Build Yourself a Toll Bridge and Find Freedom …

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For Christmas I’d like to give you a gift of 10 million dollars. And Freedom.

Not by winning a lottery or a scratch-and-win prize. Not by falling into a huge inheritance.

Nope … Those are magical tricks I don’t buy into.

I want us to create our own magic.


Wall street bull


My real goal in saving and investing has always been to pursue personal freedom.

The ability to choose my own path and not be at the beck and call of someone else who controls my destiny.

If I didn’t like what I was doing or who I was working with, I always wanted the option of kissing it/them goodbye.

I did just this when I quit a lab job on Vancouver Island that was eating me up inside. The financial returns weren’t worth the stress and burn.

I don’t need a zillion dollars to make my life livable. But I do need a reasonable base of savings and yearly returns that give me cash flow to live on. Cash flowing in like a toll bridge.

I like toll bridges.

toll bridge

Toll bridges don’t do anything, they just sit there collecting $$.

I want to own the toll bridge that pays me for just standing still, doing nothing.

I was fortunate – lucky really – to work only 3 days each week for the past 25 years in a job I enjoyed, working around people I enjoyed working with. THAT is freedom.

While I worked in medical laboratories, dipping swabs in delicately scented stool samples and pouring tubes of straw-coloured urine like fine wine, I quietly built a toll bridge.

I love investing.  I’m always searching for a zillion dollar idea in the stock market.

People like to whisper in my ear how I can make a zillion dollars.

I decided long ago to only listen if they’ve lived their dream and made it happen in their own lives. Otherwise it’s just a puff of cancerous smoke trying to kill me.

Today I’m gonna whisper in your ear. You decide if it’s smoke and mirrors or solid ear wax.

Please understand that my whispers won’t make you a zillionaire overnight.

But let them incubate a few years and these delectable eggs may set you free.

I love reading company financial reports, looking for tiny shiny diamonds in a huge slag pile. My pulse quickens when I find an elusive gem.

I was elated in years past when Slater Steel and Western Star Trucks and Facebook, and more recently Apple and Disney and Aflac landed in my lap at fire-sale prices. Black Friday sales (and CRASHES too!) can happen any day in stock markets.

Famous investor Peter Lynch was always looking for the “10-Bagger”… a stock that multiplied in share price 10 times over. Peter Lynch was a great investor.

One Up on Wall Street cover

Honestly, I’ve never owned a 10-Bagger.

Actually I probably have owned a couple but I’ve yet to find one that I didn’t sell too early and miss the HUGE payoff. Just shoot me now.

I get skittish when I have a stock that’s risen two or three times over, even if it still holds potential for further gains.

The real goal for a true investor (not speculator or gambler) is to better the return of the stock market indices – The DOW. The NASDAQ. The S&P 500. The TSX.

If you can’t beat the stock market averages – and MOST mutual funds return LESS than the stock market averages – then sniff sniff … you’re just … average … and you might just as well stop wasting your time and put your money in an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund)  that follows the ups and downs of the whole market.

Nope. Not for me.

Over the past 10 years if you had socked your hard-earned $$ in the North American markets you would have seen yearly gains of 7.8% (DOW), 7.4% (S&P 500), 8.5% (NASDAQ), 4.7% (TSX)… not too bad when you compare these numbers with long-term GIC returns of about 3.5%.

My own 10 year investment return has been 12.2%. Not bad either, although I set my sights on 15% as a long-term goal.

Maybe I’ve set my sights too low in aiming for a 15% annual return on my overall investment portfolio. Perhaps if I looked higher in the sky, I’d make a better return. There’s something to be said for setting expectations HIGH!

This year has been relatively quiet on stock market fronts … both Toronto and New York markets have bobbed and wavered like an iceberg around the 0% change mark, sometimes slipping a bit above the ocean’s surface, sometimes dipping a bit below.

I can happily report that as of this week, I’m sitting on a 2015 investment return of 10.7%. I know it’s not an eye-popping number – Donald Trump won’t be naming one of his buildings in my honour (hallelujah!!) – but I take some satisfaction in outgunning the stock markets as a whole so far.

And my toll bridge is doing its job of sending me cheques every three months filled with $$ I didn’t have to get out of bed to earn.

But let’s end the narcissism right here.  Enough about me and my year.

What are a few names that might spell FREEDOM for you in today’s stock market world?

