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BABY It’s Cold Outside…

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“This is my brother Larry, the BABY!!”
My baby pic

Most would cringe and cower at these words, thinking “Oh shit, here we go again…”, mortified.

Most would hear those as fighting words.

Most would shudder especially when they reach 20, 30, 40, 50 years of age. BABY?!

Not me…

I always blushed with humble pride, almost as if I had done something skillful and miraculous to attain such an honour.

“Yes, well, it was nothing really, anyone who put in the 10,000 hours of intense effort could be the baby too.

But no 10,000 hours of training or effort are required to be the “baby”, simply luck of the birth order lottery.

Birth order… I guess it just has to be all the talk of Christmas and swaddled babies that somehow has me thinking about our own non-virgin births (I don’t want to tattle on your Mom and Dad, but yup, they did the dirty!) and the glittering point on the constellation where we shine within our family galaxy.

Reading things into birth order is akin to being a tea leaf reader or apprenticing as a Zodiac or Chinese Horoscope disciple. There may be some tenuous and practical connections, but the level of hogwash skepticism and requirement for faith is higher than that of pure science. If nothing else, it’s fun and entertaining, yes?

birthorder

……….

1st child: When the first swallows a coin, you rush the child to the hospital and demand x-rays.

2nd child: When the second swallows a coin, you carefully watch for the coin to pass.

3rd child: When the third swallows a coin you deduct it from his allowance!!

……….

I was born the youngest i.e. the BABY… of 5.

Three or 4 years separated each of us, meaning that the range of eldest to youngest was about 15 years… 15 years and 13 days to be exact.

When you hit 60 years of age, the title “BABY” begins to feel ridiculous, almost an insult or joke on the bearer.

Even so, I’ve always kind of treasured my role, my spot as the youngest. Youngest has a cachet, a semblance of specialness and reverence.

To be introduced as the baby has been a high honour while at the same time one needing guarded vigilance and defence.

Vigilance because inevitably, introduction as the baby in the family also comes with a tag-on comment, “yeah, he has always gotten away with murder, he is so spoiled”. 

What the H…? My hockey-skilled pugnaciousness comes to the forefront when I’m described as “spoiled”.

Are you kidding me? Spoiled? Me? Spoiled? Screw you….

Spoiled?

I delivered newspapers and magazines door-to-door every day from the time I was enrolled in Mrs. Putns’ Grade 1 class all the way up til the day I got my first McJob at 15 … yeah, at McDonalds.

Spoiled?

I always felt left out and empty because my sibs could go see boobies and bums on the movie screen or sip Singapore Slings in the bar years before I could even attempt to sneak in.

Spoiled?!

I was never lavished with parental gifts of expensive bicycles or cars or lavish vacation trips to Mexico or Hawaii. My parents never paid a cent for my college education.

I’m sorry, do I sound defensive? Maybe just a tad?

OK, I’ll grant you that I coasted just a wee bit in elementary and high school when teachers recognized me as another “Green” kid.

Every one of my older siblings had skipped a grade in school, so it was naturally assumed I’d been bestowed with a heaping dollop of inherent intellect. No proof required. 2 + 2 = … 6?

Wrong!

Sometimes it took the whole school year for amiable Miss Taylor or Mr. French to realize that I had maggot brain and was the simpleton in the family group!

There’s even a 2007 study that shows a correlation between IQ and birth order: the more older siblings one has, the lower one’s IQ. Not my fault… Dummy’dom is my fate! Thanks Mom and Dad…

(ASIDE: A recent study at Brock University in Ontario noted: “… men may be more likely to be homosexual if they share their birth mother with older brothers. Each older brother increases a man’s odds of being homosexual by approximately 33%.”… so… dummy’dom but not gay’dom for me… life is like a 50/50 draw.)

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Now occasionally in school I was presented with Proof of Intelligence trials. Apparently, handing in one of my brother’s or sister’s previous year’s crumpled test sheets that they had aced wasn’t always accepted. WTF!?

One early testing trauma – my potential Waterloo – I encountered as the Baby was the Grade 6 Music Sight Reading Award. This was my opportunity to sink or swim in the family intellect pool.

Each of my 4 sibling elders had previously passed the challenging test of being capable of reading and singing music by sight from notation on the musical staff. The sight reading certificate was part of the Green family lore and pride.

Judgment day grew near… I spent sleepless juvenile nights awaiting my fate, a fate I felt certain would finally expose and recognize me as the “dunce” of the family.

The dreaded moment descended and Mrs. Brewer watched closely, her eyes burning into my sweaty-browed face, listening as I diligently sight read and sang the music sheet set in front of me…

… my most joyous childhood day was when I proudly received the Sight Singing certificate.

Now I’ve read that some qualities of a last born include being manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious, engaging, affectionate, and… loves surprises.

The surprise of passing my Sight Reading Test was much more than a minor moment of crossing a tricky obstacle, a youthful Tough Mudder challenge.

I’d arrived. I truly belonged in the family, here was the proof!

I still possess and proudly admire the certificate to this day.

……….

Baby it’s cold outside. Christmas grows nearer and I love watching some TV Christmas classics like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Isn’t it charming and captivating when Clarice tells young Rudolph that he’s cute ?

And on this bright mid-December morning, wouldn’t you agree that it’s equally charming when child and family therapist Meri Wallace, author of Birth Order Blues says:

“The youngest can be cute because of ‘forever being the baby.'”

I’m cute! I’m cuuuutttteeeee…

Last born

HOGWASH!

