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Freefalling…

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freefall

 

A slightly muffled engine roar intrudes through the World War I-style headgear…

… my racing heart nuzzles upwards into my throat as I watch the digital readout on my tandem buddy’s altimeter climb higher.

The fateful number 10,000 is getting excruciatingly close…

10,000.

As in, 10,000 feet above the Okanagan Valley bottom that we left about 20 minutes earlier.

As in, 10,000 feet of air to fly through with the aid of a parachute before kissing firm ground once more.

Don’t forget to bend your legs at the knees and tilt your head back when we first leave the plane, keep your arms crossed over your chest until I tap you on the shoulder“, yelled Rocky, my tandem jumping partner, over the plane engine noise.

Really, I should be relaxed and enjoying the sublime views of blue sky, marshmallow-fluff clouds and green valley farms, homes and hillsides below.

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And sure, I am enjoying… Okanagan Lake looks fabulous, blue-black tears in the quiltscape of blues and greens stretched out across the arc of earth…

… but… my mind is becoming more and more focussed on the excitement – more focussed on the fear – factor.

I begin editing my obituary in my head… Suddenly on WednesdayUnexpectedly as a result of …

My friend Jennifer looked back at me in her aviator’s cap – she would jump with her tandem-partner Brett moments after I was airborne – we smiled at each other and fist-bumped.

Then Rocky swung the airplane door up and open and a huge rushing tsunami of wind pulsed over us; we swung our legs, one by one, out the door against the gale and onto the strut a foot or so beneath the opening. OMG, this is really happening

Until this morning, this lovely birthday gift (which I have talked about as a bucket list item for the last couple of years) from my wife Maureen was a fairy tale, a far-in-the-distance occurrence that would eventually happen one day but never today.

Until today became TODAY!

I’m not typically a thrill seeker… NOPE. I singularly lack courage. I fear paper cuts. I feel for the Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

And yet, in the last decade or so it has dawned on me that life is meant to be lived for each moment, each day.

It’s taken me a long time to live and breathe through my fears and not turn away from them as much as I once did.

On the other hand, I may just be stupid.

My mind wandered for a few seconds as the last moments pass before freefall.

I pushed away the ear worm that says “you should be listening to Tom Petty and Freefallin’...”.. I hate that song… get lost Petty!

More interior wandering… leading up to this day, I’ve had an uncomfortable dream where I jumped tandem from the plane, securely connected to my sky-high friend who carried OUR parachute on his back.

The freefall was cocaine-laced amazement.

When my jump-mate pulled the cord to release the parachute, I could feel the upwards tug as the rippling chute gasped and unfolded, catching the air pocket inside.

Then just as rapidly I could sense myself uncoupling, separating from my partner and feel myself continuing along in speedy descent as the metal clasps that had tied us so tightly together mysteriously unlatched and unleashed me once more into fretful freefall. Noooooooo……

the scream

Back to reality… I took one final panoramic glance over the valley, the clouds, the water and pill-sized homes… arms crossed over my chest, head tilted back.

Then we began to rock.

Forward once, then back … forward again, then back… forward again …

…and …  forward more… weightless

… the atmosphere was cool, sky bright, there was no here or now, no bills to be paid, no chores or other people … nothing but rushing air … weightless

Inexplicably, Sarah McLachlan quietly sang In The Arms of The Angel in my ear.

… Rocky took us into an immediate somersault where the sky became the ground and the ground the sky.

No fear now, no shock now, only amazement.

Coming out of the somersault, Rocky tapped my shoulder and I stretched my arms out into wings where I could feel the intense pressure of air against my chest and face, my cheeks and nostrils buffeted up and skyward.

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This is the moment I wish I could freeze-frame and hold onto for seconds, minutes, perhaps hours.

Click. Snapshot. Seconds speed by like the hurricane wind surrounding us.

I can barely absorb the meteoric moment before it’s … gone like a human lifetime set against eternity.