I’ll tell you this with one caveat.

As soon as I open my mouth publicly about a great investment, the Money Gods generally take vengeance on me by sending bolts of lightning to crush and sizzle my picks.

Of course this won’t stop me because I have a strong secular faith that markets and stocks that drop today – if well chosen – will rise like Phoenix’s from the fires and ashes and bring a financial smile to my lips.

And in the meantime, every one of these “whispers” pays a toll booth dividend to you, collecting and sending dollars your way while you stand still doing nothing. You can just take your time and breathe.


Here goes:

  1. Apple – the 2000’s world exists with an “i” in front of everything. Why fight this amazing colossus with ONLY $200 Billion cash on its balance sheet?
  2. Microsoft – don’t like Apple? Microsoft owns everything else in technology. Office 360 and X-Box anyone?
  3. Disney – Just watch the new Star Wars movie and Let It Go, it’ll make all your dreams come true.
  4. Aflac – the silly daffy duck that keeps on giving bigger dividends every year.
  5. Gilead Sciences – a cure for Hepatitis (HARVONI) at a bargain price of $75,000 per patient – KA-CHING!!!
  6. Alimentation Couche-Tard – the owner of almost every corner store and gas station in North America is migrating a path around the world bringing Mac’s and Circle K to the masses.
  7. Deere – you wanna eat? You ain’t gonna do it without a John Deere tractor pulling the harvester.
  8. Johnson & Johnson – I am stuck on band-aids, and AIDS treatments too. And 10,000 other products you absolutely need.
  9. Royal Bank – hate bank user fees? It hurts a lot less when you get them back in a dividend cheque.
  10. Torchmark Corp – just a quiet little health insurance company that spoon feeds all its profit back to investors.

The world needs more bridges of all kinds to solve its problems. Why not consider constructing yourself a toll booth and enjoy sleeping in late tomorrow?

Freedom. Enjoy this Christmas gift to you.

sleep in





Do Your Memories Exceed Your Dreams?




  • I’ve never won a championship in any sport.
  • I’ve never published a bestselling book.
  • I’ve never started a hugely successful business.
  • I’ve never performed lifesaving surgery on a comatose patient.
  • I’ve never designed an art gallery.

Must I continue? A loser, right?

I just do what I love …

I dream about what I love … I hear whispers inside my head.

Just like Walter Mitty, I’m a terrible dreamer!

I wanted to be Bobby Orr, doing spins around my opponents on the hockey rink, scoring highlight goals that defied believability.

I wanted to pull on a Hamilton Tiger Cat football jersey and jump 3 feet high into the air, snatching impossible end zone passes, smashing to the turf in exultation to win the Grey Cup,  then High-5’ing Garney Henley and Angelo Mosca.

I wanted to sit down at the piano and pound out Crocodile Rock and Yellow Brick Road like Elton John, wearing goofy eyeglasses and exotic flared pants, looking out over 15,000 flickering lighters swaying back and forth through the warm summer air.


I wanted to sit on a stool under a solitary spotlight at Centre Stage and sing out beautiful songs that made people weep, like James Taylor singing Fire and Rain … or Harry Chapin intoning Cats In The Cradle  … or John Denver singing My Sweet Lady …

I wanted to cross the finish line of a half marathon or an Ironman race, rapturously jubilant with my hands raised high as the 1st place competitor.


Larry Ironman 1990

Ironman Canada 1990… 650th place out of 969 competitors …

I’ve never succeeded in truly fulfilling any one of these dreams and so I can accept it if you tell me I’m a loser.

Perhaps I’m just rationalizing, but for me, reaching the top of the pinnacle, achieving the dream, has never been about winning it all.

The dream comes in making the attempt, savouring the road I’ve travelled.

I am my own jail-keeper and I decide which lights will stay turned on.

I’ll never be a loser so long as I dream and play the “games” that excite me. Just being on the playing field, feeling the grass beneath my feet, the smell of popcorn in the air, is enough.

For me, sitting on the sidelines as a couch potato, only ever watching, never trying, that’s when I become a loser.

I tried writing some songs in my teen years. They sucked.

I write songs now and most of these suck too. But I’m enjoying the process, the road I’m travelling.

So I’m not backing down this time because I know that persistence means that if I write 20 songs… one of them will be a keeper that I feel pride in.

