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Nostalgia In The Water…

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ironman1990.jpg

There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, just arms and legs violently slapping and punching into my head, my legs, my torso.

OMG, what am I doing?

Bedlam and panic ruled for 10 minutes that felt like an eternally long sleepless night before the dawn calmly re-established itself.

A thousand wetsuit-encased bodies thrashed and maneuvered like spawning salmon rushing upstream in claustrophobia for the first few hundred metres… Men, Women, Canadians, Americans, Germans, Japanese, Australians, Brits and so on, all attempting to move forward, immersed in the chilly dark waters of Okanagan Lake.

Raising my head above the roughly churning water, I gasped desperately for air, moving my arms in an unfamiliar breaststroke motion.

Attempting to efficiently freestyle swim wasn’t a possibility without adding to the chaos and physical harm of others.

Momentarily, I distracted myself from the hysteria by trying to guess how many of the swimmers around me were peeing into their wetsuits at that moment. Take a deep breath…

BANG. Oh Shit!

An arm crossed in front of my face and dislodged my goggles, water flooded in and my sightlines suddenly blurred as I coughed up a mouthful of unwanted water from my lungs. Please let me out of here before I drown!

……………………..

You’ll have to excuse me this morning but I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Funny, isn’t it?

I’m at a time and age where significant events of my past occupy a significant part of my present moments, sweet fragrant flowers blooming over and over again for me to enjoy and savour.

Nostalgic?

Yup, I’m feeling nostalgic over suffering an anxiety attack for the first 10 minutes of an IRONMAN triathlon race that I swam, biked and ran in 26 years ago this weekend. I’ve spoken to many triathletes since that day and my experience of panic was and is a common one.

26.YEARS.AGO.

August 26, 1990.

I had plenty of dark hair, few wrinkles at 33 years of age, and well-defined quad and shoulder muscles.

Although I loved participating in most sports, I was never a great Olympic-style athlete, but here I was razor thin and fit beyond my own imaginings.

I was an ordinary everyday Joe doing something that at the moment felt unimaginable and extraordinary.

My now-grown kids were so little and dependent, wearing tiny cute T-shirts that said stuff like: “Iron BabyandIron Tyke“… Maureen should have been wearing an Iron Widow” shirt given the hours and hours I spent out on the roads training for a full year ahead of time.

Emma Iron Baby.jpg

My youngest Emma gets ‘psyched”…

In so many ways it seems like yesterday and yet I can see a whole generation of people have been birthed, grown up and been schooled, married, started jobs and families all inside that very time frame. And all those years somehow happened in the span of an Okanagan minute.

If anything should send me to the cliff’s edge of a panic attack, that knowledge alone should do it.

Nostalgia is a wonderful, happiness-inducing, but nonetheless bittersweet part of our humanness.

All of our sentimental, happy, heart-lifting moments are harmoniously stirred in a Mix Master with strains of melancholy sadness for times when others we loved – relatives, friends, pets – still inhaled the delicious wonder of the morning air and were a special part of our daily lives.

Inside our heads we hear long-gone voices and laughter, we smell a familiar perfume or cologne, we remember a kitschy expression used only by a grandparent or an aunt we loved.

Time and nostalgia are like ice cubes melting in our glass where we try to catch the best of the potential that exists inside.

Yet slowly and inevitably the energy dissipates until the last vestige of ice disappears and for a time we still enjoy the stimulating chill that fortified us but can never again be re-captured totally.

………………..

Touching the sandy lake bottom 3.8 k. and an hour and 18 minutes later, a brief sense of relief set in. The pressure and worry of the crowded swim portion was burned away in the early morning sunrise.

Strangely now – comically really – the only real pressure I felt settling my chilly bum onto my bike seat for a 180 k. ride through the sultry Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys was the need to hit the finish line ahead of Sister Madonna Buder from Spokane, Washington.

I’m not an uber-competitive person.

I compete to improve myself, not to better others… but I wasn’t going to allow Ms. Buder, aka the Iron Nun – 86 years-old now and still participating in triathlons, but a mere 60 in 1990 – break the finish line banner before me.

My sexist/ageist/secularist ego couldn’t handle that small measure of faux disgrace.

………………..

I’ve learned other life lessons along the way, but the ones that I’d look back and tell my twenty-something self now are: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do; don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel; and be patient — one of my worst enemies is patience, I’m still trying to fine-tune it so that I’m able to stop and smell the roses.”

