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Remembering My Bananas Brother

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It’s sad and it’s sweet… and I knew it complete… when I wore a younger man’s clothes…

How can any person live 79 years and feel they’ve been shortchanged?

How can you have lived in 7 countries, have a wife and 3 kids, 5 grandkids, 2 great grandchildren, and somehow be cheated by death? You can’t really… except…

… it feels to me like he was cheated, like a million others, probably someone you love(d)… not by death, death is certain… but by a beautiful mind that became shrouded in dense cloud and mist. Alzheimer’s storm.

Today I write this blog post as an homage and tribute to my brother Robert who passed this week… my family of 5 siblings has winnowed down to 3 …

I really didn’t come to know my brother until my adult years… Robert and I were separated by 15 years in age, and when he moved from Hamilton to Edmonton to work on his PhD when I was about 5 or 6 years old, our age separation was multiplied by a few thousand kilometres of physical distance.

As I grew up, I heard stories of my “foreign” brother… mostly about how incredibly smart he was. Bright enough to skip 2 grades in school. I teased myself later on that I was a failure, a black sheep, because I only moved ahead one grade.

Robert married a lovely prairie girl Lois (another PhD student) and they shared an adventurous life of making babies (3 in total) while moving every few years to live and teach in a host of countries (Malaysia, England, Egypt, Nigeria, India, Wales).

In between their globe-hopping they would settle for a year or two in Regina or Saskatoon before taking on another international escapade.

Robert was also a bibliophile, a book lover.

Broadway District, Saskatoon

One day he opened a popular bookstore in Saskatoon, Broadway Book Merchants.

Broadway Street is a destination artistic haven to this day and his bookstore was a well-known stop for many many wandering the streets. Robert revelled in the authors who regularly sat in his store to autograph new releases.

He was never so happy as when celebrated author and storyteller W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen The Wind, Jake and the Kid) came to the house for dinner after a book signing. After dinner, Mitchell said in his lovely sonorous voice that he’d be happy to share stories with the family all night long, so long as the alcohol flowed liberally! Robert (an inveterate wine and beer maker himself) was delighted to oblige.

Bookselling retirement was eventually forced on him as the inevitability of the mega-online booksellers ate away at bricks-and-mortar retailers. He accepted the inevitable and moved on.

Somehow, over the years, my wife Maureen and I were able to meet up and spend bits of time here and there with Robert; never for long, but let’s say it was “quality time”.

Cross-country skiing over mountain passes in Jasper, organizing and coordinating family reunions, vacationing together in China, visits in Cusco, Peru, teaching me to add cumin to my chili recipe, and his many visits to our Okanagan home gave me the chance to “bond” with Robert.

A wee sip of Chinese snake wine… adventurous!

He and I shared a silly sense of humour that was always best expressed while taking in anything by the Monty Python crew…

Robert wasn’t a perfect man (he and I must be related!), but he had an inner softness and vulnerability that I loved.

We became “brothers” as adults when childhood hadn’t afforded us that opportunity.

On our shared journey across China almost 10 years ago, I could sense small changes in Robert’s mental functioning that said something was awry.

Sure enough, only a couple of months after we returned, the Alzheimer’s diagnosis was confirmed and his lengthy downward journey became his final unwanted odyssey.

This past year, I wrote a song (with an irreverent title but one that Robert would have laughed over anyways) about Robert’s decline that I’ll share with you here once again today.

Thanks for being my brother Robert…

The Great British Tale of Two Oliver’s…

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Please Sir… I want some more…

Welcome friends to Idea Sex week…a dreamy trifecta, a misty ménage à trois, a threesome of cuisine’some…

The British Christmas Armada has invaded my television screen this week as we grow ever closer to the reason-for-the-season.

And while I’d actually prefer to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol (who can resist Gonzo as Charles Dickens the narrator, and his hilarious companion Rizzo the Rat?)…

… in Fozzie Bear’s place, instead, I’ve been watching urchin Oliver Twist doing battle with fat Mr. Bumble, scheming Fagin and evil Bill Sikes …

… I’ve drooled as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver seductively enticed me, like warm-hearted prostitute Nancy, with Yorkshire puddings and bacon-swaddled turkey, and finally…

… I’ve giggled as The Great British Baking Show judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith presided over a festive Christmas baking spectacle with 4 previous contestant bakers.