The nightmare dream I had envisioned before quickly evaporates when Rocky releases the parachute and we pulse gently upwards with wind beneath our wings.

It almost seems like a complete halt in the sky at 5,000 feet after the flush of freefall. Our bodies sink into an upright stance and the rushing shrill of wind goes silent.

OMG Rocky, that was incredible. How many times will you do this today?

Could be anywhere from 5 to 10…

The adrenaline rush begins to dissipate and a calmness settles over me like a quiet hug… or maybe that was just Rocky pressed against me. Is that a gun in your pocket?…

Whatever… Rocky loosens off some of the tethers that have bound us closely like conjoined twins. Deep yoga breath. We lift our eye visors and enjoy at a serenely relaxed pace.

Rocky begins giving me an aerial tour of the valley, pointing out landmarks as he “steers” the parachute so that we turn this way and that, looking out in all directions.

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Then he has me take the reins. I tug hard on the yellow straps that dip one side or the other of the chute allowing us to turn easily.

The earth grows ever closer as we dipsydoodle like a child’s crayon on paper with no lines to stay inside.

I crank my head upwards and can spot blue and red-chuted Jennifer floating above us a few hundred metres away. I look down and see my family crew craning their heads skyward back at us.

The ground is coming up fast now and Rocky brings us swooping into the grassy field with a flourish that slows rapidly at the last second as our feet slide over the ground.

We glide on our bums for a few feet, a puff of small gravelly stones and dust streams up.

Then all is still, all is quiet.

……….

We live in deeds, not years; In thoughts, not breaths;
In feelings, not in figures on a dial.
We should count time by heart-throbs.”

 Philip James Bailey

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Wonder of Wonders… Miracle of Miracles…

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Fiddler

In song, a fictitious fiddler perched precariously on a roof… leaving the wonder of his music afloat in the flaming sunset… the miracle of his existence tenuous…

… in real life, and far less romantically, I indelicately leapt to perch precariously, and smeared some of my own DNA on the Capitol landscape.

It bled like stink and hurt like hell.

Washington, DC – It was stupid of me to attempt to jump up on the concrete barrier in
front of the imposing Lincoln Memorial.

An innocent impulse of childlike enthusiasm and impulsiveness overtook me, creating a slip and gash of my knee and shin, scraping skin and bone across the unforgiving concrete.

I was overflowing with enthusiasm about simultaneously viewing the wondrous Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall… all were visible from one convenient location on the Washington Mall, and in my mind, would be even better so when elevated by about 3 feet on top of the cement barrier.

OUCH!

Are you as wide-eyed intrigued and awestruck as I am by the kaleidoscope of amazing natural and man-made parts of our world?

The skies over us are azure blankets to the countless wonders and miracles in life.

I’ve reflected in blogs past about my successful quest in visiting each Canadian province and territory.

I’ve blah-blah’ed on to outline my desire to touch ground on each of the continents as well as each of the 50 US States.

These fanciful aspirations must have been drifting through my dreams last night – I awoke in the early darkness with mini thought-balloons bouncing between my ears about the “official” wonders of the world.

A word of advice? Never debate your mind-thoughts in the middle of the night, they’re rambunctious and unruly 3 year olds who adamantly refuse to sit still and behave.

My foggy brain meandered in circles of pity, that bastard berating voice telling me how woefully inadequate I’ve been in failing to see and touch so many worldwide miracles that exist.

Case in point: I’ve yet to visit even one of the original ancient 7 wonders.

.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

  • the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt.
  • the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.
  • the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • the Colossus of Rhodes.
  • the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt.

Yup, nada. Not a one. Sad. Loser.

I mustered a spirited defence and volleyed a response to my sub-conscious: “Wait a minute, I’m able to place checkmarks beside 5 of 7 of the “new” wonders” …
.

The “New” Seven Wonders of the World

  • √ Chichen Itza, Mexico.
  • Christ Redeemer, Brazil.
  • The Great Wall, China.
  • Machu Picchu, Peru.
  • Petra, Jordan.
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy.
  • The Taj Mahal, India.

