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The Magic of Fingers and WHY

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30

My youngest daughter turned 30 last week. Not oldest… youngest!

I turned 30 just the week before. OK, maybe 2 weeks ago.

No, I’m not a time traveller, but the sensation of time is a fluid, rapid thing like warm sand slip-sliding between your toes at the beach.

Being 30 means you’re not middle-aged yet, but you’ve definitely boarded the ocean liner that carries you over the seas from childhood and the orbit of your parents into the grown-up world with most of the trappings of adulthood.

Job. Home. Maybe kids.

You should can wander around your house naked if you want to and your Mom won’t scream at you.

It’s mostly fun and exciting but scary and jammed with worries too.

I worry about my kids because I’ve lived through the years that are to come for them.

The time between say, 30 and 60, is where you strap on your seatbelt and buckle in for the bumpy ride. Some cope well and fly to the stars, others flounder and drown beneath the weight.

Either trip is filled with challenges.

Family, jobs and responsibilities grow and multiply, and then somewhere in there… most of us exchange the solid ground that is our parents beneath us, and find we’re freefloating with a parachute attached to nothing but cool, thin air.

It’s like we’ve thrown away our diaper now and hope like hell we don’t sh*t our pants.

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After 30 is also when we begin to discover if the directions we’ve chosen are where we truly saw our dreams… our WHY… or perhaps if it’s someone else’s dream we’re pursuing.

We all develop a definition of success – in it’s myriad forms – in our heads… the WHY is hopefully what leads us down that path.

WHY is a million questions, but it’s the answers that tell us who we really are.

A small example… I ask myself WHY do I write a blog post every week with no attempt or hope of ever making a livelihood from the effort expended.

My readership (thank you for being in that group) is small and swamped in a expansive world of words and thoughts from every direction.

The voice that ponders and then answers my WHY question is the one that finds expression in writing where it can’t seem to find it in spoken words.

Things happen when I sit to write, just as they do when I sit and play my guitar.

I THINK IT’S ABOUT MY FINGERS.

There are guidelines, understanding, and points of view that reside somewhere deep inside me and refuse to come to the surface until my fingers are moving… it’s like my brain and fingers have a mystical connection… I don’t even try to look behind the curtain for the Wizard, because a wizard, a muse if you prefer… is magic.

Perhaps you find that same wonder through your religious beliefs, or it could be that you have a connection between your brain and your tongue that I lack.

I like the illusion of magic and wonder so I don’t question. I accept. It’s pretty childlike really.

Maybe that’s why I like children’s books.

They engage our imagination and sense of wonder whether we’re 3 or 30 or even 60-something.

Writing this blog draws out my own wonder about myself, you, and the cosmos surrounding us.

Talk about magic in my fingers… ABRACADABRA

 

guitar magic

Let’s Bake You A Banana Cake

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beatle bananas

Remember a couple of weeks back when I said I’d be using you to help me work on songwriting? You do?

Fabulous!

‘Cause this is where we are today and I’ve got a few lyrical lines to share.

They’re pretty simple ones… nothing too flowery or poetically profound … but heartfelt and melancholy for me … and for others in my family.

I confuse myself. There must be a fatal flaw inside me because when I sit to write lyrics I almost always begin with the thought that … “this one I want to be light and fun and maybe even silly”

… and then this shade of darkness bubbles to the surface out of nowhere… maybe I’m the Nowhere Man I mention in the song … maybe …

Anyway… here are some song lyrics I’ve written about my older brother – diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 7 years ago.

He rides the amusement park rollercoaster where he’s stuck on the downhill slope with no chance for an uphill boost.

Screenshot_2019-06-08 Louis Tomlinson Helps 83-Year-Old Man Whose Wife Died from Alzheimer's Check Things Off His Bucket List.png

Today he’s far removed from the erudite, quirky intellectual – a PhD chemist, Monty Python lover – his family and friends knew for many decades. He lives in a care facility where he slowly dwindles but retains his easy smile and gentle demeanour.

It’s such a common scenario for so many …

If you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement, fire them at me.

Let’s go my friends:

Let’s Bake You A Banana Cake

VERSE
I called my brother the other day
when he answered I knew he wasn’t there
his voice held up strong but
the same world we didn’t share
at least not anymore.

