Archive for January, 2016

Day 11 of 100 Happy Days – Mightier than the Sword.

Day 11-100 (2)

 

Day 11 of 100 Happy Days

For those that know me, I am an avid writer. Yes, I write blogs, but that is not what I mean. What I mean is that I take my penmanship quite seriously.

It started early.  I was always a neat writer. I remember being a fastidious printer and I can remember the effort I put into my cursive writing. You remember cursive…the handwriting of the teacher.  The square little cards above the blackboard that showed how to make the perfect I or Q. From pencil and eraser, we graduated to pencil only – and a ruler to strike out our errors.

And then we were given our pens…classic 29 cent bics, that eventually ended with chewed caps and those little plastic bits on the end that if you crushed just right with your teeth, would suction onto the end of your tongue.

I can remember all the pens that I went through…the quadruple bic pen with the red and green and blue and black ink. The roller ball, the gel pen, the Cross, the Parker. And then I moved to the fountain pen…first it was the Schaeffer with the disposable ink cartridges.

With the fountain pen I had finally found the writing implement that I would favour for the majority of my adult life.  I experimented with many versions – thin nibs, calligraphy nibs, thick nibs.  I love the feel of a fountain pen and the smooth, elegant script that it would produce. I ignored the constant ink stains on my fingers and the occasional Rorschach ink blot on the page.  It added to the charm.

In 1992, the Mont Blanc Meisterstuck entered my life. And if a pen can define a man, this was it. That pen was my constant companion – save when I went on manoeuvres in the field. The heft of the pen was comforting and the strong, ornate nib etched a unique, bold, line that changed my writing style from functional to characteristic.

Those that know me know my handwriting. The ink, the signature, the way I make my letters, were an extension of my personality. People knew my notes.

I have owned that pen for over 23 years. I have used this fountain pen tens of thousands of times, and refilled it from black, burgundy, blue, royal blue, peacock blue, and green ink wells thousands more.  It has taken a few hard knocks, but nothing a few dollars and the skill of the Mont Blanc artisan could not replace. Every two years it goes into the “shop” for a tune up and a detailing, and comes back crisp and clean and ready for more yeoman service.

If you can care for an inanimate object, I would say that I do indeed care for that pen.

As we move to a more and more digital society, we become more dependent on laser jets and scans.  You can make your mark in thousands and thousands of computer fonts. And the letters, and certificates, and posters look marvellous.

But a handwritten note, on thick bond letter paper, in an envelope sealed with a wax cipher shows a level of attention that you cannot replicate with bits and bytes. This pen, and the notes and letters and cards that I write with it, are extensions of me. A carefully crafted, handwritten, personal note will bring a happy smile to anyone, which means that I can bring a smile to anyone. And that makes me pretty happy!

Later,

ASF

Day 10 of 100 Happy Days – Piano Man in training

Day 10-100

Day 10 of 100 Happy Days

Today, I took up a new challenge. I took on something that has been sitting around quietly, partly taunting me, teasing me, mocking me.

A couple of years ago we purchased a nice digital piano. My wife owned a piano once, and a digital was an inexpensive way to have quality sound at a reasonable price – as well as with a reasonable space footprint. It was a hobby she enjoyed.

As for me, I do not know how to play piano. Nevertheless, this Christmas, my brother-in-law picked up my guitar, and with no lessons, theory or practice, was able to translate his piano know-how into actual carols and songs like some kind of savant.  I wanted to be able to do the same – on the piano that is, and without people thinking I was Dustin Hoffman.

So with the same vigour, and subject matter expertise and support  that I attacked my guitar playing over a decade ago, I have taken on the challenge of learning the piano. By  myself. Who needs formal lessons? I’ve got Google and You Tube.

So I downloaded a chord chart from the internet and started banging away. And despite the fact that I am absolutely horrible, it was an entertaining time. Wearing my headphones, I lost track of time as I tried desperately to tap ebony and ivory (or the synthetic versions of them) with rugby prop fingers, hoping to develop some sort of muscle memory as an anchor for my budding pianist aspirations.

After the hour, I was starting to sense some order emerging from the chaos and the jumble of black and white keys…the sequence, the scales, the chord patterns were making sense.  There is a repetitions, a predictability that  appeals perfectly to the orderly and methodical engineer’s mind. I know I can learn the chord and notes through analysis and identifying the repetition and symmetry.  Like the guitar there is math involved. And I like math!

So I will carry on, and hopefully over time, as I will get better. Maybe in the future there will be some creativity intermingled with the patterns and sequences.

But then again, maybe not.

