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Happy Money And The Gift Of Time

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Stock market.jpg

6:30 am Pacific Time.

Every weekday at 6:30 am (Toronto and New York stock markets fire up at 9:30 Eastern time) I log onto QTrade and check the share prices of stocks in my own accounts, my wife’s accounts, and each of my kids’ accounts.

It’s a numbers’ obsession. It’s a money obsession.

When markets wake up feeling depressed and downcast and I see my lifetime cache of dollars slowly circling the drain in a downward spiral (like a good part of last year), I catch a lonely grey sensation, rub my eyes and forehead, and remind myself that stock markets are bi-polar … doom and gloom one moment, sexy exhilaration the next.

Yes Larry, This Too Shall Pass.

money in toilet.jpg

And then, on other mornings, I sip from my steaming cup of latte – the frothiness on the surface forming happy little animal clouds –  and jump up and down inside when everything is floating upwards (like this year so far), the $$ in my accounts gliding up the x and y axes of the graph like a jet roaring upwards and away from the runway at 250 kph.

Yup, on these good days, I silently kiss myself for the wonderful assessments I’ve made of the various companies that comprise these portfolios. I feel like a clone of Warren Buffett. (Then I remind myself: A fool is wise in his own eyes. King Solomon)

It’s energizing and exciting. It’s Happy Money.

Or it can be.

Let’s face it, we need money only slightly less than we need oxygen and sleep and sex.

Happiness gets a boost in my world when there’s an increase in money… and … when there’s an increase in time.

OK, we all know that time will never increase, which is why it is so valuable for those of us mortals (everyone) that will revert to dust in too short a time frame.

Which brings me to today’s book tip (more valuable than any hot stock tip I might offer):

Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending… (Elizabeth Dunn/Michael Norton)

My eldest daughter, a pretty smart cookie, went to a talk by the book’s female author in Vancouver and suggested I take a look at the book.

The bottom line message the authors send our way is to spend money on things that will actually bring us more joy in our lives.

  • Buy Experiences
  • Make it a Treat
  • Buy Time
  • Pay Now, Consume Later
  • Invest in Others

I won’t go into great detail about the contents here, because I’m gonna use my time to enjoy the experience of playing my guitar.

A couple of small examples that might send you on your way to happy money?

I savour the flavour and texture of a morning latte… hot, sweet and frothy. Caffeine wet dream.

But I know if I quaff this sensual treat every day it loses its delicious lustre. I become desensitized to its yumminess.

So… I consciously decide to regularly go for a day or two and sip milky tea or regular coffee instead – both enjoyable in their own right, but not so sumptuous.

When I return once again to a creamy latte, I’m transformed and delighted (Aside: this is why daily sex can be a bad choice too! … just sayin’).

Another example. When I travel, I avoid last minute bookings even though the money savings can be substantial. A healthy dose of the joy in travelling comes in the form of anticipation … the daydreamy visions and expectations that float through my head as I conjure the people, the sights, the scents and tastes costs me nothing and yet adds exponentially to the overall enjoyment of the upcoming journey.

Money is a passport to time. Money gives me the freedom to help others and explore regions of personal passion, like music and nature, running, cooking, and even for this Number’s Guy… investing in the stock market.

6:30 am is one small part of my weird but Happy Money time.

Happy Money.jpg

 

 

Wanna See A Grown Man Sing? I’m Happy Like A Room Without A Roof …

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four funerals

When I was a young lad, I attended quite a few funerals (my boyhood could probably be written in movie form: Four Funerals and a Wedding).

My somewhat distant male Gray family cousins would be at the family wakes, the only time I ever saw them … grown Gray men with grey hair who all looked the same to me.

There was something else that stood out for me about these cousins. They were very public cryers … giant tears aflow everywhere.

I’d approach my aunt or uncle’s open coffin to say a final goodbye, and as I first discerned the pasty-white face of my reposed relative, I’d hear the bawling sounds of the sobbing Gray men. It made a big impression on a young boy, believe me.

I’ve said in earlier posts that I don’t tear up easily. I didn’t even shed a tear at my own mother’s funeral when I was 15 (the background to that can be found here) – but there are exceptions.

  • Like when I work at the soup kitchen cutting up 20 large onions… yup, sopping wet tear city.
  • When I watch Schindler’s List and the little Jewish girl in the red coat appears against the movie’s black and white background … mucho more tears.
  • When I see which platinum blonde is offered a rose on TV’s The Bachelor… oops … sorry… no tears there AT ALL.

I was watching a 50th anniversary special on TV last week about the movie, The Sound of Music and the opening notes of Climb Ev’ry Mountain began. Without warning, I felt my tear ducts coming to life.Climb evry mountain

How can just a few musical notes elicit such an outsized emotional response?

MUSIC.

Music is the genesis of tears for many of us, isn’t it? It’s a powerful and ubiquitous force in human life.

For eliciting sadness, yes.

But also HAPPINESS in equal measure.

It’s springtime here in the Great White North and time has come to disperse with the gloomy tears. Spring means it’s time to put away the melancholy musical minor keys along with the winter sweaters.

It’s time to bring out the vivacious happy major keys and begin to feel the warm air rushing through our hair as we drive down the beach strip – the diamond sparkles of Okanagan Lake reaching out like stars in the night sky.

When the suns ray’s are bursting brightly over the morning dawn horizon, what mood isn’t made even better with happy, upbeat music?

It’s like hot steamy waffles covered in fresh, sweet berries and delicious, thick maple syrup. It smells good and it tastes great. And it carries us to a sunny spot inside our heads. Maybe physicians should be handing out some “happy music” prescriptions in place of mood elevating scripts …

Music in its magic power drills into our heads and hearts and locates the emotional core that drives our feelings of elation and overpowering joy.

And so today, now that spring is officially here, I’m shedding the melancholy mantle of tear-jerking music. I’m reeling in the carefree, joyous sounds of warmer days ahead – songs that raise our pulse rate and unearth the euphoria that simmers beneath our day-to-day surface like green shoots of promise that remarkably appear.