VERSE
It’s funny that you can hear a smile
though the sound travels a thousand miles
the words are a salad, they even sound sane
Do you think you can remember my name?
No, not anymore

VERSE
Books linger hushed on your shelf
framed photos pretty your little room’s walls
with blue summer skies and childhood smiles
are prairie breezes sharing your favourite waltz?
I don’t think so anymore

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
’cause you’re kind of already there
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing

VERSE
So let’s chat lightly for a bit mon frère
I’ll ask the questions, make the chatter
You’re pretty cheery so does it really matter?
We’ve sipped some wine, skied some trails
but, perhaps, not anymore

BRIDGE
There’s a thief in the house
taken the marbles and flown
the halls echo empty where you once roamed

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
’cause you’re kind of already there
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing.

banana cake.jpg

The Carousel of Cardio & Pain*

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MoS2 Template Master

Is there anything better than waking up to the screaming voices of tortured muscles and limbs?

Don’t answer that … yet!

You know, the body parts that have been stretched and run and twisted and pushed to a moderate degree beyond comfort while exercising.

It’s no secret that I’m a goal-oriented dude who, paradoxically prefers nothing better than hours and hours of slackadaisical repose… unless… a venture lays before me in the near future that requires a steady simmering build-up of energy.

I met a guy my age – Cary – at the gym the other day, he said… 10 years ago, I ran 10 kilometres in about 42 minutes.

I told him that my “younger” man goal had been to run a 40 minute 10k. I came up short by 21 seconds in 1990 and was never able to get my running fitness to that level ever again.

Cary had a pulmonary embolism 7 years ago and now pushes hard to run a 55 minute 10k.

I didn’t have a pulmonary embolus and I have to run hard now to make a 55 minute 10k.

Training for those runs as a young guy was stimulating … and also came with a modicum of pain. But back then, my mental stamina was strong and pushing hard through the pain was a price I happily paid to myself to compensate for the payoff of attaining my goals.

The training needed to run a 10k in 55 minutes or a half marathon in 2 hours now leaves me with about the same physical pain I experienced in 1990 with 40 minute 10k’s and 1.5 hour half marathons.

tough mudder

What has changed for me, above and beyond the natural aging process, is my mental strength. I can’t crush the gas pedal the way I once did.

Like a cascading river washing over rocks for centuries and millennia, the smoothing and wearing down over time has worked the same process on my mental stamina and grit.

The mere act of physically pushing over decades has polished down the keen edge of mental competitive spirit that once filled my head and body.

It’s kind of funny to me because the mental edge of sharpness that was present for running (and swimming and cycling) has more recently transferred – transformed – into an eager mental edge for improvement on the musical side of my character.

Today, I’m willing and passion-filled to push myself to refine and enhance my guitar skills – skills where I tended towards laziness in years’ past.

Do you find something similar happening to you in the areas of your world where you embrace an enthusiasm and zest – are you too morphing from the ardour of one facet of your life and experiencing a surge in another?

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
And so the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
Turn and face the strange

David Bowie

I’ve changed … I’m always changing but …

I still love pushing myself and feeling a bit of muscular pain in the morning.

I still love crossing the finish line of a running race.

I still love the rush of endorphins when I strum the last chord of a song and I hear the whoops of the audience that felt a tiny river of joy … or memory … or love … that my song gave them.

The carousel that sometimes gives us pain may also leave a beautiful aftertaste of pleasure in its wake.

* with thanks to Margot H for the blog title.

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This Pilgrim’s Progress: Young… or… Old?

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Summerland snow

It was like receiving a belated birthday wish from a long-time friend.

The wait lasted until December 26 – Boxing Day in Canada – for the first cotton snowflakes to drift and plump and fluff and find their way through the skies to perch on the impatient evergreens here in Summerland.

For a few weeks now I’ve been peering out my window over to the frosted eastern hillsides of Okanagan Lake, breathing in the visual white line of demarcation halfway up the slope, knowing that snow was out there somewhere, just not where I could touch it and roll it up into little snowmen and snowladies and snow non-binary specific people.

This same story plays out most years, although usually about a month earlier than this trip around the sun.

It’s gone on for so long now that I’m thinking about aging and getting old.

I find myself joking around a lot, telling people the reason I don’t remember this, or don’t do that, is cuz I’m OLD!

But am I? I’m not really sure….

Is old wearing reading glasses? Is old forgetting where I put my reading glasses? Is old passing more gas than I used to? Is old eating dinner at 5 o’clock and falling asleep by 10?  Is old slowing down or speeding up (philanthropist David Rubenstein urges us “to accelerate” as we entered the last chapters of our lives.) Is old when I can’t run a 10 minute mile anymore? Is old when I stop being interested in new information and experiences? Is old when I stop jumping from airplanes and swimming across lakes? Is old when I start to talk about the good ole days?