I have one of those songs in my repertoire now and I feel really good when I sing it. I’ll even sing it in public.


Earlier days of performance – making music with friends Nancy and Jim in the bars of Yellowknife…

Last week, when I sang one of my songs before an Open Mic “crowd” of 30 or 35 people I felt happy inside. There were no lit up iPhones swaying to my song. But I was doing something that I love. That was a dream fulfilled.

When I ran a half marathon race last month and pulled out early because of a nasty pain in my ass (yup, a literal pain in the ass) I was still smiling. I was doing something that I love.

If my family genetics from my parents’ generation have any bearing on my life … then I have 17 years left … maybe … maybe more… but maybe less too. Seventeen more years of delightful memory-making moments.

I’m filled up with past memories, so many memories. They’re wonderful friends that fill me with joyous smiles, some sorrowful tears, many warm emotions.

I’m also filled with future dreams… adventures of all sorts, books to read, songs to sing, places to travel, people to meet.

Dreams are great expectations, friends that we have yet to meet. Dreams are filled with potential and promise.

And that, for me is what life should be. Promise, expectation, dreams.

Dreams make me tingly.

I’m embracing this being a “loser” thing because it’s what sparkles on the freshly fallen snow, it’s what illuminates the moon and stars above me, it’s what makes every breathe like scrumptious melting chocolate on my tongue.

All of this might make me a loser to some, but I sure feel like I’m winning.

Isn’t that what’s important?


Caffeinated in the City


Coffee cat

Mmmmmmm… coffee, latte, cappuccino, espresso … it’s everywhere I look and I love it.

I’m partaking of city life this week… Vancouver specifically … java jewel of the North American west coast (or as many of us know, it’s really the “wet” coast).

I need to re-learn city life and what it means to me.

I grew up a City Mouse (Hamilton, Ontario) but have spent the past 40 years as a Country Mouse in smaller Canadian burgs like Yellowknife, William’s Lake, Hantsport, Comox, Summerland.

One of the phenomenal things about the central core of the big city – most big cities – is the boundless opportunities for a legal drug dose … even if I choose to ignore the spreading contagion of legalized medical marijuana spots.

The drug I’m talking about is CAFFEINE.

In Vancouver, there are Tim Hortons and Starbucks and Blenz and Waves and Caffe Artigiano and dozens of smaller independent coffeehouses within eyeshot – often spitting distance – of each other. Most cities around the globe have their own collection of caffeine hangouts where java junkies can find their fix.

And because I’m a languorous lover of the latte, I never feel panicky that I’ll be lost in the city jungle without a potential “fix” within a moment’s reach.

All of this caffeine has infiltrated my excitable core and like a spirit-lodge experience, I’ve emerged with an epiphany.


The epiphany? Ready?

WE are ALL small town dwellers.

Yup … even New Yorkers and Tokyoers (what are Tokyo residents actually called?) and Londoners all live in small villages.

Small towns of our own creation.

No specialized hardware or game software, no batteries required.

After only a few days living in the large city I realize it doesn’t take long for someone to build their own little town within the metropolis’s boundaries.

I was reminded of this last night when we went out to see Jerry Seinfeld “in-concert“… reminded that big cities are filled with thousands of small towns. Jerry and George and Elaine and Kramer created their puny township while immersed in Manhattan.

seinfeld town

Seinfeld Town …

This week, Gary and Dean at Urban Fitness gym joined my “town” … Miriam and Jiffy at Romer’s Burger Bar signed on too. It happens so quickly that we’re barely aware of it. In a few weeks or months, I’ll have a fully inhabited village within the mega-city limits.

Friends and activities and organizations become part of our Sim Life… we just transit through others’ little towns to access our own.

So in reality, it doesn’t matter whether I live in a municipality of 1,000 or 10,000,000, I will always live in a small town of my own fabrication.

This epiphany has me questioning within myself.

For most of my adult life, I’ve inhabited small town living and the relaxed, quiet roads and low cost lifestyle; the sightings of wildlife and accessibility of outdoors pursuits, the luminous views of unimpeded stars in the inky night sky.

But I get reminded each time I visit the larger city that there are parts of me that love a more populated life.

I delight in the boundless selection of street foods and restaurants, the flow of music and dance and evenings filled with thought and magic and colourful wonder, the access to huge bookstores and music shops and museums – and when we become age-challenged, higher quality healthcare and facilities.

