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The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed a Mountain…

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Stairway to heaven

I’d love to live to 100… but, if I don’t… well… if the news about anti-depressants being detected in municipal water systems is true, at least I’ll knock on the Pearly Gates with an upbeat smile on my face.

I may even throw a tiny teehee at St. Peter about whether I’m in the right place…

……………….

(Tragically, three friends die in a car crash, and they find themselves at the gates of heaven. Before entering, they are each asked a question by St. Peter. 
“When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning upon you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”, asks St. Peter. 
The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.” 
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” 
The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say…… LOOK!!! HE’S MOVING!!!!!”)

……………….

That’s me!

I’m not really afraid of the actual dying part, but I am nervously anxious of missing out on all those things that are important around me.

There is a universe of incredible beauty that wraps itself around us in warmth and comfort… the melody lines of the songbirds, the peach-blushed fiery sunsets and star-speckled inky night skies… the cozy love and generosity of our treasured ones.

I don’t want to leave any of that grace, that splendour, in the rear view mirror. Must all of the soul-elevating harmonic music disappear?

Years back, I used to think that once my kids were born, I could at last die happily knowing there would be investment and insurance $$ to give them a good forward push down the toboggan hill of life. What more could I possibly need from this world?

toboggan

But here I am – still – today, brimming with I’m-so-lucky pride over my grown up kids, and I’m acclimatizing myself to the idea that I’d really like to see the cute faces of, and share time with my yet-to-be-born angelic grandkids.

And I’d still love to visit a ton of places like Cairo, Moscow, Budapest, San Antonio, Texas and The Alamo (here’s a moving modern-day hurting song about the Alamo that I studied in a songwriting course).

So… life at 100. Yea or Nay? Would you like a piece of that cake?

In 2011, the Canadian Census enumerated 5,825 people aged 100 years and older, or a rate of 17.4 centenarians per 100,000 persons. The 2016 census counted 8,230 centenarians, a 41.3 per cent jump over the 2011 figures. That’s pretty impressive.

Yup, our odds are on the increase.

But, I’m already nearing the dropping off point where my Ma died (aged 61).

And in another decade I’ll catch up to my Dad’s departure gate of life (age 73). “Those passengers in Age Rows 70-75 may now approach the gate.

I sense that I’m stepping ever closer to the raggedy sharp edge of a cliff with no railings and no safety net below.

The weighty question: Do our parents write the rough draft of our autobiographies?

I’m going for a “To 100 or Bust” re-write of my life story, but we’ll see what happens.

100 years old.jpg

Here’s the plan: I’m doing some positive stuff that my parents were culturally blind to in terms of health and longevity. They knew nothing about fibre content of various foods, Type 2 diabetes, or the true lung and heart choking seriousness of smoking and weight control.

It’s a crap shoot but I figure I can do a few things to nudge my odds up the steep wall… what’s to lose?… my grandkids deserve a TMI-sharing curmudgeon in their lives.

Will current scientific knowledge and my own resolve get me over the genetic hurdles I face, and welcome me into the Centenarian Club?:

  • I exercise just about every day… run, yoga, bike, boot camp, tennis, HIIT train, swim, spin class. It’s a part of my habit train that I can’t and don’t want to get off. Endorphins and muscles are just too much fun!
  • I sleep 7-8 hours most days… add in delicious naps and I can get to 9 if I’m lucky. Unlucky you to be around me when I miss those zzz’s… I don’t function well on poor or shortened sleep.
  • I try to help others… I often feel damned guilty about not picking up hitchhikers, but my altruism comes through in other areas like working at the soup kitchen and tutoring ESL and literacy students. I pretend it’s only to help others, but it makes ME feel good.
  • I eat a fair bit of fresh fruits and vegetables (my parents thought – OMG! – that canned green peas were health food). And under the TMI category… my bowel habits are exemplary! That’s the GOOD! Here’s the BAD!: I do eat more meat than I know is best and I have an insatiable sweet tooth for baked goods and chocolate.
  • I drink scads of water plus a cup or two of coffee (via latte) each day and one or two glasses of wine or light beer each week. Depending on the science article-of-the-week (Fake News?), this may be helpful. I know it’s enjoyable.
  • I drive my car between the lines on the road and generally stick pretty close to the posted speed limits… which is why I love driving in Utah or Montana with their 85 miles per hour legal highway speeds!
  • I exercise my mind with reading and blog writing and practicing guitar. The mere mental exercise of trying to remember the recipes for a ton of mixed drinks in my occasional bartending “retirement” job is a huge cerebral workout. Then add in figuring out what the new words mean that my kids throw at me is a bonus (e.g. “He was the BOMB!”… “What? he blew up?”)
  • I hang around as much as possible with people that are supportive, make me smile and sport upbeat positivity. I cross the street to avoid the unfortunate Debbie or Donald Downers who throw gloomy anchors in all directions.

You may have noticed that I like certain numbers. Investment returns of at least 15% annually… 10,000 practice hours… or 1,000 hours… 8 hours of sleep… sub 2-hours for a half marathon run.

Life is a cup of meaning in the joy of numbers.

Today I’m adding a new number to my list.

100. 

I like goal setting as an incentive to a milestone or mountain peak.

Why don’t we climb up this mountain and see if we can summit and high five at the 100 peak of life?

mountain peak.jpg

Cinematic Prosody… Which Movie and TV Soundtracks Run Through Your Head?

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heart and heaven

It can singe and melt the icy sinews of your heart… or…

… it can feather-float you to the heavens.

I’m talking music.

We all know that the occasions, the special moments of our lives- the melancholy, the joyous, the romantic, the heartbroken – are marked, like scratchy tick marks on a jail cell wall – on our interior core by the music scent wafting through our ears at the time.

