Resilience

My dad turned 79 years old yesterday, which is pretty remarkable. There’s not much more that can go wrong with his body; at this point in his life, he’s all bones and gristle. He’s had multiple bypasses, half a lung gone from cigarettes, a couple fused vertebrae, stomach surgery, hiatus hernia surgery, rotator cuff surgery and a stroke, but he keeps on going.

He’s still living in the my maternal grandparent’s farmhouse on 10 acres south of Moose Jaw and he’s planting his usual 1/2 acre vegetable garden this year. (He doesn’t eat vegetables other than potatoes but loves to grow them all.) His only compromise to age is the rows get a little further apart, so he can better see the plants from the weeds. The stroke messed his eyesight up a bit.

My buddy Giacomo and I went out to see dad last week. Giacomo bought an old Chevy camper van last year for his cross Canada adventure this summer and stored it in dad’s Quonset for the winter. He and his partner Martina, who are immigrating to Canada from Italy, are selling everything they own and driving coast to coast this summer. They want to see as much of their new country as possible before deciding where to settle down. With the weather warming up he’s excited to get the van packed and hit the road right after Easter.

So we drove out to Moose Jaw and I did my best to give Jack a minor history lesson about all the times Saskatchewan got settled and what the Hudson Bay Company was all about and why he should check out Batoche and learn about the Riel Rebellion and what’s Treaty 4 and why we talk about it now when we never did when I was a kid. Lest he think Saskatchewan wasn’t as interesting as Tofino or Cape Breton.

When we got to the farm, dad showed Jack his arrowhead collection before we went out and started up the van. Dad was complaining about his shoulder though (the one with the rotator cuff surgery,) which hasn’t been the same since his neighbour’s cow yanked on it a couple of years back. It was causing him a lot of pain from mounting the birdhouse on Sunday.

The birdhouse, I asked? Yeah, the one on the 14 foot pole by the house. Dad built a new birdhouse with eight little entrances out of an old wooden crate after the old one blew down last year. It’s very fashionable, with the same flat roof that seems to be all the rage in Regina infills.

Well Johnny (the neighbour) came over with his front end loader and, since Johnny (who’s young, like 60) doesn’t like heights, dad climbed into the steel bucket and Johnny raised dad and the birdhouse up to the top of the pole. And it was hard driving four screws up from the plywood platform into the bottom of the house with his messed up arm. And, well, Johnny couldn’t level the bucket worth a damn so his legs were all buckled funny and they’re pretty sore too, what with dad forgetting to put his knee pads on.

Needless to say, with a dad like that, I feel a little awkward complaining about my sore shoulder from 30 minutes of woodchopping, or my sore knee from Sunday morning’s yoga class. I’m doing just fine, thank you. All day, every day.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you. I hope I inherited some of your resilience genes.

How to Meditate with a Golden Retriever

It’s a challenge. But I’m breathing my way through it.

Buddy, in a state of mindful relaxation.

I have wanted to meditate for several years now. My thinking is getting more and more scattered, and my self talk more and more negative. So better relaxation and focus could really help.

But the Resistance is large with this. It’s as if it knows that better calm and focus will make its destructive job harder. So I thought about it but never started.

Last week I went for my regular long walk around Wascana Lake and listened to the audio of “Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzburg and for whatever reason it got me jazzed to try again. (The reason: it’s a 4 week program so there’s actual things to do. Oh do I need prompts!) So I’ve made a 20 minute meditation session part of my routine.

First thing in the morning I get up, feed the animals, let them outside, then head downstairs for my meditation time. My back’s too tight to sit cross legged for 20 minutes, so I lie on the floor instead.

Just lie there and focus on my breathing. Start thinking about work? Go back to breathing. Relationships? Back to breathing. Past failures and future worries? Breathing. The fact that my back still hurts? Breathing.

Then Buddy, our 10 year old golden retriever, barks to come inside. Breathe. Bark! Breathe. BARK!

Ok, I’m coming.

Back downstairs, and back to breathing. Now he’s beside me. He wants me to pet him. Just breath. He inches closer, (breathe), closer, (breathe), closer, until he’s leaning against my right arm and chest. Now I’m breathing while petting him.

It worked! He’s gone now. Back to breathing.

And he’s back with a toy. Plop. He drops it beside me. Breathe. Plop. He drops it closer. Breathe. Keep breathing and throw the toy. Bud’s a golden retriever but he doesn’t retrieve. He’s got his own Muse.

But this time he retrieves! Breathe. He’s back with the toy. Breathe. He lies down with his toy. Ahh…breathe. Across my feet. Breathe.

Ding! Time’s up. Good session today, Bud. I’m feeling relaxed, focused and strong.

Same time tomorrow?

Orlando

I should be getting used to it by now; it seems like there’s at least one mass shooting in the US every month. You just process one and then there’s another. But the shooting on the weekend in Orlando struck closer to home than usual.

My kids are young adults; they go to night clubs all the time. And my daughter is part of the LGBT community. I woke up Sunday morning and realized they’re a potential target for someone’s ignorant, pathetic hate.

She’s got a trip planned to LA next week. I’m scared to have her go. Even though there’s seemingly a lot of people there who are armed to the hilt for ‘protection’, it doesn’t give me comfort.

And honestly, the crazy nonsense I’ve been reading online over the past few days has me worried that there’s no ‘normal’ any more down south. Hell, I’m sticking to stamp collecting forums and I still see more hate, ignorance and paranoid fear than I can stomach.

All of us are just floating through space, you know? Just trying to make sense of this crazy messed up thing called “life.” And when I read some of the reactions to the latest disaster I realize I’m no closer to figuring it out.

I don’t know what’s worse: the sick hatred that’s behind these crimes or the fear and ignorance that fuels the flames. All I know is that the story is getting really old.