.

Still not satisfied with my Wonders’ count, I reloaded further ammunition into my argument. Touché!

I’ve touched, smelled, tasted, absorbed, spoken to, and smiled at earthly masterpieces, experiencing some magnificent physical marvels that, similar to a well-written book or unimaginably beautiful painting, filled me with an overarching sense of reverence and awe.

I’ve seen and breathed in the air of specialness near and far. Personal defining moments.

So today, I give you my own personal life experience 7 Wonders.

 

The “Larry” Seven Wonders

of a Random Baby Boomer’s World

  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

&

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, Washington, DC – USA

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I’ve combined two iconic American war-related sites into one spot.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War.

The battle was bloody and fierce with the largest number of casualties of the entire war (Combined Union and Confederate casualties at Gettysburg totalled 7,058 dead – 33,250 wounded – 10,800 missing), and is often described as the war’s turning point. Union Maj. General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, halting Lee’s invasion of the North.

A few months after the battle, on November 19, President Lincoln used the dedication ceremony for the Gettysburg National Cemetery to honor the fallen Union soldiers and redefine the purpose of the war in his historic Gettysburg Address.

The battlefields and cemeteries and museums of Gettysburg imprinted in me the tragedy and futility of war in heartbreaking contrast to the beauty of the surrounding fields and farms.

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The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Wall is made up of two seemingly unending 75.21 m long walls, etched with the names of the killed servicemen honoured in panels of horizontal rows.

At the highest tip (the apex where they meet) of the walls, they are 3.1 m high, and then taper away to a height of just 20 cm at their extremities. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing”.

When a visitor stands before the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, a symbolic way of bringing the past and present together.

The wall listed 58,191 names when it was completed in 1983. Simple names that exude power and emotion similar to the aged gravestones of Gettysburg.

This was the war that I “lived and experienced” as a youth each night on my black and white TV screen, watching the body bags unloading from the chasm of monster-sized airplanes.

  • Machu Picchu – Peru

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At the conclusion of an 8 hour mountainous hike, this is probably the most stunning vista I’ve ever experienced, as we surmounted a final hill and spied the Incan citadel from the Sun Gate overlooking Machu Picchu.

The 15th century citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level is located near Cusco, Peru, where we studied Spanish for 3 and a half months.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu – built in the classical Inca style, with finely cut, polished dry-stone walls – was constructed as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).

If a picture paints a thousand words, Machu Picchu is the artistic soul of a million million words. To experience it first hand is to sip from the cup of spirituality.

 

  • Niagara Falls – Canada

Niagara

Despite being a huge tourist trap, this was a frequent childhood haunt for me. My Ontario family would visit the cataract most summers with out-of-town guests.

There is special magic when you stand just feet away from the parapet, feeling the rumble of the water, and the uneasy sense of being drawn in by the cascading, rushing water as it bravely leaps into the chasm.

  • Igloo Church, Inuvik, Canada

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Our Lady of Victory Church, often called the Igloo Church, was opened in Canada’s Arctic in 1960 after two years of construction.

Brother Maurice Larocque, a Catholic missionary to the Arctic, who had previously been a carpenter, designed the church despite a lack of any formal architectural training, sketching it on two sheets of plywood that are displayed in the building’s upper storeys. Its unique structural system, “a dome within a dome”, protects the church with a foundation consisting of a bowl-shaped concrete slab on a gravel bed atop the permafrost.

I saw this building in the summer of 1978 in the Land of the Midnight Sun (and Winter Darkness). The day was warm and dusty, and any igloo looks out of place in the heat and dry, but I knew then, and now, that bone-chilling, eyelash freezing winter filled with hoar frost and ice is always lurking nearby in the far north.

  • Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

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The Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi (1852–1926). Gaudi’s work on the building is part of a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 Pope Benedict XVI consecrated and proclaimed it a minor basilica, as distinct from a cathedral, which must be the seat of a bishop.