But aside from those life-marking events, music is also a crucial ingredient of our enjoyment of the artistic media we consume. And so, I’m pondering today about movie or TV music that has penetrated deeply to our inner core in barely recognizable ways.

You may have already reflected on this and designed your own soundtrack “favourites” list, or perhaps you’ve coasted along merrily, experiencing and enjoying without a conscious awareness.

I bring this up right now because I’ve grown aware lately – almost like the discovery of a hidden cave grown over with vines – that the beginning theme music to the Netflix show House of Cards has me entranced.

There’s a symbolic weight that presses into my chest when it starts up. It needs playing at high volume to feel the mass and ravenous teeth of Jeff Beals’ score.

It grabs on and transfixes me immediately. Just listen carefully to its incessant, droning undertrack of alternating bass notes interspersed by a haunting trumpet line that screams POWER.

It’s like JAWS music – duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn … set to modern political intrigue… what could be more ironic, more iconic than a music score that impels us to think of sharks and dangerous power. It’s obvious if you think about it.

A few years back I took an online songwriting course through COURSERA where instructor Pat Pattison brought to me a new word that has changed my approach to songwriting as well as listening to music.

The word is PROSODY.

Prosody is matching the rhythm and sound in music as you would in poetry. Melodic synergy.

Musically, this means coordinating the meaning and sound of the music to the meaning and the sound of the lyrics… in other words… making musical poetry.

In soundtrack music, the meaning doesn’t always come from words. It’s possible to make the case that the meaning of words are more powerfully affected by the sound of music than by the other way around.

The challenge of writing music that achieves prosody is no easy feat. Most TV and movie soundtracks leave no audible footprints in the sand, no languorous aftertaste.

But there are quite a few notable and memorable movie and TV music themes that invoke the feelings and the emotions that coax a good story into becoming a great story…

GREASE

Rocky is better because of the music, Cheers was better because of it: MASH, The Sopranos, The Godfather, Chariots of Fire, Hawaii Five-O, The Muppet Show, Forrest Gump, Grease were all elevated by the accompaniment of their music theme and score.

Just as an aside, many people might add the multitude of movie scores produced by John Williams to their memorable list.

You’ll remember the Star Wars franchise, the Indiana Jones features, ET and many more, but I’ve never been a huge fan of his over-produced symphonic knock-you-over-the-head scores.

While not bad obviously – he’s made a ton of soundtracks and a ton of money for himself – but they’re not on my list.

I find a lack of nuance and variety in his writing that detracts from the potential, the prosody.

But now that I’ve knocked him down, I have to turn around and resurrect his status because the theme music he composed for Schindler’s List is nothing short of a lifetime masterpiece. I can’t listen to the stream of mournful violin notes without tearing up and envisioning the solitary, red-coated little Jewish girl. Overwhelming prosody.

Strong music themes generating harmonic prosody become a deliciously lingering earworm that when absorbed, bring a flood of cinematic ripplings through our minds, often tied to inner smiles or touches of melancholy. They’re beautiful, disturbing, bliss-inducing, unescapable.

House of Cards means more to me, has a weightier meaning because of the background theme. It makes gravity feel 3 times heavier than normal.

Now THAT’s prosody.

Prosody

The ADHD Perfect Week… Do You Have A God Complex Too?

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Was God ADHD-afflicted?

Maybe even a rotten heathen like myself has been constructed in God’s image… is it possible that I’m God’s Mini-Me?

Dog and puppy

I’m pretty sure I said GOD…

Let’s face it, anyone who builds universes and Adam’s and Eve’s and animals and plants, listens to every prayer, watches over every sporting event, administers individually to the multitudes of sick and dying, carefully allows wars and famines to take their course without interfering, blesses babies at their Baptisms and Bris’s, accepts and welcomes the recently deceased into his home, creates artistically gorgeous sunsets for vacationers…

… well… this entity we call God is beautifully smitten with a ravishing ADHD ailment.

I don’t think he/she can focus. That’s a considerable amount of activity and a lot of ground covered by one “person”.

I used to think I was crazy because I constantly shifted my focal point of activity not just on a daily basis, but on an hour-to-hour level.

So maybe you’ll understand that when I look at my actively scattered mind in this “God” light, I figure I’m doing OK.

To give you some context here, let me outline my typical week of activities. While representative, some items drift in and out with the seasons and my level of enthusiasm at any given moment:

  • Soup kitchen
  • Open Mic performance/guitar practice
  • Bartending
  • Boot Camp/Swimming/Weight Training/Track Running/Yoga/Tennis
  • Tutoring
  • Blog Writing
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Reading Books
  • Stock Market Investing
  • Building Stuff/Renovations
  • Movie Watching/Popcorn Inhalation

Family Circus

It’s pretty easy to call this a distracted ADHD-like whirlwind. (My apologies to those truly afflicted with a diagnosis of ADHD… I use the term loosely in my personal life)

Or, perhaps if you’re a female-type, you’re saying to yourself, “It’s called multi-tasking stupid man, we women do this every day of the week!“.

Sometimes, I think I’m losing touch with normalcy because even when I’m doing and enjoying an activity – experiencing the moment – I’m actually thinking about the next thing I want to do or should do.

It’s like Seinfeld says in his stand up routine, Whenever we’re ‘here’, we’re already thinking about what we should be doing ‘there’.” I talked about this idea a couple of weeks back.

It may appear that I’m riding madly off in all directions, but I prefer to think of my disseminated existence as “life balance”…

My Italian brother-in-law Don comically talks about his food “balancers”, the delectable little snacks he ingests constantly throughout his day that balance his need for calories!

I’ve merely taken Don’s “balancer” act and morphed it slightly into my list of busyness…  movements… my “to’ing and fro’ing“. I like the sensation of being an Olympic gymnast teetering on the balance beam, doing flips, then turns, and then somersaults while tenuously holding onto the central girder.