You must have a dozen or so go-to songs that lift you into the billowy clouds of bliss, am I right? Take the journey with me today and think of those musical strains that bring merry magic into your life.

happy-dance

10 Songs that make me feel giddy and elated:

  1. Happy – Pharrell Williams – not only is this a feel great ear worm, but the accompanying video is the HAPPIEST thing you could watch without the use of illicit drugs …
  2. The Lazy Song – Bruno Mars – the equivalent of putting sprinkles on your ice cream when you match happiness and laziness together … it’s just yummy!
  3. Surfing’ USABarbara Ann – Beach Boys – the blend of classic Beach Boy harmony with steamy beach imagery is summer exemplified.
  4. Knee Deep  – Zac Brown Band – tropical guitar plucking and the feel of warm ocean waters lapping against your skin … oh my paradise!
  5. Walking on Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves – a super fast beat with blaring trumpets gets the blood flowing like thin sap running from a spring maple tree.
  6. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong – an amazing piece of musical miracle that makes you smile and cry at the same time. Wonderful lyrics that speak of happiness with harmonious notes that pull at your heartstrings.
  7. I’m A Believer – The Monkees – Ah, the goofy lads that could sing. A cute little uplifting love song that brings back boyhood images of Mickey Dolenz and Davy Jones. “And then I saw her face, yeah, I’m a Believer” – Me too!!
  8. American Saturday Night – Brad Paisley – a great driving country guitar and fiddle line and beat that just makes you wanna dance, and doesn’t that make you happy!
  9. Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah – James Baskett – who makes more happiness than Disney? What childhood would be complete without the sight of James Baskett singing of life’s pleasures as butterflies and birds flit all around?
  10. MayBerry – Rascal Flatts – I’m a sucker for great harmony singing. The trio of Rascal Flatts makes country harmony a masterpiece when thrown together with a banjo and fiddle background.
  11. You Are The Sunshine – Stevie Wonder – the misty piano/organ that accompanies this set of feel good lyrics should be a required part of any wedding march. I can’t control my sway when I hear this.
  12. One Fine Day – Carole King – I’ve always loved Carole King, so I had to add her to my list. And One Fine Day is a terrific pulse raiser that makes any trip to the beach sweeter. Pure exuberance.

Did you see that? I was feeling so upbeat with all of this euphoria that I snuck in 2 extras.

Going back in time, I wish now that I had met my Gray cousins under happier circumstances than family funerals. I’d bet the lacrimal energy that they put into grieving was probably matched by equal amounts of unbounded joy when they were happy.

For now, I’ve packed away my chilly winter tears and reloaded with carefree spring smiles. Feel free to unload some of your favourite musical smiles to my list – tunes that make your heart sing out loud and draw out your springtime bliss.

Songbird

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

 

 

Summer Lovin’ … Tell Me More Tell Me More…

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Grease_Sandy

TRUE FACTOID: France’s Eiffel Tower can grow by more than 6 inches in summer due to the expansion of the iron on hot days.

RUMOUR: On the beach on a hot bikini summer day, many men find that the same … sorry … I got lost in a lustful side thought, won’t happen again.

……………………….

I can feel my hands gripping the wheel of my 1967 4-door brown Rambler American sedan, cruising along Hamilton’s Van Wagner’s Beach overlooking Lake Ontario, thick, humid air blowing through my long, dark 1970’s hair.

There’s an incredibly salty scent of Hutch’s french fries drifting on the breeze that makes my stomach rumble as I drive along. My right hand rests gently on the knee of my girlfriend who’s tempting me maybe even more than the french fries with her firm, tanned legs reaching from her navy blue stretch shorts to the floor.

The 8-track player that just about bankrupted me to buy, pumps out Beach Boys, America, Peter Frampton, and Eagles’ harmonies.

Intermingling with the music is the raucous percussive mating symphony of the little cicadas bursting from the trees.

And just like I still do today, I’m singing the harmony part unashamedly at the top of my lungs.

Even at that time, I was aware enough to think to myself, “could life get any better than this?

HUTCH's2

With July now sending its sizzling temperatures our way in the northern hemisphere, it puts me to wondering:

What songs are your favourite to croon along with?

And … What makes a great summer song? 

  • Is it the hint of romance?
  • Is it about youthfulness and escape?
  • The fast tom-tom beat in the background?
  • The perfect layering of harmonies?
  • Calypso rhythms?
  • The mention of buff tanned boys and bikini-clad girls on the beach?

I think the answer is yes to all of the above and a thousand other things that somehow give each of us an eyes-closed-floating-on-the-water feeling and the sense that the sultry sun is lighting us up from within. Hot liquid energy exudes from our pores when the music’s beat is absorbed.

 

Summerland to Peachland

The scene from Summerland’s fruit orchards and vineyards towards Peachland …

Every Thursday morning, I chauffeur myself along highway 97 through Peachland and Westbank to work in the lab in Kelowna, about 40 k north of my home in quaint little Summerland.

And on that one day each week I have about an hour and a half of driving (there and back) through Canada’s verdant Okanagan Valley orchards and vineyard scenery.

I cast my eyes out over the sparkling water for Ogopogo and imagine that every ripple in the water’s surface is actually the tip of the beast’s- akin to the Loch Ness Monster – dorsal fin.

It IS spectacular to make this winding journey in the summer months but this drive and this blog aren’t about the vistas of lakes and mountains … it’s about Summer Songs and Singing … in cars.

Cars are amazing things. They were built to move us rapidly from Point A to Point B, but I think the real reason cars were created – this is true, right? –  is 3-fold:

  1. to put babies to sleep
  2. to allow young children to prove/disprove Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest while bickering and slugging it out in the back seat, and
  3. make the best music studio for personal singing … ever.

Oh… and I suppose you could add:

4. which is to give young and old lovers alike the chance to test out their yoga skills in backseat lustful encounters.

The steamy shower stall may be your song studio of choice, but driving alone for periods of time in a motor vehicle is when I do my best singing. A car stereo system cranked up is the perfect accompaniment to belting out a song I love.

Car stereos give us all sorts of options for song choice. The old days of singing along with limited choices on a car radio are now replaced by not only the radio itself, but also CD’s, iPod tracks by the thousands, and satellite radio stations.

In an earlier post, I told you about my, and asked you for your, SADDEST songs … but this is summer and summer has its own vernacular, right?