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How’s Your Loonie Year? 8 Investment Entrees…

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boring-businessman.png

BEWARE: If you don’t get off on boring “NUMBERS” stuff…

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… then click your way out of here right now.

Go jack up on some TRUMP’ed up FAKE NEWS and make your day happier. The enticing blood in the streets is found on other sites!

OK, let’s move on, my fellow Numbers’ Nerds.

It’s approaching the end of the year, days are staggeringly short, and the perturbed cats are perched at the back door, yowling at me because it’s cold outside, as if I’m God and have control over the outdoor temperatures.

All of this tells me the year 2017 is winding down and I have to look hard in the investing mirror and ask myself the tough question… who is the fairest investor of all?

I know that no song sounds the same to any two people. No investment looks as golden to any two people. We see the world through ourselves.

I’ve been an avid stock market participant since I was 10 years old in my Parkdale Steelers’ hockey pads, and so it’s a critically important question now that I’m on the “R” (shhhh, retirement) payroll.

Larry… I say to myself… Do I add value to my financial investments, or should I take a back seat and let someone else with “credentials” make the decisions about my New Worth and living income?

It’s a question I nervously skirt around, afraid of knowing the answer because I truly love reading investment reports, digging into Balance Sheets and Income Statements, deciphering and calculating to see if my choices are “value-adding” or “value-destructing”.

For sure it’s Number’s Nerd stuff.

Numerotica.

I’ve previously stated here that my annual goal of ROI (return on investment) or change in Net Worth is 15%.

ACTUAL Annual Returns? 1 year … 12.0%  –  3 year… 16.1%  –  5 year… 11.2%  –  10 year… 11.4%

There’s the nasty truth… Warren Buffett need not worry about being dethroned. I’ve modestly underperformed my 15% goal in every category except the 3-year return.

This year would be highly positive and I’d be bouncing off the clouds… except… the exchange differential between the US$ and CAN$ has narrowed sharply which has shaved nearly 10% off my returns (most of my stocks are U.S. based), leaving me… drum roll please… only ahead by about 6% at this point in the calendar year.

Cleese bring Monsieur a bucket

Bring Monsieur a bucket…

OK, I’m disappointed but not crushed.

I know that I need to eke out a return of at least 7-8% each year so that I don’t impinge on the principal value of what we’ve saved and invested for decades.

From this perspective, I’ve done OK as the upward momentum has been sustained, just not blown out of the water which I would truly prefer. Wouldn’t we all?

And now I’ve gone and added pressure to my decision-making in the last 6 months by boosting my goal returns to 20%, without sacrificing quality, safety, and security.

This means more diligence, more disciplined searching and selection.

In my earlier financier alter-ego, I scoured for quality undervalued stocks (that pay dividends) that I felt should provide a decent return with no quantitative idea of what “decent” really meant.

“Yeah, that company is kinda undervalued by most financial metrics, so I’ll buy some”.

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But now… now… I’ve nailed down my idea of what my bottom line expectation is for any investment I hit the BUY order on.

Bottom line? If the company I’m sussing out doesn’t have at least a 40% discount to its historical price based on reasonable assumptions, then I move onwards, seeking out the next possibility.

This narrows my selection list dramatically, ruling out tons of amazing quality companies that have produced fantastic returns…

FACEBOOK is a perfect example. I used to own Facebook but it stubbornly – happily – went up and up and up. FB is a great company with stupendous profits and return on equity, but then I looked at its price on the market and saw that it was sky-high relative to those returns.

SELL, I cried out. Great company, but not a great price to buy or own.

Here’s how I see it: It’s like if I wanted the new iPhone X and one day it was priced at $600. Then the following week, Apple decided to boost the selling price to $1400. Sure, it’s a great purchase at a $600 price, but I’m not going to lay down $1400, even though millions of others likely would. It’s about discipline.

A few other current classic examples of “too richly valued for my blood”? GOOGLE, Microsoft, 3M & McDonalds… great companies all for years or decades but too expensive to invest in at today’s prices. I do own Apple, Disney, Microsoft, Deere and United Technologies but wouldn’t add any more at today’s prices.

Discipline … Discipline.

There is a flip side.

Even though markets are at all-time highs, there are still some pretty fair companies available for purchase at reasonable prices. Most names you’ll even recognize.

More often than not, these companies have a short-term reason for their prices sitting at low levels, but when examined closely, these reasons appear temporary and not permanently destructive. Well-known brand names are resilient and difficult to destroy (although not impossible, just ask the department stores).

VS sales brawl

OK, akin to a Black Friday sale, I have a set of bargain basement choices for you- some examples of undervalued and unloved stocks on today’s market (almost entirely U.S.-based; Canada, sadly, has meagre selections for my tasting enjoyment)… I’ve included their annual dividend payout in brackets after their name  :

  1. L Brands (4.8%) –

    Every man’s candy store has been the Victoria’s Secret catalogue… Bath & Body Works is icing on the cake. Despite Weinstein and Cosby and Spacey and Franken and… OMG… this page doesn’t have space for all the names… sex and sexy still sells. Vive la difference entre Mars et Venus!

  2. AMC Networks (0.0%) –

    Watched The Walking Dead lately? Yeah, me neither, too much gory blood for me, but zillions do… AMC makes TWD and a bunch of other cable shows (including previously, Mad Men and Breaking Bad)… ’nuff said…

  3. CVS Pharmacies (2.8%) –

    I’ve always been impressed by the CVS drug chain stores whenever I’ve visited the U.S…. arthritis and diabetes and ED and wrinkles mean drugs and cosmetics are staples in every age group.

