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The Wish List

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wishlist

I threw up 3 times as I wandered down the dimly lit hallway between patient rooms in the early morning of the Medical ward.

The nauseating scented mixture of faeces and putrid, infected wounds came at me in foul waves, each odorous swell bringing up another heaving tsunami from stomach to throat. My head pounded, I felt woozy.

I needed a bed to lie on more than some of these patients.

New Year’s morning long ago…

Frigid arctic air wrapped itself around Stanton Yellowknife Hospital like a parka as I performed my rounds of collecting blood samples for testing I’d carry out back in the lab.

Stupid and 21 years old. That was me.

When you drink a full 26 oz. bottle of Tanqueray gin on New Year’s Eve – solo – knowing full well you’ll be carrying out medical testing at 7 am the following morning, you qualify for the Young and Stupid Hall of Fame.

drunk-larry

This is what 26 oz. of gin (and dark hair!) looks like…

On the other hand, it also meant I was living out part of my boyhood wish list; a New Year’s Wish List that I’d held in my head since I was 13 years old.

Almost from day one of our existence, we consciously or sub-consciously form visions and dreams of a surreal Sci-Fi world of who and what we’ll become some indistinct day in the still-to-come future. Destiny filled with misty water-colour visions of careers, families, activities, material accumulations.

Like a gentile’s bar mitzvah moment, when a young man like I once was reaches the age of 13, 14, 15 … he begins to fervently dream of the “Wish List”.

It’s a boy’s wish list inventory or directory of cloudy desires and unattainable-at-the-moment cravings for his personal world that hopefully… hopefully, will be.

It’s a Scrooge-like night trip of scrambling over obstacles to the promising road lying ahead.

I imagine every adolescent boy’s wish list resembles something slightly different depending on where he’s born and his siting on the social hierarchy, but my list was a triumvirate of adrenaline high, chemical high, and lustful heavenly high.

This boy’s list?

  1. DRIVING A CAR
  2. DRINKING ALCOHOL
  3. SEX  

My list was laid out in a logical chronological order according to society’s expectation, but I was more than happy to consider a re-arrangement of the list’s sequence. Yup, flexibility is my middle name.

Since I’d haphazardly discovered at 13 years old that sex with myself was kinda fun (that story may have to be shared in a later blog post…nahhhhh!), I was nervously anxious to share that fun with someone of the opposite gender in the room. As soon as possible.

Mind you, I grew up in a good United Church household that was 1. favourably disposed towards driving a car… 2. middling on the consumption of alcohol scale… and 3. dead set against penetrative sex before marriage.

In the hallways of my juvenile mind and with Christian moral STOP signs everywhere, I figured that my sex wish could be deliriously, happily accomplished should I find a willing sweet someone to kiss and a breast to fondle. It was a modest dream, don’t you think?

OK, I’ll tell you the end of the story now to quench your need to know.

In the months and years that followed, my list was fully and fruitfully accomplished – and no, not in the order listed.

Drinking alcohol was the first “wish” checked off.

In my fourteenth year, a hazy party hue of Golden Wedding Rye Whisky mixed with coke offered me by my cool, oldest sister and her husband, ushered in my first adolescent drunk night.

CHECK.

Golden Wedding Rye.jpg

A long and eventful 3 years later, I wrote my beginner’s driver’s licence test the day I turned 16.

CHECK CHECK.

Shortly after I turned 17, I bought myself a Rambler American from a sleazy used car salesman for $950. That was HUGE money to me. I was ecstatic, proud that I had saved enough after less than a year of flipping McDonalds burgers ’til 1 am at $1.55 per hour.

And, that car, well… the first night I owned it, I dropped by McDonalds where a burger buddy Brad and I somehow managed to coax a couple of fine young lady friends into our cars for a humid summer’s evening of cruising the city streets.

At the end of the long, boyishly-exciting night, I gallantly returned the prettiest of the girls back home. Although no sex (or anything remotely close) occurred, I overcame the pounding heart in my throat and somehow squeaked out a “will you”… a “could we“… and secured the promise of a date the following weekend.

You can now engage your imagination with the knowledge that this led to my first girlfriend and the attainment of the final (and most anticipated) peak on my wish list (FULL Disclosure: if you must know, it was the slightly-muted-but-happily-satisfying “peak” for a boy brought up with United Church underpinnings).

CHECK CHECK CHECK!

A few decades have unexplainably slipped by since my adolescence, liquid mercury between my fingers.

I’ve written and conjured up many many wish lists and goal lists over the years. We all need wish lists and self-promises, things to anticipate and look forward to. Anticipation of chocolate after you’ve eaten your peas.

As you awake on the first morning of 2017, I hope you don’t feel the nauseated waves I experienced back when I was 21. There’s no need for you to join me in that Hall of Fame.

Instead, may your WISH LISTS, both past and present, fill you with warm sensations, giddy enthusiasm, and youthful spark for who you once were, and have yet to become.

Cheers to you for 2017… ting!

teenage-boys-drinking-beer.jpgHere’s to cars and girls…

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That Brand New Baby Smell…

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Mmmmmmmm. It’s like new car scent blended with cozy, fleecy blankets all rolled up in a warm, gooey cinnamon bun.

Anticipation is a magnificent thing. 

Anticipation of a Christmas work bonus… anticipation of a new baby… anticipation of a warm, fun, beach vacation… anticipation of the first splotch of ketchup on your steaming french fries… anticipation of a meeting with your probation officer. I don’t know. Anticipation.

For a few years now, I’ve been seeking out and lovingly caressing 12-string guitars to add to my happy family of stringed instruments… my current family constellation is two 6-string guitars, banjo, violin, mandolin, Peruvian charango.

Now this week I finally brought a brand new baby 12-string home. Her name is Taylor… and she’s beautiful.

taylor-356

My very first set of strings was a small brown ukulele I unwrapped on my 11th Christmas. Tiny Tim (not the Dicken’s character) was popular on the Ed Sullivan Show at the time and I learned Tiptoe Through The Tulips – his signature song – before midnight announced Boxing Day’s arrival.

I’ve been strung up on stringed instruments ever since. It’s kinda my TWANG!

With my new pre-teen passion for music, I saved dimes, quarters and dollar bills from my Hamilton Spectator paper route and purchased an electric guitar and a small amp. It was simply gorgeous.

I took some lessons from a local long-haired R&B rock and roller. He taught me some bar chords and I got hooked on the drug of harmony.

I loved playing that guitar and emulating my big brother Gord’s rock band (Sands of Time?) that played songs like Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, the Surfaris’ Wipeout, the Box Tops’ The Letter and that super-cool sixties guitar song, Eric Burden and the Animals’ House of the Rising Sonthere is a house in New Orleans

In Grade 7 I played the Bee Gees rock ballad I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You at my middle school’s talent show. There was a sad poignancy in its lyric I liked. I figured I was a pop star and when little pixie Anne Pekaruk smiled at me afterwards and said I was really good, I might have come close to my first spontaneous orgasm.

Over the years I’ve added to my string collection.

perfect instrument.jpg

Maybe the World’s Most Perfect Instrument?

I borrowed my sister Betty’s classical guitar during my poverty-prone college years. My teenage head was filled with grandiose visions of becoming an Elton John rock star. I wrote bad songs while learning a bit about fingerpicking styles from a girlfriend who dumped me for another “John Denver”-like guitar player.

The guitar was my solace during romantic break-ups, a diversion from studying for lab exams, and laid-back exhaustion-relaxer after 1 am McDonalds’ shifts.

After starting my first lab job, my brother Gord and I both bought banjos as a brotherly bonding experience.

