Cottage Days & Living Deeply


Can a few days at a cottage give you a better perspective on life? I’m not sure what it is about the quiet, simple hours, immersed in nature, but it brings out the Thoreau in me…

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. — Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”

Thoreau was in a little cabin on the edge of Walden Pond in Massachusetts for two years, two months and two days. I was in a cozy cottage on the  banks of Lac Joly in Quebec for about five days. He, quite literally, wrote the book on life in simplicity and nature. I barely rippled the surface of the depths of the kind of living he espoused. And yet because I find myself so willing to succumb to the environment on a cottage holiday like the one I just experienced, I find myself deeply effected by it all. I desperately want the contentment and peace I felt in those few days to stick to me all the year round. Upon return to “real life” I immediately began to feel those things slipping away. It was frustrating. Old habits return, discontentment creeps its way into my day, and I become very un-Walden like in a matter of hours in my so-called life in suburbia.

For five days I felt like I was really living. And I loved it. I find myself echoing Thoreau’s thoughts as I consider embarking on the normalcy of my day-to-day living: I do not want to live what is not life, living is so dear… 

So I’m looking to the feelings of a few days at a cottage to guide me for the weeks and months ahead. Can a few days at a cottage give someone genuine and inspiring guidance for the rest of their days? I believe it can. Let me share with you some of the insights that I hope will embed themselves in my spirit and, perhaps, can help guide you, too.


There is no medicine as effective as fresh air 

Thoreau wrote that the only “medicine he needs is a draught of morning air.” I couldn’t agree more. We live a climate-controlled life; an air-conditioned, central-heated, hermetically sealed life. Ironically, however, all that control over our climate keeps us merely in a pathetic stasis – like a lifetime in a plastic bubble. Getting out of the controlled place stimulates your senses to life. Humidity makes your skin bead up with sweat, wind blows and cools you, sun warms or heats you up, water soaks your pant legs as you wander through the dewy grass, a buzzing pest gives you a good jab, you feel each root and dip in the ground through the soles of your feet, rain lashes or refreshes, branches and leaves scratch or stroke your arms and face. Out of the bubble of control you discover a place that forces you to really live – in all its beautiful, painful, perspirational glory.

And it makes you feel great! Even if you are hot and tired and have been assaulted by bugs, something deep down in you, something primal, feels so incredibly great! Why? Because you’ve lived! You’ve breathed deeply of the healing air the world has to offer; you’ve released control over your climate and let yourself become just another part of the world. This is freeing and it is healing. No drug, no Cafe Latte, no Booster Juice, no pharmaceutical marvel can compare to the high of taking a big gulp of nature.

For me this means being deliberate about those trips to the natural spa, all year round; planning time to just be and let the created world do its work on me. I took every opportunity at the cottage for those five days to hike, jump in the water, go for a kayak ride, breath deep and look and listen and let it wash over me. And it felt great. Why not take every opportunity that presents itself in my non-cottage days to do the same? There is a healing place waiting outside the bubble.


 The biggest happiness is found in the smallest things

I find myself so often overwhelmed by the complexity of life. Big, Busy, and Banal – that seems to sum up so much of what the culture around me reflects, celebrates and pushes on me. But I find so little happiness in complexity, in busy-ness, in the Big Things. In fact, so often those things are the source of discontentment, leading us to believe we need more money, more time, more stuff. From this will arise contentment and happiness, we are told. Yet the opposite is true. We just sink deeper and deeper into a joyless place. And we ourselves are digging that hole.

At the cottage, we could be in rapt attention watching the doings of a pair of hummingbirds. We’d giggle at the almost unbearable cuteness of those tiny birds when they’d actually take a moment to sit still. All activity ceased one early evening, and we were hushed to complete silence, when a pair of deer ventured onto the property. We collectively held our breath and marveled at their sublime beauty and grace. On a kayak ride, the subtle “bloop” of a loon surfacing nearby made my day as I gently floated just feet from that most excellent of fisherman. We eyed each other for awhile and respected each others’ right to be.

Thoreau wrote, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” I fear that often in our haste to chase the big things we trample the small things underfoot. Yet God speaks so much more clearly through what is “under our feet”. We expect divinity in the “Grand Design” but find it much more so in the details: the elements that escape our notice when we are too wrapped up in the Big, Busy and Banal.