Is old now… or always coming tomorrow or tomorrow after that?

old and young tom hanks

Sergei Scherbov, lead researcher of a multiyear study on aging, in answer to the
question, When does old begin?, says for Americans, it’s roughly 70 to 71 for men and 73 to 74 for women, though, as he has written, “your true age is not just the number of years you have lived.”

It’s intrigued me because a while back when I asked my Syrian student-friend how old his parents – refugees that have just been resettled in England – were, he said…

… oh, they’re old, both my father and mother are 55.

What!?

He was dead serious.

I paused, thought wistfully for a moment, smiled, and then reminded him that I was 61.

He grinned back at me sheepishly, and replied earnestly, yes, but 55 is old when you live in Syria… 61 is not old when you live in Canada.

According to a 2017 study by U.S. Trust, Millennials, now in their 20s and 30s, say that old starts at 59. Gen Xers, now in their 40s — and no doubt with a new appreciation for just how close they are to entering their 50s — say 65 is the onset of old. Boomers and older pegged 73 as the beginning of old.

I knew I was pretty much on the start of the pathway to “old” when a younger person first called me “Sir”. Who you talking to?

If I asked every single one of you that reads this, “what is old?“, I’d get a different answer from each of you. Old has a different meaning, a unique connotation, in our minds.

For me, the feeling of excitement, of inspiration that runs through my days is the biggest indicator of age, young and old.

Writing these blogs, playing guitar, writing music and singing make me feel young. Apart from the bastard mirror that lies when it shows me my face, I can almost believe that I’m 19. I still run and bike and ski, I read and learn, I travel and cook, I vacuum and wash dishes. I drive without leaving my left signal flashing for 10 minutes.

But I run more slowly. My eyes glaze over after reading but a chapter or two. I sleep in hotels instead of hostels or tents. I forget things my kids did when they were 8 years old. I forget things I did last weekend!

Cancer and heart disease drifts like a lazy river through my family. My get-up-and-go attitude could slip away with a single CT scan, car crash, or unstuck plaque in my arteries.

It’s possible that I may be only a hobbling step or two away from jumping the fence to old.

Poke me with a fork, I’m almost done! Maybe…

All the more reason to pick up the pace now. Accelerate!

May the chapter entitled 2019 that YOU write in your life book be one of not merely seizure… but seized challenges, opportunities, and maybe even acceleration.

Now, if you could just tell me where my reading glasses are?

 

The Muppets and No Country For Old Men

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statler and waldorf 2

Dear Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley:

We regret to inform you that The Muppets still have no openings to replace Statler and Waldorf in the balcony cheap seats. We would kindly recommend you return to your local Mayberry coffee shop and continue your enlightened pontifications of why women just don’t suck up to the good ole boys like they did in the ’50’s.

Sincerely, TROTTFCW (The Rest Of The Twenty-First Century World)

Did you know that the state of Vermont has never sent a woman to the U.S. House or Senate? … never ever in 242 years…

DANG! I really want to write light, fluffy pieces about music and books and movies and Halloween and all the great stuff that inhabits my world. I want to laugh and kibitz with you like we’re young children in the schoolyard of our dreams. Blue skies, shining on me… nothing but blue skies, do I see….

But the current affairs’ bus just keeps careening off the US Interstate Highway and I can’t look away.

I feel like a victim even though I play for the side of the victimizers. Yeah, I know that’s a bit like Melania saying SHE’S the MOST bullied person out there… BOO HOO!

melania bullied

What the hell am I talking about?

Baseball of life.

I have 3 strikes against me and there’s nothing I can do to change it (short of surgery and hormone therapy).

  1. I’m a Man.
  2. I’m White.
  3. I’m Old(er)!

AGAIN. BOO HOO!

I sort of belong to the same club as McConnell and Grassley and Trump and it scares the hell out of me. I have to fight back against my privilege.

You see, I watched some of the U.S. Senate hearings a month back where another white man – angry, juvenile’ish Brett Kavanaugh – sat in the hot seat and told me how much he and his buddy PJ enjoy(s)ed beer.

Add that to the sight of a murder of old, white codgers sneering angrily, contemptuously, at a woman who has a boatload more credibility than any of those interviewing her and…

It made me ill. I’m one of them…. and….

These relics aren’t learning and changing. They’ve dug themselves in and are hanging on by their richly manicured fingernails… and…

I felt a whole lot of disgust and animus.

I love the differences that delineate men from women, white from black, Christian from Muslim from Jew, old from young, gay from straight.