In the Arctic chills of Yellowknife my buddy Jimmy sold (well, almost gave) me my first acoustic 6-string that I still own and play, a Yamaha FG-160. The strings are hard on the fingertips, but it has a nice tone to it. The Yamaha is a workhorse that holds its tuning well which is really important to someone like me who suffers the fingernails-scraping-the-blackboard sensation when he hears even a slightly out-of-tune instrument or voice. It’s a curse my friends.

For many years in the decades after I married and had kids and jobs, playing guitar or any music was left largely unloved at the bottom of the laundry pile of priority. I picked up the Yamaha occasionally and picked out my favourite Bruce Cockburn, John Denver and James Taylor songs.

The kids grew up and left for university. I looked in the mirror and saw wrinkles from happy laughter and sorrowed frowns, open lakes of shiny skin where dark, thick hair used to blossom. Elton John came out as gay and Otis Redding was dead.

music-reborn

The time to return to music was now or never.

Years were slipping by like summer days at the beach and if I let time and effort go by unseen or appreciated, well, why let regret get any sort of foothold?

My next new friend was a Martin guitar…DX1AE.

From my teen years I had harboured dreams of one day owning a Martin. What the hell is a Martin you ask?  Martin is a revered name in the guitar world.

If you watch many of the great guitar players and popular artists, the Martin manufacturer’s signature can be spotted on the headstock of the instrument. It loosely correlates to a Steinway grand piano, a Stradivarius violin. Martin denotes quality and rich sound.

I fell in love with Martin and have been strumming his soft strings for a few years now. He joins me onstage for Open Mics and the few other events where I play and… he tries to make me sound better than I truly am. Good friends are like that, they build you up.

And this brings me full life circle to this week and my long anticipated purchase of a 12-string guitar. She’s a Taylor 356ce with sensual curvaceous lines, comfortable to hold and melt into. Her strings feel soft under my fingertips, so soft when compared to many other 12-strings.

There is a full richness, an orchestral resonance to the 6 sets of double strings of a 12-string guitar.

Try listening to the Eagles’ introduction to Hotel California, or  Supertramp’s Give A Little Bit, or The Byrds or Gordon Lightfoot or the Beatles… close your eyes and there’s 12-string heaven ringing in your ears.

There’s a touch of surrendered sadness knowing my years of anticipation are over, a light mourning for a cherished friend. Anticipation is such a delicious part of our slender existence.

My job now is to retrain and transform my anticipation.

Anticipation is –at its heart –  about goals and moving forward. I thrive on the carrot of anticipation and making something – a birth, something tangible or ethereal- where nothing previously existed.

Taylor and I will be spending a fair bit of time together in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years. It will be a friendship to remember.

It’s time to get back to play.

……………..

PS. Below is a short guitar piece (not played on a 12-string) that I want to share with you. Tommy Emmanuelle is my current “Bromance” when it comes to guitar mastery. I hope you enjoy his richly harmonic heart-swelling song, ANGELINA, as much as I do.

The Determination of Creativity

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They sat around the long table glaring at me like I had 2 heads.

It wasn’t comfortable.

I was determined, more so than usual. It was the right thing to do.

So, instead of just going along with the majority opinion, I held my ground and continued to push. To push for a creative answer.

This is a tiny story with a big message.

big-dog-and-little-dog

………….

It’s beautiful isn’t it?

What’s that you say?

The magic of the creative spark.

That shaky confidence of knowing that creativity – in some configuration – always exists in each of us.

It’s like opening your mailbox and finding a postcard from an old friend you weren’t sure you’d hear from ever again. You’re pretty sure they’re out there. You hope … but you’re just not certain.

Creativity can lie latent until we call on it and obsess a bit. Latent like:

  • The oldest mature seed that has grown into a viable plant was a Judean date palm seed about 2,000 years old, recovered from excavations at Herod the Great’s palace on Masada in Israel.
  • A wheat seed sitting dormant in an Egyptian tomb for 1,000 years before being untombed and germinated.
  • A botulism spore patiently pacing for eons in the waiting room, longing for its chance to come to life in a jar of green beans on your pantry shelf.

Every week I sit down to write a blog post with no roadmap. Latent creativity.

I’m travelling blind, my headlight’s beam obscured by the fog.

I inch forward slowly through the mist and bit by bit the road becomes more and more visible. An idea forms, a seed germinates, a few words get typed… then more and more.

germinating seed

………….

I’m reading a book about Elon Musk.

You probably know him. He’s the creator of Tesla Motors (electric cars), SpaceX (rocket building and space exploration), PayPal (alternative payment systems), SolarCity (solar panels).

This guy – we’ve seen it many times – like Steve Jobs or Lance Armstrong, or ? … could probably best be described as an ASSHOLE. A focused, persistent, headstrong #1 Grade ASSHOLE.

But an asshole who can change the world. With determined, non-latent creativity.

With these guys, normal rational logic goes by the wayside, cast into the rubbish heap.

Musk makes a bold decision that something – a battery-powered car – will feature a sports car look, have amazing futuristic design elements, will cost a ridiculously low amount to build.

Then he doesn’t allow ANY roadblock to halt its finality.

No amount of common sense reasoning will hush his personal batteries, his determined creative drive, down. He finds a way to make the unreasonable, the impossible… possible.

tesla car

Musk’s “boring” battery-run car …

How about a personal example on a much MUCH smaller level?

For many years, I was the treasurer of a board that administered a public botanical garden here in Summerland. The flow of funds for this non-profit group, like most non-profits, were perpetually running on fragrant fuchsia and fritillaria fumes.

The new year’s spring brought our 2 long-time seasonal gardeners, Marcia and Kerry back to the fold … to weed, to plant, to stress their bodies fashioning beauty for thousands to savour.

Our volunteer group was paying the ladies barely over the minimum wage and all the other board members wanted to freeze their meagre salaries.

I wouldn’t go for it. I dug my feet into the slippery sand.

I pitched a 2.5% increase for each. 2.5%! That’s all. They deserved it. They were loyal, hardworking, dedicated.

There are sometimes really smart reasons to wait, to pause. To let the seed spend some time in the cool earth, dreaming itself into being. But there is also a time to stick up a little green tendril, to taste the air and feel the sun.

The others argued strongly, loudly, sensibly really, that we hadn’t the dollars to reward their efforts. And it really wasn’t even a reward, just a cost-of-living adjustment.

Somehow, I convinced the doubters.

The end result of the decision to give them a raise required creativity and thought. It held my and my fellow board members’ feet to the fire.

Sometimes it’s the resolve that makes the next thing possible. It involved a mixture of creativity and blind faith.

Creativity and blind faith are partners in crime.

Creativity requires a belief in the power of our subconscious.

The decision to pay more was made. The money had to come from somewhere. We obsessed and focused on ideas that would make it possible.

Our group took a calculated risk.

We boldly increased the amount of stock plants we purchased wholesale and made available at our annual spring plant sale, filling the horticultural shelves like a popular Walmart.

A lack of vegetative sales would mean that we absorbed the costs denting our financial coffers. It would hurt, but not bankrupt the organization. Good sales would grow our financial muscle.

The garden gnomes smiled and what seemed like a bold move turned into a stroke of fortune, and a lesson learned.

An additional $5,000 of plant sale profits flowed in almost effortlessly with this small, shall we deem it, creative decision? The pay raises were easily covered.

And it sent a message to our talented gardeners that they were important to us. They didn’t ask for the tiny raise, but they glowed when told the news.

There you go… a tiny story with a big message.

This is the way I like to try to pursue much of my life – albeit in a far plainer way than Elon Musk or Steve Jobs.