Madonna Buder

Madonna Buder.jpg

………………..

It was time now to settle into a rhythm on the bike ride that would last for over 5 hours, followed by a run of a similar time.

The hours passed by like minutes.

There were so many distractions along the way, from tossing used-up water/Gatorade bottles into hockey nets at the numerous Aid Stations, to interacting with other athletes along the route, to watching for salty urine spray coming from the rear bike tires of those who refused to stop at the side of the road and pee. What the…

Making the transition from the cycling motion of the bike to the running motion was like handing me a 50 lb. medicine ball and asking me to go for a light jog.

A quick massage (and the… ummm… surprise of the massage volunteer slipping her hand beneath my shorts to rub my weary gluteus muscles back into running form!) helped the transition go slightly less difficult.

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But honestly – truly? – the highlight of the 5 hour marathon run along the shimmering afternoon waters of Skaha Lake was that amazing … sensational… joyful… moment when I closed in on, then passed, the Iron Nun and felt the elation of knowing that my young male ego would survive the long day intact.

The hours passed, I chatted with a panoply of painfully downtrodden as well as cheery runners, one foot ahead of the other plodding at a terribly slow but consistent pace. Amazingly supportive family and friends boosted my spirits throughout the long day.

Finally, I saw the sign at the side of the road: “1 Kilometre to finish line“.

That final kilometre coming into downtown Penticton, as the sun hugged the western horizon over the West Bench was where I lost any sensation of fatigue or pain and ran as if supernaturally possessed.

I had pushed my body for well over 13 hours but the endorphins flooded in, the euphoria pushed me at a pace I didn’t believe possible.

And then… then… the sight of the FINISH banner floating in the twilight haze in the near distance.

Spotlights blazed brightly, rhythmic music saturated the space around me, a huge cheering crowd and the familiar British-accented voice of announcer Steve King in the cozy, thick evening air beckoned me closer and closer to the welcoming light as if I were entering a rapturous near-death experience.

Ironman 1990

………………..

I’m always happy when I feel nostalgic.

Nostalgia means we’ve lived and loved and felt something deeply, memorably.

We should seek out and create the experiences in our lives that lead us both forward and backwards to nostalgia.

Then, when the endorphins fade from those special times, we can sit back with a big bag of popcorn and enjoy our own life movie.

To be laden with nostalgia is a gift, a wondrous Santa bag filled with joy and warmth that supports and sustains us in good times and bad.

It’s a gift we give ourselves even if we have to outrun a nun to get there.

 

 

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Picture Yourself as a Toll Booth…

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rod serling2.jpg

Bob and Millie Frazier are average young New Yorkers who attended a party in the country last night and on the way home took a detour.

Most of us on waking in the morning know exactly where we are; the rooster or the alarm clock brings us out of sleep into the familiar sights, sounds, aromas of home and the comfort of a routine day ahead.

Not so with our young friends.

This will be a day like none they’ve ever spent – and they’ll spend it in the Twilight Zone.”

 

……………..

Murdering your chosen career is traumatic. A smudged chalky outline around your desk is all that remains of decades of your life.

Leaving the “routine” work world is a bit like entering the Twilight Zone… absent Rod Serling’s monotone voiceover.

Kissing goodbye to a regular bi-weekly magical monetary gift into your bank account takes some thought and planning.

Warren Buffett the great investor – in my Walter Mitty dream life, I’m a young Warren Buffett – says this about investing your money:

Rule No. 1: Never Lose Money.

Rule No. 2: Never Forget Rule No. 1

Buffett Uke

Sing those rules Warren…

I like RULES.

Warren has been my investing mentor for a lot of years now… I’m a slow learner so I’ve mislaid Rule #1 on more than one occasion, but even without a 12-step program I’m slowly getting better.

I’m a Number’s Nerd… a Statistical Sam… and so I spend a fair bit of time passing numbers through my head, batting them back and forth like tennis balls, sifting and sorting ideas on how to make a few dollah’s from smart investing…

The investing world is a challenge when you find yourself on the cliff’s edge of retirement (there’s that R word I hate!) and beyond.

The worry is like being perched in the starting blocks of the 100 m. Olympic race just before the gun goes “BAM!“.

You’re filled with child-like hope and anticipation of the exciting wonders that lie ahead while at the same time brooding intensely over whether if, as you’re nearing life’s finish line, you’ll be smiling Usain Bolt at the front of the field or sad Joe Blowitzky from Upper Slobovia jogging in at the back of the pack.

