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The Art of Focus… Never a Better Time… Pay The Price Now…

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Focus Art

The unthinkable is TRUE… it’s happening…

OMG… you can learn and excel at anything… ANYTHING… you’ve ever dreamed of and not have to leave your home.

You can get the best, most expert, most expensive instruction on:

  • screenwriting
  • acting
  • golfing
  • piano playing
  • knitting and sewing
  • furniture making
  • philosophy
  • bird identification
  • cake decorating
  • Romanian language 
  • basketball layups
  • doing an artfully erotic striptease…

banana-striptease

ANYTHING… it’s all there just waiting for you and me to dive in…

The internet has given me alone tutorials on songwriting, french language skills, grammar and the Oxford comma, concrete finishing, ancient history, beef roast cooking, SQL computer coding, chicken raising, growing better tomatoes, running a faster half marathon (fat chance!), and on and on.

I’ve had James Taylor in my home office patiently instructing me, coaching me on how to do everything from tuning a guitar well to proper picking form in Fire and Rain .

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will happily come into your home, you don’t even have to offer them a cup of tea, and give you driving instructions.

……………….

To be deeply philosophical about it, or more likely just to fool you into believing that I’m smart or something… all of the atoms in the universe have been cycled and recycled, combined and recombined over millions and billions of years, and somehow, by fate or whatever, you and I were fabricated from a mere dusting of these fragments and particles.

It’s a miracle really; a miracle that justifies something great and noteworthy, don’t you think?

But dear friend… it’s the best of times and… it’s the worst of times.

Because there are so many distractions, maybe fewer of us than ever are actually doing these amazing, diverse things… or at least doing them well. Good morning, this is your wake-up call...

I’ve struggled mightily all my life with mediocrity – boo hoo, poor entitled lad – you know… Jack of All Trades, Master of None.  

For the most part I’ve actually happily embraced being so-so at almost everything I do, rationalizing that because I do a bucketload of varied things with my time, that I can ditch the worry about doing anything really well.

CHANGE.

My thinking has and is changing … let’s see, my fellow Canadian JT (Justin Trudeau) has changed his thinking on electoral reform, and even Donald Trump has changed his thinking on China as a currency manipulator.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s OK for Larry Green to change his thinking on mediocrity in every area of his life (hmmmm, talking about yourself in the third person is a sign of encroaching narcissism, I’d better look up some remedial therapy courses online).

To be good or great, you have to hone the skills, spend the 1,000 hours… the 10,000 hours to become “special”.

shooting star.jpg

I’ve talked about this before, and I hate to be a nag, but in a world that makes learning so easy, and concentrated focus so challenging, it bears repeating.

When I – drooling over sexy music porn – watch Tommy Emmanuelle or Keith Urban play their guitar, the first thought that passes through my brain like a crawler at the bottom of the news channel screen, is, “I could never do that“.

WRONG… they became that good by… practice… practice… and more practice.

Your wise old Mom was right when she told you to sit at the piano bench, practicing your lessons for a half hour every day.

I, and similarly, you, have the ability if we’re willing to pay the price.

If I’m willing to commit hours, months, and years, I can do it.

It’s about committing to something you enjoy tremendously and making the effort, the hard, concentrated effort, to learn and progress and accept the difficulties and failures that come with slow, uneven progress.

It’s about The Art of Focus.

It’s about a willingness to say NO more often, no to the distractions and outside influences, and sitting yourself down to do the hard, often lonely, but ultimately pleasurable work of making something magical within yourself.

It’s about the inner feeling of goodness and creative spark that comes with a pat-yourself-on-the-back sense of mastery.

This beautiful blue planet we inhabit for such a painfully short time has evolved over millions of years to the point where, today, most of us rarely fear for our mortal lives or tremble about starvation, where crippling diseases are at a lesser tide than any time in history, where work days usually conclude after 8 or 10 hours, and weekends are for our own pleasure.

We’ve come to bat at the sweet spot in time and circumstance. HOME RUN territory.

I’ll cock my head, glance up into the bright sunshine, scratch some fine dirt beneath my cleats and rub my crotch for good luck.

The once almost unthinkable moment has arrived and you and I can decide for ourselves if these moments we’re allotted are meant for watching the world happen to us, or we happen to the world.

The internet gives us the gift of choice where we can be sucked into an intoxicating whirlpool of dullness, and a diet of artificial Twinkies, or… a tsunami of wonder and a dramatic reaching for the elegant twinkling of the stars.

Grammatically, an incomplete sentence is one where either a subject (YOU) or a verb (YOU doing something) is missing.

Every complete sentence has a subject (YOU) and a verb (YOU doing something).

YOU doing something is a complete sentence in a life fully lived.

You guessed it. I learned that from a grammar lesson I took online…

keith urban brad pasisley guitar

 

Goodbye Norma Jean …

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Candle in the Wind.

Candle

One song … of two mysterious but tragically unfortunate women, struck down at the age of 36, in the beautiful prime of their lives.

Long after Marilyn’s lifeless, drugged body was found in her bed on August 5, 1962 …

Long before any of us knew who shy young Diana Spencer was …

Long before Princes William and Harry were born …

… Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) penned a song called Candle in the Wind… an ode originally written to the memory and significance and tragedy that was Norma Jeane Mortenson. You probably know her more familiarly as Marilyn Monroe.

…………………

And it seems to me you lived your life, like a candle in the wind 

Never knowing who to cling to, when the rain set in.

…………………

The song was on Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that came out in 1973 when I was a young lad at Glendale High School in Hamilton, Ontario.

It was the most influential set of songs I had heard to that point in my life with pop classics like Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Funeral For A Friend, and of course … Candle in the Wind.

“Candle” was probably my favourite song (along with Danny Bailey and Sweet Painted Lady) on the entire 2 record album.

I’ve always loved ballads, and Candle in the Wind with its simple chords and melody and poignant lyrics, captured the struggles of untold fame on the lives of simple people.

Songs we love are so important to us because we find meaningful significance in them that the writer may have never intended.

We internalize a message that is unique to our own experience.

For me, Candle in the Wind was an ode to my Mother’s untimely death – I’m certain thousands of others felt the same deep emotional connection within their own lives, whether relating to the death of a significant other or perhaps the loss of a relationship that had once been strong and filled with love, hope, and longing.

When I was a teenager, I would sit in the apartment I shared with my sister, playing my guitar, dreaming of becoming a music writer and rock star like Elton John …

elton john

I wanted the weird, multi-coloured eyeglasses.

I wanted the fame.

I wanted the adulation.

I wanted the ceaseless waterfalls of cash flowing into my bank accounts.

What I didn’t want was to serve up the work ethic and sacrifice that would make it possible.

Like my studies in high school where I did OK, but rarely ever pushed myself, I was a lazy musician and songwriter.

I hadn’t mastered the arithmetic of putting 2 + 2 together yet and wouldn’t for a couple of decades to come. I closed my eyes to the blatantly obvious that the really good things happen when you put in the hours and focus to make it happen.