Set a goal and then find a creative way to make it happen.

Elon Musk set his goals to design and manufacture a battery-run vehicle that looked and performed better than the model that had been the standard for close to 100 years.

People scoffed, people laughed, people harrumphed.

This is what people do when the “crazies” out there decide to break the mold, to do something that others haven’t done or even considered.

Steve Jobs broke the mold with the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone.

Creativity doesn’t always come from the rational, the common sense approach. Logic and creative pursuits aren’t always 100% compatible.

JK Rowling knows it. She lived in relative poverty before publishing a book or two you may have heard of.

Creativity doesn’t result in an error-free life. I’ve made and continue to make mistakes.

But sometimes to do something special you have to go off the main roads and allow yourself to be lost for a while until you find a creative path, a path that no one else has followed exactly.

A path that makes your tiny message into a big story.

cute creativity

 

 

Another AULD LANG SYNE … 2016 Bring It On!!

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Mt Everest SummerGH Everest

 

Above – the BEST (May) and WORST (December) times to run up Giant’s Head Mountain!

……………………….

I asked a person I’ve come to loath recently if he had any goals for 2016.

He said,

When you set goals you limit yourself.

To goals.”

I used to like that guy.

But his brilliant answer was too blue-chip for me to have even a modicum of respect for him after he outshone my thought process. A-hole!!!! (OK, a good 2016 goal would be to elevate my level of respectfulness, would you agree?)

A goal is supposed to be something to reach towards. A challenge. An achingly satisfying stretch that requires mental or physical effort.

Sometimes my goals even scare me because I fear I won’t make it or I’m not up to it. I hate to disappoint myself almost as much as I hate to disappoint others.

Most of us find it a struggle to reach our goals. I do that too.

But it’s a limit.

Sometimes, I realize, a goal holds me back from what I’m really capable of.

When I reach it, or gaze out towards the time horizon and see it well within my myopic sights, I relax and take my foot off the pedal. I coast until I find myself a whole new goal, which may not come until another New Year begins … or worse still, never.

An example? I took a lengthy breather this year from climbing my local Giant’s Head mountain… so-named for its gigantic facial profile when viewed from the southeast.

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Snowy Giant’s Head in December … so much easier to run up in April …

Last January I set a goal to summit the 300m-in-height-extinct-volcano –  30 times in 2015, the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest.

Back then, it looked to me like a stretch goal, but I really miscalculated the “challenge” of the challenge. A mere 3 climbs each month (a 1 hour per “there and back” running time) was a simple task really.

Coasting along like a tortoise, I grew complacent, growing more and more plump and relaxed in my La-Z-Boy and found myself having to capture the last 10 ascents in the final 31 days of 2015. How do you spell PROCRASTINATION?

I know I procrastinate… BADLY. Trudging through deeper snows and bitter winds at year-end was a nasty reminder that knowing thyself is an important consideration.

When my two fellow challengees (Pam and Jennifer) finished their goal of 30 climbs within 3 months and 10 months respectively, it became readily apparent to this slacker that doing only 2/3’s of the task prior to December was foolhardy.

In 2016, I promise to work more diligently in opposition to procrastination and finish challenging projects and goals in a more timely way.

Briefly, these were some of my 2015 goals and how I fared in capturing some of those ideals:

PHYSICAL

  • 30 times running up Giant’s Head aka the Mount Everest Challenge? Yup, eventually with only 2 days to spare. CHECK!
  • 2 half marathons – I completed the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon in May and began a second half marathon in Kelowna in October (I dropped out at the 10k marker because of a dumb but significant self-inflicted injury 2 weeks prior to the race) … I say good enough. CHECK!

CHARITABLE

  • 10% Charitable Donation boost? Both UNICEF and PLAN International received their 10% boosted payouts this year.  CHECK!
  • SOUP KITCHEN and Salvation Army hamper fill? I continued my twice a month volunteer shifts at the SOUPATERIA in Penticton and then assisted the Salvation Army crew pack and distribute 800+ food hampers before Christmas… CHECK!

WRITING

  • Write 50 blog posts, one per week … I’ve been doing this for 3 1/2 years now and in 2015 I wrote you 51 of these weekly missives. YOU should be the one congratulated for this… THANK YOU for reading my mental droppings and keeping me motivated and inspired … CHECK!
  • Aim for 75 blog views daily on my MAN ON THE FRINGE site. Although I didn’t reach my daily goal of 75 visits per day… I did have a 17% increase to an average of 63 views daily versus 54 per day in 2014 … No CHECK here, but I’m content that I have quality readers over quantity … wouldn’t you agree?

MUSIC

  • 12 String Guitar – this one just taunts and teases me and like a slippery eel, seems to keep eluding me. I play my 6-string guitar more than ever now and have chosen my ideal 12 string purchase (Taylor 356 CE). Dropping a few thousand dollars on a would-love-to-have but don’t-need-to-have item has proven more difficult than I envisioned. Stick with me and we’ll see if 2016 is THE 12-String Guitar Breakout Year! No CHECK.
  • Build a Guitar… I’m still very intrigued by the notion of constructing my own musical instrument. There are a number of different LUTHIER (guitar-building) schools to choose from. I’m gonna keep trying here. No CHECK yet … NOPE.
  • Write more Songs and perform original songs publicly. This one I happily give a HALF-CHECK because even though I haven’t developed the discipline to consistently write songs that I’m happy with, I have begun to get out there and perform. I participated in 3 public sessions (1 funeral and 2 open mic evenings) where I played cover songs as well as a bit of my own music.

 

TRAVEL

  • Visit New-To-Me Central American country. In January we visited and toured along the western coast of Nicaragua in Central America. I learned to roll my own cigar and took a cooking course from an engaging Nicaraguan woman who showed us how to prepare Indio Viejo.

    IMG_6262

    Rolling my own cigar has me prepared for the legalization of marijuana in Canada …

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Street dining in Leon, Nicaragua …

  • American States? My lifetime goal is to visit all 50 U.S. States. I’m stuck at 26 so far and added no new ones to my list in 2016. No CHECK!

FINANCIAL

  • 15% average annual return. My long-term average of +12.2% wasn’t helped along at all this year as the Toronto Stock Exchange dropped 11%, the New York Exchange fell 3.5%. And my 2015 result?? Drumroll please … +8.3%. It’s not a bad return given the state of markets in general, but I’m hopeful that I can boost myself back well into the double digits this coming year. You can do your part to bolster my year-end results by purchasing an iWatch, visiting Disneyland, and buying a John Deere tractor with a loan from the Royal Bank. No CHECK!

FOOD AND EATING 

  • Study Cooking for One Day in any Travel Destination – as I said above, we spent a morning shopping the tiny fresh meat and vegetable stalls of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua with a local lady, Teodora. We returned to her hostel where she instructed us in Spanish on the preparation of Indio Viejo (Old Indian), a traditional Nicaraguan beef stew. CHECK!
  • Develop a repertoire of Egg Recipes … we have lots of eggs but alas no new recipes (however, there is a recipe silver lining I’ll talk about below) … NOPE … No CHECK!

2015.

Done, deposited and secured in the Book of Life.

As a side note, it’s always fun to consider and embrace the unexpected.