Investing and building an economic future is a lesson about ourselves… a lesson to be heeded and learned from, and skilfully tracked across into other areas of our lives.

Most of us spend year after year carefully – occasionally recklessly – placing the puzzle pieces of investment that fit together with our lives, measuring out the hunger to enjoy today’s fresh-faced moments with the hazy horizon of our future, more wrinkled, selves.

investment puzzle

Most of the time we make smart, disciplined decisions, but every now and then we just do something stupid.

Stupid like listening to our neighbour’s “hot tip” about that fabulous no-lose stock called BRE-X… or was it ENRON?… in my case was it YBM Magnex? Doesn’t matter, you get my point, right?

It’s often said that most marital difficulties are stirred up by financial discrepancies and arguments.

A woman I met once told me the secret answer to avoiding arguments with anyone.

If you want to stop an argument, just say the word ‘panties’,” she told me. “Everyone stops then. Men become frozen.

I’ve never actually tried this so I can’t tell you if it works but I know it made writing this next paragraph a more distracted challenge… so it obviously has some effect.

Maybe the same effect it had on the dumbstruck woman behind the counter at my bank yesterday when I told her that I wanted to deposit my Male Prostitution money into my “12-string guitar account”. Deer in the headlights.

But back to investing and building a future.

I have a few little mottos or themes that guide me in life… old standards like:

  • I live to eat, not eat to live
  • Ready. Shoot. Aim.
  • It’s better to travel hopefully, than to arrive
  • If it’s to be, it’s up to me
  • To you, I’m an atheist.
    To God, I’m the loyal opposition.

In my investment life, one of the major themes I’ve learned to love when I look at where I’ll put my money to work relates to the idea of a TOLL BOOTH. Easy $$ Cha-Ching…

Being an inherently lazy kind of guy, I want to make as much money as I can with the least amount of work. Shiftless Shekels. Lax Loot. Undemanding Dinero. Toll booth inert.

I’m actively seeking passive ways of collecting regular money like the GO corner on the Monopoly board of life.

So, for me, TOLL BOOTH investing is easily summed up in one word:

DIVIDENDS!

Without exception, every stock holding in my personal portfolio pays ME to be a Sleepy in Summerland owner.

Companies like APPLE and MICROSOFT and LBRANDS (Victoria’s Secret) and AFLAC and DISNEY and ROYAL BANK etc all pay me to go to bed at night and purr away while they stay awake making out cheques to send my way. Toll booth.

How about real estate? Do I own real estate beyond my own home? Sure. But do I ever get irritating phone calls at 2 am about broken water heaters, or tenants making noise or setting up illicit grow-ops? Nope. NEVER.

Owning Real Estate Investment Trusts like RIOCAN and H&R REIT means that I have managers working for me collecting rent cheques, cleaning dirty bathrooms and screening tenants. These are this lazy guy’s answer. Toll booth.

I just love Toll Booths where nice folks pay me to loll naked in my backyard hammock. Just try to get THAT image out of your head.

In the end, everyone seeks and discovers a monetary solution of sorts to their employment exodus (I still can’t use that R word)

There are joys and woes to using company pensions, government pensions, and your own personal guile in accumulating and investing a mini-armoury stockpile of wealth.

Nobody promises us that a life of ease will be easy.

Honestly, I’m still not sure if I’m in the Twilight Zone world of Usain Bolt or Joe Blowitzky in this race to the finish line.

But in the meantime, I think I’ll just lay back, close my eyes and count… shee… er… sweet dollar bills jumping over fences into my arms.

Sheep jumping.jpg

 

 

 

 

Are You a Good HABIT… Or a Bad HABIT?

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Sweat3

I like to sweat.

I must ’cause I do it so often.

It’s a sweat habit.

I should have been born with a moisture trap built into my forehead to siphon off the saline river that flows into my eyes.

My boyhood friend Frank had really sweaty palms. I hated shaking hands with him. It was like dipping your hand into a chilled salt-brine bath, a swim in the Dead Sea.

I seem to encounter folks regularly who sweat without even trying. Life and breathing alone bring forth a pop of perspiration. I feel badly for those who don’t even have to try….

Sweat comes from different places, different times in life… hot weather, saunas, exercise, anxiety, anger, spicy foods, afternoon delight, medications, menopause, porn sites (hello – just making sure you’re awake!)...