  4. Penske Automotive (2.8%) –

    Luxury car (BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati) brand sales have a wonderful habit of staying strong regardless of economic up or down trends. Penske sells and services all of these as well as those big 18-wheeler trucks that crowd our highway lanes! Zoom Zoom!

  5. Starbucks (2.1%) –

    I would have never believed that a $5 cup of coffee or green tea could make a sustainable franchise. Boy was I wrong… $5 is the cheap cup now, and caffeine is no FAKE NEWS. I’m a regular customer now, Tim Hortons be damned!

  6. Magna International (2.0%) –

    Finally, a Canadian company in the mix that competes well internationally. If you drive ANY car today, chances are pretty good that Magna produced a sizeable chunk of the parts that surround you on your drive.

  7. J. M. Smucker (2.8%) –

    PB + J your favourite sandwich too? Actually, I prefer PB and banana, but no matter. For more than a century, Jerome Monroe Smucker’s company has placed jams and peanut butters, syrups and ice cream toppings on the tabletops of North Americans and others internationally.

  8. Cardinal Health (3.3%) –

    Specializing in the distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical products, it serves more than 100,000 locations. In addition, the company also manufactures medical and surgical products, including gloves, surgical apparel and fluid management products. Cardinal Health provides medical products to over 75 percent of hospitals in the United States. The sickness industry is very healthy…

…………….

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That’s 8 Delicious Temptations – if my enticing sweet talk has you drooling with these delectable selections, lick the peanut buttah off your fingers and investigate them for yourself.

But please don’t rely on my sterling judgment to be anything except Fool’s Gold until you’ve looked more closely yourself. I won’t rely on others out there to make my final investing decision, and neither should you.

If you’re just starting out in the investment world, I wish you wealth and wellness and healthy returns.

If you’re an older Number’s Nerd like me with a few notches on your profit & losses belt, I’m willing to suffer your slings and arrows if you disagree with my choices.

I’ll also gladly entertain any gold nuggets you’ve unearthed that I’ve overlooked.

I got wrinkles round my eyes, I got grey in my hair
I’m puttin’ on a little bit of weight but I don’t seem to care
Fool say, hey slick, you lookin’ good, lie, lie, lie
That fool in my mirror’s singin’ the same old song… Guy Clark

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For now, this fool has decided to stick with my own investment counsel… and if you managed to stick with me through today’s financial numbers’ maze… yawn…  I’d suggest a nap is in order…

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Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…

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Do you hear Lindsey, Stevie, and Fleetwood Mac floating past in the background?

I’m not a religious guy.

You may know this.

Not religious in the traditional sense of God and heaven and hell and all that.

But I find beautiful moments of inspiration and indeed, spirituality, in the things I see and hear, and the people I encounter.

Last week, I played my guitar and sang at a local church supper. They know I’m not religious.

I carefully chose songs to play that I figured were humble and kind, you know, innocuous from a “Godly” perspective.

I strummed and picked my guitar and was having a great time crooning away… If you could read my mind love what a tale my thoughts ….

I figured that 15 or 16 songs would be plenty for the occasion, but then I reached the end of my playlist.

The group asked for just one or two more songs. An encore? For me? My ego jumped a tall fence like a bounding deer.

I have a pretty big repertoire of tunes in my quiver and so I happily launched into another song.

The first verse and chorus sailed along smoothly… and then… I realized as I approached the second verse that the song I was singing contained sexual, nudity-type references. Not nasty, violent or hurtful stuff, but adult in nature.

Oh SHIT (sorry… SHOOT!). Panic city. There were children and elderly in the group.

What were my choices? Should I stop singing now? A whole novella of coping ideas ran up and down the hallways of my brain as I smiled outwardly and sang onward.

I squirmed uncomfortably inside as I neared the part in the lyrics that I figured was somewhat incompatible with proper Christian values…  at least while ensconced in God’s shelter.

Now I know good Christians have sex, lots of it if they’re lucky, so I wasn’t unleashing some erotic blasphemy into their happy haven. But I fretted (get it?, guitar playing… fretted? Never mind!) nonetheless.

My solution?

As I meandered into the lyrical minefield I slowly lowered the volume of my voice and craftily turned my head away from the microphone in a truly artistic way so that the mic wouldn’t pick up the “naughty” lyrics.

From the corner of my eye, I spied no one appearing uncomfortable.

Whew… maybe I had managed to wiggle my way out of God’s wrath from above… maybe.

lightning

I’m sorry. Excuse me.

All of this is irrelevant and unrelated to what I was going to tell you. You know, the inspiring part.

Have I mentioned that this post is about inspiration? It is.

After I finished playing, I was conversing with some of these good church folk who were so warm and appreciative.

I stopped to chat with a darling little 90 year old lady who smiled and expressed her appreciation to me (she obviously missed my sex-related lyrics!… or maybe NOT!). Then she commented that she had played guitar herself in her younger years.

She asked, “do you think it’s too late for me to take some guitar lessons?”

That was the sweetest music of the night in my ears. “Of course not.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

old lady guitar.jpg

Life and love and learning (and sex) don’t have to end when we strike upon some magical age like 60, 70, 80, 90.

Len at my gym is 93 this year and lifts weights like a robust 40 year old.

On another stimulating tangent, this past weekend I felt inspired by two others in my sphere.