Sure, there are downsides to being in the city jungle: lack of friendly eye contact, noisy car horns and sirens, traffic jams, air pollution. You can add your own negatives here.

But, with a reasonable pocketful of $$ and time and energy, there is no time for boredom and no lack of stimulation for those of us ADHD-inclined types.

I’ve spent time in many many cities over my years.

Barcelona, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, Shanghai, Cusco, Sevilla, Montreal, New York City, Havana, Leon, Brussels, Paris, Marrakesh, Athens.

For days, nights, and sometimes weeks, I enjoyed them all for a lot of different reasons. Even the smell of stale urine wafting from alleys is distinctive in each city.

I love the lights, the buzz, the variety, and yes, even the smells.

And when the evening grows late in the city?

When the night is stretching onwards and my middle-aged eyes grow increasingly tired and I just want to kiss the moon and stars goodnight?

A lit energetic beacon in the night is always there waiting … a neon sign that yells out through the evening air, flashing:

COFFEE – 24 hours.

Yes, living in my own little town inside a city can be more than OK.

coffee 24 hours

Is Your STOOL Holding You Up or Just a Pile of SH*T?


I’m not psychic or gifted.

I can never guess the surprise twist ending to a book … or movie … or TV show.

I was totally shocked by the bombshell ending of The Sixth Sense, the heartbreaking dilemma in Sophie’s Choice. 


All this is to say that I’m not perfect. I eat too much chocolate (WAIT! Can a person eat TOO much chocolate?). But you know that already.

I just have floating thoughts, like you, that buzz around inside my head and get released like doves or hot air balloons.

Some waft upwards gloriously, others fall flat and crash to the ground.

Some thoughts are like icebergs, rising unexpectedly from the watery depths, catching me totally off guard.

The thought running through my head today – like a song – is:

All you need in life are Love, Money and Health … these are the real clothes we wear … everything else is underwear and accessories …



If anyone asks? … THIS is the true meaning of life … this is the core of our universe … all of the stars and planets emanate from this centre.

John and Paul sang: “All You Need is Love” … but, with all respect, they ran short with their song.

Think about it for a minute. How do you live your life?


Everything from the day you’re born directs you towards making a living i.e. money.

Our parents drag us from our warm beds in the morning and push us out the door with a little brown lunch bag or a DISNEY lunchbox.

We go to school for days, months and decades to learn how to earn a living.

We toil over dog-eared textbooks and Texas Instrument calculators and Erlenmeyer flasks for years and years – entering battles we sometimes win, sometimes lose –  so that we can contribute something to our world and to look after ourselves.

Of course not everyone squeezes out of their childhood cocoon into an adult butterfly with formal sit-down schooling … some choose the School of Hard Knocks and Life Experience.

We dream of becoming artists of life. Hopefully we create a moneyed canvas that brings challenges and joys as well as $$ to buy Apple iPhones and Samsung Big Screen TV’s, and Cabernet Sauvignon at our table.

Now we’ve reached the point where we pull ourselves from our own beds with positive purpose and expectations and $$-productive capacity.

Once we find our way in the working world … what comes next?


Many or most of us seek out someone we can send waves of nurturing and love, and feel the rippling tides of love in return – maybe I can touch your hand – and share our money with and buy houses and cars and take vacations and make babies. It’s primal this urge.

We visit bars, we lurk and snake our way through internet dating sites, we join gyms and churches and charitable groups.

Then, fortune on our side, one day after some very grubby mucky attempts, we find another seeker we can sit behind and wrap our arms around at the potter’s wheel.

We begin to turn the clay and hand-in-hand we sculpt something that resembles an internally satisfying life of fondness that’s beautiful and permanent, filled with good rollicking sex and patient understanding of our prickly bumps and quirks.

Our days can begin with a sweet halitosis shot laying next to us in the morning, and we awake with a smile.


Underlying all of this love and money is the third peg to the stool.

By the way, a stool is a good analogy because we know the word has more than one meaning.

A stool can be a three (or four) legged seat that holds us aloft … or… a stool can also mean faeces, yup, SHIT!

Our optimal health is the stool that keeps us upright and shuffling forward day after day allowing us to find the money and love that we need to satisfy our humanity-bound Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

When our Stool of Health is unstable, missing a leg or perhaps wobbly on an uneven keel … our volatile lives fall to shit and nothing else seems to matter anymore.