Salty, smelly sweat is my friend almost every day of the week… a companion that I love to hate… a playmate that I miss terribly if I can’t share some time with… a kindred spirit that brings out the best in me even when I curse up a blue storm and don’t want to share time with him.

My sweat generally wells up while I’m biking or running, lifting weights, studying intensive Spanish, mixing and pouring fluffy blender drinks and Shirley Temples at a frantic pace… and even… it might seem strange to you, even when I’m swimming.

Yup, years back when I was feverishly training for an Ironman race, I’d step on the scale before I hit the pool lanes. After 100 laps or so of the pool, I’d step on the scale once more and my weight would be 3-4 pounds lighter. Underwater sweat. I don’t think it was because I peed in the pool…

I guess you’d call my sweat penchant a habit. A good habit.

Habits can be good or bad.

bad habits

A bad habit? I like to smoke 1 Cuban cigar each week.

I sit outside on my patio in the cool of the morning (usually after some form of sweat session) under the shade of the leafy grape vines on the arbour overhead … or sometimes in the early evening when the sun sinks low and the summer air breezes from the apple orchard next door begin to cool and lightly waft by.

I hold the flaming match to the tip of a QUINTERO or a GUANTANAMERA and enjoy the sweetly fragrant cumulus clouds of smoke rising and spreading in molten marshmallow fluff. It sends me on a satisfying cruise to the long, undulating dance that is the beautiful seawall, the Malecón of Havana, sweet Besame music floating in the Caribbean air.

That’s a bad habit.

We all have a bad habit or two. I uttered a four letter word once… ok, twice but that Douche Nozzle  f*&*ing deserved it.

I probably have a bunch of bad habits that you would be disgusted by, but the good habits are the ones where I try to focus my energies and enthusiasm.

………………….

 HABIT

An acquired mode of behaviour that has become

nearly or completely involuntary.

………………….

I remember years ago when my friend Denise was trying to quit smoking (successfully I might add), where the habit of smoking a cigarette with a cup of morning coffee or at the end of a meal was a killer. A nearly involuntary mode of behaviour.

So she placed a glass cup on the breakfast table half-filled with water.

Each cigarette she finished went into the cup and in time became a disgusting sight and revolting smell that sat staring back at her when she most wanted a morning “fix”.

Her smoker’s “habit” died soon afterwards and she’ll probably live ten years longer as a result.

cigarette butts in coffee

An exercise habit is a great boost to your health and quality of life.

Exercising with some vigour makes napping … and eating… more fun. Shouldn’t napping and eating be fun?

Good habits and bad habits shape our daily lives. Gretchen Rubin, in her book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, talks about the importance of habits: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Writing a blog has become a habit, playing my guitar daily has become a habit, saving 10% or more of my paycheque each month through forced saving was a habit I had for many years, drinking morning lattes, brushing my teeth twice a day but forgetting to floss (this drives my dental hygienist daughter crazy), sweating at boot camp class … all habits. Good habits.

We’re all a constant work in progress.

Habits are a part of who I am, the stuff that motivates me… overall, my good habit concept is to get rid of anything in my life that doesn’t bring me an inner feeling of enthusiasm, a good habit where time passes in a flash and clocks no longer seem to exist.

My job is to root out those routine, mundane habits that serve no purpose, the ones that suck away the marrow juices that fuel my drive and enthusiasm.

It’s about coming to know yourself.

Once you do, you will know how to change, create, and stick to the habits you want in your life… good habits and maybe even an occasional bad habit.

Choose your habits, don’t let them choose you.

Unless you’re becoming a nun.

smoking nuns

Mary and Joseph…

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drone

… toodle quietly down early morning Martin Street of Penticton.

To an overhead drone, they would appear as small ants searching out scraps of food to return to the nest.

Mary is well in front, treading swiftly in her motorized scooter chair; a pair of worn teddy bears bob like crazy marionettes attached to the back of her seat as she breaks her mother’s back running over sidewalk cracks.

Her beady grey eyes are focussed on the walkway and the direction of travel.

White tangles of unkempt hair, untouched by a brush or comb this morning, catch errant whiffs of air movement like little fireworks going off in all directions. The studied concentration on her face leaves you with an impression of a pilgrimage.

They enter and emerge from long, dark shadows pasted across the quiet road by Ponderosa Pine and Norway Maple scattered along their route, doors opening and closing.