So…. (and with the greatest of apologies to the principals of this post)

Today, let’s go into our collective imaginations and, like the ephemeral Ghosts of ChristmasesPast, Present, and Yet to Come, listen and watch from above as Jamie Oliver meets Charles Dickens meets The Great British Baking Show….

It’s a culinary Tale of Two Oliver’s as I bring you a cooking challenge of Oliver Twist vs Jamie Oliver… two great British characters separated by almost 200 years and a huge socio-economic divide.

The big question? Will Oliver Twist’s simple but rib-sticking cuisine outmatch the more sophisticated Yuletide fare of the Naked Chef?

The contest is set, so settle in and enjoy the “Christmas Breakfast Showstopper“.

In this match we’ll have young Oliver Twist preparing his famously simple, yet delightful, Yule Gruel, from his Workhouse childhood, running head-to-head against Jamie Oliver as he pulls together a memorable breakfast of Grinchy Green Eggs and Ham.

The nervous contestants fidget at their baking counters as the judges call out in unison…

“You have 15 minutes… BAKE!

Oliver Twist’s YULE GRUEL

This blueprint is based on the ingredients used in the 18th century workhouse where Master Twist was raised upon his mother Agnes’ death during childbirth.

Gruel was one of the main foods provided to the workhouse children.

Oliver gained great notoriety (and disdain) when he humbly begged the master: “Please Sir, I want some more…”

Here’s the recipe that Oliver will be using to prepare his signature dish today:

Ingredients

  • 3 dessert spoonfuls of oatmeal
  • 1 pint of water
  • a little salt
  • …………..

Judge Paul Hollywood saunters to the station where wee Oliver adds and stirs, stirs and adds. “How are making your dish for us today Oliver?”.

Hollywood, hands tightly jammed into pant pockets, grins with his trademark smirk that says: “You have no idea what you’re doing, right?”

Oliver’s tender cheeks blush a bit as he squeaks out a timid explanation:

“First, Sir, mix the oatmeal with a little cold water to make a paste…

Put the rest of the water in a pan

Add the mixture and boil for 10 minutes.

If it looks like dirty washing-up water, you’re doing it right.

Finally, add the salt.”

…………………

And now, the camera slides over to Jamie Oliver, who jumps enthusiastically into his preparations of:

Jamie Oliver’s GRINCHY GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Ingredients

  • 1 small knob of unsalted butter
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 160 g cooked sliced higher-welfare ham
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • Green chili and herb salsa
  • 2 small green chillies
  • a few sprigs of fresh mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, basil, mint, dill, marjoram, chives
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • ½ a lime

…………….

This time, judge Prue Leith stops by the cooktop where Jamie, bent over a mixing bowl filled with a fragrant salsa mixture of herbs, vinegar and oil, takes a tiny sip from a teaspoon to test his blend.

Brilliant!” he calls out to Prue, who smiles brightly and gazes at him through bright pink eyeglasses that perfectly match her lipstick.

“Now to fry up the ham slices and break a couple of fabulous country eggs, cooked to perfection for 3 or 4 minutes… sooooo good for your Christmas morning.”

“We’ll just drizzle a few spoonfuls of this amazing salsa over the eggs and ham… presto… Green Eggs and Ham!”

…………….

“3…2…1… TIME’S UP, step away from your cooktops!

…………….

The chefs-du-jour back away from their dishes, satisfied that they have done their very best. Now it lies in the hands of the judges.

Hollywood and Leith stand next to the judges’ table, brows furrowed as they scan and inspect the steaming dishes placed before them. With these skilled and experienced cooks, there will be no artful dodging when it comes to flavour detection and estimation.

The judges go to their work.

A nibble here, a munch there… Hollywood’s eyes close to allow the senses to absorb and discern the flavours and sensations on the tongue.

He shakes his head, but no one can tell if it’s in enjoyment or disgust.

Prue smacks her lips and quickly declares everything delicious. “The creaminess of the Yule Gruel is spot on, salted perfectly”. “And, the herb salsa has just the right amount of of spicy heat and tartness from the vinegar”.

Prue is mostly kind; everyone knows that Paul Hollywood will make the final cutting decision as to a winner.

Again, the iconic sly grin as he looks back and forth at the faces of the contestants… a hesitant nod up and down of his head before he turns to Jamie Oliver… and extends his right hand in congratulations… the greatest honour he bestows… a winner is declared.