Just to get you thinking along the summer song track, let me give you some examples of tunes that strike a summer chord for most of us.

Billboard 100’s Top 10 Summer Songs

Summer Songs

*Based on each track’s performance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from August 4, 1958 — the inception of the chart — through the chart dated May 31, 2014.

10 Summer Nights, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (1978)

9 Hot Fun In The Summertime, Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

8 Surfin’ U.S.A., The Beach Boys (1963)

Summertime, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (1991)

6 Endless Summer Nights, Richard Marx (1988)

5 Surf City, Jan & Dean (1963)

4 Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini, Bryan Hyland (1960)

3 Wipe Out, The Surfaris (1962)

2 Summer In The City, The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)

1 California Gurls, Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg (2010)

Kind of interesting that 6 of the Top 10 were recorded in the 1960’s, isn’t it? Just one came from each of the 1970’s, ’80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s.

My own personal summer playlist will give me away and pinpoint me as a Baby Boomer whose formative years were the 60’s and 70’s… we all have an era that lives inside us as our own personal “Primetime”.

What does YOUR personal playlist sound like?

Let me list a few of my summer favourites:

  • Take It Easy … Eagles
  • Firework  Katy Perry
  • I’m Sexy And I Know It … LMFAO… there’s nothing like “wiggling” along the highway to this at 6 am! Makes it hard not to spill my Tim Hortons coffee in my lap which would make it a REAL hurtin’ song!
English: Katy Perry performing at the 2008 War...

(I’m behind Katy singing right along)

and finally, just for boppin’ through the  summer of 2014

  • HAPPY   Pharrell Williams
Then He Kissed Me

What would summer be without convertibles and  Beach Boys?

 

I could go on and on as I feel myself drifting back in time again just hearing the names to these songs. I can hear the old voices and smell the hot summer scents – even feel my heart quickening with the sun-kissed emotions of the moment.

There must be a million songs that work their summer charm when it’s time to roll our car windows down ….

So Tell Me More, Tell Me More.

When you get a minute, tell me, if you had to choose just one song to sing in the sizzling summer heat of your car, what would it be?

Grease-Summer-Nights

I Get to Run a Half Marathon, and I’m A Lucky Guy

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It’s easy to get complacent and lose sight of the luster, the shine.

I’m joining the (13) Mile-High Club again next week.

I’ll be running the Vancouver Half-Marathon (21 k) in 7 days and I’m worrying about:

  • my fitness levels – have I put in enough sweaty training miles to pass under the finishers’ banner in less than 2 hours (probably not)?
  • a nagging knee injury that has prevented me from doing the training I would like to do.
  • I’m waking up at night sometimes envisioning a nasty, sticky plaque in my arteries waiting to dislodge and take me down mid-race (there are far worse places to perish than in the middle of Vancouver’s Stanley Park on a sunny day).
After the 2013 Vancouver Half-Marathon (me in Red)

After the 2013 Vancouver Half-Marathon (me in red… my youngest, Emma in blue)

I don’t want to think about any of these bastard stray thoughts, but I can only control the voices so much. At least the voices aren’t telling me to kill anyone, or streak naked through my local McDonalds.

I’ve planned my life to be about as stress-free in this western world of 2014 as you can possibly get:

  • I work a 3 day work week at a lab job I enjoy with people I enjoy being around.
  • I’ve saved and invested and can afford a couple of nice vacations each year that stimulate my mind and quell my ADHD.
  • I live in an amazingly beautiful area of Canada that has mild (by Canadian standards), almost snow-free winters and warm, dry summers.
  • I have a great family life.

And I sometimes forget that it’s not like that for everyone.

Forgetting that is not good.

I also forget that it hasn’t been this way everyday for me.

Forgetting that is not good either.

I also forget that it won’t be this way every day into the future.

That is the way it should be …

… dwelling on possible future negatives is no way to live each day.

I have friends and relatives with:

  • cancer
  • joint replacements
  • pneumonia
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • elderly relatives with serious concerns
  • children with major illnesses
  • jobs they hate but feel they can’t leave

They all SUCK. Oops, let me clarify that … the concerns suck, not my friends and relatives (mostly!)

vulnerable cancer patient

I’ve rubbed shoulders with most, but not all of these worries at one point or another in my lifetime.

You might say I was paradoxically lucky because my parents died at relatively young ages. My Dad pulled through a heart attack at my age (he didn’t survive heart troubles 15 years later) and my Mom died of a heart attack just 3 years beyond my current age. This means that, like what so many of you are experiencing right now or will someday, I didn’t have to deal with care homes and dementia and all those nasty elder issues. That’s life-luck lived on a double-edged sword.

On the other hand, I wasn’t serendipitous enough to escape those same ravages with my in-laws. I spent many days, weeks, and years in a milieu of their chronic pain and dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

After I spent 10 years lifting my tiny little kids out of car seats, I spent the next 10 years lifting and pulling my not-so-tiny mother- and father-in law out of car seats because their poor bodies had seized up like the Grim Reaper’s rigor mortis had forgotten to wait until they consumed their last breath.

It was challenging for me, but it was a rat’s-hole hell for them.

My oldest sister died from a rapid and aggressive lung cancer a couple of years ago. At our summer family reunion in the mountains of Jasper, Alberta she was fine. In November, just 3 months later, we held handsful of damp Kleenex, dressed in black attire at her vigil.

I’ve said goodbye to a number of work colleagues who suffered death by cancer. For a few years my one arm was stretched longer than the other from pallbearer duties and carrying caskets too frequently. Yes, I’ve been a pallbearer more often than I’ve been a wedding usher or best man. Apparently, people trust me more after they’re gone than while they’re here.

The other day on my way to work, I met an old acquaintance, Lydia, coming in for blood tests at my lab. She has hemochromatosis (iron overload that saturates the liver and if left untended will kill). She looked pale and tired but was upbeat despite her chronic weakness.

My son had a life-threatening infectious illness at the age of 9 that struck me deeper than anything I had ever experienced. Most of my bodily energy went into producing tears through the fears. He spent the entire summer in a hospital bed on IV antibiotics before getting out just the day before school returned in September.

