yeah maybe, but it is really because I don’t have a specific driving force that people need to know about and I don’t have the time to dedicate to my site. It’s taken me nearly three hours to write this post, not because I’m a slow writer but because I keep stopping to play with my son, get snacks or lunch, get him to the bathroom, break up fights between him and the cat, deal with the “I’m sad” phase he’s in, etc. I can’t imaging trying to dedicate enough time to really get this blog going.

I’m also among the population of non-tech savy humans that struggle with the idea of SEO and marketing. I suck at it. I’m trying to learn. I’ve got lots of books that I’m trying to digest that will help me but really I’m getting nowhere fast.

There are a lot of people out there that are poor enough that owning a computer would be the height of riches. The library is where they go if they want to use the internet. I really can’t see those people dropping everything to become the next .com superstar. Not saying they couldn’t if they wanted to, just that it’s a lot harder than it sounds.

So the idea of financial freedom by way of alternative lifestyles…Not seeing it. Sorry. Financial freedom is all about perspective. When you’re poor or just scraping by and you have budgeted the Hell out what little income you have and you get to splurge on your birthday. That’s financial freedom. If you’ve been careful and you can buy someone a coffee, that’s financial freedom. It’s all relativity.

6. Travel

This is one of my favorites. If you want to be happy get out and see the world, travel to exotic places and really live. I always see these pictures of people who threw off the mantle of normalcy in favor or biking or hiking around the world. They’re living the dream, but they always have one thing in common. They’re young and single.

Dude, I have kids!

Do you have any idea how expensive it is to travel with kids? And I have an Autistic son- See my post about traveling with a special needs kid.  Even going shopping takes war strategy! Don’t get me wrong I would love to travel. I would love to go to India, Norway, Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, Italy, Russia…not to mention a thousand places in the United States, the list goes on and on. Will it ever happen? Doubt it. Money and family responsibilities are kinda working against me here.

So I’ve learned that travel isn’t about leaving home and traipsing around the planet. It’s about broadening your mind to the world around you. You may not be able to go to exotic places but you can see what’s on your doorstep. Drive a different route to work. See something different everyday. Shop in a new store. Read travel books or watch the hundreds of shows on TV about other places and people. Anything to get a perspective on how the rest of the world lives.

Get your head out of your trench and look around. There may not be roses to smell but there will be other aromatic experiences that will blow your mind. Not all travel experiences are good. Some are down right scary. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all travel adventures are romantic, but what they will be is experiences.  And experiences are the spice that makes life worth living. Some of the best stories are about overcoming the disasters you’ve lived through. Sometimes you just need to see what’s really there to know that you traveled. Just think about it- you live where some tourist wants to visit.

So let’s recap.

Keys to a Happy Life

  1. Take time for yourself. It’s not the amount of time you get it’s what you do with the time you have. 
  2. Take up a hobby. A hobby is not an activity to keep you busy, it is merely practicing the art of self distraction.
  3. Spending time with family and friends. It isn’t about the quantity of time that you spend with your family and friends it’s the quality.
  4. De-cluttering your life. It’s not about getting rid of stuff, it’s about uncomplicating our lives.
  5. Financial freedom. Financial freedom is all about perspective.
  6. Travel. It’s about broadening your mind to the world around you. 

Keys to happiness are like your car keys. You have them but sometimes you lose them under the stacks of paper on you desk or in the cushions of your couch. You just have to take a moment and find them again and wallah! you’ve got the keys to happiness in your hand. Have you lost your keys?

Traveling with an Autistic Child

People are always saying to me that I should take my son places and get out and see some of the fun stuff around us. Well, that requires travel.

Traveling with children is hard. Traveling with an autistic child is really, really hard.

First you have the packing.

IMG_8194Whatever you try to pack or organize it gets a little askew as they try to help. Sometime you even end up missing things because you thought you packed them and he moved them when he was trying to be helpful. Then there is all the extra stuff you have to take along because he can’t sleep at night without it. Like his pillow, his stuffed animals and the little plastic Smee characters (from Peter Pan) that he has to hold while falling asleep, there is also the music he has to listen to all night and the book you read to him until he sleeps. Thinking about it now I should have added his night light but, ah well.   That’s just the list for bedtime.

There’s also his tablet, the ear protection in case it thunders (he’s terrified of storms), the extra pairs of clothes in case of accidents and snack in case of anger episodes to get him back on track.  Hats, sunscreen, toys, and all the regular stuff you pack for a trip like clothes and toiletries.

And that’s just his stuff.

By the time you are ready to leave half the house is packed and I packed sparingly.

But it isn’t just the bring of extra stuff that makes travel with an autistic child hard. It’s the upset to the routine. Most kids that I know that are on the spectrum need routine. Mine certainly does.