Nothing remains balanced and afloat in the Sea of Tranquility if we’re too unhealthy or sick to enjoy the rest.

We need to look after ourselves.

Let’s live our lives with intent, not by accident.

Let’s eat the stuff that makes our bowels smile with delight. Let’s exercise enough so that our legs don’t take up half the airplane seat next to us. Let’s read good books and practice Sudoku and study Italian and laugh and giggle at the silly things we do.

It’s like I say. I’m not psychic or gifted. Sometimes I do think I see dead people.

I only want MONEY. LOVE. HEALTH. 

And chocolate … definitely CHOCOLATE.

Reinventing Ourselves by Changing Underwear

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underwear men


Yup, that’s all. That’s what a friend said to me in response to “Vagina Monologue” in last week’s blog title.

Penis Paragraph … snicker snicker … funny … Ha Ha

Funny – not Ha Ha – is growing older, developing wrinkles and sagging skin but not being tuned in enough to see it.

It’s funny because inside myself I’m the same kid who jumped out of bed this morning (it is 1967, right?) when I smelled Mom cooking bacon in the kitchen. Thanks Mom, you’re the best!

After I eat the crispy delicious bacon I run to the bathroom before school starts and I look in the mirror.



How the hell did my Dad hijack my face while I was sleeping? Back To The Future. Balding … hair sprouting from my ears and nose. Yup, it’s pretty clear that I’ve changed.

After absorbing the shock that I look different … I begin to realize that NO, I’m really NOT the same kid inside that I was back when JFK was shot … or JR was shot … or Reagan was shot … I’ve changed and my label has changed.

I used to deliver newspapers and flip burgers as a youngster, then migrated onwards to growing smelly bacteria in a lab. All different labels.

Now I pour shots in my new job as a bartender. That’s putting on a new label.

old time bartender

When you retire or quit a job, or are fired or downsized, you peel off all the labels …

I’m an architect, I’m a chef, I’m a doctor, I’m a plumber.

Labels get peeled off like dirty old underwear.

You shower and all the remnants of who you once were are washed away, ready to pull on a clean new pair of whatever.

The old way of retiring meant you went commando, no fresh underwear, no changes, just sitting on the front porch waiting for the Grim Reaper to waltz up your driveway in the twilight of your day …

Nowadays, most retirees put on some sort of crisp, fresh underwear. My latest pair says BARTENDER on the front.

I’ve been alive for 21,265 days… at this point, I’m a dim spaceship travelling through the galaxy and one day my light will be extinguished.

One of the great things about modern medicine is that our light can burn dimly much longer than it could 100 years ago… we have better telescopes so we can extend our reach. Most of us want our light to burn a bit longer so we can try on a new pair of underwear.

Re-invention, whether at my age, or much younger, is about extending our reach from inside ourselves.

... Adapt and you might get a fresh pair of underwear

… Adapt and you might get a fresh pair of underwear

A hundred years ago, you were born to a farmer, or a butcher.

And if you were a boy you lived your life as a farmer or a butcher and your obituary was a short one. One pair of underwear.

If you were a girl? Well, you awoke each day as a homemaker/farm wife, looking after your husband farmer or husband butcher, making all the decisions that mattered without him every realizing it. One pair of underwear.

Today is different and exciting and scary because we’re not only choosing to change our underwear but in many cases, we have no choice.

Job security is spinning wildly out of our galaxy and we can’t bring it back. Reinvention is happening, like it or not.

I began my lab technology career sticking needles in peoples’ arms, sucking out tubes of blood and then testing it in an Auto-Analyzer machine that took up half a large room. I finished my career 37 years later sitting in front of a powerful computer, sucking data out of a machine that was smaller than my desk.

CH-CH-Changes! We all adapt in one form or another, like it or not.

And if we want the most from our lives… the most contentment, the most satisfaction, the most happiness … we need to be adaptable enough to accept and embrace (most) change … none of us is so strong as to hold back the surging tsunami of technology.

Wrinkled crows-feet eyes or smooth as a baby’s bottom forehead, change in each of our lives is perennial as the sun rising.

Attitude is the distinction.

A fresh change of underwear always feels good… like crisp, clean sheets. Mmmmmmmmm.

Everything and anything seems possible.

And that my friend is this week’s PENIS PARAGRAPH!

Penis costume