But different should never imply better or superior.

I’m a product of my culture and generation, as are you.

There is hardly anything in life that is not changing… rapidly.

Some changes we like, many others create fear and anxiety.

We all have to do our best to grow and change and wonder and debate those changes, morphing and putting ourselves in the shoes of the “other”. It’s called understanding.

Because I belong to that clique of “old, white men”, it is ever more important that I stay attuned and sensitive.

old white man.jpg

Almost daily, I have to assess and determine those areas of humankind that are basic and unchanging, and those that are elastic and variable.

I’m learning to change as the circumstances make sense.

Here are just a few of the things I recognize now and changes I’ve adapted to in my years.

  1. Sexuality and the nature of manhood/womanhood are less distinct than I ever realized or accepted. There is a flow in the world of sexual preference, gender fluidity and spectrum. Love is Love. Gay marriage, Interracial marriage, Sex outside of marriage. I accept various forms of sexuality and gender now that I could never have fathomed as a young boy and man.
  2. I can’t blindly use derogatory terms as I did in my youth. It’s embarrassing to think of the ignorant words I used to describe others: Nigger (we ate licorice nigger babies from the corner store); Jew (“too expensive, we’ll jew them down”); Newfie (Newfoundlander) jokes; Dumb Blonde jokes; Pollock (Polish) jokes; Paki (Pakistani/Indian) jokes; Wop (Italian) jokes… on and on it went without any thought of the hurt it might cause.
  3. Tattoos and piercings are not only for sailors and Hell’s Angels. Not a fan but I quietly accept.
  4. Circumcision isn’t a given. A penile toque is kinda cute (I hear!). Female circumcision is plain nutso.
  5. Women as leaders. The safety and security of our world would be stronger in the hands of women. Pollution measures would be more robust.
  6. Technology is the driving force behind everything we do. One small example? Elections have changed immensely with social media alone.
  7. Animals are deserving of life and kindness. I do not have dominion over all creatures.
  8. Bullying is just not acceptable. ‘nuff said.
  9. Mental health should be treated as seriously and openly as we treat physical health. Too many folks suffer needlessly because of our fears and stigmas.
  10. The things I do and consume, contribute to global warming and have a negative impact. The sad thing is as I age my methane production goes up, what’s a concerned boy to do?

The leaves on all the tall birch trees outside my house have turned yellow and most of the leaves have flittered like gossamer feathers to the earth. Yes, change is as perennial as the seasons.

The unearned privilege of being an old(er!) Canadian white guy weighs on me when I see the struggles of others who did nothing to deserve their plight.

I’m trying my hardest to avoid looking in the mirror and seeing McConnell or Grassley as my reflection.

I’m hoping that I’ll soon find my way back to writing light, fluffy posts that might make me smile like Kermit or Miss Piggy and not frown like Statler and Waldorf.

As for a woman finally being elected to the Senate for Vermont this year? Fat chance… there’s some old white guy named Bernie Sanders standing in the middle of the road.

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I Can’t… But I Can… 

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I’m not Pollyanna.

There are some things I can do.

There are some things I can’t do.

There are some things I don’t wanna do.

There are some things I shouldn’t do.

I’ve had some fun. But was it worth it?

I was handcuffed once and taken into custody. Twice actually. By the RCMP, not a BDSM lover.

It’s a long story I may tell you one day, but it was worth it.

YK Handcuffed  2

The morning following my 21st birthday, I gin-vomited my way from room to room around Stanton Yellowknife Hospital while doing my rounds collecting blood samples for lab testing.

I shouldn’t have done it but was the fun of the night before worth it? Yeah, it was!

She made me feel good, until she didn’t. I broke up with a nice girl, a girl who liked me a lot, merely because she cut off my oxygen supply with her tongue while we were kissing.

I selfishly let her become too attached just so I had a girlfriend. I still feel badly. It wasn’t worth it.

I smoke cigars. Occasionally. I love the musky scent and the feeling of relaxation it imparts.

Short-term it feels worth it. Long-term? Maybe not.

I’ve invested in companies – relying on others’ advice –  without doing my own intense research to see if they were great investments for long-term wealth.

I’ve almost always lost money when I got lazy and let someone else make my decisions for me. Definitely not worth it.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Relying on others’ investment advice at 10 years of age!

I’ve gossiped behind the backs of people I considered friends, saying nasty caustic stuff.

Never worth it. ’nuff said.

………………..

Do. Or do not. There is no try.”    

Yoda.