There is joy and sadness in everyone’s eyes, for in victory there also lies defeat. Usually…

… as Jamie Oliver retracts his hand from the celebratory Hollywood handshake… tot Oliver’s eyes grow 3 sizes larger as he sees Hollywood’s meaty hand slowly also extend outwards towards him in congratulations.

Smiles beam in every corner of the land.

And then Hollywood, whom many might describe as a modern-age Scrooge, quietly recites a few final words as today’s dream-scene descends to black:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Bring Him Guilt, Frankenstein, and Mrrth

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Mommy, my turtle is dead,” little Brandon sorrowfully told his mother, holding out the turtle that Santa had brought him.

His Mom kissed him on the head, then said, “That’s all right.”

We’ll wrap him in tissue paper, put him in a little box, and then have a nice burial ceremony in the back yard. 

After that, we’ll go out for an ice cream sundae, and then go and get you a new pet.  I don’t want you….”

Brandon began to perk up. Her voice trailed off as she noticed the turtle move.

“Brandon, look, your turtle is not dead after all.”

“Oh,” the disappointed boy said.

“Can I kill it?”

……………………….

Is telling an oral joke a lost art for the average bloke (female “blake”?).

You know, a joke that takes 2 or 5 minutes to tell?

The jokester professionals are out there in force… the Seinfelds, Gaffigans, Rudners, Silvermans, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen… oops, that’s another blog post.

Going back decades, my Dad, a couple of uncles, even a cousin or two were great joke tellers… but… today… no one I encounter verbalizes a joke.

A pun yes, a quick one-liner, sure… but a fully laid out joke with a beginning, middle and end… NEVER!

I know I don’t, although I admit I am guilty of spouting a Dad joke here and there. And I’m a funny guy according to the mirror that I consult regularly. Of course the mirror lies to me all the time about my age, so why would I trust it?

I’m a visual learner (ie. reader) and punster.

So one of the things I enjoy most (this might be an oxymoron) about visiting a doctor or dentist office is the waiting room period and the plethora of magazines… and… Reader’s Digests.

I love those little humour stories inside and it’s the only time I see them. “Can someone else here go into the office first? I haven’t finished this Laughter Is The Best Medicine page yet.

No, these aren’t oral, but today I’ll share a few little Reader’s Digest-style Christmas funnies to try and raise your level of mirth… and best of all, won’t add to your girth!

A man kills a (rein)deer and takes it home to cook for dinner.

Both he and his wife decide that they won’t tell the kids what kind of meat it is, but will give them a clue and let them guess.

Daddy says, “Well, it’s what Mommy calls me sometimes.”

The little girl screamed to her brother, “Don’t eat it. It’s an asshole!”

Dianne was going to the Christmas office party but needed a new party dress.

In the clothing store she asked:

“May I try on that dress in the window, please?”

“Certainly not, madam,” responded the salesgirl,

“You’ll have to use the fitting room like everyone else.”

Grandpa decided that shopping for Christmas presents had become too difficult. 

All his grandchildren had everything they needed, so he decided to send them each a cheque.

On each card he wrote: ‘Merry Christmas, Grandpa’

P.S. ‘Buy your own present!’ 

Now, while Grandpa enjoyed the family festivities, he thought that his grandchildren were just slightly distant.  It preyed on his mind into the New Year. 

Then one day he was sorting out his home office and under a pile of papers, he found a little pile of cheques for his grandchildren.  He had completely forgotten to put them in with the Christmas cards.

A woman goes into a sporting goods shop to buy a rod and reel for her grandson’s Christmas present. She doesn’t know which one to get so she just grabs one and goes over to the counter.

A salesperson is standing there wearing dark shades. She says, “Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me anything about this rod and reel?”

He says, “Ma’am, I’m completely blind; but if you’ll drop it on the counter, I can tell you everything from the sound it makes.”

She doesn’t believe him but drops it on the counter anyway.

He says, “That’s a six-foot Shakespeare graphite rod with a Zebco 404 reel and 10-lb test line. It’s a good all around combination; and it’s on sale this week for only $20.00.”

She says, “It’s amazing that you can tell all that just by the sound of it dropping on the counter. I’ll take it!” As she opens her purse, her credit card drops to the floor.

“Oh, that sounds like a Master Card,” he says.

She bends down to pick it up and accidentally passes gas. At first she is really embarrassed, but then realizes there is no way the blind clerk could tell it was she who tooted. Being blind, he wouldn’t know that she was the only person around.

