A Successful Cross-Continental Search

June 9, 2014 § 2 Comments

tmavThere’s nothing quite like a series of old photographs to remind us of places we’ve been, friends we’ve been there with and the person we were ourselves at the time.

I’ve been on the road for 5 months to the day. My explorations have taken me across 9 countries and 5 continents, I still have just over a month to go before I’m home for the summer.

When I was leaving, one of my friends commented on Facebook, “I hope you find what it is you’re searching for!” I hoped so too. An epic trip like this had been my only real end goal since I came back from a 4 week trip to Italy and southern France in 2004… and now was the time to do it. I was lost.

Back in 2010, I had a moment. A moment where, like a ton of bricks, the reality of my brother’s death came crashing down on me. I’ve never had a moment that dark before (and thankfully haven’t since). In the days after that moment, I found myself reaching for my friends. Emails, messages, phone calls and notes, apologizing for being a “horrible” friend for feeling like I hadn’t been present for them in a long time. Most everyone just gave me a hug or an encouraging note back, except for two long time friends. They were hurt because they felt like they had lost a friend.

This point is only important now because I’ve been circling on our conversation a lot, trying to understand their perspective, looking through their eyes, remembering.

In these last 5 months, I’ve been clearing out a lot of lingering cobwebs like old beliefs come back for another go and nooks and crannies I hadn’t quite gotten to on my last internal sweep. But I’ve also been able to take a full step outside of my life and do a proper evaluation on what happened. My diagnosis–I suffered from a really, really, really broken-heart.

I’m on my own out here. Being on my own has given me ample time to feel, to reflect and to heal. I circled back to that conversation with those two friends to help me understand that part of me (my feeling heart) disappeared for a long time. It wasn’t lost exactly, it had just buried itself so far away from everyone that I had to go looking across continents for it.

The good news is that I found it somewhere back in Spain and today, looking back at all of my old photos and reconnecting with the person I was in them, I think I’ve convinced it to make the trek back with me this summer. I miss me and the friends and family I’ve surrounded myself with too!

I promise to keep a closer eye on it from here on in… and to let you help me by bringing it out more often!

My Sweet Spot Is The Bees Knees

September 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

He’s found his sweet spot… and so have I!

Every sunny moment, almost without fail, when I look out my front window, there’s a rabbit snuggled up in the same lump of grass next to the sidewalk. He’ll spend hours there, basking in the glow of the morning or the evening sun. I hadn’t thought much about him until one day my roommate commented, “Did you notice he sits in the exact same spot every time? It’s like he’s made the perfect groove in the ground to fit his little bunny body.”

And so he has. He was there again this afternoon when I got home. Cuddled up and catching the last few rays of the waning summer sunlight. I headed out onto the front porch to watch him a little while longer. As I stepped onto the stoop, he tensed a little, but he wasn’t running from his treasured dip in the ground unless he absolutely had too. Not wanting to disturb his September afternoon rest, I quietly headed back inside and contemplated him further from the front window.

I then decided he had picked a pretty sweet spot to make himself at home. Besides the obvious, a house with two of the world’s best roommates, it really was a nearly ideal groove in the ground – he fit so perfectly. I wonder how many other spots he’s crouched in before he found this one? I’m honoured that it’s our house he’s chosen for his perch because I’ve made it mine too and I’ve got to say, it’s the bees knees.

How important is it that we each carve out our own little space in the world? Our own niche, own hideaway? Whether it’s somewhere fully exposed or tucked way back from prying eyes, everyone and everything needs a place where they feel at home. A place they can come back to and feel safe from the roar and rustle of the outside world.

With shifting family dynamics, jobs and even my own inner self over the last five to eight years, it’s taken me quite some time to find a haven I’m comfortable curling up in again. But I think I’ve finally found it. A place in time I’d like to stop and enjoy for more than a passing moment or two. I did a faery card reading last night, and one of the cards I pulled up was called The Guardian at the Gate. It stands for “passages to new life. Openings. Gatekeeping.” And the meaning behind the card:

“We are embarking on a new phase of our lives, and there will be no going back once this gate has been passed. That is the kind of transition the Guardian at the Gate leads us to – always to irrevocable change.”