The hard work happens before the rewards flow. It harkens back to that old 10,000 hours rule of “practice makes mastery” that Paul and John knew, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs knew, JK Rowling and Sheryl Sandberg knew.

Good luck shines on those who pour themselves wholeheartedly into their dreams. Wishing just doesn’t make it so.

I’ve changed now. Both in understanding what it takes to excel … and what I’m willing to bring to that lionized table.

I’ve changed, but not enough to become a rock star, or an esteemed author, or a renowned gardener, or even a celebrated Porta-Potty cleaner.

I’ll never be a famous or acclaimed singer/songwriter because, even though I’m willing to put more effort and time into the things that are important to me, I’m still not willing to make the all-out sacrifice of time, focus and energy that it takes.

I won’t pour myself into making music or anything else for 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day every day. That’s not who I am. Even my vacant macho dreams of becoming a male prostitute to Desperate Housewives peters out as I realize my Peter’s not up to the hard and salacious demands of Urban Princesses.

I’ll always be a Hobbiest, never a Master.

I’ve made my choices and I’ll never be Elton John.

Some candles burn brighter than others, but really, we all cast a flicker of light that provides warmth and illumination to those around us.

Marilyn and Diana were those dazzling, brilliant candles that lived their lives on the treacherous edge of hurricane alley where the storms were always a threat to their light.

Often, those that burn brightest sadly seem to be the ones at the greatest risk of being snuffed out when the winds begin to swirl and howl.

And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did …

Marilyn and diana

 

 

 

Where Will I Fit “Sex” In This Blog Title?

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My first blog post...

Some dynamo’s first blog post…

I apologize profusely if I lured you into this post with a seductive SEX included in the title. It was just a teaser.

I like to write about sex, but this particular entry is just about 95% SEX-FREE, so you might want to move on if this was your prime reason for joining me today. Sorry for the inconvenience.

This post is about choices and decisions and creative sweat.

Movin’ on …

SWEAT

When I go to spin class or boot camp at the gym, I sweat… rivers, lakes, flood flashes. It’s scary, especially for those in the know who cycle next to me wearing goggles and snorkles.

When I write and publish a blog post, I sweat … drips, trickles, rivulets. I want to sweat just a little because then I know I’m sharing something with you that makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable. It’s therapy in a way, and saves me tons of $$ on shrink bills.

Either way – physical or psychological sweat – I usually come away smelling sourly acidic because of something I’ve said or done.

Sweaty spin

……………………

When I first began this extraordinary odyssey called blogging, I would spend a lot of my time trying to think of ideas and possibilities for my next post.

I wandered my cerebral garden searching for compelling thoughts and visions. There were never enough fresh blooms on my roses to keep the bouquet filled with colour and perfume.

For example, before I even finished writing this entry, I would be trying to upload the next idea for the following week. It wasn’t a bad approach, but it was a bit stressful on my inner psyche to be feeling the pressure of another and another and another.

Can you imagine being stressed by something you’ve chosen freely to do with absolutely no pay … crazy or what?

It’s kind of like when you anticipate the speech you’re going to make in front of a group at your next club or church or class meeting. You begin to worry and obsess and your kidneys start to filter more urine than normal and the idea flow gets struck with paralyzing rigor mortis because you’re trying too hard.

I love writing, but I would be a terrible reporter.

My brother Gord was a reporter for a number of  years with the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. I was green with envy when he wrote a big splashy story about the disco scene of the 1970’s. There was a large photo of him on the front page of the entertainment section wearing a white John Travolta “Saturday Night Fever” suit, arm thrust upwards in a disco pose … so cool. So handsome. Sure, groovy even.

JOHN TRAVOLTA SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1)

But aside from the occasional choice story, every day the reporter is presented with a different topic or story idea delegated to them by an assignment editor. Don’t like the assignment?…tough … suck it up Prince Nike. Just Do It!

Now with a blog, you can write about anything you desire. Love, books, quilting, skiing, kinky sex, paper clip art, prairie farming … you name it, there’s an audience for everything.

The thorny patch for me in writing blog posts is that if an idea or concept doesn’t intrigue or cause my pulse to quicken just a wee bit, then I’ve just turned the corner onto that dead end road called Writer’s Block.

It’s a dead weight that wrenches me down and I feel a sinking depression catching hold. My ADHD kicks in in a major way and all of a sudden the ping pong game of flipping into other apps or news feeds or anything not related to the blog writing takes over like a worm or virus that seeds itself maliciously into my head.

Next thing I know some porn, or worse yet, Miley appears on my computer screen.

How do I get this virus out of my head?

How do I get THIS virus out of my head?

But here’s the really neat thing for me now.

My brain has magically built some internal pathways or mechanisms that find, sort and filter for the next great idea. It’s like having a built-in personal assistant; sadly, one who won’t sit provocatively on my Mad Men lap or get me coffee (better still, Canadian Club on the rocks) in the morning.

By blogging consistently for a year and a half, mystical fairies or elves have quietly constructed an underground highway or superstructure inside me that delivers ideas without being prompted.

They’re clever little muse-makers, they know me. I’ve got too much noisy voice traffic going on in my head – beep beep – without adding in more crazed above-ground conscious freeways and cloverleaf interchanges.

This blog post highway they’ve built is a subway of ideas – it’s underground, I know it’s there, but I don’t have to look for it and drive the train.

I don’t know if my writing has improved in concocting 105 blog posts, but I can tell you that the exercise has become simpler, more streamlined.

The process of absorption through osmosis is what keeps the train running.

I’ll sometimes catch myself in discussion with someone. I’m not consciously seeking out material for writing, but I see this little person hiding in the recesses of my head, wearing a visor and horn-rimmed glasses, efficiently storing an idea into the subconscious filing cabinet for later use.

Slam, the door closes and another post awaits.

Ideas get stuffed in ...

Ideas get stuffed in …

I really like Malcolm Gladwell‘s concept of mastery in 10,000 hours. The Beatles and Bill Gates are two of his prime examples of focusing on one goal for an extended period until you become “gifted”.

I don’t know if I’ve spent 10,000 hours writing blog posts… well, let’s look into that here. I’ve written 105 posts and I spend probably about 6 or 7 hours writing each one.

Let’s test my math skills. 105 blogs times 6.5 hours = 682.5 hours, is that right? Damn, not even close to 10,000 hours. My “gift” is still being wrapped.

Anyway, my point is that the more time you honestly work at honing your abilities, your skills, your craft, in whatever area you choose, the better you become. My guitar playing and tennis game are two major examples where I know some focused practice time brings huge improvements.

…………………………

You know what is REALLY fun about writing blog posts?

Choosing a title is what gives me the most enjoyment of all.

I’ve learned that putting a sex-related title – SURPRISE –  you know something that includes the word BOOB or ASS or CASTRATION works wonders for attracting reader numbers. There is so much stuff for you to read and absorb out there that it amazes me every week that you read ANY of MY stuff.