I’ve always been an adherent of balance in life. I may be mentally unbalanced but my day-to-day equilibrium remains intact.

The Oxford Dictionary describes balance as, “A situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” Who knows what correct proportions are but I think balance = healthy… as in…

… a healthy’ish blender mix of the physical, mental, spiritual, social, intellectual/educational, narcissistic and altruistic. Biting off a portion of each of these food groups of life on a regular basis builds the muscle groups of our existence.

WellnessWheel

I’ve observed very successful people who have a razor-sharp focus, folks who dedicate every waking hour to a goal or an outcome that burns like the fires of Hades inside them.

At the extreme, they relegate their physical health and/or family contacts to the bottom of the pile creating a diseased state of balance.

Do I believe that Steve Jobs was brilliant? Absolutely! Do I believe Steve Jobs was physically strong and robust, and had healthy family relationships… not so much.

While I admire the obsessive focus, stamina and dedication of these highly successful types, it’s not the house where I see the dreams of my world living.

I prefer to consciously allocate my 1,440 minutes a day in a proportioned balance to each of the areas I value…

I see my days in the same way I see my investing diversification.

I would never allocate my entire wad of $$ to one stock investment like Apple or Johnson & Johnson, even though these are fine companies and great investments. It’s common sense to spread your investment dollars just as it’s common sense to live a life of balance. Diversification in life = Balance.

So, let’s go back to the where I began today’s “sermon”… Was/Is God ADHD-afflicted? Or does it matter?

I’ll let you decide… because I’ve got a bunch of other things to do.

Snowbirds.jpg

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

BUY BUY BUY… Your Tollbooth to PFTM Wealth

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Buy Buy Buy

I was never terrific at math in high school…

I was OK… yes… but not super gifted. But I did have my style. Or more likely I discovered my style with age and experience like a modern day Marco Polo. (Marco?… POLO!)

I hung out in class with slightly nerdy kids like Jerome and Karen and another Larry (he called me Lawrence so we wouldn’t get confused), kids who grasped and consumed math concepts like they were ambling at ease amidst the orchard trees, snacking on juicy, low hanging cherries, whereas I clumsily had to climb a shaky ladder to reach and reach to find the answers.

More often than not I dropped the fruit or fell off the ladder.

Jerome would lean across the gap between our desks and patiently explain to me the misty concept that our teacher Mr. Warneke had just chalked up all over the blackboard. Regardless, my puzzled expression rarely changed. SOL again.

The abstruse theories and hypotheses were nebulous to me, more flighty feathers than concrete. I couldn’t squint hard enough to make the numeral picture on the canvas clear, not the way my gifted cohorts naturally could.

More importantly, it wasn’t something I enjoyed. It tasted a whole lot more like vinegar than chocolate.

I have a BIG lazy gene and math drew it up to the surface like bubbling oil crude. When it came to tough thought processes, you know, the 10,000 hour rule, even the 1,000 hour rule, well…. I flipped to the other channel seeking alternate fluff… maybe it was “fake fluff”!

fake fluff.jpg

I liked numbers and math, just not THOSE numbers and math. It was too much like masturbation instead of skin-to-skin sex.

I liked “real life” math that could change my life or others’ lives. Still do.

In the here and now, and in the many years since, whenever I deal with real life numbers… numbers that have an actual day-to-day meaning in my world… well… I’m in my element. The water feels so much warmer in this pool.

I like numbers that relate to meaningful things where I can have an obvious impact.

Here’s a couple of examples:

I compiled statistics for 10 years in a laboratory-based diabetes program. I was able to monitor and impact in some style the way in which people treated their own diabetes condition.

Every three months I prepared and mailed an individualized letter to thousands of local diabetics – a letter filled with real life numbers that included their blood test results for A1C (blood sugar test), Blood pressure and Cholesterol (ABC’s).

For those who had been wandering about blindly (often for years), a mechanism now arrived in their mailbox whereby they knew exactly where they stood. They could then make educated lifestyle changes (or choose not to as is sadly so often the case). That’s real world, easy-concept numbers and math.

The other real life math I invest my hours in is for my personal benefit.

It’s my tollbooth math.

Personal Financial Tollbooth Math. (PFTM)

tollbooth.jpg

I’ve talked about the idea behind PFTM before, so I’ll expand on it a bit further here.

Again, an example or two.

Remember how in high school you read JD Salinger’s book, Catcher in the Rye. He wrote that in 1951. Well, today, 66 years later, this book continues to sell a quarter of a million copies each year. For God’s sake, the man has been dead for almost 8 years and he makes more money annually than I do. Tollbooth.

Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael Jackson are all long gone and yet each still racks up millions and millions of dollars of yearly revenues that pour out of swollen creeks into their estate accounts. Tollbooth.

Each of these people set up a tollbooth based on their strengths, and posthumously continue to feed voraciously from their early labours and talents.

If you have a business idea or some talent that provides a steady, worry-light, form of income, I encourage you to pursue it with gusto. Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But since I’ll likely never pen a New York Times bestseller 50 Shades of Grey book or produce a song like Thriller, I need to build my own tollbooth in my own way with the tools I have at my disposal; hence Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

More simply put, it’s about investing in good quality companies that spin off a steady stream of dividends, preferably a stream that increases each and every year. There’s an additional layer to this called DRIP investing that I’ll write about another day.

Ownership of a well-chosen batch of these companies is a ticket to long-term financial success, and fortunately they’re not hard to find in today’s information-laden internet world.

A few choices you ask? I’d be happy to share like the Warren Buffett wannabe that I am.

I have investments in tollbooth businesses like Apple (your iPhone is 2 or 3 years old… buy a new one… Cha-ching for Apple!), or Johnson & Johnson (running low on Tylenol…psssst… J & J will take away that headache!), or Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) (another month, another $100 to the phone company that connects me to my Apple iPhone!). They all pay quarterly dividends that increase each year. Tollbooth.