It took a while for the guitar to stop screeching, so I think that Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Ray Manzarek, and the kid from School of Rock  have absolutely nothing to worry about. Hopefully one day I’ll hear someone say, “Sing me a song, you’re the Piano Man.” Guffaw, guffaw!

But regardless of how it goes, a new goal means new challenges. And new challenges mean happy times…

Wish me luck!

Later,

ASF

Day 9/100 Happy Days -K’I play, too?

Day 9-100

Day 9/100 Happy Days

Twice a day, I walk the dog. We usually take a leisurely loop around the wetlands behind the house. In the summer we enjoy the scenery, the cattails and the trees, and try very hard to avoid the goose and duck poo.

During these walks early in the summer, I looked at the water and thought to myself, “I betcha that would make a superb ice rink in the winter.”  And I looked forward to seeing rinks pops up when the weather got cold.

Imagine my disappointment in October when the county officials put up signs warning that the any ice would be unsupervised and potentially unsafe. “Danger, danger!”, the signs screamed at all within eye-shot. I could not believe that in Canada, in the heart of the West, there would be warnings to keep kids off natural ice.  It just seemed un-Canadian.

And once the snow started falling and the thermometer dipped well below freezing for several consecutive nights, I noticed that the Canadian spirit could not be quashed. Forget that our boys bowed out early in this year’s World Juniors, there was ice to be freed of its snowy coat.

The rinks started appearing as if some jaunty ice leprechaun was dropping pond rink seeds in some sort of wintery magic. Several nice rectangular patches of marsh ice, cleared of snow the old fashioned way – by shovel and broom – bloomed spontaneously. And no sooner than they appeared that they were decorated by beautiful  4 foot by 6 foot rectangles that signalled, “Game on!”.  Canada’s passion, like, early life, found a way to appear from nothing.

These natural rinks are things of beauty.

Forget backyard rinks, this is the way old time hockey was played…on ponds.  Sadly, I have not been out on the ice yet…a strange, grown man invading a shinny rink teeming with kids is just odd – especially if none of those kids are his!  Part of me just wants to go out there and ask, “Hey, k’I play…I got a net?…”

The ice beckons me, offering me to partake in a little bit of Canadiana. Until I can get out there, the little kid in me is itching for a go.   Just the thought of being out there reminds me of my youth and happy times.

Later,

ASF

Day 8/100 Happy Days – Who are you wearing tonight?

Day 8 Meme

Day 8/100 Happy Days

It’s Awards Show Season!

The Golden Globes are on tonight. I like the Globes…it is the junior league of award shows. Serious, but not too serious; slightly less pretentious, and definitely funny – intentionally or not.  It is the warm up act for The Oscars, and gets us all primed for the narcissim to follow!

I do not really follow the whole celebrity thing and I do not really care who wins what film or TV show except that the Awards are usually a good indicator of what movies I should shell out the $13.00 at the theatre over the next few weeks.

But it does appeal to the voyeur in me – the one who wants to see the train wreck.

You know what I mean.

I want to know what will create the buzz for tomorrow. I want to know what special interest group is going to be most offended…by either the MC’s jokes, the presenters’ weird-ass attempts at livening up the dullest category of awards, some stray word uttered in the heat of the moment without malice, or whomever was scorned in the nominations.

I have to admit that I enjoy the awkwardness of the award shows. Firstly, the immense pressure that the MC is under.  The best ones are the irreverent ones – I do enjoy Ricky Gervais as he is both fearless and tactless…a great mix to ensure hilarity.  However, so many other moments can make you cringe.

Like…

The great teleprompter moments…it is boggling how can actors who spend their whole careers adding feeling and emotions to scripts, can be so bad at reading the prompts.

I love the way the cameras pan on all the nominees, and relish the moment when we get to see in real time (plus seven seconds, of course) the poker faces and painful smiles of congratulations on the face of the those who did not win. I am waiting for the day when one of the losers breaks out in tears, like an U-21 athlete who has been knocked out of the World Finals. It’ll happen someday!

I love the winner’s or tribal leader’s  hunt for that scrap of paper, the one with notes in six font; their frantic search all their pockets for a pair of glasses,  as they start to thank everyone and anyone for their victory. I love how they start out deliberately and carefully, and then gradually pick up speed like a Klezmer band as the time wears on and the Award Show Orchestra plays louder and louder – an aural “shut the f*** up” and get off the stage.

Finally there are unscripted moments…the faux pas, the stumbles, the shock.

It is theatre and it is entertainment. I love how such a self-congratulatory event becomes bigger than itself…it makes my every day seem so much saner.

Later,

ASF

Day 7/100 Happy Days – Carnivorous Rex

Day 7-100 Meat Periodic Table

Day 7/100 Happy Days

It was my sister’s birthday yesterday and we went out for a family dinner. It was a celebration. It required meat.