Actually Yoda, there is a try. There should always be a try. A try with conviction and curiosity and wonder.

A lovely friend across the globe has been recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She’s accepting of her fate, acknowledging the role of long-term smoking, while appreciating the wonderful opportunities she’s had. There’s a contented resignation to the approaching darkness at the end of the tunnel.

Whenever we hear of someone whose existence has just ended or is nearing their end, we internalize and meditate on our own lives and silently wonder if we should be happy with where our lives have taken us. It’s natural and human.

I know I think about the things I’ve done, the things I’ve not done, and those things I can’t do.

My solution? The voice goes a bit like this… “I can’t do ‘x’ anymore” But on the other hand, “I can do ‘y’!“.

I can try.

We can all try.

If you have an accident or illness and sever a leg and you’re an avid runner, then you know you can’t run anymore (or maybe you can, look at Terry Fox)… but you can still exercise your body with swimming or weight training or wheelchair athletics. Thousands have. Witness the Invictus Games.

To try is to hope. We all need hope. Hope is purpose.

Today, I’m reflecting on the stuff I could do in my earlier years but maybe I have difficulty with now.

Sometimes it’s a physical issue, but often it’s a mind issue.

My “Yoda-try” response is to substitute something else I can do now that maybe I didn’t or couldn’t do back then. I try.

Here, let me give you a few examples:

I can’t run a 10k race anywhere close to the 40 minute pace I could manage 25 years ago.

But I can run a half decent half-marathon once or twice a year. It’s slow, but damned pleasing to cross that finish line knowing that my body has been an active friend for 2 hours

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I can’t become a fabulously famous rock/folk/country performer.

But I can sing with a larger range and more emotional depth and connection than I could in my teens and 20’s. Bigger still is the sense of confidence in writing and performing that increases along with the age on my birth certificate. 

I can’t discipline myself sufficiently to write an entire novel.

But I can find the discipline to write and share a thousand words with you here every week. Acknowledging and understanding my strengths and limitations is deeply satisfying.

I can’t make a beautiful flaky pie crust worth a damn.

But I can cook up a pretty impressive assortment of ethnic foods that I’ve learned from home cooks and cooking classes around the world. I’ll just appreciate the amazing pie crusts that others have the skills to execute.

I can’t sleep on the hard ground on a farmer’s field like I did in the English countryside in my early 20’s.

But I can hold out a credit card with my name on it and sleep in an incredibly comfortable cozy bed in a fancy hotel or resort in Canada or pretty much anywhere in the world. Age and saved/invested wealth bestow some pretty incredible benefits. 

I can’t ever have a high-powered corporate career with the all the bells and whistles and stimulating highs and crushing lows. 

But I can take on little “careers” like making and serving soup, bartending, tutoring and making music where money making isn’t the primary goal. There are tiny pots of gold at the end of many mini-rainbows.

I can’t stay up til midnight or 2 am partying with high alcoholic energy.

But I can get to sleep at 10 pm and not wake up with ringing ears and pounding temples the next day. A clear head is a magical gift.

OK, maybe I am Pollyanna.

‘Fun’ and ‘Can’ and ‘Can’t’ come in very different packages for each of us. Ain’t individualism great?

But to try is the same package for us all.

To try is hopeful.

To try is courageous.

Nietzsche said: “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life…”

Maybe Nietzsche knew something even more profound than that weird little green Yoda.

Yoda apple

 

Does He Remember Where The Deer And The Antelope Play?

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fun fun fun

And she’ll have fun fun fun

I was aching to crank up the tunes in the car … the T-Bird that my Daddy had been threatening to take away since 1964 when Brian Wilson surfed the radio waves and FUN FUN FUN lit the highways of North American youth.

The world cried out for a smile after JFK’s gruesome blood-spattered demise the previous year.

We always need a smile cloud when a grey gloom hovers and smothers.

But it’s not 1964 anymore, and my vintage T-Bird has become a Chrysler 300S rental with more buttons and dashboard lights than Meatloaf ever envisioned rounding third base, coming in hot for home, throbbing stick shift in hand.

It’s 2017 and the prairie highway is as pancake flat as my abs might be if they weren’t layered over with an ounce (or pound) or two of early-senior adipose.

I could be Chris Columbus sailing in my ship towards the unknown sunny amber horizon, dreaming of untold riches in the mirage at the far reaches.

Saskatchewan is a place I love to visit – I don’t really think I’d want to be a permanent denizen because of the harsh climate – there’s a warm mantle that settles over me like sitting on the front porch on a rocking chair, cheery crickets chirping, on a balmy summer’s eve.