By late fall, I’m usually well past the summer mindset where long running stints are possible.

Like skiing in April or golfing in October, the season just seems to be finished and stowed away like Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Day. We move on.

But last Sunday, my brother … my almost-4-years-older-than-me brother… ran his very first Marathon race in Ontario. That’s 26.2 miles ….42.2 kilometres… more than 4 hours of non-stop running. His body is a well-tuned middle-aged+ machine. Incroyable!

I’ve done marathon runs in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s … I know how incredibly demanding it is and how much mental strength it takes to train for the endurance run.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

The same day, a local friend of mine ran through icy and snow patches in a 20 kilometre trail running event along the Kettle Valley Trail line. She’s in her early 30’s but dedication and motivation and perseverance hang over her like an energetic halo.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

There I have a trio of perfect inspirational examples… one in her 30’s… one, his 60’s… another in her 90’s.

All of these people are “ordinary” in the sense that they aren’t superhuman to the best of my awareness. But they have “extraordinary” heart and drive powered by a youthful zest.

They each contain their own clues of how they reach for something special. I want those clues to become mine.

Each of them makes my heart beat quicker, and gives me a boost of inspiration.

As I grow older it becomes easier and easier to inwardly reflect and focus backwards to the days when, as Billy Joel sings, “I wore a younger man’s clothes“. Memories are wonderful gems that we can hug and admire and treasure.

But looking in the mirror at what is and has been is a delicious distraction, a distraction that shouldn’t prevent me from gazing out the window and discovering what else lies on the future horizon… ravishing orange-flavoured sunsets can be followed by amazingly bright and cheery sunrises.

The best thing I can do today is to finish writing this blog post, learn a new song (maybe one about sex) on my guitar, think about all the inspirational people that surround me, smile, and say to myself, 

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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Stuck In The Middle With You…

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I’m trying to laugh.

There’s snow and ice on the ground suddenly, just 3 days post Hallowe’en … and the ghouls of early November have laid havoc and challenge across the streets and life paths.

Cosmic jokes.

This morning, I studied a homeless woman crossing at a corner in downtown Penticton, doggedly pushing a shopping cart filled to the gunnels with who knows what.

Like a heavy lawnmower in thick grass, it was a difficult push for the poor lady dressed in an old Salvation Army coat, scarf and gloves. The small wheels on the cart were chattering like frigid teeth over crusted ice.

In a surreal juxtaposition, pea green leaves still clung to the large maple tree overhanging the street.

She may have been young, maybe older. With her head bowed, and layered up against the chill as if attired in a niqab, who knows?

Do I know this woman? – maybe she’s visited the soup kitchen on one of my volunteer days – but with her face totally covered, it’s impossible to say.

I try to envision how she finds respite and comfort somewhere in the gloomy rawness of the grey cloudy day ahead but I’m drawing blanks.

I’m trying to find some humour in her situation.

Isn’t there humour somewhere… somehow… to be found in every situation?

If she dressed like that in mid-summer, I could have a belly laugh at her comfortable eccentricity. Or… if she had a Canada Goose perched on top of her cart watching out as her navigator I could laugh.

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Bill, a man I’ve worked for, and with, for close to 30 years died suddenly this week.

He was a man who could find humour.

He’s dead and I hurt.

I hurt like when I see a wounded animal in agony. It makes my gut knot up and cry out. I hope he felt that his life was worthy… that he had done the best he could.

A rapid, candle-snuffing heart attack stung like an angry wasp as he hung Christmas decorations at home.

The irony (but not humour) I suppose is that he spent his career skillfully slicing into thousands of cold corpses, detecting and probing for clots and other sources of cursed invaders that initiate a final breath.

The thief that stole his last breath was a tenacious clot similar to innumerable ones he’d seen over the decades.

Bill and I weren’t fast, bosom buddies, but we were friends.

When together, we talked easily about our kids’ exploits, our travels, and frustrations with medical bureaucracy.

We laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. Bill’s amiable smile unearthed nuggets of humour in most situations even when he was acting his curmudgeonly best.

Bill was like raconteur Stuart McLean in real life. Bill gifted me smiles.

I’ve attempted to locate some humour in his situation.

But Bill is gone from this world.

Bill is gone from his family’s world.

Bill is gone from my world.

Bill is a ghost now in the minds of those that cared.

So where’s the humour?

If he’d had a heart attack and survived, I could have sighed in relief, then found some laughs in the dietary and lifestyle changes that might have magically transformed this big teddy bear curmudgeon into a vegetarian fitness guru.

I can burst out in laughter at the mere thought of seeing Bill dressed in tight yoga wear.

yoga man

The shopping cart lady and Bill remind me of the “polar opposites” in life.

I don’t like this life deal where some of us live in warm, luxurious comfort while others exist in stiff and frosty discomfort.

I don’t like this life deal where the delight and joy of new birth is mirrored by the shock and pain of unanticipated death.

None of us has the choice of where we begin or…  where we end.

Life is about opposites.

Life is warm and cold.

Life is joyous and tragic.

Life is hello and goodbye.

Or perhaps as Susan Sontag said, “Life is a movie; death is a photograph.

Life is…

… a movie with your beginning, your middle, then your end.

The middle? The sweet middle is all about understanding and choice.

Let’s face it, your beginning is sheer luck and random chance.

Two unrelated amorous people make a carnal choice to build a person that is you. You don’t get a vote! Nope, none…

But there’s a nugget of beauty in this story.

The diamond gem is that you and I have the opportunity to write our own middle, and how the middle shapes the ending.