I can’t help but think having my own two legs to stand on, firmly rooted in my own sweet spot, is what’s helped me be ready for whatever this next phase is. I’ve felt it coming for a long time now, I just didn’t know when it would hit. But here we are, maybe one or two more corners to round… and my next chapter shall begin.

Keep the Passion Burning

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

This favourite quote by author, humourist and lecturer Mark Twain came to mind when I read blogmate Wendy’s recent post about turning 30 and how she’s determined to go for it all.

Wendy once paid me a great compliment by acknowledging that we’re very much alike, particularly in terms of our outlook, though I’m nearly 22 years older.

She will live a dynamic life and flourish at whatever she sets out to do. But then Wendy’s no slouch now, whether it’s the enthusiasm for her job at Yelp Calgary, her passion for ultimate Frisbee or the emotion her writing exudes.

I can predict this with certainty because the one advantage I have over my younger friend is experience.

I’ve seen how attitude drives altitude in life and I thrive on being connected with driven, ambitious people.

Now it’s true that I’m not a millionaire yet. While a paid off mortgage would definitely be great, I’m rich in many other intangible and important ways.

For example, I take great comfort in knowing the phrase “I’m bored” has never crossed my lips and never will.

It’s also exciting to realize I’ve yet to reach my own potential, Far from it, though I have no regrets. In fact, I know I’ve mentored and inspired others to reach greater heights. That is a powerful feeling.

There is always something more to accomplish, whether in relationships, hobbies, careers or self-improvement, in general.

The key is to continually stoke the fires of passion in all aspects of life – whether that’s examining new employment prospects, taking on volunteer opportunities or finding activities that broaden your friend and interest bases.

I draw energy from people like Wendy who strive to live life to the fullest. That’s easier said than done at times. On the other hand, have you ever noticed how much life is sucked out of you by people who are constantly negative or miserable?

Any sustainable life success is bound to occur by surrounding yourself by like-minded people.

Sometimes you can’t control these factors, particularly in the workplace. It’s certainly a rush when you provide someone with an opportunity to work on a project and they react with excitement.

As legendary football coach Lou Holtz once said, “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

I recently received a random jolt of inspiration when I spoke to Vanessa Besharah, a summer student at the Grande Prairie Regional Tourism Association office, for the first time.

She’d turned down a previously held job to take on this one because of her passion for it.

Her words resonated with me. Not too many others speak about their employment in that way.

I’ll share some other comments. They were a breath of fresh air.

“My outlook in life is that people need to stop, breathe and realize there are so many things in the world that are more important than their career and money,” she says.

Vanessa completed her business studies at Grande Prairie Regional College this spring. She believes a job should be taken because it provides happiness and enjoyment.

“To me, family and my relationship are more important than work and I would drop anything to help them because they’re the ones that are going to be there when you need them.”

Finding balance is quite simple, but it takes effort, she says.

“A lot of people stay in their comfort zone and do not take chances,” she says. “There are so many places to see in this world; people just have to jump in their car and start to drive. We need to get away from work and try to find that balance in life. On a day off, just jump in your car and explore. I was surprised how many people have not even been to many places that are only two hours away and they’ve lived in Grande Prairie their whole life.

“What inspires me so much is when you realize that it’s the small things in life you do for other people that makes them so happy and thankful.”

Vanessa leads a running group in Grande Prairie and helped members reach their goal of achieving a 10 km distance.

“I never knew it meant a lot to people, just the small things and time spent helping people. So next time just say ‘hi’ to someone or lend a helping hand or just hear someone out. It means a lot to people in ways you will never know.”

Vanessa plans to take some time to travel this fall and discover more about herself before pursuing Alberta Fitness Leadership Certification Association training.

“This will allow me to teach fitness and get paid for what I enjoy doing.”

She also plans to take human resources courses online.

“My life isn’t mapped out but I have come to term with that. I think that it’s fine not knowing what’s going to happen so you are more likely to take chances and experience what life throws at you.”

I’m certain Vanessa will go as far as her ambition takes her.

Music is often a topic when Wendy and I speak, so I can’t think of a better way to end this blog than with lyrics from Fleetwood Mac’s song Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow:

 Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow

Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be, better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

Don’t you look back, don’t you look back.