Saskatchewan pours relaxation into my pores like thick Saskatoon Berry syrup.

It’s a lot of things: the people, the prairie culture, the landscape, the animal life, the wide-open skies, the tiny towns and modest cities.

The drive south and west on Highway 7 towards the cousins’ farm in Dewar Lake draws my eyes to the towering cloud patterns stretching layer-upon-layer into the far reaches like lake ripples at sunrise.

I have to remind myself to pay attention to the road; there’s a mesmerizing resonance in the patch-quilt cloud ornamentation held aloft by warm updrafts and the many V’s of Canada and Snow Geese traversing the landscape.

Golden stubble of just harvested wheat and durum lines the sides of the roadway, leading my eyes away to the windrows of caragana and a lonely farmhouse silhouetted against the pale blue background holding the landscape to the earth.

Sask clouds.jpg

A couple of days later, driving along the flat expanse, my mind returns to the main purpose of this prairie journey, a visit with my older brother.

My brother whose grey matter is losing it’s fine-honed edge.

And though much has been lost already, he’s still in the here and now, still my brother.

He sits next to me, a willing, cheery passenger, as we ply the smooth highway leading northward on Highway 11 to Prince Albert.

Our destination, just slightly north of PA, is the cemetery where, one day, he’ll share a small plot of lumpy prairie soil next to his recently lost wife of almost 50 years.

Today our quest is the Spruce Home Lutheran Cemetery.

My brother’s daily journey of bewilderment brings me visions of the books I’ve read, the movies I’ve watched over the last few years: Still Alice… Away From Her… Scar Tissue.

There’s a bittersweet treasure of books and movies I can remember that tell the story of a family member who bit-by-bit… can’t remember.

The eye-appeal of the rural landscape on this day’s drive is shaded somewhat by the dwindling capacities of a loved one whose chief sense of pride, whose main claim to fame in life has been his mental acuity.

I don’t think I’ve been up this way before“, he innocently repeats 4 or 5 times along the route that he’s likely travelled dozens of times over many years.

It’s a melancholy feeling of irony when I think of how the map of the land of grain fields crisscrossing our path is laid out in such straight well-laid sections, while the map of the world inside my brother’s head is convoluted, filled with a confusion of crooked roadblocks and dead-end roads.

But the sun is shining and his sense of where we need to go, need to be, is intact today. His focus, his humanity, is unimpaired.

clouded mind.jpg

As a group, we use our combined skills of inner navigation combined with gps systems, adding in multiple stops at gas stations, diners, and private farm houses.

Still, we’re having minimal success at locating the cemetery.

I’m driving north-south-east-west down dusty roads and asphalt flat highways and nothing … no cemetery.

The occasional deer and pronghorn antelope we come upon look at us with some confusion too as if they’re saying, “we haven’t seen a human out this way in quite some time“… the animals speak with a slow prairie drawl which somehow seems appropriate out here.

We’re concluding that the confusion we’ve encountered in tracking a small plot of gravestones is not attributable to any loss of mental functioning.

This cemetery has been purposefully hidden in the occult back-section of a plane of plains. Even the locals have no real idea where their neighbours’ remains rest.

It’s some small solace.

The sun is settling closer into a hug of the western horizon when a farmer’s hint to us from the cab of his truck gives us hope. It’s a hint of the possible existence of a cemetery just beyond the slough up a neighbouring side-road.

That hope turns to elation when we turn into a well-hidden grassy lane leading through a grove of birch trees. The shading birch trees bring us to an opening and a circle of trees that surrounds a charming patch of land. An iron gate in front of us reads, “Spruce Home Lutheran Cemetery”.

That’s it!“, my brother cried out with relief and excitement.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of happiness that envelopes us while wanting to locate a bunch of dead folks. It’s a contradiction that somehow feels just right in the moment, like an oxymoron that perfectly describes an indescribable thought.

The stark beauty of the prairie landscape too is like an oxymoron compared with the deterioration simultaneously going down inside the head of my brother.

We wandered the dry earth, reading the names and dates on the headstones, quietly absorbing the memories and peace of the moment. A small tear coursed my brother’s cheek.

Pulling away from the prairie cemetery as wheat-toned golden sunlight dwindled into twilight seemed symbolically appropriate when set against the slowly dimming existence of a bright mind that has enjoyed brilliant summer days and wide open skies.

His smile, his appreciation, his love, are a part of the artistic landscape of the relationship we’ve shared for many years.