And then I remind myself of Leo at the gym, 90 years old this November. He looks like he could be 70, trim and fit enough that he should be running in the half marathon with me next Sunday while his wife of 65 years sits confused in a care home.

Woman in care home

If you have any of these worries hanging over you, I hope they pass soon and life doesn’t ooze melancholy into your head. It could.

Joining this party here on earth means that there will be hangovers to be suffered.

Every delicious, intoxicating drink of life that lifts our inner spirit will be met at some time by a visit to the washroom where we’ll retch and puke our guts out and wonder why we ever came to this festivity.

It strikes every one of us to varying degrees and the only difference in the long run is how we absorb, cope, and move on.

I smile inside to myself as I plan and prepare for the long morning run next Sunday alongside 10,000 others.

Surrounded by healthy, fit people, I’ll glance out across the Vancouver harbour towards the majestic white-shrouded North Shore mountains and the stunning, crystal blue sky. I’ll deeply inhale the cool, fresh, cedar-scented air rushing by while my feet swoosh-swoosh-swoosh over the long stretch of asphalt.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember.

  • I could have cancer or diabetes or another chronic illness.
  • I could have family members needing intensive daily care and attention.
  • I could have a son in jail for rape and a daughter in detention for prostitution.
  • I could have been born a Jew in Germany in 1935.
  • I could earn my livelihood pumping out putrid smelling offal from the backdoor of a slaughterhouse.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember.

My runner’s high can be supplemented by gratitude and knowledge of the good things that run like rushing rivers through our lives. The laughter, the smiles, the vistas, the sweet tastes and succulent smells.

In those times we need to stay awake and hydrate ourselves in the gush of refreshing water.

I’ll run. I’ll think. I’ll remember. 

I get to run a half marathon, and I’m a lucky guy.

Now there's a RUNNER's HIGH ...

Now there is a RUNNER’s HIGH …

10 Things I Would Take if My House Was Burning

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willferrellstreaking

HELP!! My house is on fire … ma’am, my eyes are up here!

Do you ever have that unsettling dream where your house is on fire?

You’re hugging the floor – thick, grey, impenetrable smoke surrounding you and clogging up your breathing passages. You crawl through the acrid lung-choking miasma and eventually – thankfully – run shivering into the street … and then you look down …

Naked … totally naked.

You’re vulnerable, you’re cold, and you’re exposed, buck naked just like when you first squeezed out into the world.

You can feel the eyes of your neighbours peering through the smoke, boring into you with pity and perhaps just a touch of jealousy at your incredibly toned body, “Wow, those clothes hide an amazing set of abs, and look at those biceps.”  – look, I have to get some enjoyment from this scenario.

The dream is scary (I hope that it has only been a dream in your life)  and it gives you a panicky feeling inside, wondering what you would possibly save if you could rescue a few items along your escape route.

You will never be put in a situation ever again that requires you to assess your life and what’s important to you more than at this moment. Your life flashes before your eyes and what do you see? What do you think? Is it a pretty picture?

.

My dream at 10...

My dream at 10…

 

You know, when I was 10 years old my greatest purpose in life was to score goals in ice hockey … that was what was important to me.

I didn’t have a bucket list, or a long set of aspirations that guided me through each day.

My goal was to put a hockey puck into the back of my opponent’s net… that’s it. It was both fun and serious to me.

If my childhood home had lit up with angry hot flames, I would have saved my treasured little red velvet-covered autograph book with Gordie Howe’s signature, my hockey stick, and our family’s black and white water-spaniel Nipper.

Somewhere along the way, I left my childhood innocence behind – perhaps when my Mom died when I was 15 – and other things rose in importance. And now that I’m practically – well, let’s just say – aged like a fine cheese, my goals and the things that are important to me have changed, just as they have, no doubt, for you.

There was a book published in 2012 called The Burning House that interviews a host of people about what they would rescue from an inferno.

It’s fascinating to read and see what items others would salvage with only a moment’s notice. It’s filled with happy and often poignant impressions and desires. There’s such a slim hairline of difference between laughter and weeping sometimes.

the-burning-house

Now, imagine with me, in a metaphorical sort of way, that it wasn’t your house but your WHOLE LIFE that was on fire and you had to decide what comes with you and what goes.

Your life has just crumbled because of a meltdown of purpose and meaning.

And some omnisciently shitty devil has given you the “Sophie’s Choice” of deciding what about you will remain in the little suitcase that contains who you are.

People will often think about the tangible items they would carry from an inferno, but this blog post is a fusion of the fiery physical and the blazing soulful.

So right here, right now, I’m listing the important things, physical or psychological, that I would toss over my shoulder and drag out of the holocaust of the burning embers that threatened to destroy me. Think about it yourself … what would be on your list?

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 10 Things I Would Take if My House Was Burning

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1. My support and love system, my wife and my kids.

I’ve been so fortunate to find a stable base to springboard my life upon.

How can we pursue our objectives and desires, when the sub-structure to our personal self is crumbling or rotting? It’s the most basic of human needs and yet for so many, the most unattainable.

I’ve said before that I don’t believe in luck, but this is one area of my life that comes closest to changing my mind.

2. Guitar

Funny, but I almost feel like including this under #1 above.

My guitar (Martin DX1AE) has been a lifelong friend and comforter since I first picked one up at about the age of 10 (probably when my hockey stick first began to wane in importance).

John Denver wrote a song years ago called This Old Guitar that sort of sums up the deeper connection we can sometimes feel with the objects in our lives. Music connects us intimately with our emotions, drawing them to the surface where we find and embrace the laughter or tears or anger.

I play a lot of different instruments (none really well), but the guitar always charms its way into my arms like a long lost lover who always returns.

JimandLarry_Play_Music

Me and pal Jimmy channeling Simon and Garfunkle …

3. Courage to try new things.

If I had to wake up each morning and live life like in the movie Groundhog Day, each day lived over and over just the same, I would jump off the nearest rooftop.

A life lived repetitive, routine and colourless? No thanks. New opportunities, new experiences, new challenges, make my heart beat with just a touch more enthusiasm and spark.