This blog site, WORDPRESS, doesn’t tell me who is reading my posts, but it does give me the numbers of readers and which countries they come from.

I can spend hours perusing the statistics of my blog – it’s narcissistic porn to the writer.

Reader numbers are like eating chocolate, you always want more than you have (I’m sooo looking forward to Easter bunny chocolate next week, aren’t you?)

Writing a blog is easy and fun … BUT it can be hard work too. And I guess it’s the hard stuff that makes it so much more rewarding and keeps my seat in this chair.

The bottom line is that I don’t have anything very wise to say.

I’ve had a few experiences that I enjoy sharing with you, but I’m just an ordinary Joe.

An ordinary Joe who likes to sop up the salty beads of sweat, whether it’s in a gym, or at a keyboard, happily constructing sentences from fragments of my life and the great people around me.

Oh, and concocting racy SEXY blog titles!

SWEAT

Another Year… Another Marathon… Another Baby!

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I’m a man and I’ve experienced the equivalent of CHILDBIRTH and it hurts.

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MAN Childbirth

The last hour of a marathon or Ironman race can be excruciating. There is a titanic game of struggle and dialogue that goes on in your head when your body is bellowing to stop the trial you’re putting it through. This happens regardless of your level of fitness because you are pushing yourself harder than you’ve ever made yourself go during training. Competition, whether against others or just yourself, does this to you.

I’ve always said that participating in a lengthy race of any sort is akin to self-inflicted torture…an agony that we seem drawn back to time after time.

Just like childbirth.

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Go ahead m’ladies, hit me now for making this comparison!

And then there are the occasional crazies who want both experiences simultaneously and run a marathon while pregnant, like the 27 year-old woman that completed the Chicago Marathon in 2011, only to deliver a full-term baby 7 1/2 hours later.

pregnant_runner

I feel qualified to make this comparison since I’ve competed in 2 marathon races, 2 Ironman competitions, a countless assortment of other running/swimming/cycling contests, AND (it’s rumoured!) I’ve fathered and assisted in the delivery of 3 children. Absolutely none of which, I freely admit, I excelled at! I have a box full of “participation” ribbons and medallions.

Both pregnancy/childbirth and marathon races require a substantial investment of time and energy with the result that our bodies are changed in significant ways over a period of weeks and months. There is a voluntary – except, I suppose, in unplanned pregnancies –  commitment to lifestyle change with an end goal in mind… one where you get a medal hung around your neck, and the other where you get a baby laid upon your chest.

There truly are some striking similarities between marathons and childbirth, so hear me out:

  • Growing the body, stamina and mental strength to start and finish each for most takes about 9 months.
  • Specialized diet planning with a concentration on calcium sources, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and quality protein makes a big difference to the end result.
  • Coaches and specialized classes pass on the most up-to-date and leading scientific knowledge to achieve the optimal end result.
  • Smoking (and alcohol)  is a huge NO NO for both.
  • A collection of stretchy and often colourful new special-purpose clothing is needed to accommodate the growth of muscle or baby tissue. Gear is gathered, whether baby strollers and snugglies and nipple creams, or chafing lotion and gel carrying belts and water bottles.
  • There are moments, sometimes days, or weeks during training or gestation where the will to continue dwindles and fades. Sleep patterns can be disrupted, pains materialize, gastrointestinal distress pops up.
  • Going into labour is like the start gun firing at the beginning of the marathon. You still feel reasonably comfortable but know that the coming hours will bring on increased intensity and pain.
  • The cheering, encouraging crowds and family support along the course of the marathon resemble the nurses, doctors, and family members urging and firing up the expectant Mom to push to the finish of delivery.
  • There is a huge sense of elation at the finish, knowing that the pain and discomfort are largely finished and the rewards are tangible. This is the point where they either hang a medal around your neck or a latch a baby onto your breast.
  • Afterwards, you don’t feel like walking for a day or two as the stiffness and  pain below the waist begins to heal. In both cases, the cards and flowers brighten the recovery period and celebration.
  • Wound Care: Stitches and sitz baths for mommys…blister bandaids and hot tubs for the marathoner.
  • And finally, posting the glorious results. eg. A 7 lb 4 oz. baby girl, 70 cm. in length born after 7 hours of labour…or a 4 hour 16 minute marathon run of 26.2 miles on a sultry 30C day!

Blisterfoot

Childbirth and Marathoning both bring out the best in an individual human’s strength and resolve. Life would be fairly simple to pass through without experiencing the pain and sacrifice needed to complete either of these, or other singularly difficult ventures. But we know that any positive experience or accomplishment comes with the challenge of overcoming obstacles. Jumping smoothly or haphazardly over hurdles is what makes the end result so satisfying.

Our DNA builds a desire within us to make something from nothing. The sense of living a life well-lived entails the feeling of having helped ourselves and/or others to be or do something over and above the everyday. Beyond getting up in the morning, eating, working and going back to sleep at night. Making a mark means doing something creative, or arduous, or selfless. There is no end to what any one of us can do to cross the threshold into the realm of memorable or noteworthy.

I’ll be honest…

When I compare marathon racing and childbirth, I mostly get bemused or frankly scornful looks from women who have participated in each of these events. Most willingly acknowledge the similarities, but ultimately, childbirth wins the competitive match for supremacy for discomfort (excruciating pain, if you will!), disruption, and the pleasureful reward.

Deep down for most, a marathon medal hanging from one’s neck just isn’t the same as holding and nurturing a living, breathing, warm bundle of new-life, regardless of the pain endured.

DSCN1565

My youngest baby and me at the end of the Vancouver Marathon run 2012…

Five People I’d Like to Have for Christmas Dinner 2012

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turkey-protest

HURRY…kill the turkey!

The year end is approaching quickly.  And this means that many of us spend the long, dark wintry days turning inwards (especially us Introverts!), becoming introspective, seeking meaning and reason in life. Do you think there’s more to it all than Facebook?

This search may be especially true for those of us who don’t put our trust in a higher power or being. Not believing in a deity and/or afterlife compresses the time allotted for finding significance to our existence. After all, to us heathens, existence and eternity usually means something like 40 up to about 90 years, really not a whole lot of time after you make your bed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, and sleep. Turn off the TV I tell myself, time is running out. Time management for the atheist is the #1 priority right after food and sex!

So I say…

Damn you Christians with your eternal time in heaven with all of your loved ones and no worries about global warming.”

Damn you Muslims and your reward of 72 (some say only 40) virgins.”

Damn you Buddhists and your Nirvana and reincarnation.”

I won’t damn YOU Jews since you’re a bit confused on the whole afterlife side of things already, so why should I make you suffer more consternation with my words.”

Christmas 2012 will be unusual in my world as this will be the first time in 27 years that we’ve not had all or most of our 3 kids at home. They’ve provided the meaning to the season for so long, that I’ve forgotten that there were other reasons, you know… all of that birth of Christ child stuff and Wise Men and Shepherds and HOHOHO and pretty girls…oops sorry, I’ve slipped off on a Charlie Brown tangent. Blockhead!