The “note to self” in the street lady pushing her cart and in Bill’s departure is the reminder to constantly remember that we make the middle, the funny and messy middle, we make the proactive choices every day that shape our world, for better and worse.

Every person’s “middle” is different, but a satisfying ending is written in that middle.

Little by little, I’m still learning. Little by little I’m still growing.

Little by little I’m paying attention and keeping my eyes and ears attuned to the small stuff that all adds up to the the BIG stuff that is life.

I’m trying to laugh today, but honestly, there are small tears tickling the corner of my mouth.

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I Can’t… But I Can… 

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I’m not Pollyanna.

There are some things I can do.

There are some things I can’t do.

There are some things I don’t wanna do.

There are some things I shouldn’t do.

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

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

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

YK Handcuffed  2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

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

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

Never worth it. ’nuff said.

………………..

Do. Or do not. There is no try.”    

Yoda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can try.

We can all try.

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

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

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

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

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

Here, let me give you a few examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, maybe I am Pollyanna.

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

But to try is the same package for us all.

To try is hopeful.

To try is courageous.

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

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

Yoda apple

 

Does He Remember Where The Deer And The Antelope Play?

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fun fun fun

And she’ll have fun fun fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sask clouds.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Today our quest is the Spruce Home Lutheran Cemetery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

clouded mind.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s some small solace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wide open sky

 

 

The Day I’ll Tattoo My Ass

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Bad-Ass-tattoo

… ink, pieces, skin art, tats, work, tramp stamp…

Ubiquitous. Universal. Inescapable.

Everywhere I look, everywhere I go… TATTOOS

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have none… yet.

When I cook a meal for guests I like to make the presentation of the fare over-the-top beautiful. Lots of garnish and exotic flare like colourful Bhangra dancers.

Sure, it’s delightful when my Rogan Josh or Chicken Cacciatore looks sumptuously appealing, but the down-deep real reason I want it to look appetizing is … well… my culinary flavour creations don’t always connect… make the grade… you know, taste good.

But if my food looks sensuously ravishing, there’s a small chance, a wee opportunity, that it will fool the unsuspecting nosher into thinking I’m an amazing chef.

Smoke and mirrors a là sous-chef.

Many of us get taken in by smoke and mirrors all the time. I do.

The whole concept of buyer’s remorse is based on a clever marketer convincing us that something is better, more useful, tastier than it really is. When was the last time you ate a Big Mac or Olive Garden entree that looked like the one in the TV commercial?

So I’m thinking along the same lines when I consider the notion of having my ass tattooed (this has absolutely nothing to do with flavour!).

It’s about cheeky smoke and mirrors.

superman tattoo

My friend Sam says she’d never get a tattoo because, in her words, “who in the world would put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?”

But I’m getting older and my “bumpers” are less solid and stolid than they were when I was a young pup, despite the innumerable squats, deadlifts and lunges I ply my way through in the gym … my vintage gluteal folds are beginning to fold in on themselves like an origami crane.

Yes, my once Ferrari-hot ass (some prefer to describe it as a VW Beetle) is aging alongside me.

I need more concealing smoke in my mirror.

The thought of having some ink art on my backside royal real estate could be just the thing to restore the curb appeal to this sagging classic.

Idea… I could return some long-lost lustre to the old castle cheek-turrets: how about a nice long Martin guitar neck sloped diagonally from my upper thigh across my butt cheek to my lower back, some Nashville harmony in my rearview mirror… or perhaps an Ironman logo with a playful water splash atop a Tour de France-style cyclist would add a robust perkiness to my backside, do you think?

guitar tattoo

All of this is a possibly creepy aside to a discussion my wife and I had the other day about tattoos and the lack of creativity our society exercises with the potential uses of body art. When you think about it, we squander some great tattooing Idea Sex possibilities.

Just a few thoughts that cropped up about the potential of tattoos – and please feel free to add your own inventive thoughts to this – were:

  1. Transplant Tattoo – tattoo removal is growing in popularity at the same time that tattoo production is flourishing. Why remove and lose that amazing art when tattoo skin grafts could be lifted and shifted from one person to another. When Jennie splits with Mark, why not have the romantic blossoming rose emblazoned with Jennie’s name surgically excised away from Mark’s bicep and delicately moved on to her new “forever” man Arjit’s torso.
  2. Funeral Tattoo – when we draw our final breath and no longer need the physical shell that sustained us, should the art that adorned and decorated, the craftwork that colourfully spoke of who we were, just decompose or go up in smoke along with the rest of our epithelial wrinkles? Of course not… Michelangelo’s been gone for centuries and still we droolingly visit Florence to admire his artistic power (and maybe the pasta and gelato!). Why shouldn’t we memorialize ourselves in perpetuity by removing the artwork of our outer rind, cure it like a buffalo hide, frame it decorously in memoriam and voilà … we live on shining with the stars that grace the evening skies long after we’ve departed.
  3. Baby – Micro Tattoo – this is really a no-brainer and long overdue. Many new parents have their infant’s ears pierced in the hospital nursery before excitedly heading home with their precious bundle. It’s a statement about their culture and belief system that brought the child into the world. So why not infant tattoos? It surely can’t be more traumatic than a circumcision, and it provides you the parent with an unequalled opportunity to give the wee bairn the tattoo YOU wanted to have but never grew the balls to adorn your own outer surface. BONUS OPTION: you choose the tattoo that YOU want THEM to have. Beware of teen angst in coming years!