That first bite of guinea pig in the high Andes Mountains of Cusco, Peru? Barbecued bull’s testicle in Athens, Greece? Drinking snake wine in Suzhou, China? Nibbling on Ptarmigan in the Canadian Arctic? Cod cheeks and tongues in Newfoundland?

Sure, maybe a bit unnerving, but who in the world would turn away and miss these chances? Well, not me at least. Mmmmmmm …

4. My memories

It’s a sign of my age that past memories are now as important to relive and enjoy as are the things to look forward to. Life is a rolling collection of experiences and moments: good, bad and indifferent.

The fond memories that sit in the rocking chair in the back corner of my mind are like a favourite TV show or movie that I can watch over and over, savouring and enjoying. These memories have a script only I could have written.

It scares me inside to think of a day when age ravages my brain cells so those memories could be locked behind a door that I’ve lost the key to.

5. Strawberry Jam and Ketchup

It’s often the really little things in life that mean the most to us.

There’s absolutely no way that my life would be as rich, sweet, and full, without the sugary and salty condiments that take the bland and boost it up a notch. A bagel or slice of buttery toast without strawberry jam? A french fry crying out for ketchup? Gotta have it … BAM!!

6. Courage to look stupid, no matter what.

It took me a LOT of years and internal embarrassment to reach the point where my father’s voice wasn’t whispering to me, “What will the neighbours think?”.

The voice now murmurs, “Larry, it just doesn’t matter.”

This blog is evidence of my growth here. I could never have revealed some of the (many) shortcomings I possess so publically in my earlier years. I like this aspect of not being afraid to be seen naked.

You may not like my new-found naked soul, but I figure that is no longer my hangup.

7. Passport

I’m Canadian by birth, and I’m also a curious traveller on this earth of the human race. But to be and to stay an explorer, we all need this little magic book that convinces stern-looking uniformed people behind glass windows all over the world to let us through their doors.

Why anyone would have a look at the photo of me inside the front cover and still allow me to pass is beyond me, but it eventually works its charm every time.

8. James Taylor “Gorilla”  /  Carole King “Rhymes and Reasons”Albums

Certain singers, certain songs define us for some reason.

I’d guess that most of us are seduced by the music of our teen years when so much personal tumult, excitement, and change is occurring. This pair of singers carried me through the journey of adolescence to adulthood and thankfully have somehow stayed around for the rest of the ride.

These are the early albums of their’s that soothed and charmed and reminded me that “You’ve Got A Friend” .

James and Carole

James and Carole

 

9. Imagination/Creativity

I talk a lot about using our inner creative powers to enrich and learn about ourselves.

I’m in constant awe of those who create – movies, books, music, art of all kinds, business solutions, personal connections.

Every one of us houses enormous potential to dream, envision and create. Beauty abounds in life when the creative spark is kindled.

This just has to come along. Escaping the fire that destroyed everything around me would bring out the need to create and re-imagine my  life.

10. Positive Attitude and Smile

Who are the people that you enjoy being around? Who makes you smile? Who makes you feel passionate and enthusiastic?

For me, it’s those surrounding me with a way of finding positivity, not 100% of the time, that’s too phony. But given the challenges of making it through the good times and not-so-good times, the ability to dig down and find something good, something worthwhile, something positive from the sweetest red roses and the rankest grey ashes is the greatest gift of all.

I want to be around those people … I want to be one of those people.

………………….

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to wake up and put on my clothes for the day.

Yes, I was naked this entire time since I opened my suitcase and exposed the items I would carry next to me through the hungry flames. You’re OK with that, right? You can breathe again, it’s over now …

Fortunately, my nighttime dreams were just a mirage, ghostly images that remind me of the ingredients of my inner spirit.

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Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you’ll just
Smile

Charlie Chaplin

Do We REALLY Have to Work?

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I have a strong tendency towards laziness.

I love to just sit and think or allow my mind to wander in whatever direction it desires.

I’m so lazy that I don’t even give my brain directions about what it should think about. It decides and I just watch and follow. It’s a stream that meanders in all directions with no riverbanks to restrict its flow.

laziness

The other day my brain decided that I’m going to stop working for a living.

Just like that, no job.

I’m not retiring, I’m quitting. And it’s not because I don’t like my job or my boss. My boss is great, and most days my job is pretty good.

So … What’s Up, you ask?

Jesus didn’t have a job.

Well, some say he was a carpenter, but I can’t find any pictures, descriptions, or drawings of his work, and I did a full Google search.

jesus_carpenter

Unlike Muhammad, he didn’t become a Dad, so he wasn’t a stay-at-home working parent while his wife was out making the bacon (she wouldn’t be Jewish I guess). Some suggest he was a bootlegger who turned water into wine and then sold it to his followers who grew in numbers because they liked his stuff, but that’s just idle rumour.

Jesus had a dream job of being a saviour. How many kids tell their Grade 2 class they want to grow up to be a Saviour? None in my school certainly.

But truthfully, I don’t want to be a saviour… too many liability issues and guilt. And then you end up crucified.

I’m seeking out a sunny field of tranquillity. It’s a kind of mid-life crisis of form and understanding, a nighttime retreat into the womb of safety and comfort.  To be childlike and carefree with only the smell of green grass and sand between my toes, swing sets in the park, ice cream on the beach. A job implies responsibility and worry over bills and leaks in the roof.

Engagement and enjoyment of life is defined both by what we do for a paycheque and what we do as passion. Sometimes they coincide and often they run separate roads.

I don’t think I’m alone in my thinking. After all, millions have read the 4 Hour Work Week and The Joy of Not Working . How many of the thousands of people working at WalMart are there because they love to work? –Damn, ANOTHER clean up in Aisle 7. Hell, even the CEO is only really there because he gets a HUGE paycheque that lets him do the things he really wants to do.

Money-spewing lotteries are over-the-top popular because the multitudes hope and pray that a few lucky numbers will give them their dream job of a life of no work. It’s an ubiquitous feeling that work is a penance we pay so that we can eat and have a boat to fish from off a sunny Caribbean beach for 2 weeks every winter.

4-hour-workweek

I’ll admit that jobs have their place. A job is an important source of social capital, it provides daily structure for many, a place to meet friends and kindle romances, a detouring path away from crime and prison for young men, an example of industriousness and duty to children and a source of self-respect for parents.