AFLAC, CVS Health, TransCanada Pipelines, Royal Bank, Disney, United Technologies, Pizza Pizza Corp. are all good conservative choices that have paid ordinary investors for years and years, and likely will for many years to come. And those are just a few.

FULL DISCLOSURE: If you’re seeking a raging blast of adrenaline rush with your investments, none of these are high flyers with 10-bagger potential (Peter Lynch‘s catchphrase for a stock whose share price increases 10-fold)… but they all offer a steady drizzle of tollbooth money into your bank account every month or every 3 months.

Dividends

Tollbooths and “real life” math go hand-in-hand to bring ease and quality to our lives. You can tell me as often as you like that money doesn’t generate happiness. I’ll grind my teeth together and then quietly remind you that $$ are a cruise ship that carries you a long way in the right direction.

I’ll keep practicing my PFTM tricks and building a stronger repertoire of those businesses that work for me and my family.

I love my investments like little children. I watch them forge ahead and build on their strengths with the occasional scraped knee along the road.

I take pride in their accomplishments, and live in the reflected glow of all they do to enhance my quality of life.

Reflecting back, my bright high school friends who put in the necessary hours mastering math concepts have all likely made millions working in high-tech fields that require a strong understanding of mathematical models and nuance. Maybe theoretical math became their tollbooth. I applaud any successes they’ve had using their own toolkit.

Even though I wasn’t in the top echelon of school math class, I fortunately discovered that life often doesn’t require brilliance or genius to deliver the goods, sometimes you only need to unearth your Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

Einstein math

Are You Reeling In The Years?

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Time passing painting

Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something
That you think is gonna last
But you wouldn’t know a diamond
If you held it in your hand …

Are you reelin’ in the years
Stowin’ away the time… 

Steely Dan

HOLY SH*T! Time is fleeting and I can only stow away so much time and information in this brain of mine.

My cerebral hard drive has grown full of tentacles and webs, roads and rivers that scramble to run in parallel, understandable pathways.

This is good news and bad news.

Good because, like you, it means I’ve lived and experienced a packed life crowded with amazing input and exploits, colours painted in and outside the lines, canvases overflowing their edges, a satisfying sip of vin rouge. The richness thrives inside me like a sumptuous secret garden.

Bad because the fine details, those photographs and memories that are so blissfully joyous – the tiny babies’ breaths of experience lost, the golden sunrises – are often the most wondrous heartbeats and painful to lose.

Inspector Clouseau

Bad too because my memories are only mine, and when I suck in that last breath, all of the memories will flame out like a supernova into infinity.

Infinite jest. Time and years.

July of 2017 is only halfway through its course and still I feel the Sunoka Beach sands of summer slipping between my toes. So fast.

Do you remember when the hot, humid childhood Julys were everlasting? It was slow-mo like a 45 rpm record played at 33 rpm (only those of a “certain” age will get this reference)

There were long days filled with scrub baseball games in the field across from my house on Rainbow Drive, carefree flirting with Cathy and Adele on the playground swings next to Glen Echo School, camping in the family tent-trailer in my backyard with Jerome or Renato or Frank, under-the-blazing-sun swimming in the Rosedale outdoor pool.

Summer contained a miraculous blending of enthusiastic fun, sunburnt skin, and frustrating, juvenile boredom in a world with only 3 black and white TV stations.

That was then.

Now, July only lasts a week, maybe two if I’m lucky.

HELP.

Would someone please take the amphetamines away from the clocks, the liquid mercury from Father Time.

The rapid passage of time has me clinging to minutes and hours like an anchor in a riptide.

And I’m slowly realizing that maybe… maybe… this new age term “mindfulness” is the only way to reel in the quick march forward.

mindfull.jpg

I’ve gotta slow down… I’m a do’er, moving from one idea, one project, one activity to the next… because I thrive on playing like a sponge and absorbing the world around me.

But it’s all too superficial. Let me explain.

Six or 7 years back I took a correspondence course from Acadia University in Nova Scotia on Ancient through Renaissance History.

It shocks me now that I’ve retained so little. I learned and knew the names of old Popes and Roman Emperors and the writings and philosophies of Aristotle and Machiavelli. I knew the Ottoman Empires and the Visigoths and the Moorish tribes.

And when I finished the final exam, I moved on to my next project.

But now when I see these same names come up in episodes of Jeopardy – my source of all relevant knowledge today! – I draw blanks consistently. You see I was so intent on learning quickly and moving forward that I let the juicy stuff melt away like a summer popsicle.

I berate myself and anguish over the struggles I have to remember what I see and read, and now I’ve come to this confusing and contradictory two-part conclusion (after all, each of our lives are jammed with inconsistencies e.g. driving an electric or hybrid vehicle while owning a huge home with central A/C) :

  1. My approach has always been to move fast… surf the waves… impatiently doing “stuff” and grabbing onto the next exploit that awaits. I’ve treated experiences and opportunities like Big Mac junk food, yummy but fleeting. Being aware of the moment i.e. mindfulness, hasn’t been an arrow in my quiver. I think its time for me to come around to embracing “slow food”; especially those times while reading or just being with others whose company I enjoy. Maybe Steely Dan’s lyrics to reel in the years and stow away the time is good advice.
  2. Conversely, enjoying much of life’s adventures and escapades are meant for the moment. Bombardment of the senses is wholly beautiful and satisfying in itself. Not every experience cries out to be consciously retained forever to make a fully-lived life. I don’t remember the specific minutiae of being with my buddies, jumping into a clear, cool, blue swimming pool as a kid, but I savour the memory of how wonderful it made me feel. Ofttimes, that’s enough.

We all know that life is a work in progress, never ever complete until “dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes“.