Living to Leave a Legacy

November 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in the midst of trying to figure out what her role in life is, her place in the world.

I don’t think I’ve ever determined the answer to these questions, with certainty, for myself, let alone be able to suggest to someone else what their destiny might be.

On one hand, it would be easy to get overwhelmed if we are really meant to find a way to stand out amongst the billions of people on the face of the earth.  On the other, George Bailey (played by James Stewart) in It’s A Wonderful Life learned that all the lives of those around him would change without him.

Therefore, I think it’s more worthwhile to consider how we can make our mark closer to home than examine ourselves on the world stage.

We can get great satisfaction out of volunteering in our community. I certainly have in many organizations and my son’s schools over the years.

Are we making special contributions in the workplace, like serving on committees? Are we challenging ourselves on the job itself? If someone were to ask our colleagues about us when we move on to another job, what would they really say?

How do our friends and family view us?

A few weeks ago, Jordan Skidnuk, son of Kathy Skidnuk Stoughton and the late Darrell Skidnuk, reported on Facebook that he’d received word that he is the youngest athlete to represent Canada at the 2012 Boston Marathon. I was really touched by the tribute he made to his dad, in the process.

Darrell, who lost his long bout with cancer in April 2004, was a consummate friend, parent and husband. He gave it his all to everything he participated in. And he was involved in a lot.

Jordan left no doubt about the influence of his father.

“This is a dream come true, I have never worked so hard for something in my life. This one is for you Pops, always with me every step of the way in spirit. Thanks so much to every person that came to watch a race, or encouraged me when I thought that this was impossible.”

As parents, we can hope to achieve nothing greater. I am sure Darrell, who also ran about 20 races, was smiling up there in the sky.

Legacies come in all forms and lengths.

In acknowledging the deaths of long-time community builder Bill Bowes and four teens killed in a car crash in late October, Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given noted we are all capable of leaving a legacy, regardless of our age.

Mr. Bowes, who died at age 86, was instrumental in the development of the Daily Herald-Tribune, along with his brother, Jim. He was also a well-known Rotarian, instrumental in the success of the 1995 Canada Winter Games, the growth of the Grande Prairie Storm hockey club, and was active in the chamber of commerce.

In 2009, he received the Alberta Order of Excellence.

The four teens were members of the Grande Prairie Composite High football team. Their Warrior team-mate remains in Edmonton hospital with severe injuries.

The outpouring of sympathy and support for the families and the team came from near and far. Their story hit the national news.

Mayor Given noted that, in death, the legacy of the teens is that the community has been forged together stronger.

The bottom line is that whether someone is 15 or 86, they are capable of making a difference – that might be at the neighbourhood level or community wide. Only a handful of people rise to prominence on the national or world stage.

Don’t Shop Til You Drop

August 22, 2011 § 7 Comments

“Slow down, you move too fast

You gotta make the morning last

Just kickin’ down the cobblestones

Lookin’ for fun and

Feelin’ groovy …”

That verse certainly won’t be found in any jingles from major retailers stocking and promoting Christmas gifts in August.

They are words, admittedly, from the much simpler times of 1966 when Simon and Garfunkel recorded the 59TH Bridge Street (Feelin’ Groovy) song on their Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme album.

Thinking of the rush toward Christmas that’s already begun and taking it easy on this Sunday four months ahead of The Big Day had me musing over the word thyme and its homophone (words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings) partner time.

It seems no matter how much people vow each year to slow down and spend less on gift giving, many still get caught up in the Christmas shopping vortex earlier and earlier and spend more and more money.

No wonder kids are hardly done opening the newest version of electronic gaming gadgetry they received at Christmas (which was of no surprise since they’d lobbied for months) than they are clamouring for the latest and greatest of something else.

Are we really surprised when much of the mound of nicely wrapped presents on Dec. 25 becomes clutter within days?

A rant about excesses at Christmas is an old one that needs no further comment other than the increasing craze over one day of the year is symptomatic of the rest of life for those who let it.

Many of us seem to try to pack one more thing in our lives yet always think fondly of the simpler times, like the quick vacation or the spontaneous dinner out.

Who relishes the maxed-out credit card bill in January?