But really, nobody has a born purpose in life to buy and sell stocks. Or create an ad agency. Or ride a dusty tractor all day long. Or work in a cubicle. Those are tiny side effects of being alive. We’re conditioned in western society from Day 1 to build ourselves into a work machine that produces something of value that others are willing to pay something for.

No matter how much talent and ability and know-how we possess and want the world to beat a path to our personal toll booth, dropping gold coins into our pocket of wealth, unless what we have to offer is desirable at a reasonable price, we starve.

People start up businesses by the hundreds and thousands every week, and then a short year later they shutter the front door forever because their incredible (to them) idea for sponging up currency that couldn’t go wrong, didn’t connect. Dreams are shattered and bankruptcies are born.

The real purpose is to do the things you enjoy, with the people you enjoy and who inspire you, as much as possible. If this happens in a job setting, great. But for the majority in this world of billions of souls, work life is lived as Bob Cratchit under the heavy thumb of their own Scrooge.  Work is a necessity, undertaken as a servitude for a turkey on the table at Christmas and some coal in the winter stove.

So we’ll continue working to survive like we always have. Maybe someday we’ll devise a way to put a million dollars in each baby’s bank account at birth and the work week will become a relic of an ancient era. Robots and technology will run our factories and our supermarkets and our transit and sewage systems.

Robot in home

I wish I could live to see such a day, but I consider myself lucky to see this moment in history when I can push a switch and my house is instantly made cozy warm, or refreshingly cool. In winter, I can fly like a bird to an exotic beach with loads of fresh, juicy fruit and cold bottles of beer laid out for my picking. If I want to read any magazine or book, I can open an electronic gizmo and have it sent instantaneously through the electronic ether to my lap. While I sit in front of a huge entertainment centre in my living room with 1000’s of movies and other media delights at my fingertips.

Most of my weekly blog posts are about 1,000 words long.  It’s a good length that doesn’t usually tax you, the reader, too much.  I was going to quit at 800 words today and just relax on my sunny, warm deck.

But this luxuriously wandering, creating mind that wants me to quit my job just wouldn’t listen and take direction from me.

I guess I’ll go on being lazy, starting tomorrow…

Lazy cat

TWO GUYS WALK INTO A BAR…

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I want to talk to you this week about insecurities, of which I have a few … but FIRST

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The local YELLOWKNIFER newspaper announced that “Mitzi”, the infamous stripper who could propel ping pong balls from her inner girly works was coming to town.

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I was a young, unattached guy and this was northern excitement at its finest; I would not be denied the thrill of a titillating lifetime.

The only stripper bar I’ve ever been inside in my entire life is in Canada’s Arctic in Yellowknife, NWT. Yellowknife is a small’ish (about 20,000 population today)  northern frontier town famously replete with mosquitoes, blackflies, gold mines (when I lived there in the late 1970’s) and diamond mines (today).

I wandered into the dark, shadowy barroom with an old friend and hospital work colleague Jim Collette.

It was the Gold Range bar, although in Yellowknife it was referred to as a tavern. A nauseatingly strong stench of stale beer and years of accumulated cigarette smoke saturated the walls and air surrounding the dark wooden tables, knife-etched with names and phone numbers of past inebriated patrons.

The_Gold_Range

The Gold Range, affectionately called The Strange Range, was a fusion place for aboriginals, sourdoughs and rough-hewn miners. You could see your life coming to an end at the point of a knife blade or the ragged edge of a broken beer bottle at a place like the Gold Range.

It had a reputation and it wasn’t a good one. It was stereotypical Wild West, or in this case, Wild North.

The people populating this place had names like Stinky Pete, or Dirty Dan. They had long, stringy hair; dirty, frayed baseball caps with names like Weaver & Devore Trading or Giant Mine emblazoned on the front; and multi-hued teeth that hadn’t seen a dentist’s chair in … well, maybe ever! I was feeling pretty jangled and nervous sitting there –  the only reason I stayed was because my horny libidinous heart was quixotically stronger than my frayed nerves or common sense.

The Gold Range was not the natural habitat for this soft, southern boy. Jim and I sat and ordered a Pilsner and Alta 3.9 beer and waited with anticipation for the show to start. When it did begin, it was pretty anti-climatic (sorry, bad pun!). The strippers were mostly a bit older and kind of saggy. It wasn’t the erotic “hit” I was expecting, and the shared experience with a bunch of others was just kind of demeaning to us all. Honestly, I don’t even remember the ping pong ball part of it, just the sordid seediness that left a sour taste.

This is what "Good Girls" do with ping pong balls...

This is what “Good Girls” do with ping pong balls…

OK, you’ve been patient so now I’ll come to the part about my insecurities.

Bars come in classes. I was probably too classy for the Gold Range but not really classy enough for the Horseshoe Lounge at the posh Explorer Hotel; my self-esteem wasn’t sufficiently high to stroll into the Horseshoe Lounge. I’m just a middle class mid-range bar kind of guy I suppose.

My friends and my favourite drinking hangout in Yellowknife was called The Gallery. I would consider it a mid-range bar. It was a wide open well-lit watering hole with a shuffleboard table and a jukebox. The Gallery had no art and no shooting other than the drinks that were fired back in large quantity. They served the best kielbasa in hot dog buns with mustard and relish.

I always hated to enter The Gallery alone. There were those few hesitant, uncomfortable moments where I feared I wouldn’t spot anyone I knew, and everyone else in the bar would know that I was a lonesome loser. I’d stroll in with my eyeglasses all fogged and frozen up from walking off the -40 C streets in January and then try to locate a familiar face either through ice-glazed glasses or furry myopic eyeballs.

Either way, the little voice in my head would be saying, “what are you doing here by yourself, everyone else is with a group and having fun … there must be something wrong with you.

It’s crappy when we’re young and insecure (or worse still, older and insecure) and we worry about every little thing that others might think about us. We want to meld into the mix of others, not stand out as different. Conform or die.

Insecurity doesn’t come from an objective view of our ability but an emotional interpretation. Two people with the same capabilities or attributes can have entirely different levels of insecurity.

Hollywood Insecurity...