The Sagrada Familia, like any of Gaudi’s many structures, are in the category of “love ’em or hate ’em“… “unique” hardly captures his vision of art and architecture. The church exterior is akin to a child’s pop-up storybook filled with picturesque Bible tales.

Barcelona is a beautiful rose in my bouquet of world cities thanks to Gaudi.

  • Terracotta Warriors – Xian, China

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The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. A form of funerary art, it was all buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE. It’s purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

The buried “army” was discovered in 1974 by two local farmers in Xian, Shaanxi province.

The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The life-sized army includes warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates are that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army hold more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.

The scope and detail of this underground discovery still leaves me shaking my head in amazement.

  • Dachau – Germany

Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners.

It is located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the medieval town of Dachau, outside of Munich.  It was enlarged to include forced labor, and eventually, the imprisonment of Jews, German and Austrian criminals, and eventually foreign nationals from countries that Germany occupied or invaded.

Prisoners lived in near-starvation and constant fear of brutal treatment and imminent death. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands more undocumented.

I stepped through the gates of the camp as a “tourist” in 1979 and immediately felt a heavy enveloping curtain of pain and a huge weight of human tragedy.

 

  • Grand Ole Opry House – Nashville, USA

Grand-Ole-Opry

Music is an important part of my world – music of all types.

And what is more welcoming and friendly and joy-inducing than a beautiful church-like haven (even the seats of the Opry are pews) to sweet sounds of instruments and voice? The Opry House is a modern mecca for those of us who love the sound of the fiddle and the steel guitar.

Listening to the final group song of the evening a few years back, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, left a chill in my spine, even to this day… yes, that’s the power of music.

……………….

And there you have it in wondrous fashion. 1 natural wonder, 2 distinctive churches, 3 war-related memorial sites, and 3 man-made spectacles.

OK, did you notice? You did?

Yeah, I cheated.

That was 8 wonders, 9 if you separate out the Gettysburg and Vietnam Veterans’ Wall. And given half a chance, I could list dozens more spectacular moments and vistas that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse in my days.

And despite all these incredible facades and edifices sprinkled around the world… if we view our world in another way, there are wonders and miracles to be had without setting alight on an airplane, or a ship, or a train.

I leave you with the following poem to reflect upon:

Seven Wonders of the World

I think the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Taste
5. To Feel
6. To Laugh
7. To Love.

The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that
we take for granted are truly wondrous!

A gentle reminder —
that the most precious things in life
cannot be built by hand or bought by man.

Author: Unknown

 

 

 

Another AULD LANG SYNE … 2016 Bring It On!!

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Mt Everest SummerGH Everest

 

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

……………………….

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

He said,

When you set goals you limit yourself.

To goals.”

I used to like that guy.

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

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

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

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

But it’s a limit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHYSICAL

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

CHARITABLE

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

WRITING

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

MUSIC

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

 

TRAVEL

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

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

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Street dining in Leon, Nicaragua …

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

FINANCIAL

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

FOOD AND EATING 

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

2015.

Done, deposited and secured in the Book of Life.

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

Additional accomplishments? Unexpected Surprises. There were a few …

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

There you have it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My watchword of 2015 was SIMPLIFY.

Simple, right?

SIMPLIFY.

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

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

My Watchword for 2016?

OPPORTUNITY.

OPPORTUNITY.

OPPORTUNITY.

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

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

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

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

CHOCOLATE?

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

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

2016… the year of OPPORTUNITY.

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

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

opportunity

 

 

 

The Zen of Travel and Bucket List Maintenance …

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Map of the United States-4

12 Days … 8 States… a “taste” of many places and sights… Nevada (blue surrounded by red) will have its own stop one day later on …

Why don’t you go on west to California? There’s work there, and it never gets cold. Why, you can reach out anywhere and pick an orange. Why there’s always some kind of crop to work in. Why don’t you go there?
 The Grapes of WrathJohn Steinbeck

 

Salinas, California – Huddled gangs of male, dark-skinned immigrant workers sway swiftly, expertly in the skin-searing sunshine. Salty drips of sweat glisten on their faces as they creep steadily forward, feeding the machine.