It blows my mind when I’m channel surfing and I see shows like Say Yes to the Dress and the wearing apparel being considered costs more than my entire wedding. Of course, I’ve been married 25 years now and I wonder how many of the couples on the show will still be wed a quarter century later.

It all seems to start out with graduation in kindergarten and by the end of elementary school, the expectation of an elaborate celebration has gone crazy. Getting only about half way through basic education warrants a gala bash with participants driven in a limo?

It’s no wonder kids want to be teenagers all too quickly, rush off to post-secondary education, often before they are ready, and can’t wait to become of age.

By 30, many people have sped through the first third of their lives without taking the chance to smell the roses … and by then, they are stuck in a routine.

Am I being a grumpy old man about this? I don’t think so. I like a party just as much as anyone and as age 51 is calling my name, I am still at a point where I think of all the things there are left to accomplish.

It just seems we build up expectations for big moments earlier and earlier in our lives and those of younger generations so nothing is really THAT special anymore.

As I was writing this blog, I saw this quote on a friend’s twitter post: “Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” ~ Ancient Chinese Proverb.

Do these wise words and my commentary provide conflicting viewpoints? Absolutely not! There is a difference between enjoying and thriving on a fast pace and having your life spinning out of control so we lose sight of what’s important.

We really can pack one less meeting or email into a day. We can call an old friend out of the blue or take an impromptu Sunday drive. We don’t NEED to shop until we drop.

The obvious lessons are always the hardest to learn

September 7, 2010 § 1 Comment

Apple.

Image via Wikipedia

This summer has taught me a much-needed lesson. Well, it’s RE-taught me rather, because I know I’ve encountered this one before. I don’t know that it’s the last time I’ll need to revisit this lesson, but it seems to be in a different capacity each time, so that a good thing, right?

The lesson I’m learning is this:

I am not exempt from the effects of the natural progression of life or from the laws of this universe.

How incredibly obvious.  And yet, it remains something that I, and many others out there, continue to try to defy. Youth has proved my defiance right in the past, but three separate instances this summer have given me reason to pause and rethink my approach.

The first one is that over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a fairly consistent ringing in my ears.  I figured it was stress and would go away once life settled down. It’s the end of summer and life is settling down. The ringing is still here. I also find myself straining a bit harder to hear what people say.  I once could hear what others could not, now I’m turning up the volume?

The second is that I’ve had an incredibly busy summer, which isn’t out of the ordinary.  But instead of feeling refreshed and invigorated from all of the activity, I’m just plain worn out. Where is my youth that thrived on that energy level and used it to fuel and propel me forward?

Thirdly, I was home for the long weekend and I took my dog Tetris out for a run.  As we jogged down by the creek in Millet, I noticed that my calves and my shins weren’t as spry as they should be after a summer of shenanigans and Ultimate Frisbee. In the past, I’ve always bounced back fairly quickly after a lot of activity with minimal maintenance and effort. 

What’s going on?

Age.

Last fall, David had a post about the importance of health before wealth. It was a great reminder to take care of ourselves now.  And yet I was still of the mindset that I was young enough that I didn’t have to.  For the first time, health before wealth is really hitting home for me.  Of course I *know* that things like stretching after exercise, eating well, getting enough sleep, etc. is important. But I’ve always bounced back quickly when there was a lack of any or all of these things. 

Had the hearing, the sore muscles and the exhaustion not happened within a short period of one another, I doubt I would have paid them much attention.  But I’ve always believed that when things come in threes it’s a signal.  Here’s my signal to put health before wealth.

The somewhat ironic part is that in doing so early, I become exempt from many of the situations I may find myself in if I continued to ignore the lesson here. But it most definitely makes for a clear choice. Health before wealth now for me too.

Music Makes the Moment

May 31, 2010 § 14 Comments

It was a typical Saturday morning as I was getting ready to walk the dog.

Our weekend morning ritual begins with sitting in the hot tub listening to some tunes and guzzling some freshly-brewed java. The Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun came on as I re-entered the house for breakfast before hitting the trail.

What a perfect song to begin the day! Mr. Sun smiled down on a great trek.