I can’t remember a time in my life when we weren’t encouraged to hate another group, be it national, religious, racial or sexual. Can you?

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want

We just got back from a Christmas holiday to Calgary and Fernie, and not a moment too soon.   Another day or two and I’d end up causing a big fight.

The trip was great, but highlighted by a series of strange communication errors. Either I would only hear half of what someone was saying, or I’d only say half of what I meant.  So many situations were unnecessarily strained, from arranging a meeting with my aunt and uncle or sorting the recycling as we cleaned out the condo in Fernie.

Inevitably I’d get frustrated by the misunderstanding.  Of course we were going to meet today!  Clearly this pile is recycling and that is garbage!  Then I’d get accused of being ‘snippy’ which would raise the tension three more levels.

Luckily we had a nine hour drive home where I could stew, mope, then try to figure things out.  I was taken back to a “Crucial Conversations” class I took years ago where the instructor kept quoting the Spice Girls.

Tell me what you want.  What you really, really want!

If what I really, really want is smoother, easier, stress free conversations with my friends and family (and I do), then that’s what I need to focus on.

Relax.  Get centred.  Explain in detail what I’m thinking.  Ask for feedback.  Ask for input.  Ensure we have understanding.  Then ensure we agree on the next step.

It’s hard for me, because I’m either experiencing life in big gulps and don’t want to stop, or I’m anxious about something and am dancing around the issue.

But if I’m going to reduce the number of Defcon 4 moments, I better stick to the program.

Relax.  Get centred.  Explain in detail what I’m thinking.  Ask for feedback.  Ask for input.  Ensure we have understanding.  Then ensure we agree on the next step.

I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions, but it seems I have one this year.

Arsene Ben

Arsene Ben

Turning 18 can be a traumatic time for a young adult. These days, instead of representing endless possibilities, an 18th birthday can leave one staring into a huge, empty void. High level organized sports stop at age 18 for all but the tiny tip of the pyramid. With the end of high school comes the end of band, choir and musicals for most kids as well.

I never really noticed this until I watched Ben graduate from high school this summer. A nice banquet, some awards, a final concert or two, then it was over. I don’t think he’s touched his trumpet since and has only picked up his guitar a handful of times. Instead, it’s on to grown up things like working and figuring out his future.

Ben’s soccer career also made a big shift, although that took until October. His club team qualified for Nationals as Saskatchewan champions, so Ben spent Thanksgiving in Newfoundland squaring off against powerhouses from BC and Ontario. But then, it was over. The next level is University soccer, but Ben’s not interested. So his competitive ‘career’ is over, although he is loving playing on a recreational adult team once a week.

So I was thrilled when Ben was asked to help coach his former high school team. He worked with the rookie goalkeepers and gave pointers to the back line. It seems like he took a turn at some of the drills too.

Thanks to a solid midfield and blazingly fast forwards, his team won the City Championship last night and Ben was all dressed up on the sidelines. I think he was as happy with this medal as the one he won as a player in Grade 9.

The head coach insisted on suits for the coaches for the final game, joking that he wanted to look like Pep Guardiola. In my mind Ben looks a little like a young Arsene Wenger. Likely just a proud father vision there.

I hope Ben keeps coaching. That’s something that can last well past 18, or even 36. Who knows, maybe he can get me tickets to an Arsenal game one day.

Whycocomah? Because it is there!

Our last night on Cape Breton was at the lovely Whycocomah Provincial Park. Huge grassy sites with great views of the village across the water.

One unique "feature", however is the placement of the washrooms. They’re quite a way from our site, and way down the hill too. The quad and glute workout is free!

In the pic, our tent is up and to the right of the picnic table waaay up the hill.

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Skyline Trail: Foggy then spectacular

We revisited the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands Park, although we weren’t sure what to expect. It was one of the highlights of our 2005 trip but this morning was very foggy.

The trail started like a trip through the Forbidden Forest, and by the time we made it to the headlands we couldn’t see a thing. We spent about 30 minutes taking pictures of the nothingness.

Then, just as we were heading back down the trail, the skies cleared. We hurried back to a glorious view of French Mountain, the headlands, and the ocean. We could see clear across to Cheticamp. Well worth the wait!

It was also cool to run into Monica Rivers and her family on the trail, who are also from Regina. Small worl indeed…

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Cape Breton Highlands

The early morning fog doesn’t detract from the views; I think it enhances them.

This is one of Canada’s most beautiful places.

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Foggy Day at the Beach

When you’re retracing your steps from five years ago, you just have to go for it, no matter what the weather. Today that meant a trip to Marguerite Beach on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. It’s a beautiful white sand beach that just screams out for playing in the surf.

We did just that – fog or no fog – and had a great time. The water was absolutely freezing, but that’s what the Atlantic is all about!

It was a great day that we topped off the same way as our first trip – fish and chips and a lobster roll at the little red shack at the side of the road at Musquodoboit Harbour. Yay!

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Growing a Champion

Every winter I get a copy of the Vesey’s Seed Catalogue in the mail. The vegetables pictured in the catalogue always get me pumped for spring. One of my favorite pictures is of Howard Dill’s "Atlantic Giant" pumpkins. These are the World Record pumpkins, routinely over 600 pounds each.

So today, as we left the Annapolis Valley and headed to Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, we took a detour to Windsor, NS to check out the Dill Farm.

The picture is of a single pumpkin plant that is ready to be pollinated. They’ll pollinate 1 fruit per stem and then cull back to the two fruits which are growing the fastest (ideal is two inches per day!)

That single plant gets the entire bed all to itself; it will take the whole 20×20 bed to feed those massive squash.

I’d love to come back in seven weeks and see how they’re shaping up!

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