The man rings up the sale and says, “That ‘ll be $34.50 please.”

The woman is totally confused by this and asks, “Didn’t you tell me the rod and reel were on sale for $20.00? How did you get $34.50?”

He replies, “Yes, ma’am. The rod and reel are $20.00, but the duck call is $11.00 and the catfish bait is $3.50.”

……………………….

And finally… may the spirit of this holiday season find you in the way you celebrate it best:

Knowing that the pastor enjoyed his drink, a hotel owner offered him a case of cherry brandy for Christmas in exchange for a free ad in the church newsletter.

The pastor agreed and ran this in the next issue:

“The pastor would like to thank Patrick Smith for his kind gift of a crate of fruit and for the spirit in which it was given.” 

Looking To Your Heart…

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Are all months created equal?

In the world of many major religions, December is different… unique and special.

But unique and special can be overwhelmingly positive – OR – overwhelmingly overwhelming. It can even be both.

December has a concentrating effect on our emotions. This concentration can lead to stress and worry and anxiety for many (I’ll include myself in this group).

In a year (or even years) where you may be impacted by the effects of COVID, or a loss, any loss – a special person in your world, a treasured pet, maybe financial, physical or mental health – finding some inner peace and solace can be very difficult.

Today, as these possible December woes descend, I’m privileged to share with you another guest post from my good friend Jim Ferguson. Jim is a newly “retired” Physician Associate – Canadian (Nova Scotia)-born, but living and raising a family for many years in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon, USA.

Jim is a hybrid in many areas… he combines a deep scientific curiosity and knowledge with great compassion through his religious and philosophical beliefs, thrown in with a blend of humour and silliness that sets him apart.

I’ll let Jim take the reins for today’s helpful post with “heart-healthy” practical advice to support us all through the coming month (and years):

FREE!!

Who amongst you loves FREE STUFF?

I think we all do.

Larry has welcomed another guest blog from yours truly and I decided for this blog it was time to give out some “free stuff”, some “intellectual swag”, information that could have a profound impact on your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Most importantly… IT IS FREE!

It doesn’t come in a capsule or tablet. You don’t need an IV infusion. You simply need to read today’s blog and ponder the content and practice the skills. That’s it! Interested? Read on.

Do you remember the television commercial where the woman is stressed to the max and she utters the words “Calgon…take me away!” The next scene shows her in “bubble bath bliss” as the Calgon soaks away all the stress.

If only it were that easy, right!

How many of us have jokingly (or not) uttered those words for a laugh or in a moment of exasperation? While the t.v. commercial is good for a laugh, the underlying existence of stress in our lives is real and for many of us, it is no joke.

We all have experienced the deep valleys of negative emotion and the summits of positive emotion along life’s journey.

What if there were some basic mind-body tools that could help us manage stress effectively. Well…there happens to be such tools and they are simple to learn.

What would you say if I were to tell you that your emotional-wellbeing is closely related to the rhythm of your heart? That there is a direct connection between your heart and brain and that your heart rhythm plays an integral role in regulating emotions and cognition?

There is scientific research from the HeartMath Institute (HMI) that shows these statements to be valid.

We all know emotions are a normal part of life. We all experience the “highs” (joy, love, happiness, peace, exaltation, etc) and the “lows” (sadness, stress, anxiety, depression, etc.).

Nobody is exempt from the rollercoaster of emotions. Neurobiological research shows that with every shift from positive to negative emotion or vice versa, over 1,400 biochemical changes occur in the body and these changes impact not only our physiology but our psychology too.

HMI identifies negative emotions as depleting emotions while positive emotions are renewing emotions.

I doubt this is a surprise to you. I have experienced the energy drain of sadness, depression, stress, etc. and the energy renewal that comes from joy, happiness, love, etc. I suspect you have too.

You are, no doubt, aware that depleting emotions result in the release of “the stress hormone” cortisol from your adrenal cortex.

Medical scientists have been telling us for years that one of the greatest predictors of life longevity is our serum (or salivary) cortisol level. The higher the cortisol, the shorter our life span. The opposite is also true. The lower our serum cortisol the greater our longevity.

When we experience renewing (positive) emotions, our body produces regenerative hormones such as DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) and the love hormone known as oxytocin. These hormones increase our resilience and, like cortisol, can be easily measured with a blood sample.