And who better than the Beatles to provide the background music to an uplifting day? They are arguably the most important band of all time. Their music is timeless – often imitated, never duplicated.

As I walked, I began musing about how important music is to me, either making my day when I am already happy or helping me come to terms with life when I’m down.

It’s only natural that either Wendy or I would write about music in this blog. We often use a lyric from a song or the name of a tune to describe a situation or an idea when we speak. I began an earlier blog with a lyric from Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway.

My wife says I use musical lines at the drop of a hat.

She’s right. Where better than stories told through the lyrics of music to find a handy comparator? Over time, every conceivable situation has been described in song.

Although I’m a good old time rock and roll fan, the blues and jazz are also favourite genres.

Different music suits varying situations.

While a pop tune from the Fab Four is perfect to spring out the door on a walk with the dog, I prefer nothing more than the gritty, cutting words of Warren Zevon in songs like Lawyers, Guns and Money while cleaning up in the kitchen. Not sure why. Perhaps getting involved in the late singer/songwriter’s ballads is a good way to forget that I’m doing a task that no one relishes.

I have seen many of my beloved performers in concert, including Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King, the Rolling Stones, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, Jeff Healey, Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman, and Colin James.

Some of my favourite lyrics have come from these artists.

When I say or do something on the irreverent side, Thorogood provides the perfect line … Bbbaad to the Bone.

Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac bring hope with Keep Your Eye on the Prize (The Boss did a remake of the Pete Seeger song on his tribute album to the folk legend) and Don’t Stop (a song from the 1977 Rumours album) respectively.

Taking care of Business from Bachman’s BTO days was a perfect anthem for my time operating a communications firm.

Other songs have even deeper meaning.

Simon and Garfunkel’s hit Bridge Over Troubled Waters is a song I think of when I’ve brought peace to a situation or helped someone in need of a friend. It was also chosen by my Grade 7 class for confirmation.

My eyes well up when I hear the Beatles Let it Be because of its gripping inspirational quality.

What could be more heartening than John Lennon’s Imagine? Ironically, this peace-preaching musician would die at the hands of a crazed gunman.

Carolyn Dawn Johnson’s Complicated song reminds me of how I’ve put up barriers at times with new people in my life.

Billy Joel’s Innocent Man was important to me when I began the relationship with my best friend and now wife.

I’ve used the Trooper song Raise a little Hell to remind people who are bemoaning their lot in life that it is up to them to take matters into their own hands:

If you don’t like

What you got

Why don’t you change it?

If your world is all screwed up

Rearrange it

Raise a little Hell …

There is no better way than music to pay tribute to someone you care about. We recently said goodbye to Frank Drodge of our Facilities Department at the City of Grande Prairie. He died far too young at age 50 on May 10. Frank was also known as the drummer and promoter of the local band Anywhere But Here.

Frank was remembered for his hard work, kindness and good cheer and I loved exchanging yarns of favourite concerts and bands.

I bid you adieu, Frank, with a favourite song title from Bob Seger.

Rock and Roll Never Forgets.

Other songs bring back happy memories.

My father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I can remember him often reciting a favourite song written during the First World War, There’s A Long, Long Trail – A Winding.

I remember little from my high school graduation – come on now, it was 32 years ago – but recall vividly Queen’s We Will Rock You belting out at the bush party I attended (I wonder if my Dad ever discovered that I lifted a bottle of rum from his liquor cabinet for the occasion).

Nothing is more memorable than the prank I pulled on my wife-to-be at the 1983 St. Paul Journal Christmas Party. I bet her dinner that the “next song” would be Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll.

Little did she know that the DJ was also the bus driver for the hockey team I covered for the paper, and I’d rigged the wager. Mmm, that was good Chinese food. I later reciprocated with a spaghetti dinner.

There are campfire songs to enjoy with a bunch of friends. Show tunes such as those from the Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island are fun to sing along to while making a long trip and needing to stay awake.

That was a fun memory during our overnight trip to the West Coast from Grande Prairie in 1987.

It was time to pull over for an early morning meal when we started into Raffi’s Down by the Bay!

So, music really does make the moment – sometimes it makes a sad moment happy. Other times, it helps makes sense of a situation.

At other instances, it is good just to take away the Sound of Silence.

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