Since the Christmas dinner table will be extra light on offspring this year, I’ve decided to enjoy a very special Christmas meal serving up 6 courses of my most appealing and satisfying guests from now and days gone by.

centennial-james-a-michener         Trinity by Leon Uris

Course 1 – Appetizers

With Authors James Michener and Leon Uris…a dinner that starts with appetizers should be filled with creative ideas and thought to whet the appetite. These guys aren’t literary heavyweights. But they have written a huge volume of amazingly researched, diverse, and well-written historical fiction covering all parts of the world. I devoured their books in earlier years. And today I’d love to bite into some of their ideas on the writing process and organization. I’m astonished by those who can be so determined to focus and deliver a huge body of work in one lifetime. Sure they’re old white guys, but inspiration comes in all colours, ages, and genders. I also loved radically individualistic Ayn Rand’s ideas in my younger days, but just can’t bring myself around to her level of narcissism at this point in my life. Fortunately, just looking in my bathroom’s mirror and seeing the “funhouse” image it reflects back is enough to keep me grounded at this point in life!


Course 2 – Soup

Mom photo

With My Mom...Warm and inviting and full of goodness, this soup course will be my visit with a Ghost of Christmas Past. It will be wonderful to have my Mom at my table this year. It’s been 39 years since she died and I was last able to sit at her table and share in the Christmas feast. She made the BEST roast potatoes. Like any good, doting son, I’d want to tell her how much I love her and miss her after all of these years. As the first person I encountered in life who showed me unconditional love, I would want to tell her about my successes and mistakes, knowing that she would listen, but not judge. And I’d want to tell her that she gave me the grounding and support I needed to go out and make a pretty damn good life, despite all of my fears and worries (Mom was a HUGE worrier herself). And I’d want to apologize to her for not knowing the basics of CPR when she needed it back in 1973.

Course 3 – Salad

Warren-Buffett-ninja

Buffett is my favourite ninja…

With Legendary Investor Warren Buffett…what would a Christmas buffet be without a Buffett? Well, not overly filling, but chock full of nutritious thoughts and concepts. Buffett is known as the Oracle of Omaha, and probably the best investor of this generation. He’s also such a folksy kind of guy. It should be fun to have him at the table, telling little stories about life and making great stock investments. It’s not very often that you meet people who are highly intelligent and independent-thinking who can also relate to people in a relaxed and personal way. Making billions of dollars, almost all of which will go to charity when he dies, while playing a silly NINJA makes him my kind of guy.   Buffett can take a story about a one-armed baseball player and an Iowa chicken and make a heartfelt parable of it that relates directly to the reality and oftentimes insanity of the investment world.

Course 4 – Main Entree

obama_clinton

With Former U.S. President Bill Clinton…Clinton needs to be the main course because, despite his personal foibles (I’m buying you pants without a zipper for Christmas, Bill!), he’s one of the most substantial minds in the whole wide political world. Clinton, like Obama, is one of the seemingly few rational and caring political-type Americans out there today. Clinton can spontaneously dissect just about any complex world issue and bring to it a common sense approach and potential solution. There are many minds out there to admire, but Bill Clinton’s is at the top of my list. One discussion with Bill and I’ll be feeling overfull this Christmas.

Course 5 – Dessert

With Actress Reese Witherspoon…dessert should be a light, fluffy, and sugary sweet confection. The perfect dessert, like fine wine, also has an underlying layer of complexity and depth. This is why I’ve invited actress Reese Witherspoon to this occasion rather than my gut-instinctive initial choice, Pamela Anderson. The Queen of Jiggle, Anderson is just too much fluffy cotton candy that leaves me feeling sickly nauseous after consuming. The first lick is sensually encouraging, but a few bites later you can only feel regret. I like Witherspoon even though she isn’t my favourite actress… she is sweet and light, but hidden behind her fluff-laden translucent facade is a woman of some core substance. She has a nice finish on the palate that leaves me satisfied and wanting more.

pamela anderson

Jello served in two cups…

Perhaps you'd like "FUDGE"?....

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Course 6 – Cheese and Wine

With Singers/Songwriters Carole King and James Taylor…it takes two to finish this delectable Christmas dinner because they’re inescapably intertwined for me. After a large repast with so much to digest, some harmony is needed in this course for settling purposes. Other beautifully harmonious cheese and wine pairings could be Simon and Garfunkle, Karen and Richard Carpenter, Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Lennon and McCartney, Milli Vanilli (just kidding there!). But ultimately, what better finish could there be to a meal filled with symbolism and meaning shared with friends and relatives than with a blending of voices in “You’ve Got A Friend”? Whenever I’ve been “down and troubled”, a touch of musical melancholy from either of these two feels like rays of warm sunshine on the first sunny April day.

TaylorKingJT Carole King Now
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Finally, the anxiously anticipated Christmas dinner is done, the turkey has been deboned and made ready for the next week’s soup and sandwiches. There’s an awareness of satisfaction in knowing that we’ve made it through another year, however tumultuous or sensational.  A year filled with events that made us jubilant, made us cry, made us impatient, made us content, made us angry, made us appreciate.
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So. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanza, Splendid Solstice…whatever you choose to pay tribute to, I celebrate with you and I can only hope that your gala feast with whomever you’d like to share it, is SPECTACULAR!

I’M A WORLD CITIZEN…NOT Just A Canadian!

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It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.”

                                 –Arthur C. Clarke.

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My son Will was touring around London, England last week and sauntered into massive Hyde Park and its famous “Speakers’ Corner” where a balding, middle-aged gent raised his finger pointedly to extol on the subject of the day.

Speakers’ Corner is the site of the everyday person’s soapbox- a place to speak your personal beliefs to an assemblage and for sharing of ideas and debate. And given the sometimes…shall we say… quirky views of certain speakers, it could double as the site of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest“!

So today, just a few days after Remembrance Day in Canada and reflecting on wars and the state of humanity, I’d like to clamber up on my virtual World Wide Web soapbox and expound for a few minutes on a subject dear to my heart. I feel a little like Linus strutting to centre stage in Charlie Brown’s Christmas to recite the meaning of Christmas…please feel free to shout me down off my pedestal if you disagree, or give me a big High 5 if you’re approving of my message.

Hem, hem, hem…

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen… Well, maybe I’m just being overly sensitive, but I feel like I’m hearing a lot of insular nationalist-type talk by those around me and in the press.

The 100-mile diet and discussions about keeping jobs at home  (personally, I should probably be on the 100-calorie diet, and I love the concept of working FROM home, two ideas that come into massive and messy conflict while working at a home office desk only 100 feet removed from the refrigerator) are a couple of examples of the stuff I’m talking about here.

What I hear when I encounter these sorts of statements is… FEAR! And it’s not groundless fear, not the “all we have to fear is fear itself” sort of stuff, but fear nonetheless.