But I think that if I just let up sometimes and mindfully allow my multiple senses to observe, then the race-to-infinity clocks will slow their incessant march along with me.

Sometimes I need to decelerate the pace and feel the diamond I’m holding in my hand.

woan with dog at sunset

Babies, Bibles, Bellies, and Bikinis…

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Lab coat at the beach.jpg

I wasn’t wearing my white lab coat, just my blue striped Under Armour bathing suit. Wearing a lab coat to the beach in the summer is just plain silly.

Wading through the mid-afternoon searing hot air yesterday to Sunoka Beach for the first time this year – first stopping en route for a quart basket of fresh, juicy Lapin cherries at Blossom Fruit Stand – reminded me of my former working life in the laboratory. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Actually, it felt like I was heat-swirling in a summer blender of beauty and laughter and worry.

Standing in the shade at the top of the wide, white and grey granite stairs that lead down to the warm, cozy sand of our local Okanagan Lake beach, I gazed over the crowded scenario on my left and right.

There’s been flooding this year and the lake level is so high that only a really narrow landing strip of sandy beach exists, you might say kinda like the lap-zone of a woman post-waxing.

Placing hordes of sunbathers on a congested strip of sand concentrates the view so I can absorb a whole whack of sunshine-soaked society in a quick scan.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, lots of human and motorboat sound, accompanied by french fry-scented breezes that attempted to woo and seduce me in the sultry heat.

IMG_0520.jpg

Sunoka Beach water lapping at the trees normally well back from the water’s edge

The beach held a balance: a human balance of gender (not sex, although there is no shortage of eye-sex going on out there), rainbow skin-tones ranging from black-brown-golden-red-white-pink, ages from infant to elderly, choices of book or Kindle/Kobo, shade seekers and sun soakers.

Looking about, I spied a few stunning, beautifully-toned bodies (sadly I can’t count myself in this category!), a scattering of young couples with adorable babies and yearlings and chatty two year-olds, a large group of teenagers and young adults from a nearby bible camp – waist deep – tossing footballs in the surprisingly warm water…

… but mostly – and this is where my former lab occupation, and my sense of worry kicks in – the sandy shoreline was replete with tourist and local bodies knowingly or unknowingly waiting in line for…  metabolic syndrome… that wondrous triumvirate of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol… our society’s menu special-of-the-day.

Maybe I was hallucinating a touch in the swelter, surveying a diabetic epidemic tsunami washing over the beach in front of me.

For the last 10 years of my lab career I sat in front of a computer (whoa, another high-risk diabetes sign!) monitoring numbers Alice’s Restaurant-style: “… injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected, and selected…“… diabetes statistics

Yup, lots of numbers… lots of burgeoning numbers… lots of out-of-whack blood sugar and A1C test numbers, numbers that wrote a horror story book of self-inflicted auto-immune Russian Roulette.

I didn’t need a special book of instructions on what to look for this day on the sand. It’s not difficult to spot the risky types; the Speedos and Jantzens so generously overflowing with loose, floppy skin, spilling over their waistlines like waterfalls, and bust tops stretching against their lycra restraints.

These sights pretty much tell the tale.

These were the same folks I would see day after day, week after week, filling the lab waiting rooms, quietly reading magazines while waiting for their quarterly diabetes tests.

Each day as I sat at my computer, I oversaw the scary numbers: the high levels of blood sugar, the high levels of cholesterol, and the rising tide of high blood pressure multiplied by the hundreds upon hundreds of newly diagnosed diabetics that walked through the lab doors each month.

Pancreatic panic. Insulin insolence.

Diabetes graph.png

Overwhelmingly, the nice folks I added into the mushrooming database of newly-diagnosed diabetics were not regular denizens of the walking tracks, the gym, the tennis courts or the golf courses.

The diabetes risk factors of out-of-control eating habits and low physical activity were, and are, the common denominator.

You should know that I’m no “Saint of Restraint” myself, this blog post is a warning shot across my very own bow – I love sugary snacks like creamy milk chocolate and cheesecake.

We’re victims of success. We’ve made it folks. Our western world has a Horn of Plenty in each of our refrigerators.

And at some point we’ve gone beyond the tipping point where good sense and discipline have totally melted away, making an employment opportunity in the lab for people like me that should never have been needed.

Our enjoyment of the sparkling diamonds in the water can linger warmly for years to come, or with inattention, sugar-dusted away in a chill wind.

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Morning Has Broken…

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Are you a Morning Lark…

Cape Cod Morning

Cape Cod Morning… Artist: Edward Hopper

… or a Night Owl?

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Nighthawks… Artist: Edward Hopper

An early morning Okanagan Lake ripple concentrically riffles its way outwards, softly handing the light reflection onward from one small wave to the next like an Olympic relay team passing a baton from start to finish…. silent symphonies of silky azure grasping tones from the sunrise sky.

A gentle southern breeze from Oliver hovers over the water, lazy like a Texas drawl, drifting northward up the valley.

The delicate paintbrush of sun casts narrow, gauzy shadows across the clay cliffs, highlighting the vertical veins and wrinkles patiently etched and scratched through wind and rain millennia. You raise your eyes and drown in its beauty.

I’m a morning person.

I like it that way.

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As a kid, I loved jumping out of bed on a cloudless summer day and smelling the perfume of lilac and lily-of-the-valley blossom in the air, invisible clouds of blissful scent that gave a sense of deliciousness to the dawn.

I’d wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

My energy and creative spark are morning-centric.

Today:

  • I write my blog posts in the morning, signing off my computer before noon.
  • I do my “hard” guitar practice and songwriting in the morning hours.
  • I hit the gym, or pool, or track, for intense exercise… yes… in the early am, often before the sleepy sun pulls itself out of bed for the day.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except.