For example if you are driving then you need to stop for food at the right times. If you go to long or eat too soon after the last time they get grumpy. Sitting in the care too long makes them grumpy, they need to move around a lot more than the seat belt will allow. If they get grumpy there is the possibility of a meltdown and that is not easy to handle when you are driving down the interstate. Mine will kick the windows or grab my shirt and try to yank me into the back seat. There has also been instances of kicking and pinching. I even got hit in the head with a half-full water bottle once while I was driving. Not the best thing at high speeds.

Another issue is the strangeness of where you stop. I have taken to driving straight through to my mom’s house from Montana. It’s about a 15 hour trip. It’s exhausting and it makes him grumpy but stopping overnight in a hotel is even worse. The last time we were in a hotel he freaked out completely. He was scared of the lights outside the window and spent the whole night trying to get out the door. Well obviously I couldn’t just let him leave. Where could he go? So we fought all night. He screamed and cried. By morning my arms and neck were scratched and bloody and covered in bruises. I took to sitting in front of the door so he couldn’t open it. When he finally did sleep it was about two hours before we had to leave again. So now we drive straight through.

Then once you get where you are going you have to get him settled and that often takes a long time. Luckily we only go to Grandma’s so he’s familiar with it. After trying to keep the routine while you are there, which can get really difficult, you must then make the trek back home again which involves going through all that craziness again. By the time you get home you want to hide and cry but you have to keep going and get unpacked and settled and try to force your reality into some sort of normality.

I know that he needs to be out and see the world but sometimes it is way to hard when you are alone. There have been times when we have gone as a family. My daughter and sometimes my husband are along and that makes it a little easier. Ish. When my daughter is in the back and he is having a meltdown it becomes dangerous for her because he will attack whomever he can reach. So I usually take the seat beside him so he can take it out on me and not my daughter. It is not an easy thing to have to protect one child from the other like that but there isn’t much choice when his is in an angry trance. When he calms down he snaps out of it and he is very apologetic but the damage is done. Better me than my daughter.

So if you see me and ask why I don’t take him places in the summer…it’s just better that way.

 

Best sandals I never thought I’d find again.

I’m not big on shopping. I know I’m a girl and that makes me weird but I hate shopping. I hate wandering around trying to find something that fits (which is nothing) trying to find something in a style that I’m comfortable with (which is not the skin tight thing that is popular now) and worst of all trying to find shoes. Shoes are the worst.

Then there  is that moment of disaster when you are on vacation and you do something stupid like play too long in the ocean and burn your feet. You have to understand I’m of  Irish decent, white skin, red hair the whole bit and I don’t do well in the sun. We were in Florida for my sister-in-law’s wedding and I was playing in the ocean with my kids. Salt water + Sun + white skin = OH MY GOSH MY FEET GOT BURNT! I couldn’t wear my shoes that I had brought for the weeding. My feet were red and swollen it was awful! So my lovely husband took me to find shoes I could wear. On a small island we didn’t have much luck and time was running out before the wedding so we went into this surf shop.

Surprisingly there was a wonderful pair of easily slip on sandals there. They were perfect. They were made by Pali Hawaii.  However I didn’t know just how wonderful of a thing I had found. They stayed on my feet no matter how dusty, wet, or sweaty I got. I loved them.

IMG_5529It has been nearly 8 years since I bought those shoes. They are finally wearing out. I have worn the bottoms out of them. I was so sad to get rid of them because I thought that I wouldn’t be able to find another pair short of going back to Florida.

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But then…

I was walking past the Hallmark store. I usually don’t go into that store unless there is something that I need, I’m not big into browsing. But there was one day that I had the feeling that I should go in. And Holy Cow and Carrots there they were.! Same sandals that I had bought in Florida! I was so excited I started to giggle.

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When I got home I compared the two pairs to make sure they were the same. I couldn’t believe how much I had worn down the first pair. IMG_5533This is why I’m not a good shopper. I wear things until they are worn to nothing and then keep wearing them until I find something equal or better. Not that I’m picky, I just have high standards. I guess I’m an old fashioned sort and I’m OK with that.

 

Best Hidden Place to Eat in Great Falls!

We came across a place in Great Falls, MT where we love to have pie and coffee.  Although we have had dinner there once, we haven’t been in town that late to try more of the full menu. It is downtown right near the Civic Center.

It’s called Tracy’s IMG_5472

It is a homey little diner just like the ones that I grew up with! It has booths and spiny stools at the counter. It even has the little juke boxes at the tables and the glass counter where you pay has gum and candy bars for sale.

Normally we order Apple pie ala mode but my daughter decided to order a cinnamon roll…

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It was as big as her head , hot and fresh.

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I couldn’t believe it but she managed to eat the whole thing!

Their shakes are to die for!