Good ideas, don’t you agree?

But ultimately, I think I’ve decided against having my buttocks bruised with needles.

In the end, it may be my buttoned-down upbringing – the Protestant ethos “To keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity” – that holds sway.

Or, while I like to consider myself an amateur artist, or at least having an artistic bent, my artistic leanings are less visual and more in the musical and written end of the artistic spectrum.

For the time being, I’ll avoid making an ass of myself and forestall any skin colour stylings with my sleek (ahem) Ferrari physique.

 

old man tattoo.jpg

How to Make Trump Soup

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I have nothing to put in my soup, you see,
Not a bone or a bean or a black-eyed pea,
So I’ll just climb in the pot to see
If I can make a soup out of me.
I’ll put in some pepper and salt and I’ll sit
In the bubbling water–I won’t scream a bit.
I’ll sing while I simmer, I’ll smile while I’m stewing,
I’ll taste myself often to see how I’m doing.
I’ll stir me around with this big wooden spoon
And serve myself up at a quarter to noon.
So bring out your soup bowls,
You gobblers and snackers.
Farewell–and I hope you enjoy me with crackers!

… with apologies to Shel Silverstein

Trump Soup.jpg

Donald Trump stood in line at the Penticton Soup Kitchen (Soupateria) one morning – I think it was Thursday – this week.

It’s true. I saw him with my own eyes.

Of course, I could be mildly confused but that’s a different story for another day.

It was a sunny (-less) day without a cloud in the sky, but no obvious sun either… a fog of forest-fire grey smoke still hung throughout the Okanagan Valley like damp laundry on the line in a “No Campfires Allowed” provincial campground …

But not only is there 50 Shades of Grey haze hanging out, but there’s also a ubiquitous orange-scoured miasma that’s been persistently hanging on and blanketing the entire planet since, well, I’d have to say mid-January.

Scan the news, pick up a paper, open your ears, the stinky cloud is everywhere.

The bouquet of excrement is strong.

Anyway, I saw him standing there in the lazy, disorganized line that was gradually forming by the glass-fronted doors of the soup kitchen. There were little pockets of quiet chatter amidst the shaggy group. One or two were talking to themselves.

The Donald caught my eye with a hostile gaze as I passed by, taking a few empty cardboard potato boxes to the recycling dumpster that sits like a quiet blue elephant nearby the front entrance.

donald t.jpg

Before I could turn away or pretend we hadn’t had a “moment”, he latched onto me and began bellowing through his rectal-pursed lips.

“Look… I’m coming into the kitchen and getting you guys organized.

It will be so simple. We’re gonna make a huge pot of my new recipe… Trump Soup.

It’s gonna be fantastic. Best ever. Everyone loves it and they haven’t even tried it yet.”

I tried to pull away and sneak in the back door but he was on me before I could close and bar the door.

There we both were, Trump vs Billy Bush-style, in the narrow back hallway, jammed between trays of day-old bread and boxes of freshly picked Sunrise apples.

Nervously, I melted away from his toxic breath. I felt afraid that he might grab me by the pussy (hmmmm, something doesn’t add up here!).

Fine!

In resignation, I lead him through the door into the main dining area set up with about 2 dozen long, blue-grey tables. Bread crumbs littered the beige vinyl floor where the sandwich makers had just finished their task.

We veered to the right and into the production kitchen. Delicious smells sifted quickly into my nose.

I reluctantly prepared to introduce him around the industrious, knife-wielding group of volunteers attired in purple and navy blue aprons.

Donald didn’t lose a step, brushing me aside with a shove of his arm, while totally ignoring all of the volunteer staff busily chopping carrots and onions.

He headed straight to the huge 35 L. soup cauldron simmering over a gas flame. A delicate vegetable broth scent rose up to meet his gaze, his interrogation of the soup.

Listening closely I heard him mumble under his breath… “Natural Gas stove, hmmmmpf… no jobs there… we’ll change it to coal.

A quick dismissive sniff and he decisively turned on his heels.

Then, raising both of his little hands and making zeros with his thumb and forefinger, he addressed the group.

People, this soup is terrible, it’s a disaster.” Sneer.

Five or six confused helpers raised their eyebrows, checking each other out for reactions.

“We are gonna repeal and replace this soup…

… this stuff is worse than the Holocaust… and one other thing!”. 

Ceiling fans spun furiously overhead to dispel the rising heat wave sweeping the stainless steel laden kitchen. Localized global warming?

He lifted an eyebrow and angrily spat: “It’s those fruit-picking “Kweebeckoys” Frenchy kids outside with their long braids and hippie clothes. They’ve gotta go back to where they came from. And the Mexicano guys too.”

quebecois kids.jpg

“Before we open the door for lunch, we’re gonna build a wall to keep them outta here. And dammit, they’ll pay for it to be built with the money they stole from OUR local farmers.”

“Let’s put the good folks in the lineup out there to work – the ones who were born right here and not in Kenya like that other wacko President – we’ll get them back to work so fast, it will be a beautiful beautiful thing.”

“Back to good-paying jobs in the orchards picking and packing. They’ll love us. I guarantee it.”

A glow of White Nationalist pride lit his chubby face – JOB accomplished – while pink-tinged embarrassed looks shrouded my and my co-volunteers’ faces.

“Ok everyone… I’m heading back to Air Force One… I’m leaving you to make this new Trump soup… lots of stinky garlic and onions, you decide, I don’t do details… doesn’t matter … what matters is that we repeal and replace that other soup.