Being a morning lad makes my… summertime… part-time… evening-time… forays into bartending a challenge.

I love the aura of creative flow I feel when I concoct, blend and shake red, and yellow, and blue cocktails, adorning them with pinwheels of lime or zesty curlycues of lemon peel… but… yawn.

If only folks enjoyed imbibing their alcohol at 7:30 am with a warm pancake and a slice of bacon and then calling it a day by noon, I’d be in bartending heaven. I’d be floating on a natural energy high, perhaps boosted a touch along the route by a “Vitamin C” latte fix or two.

But reality persistently insists that alcoholic consumption is in the nighttime haven of humanity… many of us even watch the ticking clock, feverishly counting down the seconds before joyously pronouncing “Happy Hour” at 4 pm or 5 pm, abiding by the unwritten rule that booze is verboten any earlier.

When pouring and mixing drinks for others, I find that by 11 pm when the patrons, servers and staff in the restaurant are decidedly looking awake and energetic, I’m coaxing, prodding, imploring my eyes to prop open and remain alert.

And on other evenings, when I go on stage to sing and play my guitar at Medicis’ Open Mic night, I hope for an early slot on the entertainment slate. At 7:30 or 8 pm, I’m primed and wide awake and set to perform. Put me in Coach!

Time passes, another light beer settles in, and by ten o’clock, my eyes are growing heavy and I fear my voice will sound tired and croaky. In fact it never does, but as I tap my toes and enjoy the other entertainers’ music, I worry and fret that I may not be at my best.

It’s occurred to me that I could suggest to David the owner that he try out an Open Mic “Daytime” edition!, but I know it would never fly.

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Me, on stage at Medicis

Need another example? I frequently enjoy a night at the local Cineplex, inhaling fluffy bags of salty, buttered popcorn, and catching the latest Wonder Woman or Maudie flick.

There are two evening showings, but it’s always the early showing, the 6:30 or 7:15 edition that I sign on for. Starting the film at 9:30 or 10 pm means when the lights lower in the house, my eyelids kinda do the same. No one likes the unintended snoring sounds of Shavasana next to them in the theatre. Can’t help it.

Something that makes humans so special is that we are a species that can adapt to new environments.

As a Man on the Fringe, I adapt into these environments where I plug my square peg into a round hole (hmmm, maybe that’s an unfortunate choice of wording!) because they expand my quality of life, adding technicolour to my world like the moment Dorothy opens her door to Munchkin Land. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Many of the joys and desires in life occur as the sun sets, flaming in orange and pink hues at the western horizon. When the sun fades to twilight… as darkness oozes into the corners and crannies… the curtain rises on romance and sensuality and danger.

So while I’ll never fully adapt to the schedules of these times, I do my best to set mind over matter, sharing in the beauties that exist in the shadowy nighttime world.

Then as the sun bathes the far side of the planet, I’ll dream of the sensory delights and pleasures that await me when the loon’s call brings me back to life and I open my eyes and ears and nose to another deliciously fresh morning.

Once again, I wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

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Ship of (Writer’s) Foolishness

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Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”

Stephen King – The Stand

Stephen King writing

… a paragraph like the one above, written by a mere mortal, a flesh and blood human like you or me.

A few words pounded out in a starry universe of millions upon millions of words, and yet… the purity and fluidity pours like some rare nectar that you want to sip slowly, langourously roll around your tongue, and savour.

When I’m in a reading cloud, I meander and stumble across a sentence in a book or an article somewhere that pierces me like an unexpected arrow. Some books fill the skies with arrows. And I sense a miracle of humanity.

This month marks 5 years since I began tapping out these weekly missives on a flock/pack/den/murder… of topics and ideas and even silliness.

268 blog posts and counting.

Writing 1,000 word weekly posts to an audience that measures in the low 100’s seems penny-ante paltry in comparison to the Twitter folks, or Stephen King author-types, or the writers of New York Times columns where consumers number easily in the millions… Katy Perry counts 100,000,000 Twitter followers all by herself.

I’m simply a pimple on a speck of dust, a Man on the Fringe. My writings may seem an act of foolishness or stubbornness. Maybe.

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But the hugeness of the audience size isn’t the point, at least in my case.

Size doesn’t always matter. One can swim equally well in this ocean regardless of whether the water depth is 1 metre or 400 metres. Minnow or whale, doesn’t matter.

I can conjure up many reasons for personal expression, whether visual art, music performance or composition, blog writing, foreplay.

Money.

Sure, this could be one because I truly enjoy the benefits of $$. But not in this case. I’m a liberal capitalist at heart but I don’t write for financial gain. I know… stupid, right?

Ego.

Like becoming the Master of my Domain, this could stroke my pleasure seeking id, but after 5 years surely my ego desires would be exhausted by now. Maybe not, perhaps I’ll gaze lovingly at myself in the mirror and think on that one a bit more.

Beauty.

New York Times bestselling author Professor (Sir) Ken Robinson says: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.

Yes. Whether writing or playing music on my guitar, this is the spiritual equivalent of a personal rainbow. A bouquet of deliciously scented flowers blooms when my inner muse lavishes an unexpected burst of transcendental words upon me that I could never have written alone. The arts confer a beauty that makes life’s worries and dangers worthwhile.

Habit.

Yes. Writing each week is a part of my habits and discipline, a train of energy that keeps my wheels on the track. Having you here to check in and occasionally consume my output is the carrot that entices me forward. I feed from your momentum, your expectation to make this happen, to hit PUBLISH every Sunday morning come rain or shine.

Habit matters. It irritates the hell out of me when I train for a running event for many months ahead of time, building my legs to a point where a couple of hours of non-stop use is possible, then discovering after a week of undisciplined, sloven laziness that my muscles have lost their tonal acuity. WTF!