The cutting-edge research of HMI shows us that by activating the powers of the heart we can reduce stress by shifting from depleting to renewing emotions.

I can hear it now: “I thought the heart was just a pump for the blood!”

We have come a long way in our understanding of the heart and have learned that the heart is much more than a pump. The great mystics, sages, and prophets have known this for thousands of years.

The heart’s rhythm affects the brain’s information processing abilities and emotions. Neurocardiologists have discovered the heart has its own complex nervous system – coined by Dr J. Andrew Armour in 1991 as the “heart-brain”.

The heart has over 40,000 associated sensory neurons that transmit information to the brain including the amygdala – the emotional processing centre of the brain and the thalamus – the critical thinking centre.

The science shows the heart is sending much more neurological information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. The heart has an electromagnetic field, and this field can be sensed several feet outside the body.

Research shows that while negative emotions can create chaos of the nervous system and our emotions, positive emotions can bring order to the nervous system and to our emotions.

HMI refers to this heart rhythm “order” as coherence. Heart coherence is attained through controlling breathing patterns which subsequently act to coordinate the heart’s rhythm. Positive emotions can be added to the controlled breathing to increase our brain’s ability to make good decisions. This combination can even boost our immune system.

Coherence is a measurable state involving the coordinated alignment between heart, mind, and emotions. It is measured by looking at the heart’s beat-to-beat changes in rhythm known as heart rate variability (HRV).

With sustained positive emotions, we experience high coherence positively affecting our physiological, emotional, and mental wellbeing. With sustained negative emotions, we experience low coherence and disruption in our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. It is that simple.

So… enough of the science review.

I want to leave you with three (3) simple tools that you can practice, thus creating positive coherence in your life promoting a state of physiological, emotional, and mental balance.

Remember: these are practices.

Doing these once or twice isn’t going to cut it. To get the best mind-body “bang for your buck” you must develop the practice over months to years. If you do this, you will have simple tools at your disposal to help you through any stress life may throw at you.

Caveat: if you have health concerns that would prohibit you from performing these practices – don’t do them.

First, I want to teach you the core breathing pattern called “Heart-Focused Breathing”.

Sit in a comfortable position with hands resting on your lap. Now focus your attention around your heart and imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart/chest area. As you imagine this flow, slow your breathing and make the breaths deeper than usual. The ideal breathing pattern is approximately 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out for a total of approximately 6 breaths/minute. Practice this for a minute or two. As you become comfortable with this practice you can lengthen the duration to several minutes. Take notice of how this practice makes you feel. Take note of your heart rate. The research has shown that this breathing pattern is ideal for creating coherence – for shifting one from the stressful “fight/flight/freeze” mode of the sympathetic nervous system to the relaxing mode of the parasympathetic system.

Second, I want to now teach you the “Quick Coherence Technique”.

Begin by initiating the “Heart-Focused Breathing” pattern above. Once you have settled into this coherence-generating rhythm now activate a positive or renewing feeling or attribute such as gratitude, appreciation, love, calm, etc. Take notice of how you feel as you practice this technique. With practice, you can use this technique “in the moment” in any situation that might typically lead to stress. By initiating this “Quick Coherence Technique” you can shift from a potentially depleting situation to one of renewal quickly.

Finally, I want to introduce you to the “Heart Lock-In Technique”.

As you have learned already, begin by initiating the “Heart-Focused Breathing” pattern and then shifting into the “Quick Coherence Technique” by adding the positive emotion or attribute. Now I would like you to practice actively radiating this positive emotion outward to all you encounter. As you practice this technique, take notice of your breathing and heart rate and rhythm. Take notice of your own emotions and of those with whom you engage while practicing this technique. This is a powerful renewing practice that can have amazing benefits for you and those with whom you come in contact. Remember, your heart has a magnetic field that extends several feet outside your body, and this can be sensed by others with whom you come in contact. Just like we are sensitive to people’s negative emotions, we can also sense positive emotions. Just imagine how different our world would be if we all practiced these simple actions.

So… there you have it.

I have provided you some basic review on negative and positive emotions and the connection between the heart, brain and emotions, and the concept of coherence. I have provided you with three simple techniques that can create a higher sense of coherence in your life and in the lives of those you encounter.

Now it is up to you to practice these techniques and utilize them for greater physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing for you and those around you.

I hope you find this helpful.

Peace,

Jim Ferguson