The dwindling map-work of my brother’s mind is a sip of sadness… but for a few brief hours under the Saskatchewan skies, our day’s drive along the prairie blacktop filled with smile clouds was FUN FUN FUN!

wide open sky

 

 

School Bells Sing … Are You Listening?

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Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire,
For we believed in things, and so we’d sing.”

Harry Chapin

school days

DAMN! I’m wondering if this is the fire and brimstone of Old Testament lore shitting down on the Okanagan Valley (and maybe your locale too) with floods, fires, and the worst global pestilence of all – good ole boy Donny-John Trump!

The only ones truly thriving in this plague are the chosen ones – comedians…

Summer 2017 – again – has melted away like a deliciously sweet Pralines and Cream ice cream cone licked madly on the Penticton beachfront, the escaped drips available on the front of your T-shirt to sample later.

The diamond glitter of sunshine on the balmy lake water, tropical scents of sunscreen, electric bursts of music and kids’ laughter are, alas, diminishing.

The smoke from surrounding forest fires that’s languished over the Naramata hillside for most of the past month is nowhere to be seen today. Yesterday’s wheezy cough is today’s soothing clear inhale of September joy.

It’s the perfect Okanagan Valley summer day. Or has autumn already descended?.

I scan down the line of parked cars along the sandy beach strip and already there are fewer Alberta, Saskatchewan, Washington and Oregon plates… the British Columbia home-grown ones suddenly predominate, something not seen since mid-June when floods, not forest fires were the threat du jour.

And I’m sitting here on this first, beautiful day of September reminiscing about the many many September 1st’s and new school years that rotated past as my kids were growing from toddlers to school-age to tweens and adolescents and then, like reaching the end of the carnival Fun House – half exhilarated, half terrified – stopped.

Stopped dead like a healthy heart in mid-beat. The music went quiet.

summer end.jpg

School day 1, 1990 – I vividly remember standing outside the portable of my 5 year-old daughter’s kindergarten class, gathering her up in my bursting-proud Daddy arms, she in her little white and pink polka-dotted dress, and kissing her so long.

She wanted my hug but she wanted even more to begin this new escapade. “Dad… Dad! Mr. Lambert’s ready for us!“.

One last little squeeze and I released her like a dove winging away, free in the breeze.

I felt a squeezing in my throat, wetness welling in my eyes as she skipped away.

She was so excited to be a “big kid” and entering the classroom with the Oshkosh group of little moppets, most of whom I would watch proudly stroll to the front of the stage in tux’s and ballgowns in 13 years to pick up their graduation diplomas.

She was so little, so pleased, so ready to begin this new adventure.

I don’t remember my parents seeing me off to school on my first day, so this is a treasured memory for me that resists the chalkboard eraser that has wiped away so many other precious moments.

……………..

Remember when the music
Was the best of what we dreamed of for our children’s time
And as we sang we worked, for time was just a line,
It was a gift we saved, a gift the future gave.

……………..

Suddenly, the kids were grown. The long chapter ended.

All of the Back-to-School crescendos and decrescendos, all the adolescent fire, rain and sun whipped and flung in a thousand directions over time, dissipated.

Now it was time to load up the van or the car or the plane (vehicles morphed over time, like my grey’ing hair colour, to accommodate the friends and the sports or dance activities of the time) and fly off to deposit kids and their boxes and computers in university or college dorm rooms.

I wore my Dad jeans up and down dorm stairs and hallways, hauling boxes, taking in the young adult excitement and smell of new freedom hanging loosely in the air. The aura of sexual tension was the wallpaper that lined the hallways filled with crop tops and short shorts and muscle shirts.

And just like elementary and high school times, the post-secondary years blew past.

Scary fast.

Formula One racer fast.

end of university.jpg

Yes, my mind wanders through time and space.

There’s a colossal pod of starlings making a huge sound like a rambunctious swarm of cicadas outside my window this morning.

The grand cedar tree across the street is bathed in early sunlight and coated in the grey-black birds as if they’re auditioning for a new remake of some classic Hitchcock film.

The warmth of summer lingers.

But soon, the BC smoke and flooding will be a mirage in the rear view mirror.

Soon, new school clothes will wear out.

Soon, sweet flirtations will erupt in the playground.

Soon, notebooks will fill with pictures and poems and sums and quotients.

There’s a shift, a mental refresh, a reshaping  that occurs when the calendar strikes September… and the universe’s cycle continues its relentless spin.

To every thing there is a season.

……………..