Writing, like going to the gym, is the sweaty exercise of working a muscle consistently to prevent its rapid atrophy with disuse. Habit and discipline keep our muscles toned and healthy.

BONUS: Strong muscles, both physical and mental, are hot and sexy.

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Meaning and Purpose.

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “the main search of mankind is not happiness or pleasure but meaning. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose,”

Yes. Purpose. In my previous work-world life in the medical lab I always felt a sense of purpose in helping those dealing with illness or disease.

These days, in my visits to cut and chop onions, carrots, and my fingers at the soup kitchen, I derive a greater inner benefit than those on the other side of the soup counter because of the little comfort I help provide.

Writing gifts me some purpose too… but even more important is the deep dive into meaning.

Writing is the best way I’ve ever discovered to recognize my own thoughts on the world and its meaning to me. My brain isn’t expansive enough to figure it all out. Never will be. But my ability to know myself has increased exponentially through blog writing.

Words and Writing are a miracle of humanity.

Writing is solitary but the sharing of words is universal.

There is a well of sacred knowledge and thought inside each of us, its nose pressed against the screen door, waiting to be released.

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I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

Boo… 8 Things That Scare Me…

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Do one thing that scares you every day”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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T Rex fear

I threw up my hotdog one early summer evening in a family restaurant, its walls adorned with Hamilton Tiger Cat football and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey photos… it was mustardy messy and the cloud of smell was … well… you fill in the rest.

The waiter was nice about it, then probably gagged a bit when he went back to the kitchen.

It was a fancy restaurant and I was just a little kid, but the impression it left still lays inside me today, dormant like a herpes virus waiting to rise to the cold-sore surface.

For years, I was nervous that I might throw up in a restaurant again. Fear. Scared. A beautifully coutured phobia in-waiting.

Ultimately silly.

Fear is your friend,” said Tim Ferriss in a TED talk. “Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?”

We all know that most of our fears are nonsense and should be stuffed in a coffin and buried six feet under, but there are some I hold onto because they make me more human. They are a part of me that makes me ME. (now there’s a sentence that a narcissist could embrace!).

Being a complete person means never having to say you deny your frailties and rough edges.

I’m full of rough edges.

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So, what are some of my biggest “rough-edged” fears now that I’m approaching my 7th decade on this beautiful blue planet?

  1. Driving at night and worrying I might hit and hurt or kill an animal. This is a biggie in my mind and yet it’s one of those fears I embrace and never wish to wash away. Tsunami waves of nausea roll through me when I’ve actually hit, or even think about killing an animal while driving, or for that matter, any other time.

2. A dog jumping out of the ether, barking and snarling at me while I’m running or cycling… my heart rate is already well up there, I don’t need any more stimulation thank you. I hate to see animals in pain or discomfort, and I hate to see me in pain or discomfort because of an animal sneak attack… back off Rover!

3. Walking into a social situation alone… my introversion tendencies rise to the surface. I’m pretty good at projecting a positive public face, but the childlike inner feelings of inadequacy bubble through me as I walk alone through a door to a party or gathering. If I looked in the mirror, I’m sure I’d see I’m wearing little boy shorts and my Parkdale Steelers hockey sweater.

4. Bungee Jumping. I can handle the thought of skydiving (today but not when I was younger). I’ve scuba dived. I’ve explored in narrow, dark underground caves. I’ve slogged my way through a Tough Mudder. But bungee? NO F***ing Way… that’s a stroke waiting to happen and I’m not going there… EVER!!

5. TV or Movie Killings. The realization that watching a TV show or movie of someone being killed – murdered – and knowing it doesn’t bother me (at least not the way I think it should) is bothersome. It makes me fear something within myself that accepts the violence… perversely even enjoys it, and does it over and over again. It also makes me wonder why consensual, loving sex isn’t more accepted on our screens. Which is the more positive choice?

6. One of my kids getting really sick or dying. This one really doesn’t need elaboration. There’s a hardwiring – a Constitutional amendment – in a parent’s head that insists that our issue should never ever pass on before we do. We had a close call once when our son was 9 years old. My heart bleeds for those many who have experienced the death of a child. It’s the devil’s kiss of lightning.

7. Getting near to vomiting or diarrhea on a plane… maybe this goes back to the hot dog incident as a child, beats me. A prison-like situation where you’re incarcerated in a sardine can in the sky? Often no access to a bathroom? … seat belt fastened and nowhere to go? Nowhere to go! UNCOMFORTABLE!

8. Boney M music. Yeah, I fear that electronic disco sound. I feel revulsion and frightening thoughts welling up inside me at the first kitschy Jamaican beats of their music. Why not play Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road and get this melodious mess out of our systems.

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And finally One bonus fear (every good blog list has a bonus!):

Dying suddenly without a chance to say goodbye. I’ve lived and felt the pain of not saying a final goodbye. It lies inside you, gnawing.

I’ve heard those many who say they’d like to be struck dead suddenly with a heart attack or stroke like a runaway truck on a London Bridge, swept away in a second.

Not me.

We can never express with the depth of our inner core, never capture the universe of emotion and love and respect and tenderness, the true multiplicity of feelings for our loved ones… not fully… until we’re in those final immersive moments.

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OK, now some old fears that fell away like my thick head of hair? I’ve had a few.

Here is a sampling of ones I’ve inhaled, held inside, and then eventually exhaled into misty clouds with age and maturity, like:

… getting to the end of my life and realizing that I wasted most of it…

… singing or speaking in public…

… in early blog posts: sharp criticism of my opinions…

… in my young years… premature ejaculation…

… wondering what people thought of me…

… not losing my virginity: ever…

Overcoming rational fear is about being a better person…

Fear doesn’t ever really go away, nor should it. But confronting it is the way to move forward.

