November 21, 2017

Sore Back Happy

Sore Back Happy
By John R. Greenwood

What makes you happy? 

I woke up during the night to write about what I’d been mulling over the last several days. I’d taken some vacation time off to get some projects done around the house before the cold weather hit. Normally we take several days around the Columbus Day weekend to go to Cape Cod. This year my wife and I decided to take that time and money, and replace and enlarge the concrete patio between our house and garage. We put the patio in ourselves when we moved in back in the early 80’s. It was beginning to show its age. The slab was cracked and deteriorating on top. I’d resurfaced it for years and was losing the battle. 

I hired a local mason to pour the new pad. To save on cost I was going to demo and remove the old one myself. He got the easy part. I broke up every inch of the old patio with a large crow bar and sledge hammer. I moved the broken slabs with a steel handcart and loaded them onto my pickup. I made several trips to a local construction refuse business and unloaded them—all by hand. 

This is where the “happy” part comes in. 

It’s now over a week later and the new pad has been poured. I took the last two loads of old concrete away today and although I can barely move, I’m happy as a Cape Cod clam. I woke up last night because I was content and “happy”. My sore back was a physical reminder of the American Dream. I’ve written about this sense of home-ownership before but this most recent project seemed to clarify the feeling. It was intensified when I drove up North Broadway in Saratoga the other day. I passed an endless convoy of landscape trucks and trailers. The lawns were filled with men in company logo’d shirts all doing the fall cleanup-dance of blowing, raking, and bagging leaves. I’ve never looked at having someone else maintaining my yard as being a sign of success. Having my own yard to massage with a lawnmower and rake is enough for me. I look at excess as being more of a burden than a sign of accomplishment. When I look at a sprawling estate in pristine condition I have admiration for the laborer whose blisters were responsible, not the person with the thick check book. Its possible that I’m a Powerball win away from changing my perspective but I hope not. I’ve spent a lifetime fine-tuning my DYI skills. I’m still a toddler on that scale but when it comes to appreciation for doing something with your own two hands I’m high on the list. 

After a couple weeks of working on the patio replacement and fall yard work my wife and I planned out a new raised flower bed for our new backyard retreat. We decided on a stone planter that would be easy to access and maintain. With some husband and wife ping-pong we came up with a design. Rather than wait until spring we took advantage of the nice weather that was hanging around and “dug” in. This was another back-intense build that came with a high degree of satisfaction. Having a full size pickup truck with a liner is a huge benefit when tackling this type of project. Having a truck that’s a  “worker” versus a “looker” makes loading it with cement, dirt, and stone more project friendly. In fact, as I write this I’m thinking I might start calling her “Dusty”. 

After a spring, summer, and fall filled with a bathroom remodel, patio remodel, and yard maintenance at every space in between, you’d think I’d be looking forward to kicking back and putting my feet up but I’m not. I will return to writing and walking which makes me whole, but true happiness for me comes with a sore back and calluses. 

Let me ask one more time.

What makes you happy? 


  1. That patio is a beauty, John. What makes me happy? See others happy, and you just made my day.

  2. What makes me happy? Well John I’d have to say several things do. A grandchild’s smile and laughter. The excitement I see on their faces when they learn something new. It makes me happy to know that our children have grown up to be just as crazy as my wife Sherrie and myself. Knowing our offspring is comfortable to show there vanerabilites, fears, laughter and the part of them that allows them to be unique with us is rewarding.

    One of the other things that make me happy is when I am behind my camera. Capturing the beauty that God has created.I’ve shared this with you before John but that was at a time when most of the images I captured were of landscapes, nature or buildings. At this juncture in my life I find comfort and joy in seeing the uniqueness, beauty,joy,vanerbilites and excitement of taking photographs of people. It is fun to see their reactions once you point a camera at them. Some start off nervous and tense. While other are very comfortable having a camera focused on them. The best part is the grand children (or even the adults) who are hams when in front of a camera.These people seem to know how to give the camera what it was created for.

    I take my wife with me on most photo shoots I do for families or graduation pictures. I enjoy the process of getting my subjects comfortable in front of the insterment that will capture them at a point in time. Allowing them to be free to be who they are deep down inside. To be able to for the next several minutes of their life have the focus put on them. It’s so exciting to see them take away the masks they hide behind, allowing the camera and myself to see a different side of them.

    My lovely wife tells me that when I’m behind my camera I do the same thing. It transforms me. My Sony allows me to let down my guard. It brings out my creativity. My joy. My excitement. She tells me I am in another world when I’m clicking away at capturing their emotions on a cameras sensor. I also find it rewarding when I get home and download their true selves (the images I’ve capetured) on my lap top. This is when I see the the beauty and uniqueness of each one of them. Seeing the smile, smugness, joy, curt ness, emotion, and that little kid in all of them. That part of them that sometimes as adults we hide for many reasons. That part of them that allows them to be who God created them to be showing the whole world who they are. It is one of the ways that God uses me to bring joy and happiness to others. I believe this is what God created us for, to bring joy to others. Doing so makes me happy.