Truth, Beauty, Joy – these are the things that give life a reason and a purpose. We can find them all around us in the smallest of things. But we have to slow down; we have to stop, look, listen; we have to cultivate an awareness. I am blessed to share my life with a woman who is exceptionally good at taking great joy from so many little things. She has helped me appreciate the flower blossom, the gold finch, the spider web, the color of dusk. She has a childlike love of these things that is infectious.

Perhaps it is that childlike sense I need to retain, as well. At the cottage, my sense of joy in exploring and experiencing is heightened. But there is no reason why I can’t maintain that in my non-cottage days, as well. God has provided a vast array of ways to see him in the details and to learn more about what is important from what we so often treat as unimportant. I am without excuse – I can find God, find contentment, revealed in the world around me. But I have to be… intentionally.


I want to make a habit out of the practice of living deeply. Like Thoreau, when I come to die, I do not want to discover that I did not truly live. A few days at the cottage was enough to impress on me the fact that life is precious.

My life is precious. Your life is precious. Live deeply. Live well. Joy will find you and, ultimately, it will define you.


*All the photos in the article were taken by me during my days at the cottage. If you want to see more of my photos and/or my artwork, please visit my new Facebook page @ R.S. Kadoodles.

Carpe Diem-to-Diem


Carpe Diem. This may be the most recognizable Latin phrase among those of us who don’t have a clue about Latin.

Carpe Diem. Twenty-five years ago it was a very hip thing. Sports stars were saying it, people got tattooed with the phrase, t-shirts were made, it was all around. Latin, for a time, was cool. This was all due to the prominent place the phrase took in the movie Dead Poets Society. I was reminded of this as the memorials for Robin Williams flooded social media. It brought back memories for me of the movie, of Williams’ performance, and of being inspired by the phrase.

The phrase comes from the Roman poet Horace. Evidently, it can be literally translated as “pluck the day” or “enjoy the day”. Of course, we’ve all come to know it as the aphorism: Seize the Day.

In 1989, when Dead Poets Society came out, I was in my early twenties with a lifetime of possibilities ahead of me. Looking back from where I’m at now, about eighteen months from turning fifty, I only had a vague notion of what “seizing the day” was all about. The idea thrilled me with its potential but I really didn’t know what it would look like in my actual life. I think I was guilty of envisioning this concept in big terms, world-changing terms, making-your-life-count terms. In reality, the phrase has built into it the idea of living in the present, in the moment, in the day-to-day. In Horace’s original poem, there is a reminder of mortality built into the phrase; as in, “Enjoy today because you are not guaranteed a tomorrow.”

In my early twenties, the concept of mortality surrounding Carpe Diem didn’t sink in as much as it does for me now. After Robin Williams’ death, the concept is sinking in even more. Like so many people, the news of his passing deeply saddened me. It wasn’t just because he was a talented and gifted performer; it was the combination of the nature of his death, at his own hand, with the image I’ve always had of Robin Williams as someone who was able to “suck out all the marrow of life”, to use Henry David Thoreau’s phrase. He always seemed so fully alive; so much so, in fact, that he often seemed to have enough life to spread around to millions of people. Really, that is exactly what he did through his career – pumped life into all of us through laughter and inspiration.

His death hit so many of us so hard because he seemed to embody Carpe Diem. 

robin williams

Yet as we consider the body of work he left behind, it becomes increasingly obvious, in his stand-up comedy and in his TV and movie roles, that there was always a theme of mortality combined with his own sense of Seizing the Day. In his own way, he was helping us understand the importance of living in the moment, enjoying the present, because the future is unwritten. Perhaps this is exactly what defines the best comedians and entertainers: they remind us to really live, not in some obscure future that we cannot see or understand, but today – this day, this moment.

With that in mind, and as my own tribute to the ultimate Wise Fool, I want to share with you what it means to me to Carpe Diem, or, if you will, Carpe Diem-to-Diem: Seizing the day-to-day. I don’t profess to be an expert but I do know what defines those days for me; my best days when I’ve grabbed the day with both hands, when I finish my day and don’t fear an uncertain future because the present was so full of real life.

What it means to me to seize the day-to-day:

Create Something… Anything!  Our days can so often be filled with the truly mundane, with maintenance, with the minutia of just existing. So much of life is getting through it, often slogging through it. For me, taking some time to create something, anything, in my day brings me back to the present moment; in fact, it suspends time in a good way. I draw, paint, play music, write, take photos – I am very thankful for the outlets I have in my day. But this can also mean working in the garden, making supper, composing an awesome tweet, shooting a fun video to share, preparing a speech, developing an idea, crafting something, solving a problem – the list is really as varied as the personalities and abilities of all of us.