People feel a threat to their security, their lives, and their livelihoods. I understand this. The world is a competitive place that can be scary. Canadians and other Westerners are feeling the imposing threat of corporations with deep pockets and citizens of many other countries who are willing to work hard and save hard and sacrifice for themselves and their children.

Today, these “others” are living the life of sacrifice that Canadians lived 100 years ago that allowed us to later become the envy of all. We now live the life of kings and queens. Our royal lifestyle came at a price of hard-work and innovation and risk and investment, and… I hesitate to add, good government too. Now that we have all of this, we understandably want to keep it.

But I don’t believe in beggaring our worldly neighbours to allow us to continue to live in this regal style. I want both us AND our fellow global citizens to live a wonderful, rich life. Fairness demands this. How can we say otherwise?

I don’t want us to just GIVE everyone a wealthy livelihood. It should and must be earned, just as our retention of this lifestyle should continue to be earned.

The 100-mile diet has some validity if you are looking at it from an environmental perspective…less carbon fuels for transport goes the argument. I want to guard the environment too. But there are many who see it differently– It’s about US versus THEM. Save our jobs so THEY can’t take them. “I Object”, I say to the judge.

THEY are US, WE are THEM.

Beggar thy neighbour is not in my principles’ code.

When talking about nationalism, you really can’t avoid the words of George Orwell, who said that nationalism is ‘the worst enemy of peace’. According to him, nationalism is a feeling that one’s country is superior to another. With the amazing connectedness in today’s world, we need to migrate ourselves from a view of Nationalism to a view of Globalism. I’m from Canada, but I am a Global Citizen. My neighbour in Mexico growing grape tomatoes is equal to my neighbour across the lake growing wine grapes.

If a farmer in Peru is willing to work hard for a small paycheque in order to provide me with some wonderful, ripe fruit or vegetable at a price that is attractive to me, then he/she deserves my dollar in order to enrich her pocket, as well as her family’s health and education. Hopefully, one day, my dollars will afford her the opportunity to buy some automated equipment that will make her more productive and earn even more of my dollars. Why should he/she live a life of poverty so that my neighbours and I can wallow in relative wealth?

Millions and millions of Chinese citizens have and are working in sweat-shop conditions making items for my consumption. Do I feel good about this?…NOPE. But I also know that millions and millions are scrounging their way bit-by-bit into the middle class. I know that Asian factories and corporations are being shut down until pay increases come the way of the worker. And if this means I pay 20 cents more for a T-shirt at Wal Mart, then so be it.

Sew a pair of pants here, so they can’t sew a pair of pants there. We’re beyond this. There are lots of jobs available here now and for years to come so long as we make ourselves a smart society, either from advanced entrepreneurialism, advanced education, or advanced training. Our destiny and good fortune relies on making something better of ourselves, not taking something away from others.

We’re all world citizens…could we start acting like we all are deserving of a piece of the pie?

The great thing about travelling outside our own country is meeting people from different countries, different skin colours, different languages and realizing we’re all individuals with hopes and fears and desires for ourselves and our children…we have so much in common, despite our differences.

I am a World Citizen, not just a Canadian!

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The year is 2030 and the din in the stadium is deafening.

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The World Cup soccer (football) final game made up of a mixed-nationality team playing out of  Honduras and another mixed-nationality team playing out of Azerbaijan is about to get underway — the best players from any city, any country, any continent, are lined up at centre field for the starting kick.

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A tumultuous cheer swells and reverberates in a wave around the stadium…

“GO WORLD”

I WOKE UP GROUCHY! 8 things to do…

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He lowered the window of the fast-moving train and then, nonchalant as an acorn lazily dropping from an oak tree, tossed his bag of lunch trash out into the breeze to land in the sunflowers growing beside the tracks.

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I was on a train from Milan to Venice, sharing a compartment with a Catholic priest dressed in his black formality, and maybe one or two other travellers. The bucolic countryside scenery of a beautiful sunny Italian day was heart-lifting. It was just into the early afternoon when the priest pulled out his paper bag containing cheese, bread, fruit and spicy, sliced meats. He sat across from me on the bench seats and chewed contentedly on a typical Italian repast. It was a while back in time so I can’t quite remember if he had some wine to sip on as well. It being Italy, he probably did.

Eventually, he finished up his little meal. He placed the wrappings of paper and plastic and the detritus of his snack neatly back into the bag it had come from. And then, with total casual aplomb, he stood up, lowered the compartment window, and flung the bag out into the pastoral countryside before raising the window and contentedly taking his seat once again.

I thought I would have a stroke. My anger rose to a boil quickly at this unanticipated sight of premeditated littering and befouling of the environment. A priest, for God’s sake!! I wanted to punch him right then and there. My mind raced with rage as I considered pulling the Swiss Army Knife stashed in my backpack that was easily accessible in the overhead bin. I envisioned myself plunging the knife into the throat of the priest and enjoying the sight of blood and retribution for his sin. A sacrifice was in order. He must pay…and so…

I did NOTHING!

I was grouchy for the rest of that day.

The priest had ruined for me what had been a supreme day. He didn’t have to diddle with me, he… just… threw… out… some… garbage!

I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse…you jump off the train or one of my boys will push you off the train…

And today, years later, I feel resentment and anger building whenever I think of that instant in a European railcar.

I don’t feel like Oscar the Grouch very often. I remind myself almost daily of the charmed existence that I live. In historic terms, I live the life that kings dreamed of hundreds of years ago. I have a warm, dry castle. I eat sumptuous foods in overly abundant quantities. I have health and good teeth that aren’t filled with rot. I have entertainment of my choosing (music, drama, comedy) provided in my home 24/7.

But, for no apparent reason, once in a long while, I wake up feeling crabby and grouchy. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s man hormones…maybe it’s a low pressure weather system with grey clouds…perhaps I’m worrying about the health of an ailing family member. Do YOU always know why you’re irritable?

I don’t like feeling grouchy, and I’m sure those around me don’t revel in the sulky, “don’t bug me” attitude that exudes from my curled-under lip. I’m just not pleasant to be around. So, I sometimes try a few things to get past the feeling and bring the Bluebird of Happiness back to my window ledge:

  1. Avoid the news- newspapers and TV news are great means of disseminating information, but the real reason they exist is to bring in eyeballs and make money from advertisers. They do this with as many sensational and tragic headlines as they can think up. Newspaper and magazine sales skyrocket when a hurricane strikes, or Justin Bieber breaks up with his girlfriend. 90% of the news has no effect on you so why get tied up in knots by it all.
  2. Change up routine- routines are wonderful, they give us a sense of stability in our lives that often keeps us sane. But sometimes, I escape the routine and change my milieu and go to a different coffee shop for the first time (so long as it’s Tim Hortons, I own shares;) ). Read a book about something that doesn’t typically interest me. Drive a different road to work and observe the different stores and people  along the route. Play a song on the guitar or piano that I haven’t played in eons. Try a different form of exercise like roller blading or badminton. Make up a new recipe using no more than 4 ingredients. 
  3. Hyperfocus on one thing – for just 30 minutes or an hour. We live in a soupy milieu of computers, and TV’s, and cellphones and a ton of different stimuli that distract us from many important things we could do. So I say to myself, I’ll read one whole chapter of the book I bought last month but haven’t read more than 3 pages at a time. Or, I’ll do the full P90X workout CD, start to finish. Or, I’ll go through 3 boxes in the storage room, get rid of a bunch of stuff, and consolidate them into one.