Additional accomplishments? Unexpected Surprises. There were a few …

  • Tough Mudder – my daughter and her partner dragged me through the muck and bone-rattling chill of a Tough Mudder challenge in Whistler, B.C. Mucky, messy, difficult and yet, supremely satisfying.
  • Lake Swim – I actually do this 2.7 k swim across Okanagan Lake once each summer with my friend Jennifer. This year we did it in record time, shaving 9 minutes off our previous best.
  • Surf a Volcano – actually, it was Volcano tobogganing. Sliding speedily down a black-ash covered volcano-side in Nicaragua was exhilarating and total black-faced sooty fun.
  • Learned to Make Animal Balloons – a local artisan sale needed someone to produce balloon animals for the kidlets. I spent a couple of hours on YouTube learning the craft and pumped out blown-up puppies and ladybugs and swords. Maybe I’ll consider Cirque de Soleil next!
  • Bought and Raised Laying Chickens – after finishing coop construction this past spring, we purchased 11, day-old chicks that provide us nearly a carton of beautiful brown eggs every single day. Please drop by for a souffle! Would you, PLEASE!!!!
  • Took a week-long Bartender course in May, and then found myself a-mixin’ and a-pourin’ part time at a local Greek restaurant. My special Christmas Cocktail recipe? The SNOWFLAKE MARTINI… rim a martini glass with shredded coconut. Mix and shake some ice with 2 oz. vanilla vodka, 2 oz. Malibu Rum, 1/2 oz. blue Curacao, 1 tsp coconut cream… strain into the martini glass and a beautiful, but VERY strong ice-blue martini awaits your party sipping.

There you have it.

Was my year “Perfection”?? NOPE. I don’t expect perfection. I expect to try. I expect to feel a stretch. I expect to challenge myself.

Steve Jobs said something about challenging ourselves:
He said that you have to go out and expose yourself to the best of what others have done, and then bring some of it back and add it to what you’re doing.

This is why I look to others for inspiration. Inspiration isn’t naturally occurring.

I look to others. I listen to great harmony music. I read inspiring, positive books and articles.

I steal like crazy any and all things that make my heart beat rapidly.

And I try to stay constantly vigilant for the little – or big – things that happen in my vicinity that I can use in my own life.

My watchword of 2015 was SIMPLIFY.

Simple, right?

SIMPLIFY.

I needed to stop pushing for more and better to the point where I was beating myself up for not accomplishing something, or not doing it as quickly as I thought I should. Take the pressure off and SIMPLIFY (Of course, this excludes the procrastination point I made earlier).

Now, it’s time for looking outwards  and … forward into the future.

My Watchword for 2016?

OPPORTUNITY.

OPPORTUNITY.

OPPORTUNITY.

Rather than list a set of goals for 2016, I’m setting my sights on opportunities.

When something comes floating down the lazy river my way that I haven’t tried?

And it makes my pulse rate rise in anticipation?, excitement?, maybe just a touch of fear?

I want to try to take hold and enjoy it like smooth, creamy, delicious chocolate.

CHOCOLATE?

Yup … Eating chocolate triggers oxytocin in the brain, the same neurochemical triggered when we have sex (sorry, not you and I, but sex in general).

Opportunity. It makes me feel like king of the world. It makes me feel more bonded with the people around me. It makes me soar.

2016… the year of OPPORTUNITY.

I hope you have a wonderful year filled with adventure, love and opportunity.

Thank you for reading my blog and helping me live my life of opportunity, even if I am just a MAN ON THE FRINGE!

opportunity

 

 

 

Build Yourself a Toll Bridge and Find Freedom …

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

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

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

I want us to create our own magic.

INVESTING!

Wall street bull

 

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

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

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

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

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

I like toll bridges.

toll bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Up on Wall Street cover

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. Not for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll tell you this with one caveat.

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

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

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

 

Here goes:

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

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

Freedom. Enjoy this Christmas gift to you.

sleep in

 

 

 

 

Do Your Memories Exceed Your Dreams?

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Loser2

I’M A LOSER. YUP …

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

Must I continue? A loser, right?

I just do what I love …

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

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

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

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

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

elton-john

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

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

 

Larry Ironman 1990

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUST_PLAIN_FOLK_1977

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreams make me tingly.

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

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

Isn’t that what’s important?

Dreamer

The Orgasm of Doing … 15 To-Do’s

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Sally Orgasm

Sally’s Orgasm of Doing …

He didn’t spend his life surfing TV channels.

She ran a business. Or built a robot. Or made love in a canoe. Or discovered DNA or walked the edge of the CN Tower.

He or She DID something.

Something that changed lives. Something that changed their own life. Something that inspired others to change their lives. Something that went from inside his or her head out into the real world.

to-do-or-not-to-do2

Shakespeare said, “To Be or Not to Be”

I say, “To Do or Not to Do” …

Are you a consumer or a creator?

Why not be your own god?

Create a life. Create something you’re proud of even if it only impacts yourself or a few lives of those you love and treasure.

I slap myself silly sometimes when I realize how fortunate I am to live on this blue ball in infinite space where I can sample so many wonderful, different things, taste so many amazing foods, experience so many different cultures. And I live this life of a minor king without having to mount a Crusade to defend it all.

I consume. I do. I’ll sit for 3 hours and watch my Hamilton Tiger Cats doing their football He-Man stuff while I lay back and drink light beer and eat popcorn.

But then I do. I read. I write. I sing. I cook. I clean. I build. I run. I grow. I sweat. I live.

It’s important to get outside of yourself and do things that not only make you feel good but have a positive feel-good impact on others too. I’m no saint (although I could be a Hell’s Angel!), but I feel great after I’ve worked a morning shift at my local soup kitchen.

Of course, not everyone can do everything.

And for sure, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer … there are even rumours that my shit stinks. They’re true.

But I’ve made a few good moves in my life like building a financial base of savings in my 20’s and 30’s so that by my investments, I now have self-government in many ways to choose and do the things that interest me.

I don’t have a million dollar house filled with designer furniture but I do have an inordinate freedom to choose what I want to do and when I want to do it.

And because I’m so favoured, I need to take advantage of all these wonders and touch down on a tiny fraction of what’s available. To do less seems to be a phenomenal waste of my tiny droplet of time in an enormous ocean.

drop in the ocean

So … I need to think and plan and be deliberate in living this life.

Otherwise, I’ll be adrift in the breeze, lost without a sail.

For me this means making lists and charting a direction of enthusiastic living.

Today’s list of To-Do’s and Not To-Be’s goes as follows:

15 Things I Still Want To Do Before I Die

  1. Build A Guitar
  2. Make Love on a Beach
  3. Drink a Glass of Dom Perignon
  4. Write A Song That Is So Good It’s a Classic
  5. Save Someone From Drowning – Literally or Figuratively
  6. Jump Out Of An Airplane
  7. Play A Song On Stage at a Summer Music Festival
  8. See All 50 U.S. States and Walk on Every Continent
  9. Attend An Olympics Opening Ceremony
  10. Learn a New Profession Every Year
  11. Reach $2 Million Net Worth from Investing
  12. Run Up the Empire State Building
  13. Learn to Dance Better
  14. Do A Freestyle Road Trip Each Year – No Itinerary
  15. Become A Vegetarian For A Week

You just never know… I might do all of these things or I may not. I might change my mind next week and decide to do a bunch of different things that excite me.

Doesn’t matter. I’ll be experiencing the Orgasm of Doing … for today, this is my course.

What matters is that I feel an life-affirming enthusiasm for something, anything. Otherwise I feel dead inside. Why die prematurely?

I don’t want to be dead until I’m … well … dead – and frankly, I’d rather not have that experience either …

Maybe like Woody Allen says, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Woody allen death

2015 The Year To Be Great – Part 2, The Sequel

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Some days I feel a bit low and there doesn’t seem to be any explanation.

Gun Man

That is, until I look more closely inside myself and realize that the get-up-and-go-gun isn’t loaded.