Nowadays I try to face fear like a gladiator. Grrr. And usually I’m strong and brave but occasionally… rarely… my inner child arises and I’d like to suck my thumb in the corner – please don’t ever point a gun at my head, OK?

When I see myself overcoming part of a fear each day it lifts me up — I feel the thrive.  

It feeds my endorphin fix needs better than a needle in my arm.

Dealing with fear is always a choice.

One final thought. The Art of Manliness, one of my favorite websites on the Internet declares this “fear” rule:

“Whenever you are presented with a choice, ask yourself which option you would prefer to have taken in ten years.”

yoga at sunset

Grandma’s Feather Bed

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It could hold eight kids and four hound dogs
And a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn’t get much sleep but we had a lot of fun
On Grandma’s feather bed”

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Each week as I get myself into the mood for writing my blog posts, I sit and listen to a couple of music selections to summon the muse’s juice, the creative flow…

I’ll listen to some beautiful guitar music like Tommy Emmanuelle‘s Angelina, or Lady Antebellum‘s harmonic, banjo-laced Bartender, or John Denver‘s joyously enthusiastic Grandma’s Feather Bed.

This last song brought me around to thinking about grandparents, something  – sadly – I know little of.

Throughout my life when I’ve visited my grandparents, it’s been in a place of serene beauty and sleepy calmness.

You and I call it a cemetery.

Because of this, my life has lacked some of the colour that paints beauty on the canvas of our souls. I never snickered with my grandmother, or held a nail to assist my granddad build a birdhouse.

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While the concentric genealogy rings that radiate out from my grandparents are amazingly large and convoluted – there are descendants scattered in all directions like dandelion fluff in the wind – my own connection to them surprisingly feels real and flesh-like and personal like a private diary entry.

Weathered photos I view now bring the stillness and silence to life. These were real people… these were “my” real people.

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My Mom (bottom, centre) between her parents (my grandparents Maggie and Will) and “watermelon brothers” Lloyd and Clarence

Aside from one or two short early childhood visits I had from my paternal grandmother, Harriett, I never looked up at the face, heard the voice, or understood the demeanour of any of my grandparents.

I never played on Grandma’s feather bed.

All of my grandparents, except Harriett, were long passed by the time I arrived on the scene, so I never knew what I missed.

I never sat at the knee of my Granddad while he shared stories, or tales of wisdom gathered from a lifetime of joys and loves.  Never did I listen to the yarns of his hardships and struggles, those hard-earned everyday lessons that carry us over the stormy seas.

The only sense of grandparenthood I “enjoyed” was the embarrassment I felt when school chums errantly thought my parents – when they attended school functions –  WERE my grandparents. Yes, my mother was 45 and my Dad 50 when I was born, a more natural grandparent age. I was mortified. A child’s primeval thoughts.

I know my predecessors lived interesting but challenging lives. My grandparents lived through two World Wars and the Dirty Thirties, the Great Depression.

They survived a good portion of their lives in an era with little or no antibiotic therapy for infectious disease, no medications to manage pain effectively, no indoor plumbing, no electricity, no cars or airplanes, widespread child labour, high maternal and infant mortality, no voting or financial rights for women.

And as they aged, no doubt they lamented the passing of “the good ole days”.

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I never heard their stories in their own voices,  and unfortunately, stories about them weren’t shared much by my own parents, at least in my early recollection.

In the foreword to a family history book I edited and produced for a reunion in 2000, I wrote:

I regret that I was so young when my parents passed on, and that I wasn’t able to ask them all the questions that I’m now overflowing with. I want to know so desperately about the lives they led and the people they knew. I want to know about their parents and grandparents, and who they were as well.

I am frustrated that I, as children do, tuned out when they spoke of the days of their past, their memories and stories. They lived in another world and another time, and much of what they said and did is now gone from us all.

Today, I live with my own memories and I frequently “walk” through them, escaping to yesterday. The feel of the hardwood floors, the warmth of an open fireplace, the smell of cookies baking. These memories give me comfort because they are all I have of those days and my parents and my family at that time in our past. All of us live and “walk” through our memories of other times and places and receive comfort at times…

… I cannot turn the clock back, sit in a chair and make my grandmother or my mother be here with me and tell me the stories and memories that were important to them, now that I’m mature enough to sit and listen.

And yet, I still draw breath and I can draw together the pieces that I can find, add to that what I can recall as well as the insight and views of others who can remember, and give to those generations to come a feeling of their own past and a connection to it.”

Now, I don’t want to turn this post into a lecture at you, so let’s call it… an encouragement… yes, a signal or call to action. Sound the bugle!

If you have a parent or grandparent in your orbit with an active heartbeat, and still has a firm connection to their mental capacity… well… today is a good day to sit and have them share the moments of their past days with you. It can start with a simple question such as, “Who was your best friend as a kid Grampa/Dad?

Now, if they go rogue and unexpectedly veer off into uninhibited talk about their early sexual escapades (everyone has lurid scraps in their past!), try gently shifting the topic into an area such as gardening or canning peaches.

Or, if you’re really brave and have a strong stomach, well, dive right in, listen carefully and see if your own sexual deviances originate in an errant gene you picked up like a virulent bug.

You will learn about them and you will learn about you.

The passing of time brings change. It’s very foreign to me, but at the time of my Mom’s Mom’s passing, her casketed body was kept in the front room of the house for visitation of friends, neighbours, and family, and the funeral service was conducted there in the farmhouse in Hillsburg, Ontario.

Sure, different eras, but unchanged is the perennial belief in possibility… our grandparents were birthed and experienced their own childhoods clothed in a mantle of wonder and fascination, believing in the possible yet to come in their lives.

They too, like us, looked with excitement, and a little fear, toward future advancements and a world they knew was coming but couldn’t even imagine.

Hopefully they learned some lessons about the rhythm of life and living while snuggled safely under the blankets of their own Grandma’s feather bed.

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