    This is how I’ve seen them do that YOGA stuff….just focus!

  4. Think about where I’d like to go on vacation...immerse myself in thoughts of a desirable vacation…one I’ve had where all the food was fantastic and the air was warm…OR the vacation that I’d like to have. Close my eyes and allow my senses to experience it like it’s happening now. It’s like listening to music from a time when I was supremely happy…I hear the first few notes or bars of the song, and I feel the emotions, and smell the fragrance of that happy time. Bring on the full sensory experience.
  5. Learn to smell my own crap – aka the “Jewish Mother’s” voice. Sometimes we’re a bit down and grouchy because we know we haven’t been true to our own principles. Some examples? It’s easier to just ignore the insensitive way I spoke to a co-worker. Not booking the cat for her annual shots is weighing on me but maybe I’ll do it tomorrow (yeah, right!). I should phone a relative who’s not been so well? Just do it and not only will she feel better, but I really will too!  I try to see myself for who I am…acknowledging when I’m not living up to my own standards can be difficult. When we at least smell our own crap, we can decide consciously if it can be flushed away and forgotten, or kept and cleaned up. Don’t be afraid to throw away the things that you know aren’t you..are you doing things to impress others?
  6. Buy a lotto ticket- there was a guy in B.C. last week who bought a lottery ticket on the way to his own father’s funeral. He’d bought lottery tickets for years and years, and this time, of all times, he won $25 million. Even when the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, positive things can happen…it’s all about hope!
  7. Acceptance- sometimes I want to soak and marinade in my own self-pity and crabbiness. An acceptance that some days are diamond, and some days are stone (thanks, John Denver!) is just part of our existence. Making this choice is fine so long as I can remove myself and my mood from others…just because I’m grouchy doesn’t mean everyone else should be miserable too. The bluebird’s happy song is that much sweeter after we’ve listened to the clucks of the Chicken of Depression!
  8. Chocolate- a little chocolate stretches an incredibly LONG way in lifting a grey grouchy mood. All of that sugar and cocoa butter and antioxidants. Put “eat chocolate” at the top of your list of things to do today. Chocolate is to grouchiness as apples are to doctors.

If none of the above stuff does the trick, I close my eyes, all of those squiggly lines appear like in a TV scene, and I go back in time and imagine—

…the priest opens the train window to toss his trash just as a huge gust of wind miraculously whips through the compartment. It catches his billowing vestments and like the Flying Nun, out the window he soars screaming, thrashing into a lush patch of prickly pear cactus alongside the tracks.  

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Then, his lunch bag drifts dreamily back into the compartment like the feather in Forrest Gump. I bend over to pick it up gently and with a contented smile, drop it smugly into the garbage bin next to the door. Sitting back down, without a care in the world, I gaze once again out the window and admire the beautiful olive groves whizzing past.

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Today I Am…Tomorrow I Can Be…

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News item from Westover (Me.) weekly Enterprise, August 19, 1966: RAIN OF STONES REPORTED.”

Cover of "Carrie"

This is the opening line to Stephen King’s first published novel, CARRIE, a story about a poor little high-school girl with menstrual problems who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who tease her. Sort of a man’s take on PMS!

I’m not, or at least I wasn’t, a huge fan of author Stephen King. Widely known for his populist horror thrillers, he’s sold bazillions of books, most of which have been made into movies with varying levels of success.

At this point, with his name recognition and popularity, Stephen King could write a COOKBOOK highlighting the culinary use of all of the bloody, dismembered human bodies he’s written of in his novels – now add in one cup of eviscerated intestine –  and it would become an instant bestseller. Fully-coloured, glossy photographs and all…it will make a great Christmas gift!  I’m envious and amazed at what King has accomplished in his genre of literature.

I could list for you a number of people in my own circle who I know and love that I think are amazing (I won’t because if I missed one by accident, I would look like a dick). There is also a bunch of well-known people in this world I admire. I may not necessarily LIKE them – I don’t need to like them, to appreciate their accomplishments – but I admire their creativity or thinking abilities, or physical prowess- and in either case, I think it comes down to the notion that they have developed amazing capabilities of focus and drive to make something where there was nothing before.

A current short list of these people for me might look like:

  • Stephen King
  • Aaron Sorkin– brilliant TV and movie screenwriter of superb dialogue with credits such as West Wing, The Newsroom, and The Social Network
  • Lance Armstrong– with or without drugs, he climbed mountains – competing against other similarly drug-pumped athletes – with fantastic determination and strength of will.
  • Hillary Clinton– unshakable and smart, and part of two “dream” teams of which she could easily have been the leader…Bill Clinton’s and Barak Obama’s.
  • Payton Manning– an NFL quarterback (silly, I know) who plays a brawny game like a brainy chess master.
  • Sarah McLachlan- Canadian singer/songwriter with such a great voice that also speaks for women’s, children’s, and animal issues.

I’ll likely never be a famous songwriter/singer like James Taylor. I’ll likely never be a famous writer like Stephen King. Actually – although I hope this isn’t true – I may never write a book…EVER. And yet, my desire to be creative has never been stronger.

For years, I’ve allowed my creativity to be governed. I’ve spent the majority of my life concerned about what others think…about me and the things I do. I’ve worked really hard to not look dumb, to not embarrass myself and others around me. I’ve pigeon-holed myself based on a litany of voices in my head that say I SHOULD get a good university education, I SHOULD get married, I SHOULD have 2.5 children, I SHOULD be nice to everyone, I SHOULD chew my food with my mouth closed…I SHOULD SHOULD SHOULD. And to quote a dubiously-famous motivator, Anthony Robbins:

I SHOULD all over myself” 

 
But back to Stephen King. King has reminded me that we don’t have to be those things that others, or ourselves, tell us we should be. He has written library shelves full of books that are largely horror. He 65 years old now and could just get up each morning and shuffle over to his La-Z-Boy chair and enjoy a life of total leisure. Or…he could continue to easily and systematically pump out – like a weekly Harlequin romance novel – more of his standard horror fare and make Brink’s armoured-truck loads of money.

So what HAS he done?

He threw the “SHOULD HAVE” in the trash. In the past year, he wrote and published another novel called “11/22/63”. HORROR?…nope…at least not in the sense that we tend to think of horror. I guess that a story about someone perched in a 6th floor window overlooking a crowded Dallas, Texas street and taking a murderous rifle shot at the head of the sitting American President could be considered horror.