Today is Saturday.  Have to make dinner for the gang. It requires meat.

Need to eat tomorrow. Better reach into the freezer and thaw some meat!

I am a carnivore. I love meat: beef, lamb, goat, poultry, game, fish. I like it grilled, barbecued, roasted, spitted, smoked, crock-potted, pan fried, seared, stewed, poached or simmered.

I am not sure where I developed the taste…maybe it is making up for my childhood, when meat was scarce and the occasional weekend treat. Maybe it is because I love the taste.

I know. I have read the ethical debates, the moral stances, the environmental concerns that swirl around the meat/vegan debate. I know there is a dark side to producing meat on an industrial scale.

I also know about the health side of the debate. I have been educated on fats, and cholesterol and cooking methods.

In the interest of expanding our horizons, and maybe our lives, we have now instituted meatless Mondays. There are some great alternatives to meat – some great dishes that are tasty involving vegetables and legumes and pulses.

But they are not meat.

Before you try to convince me otherwise or tell me how evil I am, I understand your viewpoint. And I get it.  I still love meat and will continue eating it – with relish. (Pun sorted of intended…). To me, a day without appeasing my carnivorousness is like a day with sunshine. A lovely steak, or stew, or soup, or roast just makes me happy.

Yum, yum – where’s my hasenpfeffer, rabbit?!

Later,

ASF

Day 6/100 Happy Days – Camellia sinensis, or A Cuppa (if you prefer)

Day 6-100 Happy Days

Day 6/100 Happy Days

Major General Urquhart: Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?

Corporal Hancock: Couldn’t hurt, sir.

Operation MARKET GARDEN in  A Bridge Too Far (1977)

‘Ow ’bout a cuppa Rosie Lee? A Builder’s? Or do you prefer exotic and dangerous like Lapsang Souchong or maybe Oolongs. Maybe a respectable, venerable Earl Grey….or maybe just some comforting and soothing Chai  – milk and sugar.

I grew up on tea. It was the staple hot beverage in our house. Nice strong traditional Indian tea, black or pekoe, was brewed with a heady mixture of  cardamom, cinnamon, cloves – a special ingredient my Mom called “chai masala”.  Loaded with milk and sugar, it still is beyond compare!

The cups of tea would start first thing in the morning, usually delivered by Mom while we were still in bed, just shaking the sleep from our eyes. It was the best tasting laxative that a child could ever ask for, and was the homeopathic solution to constipation and all sundry affliction related to it – headaches and grumpiness being the two most common.

That was the Pavlovian conditioning. Tea equals love and comfort and care. It has been that ever since.

Now I know that some people are coffee people – and I have to admit that I can be bi-caffeinal. Mostly at work. Coffee has its own unique merits, but comfort is not one of them. Coffee is a no-nonsense hot beverage.

Coffee signals business, business, business…wake up, stay awake, stay alert…it is the pick-me-up needed during long meetings or conferences. It fights boredom. It is the trophy of our constant drive-thru hunts. The extra large we rush in and out of as we dash from place to place and commitment to commitment. It is the human fuel of the long distance road trip. It is the drink of commerce, all frothy and tarted-up, flavoured with syrups and creams and covered in chocolate sprinkles or powdered cinnamon. It is dolled up to disguise its taste – mocha or pumpkin or brulée. It is the adrenaline that jacks us up and gets us all fuelled to take on the world.

It is not tea.

Tea is the yin to coffee’s yang.  Tea means that you are taking the time – the time to boil the kettle, the time to steep the tea as the lovely herb is brought back to life from its dehydrated stasis, the time to sit and open a newspaper, a magazine, or a good book and expand your horizons. It gently encourages you to sit and reflect. To pull up a chair and have a chin wag. It evokes images of family and friends and steaming cups of fragrance, fortified with lashings of sugar and milk.  It doesn’t necessarily solve the world’s problems, but it makes life so mellow that you actually don’t care about them!

After a particular demanding round of home DIY, after a hectic period of errands, after an evening meal, nothing hits the spot like ambrosia under the tea cozy…

Add a cookie – or biscuit, if you prefer – and it’s heaven.

Put the kettle on then, eh? Oh, Happy Day!

Later,

ASF

Day 5/100 Happy Days – Baby Faces

 

shaving 2

Day 5/100 Happy Days

Twice a year, you can always recognize the serving Army guys. They are the ones sporting the hockey playoff beards, the mutton chops, the goatees and other facial hair during the summer and most definitely over the Christmas break.  I am not sure if it is some sort of low-level mutiny, a full-scale rebellion, or just a desire to take a break from the daily ritual of dragging a piece of steel across their faces.