It’s a synchronized dance – bent over at the waist, quietly swinging their arms and hands back and forth, cutting off the lettuce head at its base, then flipping the green, leafy bundles upwards to the hungry motorized contraption that semi-automates the harvesting of vegetables.

A quiet mix of Spanish chatter accompanies the work train as it inches, like a fuzzy caterpillar, over the landscape.

Women workers sit crouched under the shaded canopy of the moving machine, catch the lettuce head tossed their way and rapidly strip any stray or dirty leaves before layering the head into a waxed cardboard box that is whisked away across the country to your neighbourhood supermarket or restaurant.

 

Harvesting Romaine Lettuce in Salinas, California

Harvesting Romaine Lettuce in Salinas, California

Hundreds and thousands of store shelves are filled with heads harvested every day in this very same way, using the inexpensive sweat of a Mexican worker’s brow.

If you had a salad this week that crunched with lettuce, chances are it came from this field, or one just like it in California’s famed Salinas Valley. 80% of the lettuce consumed in North America is grown in the seemingly endless trench of flat, fertile farmland south of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

On the dirt roads that line the edges of the field are mobile Porta-Potties… 5 to 10 upright pee and poop houses pulled on wheels like a wagon train behind dusty pickup trucks that follow the workers from field to field.

Field after crazy long field look the same – endless rows covered with leafy greens stretching off to the far-distant hills.

It’s a modern, ghost-like vision of the 1930’s Depression-era John Steinbeck novels Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.

Of course in the 1930’s harvesting was done with the grunt labour of the displaced mid-western sharecropper forced off his land by drought and dustbowl conditions.

Today, the Mexican labourer is the standard-bearer for the 30-40C hard work while his American counterpart drives an air-conditioned Hybrid-powered Prius to work in Silicon Valley’s shiny Apple and Adobe office buildings just a few miles north of here.

Reading Steinbeck’s stories of the Depression and the Salinas Valley was a treat for me in high school – his detailed, painted descriptions put me in the hot field alongside the poor emigrant farmer from Cimmaron, Oklahoma or Dallas, South Dakota.

Depression workers in field

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We’ve been off driving through 8 western U.S. states for the past two weeks – absorbing the stunning views and the sounds, smells, and tastes of the country and its people – a fast-paced 14 day “tasting” tour.

This journey is another slice of the pie that makes up my bucket list goal of visiting each of the 50 American states – a slice bitten into and consumed in years past has been walking the roads of each Canadian province and territory.

Of course, this one blog post can’t bite very deeply into such a large pie. And so I’ll share with you an appetizer “taste” from each state we passed through of the larger impressions and themes that swirl in my head from such an odyssey.

But firstan important starter.

Music.

I always find a way of cementing a trip like this or any other into my mind, is to choose one song that somehow connects with the memory and impressions of the scenery and the people. We all know a certain song heard years later re-immerses us in the sights, sounds and smells of a moment in time.

With the exception of California, the musical sounds of the western America’s radio airwaves are dominated by country station after country station, while the talk radio is all evangelical scripture and deep-voiced preacher types.

One song played over and over again each day that I couldn’t resist singing like my hair was blowing long and unfettered in the breeze – Bartender – sung by the trio Lady Antebellum –  a harmonious blend of voices, pop-country beat and great banjo picking at the end of the chorus (I even enjoyed the song before I’d seen the video featuring blond eye-candy Kate Upton — BONUS!!). This song will project a clear vision of the highways of the western U.S. onto my interior TV screen for years to come.

And so now, my quick and dirty impressions:

  • WASHINGTON – Known as a huge apple-growing state I was taken by surprise to find a prairie landscape on its interior roadways. The stretches of blacktop between Spokane and Grand Coulee Dam were surrounded on both sides by monstrously huge grain and hay fields stretching into the distance. It only seemed appropriate to eat a COW PIEmashed potatoes, corn, crumbled meatloaf smothered in gravy – at the Cowboy Cafe in Davenport. YeeHaw!