But his book is a well-researched and intriguingly-written novel based on a true historic and history-changing event in modern times. Even though I was just 6 years old at the time, I can remember when I heard about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was that big a deal! King develops fully-fleshed out characters and complex situations that are totally removed from his usual fantastical horror creations. It’s a great book from an unexpected source.

How and why did he take the leap to this?

Sorry if you expect me to have the answer here, but…Well, honestly, I don’t know. Boredom?  Desire to write in a more “respectable” genre? Nightmares that wouldn’t rest until he wrote the dreams down?

What I really like here, and what I personally take from this is that we don’t have to be the things we tell ourselves we should or must be—

Horror writer today, historic fiction-writer tomorrow…

Health care worker today, entrepreneur tomorrow…

Bank employee today, college instructor tomorrow…

Concert violinist today, Country fiddle player tomorrow…

Stand aside…I’m making the LEAP!

Ten years ago I was working with bacteria, doing lab tests day in and day out. Throat cultures for Strep, urine cultures for E. coli, vaginal cultures for yeast. It was fun and interesting at the beginning of my career 20 years earlier but it became as boring as watching gonorrhoea bacteria grow.

Computers were just becoming big in clinical labs, and so I took a course on data management and reporting. I learned and learned, and taught myself more and some more still until I became the  lab data expert, another nerdy kind of role. But it was different nerdy. It challenged my mind every day, and now I don’t work with the smelly, yucky specimens. Today, I work in the lab world still, but in a different “country” within the lab. But this world too will grow routine someday soon, and so I’m thinking about where the next challenge lies.

Our lives, like plants in a garden oasis, are living things that need to be thought about, tended, and nurtured. Seasons change, some plants die back, others thrive and grow stronger in the coming spring. We plant fresh seeds.

Change can be a frightening thing, but my experiences have ultimately shown me that it’s exhilarating too. Feelings of disappointment, frustration, loss, or general sadness that go on and on tell me that now is the time to begin the search for the counterbalancing positive to them. Emerson referred to it as the “Law of Compensation”… an opposite condition must emerge to offset the initial condition.

To be in the driver’s seat of change and to make the parachute jump out of the airplane is terrifying and tremendous at the same time. I think that Stephen King- just like you and me who pulls on his or her pants one leg at a time– was needing to feel a brisk, fresh wind in his face, strapped on his parachute, yelled

Today I am…Tomorrow I Can Be…”

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and took the big jump!

The Zen and Art of Repurposing Fridge Ingredients…It’s Never Too Late To Start A Great Life

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I know I could satisfy your hunger! We’re talking food here…No gutter-chatter today!

The fridge is full to overflowing with leftovers and small bits of half-used onions and peppers and chicken breasts yada yada yada! These are the raw ingredients that I need to make a fantastic and memorable meal. I used to work with a lady who could take the green fuzzy items from the back corner of her fridge, repurpose, and make an epicurean soup to remember! I think we all need mentors…she was my cooking mentor…

I LOVE it when there are NO recipes and lots of miscellaneous and apparently unrelated ingredients that can be repurposed into something spectacular. There are soups and stews and ethnic delicacies in-waiting, sitting innocently and unaware on the fridge shelves. This is when I’m in my element and at my finest. You should drop by for one of my “FRIDGE FUSION” gourmet dinners.

I’m good at it…I know I am…Despite this, as both Uncle Buck‘s nephew and my kids say (and I’m certain it’s in jest):

Oh NO, he’s cooking the garbage!”

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Cover of "Uncle Buck"

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Making a great meal isn’t something that only originates from freshly purchased ingredients at the local 100-mile market. With a bit of thought and creativity the esoteric scraps and remnants of meals long- but not too long– gone (or past pasta) can be repurposed into new and fresh savoury combinations that sweet talk the  mercurial palate.

And life is like that too!

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My life is filled with the leftovers of the human experience…some leftovers I savour and enjoy over and over…others I’ve left on the shelf of experience and ignored… still others are replayed over and over in my mind just to torture me. Whether you are in your 20’s or 40’s or 60’s, I’m pretty sure the same has happened to you.

Chaucer correctly said, “The Past is Prologue“. Our own beginning can begin at the beginning or closer to the end, who cares? A change in life doesn’t necessarily occur only at menopause, or when kids leave home, or when you get a cancer diagnosis. It happens when you decide to make a change and you don’t have to have a reason.

Now that I’m 50+, I’ve decided that the time to cook up a gourmet life has arrived. The ingredients in my “life fridge” are the same, but it’s time to repurpose and make something notable and momentous. There are scraps of me that need to be resurfaced and repurposed. Let’s look at a couple…

As a teenager, I vowed that I would learn to speak French fluently. Seven years of elementary and high school French took me about 10% of the way there. I must have been stupid because I’m sure my fellow students became totally fluent! One important thing I did learn in Grade 11 French was how to drink uncut liquor from a long plastic Carnival cane on a school trip to the Quebec Winter Carnival. It was a start but only a spartan fraction of what I needed to function in a real world “milieu”- that’s a French word! But then life happened, the narrative changed and the dream was shelved.

I was a budding guitar player in my teenage years who modelled myself after the folk heroes of the era…James Taylor, Bruce Cockburn, Jim Croce, Neil Young. I wanted to play like them, sing like them, and I especially wanted to write songs like them. Didn’t happen.

I was always frustrated with myself that I had never fulfilled the aspirations that were so important to me. I’ve feared coming to the end of my days and not having absorbed another language or written a decent song to live on after me. I want to live without regrets. In the last few years I’ve revived the dreams, and I’m slowly, sometimes glacially, working to make them reality.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • I altered my language goal slightly to make Spanish my new language to learn more intensely . There are many more potential places I want to visit in the world where Spanish is used, so it just makes sense. How have I made this repurposing real? The hardest part was to just make the decision to pursue the actions needed. Then, I took a 2 month, 1 night a week, local college course in beginner traveller’s Spanish. Next, my wife and I booked a 3.5 month trip to Cusco, Peru where we studied for 4 hours each weekday with mostly younger students (20’s and 30’s) from all over the world. Fantastico, amigo! Next month we’re off to Barcelona for another month of daily language classes.  I still suck at Spanish and there’s still a ton of stuff to learn and absorb, but poco a poco!

ENGLISH_Spanish

  • A year ago, I bought myself my teenage dream guitar…an acoustic Martin. Just owning this makes me want to play the instrument more. It sounds better too. If I sound better, I want to play more. Practice makes a big difference. I practice more now. I have a gizmo that costs less than $100 that hooks my guitar to a computer so I can record my attempts at songwriting. I’m finding songwriting to be painfully difficult, but it’s pushing to come out…my baby is gestating and will be born someday!

So, what’s next? Tomorrow… and then another tomorrow. I haven’t decided. For now, I’ll focus on the two things I’ve talked about above. One day I’ll wake up and a fresh insight, a new passion, will ignite and I’ll start to repurpose something clean and pristine.