What good is a gun without fire power?

Actually, as a peaceful kind of guy, I could debate this with myself, but let’s not go there today, OK?  When my gun is unable to blast away I know I’m lacking gunpowder – a fervent feeling, a drive of passion.

I love passion in all its forms.

Passion is what makes me – like my investing guru Warren Buffett – tap dance on the sidewalk with glorious abandon …

Give Me PURPOSE! Give Me GOALS!

NOW I have a Loaded Gun!

I am rarely happier than when I’m working and playing with purpose.

Give me a road to travel on and headlights to show me where I’m headed, and I’ll have a smile on my face. But it’s up to me to make the power to run those headlights.

That’s what makes this such a great virtuous circle … I feed power to the headlights with goals that give me purpose and passion –  and the purpose and passion light the way forwards towards achieving my goals.

PRESTO … I’m on a supercharged highway with great spin-off effects … an autobahn with no speed limits …

Examples of how this might play out:

  • a 10k running race event in May gives me the initiative to work out and train hard for 4 months leading up to it … A strong, healthy body is a side effect of reaching my goal.
  • I sign on to perform 2 songs at a local summer festival … so I practice and write music until it all sits comfortably inside my muscle memory so that when I get on stage, when the nerves rise up, the music is there inside me even if my head is too jangled to realize it.
  • I listen to people speak and really listen and praise them for the little things they do right (we all have some things we do right) … it makes them feel good about themselves and this makes me feel good about myself … another virtuous circle in action. Our relationships with others are always better, stronger if we take the time to make the other guy/gal feel good about themselves, rather than knocking them down with a competitive response… “oh sure, I did that a long time ago, what took you so long?”

My blog post last week spoke of what happened in 2014 … now it’s time to look forward and plan … after all, you do know that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail“… sorry, I swear I’ll lose kitschy cliches in 2015!

So, does 2015 have a THEME? Hmmmm, what would my theme be?

2015 The Year of Simplify

Rock in stream

SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. Sometimes, I try to take on too many goals and I lose focus and concentration. This year I think I’ll choose fewer goals and work harder to make each of them happen.

……………………….

2015 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) Climb Mount EverestHaaa, not quite what you’re thinking, although I like that idea too.

No, this Mount Everest is a cumulative hill climb that equates to the distance needed to surmount the king of Mountains. Mount Everest is what? … let’s Google this… 8,848 metres (or 29,029 feet) high.

My local Summerland “mountain” called Giant’s Head is 296 metres in height from the lower parking lot to the summit overlooking the picturesque Okanagan Valley.

I’ll have to summit Giant’s Head 30 times in 2015 to make the equivalent climb to the tip of Mount Everest. That means a weekly average of 2 climbs bottom to top and I can plant a flag at the top of Mount Everest. My friends Jennifer and Pam are taking this challenge on too which will give us all some motivation.

I think this is going to be a stretch challenge … I like stretch challenges!!

DSCF6054

Peak of Giant’s Head… er… my Mount Everest…

 

b) Run 2 Half Marathonsjust like last year, 2 half-marathons will be my “big” running events for the year. I’ll probably throw in a few 10k and 5 k events too, but they will be the little siblings to the main objective of running 21 k in the half-marathon event. Usually I set time goals eg. sub 2- hours for these, but as I age and become more … let’s say “mature”… I’m going to simplify and relax and make completion of these runs, regardless of time, my HAPPY PLACE.

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – adding 10% to my monthly automatic charity contributions is a great goal because it requires next to no sacrifice or sweat. Two phone calls (hang on a second … there … done!!) and the year’s objective has been met.

b) Volunteer Time – In the past few months I’ve begun volunteering some time at the local soup kitchen, and assembling Christmas hampers at the Salvation Army – my goal here is simple (see? Simplify!)… keep on keeping on. Chopping vegetables and making sandwiches a couple of days a month is fun for me (I love to cook) and there’s a warm and fuzzy factor that settles in when I survey the tables of folks chatting and enjoying a steaming bowl of soup. The downside (there’s ALWAYS a downside) … these poor unfortunates have to eat MY cooking!

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 75 views/day on blog – Writing blogs is my therapy and my routine. In this post-paid-work world I now inhabit, there’s a big need for day markers and deadlines, otherwise couch-dom and sloth become my best friends (well alright, La-Z-Boy is already my best friend). But I’m not just physically lazy, my mind needs the push of writing blog entries to keep it fine-tuned like a Maserati that just happens to motor along more like a Rent-A-Wreck version otherwise …

2014 brought an average of about 54 views to this blog each day. My fragile male ego would be really swollen in gratitude if enough new folks came along to bring this to 75 daily.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar this carryover from last year will be looked after soon dear friends, I promise. I’ve done most of my homework, now I’ll only need to haggle for price and terms eg. does it come with guarantees of perpetually perfect tuning (after all, 12 strings is a lot to keep tuned, right?)?

WAIT... I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar... not a Taylor Swift guitar!

WAIT… I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar… not a Taylor Swift guitar!

b) Build A Guitar – This is a brand new idea that powered its way into my head this past year. There are a number of places worldwide that offer the opportunity to build your very own guitar over a 2- to 4-week period with lots of instruction and expert guidance. What could be cooler than to craft your own musical instrument and add Luthier (no, not LOSER!) to your resume?

c) Write more Songs and perform original songs publically. I hesitate to give a number as far as writing my own songs goes (SIMPLIFY), but I know I have momentum pushing me in the right direction. So rather than choose a number of songs to write as a goal, I want to press myself to make the pieces as high a quality as I can manage … great, meaningful lyrics enshrouded in wonderful, harmony-laced melodies with a fantastic chorus that draws one in and sets the happy or melancholy emotions aflame.

Stepping further into the musical abyss, beyond the writing lays the performing side. Here I’ll need to kick myself in whatever direction gives me an opportunity to throw myself at the public audience.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit New-To-Me Central American country – learning and improving Spanish has been on my agenda for about 5 years now (hence “school” trips to Peru, Spain, Cuba). But we’ve never touched ground in any of the Central American countries, so this is the year to say HOLA to one of Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala.

b) American States? I think I’ve managed a visit to about 26 states of the little country to the south. I’m barely past the halfway point of my goal to see ’em all, which means I’ll have to live to … oh, about 110 years old at this pace. I’d better find a way to get my puny Canuck ass into another state or two. Maybe a visit to those old carved Presidential dudes on Mt. Rushmore is in order, or a whirlwind tour of  tornado alley to catch up on Dorothy and Toto.

6. FINANCIAL

a) 15% returnI spent the first 30+ years of my working life saving and accumulating a financial base. Now it’s time for that base to pull its weight. Slavery has found a home in my investment account.

I can live indefinitely with about a 7% average annual return, but I enjoy the research and stimulation of investing, so why not be entertained and make a few bucks along the way. Besides, the better investor I am, the more I can drop into my charitable contributions bucket. I’d call that a WIN-WIN…

My investing hero...Warren Buffett... hey, wasn't he in the movie "UP"?

My investing hero…Warren Buffett… hey, wasn’t he in the movie “UP”?

My 5-year average annual return is looking a bit light of my 15% goal at 12.2%.  Intriguingly, my 10-year average is now identical at 12.2% also.

Despite a bit of underachievement here, these numbers don’t make me unhappy. After all, the 10-year record includes a pretty precipitous drop in 2008. But I’m thinking that as I get older and wiser, maybe I should be capable of bringing that average up a bit without bumping up the risk levels.

So… help me out here please, OK? Perhaps if each of you could buy just a few more APPLE products and drop by MCDONALD’S for the occasional BIG MAC while making sure to chat/text with your friends on your BELL CANADA cellphone? Am I asking too much?