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The coffee is served in cups and saucers with actual milk if you want it, and none of these little sugar packets. The sugar is in a glass sugar dispenser. We even get placemats! I missed placemats. It was a great way to keep the kids entertained until the food arrives.

Every time we have been in there, we’ve had the same waitress. She is lovely. She’s always cheery even when she is feeling overwhelmed. Her name is Diane. (I asked, and I hope she doesn’t mind me taking her picture covertly!)

I heard her comment to a couple that were obviously just visiting Great Falls as they were leaving, “And we’re open all night so come back for breakfast!”

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I love Tracy’s Diner!

Gone again

Yesterday I posted what a great dad and husband we have. Today he’s gone again. A week has flown by so fast. There wasn’t enough time.
Back to work for 6 weeks.
It’s almost surreal that he was even here. I know he was and I can’t wait until next time he comes. Until then we will keeping up the good fight and keeping the family moving forward. What other choice is there?
In the mean time… God keep him safe, please. Bring him back safe and whole and let this 6 weeks go by as fast as our week together did. Thank you.

Air travel…pfthput!!!

Supposedly the the safest, quickest and most reliable way to travel. Bull s#@$!!
So far this month I have had two family members fly and it has been a fiasco both times.
My mom got rejected from the check in line because we were supposedly not there in time. But we were. And now my husband has spent over 24 hours trying to get home and still hasn’t made it. He could have driven home by now and it would have cost a lot less. His planes kept coming in late and forcing him to miss connection flights. This is so stupid.
We spend so much money on security and tickets. We pay extra for everything. We pay for bags and meals. For which seat we sit in and still they can’t give us quality in return. I know that weather and other things will cause delays and there is nothing that anyone can do about it but customer service is controllable. There are ways to sort out the issues that come up. The airlines just choose not too and then they wonder why they are going bankrupt.
Airlines-You must put your house in order for it to survive and thrive. In the mean time I think we will drive.

5 things I learned this week

1. Standing in line, on time, to check in at the airport does not guarantee that you will make it on the plane.

2. It is possible to be more exhausted than I already was.

3. My son can fall off of a 12 foot stack I hay, land on his head and never cry but will scream his head off when he trips in the house and hits his chin on the blanket chest.

4. God will make it work out that you can have a couple extra days with your mom even though it seems like a disaster when she isn’t let onto her flight. Surprise it’s a windfall!

5. “This is Montana!” Speeches will never get old! I love them!

Heart ripped out, again!

You would think that I would be used to it, but oh no, it hurts every time.
My husband and I have been married for 17 years and most of the time that we have been together he has had jobs that entail him being gone. Now, I know that in this day and age of the global economy, travel for work is very common. However it never stops hurting when he comes home and says that he has to leave the next day for (insert random location here). Every single time it is like a knife to my heart. I ball my head off and feel like my guts are turning to concrete. I shake and I can’t sleep.
I have two kids one extremely smart and one autistic, so life without dad around can be ridiculously hard. We still talk every night on the phone and try to Skype, but it is hard on the kids and I end up feeling like a single mom and he feels guilty for not being here with us.
Don’t get me wrong I am more than grateful that he has a job and can take care of us like he does. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.

Just a little vacation…

Just so you know, I didn’t fall off the planet. I just went to Canada. 

Yes that amazing country sitting above the U.S. Land of hockey and maple leaf flags. I’d never been there before although Alberta is only a few miles to the north. Here are some of my impressions, I hope I don’t offend anyone.

Calgary is located in the orient. I know this is geographically incorrect but I was floored by the fact that most of the people that we met were from one of the oriental cultures. Not saying there is anything wrong with that, but it’s just not what I expected.

It is expensive. Of course coming from Montana where there is no sales tax I guess I should have expected that.

It is possible to get a sunburn in Alberta in April.

Ozzy Osborne puts on an awesome concert even at his age, so sayeth my daughter and husband.

Canada is the “elephant graveyard” for abandoned sheds. On the way to Calgary we passed many, many, many farms where there were little sheds stood leaning and dilapidated. I’m not saying that the Canadians don’t take care of things because they do. It is a very clean country but there really was a large population of old sheds. So here is my theory. All over the continent sheds that have been abandoned or neglected slowly start their migration north. A corner off the foundation then a wall and soon the whole shed is on its way to Alberta to join its relatives. They congregate in windy marshy plains and lean ominously waiting for their brethren to joint them. I did see one ranch that had corralled them behind a large wooden fence. What is the purpose of this mass migration of sheds? The world may never know.

Then there is the return home. What I like to call the “Home sweet, oh that…” syndrome. It is a condition that all vacationers go through when they are having a great time, care free and happy, and then they get home and there is laundry, and dishes, and bills, and work, and, and, and… You get the picture.

So here we are back again richer in chocolate and poorer in pocket with memories and new found knowledge that will never leave us.