Do you have a piano lesson, a fencing career, a prospective novel in your “life fridge” waiting to be cooked to perfection??

DAN_Ackroyd_blood

A life well-cooked doesn’t have to be a blood bath!

8 Ways to be an IRONMAN in YOUR Life!

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I was in the throws of a full out anxiety attack.

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Anxiety_Scream

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The Time: August 26, 1990  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C.

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

Course: 3.9 km. SWIM, 180 km. BIKE, 42.2 km. RUN

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In the midst of 960 other nervous competitors, the starting cannon exploded. It’s acrid smoke filled the air just as the first sun rays burst above the eastern hillside over the lake- an homage to the Iron Sun Gods.

The first 10 minutes of the swim were noisy, confused, tumultuous, and like a battlefield, bordering on terrifying. Powerful arms and legs and bodies thrashing on all sides…some bashing me in the head, knocking my goggles askew. I’m hyperventilating – hyperventilating as I try to put my head in the water and make the swimming motions I practiced for 12 months leading up to this day. My chest is gripping me in a vice and I can’t breathe.

OK Larry .  take . a . slow . breath . Swim a breast stroke…Good, now take another breath. Another stroke. Ignore the agitated arms flailing around you.”

13 hours and 19 minutes later. It was over and I had finished an IRONMAN Triathlon. I was bone-tired, but blissfully drained.

Ironman Canada Triathlon 1990

Anxiety followed 13 hours later by euphoria…

FAST FORWARD 11 years

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The Time: August 24, 2001  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C. 

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

This time, 2500 others are surrounding me in the waters of Okanagan Lake. This time, I’m relaxed (more or less…who can be totally relaxed with 150 miles of distance still to cover!) and maneuver through the first 5 to 10 minutes of thrashing unruffled.

My swim time improves by 11 minutes compared to 11 years earlier…hmmm…one minute faster per year. It stupidly occurs to me that I could WIN the swim part of this in 15 years if I keep this up!!

Six hours later I drop out of the event after the 112 mile bike segment and prior to the marathon run with excruciating and unexplained foot pain. The last 15 miles I cycle using the spinning power from one leg only, the other foot attached but hanging loose in the pedal. If you’re thinking that I dropped out because of the “urine spray” from jerky cyclists ahead of me who don’t want to take a 30 second break to get off their bike and visit the Porta-Potti, you’d be wrong…but I was “PISSED“!

My Ironman has ended prematurely. I’m frustrated and angry – with myself and my flawed body. A year’s worth of training has been squandered. I’m a failure and a loser, I tell myself. I’ll pause a moment here if you want to say it too!

One success and one failure, right?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

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Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” 

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Holmes was referring to the mind in his assertion, but I honestly think that it applies to all areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Reflecting back, each of these Ironman races taught me something about myself (like 8 LARRY’isms). Here are the lessons I learned from the joy of finishing one Ironman race, and the heartache of not finishing another. They aren’t just for IRONMEN…they apply to both you and me in other areas of our lives:

  1. First and most important of all. Have the largest and most thorough bowel movement possible. Nothing will ruin a physical or mental exercise more than cramps and/or bloating. LESSON: The bowels must run efficiently before anything else does.
  2. The first Ironman race was exhilarating and exciting. I was terrified heading into the start, not knowing if I had it in me to swim, bike and run for 12+ hours. I had never done an entire Ironman-length distance in my training sessions. It takes courage and focus to attempt things that scare us.  LESSON: I discovered that day that the combination of good preparation (training with focus) and adrenalin would carry me the full distance. The positive ends justified the positive means.
  3. The second Ironman was exciting but lacked the full FEAR FACTOR that was part of the first time out. I knew I could cover the full distance, now could I improve on my time from 11 years earlier? As it turned out, I couldn’t…well, I might have except I dropped out after finishing the swim and bike portions of the race. Each of my swim and bike times were better than those from 11 years earlier. Even in failure, we discover things about ourselves that we can build on. LESSON: Goals for improvement are an important motivational tool.
  4. Gratitude for the health and physical attributes I have. I’m so fortunate not to be saddled with any genetic or acquired illnesses such as arthritis or maybe SYPHILIS (!) that might hold me back. A lot of health is directly related to the care we take of ourselves. I’m not a true believer in luck, but sometimes I just feel lucky to have good health. LESSON: Health isn’t something to be taken for granted. Appreciate it.
  5. Don’t limit myself with internal thoughts about what I can and cannot do. Ironman is not something that only “Jocks” can do. I’m definitely not a jock. I wasn’t a high school sports guy. I wasn’t on the football or track teams. I joined Band and Chess Club…oh yeah, I was on the badminton team too! I don’t think this makes me jock material.  LESSON: The knowledge that anyone in reasonable physical health can take this on and DO IT! 
  6. Doing an Ironman race is more of a mental toughness exercise than a physical one. Training day after day for a year for anywhere from 45 minutes to 7 hours requires a strong desire and ability to push onwards, even when you would rather be on a couch with a bowl of potato chips. I can’t count the number of dark mornings where I dreaded the alarm clock sounding, signifying it was time to get up to go swim some laps or run 8 miles. LESSON: Developing mental strength is as important or even more important than physical strength.
  7. There is a Catholic nun from Spokane, Washington named Sister Madonna Buder. She’s 82 years old this year. Starting at the age of 55, she’s entered 45 Ironman triathlons in Canada and Hawaii, the most recent one here in Penticton last year at the age of 81. She is amazing. Just to show you how “non-competitive” I am, both in 1990 and in 2001, my main aim in the Ironman was to finish the race before the IRON NUN! Actually, my real goal was to just finish the races, but there was always an underlying thought in my head that NO Senior Citizen Catholic Nun was going to finish ahead of THIS heathen. I don’t want to step on others to achieve my goals, but I CAN use them to help push myself just a little bit harder. LESSON: There’s such a thing as a healthy dose of competitiveness. 
  8. There are people who support me whenever I am trying to achieve something important in my life. Don’t forget their sacrifices too!  My family and friends keep things afloat while I pursue my dreams and ambitions. When I’m feeling totally bummed, they prop up my spirits. In my second Ironman, my 80+ year old neighbour Elza stood patiently at the finish line with a bouquet of flowers waiting to congratulate me for crossing the line. It was a hot day. Still, she stood in the hot afternoon sun and into the dark of the evening, waiting. I didn’t show, of course…I dropped out after the bike and returned home to wallow in my self-pity, not knowing that Elza held the vigil.  LESSON: Remember to thank the ones who make your dreams and goals possible and support you through the terrific and the terrible. For the Elza in your life…say THANK YOU!
IRON_NUN

Sister Madonna Buder wins in the 75+ age category of Ironman Canada…her smile is just a bit strained because she knows I beat her!

 

Related:  3,000 people will jump into Okanagan Lake at 7 am this Sunday for the 30th Anniversary running of Ironman Canada.

May they achieve their dreams… 

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