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Study Cooking for One Day in any Travel Destination – I’ll make reasonable attempts to catch at least one day of cooking classes on local cuisine for any locale to which I travel. Last year was TAJINE in Morocco… maybe this year, GALLO PINTO in Nicaragua.

c. 2013 www.GretchenAlms.com

b) Develop a Repertoire of Egg Recipes – the chicken palace under construction in my backyard should be finished by early spring. This means an abundance of fresh eggs by summertime. I’ll want to get innovative and creative and ply friends and relatives with fabulous frittatas and Green Huevos Rancheros and Ham.

……………………..

Look Into Your Crystal Ball and Read the Tea Leaves of Your Tarot Cards (huh?)

In 2015 I’m trying to release any pretensions of perfection as part of my SIMPLIFY theme. And it truly is pretension – I’ve never approached perfection in any segment of my life. I discussed my simple thoughts for this in an earlier post about my 1,000 hour rule.

This life “thing” is fascinating. Each year I find out something new about myself as bits of inner flotsam are released and rise to the surface where I can see them. This is one of the very cool things about aging – and aging is a concept and process I struggle against. One of these years I’ll likely have an epiphany and gracefully accept the creaking ship that is life.

But for now, I’ll be who and what I am and run madly off in all directions in search of adventure in all its forms.

Adventures that come in physical form such as building things, cooking things – maybe even skydiving – and also mental adventures in the form of ideas. There are a ton of great ideas out there that set my heart and mind on fire just waiting to be plucked and mated via idea sex.

I’m seeking a simple, balanced life that accommodates an ADHD kind of personality like mine.

So … simply tomorrow … take in a boot camp class but not snack (physical), write a thank you email to my sister for her Christmas gift (emotional), come up with 10 ideas for future blog posts or songs (mental), spend 10 minutes in meditation feeling grateful (spiritual).

Load up your gun with all of the passion and goals you can muster and let’s head into 2015 together, OK?

 There are worse ways to start …

… or finish … a New Year. 

2015 goals

2015 The Year To Be Great – Part 1 …

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Life flash

– Gerard Way

OK, I’m not the SuperHero I make myself out to be.

No Oscars, no Emmys, no Grammys. NOPE. No tony international agency will declare 2014 as the year I accomplished everything I set out to do and then some.

But on the other hand, I did do some pretty cool things.

  • I felt blood rushing into my ears as I screamed like a little kid while ziplining a hundred metres above a rock-strewn canyon.
  • I dressed top to bottom in funky, furry green and played a chilly Mr. Grinch for thousands of passersby.
  • I wrote (and sang) songs with joy – sometimes sorrow – and passion in my musical heart.
  • I stood on the grey-clouded shores of north Africa and looked out on the endless Atlantic Ocean as Humphrey Bogart did years ago in Casablanca. And in Marrakesh, I sat naked in a Hammam (Moroccan spa) amongst locals before being propositioned by a male prostitute.
  • I perched on Arizona’s southern edge of the immense Grand Canyon – giant Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons soaring overhead and below.
  • I said so long to a 37-year long career as a Medical Lab Technologist and many wonderful co-workers that I enjoyed more than the work itself.

But all joy and cool things must be interspersed with sorrow and, as we all do in various measures, I said a few sad goodbyes to family members and friends who shared their life’s journey with me – giving to me, often without ever knowing.

If you’ve travelled this blog road with me a little – or a lot – you’ll perhaps know that I take stock of my life at the end of each year, reviewing where I’ve been, and charting a course for whatever mild flowing river or ferocious bounding seas that lie ahead.

It’s some instructive fun for me and I hope it gives you pause to think about the direction of your life.

I’ve come to an age and a stage where I know my productive, active years are passing quickly through the sands of time and there’s a touch more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than there is on the top. So, an urgency passes through me to see, do, taste, love, smell, grab a hold of … what I can while I can.

I’m a happy, lucky dude with the amazingly good fortune to live in a time and space that allows me to jump into my passions with fervour … today I’m healthy and alive so what more could I ask for?

Well, to answer my own question, I need to pursue another year’s worth of goals. Goals are what and who I am.

Next week, I’ll pull out my New Year’s Crystal Ball and go through my list of 2015 BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

But first, this week, let’s have a look back at the year of 2014 and get a sense of where I held up my end of the bargain I made with myself and where I let myself down. The dark type below is my 2014 goals as I wrote them a year ago, and the blue is the year-end results: positive or negative: pretty, ugly or indifferent.

On Casablanca Atlantic shores...

Playing Air Piano On Casablanca’s Atlantic shores…

2014 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) 100 burpees including pushups. I’m going at this lung-busting challenge with a few of my co-workers, so we can all DIE together. Most people I know, including me, hate the BURPEE. It’s hard once you get past 3 or 4 of these up/down/pushup/jump contortions, which is exactly why I’m doing it. I’ll enjoy the pain … afterwards!

RESULT? For once, procrastination was put aside and my friend Pam (who I did 100 non-stop pushups with last year) and I conquered this challenge by the end of July, adding 10 Burpees each couple of weeks until we hit the 100. They’re oh-so-tough but oh-so-satisfying. To kick it up a notch we could have pushed further by doing the 100 in less and less time, but instead we chose to move on to other physical challenges for variety. 

b) 2 more New-To-Me Sports (eg. Paintball, Kickboxing …). It’s important to keep refreshed with new things to keep our enthusiasm levels high. If you have any great suggestions for innovative new sports I can try… add your comment at the end, OK? Pole dancing is NOT an acceptable suggestion for this dude.

Sports? Hmmm … how about physical adventures? In one fine August week I joined Irish cousin visitors for a zipline cruise above deep, rocky canyons, then flew skyward overlooking Okanagan Lake with the help of a parachute towed behind a boat. 

c) Run 2 Half Marathons – both in sub-2 Hour time and as a stretch goal, finishing one in sub-1 hr and 55 minutes. Half marathon running is the perfect distance for feeling a sense of accomplishment without having to give over your life to training.

YUP… well … NOPE. I ran through torrential Vancouver spring rains in one half marathon (Time: 1 hr. 58 mins) then began another race in Penticton 2 weeks later but withdrew from the event after 5 kilometres with a painful calf muscle. My spirit is ALWAYS willing, but could someone please talk to the flesh …

d) Lose Enough Weight to See the Subtle Signs of a 6 pack Abs.- I work hard in training. A lot of that work includes the core (ie. Abdominal muscles). Isn’t it fair that I should see even a tiny ripple or two of ripped muscle that says that yes, it’s finally paying off?

Muscle definition is one part health-related stuff to one part ego matter, and my ego needs a teensy little meal to feed on here. I don’t have an actual weight loss goal, just enough to see the small sandbar ripples in the mirror.

Yes and No … I did drop a few pounds over the course of the year which is the ultimate key to a 6 pack, so if I tense my ab muscles REALLY hard I can see subtle signs of ripple if I tilt my head in just the right direction. Alas, the young lads on the beach have little to admire in my 6 pack (unless it’s labelled MOLSON).

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – I’m so lucky to have won the life lottery that gives me an unbelievable lifestyle. Supporting charities  (Plan International /UNICEF) that assist in enabling others to proudly develop their own systems and economies to live the way I can is a tiny tiny price to pay.

TOO Easy… this one gets done in the first week of January each year with 2 phone calls … to label this a goal achieved is really an overstatement, but because sharing is so important, it needs to be here. CHECK! 

b) Buy a coffee for the next person in the lineup at Tim Hortons once per month – Coffee is mentioned in the Tim Commandments given Moses:

Thou shalt be provided and drink coffee in healthful abundance“.