Hollywood Insecurity…

I know I’m a capable person on a lot of levels and yet even still I have that worried voice in my head that tells me I could be better or different. Fortunately, the voice has grown far quieter as I grow older, but it still talks to me and tries to bring me down. Rationally I know it’s a liar and a deceiver, but it takes a determined ounce or two of positive counteracting thoughts to stuff it away sometimes.

But you can’t outrun insecurity. A sad matter about Yellowknife was that some people came there for their last stand against inner demons. They were lonely, miserable outcasts who thought that when they came to the Arctic somehow there would be a mystical transformation and everything would be different from their life in the south. They would magically fit in. Rarely happens.

Soon after I arrived to work in Yellowknife, a nice guy named Perry came to work in the housekeeping department at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital. He would stop by as he mopped floors and chat with me every morning about cars and guns and other things that interested him. Perry was about 21 years old and seemed pretty normal by all appearances. Perry was sad and miserable inside, only none of us knew it.

I liked Perry but I never asked him to join in with any of our “professional” group of lab techs, nurses, physiotherapists, in whatever Reindeer Games we were playing. You know, he might not have chosen to come along because he wouldn’t have enjoyed our company, but would it have hurt me to just ask him?

One dark, early winter morning I walked into the Microbiology lab section where I worked and ran into John, the senior housekeeper boss guy.

–Perry killed himself last night, John said.

–Put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. The RCMP found him in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

I had spoken with Perry in a normal fashion a day earlier and now his demons and insecurities had won the interior argument. Now he was dead, at his own hands. I was stunned. I was ignorant and stunned.

Insecurities come in different layers and different strengths. I try now to look for signs of insecurities in others, not to make myself feel better in comparison (another sign of insecurity), but so that I can understand their struggles with behaviours such as selfishness, arrogance, sulking, gossiping, over-competitiveness, defensiveness, excessive chatter, people-pleasing, excessive swearing. If there’s some small thing that I can do or say that will soothe someone’s negative inner voice, why not? It’s a Pay It Forward kind of thing, I suppose.

Insecurity wears a lot of different costumes.

Slack Alice’s, the local stripper bar in my area burned down about a year ago. And DAMN, I never saw the inside of it. I guess I was just too insecure to go inside on my own!

But I’m sure that every day there was a whole barroom full of strippers and patrons, nursing a beer or shot glass, and each, just like me, with their own beat-up lifetime suitcase filled with personal insecurities.

insecurity suitcase

Cafeteria Lunches at Glendale High…Improving Our World with French Fries

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Glendale Secondary2

Hands down, the school cafeteria was my favourite place at Glendale High School, just ahead of the Band Room and WAY ahead of the sour sweat-stinky gymnasium.

After the 4th or 5th period of classes, I’d go to my locker and grab the brown paper bag lunch my Mom had made me and head to the cafeteria with Jerome, Renato or Frank (my Ukrainian, Italian, and Hungarian friends) or whichever of my friends was in my last class before lunch.

Passing through the grey-metal, glass-windowed cafeteria door was like entering a whole different world. All thoughts of books or homework assignments dissipated when I was first hit with the heady scent of french fries and gravy wafting through the air, aggressively pushing back at the school hallway’s scent of Dustbane.

There were plenty of calories in our lunch bags to get us through the school day: sandwich, homemade chocolate-chip cookies, muffin, apple. Still, we rushed to the front of the cafeteria and took our place in the line leading up to Mrs. Jack standing behind the serving counter in her blue cotton front-zippered shift. She lived up to her Scottish stereotype by dishing up meagre servings of hotly fragrant french fries into white cardboard boat containers like you get at the beach in summer. We’d always smile sweetly at her – even though we didn’t really like her – and beg her to add more of the crisp, golden potato delicacies to our boat and then go fill whatever gaps existed between the fries with great squirts of ketchup, or nose-pungent vinegar, then sit at the long lines of parallel tables beside other kids.

french-fries2

Just a few more, OK Mrs. Jack???

In my blue-collar “lunch-bucket” Hamilton hometown high school, the tables were filled with Slavic kids with garlic-smelly meat sandwiches. Or Italian boys with names that always ended with the letter “O”…Mario, Angelo, Ezio, Vito.

We’d talk about important things like Mr. Mason’s little coloured peg “rewards” for correct answers in French class or Carole J.’s amazing breasts. Talking about them was the closest I was ever going to get to those babies.

Didn’t everyone go to a Glendale High School …

where cafeterias were staffed by middle-aged Mrs. Jack’s, where the echoing din of voices of hundreds of hormonal teenagers gathered to gab and gossip? And to munch on the chocolate- or caramel-chemical cake sensations Jos. Louis or Ah Caramel?

jos-louis

Probably not… but for a long time I thought they did.

  • I thought that everyone lived just like me in my insignificant east-end “Steel City” home.
  • I thought the whole world was the same as what I could see out my window.
  • I thought that sticky, hot, humid summers and wet, slushy winters were everywhere and all-the-time.

I entered the world naked and clueless, not knowing anything other than what I was surrounded by.

And then one day I accidently stumbled and fell through the looking glass and found a whole new, shiny world that had only existed for me in fancy fiction books, glossy magazines, and newspapers. Like the change of black and white to rainbow-hued Technicolor in The Wizard of Oz.

And not just one new world but a whole big gamut of new worlds and new people and new experiences.

And there would be no going back. No Larry, you can never go home again.

At the age of 20, I finished my medical lab certification at local Mohawk College and then, almost on a whim, went north to spend just a few months in the Canadian arctic before I would return forever to the warm, comfortable womb of my childhood years.

But instead of returning home, I went to Europe and backpacked my way across and around that continent. I married a great lady from British Columbia and went to live in her beautiful mountainous homeland. Later on I ventured to South America and spent time with Incan ancestors in the Andes for a few months. I travelled to China and drank snake wine. I voyaged on boats around warm southern islands. I ate cod cheeks and tongues and bakeapples in Newfoundland.

Arctic Larry

Two + years in the arctic changed my icy heart…

I was changed. I was new. I was improved.

The look out my home’s window wasn’t a whole lot different, but my outlook on the world was transformed.