“I don’t care how good it is or how much people have enjoyed it for years here. Doesn’t matter.”

“And you, over there…”

He pointed and glared at John, an elderly stooped gentleman born in Poland 80 years earlier.

Good John, who has diligently helped out in the kitchen twice each week since his retirement 17 years ago.

“I like you, but I don’t think you’re contributing enough. You’re fired.”

“Thank you for your service.”

“Let’s make this soup kitchen great again!… Look I have baseball caps with that emblazoned on them for you to wear.

Course, you’ll have to pay for them.”

……………….

Hands

Friends, we’re all in this soup pot together on this beautiful blue planet.

We can cry. We can stew. We can fester. And we can laugh.

But we can’t ignore forever.

History has already written that story.

………..

Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love. (1958)

Martin Luther King

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemoller

 

The ADHD Perfect Week… Do You Have A God Complex Too?

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Was God ADHD-afflicted?

Maybe even a rotten heathen like myself has been constructed in God’s image… is it possible that I’m God’s Mini-Me?

Dog and puppy

I’m pretty sure I said GOD…

Let’s face it, anyone who builds universes and Adam’s and Eve’s and animals and plants, listens to every prayer, watches over every sporting event, administers individually to the multitudes of sick and dying, carefully allows wars and famines to take their course without interfering, blesses babies at their Baptisms and Bris’s, accepts and welcomes the recently deceased into his home, creates artistically gorgeous sunsets for vacationers…

… well… this entity we call God is beautifully smitten with a ravishing ADHD ailment.

I don’t think he/she can focus. That’s a considerable amount of activity and a lot of ground covered by one “person”.

I used to think I was crazy because I constantly shifted my focal point of activity not just on a daily basis, but on an hour-to-hour level.

So maybe you’ll understand that when I look at my actively scattered mind in this “God” light, I figure I’m doing OK.

To give you some context here, let me outline my typical week of activities. While representative, some items drift in and out with the seasons and my level of enthusiasm at any given moment:

  • Soup kitchen
  • Open Mic performance/guitar practice
  • Bartending
  • Boot Camp/Swimming/Weight Training/Track Running/Yoga/Tennis
  • Tutoring
  • Blog Writing
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Reading Books
  • Stock Market Investing
  • Building Stuff/Renovations
  • Movie Watching/Popcorn Inhalation

Family Circus

It’s pretty easy to call this a distracted ADHD-like whirlwind. (My apologies to those truly afflicted with a diagnosis of ADHD… I use the term loosely in my personal life)

Or, perhaps if you’re a female-type, you’re saying to yourself, “It’s called multi-tasking stupid man, we women do this every day of the week!“.

Sometimes, I think I’m losing touch with normalcy because even when I’m doing and enjoying an activity – experiencing the moment – I’m actually thinking about the next thing I want to do or should do.

It’s like Seinfeld says in his stand up routine, Whenever we’re ‘here’, we’re already thinking about what we should be doing ‘there’.” I talked about this idea a couple of weeks back.

It may appear that I’m riding madly off in all directions, but I prefer to think of my disseminated existence as “life balance”…

My Italian brother-in-law Don comically talks about his food “balancers”, the delectable little snacks he ingests constantly throughout his day that balance his need for calories!

I’ve merely taken Don’s “balancer” act and morphed it slightly into my list of busyness…  movements… my “to’ing and fro’ing“. I like the sensation of being an Olympic gymnast teetering on the balance beam, doing flips, then turns, and then somersaults while tenuously holding onto the central girder.

I’ve always been an adherent of balance in life. I may be mentally unbalanced but my day-to-day equilibrium remains intact.

The Oxford Dictionary describes balance as, “A situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” Who knows what correct proportions are but I think balance = healthy… as in…

… a healthy’ish blender mix of the physical, mental, spiritual, social, intellectual/educational, narcissistic and altruistic. Biting off a portion of each of these food groups of life on a regular basis builds the muscle groups of our existence.

WellnessWheel

I’ve observed very successful people who have a razor-sharp focus, folks who dedicate every waking hour to a goal or an outcome that burns like the fires of Hades inside them.

At the extreme, they relegate their physical health and/or family contacts to the bottom of the pile creating a diseased state of balance.

Do I believe that Steve Jobs was brilliant? Absolutely! Do I believe Steve Jobs was physically strong and robust, and had healthy family relationships… not so much.

While I admire the obsessive focus, stamina and dedication of these highly successful types, it’s not the house where I see the dreams of my world living.

I prefer to consciously allocate my 1,440 minutes a day in a proportioned balance to each of the areas I value…

I see my days in the same way I see my investing diversification.

I would never allocate my entire wad of $$ to one stock investment like Apple or Johnson & Johnson, even though these are fine companies and great investments. It’s common sense to spread your investment dollars just as it’s common sense to live a life of balance. Diversification in life = Balance.

So, let’s go back to the where I began today’s “sermon”… Was/Is God ADHD-afflicted? Or does it matter?

I’ll let you decide… because I’ve got a bunch of other things to do.

Snowbirds.jpg

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

BUY BUY BUY… Your Tollbooth to PFTM Wealth

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Buy Buy Buy

I was never terrific at math in high school…

I was OK… yes… but not super gifted. But I did have my style. Or more likely I discovered my style with age and experience like a modern day Marco Polo. (Marco?… POLO!)