Huh, it’s not a commandment? Really? Well it should be.

Oh BOY I’m bad … I forget about this one so often despite it being so simple … maybe it’s the lack of caffeine in my system. Anyway, I can go for 3 or 4 months without doing this, so I have to make up for it by tossing a twoonie ($2 for the non-Canadians out there) through the Tim Hortons drive-thru window on consecutive visits to make up for lost time. I’ve had this happen to me on one or two occasions before and it brought a smile to my face, so I hope others have had the same experience when I leave my $2 behind for them …

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 40 views/day on blog 

I’m not the most stylishly eloquent guy when it comes to verbal communication. In some ways, I suck at the whole talk thing.

That leaves writing as my favoured way of expressing what I have to say. A weekly blog allows me to think about and ponder the things that are meaningful to me, and then allows me to share my thoughts with you.

BIG YES! I love writing my blog posts. All 51 that I wrote in 2014. Fifty-two if you count this one.

I love the challenge of thinking of ideas to share. I love the focus of pulling disparate thoughts together into one cohesive whole. I love it that blog writing helps me to consider my beliefs in a deeper way than I might otherwise. I love exploring and teasing with sometimes naughty thoughts. And I love that many of you take the time to read and respond to what I have to say … thank you!

40 views per day as a goal? I remember a year ago when more than 20 views of my blog posts was a good day. The year 2014 brought me 20,000 readers meaning the daily average for 2014 is… drum roll please…. 54 views. From 149 countries. My most viewed post of the year? Your Castration Awaits: 8 Reasons Women Will Dominate Men in the 21st Century.

b) Take on Writing Another Novel – this past November (2013) I participated in the month long National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an internet-based 50,000 word novel-writing challenge.

It’s free, it’s motivating, and they give you lots of feedback and encouragement. I wrote about 2/3 of a novel that is really bad, but I loved doing it.

I’m psyched to take it on again and make my own sexy 50 Shades of Green.

WOW… a total MISS. The focus needed to make a novel materialize on a screen or page was directed elsewhere in 2014. As the year moved along, my passions became more intensified in the area of songwriting.

Songwriting takes time, lots of time.

Writing novels takes time, lots of time.

Songwriting was the winner of the battle and National Novel Writing Month was something I merely observed as an outsider. It was a worthwhile sacrifice in my eyes. But I hope to visit and participate in the writing challenge once again in future days.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar – The guitar has been one of my best friends in life. It’s been there all through the peaks and valleys. But sometimes, a song just needs a little more depth than 6 strings radiate and a 12-string guitar can add that richness, like a teaspoon of full-fat cream in coffee.

ALMOST! I’ve been on the hunt, doing my research, trying out various 12-string models for the best sound, great projection, soft, easy action on the strings. I think I’m gonna have to pull the trigger on this goal early in 2015, so listen for the strains of Hotel California wafting in the breeze, OK?

b) Purchase a Baby Grand Piano – This is probably not a goal that will be attained this year, but it’s too important in my mind to not at least put it on the list for the next year or two.

Piano is a great late-night instrument that satisfies my spirituality needs. Singing a love ballad on a richly-toned grand in the semi-darkness at 11 pm. …well, it just soothes my savage soul.

I called this one right when I said it likely wouldn’t happen in 2014. It didn’t. But it won’t be coming off my list because the rich tones of a lovely piano are life-enhancing, the musical equivalent of sipping from the Holy Grail.

c) Learn more mandolin – I got a lovely mandolin gift last year. Like a 12-string guitar, the double sets of strings on a mandolin add musical dimensions that lift us dreamily towards the heavens. It’s time to give a bit of quality time and develop at least a minimal skill set.

A big SORTA. I did play the mandolin some. I did improve a little. But really, I do need to spend more “quality time” with this instrument if I ever hope to come close to the picking abilities of my friend Jimmy Ferguson in Oregon. The nice thing about mandolin is that I can pick a few notes in the background as accompaniment to develop some depth when I’m recording songs with my guitar as the prime instrument.

d) Write 6 more Songs and perform original songs publically. Writing songs is hard, but rewarding. For variety I’d like to write 2 country, 2 folk-ballad, 1  jazzy, and 1 rock’ish-style. This should stretch my imagination and creativity skills to the breaking point.

YES. I did write at least 6 songs and had a great time pushing into this underdeveloped area of my creative “me”. I’m so excited about this that I hope to spend even more time trying to get my 1,000 hours (10,000 hours is way too much for this ADHD dude) of practice in. Here’s a little teaser of a song I wrote (and play/sing) about an old songwriting hero of mine, Harry Chapin… Only Half a Lifetime

Performing publically is nervously challenging but fun. But now, finding the steely nerves to take my own songs to a stage and perform them publically is, for me, a huge leap. 2014 is the year for me to brace myself and do this. Besides, why should only my family suffer through hearing my dulcet vocal tones!

NOPE. This didn’t happen but I know I’m ready to climb the stairs to the stage of public performances of my own works. I’m feeling more confident than I ever have and I look forward to the sky-high adrenaline boost when the day arrives.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit at least 5 more American States – one of my long term goals is to visit each of the 50 American States – I’ve visited all of the Canadian provinces and territories in previous years. Last year I wandered and added 9 states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and DC) to my list that includes 9 others. This year I hope to knock off a bunch of western U.S. States and make it near to the halfway point.

DONE … CHECK! This fall we wandered south for a road trip on the western side of this continent… add Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to the finished side of the ledger – I felt the unfettered joy of legally driving at 140 kph in Utah and Idaho. 

IMG_4568

Grand Canyon

 

b) Touch Ground on One More Continent – One more of my long-term goals is to step on each of the continents. Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are out there calling my name like sweet sirens in the mist. See next item…

AGAIN…CHECK! Africa has been breached, although it only counts as a taste. Morocco sits atop the African continent leaving a HUGE land mass beneath to be seen and “tasted”.

c) Buy a Fez Hat in Fez, Morocco + get my hair cut by a “Barber in Seville” – A touchdown in Morocco this year would take me to the African continent, and allow me the opportunity to do a couple of things that are iconic of the area: Visit Casablanca and talk like Humphrey Bogart, buy the Fez hat that Steely Dan sang about in the 1970’s , and while in Spain, be sheared like Rossini’s famed Barber of Seville.

I’m on a roll … CHECK! While in Casablanca, I passed by Rick’s Cafe where Humphrey Bogart hung out, I bought a FEZ hat overlooking the medina of Fez, then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar where I had my locks shorn by a Barber of Sevilla. A trifecta accomplished!

6. MENTAL/EDUCATIONAL

a) Listen to at least 1 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk per month – I’d be hard-pressed to find a finer source of creative and thought-provoking material than is found in the inspiring TED talks. This is a Lego-block piece of the grey-matter material that makes the internet so great.

The end of that roll… NOPE. I listened to maybe 3 or 4 talks over the year but didn’t prioritize this sufficiently. I love inspirational journeys by those who have lived to talk of their great experiences. Now I need to walk the talk and listen to their talks. Got that?

b) Read at least one new book each month – whether it’s for escape or education or relaxation, books (PAPER or ELECTRONIC) are one of life’s wonders more crucial and dear to most of us than the physical 7 Wonders of the World.

Thanks to KOBO (electronic reader) and their 15%, 20%, 30% discounts, I’ve been sucked in, totally seduced into purchasing and reading books regularly. What is really nice is that I’m reading more fiction than I’ve read in years. Three of my favourite reads (2 fiction, 1 non-fiction) this year have been Jodi Picault’s Nineteen Minutes , Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama, and Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing – The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.