We’re all going to be dead in 100 years. Everything and everyone we know will be gone, and we’ll just be an eighth note in the symphony of existence. I want my eighth note to be memorable, because I was given this time through the lottery of life. There won’t be a second coming for this non-Buddhist.

We live our lives with expectations and a belief in things moving forward as they have in the past. If I hadn’t left my home city when I finished college, I wouldn’t have changed and I would have lived a lesser life. Not a bad or worthless life, but totally different and less rich with experiences.

One of the life lessons I’m FINALLY coming to realize through my running is that we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting the outcome to change. If I don’t change my training habits, I’ll likely not improve my running results … if I live my life the same way I always have or as others tell me I should, then the results too will be the same. Expanded experiences develop my tolerance muscles.

I’m frightened by change. I get palpitations when confronted by new challenges or experiences. But I’m excited by it too.

We can spend our entire lives in our own backyards. It’s easy to do. Historically, a major reason why we’ve had wars and racism and intolerance and why different countries and different religions fight against each other and amongst themselves is that we’ve never left our own sandbox and climbed into someone else’s. There’s usually a good reason why they like brown sand and I like white sand, but I’ll never know the reason until I sit down and make a sandcastle out of brown sand.

I’d love to go back and have Mrs. Jack serve me up some hot, salty french fries in the cafeteria of Glendale High School. It would be great to sit and be kids again with all of my old multi-ethnic friends.

But what’s really cool is that I’ve discovered that I can pass through cafeteria doors anywhere in the world and love the french fries wherever I go, and I kind of like where the salty winds have carried me so far.

korea-french-fry-party

Now this is MY idea of a french fry feed…

All we HAVE to do is Die…

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It’s kind of cheering to read this, isn’t it? ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS DIE…everything else is a choice (yes, even taxes!).

This may not be an original thought – what is? I read this line in another blogger’s post the other day and it pierced like a sharp Hattori knife through to my core. It’s harsh and perhaps a bit unsettling, and probably even complicates life somewhat, but I think it can also be freeing.

all we have to do is die

And it reminded me that choice in life is one of my core beliefs. We can choose to do. We can choose to be.

Sure we have to eat and drink to sustain life, but so many things we think we have to do are things that we choose to do. It’s like the difference between needs and wants.

Do we make the choices we do because:

  • society (family, friends, media) dictates it
  • we feel an obligation to do it
  • we fear loss or punishment
  • we don’t see any other options
  • the benefits are greater than the drawbacks
  • it’s enjoyable or rewarding
  • it’s the easy thing to do

Life is like WalMart (this is in addition to Forrest Gump‘s box of chocolates!). We wander the aisles of selection, the shelves are stuffed to the rafters, full of alternatives, and we can choose to nab the items we want or amble by to another aisle. For example, we could put a career choice, a partner, a pair of shoes into our basket. Do we ever ask ourselves, “Why did I pick that job? Why do I eat? Why did I get married or not get married? Why do I go out with friends? Why did I buy a new car?”

And even after make our selections, do we then ask ourselves, “Am I happy? Is what I’m doing really fulfilling and meaningful? When I arrive at the time of my death, will I look back at my life and be happy about what I did, or will I have regrets?”

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 The only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die”

-Bob Dylan

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Choice in life means lots of good things but it also brings with it…wait for it…responsibility. Being rational and adult means there are consequences to every choice. This is why choice can be so rewarding but also so damned messy and difficult. It takes thought and judgment and it can be painful. It’s hard work!

I can choose to quit my job tomorrow, but the consequence becomes a loss of a paycheque and all of the details that entails. How will I pay for food and lodging and entertainment and a hundred other things? So, do I absolutely hate my job? Could I find something I might like to do instead if I went to college for a year? Could I move to a smaller town where the costs of living are lower and the need for more income would be lessened? With enough thought, effort, and often courage, we can find a more satisfying choice.

Over twenty years ago, I chose to work just 3 days each week so that I could actively participate in raising my kids (now there’s a decision they regret!). There were lots of questioning glances at my withdrawal from western culture’s expectation of what a father’s and breadwinner’s role should be. This choice meant a lower income and driving slightly older cars, and not having magazine-perfect furniture as society told me would be appropriate. But it’s a choice my wife and I made and have never regretted. Believe me, not every choice that I’ve made has been as easy to declare a success.

stay-at-home-dad

As we go through life, we need to ask ourselves tough questions and then answer honestly. Living life like there are few choices can be a simpler existence. But for me, life is richer when filled with choosing the paths I want to wander. The paths may be tangled by weeds at times, but at least they are heading in the direction of my choosing.

I think making choices consciously gives us freedom and a sense of honesty within ourselves.  Most of us spend much of our lives making choices based on false assumptions and beliefs drilled into us as children. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy promotes “thought challenging”- questioning our basic assumptions from different angles to help us make better choices.

When I was a kid, I was told that God and Heaven existed and that there was no need to question that belief. I was also told that going to university was necessary if I wished to live a “good” life. I was told that sexual intercourse was something preserved until marriage vows had been exchanged. I was told that men marry women and women marry men. I was told that after I married a woman, I would buy a house and have children. I was on a pre-determined train track and would chug along in the direction that track took me on.

All of the above were absolutes. But now I know that they are all choices. Everything but dying is a maybe.

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Lance Armstrong made choices that most of us likely think of as flawed and of poor moral backing. No matter what he says, he knew what he was doing was illegal and cheating. He lied to cover it up. BUT…he made a choice to use drugs and illegal methods to accomplish something that was deeply desirable to him. The benefits were greater than the consequences in his mind. The possible outcomes were something that he chose to live with in order to win big.  That he didn’t believe he would be caught and disciplined suggests to me that he wasn’t making conscious AND conscientious choices. Narcissism perverted his ability to make respectable choices, for himself, and others. Choices can be messy.

mommy_puts_out

Mommy made the choice to “put out”…here’s her consequence…

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We try to find our happiness through periods of life that include birth, aging, sickness and death. Any pleasure and success we have is not going to run in unending, neat straight lines. But we can make the conscious choices that reflect our own core beliefs and desires, not those dictated by what’s going on around us.

Didn’t we all have childhood dreams of what we might do or be in life? It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”

–Ken Levine

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