I hung out in class with slightly nerdy kids like Jerome and Karen and another Larry (he called me Lawrence so we wouldn’t get confused), kids who grasped and consumed math concepts like they were ambling at ease amidst the orchard trees, snacking on juicy, low hanging cherries, whereas I clumsily had to climb a shaky ladder to reach and reach to find the answers.

More often than not I dropped the fruit or fell off the ladder.

Jerome would lean across the gap between our desks and patiently explain to me the misty concept that our teacher Mr. Warneke had just chalked up all over the blackboard. Regardless, my puzzled expression rarely changed. SOL again.

The abstruse theories and hypotheses were nebulous to me, more flighty feathers than concrete. I couldn’t squint hard enough to make the numeral picture on the canvas clear, not the way my gifted cohorts naturally could.

More importantly, it wasn’t something I enjoyed. It tasted a whole lot more like vinegar than chocolate.

I have a BIG lazy gene and math drew it up to the surface like bubbling oil crude. When it came to tough thought processes, you know, the 10,000 hour rule, even the 1,000 hour rule, well…. I flipped to the other channel seeking alternate fluff… maybe it was “fake fluff”!

fake fluff.jpg

I liked numbers and math, just not THOSE numbers and math. It was too much like masturbation instead of skin-to-skin sex.

I liked “real life” math that could change my life or others’ lives. Still do.

In the here and now, and in the many years since, whenever I deal with real life numbers… numbers that have an actual day-to-day meaning in my world… well… I’m in my element. The water feels so much warmer in this pool.

I like numbers that relate to meaningful things where I can have an obvious impact.

Here’s a couple of examples:

I compiled statistics for 10 years in a laboratory-based diabetes program. I was able to monitor and impact in some style the way in which people treated their own diabetes condition.

Every three months I prepared and mailed an individualized letter to thousands of local diabetics – a letter filled with real life numbers that included their blood test results for A1C (blood sugar test), Blood pressure and Cholesterol (ABC’s).

For those who had been wandering about blindly (often for years), a mechanism now arrived in their mailbox whereby they knew exactly where they stood. They could then make educated lifestyle changes (or choose not to as is sadly so often the case). That’s real world, easy-concept numbers and math.

The other real life math I invest my hours in is for my personal benefit.

It’s my tollbooth math.

Personal Financial Tollbooth Math. (PFTM)

tollbooth.jpg

I’ve talked about the idea behind PFTM before, so I’ll expand on it a bit further here.

Again, an example or two.

Remember how in high school you read JD Salinger’s book, Catcher in the Rye. He wrote that in 1951. Well, today, 66 years later, this book continues to sell a quarter of a million copies each year. For God’s sake, the man has been dead for almost 8 years and he makes more money annually than I do. Tollbooth.

Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael Jackson are all long gone and yet each still racks up millions and millions of dollars of yearly revenues that pour out of swollen creeks into their estate accounts. Tollbooth.

Each of these people set up a tollbooth based on their strengths, and posthumously continue to feed voraciously from their early labours and talents.

If you have a business idea or some talent that provides a steady, worry-light, form of income, I encourage you to pursue it with gusto. Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But since I’ll likely never pen a New York Times bestseller 50 Shades of Grey book or produce a song like Thriller, I need to build my own tollbooth in my own way with the tools I have at my disposal; hence Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

More simply put, it’s about investing in good quality companies that spin off a steady stream of dividends, preferably a stream that increases each and every year. There’s an additional layer to this called DRIP investing that I’ll write about another day.

Ownership of a well-chosen batch of these companies is a ticket to long-term financial success, and fortunately they’re not hard to find in today’s information-laden internet world.

A few choices you ask? I’d be happy to share like the Warren Buffett wannabe that I am.

I have investments in tollbooth businesses like Apple (your iPhone is 2 or 3 years old… buy a new one… Cha-ching for Apple!), or Johnson & Johnson (running low on Tylenol…psssst… J & J will take away that headache!), or Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) (another month, another $100 to the phone company that connects me to my Apple iPhone!). They all pay quarterly dividends that increase each year. Tollbooth.

AFLAC, CVS Health, TransCanada Pipelines, Royal Bank, Disney, United Technologies, Pizza Pizza Corp. are all good conservative choices that have paid ordinary investors for years and years, and likely will for many years to come. And those are just a few.

FULL DISCLOSURE: If you’re seeking a raging blast of adrenaline rush with your investments, none of these are high flyers with 10-bagger potential (Peter Lynch‘s catchphrase for a stock whose share price increases 10-fold)… but they all offer a steady drizzle of tollbooth money into your bank account every month or every 3 months.

Dividends

Tollbooths and “real life” math go hand-in-hand to bring ease and quality to our lives. You can tell me as often as you like that money doesn’t generate happiness. I’ll grind my teeth together and then quietly remind you that $$ are a cruise ship that carries you a long way in the right direction.

I’ll keep practicing my PFTM tricks and building a stronger repertoire of those businesses that work for me and my family.

I love my investments like little children. I watch them forge ahead and build on their strengths with the occasional scraped knee along the road.

I take pride in their accomplishments, and live in the reflected glow of all they do to enhance my quality of life.

Reflecting back, my bright high school friends who put in the necessary hours mastering math concepts have all likely made millions working in high-tech fields that require a strong understanding of mathematical models and nuance. Maybe theoretical math became their tollbooth. I applaud any successes they’ve had using their own toolkit.

Even though I wasn’t in the top echelon of school math class, I fortunately discovered that life often doesn’t require brilliance or genius to deliver the goods, sometimes you only need to unearth your Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

Einstein math

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