7. FINANCIAL

a) 15% return – Each year, my goal is to bring home an additional 15% on my investments.

And each year I start out feeling nervous as hell because no matter how well I did the previous year, January 1 is right back to the starting blocks. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day and each year I have to prove my investing chops all over again as if last year never happened.

My 5-year average annual return is looking pretty fair at 22.7%  but then when you cook in the 2008 stock market plunge, my 10-year annual average is only 12.4%.

OK, I can breathe again as the year comes to a close.

The goal? 15% overall return.

The final tally with 3 market days remaining in the year? 15.2% … whew!!

My investing choices this year largely concentrated in the higher tech area, which is unusual for me. However, looking at the financial results for companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Intel made these easy choices given their ability to print huge $$ and Mr. Market not giving them credit for their huge sales. A buyout of Tim Hortons by Burger King late in the year didn’t hurt my results any either, although it did bruise my delicate Canadian psyche.

b) Retire, Debt-Free –  The year 2014 is my “Freedom 57″ year.

I hate the word retirement, it’s kinda like saying “I’m done with life“. We live in a golden age with countless choices of paths to wander.

As Yogi Berra said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Retirement is just another fork in the road, and I’m choosing to take it.

I DO hate the word retirement, but for now, let’s just go with it and say that YES, it happened in 2014. I turned 57 on my last day as a paid laboratory technologist… ate some wonderful “BYE BYE PIES” with my wonderful colleagues to celebrate, then walked away after 37 years spent in labs from Ontario, to the Northwest Territories, to B.C. DEBT-FREE.

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Eat at least one box of Kraft Dinner per month – mmmmm. Kraft Dinner. God’s flavourful gift to men. Like the humour of Monty Python, Kraft dinner seems to be favoured by the male set. With or without ketchup, it’s a simple box of orange-hued macaroni ambrosia.

EASY PEASY … CHECK!… Need I say more!! A boy’s KD dream come true …

b) Drink Coffee with Only One Sugar – to counteract the ill effects of all that delicious Kraft Dinner, I’ll resolve this year to scale back my sugar (and/or Splenda) use. A couple of years back I shed my Canadian-ness by cutting back the double cream to a single dose in my coffee. This year will be the year of my sugar assault.

AND finally, one last CHECK! A few stalks of Caribbean sugar cane have lived this past year to tell their sweet story to their GrandCanes because of my daily sacrifice of the white stuff. But the sugar assault ends here … chocolate will never be so lucky to escape my clutches!

………………..

So, there you have a year all balled up like a pair of comfy, favourite socks and gently placed in a time drawer.

Why don’t you come back next week, and we’ll bang our heads together to plan out BHAG’s and LFEG’s for a fantastic 2015, shall we?

 

Well that sucked

What Doesn’t Kill You ….

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Unbeing dead

Did you die this week?

I’ll take that as a NO.

OK then … Are you happy this week? Are you feeling warm and contented? Do you feel an inner excitement, a zeal for getting out of bed?

I know that I only feel all of these things if I’m feeling the challenge: working on a beloved project, starting out on something new, learning a new skill or creating something fresh like a blog post or a song, and it’s always enhanced if the sun is shining.

Anyway, it gets easy to feel down about yourself sometimes, and maybe more so in the winter when days are shorter and gloomier. Nothing substantive has changed, but everything just feels less bright when there’s less light. Or maybe I just have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Damn, one more set of initialized credentials to add to my ADHD!

The cure? Become an adrenaline junkie … an AJ.

A little story for you:

When I was 10 years old I was called out of my classroom at Glen Brae School to go and visit the Principal’s office. I was a “good boy” and so I shook violently in my shoes all the way down the halls until I arrived at the Principal’s door. Inside sat two very official-looking guys in uniforms sitting across the desk from Principal Russell.

They invited me in and introduced themselves as officers from the Hamilton Police Department. My sordid life of crime was officially beginning. Soon, I’d be someone’s bitch.

Hamilton cops

Don’t let those smiles fool you … they haunted my 10 year old dreams for weeks …

 

I sat down, shaking, no doubt beet-red faced, a great tsunami of cortisol-driven-nervous urine trying to force its way out.

I don’t remember the expressions on the cops’ mugs at the time, but I’ll bet they were gobsmacked when they saw this short-for-his-age 10 year-old cherubic lad that they were preparing to grill about car theft.

Son, where were you last Tuesday at 12 noon?”

“Ummmmmm.”

So this – I must have been telling myself inside – is what an anxiety attack feels like. I had no idea what a panic attack was. Actually, I didn’t know what it was called then, I just knew I was terrified.

“A car was stolen from in front of one of the apartment buildings that you deliver newspapers to and a reliable witness tells us it was you they saw breaking in and taking the vehicle… so … again … where were you last Tuesday at 12 o’clock?”

“Ummmmmm.”

I probably couldn’t have told them my name at that moment.

I squeaked out that I couldn’t remember, so they asked me to go sit in the library across the hall and think about it for a bit. When I was able to remember, I could return and fill them in on my whereabouts at the time of the heinous crime.

Eventually I recalled the details that exonerated me and the cops moved on to my older brother Gord next door at the high school as the next most likely culprit.

Neither of us ended up in criminal court – we were innocent – so the Green family integrity was happily preserved and my poor Mom’s nervous heart was no doubt robbed of at least a year or two’s worth of lifetime beats.

It was a traumatic experience, but I felt so alive afterwards from the nervous excitement.

I was attacked and I survived.

Survive a Zombie Attack

Granted, this may not be a great or even appropriate example of the things we should pursue in our days to make them more full of life. I’m really not trying to suggest you steal cars to boost your inner zeal.

I’m just using this as an example to show how the inner feeling of fear and then the resulting exalted relief and cathartic buzz of knowing we are truly alive is magnificent.

For me, the best highs seem to come about after I’ve taken on a great personal fear in the form of a challenge – in years past this would most likely have been public speaking or performing a song on my guitar in front of a gathering. Right now I think it would be performing one of my own songs publically.

For you it might be taking off white-knuckled in an airplane, learning to swim, going sky-diving, or encountering a snake in the middle of your path. There are a million things to fear.

Some things we fear are outside of our influence to control. Some fears are reasonable and are there for good reason. I SHOULD be fearful of dark, dangerous alleys and avoid them. Confronting that fear is just plain stupid.

It’s the fears I can do something about that I’m trying to stand up to now and face head on, knowing that the end result will be worth it. My sense of shame and embarrassment have slowly dwindled through the years and I can allow myself to look foolish. And, might I add, to my adult kids’ chagrin, I do this so well.

The adrenaline levels skyrocket, my heart pounds, my breath grows short, my brain totally fuzzy.

It becomes a total fear, total fight-or-flight scenario. The first 30 seconds seem like hours and then … as if by voodoo magic, the flood levels of hormones begin to dwindle, breathing settles a bit, and my mind engages and starts to concentrate.

Stand up to your fears...

Stand up to your fears…

We only have one life (unless we’re Buddhist… yes, I really must become a Buddhist).

We need variety. A job will eventually get boring. Daily routines will grow stale. It doesn’t mean you have to quit your job or move to a different city or country.

But always look for new things to learn.

Always look for new ways to surprise.

Always look for new ways to break out of your comfort zone.

I’ll love you even more if you show me how silly or ridiculous you can be if you’re doing something that you’ve always wanted to try but were too afraid.

Unless it’s stealing a car, then I don’t know you.

Dance like no one is watching

 

 

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