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    Where are the apple trees?

  • OREGON – Sparkling sun interspersed with fog and mist along the twisting bends of craggy shoreline, azure sea and royal-blue sky. Scents of salt and slightly fishy breeze had me dreaming of the next serving of clam chowder and crab with each step along the long, sandy beaches.
  • CALIFORNIA – Towering redwood and sequoia forests made tunnels every few miles along the weaving highway north of San Francisco. When you entered the grove, the air became damp in the dark and cool, as if someone had turned out the lights in the room. The car danced between the trees that hugged the edge of the roadway. Deep, vertical striations in the bark of the grand trees lead your eyes upwards, straight up like pencils because the trees have no signs of any bend in them. There was no branch growth going up for 40, 50, sometimes 100 feet.

Further south and west of L.A. – beyond Palm Springs and gargantuan “wind-turbine farms”, the hot, dry, desert highways were lined with mile after mile of plantations of almond and pistachio orchards.

  • ARIZONA – Scrubby desert, McDonalds billboards, and 44C temperatures led us to the precipice of the striated, colourful Grand Canyon. Despite being the “shoulder season”, licence plates from across North America jammed the numerous parking lots leading to the Visitor Center and the edges of the immense canyon. Yes, it was GRAND!IMG_4562
  • UTAH – 80 mile-per-hour (135kph) speed limits carried us northward like a strong tailwind. Evenly-spaced green grass clumps speckling the wide valleys like a measles epidemic collided with hillsides of red soil and rock. And then the white white granite architecture of Salt Lake City arose, the spotless homebase of Latter Day Saints. Immense, shuddering musical notes emanating from the colossal pipe organ inside the Mormon Tabernacle leave me breathless and at an unexplainably heightened spiritual level.
  • IDAHO – Highways that in most areas normally rumble along with a happy mix of auto and 18-wheel freight truck traffic, are taken over by heavily-laden potato trucks running just-harvested tonnes of spuds to markets and storage depots and french fry processing plants. Yes, Idaho really does grow potatoes, lots of potatoes. I pulled out a bottle of ketchup and began to salivate as I drove alongside.
  • WYOMING – Yellowstone Park has an amazing landscape of geysers, steamy outbursts, and bubbling mud flats. And then, of course, each 90 minutes, Old Faithful, the lover that never tires, recreates its explosive show over and over. It attracts tourists to its ritual performance, like a popular Broadway play in New York City, or, for a trip like this, like the Grand Canyon’s quietly impressive presentation further south.IMG_4711
  • MONTANA – This is truly big cowboy country. Lacy, translucent mist in the valley bottoms with sun that streaks the upper surfaces and hillsides in the early morning dawn. Smooth-sloped hillsides that are grassy on one side, and furry with evergreen trees on the other side like a man’s unshaven back. Montana is replete with big skies, big fields, seemingly ubiquitous casinos and big, huge bellies. It’s a surprise to me that I haven’t encountered it before, but Montana is the first U.S. state where I’ve eyed the modern-day stereotypical American we all hear of with a huge appetite and belly to match.

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The road trip journey just ended has added another 8 states to my list and left me with a lifetime count of 22 states sampled. Yes, I’m not yet halfway finished in my search to make a call on all 50 states. It’s a dirty job …

But I’m carrying out my wanderlust pilgrimage by free choice and personal desire.

I look on John Steinbeck’s depression-stricken characters like Tom Joad; or today’s Salinas Valley, filled with desperate immigrants working for meagre pay – all impressive in their resilience and strength, carrying out their own journeys to survive – a necessity for existence.

For all of that, I feel myself so lucky, so fortunate, to live in a place and time where I’m not scrabbling hopefully, desperately, across the landscape searching for a meal and a dollar to survive.
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Next time you’re in Utah, drop by my new enterprise!