Facial hair – you either love it or hate it.

And if 1 December is an indication, I am guessing the majority are not fans. I have never seen such looks of relief on so many partner’s faces as when the Movemberites shaves of the 30 days of growth.

Since I was a young lad,  I have been gifted with the werewolf look (except on top of my head). I had to start shaving at a young age, secretly at first.  My father warned me that my silky, but ugly, adolescent boy-beard would gradually morph into unsightly, coarse stubble. This transition was the gateway to manhood.

I remember watching my Dad using his Noxzema shaving cream, a cracked plastic measuring cup, and a double edged safety razor to complete this daily ritual, seven days a week. It was so manly.

I know this does not make sense to many of you. Maybe you do not have a beard; maybe you have a beard but you can shave with Kleenex. Maybe you put milk on your face and let the cat lick off your beard. If that is your fortune, you probably don’t get it.

But to many of us, shaving has just become one of those grooming things we have to do – like putting on deodorant or flossing our teeth. What a shame!

It is a unique rite of manhood!

As a 20th century man, I moved through a multitude of razors to achieve a closer and closer shave: first the disposable safety razors by Bic et al; then through the chain of cartridge razors – first the Mach series, and then Fusion series, and now I am wooed by the Pro-Glide FlexBall!.Oh, the money I have spent!

I have even tried the electric razor – but that experiment did not last long.

And I won’t even delve into the different types of creams – gels or foams, menthol or tropical breeze, tube or can  – or the pre-shave exfoliants, the post- shave balms, other razor burn soothers and the sometimes required step It is boggling.

Alongside the razors, the cream, and the various other products, I have adopted many different strategies to maintain the Army grooming standard. I am trying hard to forget the dry shave that many a man has tried while rouging it in the deep of winter – when warming up cold water and stripping off the shirt is just too manly to attempt.

I have tried hot shaving cream, hot towels, evening shaves, and shaving in the shower. For pure ease and convenience, plus the added benefit of spending time under soothing massaging jets, shaving in the shower is the winner – if you can find the right mirror that doesn’t fog and stays put!

I have always loved to grow outlandish facial hair when I could. To grow be Lemmy, the Fu-Manchu,  the Boer War Chops, or the Breaking Bad  has been fun – even if my wife and friends think I’m a nut!

After this Movember, I splurged for a relaxing straight razor shavette to smooth my bald pate and baby-faced cheeks. If you have not pampered yourself by fully reclining in an old fashioned barber’s chair, by having your face lovingly swaddled in almost too hot wet towels, by allowing liberal applications of facial pre-shave creams and hot mugs of foamy lather, by experiencing a slow, deliberate with-the-grain and against-the-grain straight shave, and ending with an invigorating facial massage – you are just not living to your potential!

It is the male equivalent of the pedicure and toe nail polish.  Expensive, yes – but I would argue, a periodic necessity!

During my time in the Army, I saw shaving as a necessity – something that had to be done, sometimes twice a day.  And even though I still can pull off the two minute panic shave to get myself to work on time, I believe that taking the time to pamper your face is important.

Occasionally you just need slow it down and to reconnect with males from yore. You need to wet the shaving brush, vigorously work up a lather in a shaving cream mug, carefully and liberally paint your face lovingly with warm , and slowly, deliberately and shave those whiskers off your face as you enjoy the unique sound of one thins steel blade dispensing with the whiskers in the traditional way .

In these hectic times, a slow, cautious, deliberate shave is a meditative experience that kindles thoughts of a simpler time! Something all we men deserve to be happy, happy!

Later,

ASF

Day 4/100 Happy Days – Ibuprofen and Hot Tubs

Day 4-100 Happy Days

Day 4/100 Happy Days

As many of you know, I have been ridden hard and put away wet oh so many times. Lengthy athletic & military careers and officers’ messes have taken their Knievelesque toll on my frame.  Multiple knee surgeries, bilateral tibia-fibula fractures, repeated broken noses and fingers, dislocated shoulders, cellulitis, and finally, a triple bypass, have resulted in many doses of Cepacol (inside army joke – sorry) and more than a few ice baths.

Many a specialist has told time and time again that maybe it was time to pack it in. But I couldn’t; I did not know how. Ever since high school I have lived by the credo that there are only have two speeds, “all out, or broken”.

Funnily enough, as I watched my son play rugby, I have realized that those words are the repeated mantra of youth and invincibility. I can remember when a whisper of tough skin spray and another layer of athletic tape could get all my teammates, and me, through the last few rugby games of the season, skating another shift on the ice, or setting up a few spikes with swollen. misshapen and sprained fingers.