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

autumn okanagan

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

First The Twist, Then The Hustle, and Now The Senior Slide

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Grumpy old men.jpg

I’m tired of complaining. I hate it when I sound like a Grumpy Old Man.

I’m fighting the Senior Slide into Assholedom.

Glen, a regular visitor to my gym, is 93 this year and he still smiles and talks with buoyant cheer. He’s a superstar inspiration. The perfect iron pumper with a positive perspective.

Of course that’s negated by mid-70’ish Ron at the soup kitchen who volunteers to help the downtrodden, drug- and/or mental health- challenged souls, then ironically… acts like a classless Soup Nazi who hates the clientele. I don’t get it.  Shitcakes with soup.

I rarely used to swear and there I’ve gone and uttered profanities twice in the first 4 paragraphs.

OMG, the Senior Slide is happening…. I don’t want that on my dance card!

Senior Slide.jpg

The real reason I’m fearing the onset of Senior Slide is the weather outside. And my overreaction to the nip in the air.

There are great swirls of pine and fir branches doing sunbathed cha-chas in the crisp breeze outside my window.

And in the distance, across mirrored Okanagan Lake and the valley, the soft, rounded peaks of the undulating hills, thrown up like toss cushions caught in the March winds, are still … STILL… coated with snow, evergreens poking through the whitewash like prickly slivers on my hand.

The symphony of chattering robins and chickadees and flickers is the best streaming music channel going.

It’s March and this is the Okanagan Valley. Spring.

Living in the Okanagan in Canada is the equivalent of living in tropical La La Land or Miami in the States.

The mere whiff o’ nasty chill weather here is usually less reality than an imaginative head trip… kinda like fake weather news.

We know that REAL winter is out there somewhere but we don’t want to see it or experience it.

I occasionally admire the throngs of people that live in New York City or Toronto, those who love big city life, the incredible restaurants and amazing, diverse cultural opportunities- Open Mic nights every day of the week!

Then I remind myself that these “lucky” souls are also burdened with the additional joy of dealing with the Great White North head-high snowdrifts; the regular frustrations of Currier and Ives winter scenes that linger on for 80 days and nights beyond when that furry rodent pops his toothy little face above the ground in early February.

Here in the bucolic interior valley of British Columbia, winter is typically a quick blast of 3 or 6 inches of January snow, followed in short order by deliciously mild, springlike days leading to daffodil, tulip, snowdrop and daphne blooms by mid-March.

tulips.jpg

Typically. Usually. Most years.

Not 2017. Nope.

Even our backyard hens are sounding off about the weather like crabby little bitches. We give you eggs every day and this is what you give us in return?, the girls seem to be clucking.

This is where I find myself playing the grumpy old man.

I’ve lived in the Arctic and in northern BC.

I’ve played broomball at -35C on frozen Frame Lake surrounding Yellowknife.

I’ve cross-country skied over snowbound Alberta mountain passes listening to the bass rumble of avalanches in the near distance.

I’ve tasted hard-frozen maple syrup poured over shaved ice during Quebec City’s Winter Carnival.

Yes, I’ve survived and thrived in climates that can kill in a matter of minutes, the sensation of cruel polar air freezing my moustache brush and the alveoli in my lungs.

So, paradoxically, it seems silly and ironic to me that I now whine and whinge whilst the “spring” temperatures outside my window float barely below or around the freezing point.

Is it possible that I’ve lost my thrill of the challenge? Weather or otherwise? What faculty or personal test will I next see slipping away in the fog?

Am I sliding closer to the point of no return where my children decide the time has come to set me on a floating ice island to oblivion?

Is this weather issue the thin edge of the wedge where Assholedom becomes a wolf that demands daily feeding?

I don’t think so. I hope not.

My childish mind wanders onto bizarre weather tangents of apparent nonsense… Is it possible that global warming has been scared chilly with the ascendance of Trump? Are the weather Gods cowering in cold, dark horror like little babies in fear of a nasty tweet at 1:44 am.?

Trump tweet

Sorry, I slipped away there for a moment. See? It’s happening…

Ultimately, my answer to this question of Senior Slide is… I don’t know.

I do know that deeper understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us comes with experience and seeking to see from the inside and not merely looking in from the outer edge.

Perhaps it’s part of the natural process of growing up, growing old.

Sometimes wisdom is knowing that not every question contains a neat and tidy answer. Wisdom.

I also know that regardless of any “slide”, I’d prefer to tap-dance on the sunny clouds of Pharrell William’s Happy than shuffle in the sewers of Scrooge and The Grinch.

 

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do