Old-fashioned Olfaction

I’m sitting in my closed office as the room fills with the scent of  store-brand Bengay. The aroma is a cross between Pepto-Bismol and the big thick, pink Canadian mints that my father would buy when I was a boy.

The smell is neither unfamiliar nor entirely unpleasant. I remember watching television as a kid and popping the mints in to my mouth until  my stomach churned and every burp was wrapped in a fresh wintergreen bubble. Each release of gas would relieve the pressure just enough to permit another mint in to fill the space until all that was left was crumbs. Even those, though, weren’t safe from a wet finger tracing the bottom of the bag until every piece of bright, pink dust was collected and consumed.

My sense of smell has always been able to transport me through time without warning. One waft of apple blossoms and I’m climbing the trees in my grandparent’s back yard; the smell of lilacs has me standing on their front porch. The salty smell of the ocean takes me to every summer spent at the beach, crabbing and fishing. Even the pungent, lingering stink of the Drakkar Noir that I bathed in in high school places me firmly in my seat in 12th grade English class as I stared affectionately at my teacher as she explained Shakespeare in a way that could only be symbolic of our love that only existed in my dreams.

There is no controlling where the journey takes me. There is no way to turn off the destinations that lead to pain or sadness. The smell of a hospital brings me back to the last few times that I saw my sister. The smell of vodka has me sitting on my kitchen floor during darker days.

But even those places, as unforgiving or desperate as they might seem, eventually send me back to the present. The good memories and the bad both remind me to be grateful, and humble, and to appreciate where I am, what I have, and who is around me. Because eventually, these things, too, will be memories that I will want to someday revisit the same way, with familiar scents taking me back to my past.

So, I take my time, and I smell the roses.

Adding Value Through Subtraction

A few years ago, I found simplicity and went through The Great Purge, eliminating more than half of my material things. My initial motivation was a combination of disgust over my consumerist lifestyle that gave my stuff with no contentment combined with my Catholic guilt for having so much stuff when so many people have nothing. Like so many others have expressed, it felt good to get rid of the junk, to eliminate the clutter, and to stop buying things just to have them or because someone else had them.

When I had less stuff, it was easier to see what was left, which was usually a combination of must-haves, sentimental items, and the really important stuff. It was easier to draw pleasure from these items because they had made they cut…because they were important.

After releasing the bonds of the physical items, the next stage was for me to focus on how I spent my time. I cut down on my television watching. I dropped projects that wasted my time. I started removing things that took my time but did not feed my soul or that did not contribute to the life I wanted to live. Those things that made the cut did so, again, because they were important.

By removing everything else, it made what was left, what was important, richer, more valuable, and more meaningful in my life.

This exercise of subtraction, of removing things that simply exist to take up space or time, is a hard exercise in a world where so much is defined and valued by addition. The more you have, the more you are worth. The more you do, the more valuable you are. Most people keep adding more because it is expected, and because they don’t know what else to do. But the more you add, the more stuff, the more noise, the less attention can be paid to any one thing, and the less value can be gleaned from the things that are truly important.

The easiest way to be present and to experience and enjoy what is important and to increase its value and its impact on your life is to start subtracting everything else.

5 Ways My Wife Made My Life Better

On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to tell my wife that my life would not be the same without her. But on this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to give 5 specific examples of things that would be missing from my life if it wasn’t for her.

I love you, beautiful.

Without her, I never would have learned to play the guitar.

I owned a guitar for years before I met my wife. It sat in the corner as a decorative accent in my living room instead of an actual musical instrument until my wife signed me up for my first guitar lesson.  Since then, our house has been full of music, and we even performed a live concert before our wedding.

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Without her, I wouldn’t have the best birthdays ever.

I’ve never been one for making my birthday about me, but every year my wife doe something to make it a special day. This year, she surprised me with ice level hockey tickets along with my best friends.

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Without her, our son wouldn’t have the best birthdays ever.

Every year, my wife also plans our son’s birthday party around a theme, and every year is more amazing than the last. He’s going to remember how special his birthdays are for the rest of his life and, thanks to my wife, he’s going to remember that I was a part of it.

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Without her, I wouldn’t be brave enough to put myself out there.

It’s an amazing feeling to have someone by your side…truly by your side. I’ve never had someone make me believe that I can try anything that I want to try. I’ve got apps, books, blogs, and videos, all because she encourages me. I’ve taken guitar lessons and cooking classes all by myself. It’s not about succeeding at everything, it’s simply about putting myself out there and trying. If I succeed, she’s by my side to cheer for me. If I fail, she’s there to comfort me. Either way, she’s there, and just knowing that makes me braver.

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Without her, I wouldn’t be having this much fun.

We’re very fortunate to have the things we have and to be able to do the things we do. It’s my wife’s encouragement that actually got me enjoying our life without stressing about other things I should be doing or about money. From spending a night up in the mountains, going to a show or a concert, or going to our local fair, life is meant to be lived, and I’m doing it more often and better thanks to her.

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