The air is fresh and applesauce delicious this early in the day before the dry Okanagan heat settles into town by 10 am. Light chirps of flickers and chickadees sift downwards from the branches above.

Rotund Joe slowly plods, like a proud Clydesdale workhorse, well behind Mary. His right hand behind his back grasps the handle of a child’s plastic wagon filled with sundry items that are incongruous with daily life … thrift store ingredients that may or not make it to the shelves.

Mary and Joe are no Okanagan Casabella Princess and Prince. Almost comic book-like, standing next to each other they look like the fruit-shaped salt and pepper shakers gift we received many years ago.

apple salt

Joe – the salt – is a round, red apple with a warm but mischievous grin… plump and elf’ish jolly.

Mary is the matching pepper shaker, not narrow or small on the top but definitely fanning out pear-like below her waist. She sports a narrow pinched mouth that accordions wide open when she smiles; a smile that comes often and readily.

I shudder when I see the state of their clothing, the ripped track pants, untucked stained shirts and polyester jackets that the Salvation Army wouldn’t deem acceptable to sell. Ketchup stains on two year-olds are kind of cute but on 70 year-olds it’s just kinda sad.

I don’t know where they live, this sweet couple.

I don’t know where their morning journey began.

I don’t know where or when they met.

Children? I suspect not, but I haven’t a clue.

I’ve seen their daily show played out on many many occasions as I’ve driven to my volunteer job at the local soup kitchen, and even at other times while just going about some chore of my own in town.

They arrive early to the front entryway of the Soupateria and sit on the wooden benches outside, chatting to themselves and other regular stragglers whose main social appointment of the day begins and ends right here.

soupateria

There are so many troubled souls that come through the doors of the soup kitchen – all ages, all shapes and colours, all genders – it can be heartbreaking to observe and think of the stories that led to the moment at hand.

Lately, I’m finding the crop of soup kitchen users are a strangely crabby lot compared to those of the past 2 years I’ve worked there. I’ve been checking the night sky more than usual for full moon phenomenon but to no avail.

What I really love about Mary and Joe is that no matter the traumas or tragedies they’ve lived – I’m certain there have been many breakages – they treat me and everyone they encounter like a long lost friend.

A friendly, gentle warmth exudes from their inner souls.

Any exchange with these two and you’re almost certain to walk away with a smile in your heart. Kindness sloughs from them like the dust off Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen.

Each day when they reach the front of the line at the serving window of the Soupateria, through his stubbly grey beard, the first question Joe asks of the volunteer behind the counter is,

And how are you today?

I’ll look over and it’s like bright sunshine emerging from foreboding clouds.

It’s not an empty courtesy to hear him say this.

He enunciates the word YOU like no one else matters in the whole world. Then he listens carefully for the response.

After the friendly exchange, he chirps, “I’ll have egg salad on brown today please!”

A few minutes later without fail, Mary, at the end of her soup and sandwich lunch, always shuffles gingerly to the serving window and in her muffled, child-like voice, calls out a cheery thanks to the volunteers behind the counter.

I smile thinking of the holy irony of their names and then seeing Mary in deep focus, mounted on a small scooter on her diurnal sacred journey to Bethlehem.

Mary and Joe are pitifully stunted and incomplete by most of our societal measurements and yet… I see them as superheroes.

I don’t like the Silver Screen superheroes so much, the Batmans, the Supermans, the Wonder Womans and so on. Give me Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a Rom-Com any day.

The superheroes I prefer, the ones I truly admire, quietly walk the backstreets of our world, not striving to save humanity but somehow, in their inimitable way, giving others an uplift without even trying.

They’re the ones in anonymous costumes, no flowing capes, no stretch lycra bodysuits: the Marys and Joes on the street, the Chris and Lauraines in the soup kitchen, the Davids and Patricks in the Greek Restaurants, the Ricardos and Arturos who patiently, humorously teach me Spanish… all those who give freely without expectation of wealth or fame or even a pat on the back.

Because we spend so much time living in the illusions and challenges of our own lives we forget, often not noticing the beauty and strength of others we encounter day-to-day.

Mary and Joseph? Simple, plain folk.

They’re out there with gentle smiles, filling the loneliness of their’s and other’s lives… one another’s peaceful, green oasis in the desert where the horizon is limitless and sometimes painful.

Always with a smile…

superhero pee

SUPERHEROES really ARE just like the rest of us…