Many people don’t think they are creative. As a Christian, I believe we are all created in the image of the Creator. Among other things this means the obvious: You’ve been created to create. To create something in your day helps you become more fully who you are at a very intrinsic level. Also, you’re tapping into something that can inspire, encourage and give life to people around you. In other words, your creativity can help someone else seize the day-to-day.

Love Somebody… Anybody! I am often struck by how dehumanizing and depersonalizing a day can be. Being in a big crowd can be the loneliest place on earth. I don’t think the opposite of loving someone is hating them; I believe the opposite is ignoring them, treating them like they do not exist in your time and space. Ironically, by cutting ourselves off from others as we so often do, we are destroying our ability to seize the day-to-day.

The opportunities to love somebody, anybody, on any given day are many. For some of us, we have a spouse or children who are the obvious targets for our affection. But we all have many other people in our lives who are there to love. Some are easier to love than others, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean you cannot commit to give love a chance. I am amazed at what a smile from a stranger does to my mood, to my day; kindness from a bus driver instead of rudeness; a co-worker who just wants to shoot the breeze with me or share a joke; a fun or considerate text, e-mail, or post to my Facebook page.

In the end, it doesn’t take much to feel loved. It follows, then, that it doesn’t take much to love. Kindness may be the single most under-appreciated attitude in life. In my experience, the Beatles lyric is very true: “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” To be loved and to love is a guaranteed way to seize the day-to-day.

Laugh, Have Fun… Repeat. Have you ever noticed that the people who make others laugh, who create fun, are the most attractive and the people you miss the most when they’re not around? That’s because they are people who help us live in the moment; they help infuse the moment with joy. This was perhaps Robin Williams’ greatest gift. But you don’t have to be a natural-born comedian or fun-loving extrovert to create a day to enjoy.

It is ironic that brooding on a unknown future can keep us from experiencing happiness in the present. This is a common affliction. I see it every day. In fact, I am guilty of it often. The truth is that nothing can rip the heart out of a chance at a joyful day like an unhealthy obsession with what-might-be, with worry. And this damage is not only done to ourselves but to those around us.

But laughter, fun – talk about your under-appreciated qualities of life! I feel I have truly seized the day-to-day when I have allowed myself the freedom to laugh, to smile, to tease someone, to make someone else laugh, to lighten someone else’s load. Really, when we allow ourselves some joy in life, we become joy-givers to others. Joy is so infectious it can become downright pandemic if we let it work its course. Maybe it’s time to let laughter and fun go viral in our lives.

So Carpe Diem-to-Diem. What gives purpose and meaning to our lives is not what will be in the indistinct future but what is, right here and right now, in the present. How do we make our lives extraordinary? By daily embracing the extraordinary and remembering one simple thing: Today is a gift. 

Rest in Peace, Robin.

A “Least of These” Portrait Gallery

Maureen, 2014Much of my life is spent in the company of “the Least of These” – adults with developmental disabilities. The term “Least of These” comes from Jesus to refer to people with very little power and influence in the world; the marginalized, if you will. I use it here because so often these particular members of humanity are relegated not just to the fringes but off the page entirely.

Recently, we had a funeral for a man who was a resident in one of the homes my organization operates in Ottawa. He had only been in our care for two years. Before that, he had been in an institution for most of his life. As the funeral preparations were being made, we searched for photos of him to display. We could only find two – two – of reasonable quality to use for him. This fact was incredibly sad but also indicative of where a person with a disability often ends up on our scale of importance.

I am an artist as well as a personal support worker in an adult day program. I have been motivated over the last few months to balance the scales on behalf of the people I support. One way I can do that is by honoring them with portraits. I have been slowly adding to the collection but I want to share some here as a way of elevating these men and women from the unfortunate status of “non-persons” to that of unique individuals with great personality, gifts, and worth.

Each of these drawings are charcoal pencil on paper.

Alison, 2013

Sabina, 2014

Fraser, 2014

Patti Ann, 2014

Larry 2014

Sophia, 2013

Robert, 2014

Susie, 2014

Sean, 2014

Natasha, 2014

Mark, 2014

Anup, 2014

Ashley, 2014

Stephen T, 2014

Nola, 2014Steven, 2014

Tom Bomber 2014CJ, 2014Bruce 2014Angela, 2014Debbie, 2014Yussuf, 2014