Moe than one medic told 20-something Pal that perhaps it would be better to sit out the rest of the season – otherwise I would regret it when I was 45.  “Forty-five?  Who gives a sh*t about 45? Hell, that is over 20 years away, I might not even make it!  Tape me up doc there are still games left in this season!”

Foolhardy? Sure – when looking back at it as a 51 year-old. But would I take those moments back? Maybe…maybe not.

Many of those moments defined me… scoring the only three points in a lopsided rugby loss to West Point (though we hurt Navy a few months later), playing goal in several CF Regional Soccer Tournaments, numerous Army League hockey and broom-ball seasons with the soldiers of the Regiment, several half marathons and a full marathon where I was my only competition..

And maybe I should have taken it easy, because I tell you, I do hurt sometimes. But seriously, would that have been me?

Doubtful. I love sports too much!

I will continue to live vicariously watching amateur and professional athlete.  And as I seriously consider giving up hockey and rugby and soccer – save one last Ex-Cadet Rugby Game in 2017 to celebrate my 30th year since graduation , I will likely move to others that will provide the same thrill, but take less of a toll on me…whenever I figure out what those are!

Until then, I will continue to carry on in the tradition that many of us know well- the satisfaction and moral high ground of a solid cardio and strength workout, followed by a round of ibuprofen, and a comforting hot tub – like today! Despite the aches and pains, that keeps me happy…

Later,

ASF

Day 3/100 Happy Days – Music and Guitars

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Day 3/100 Happy Days – Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World!

Each generation grows up with a fondness for a certain type of music.  I  would describe myself as a small “h” head banger, big “c” Classic Rock freak (and by classic rock, I mean pre-1990s, though I do like the Seattle Grunge of Pearl Jam and SoundGarden).

Ever since the early days of listening to 1050 CHUM in Toronto and of using my cassette deck to capture the annual “best 1000 songs of all time” from the radio, to the hours spent listening to my brother’s extensive vinyl collection, music has been important to me. The Who, AC-DC, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Rush and countless others that will take too long to name, appealed to my thoughts of rebellion and “coolness”.  Their memorable riffs, shocking lyrics (well for that time anyway, as they really have nothing on today’s “pop” music lyrics) were a great counter-weight to the expectations and pressures of maintaining the requisite Honour Roll Status.  While my parents dreamed of my futre including medicine, or law, or finance, I always dreamed of getting on the stage and cutting a mean axe solo à la Peter Frampton!

But it never happened. My only school age foray into music was the double bass – a lot cooler now than it was back then – and that was simply to play school-sanctioned classical selections with the other violinists.  It was not very Bon Scott.

Instead my outlet was the myriad of concerts that came through Toronto and catching a lot of the bands I loved, live at Maple Leaf Gardens, Ontario Place, or Exhibition Place.   It was not a bad outlet at all.

I remember my ex-wife giving me my first acoustic guitar on our fifth anniversary. I used the traditional “Learn How to Play Guitar in 10 days” manuals, but soon got tired of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” and other lame offerings. So it went away.

It wasn’t until six years later that I took a serious swipe at figuring out the six string. And I have never looked back. Now while I am no expert guitarist, I do like banging away on my guitars and learning new things – classic rock and the blues are very forgiving! To my ear, it is just right – can’t speak for the others in the house.

Over time, I have expanded my musical taste – pretty much everything but acid country and hard core rap are on my playlists. Music and playing the guitar are my meditation, my diversion, and one of my passions. Both take an ordinary day and make it special. Music transports me to happy places; playing songs that I like in the way I want to hear them creates a different kind of contentment – one that you cannot get from a video game, a TV show, or a movie.  I am addicted.

I could not imagine a day without music, and I cannot go a long time without playing my guitar. And while it may not make those around me “happy|, it definitely makes me happy! Now all I have to do is find a gang to jam with…and figure out the keyboards!

Day 2/100 Happy Days – Parents!

2015-12-25 08.41.30Day 2/100 Happy Days.  Yesterday, I wrote of the special bond between parents and children – from the point of view of a soppy, middle-aged man bravely waving goodbye to his son at the airport, stifling a few tears in the process.  Today, I will turn the tables and write about things from the other side of the fence.

My parents have just spent the last two weeks with us over Christmas.  I do not think we could have spent time with anybody easier-going; all we needed to do was provide time and space for the twice-daily walks, and all the cereals know to humankind, and the never-ending cups of tea!

They are wonderful people  and they have accomplished wonderful things.

From humble agrarian roots in India, to hardworking merchant class in England, to demanding white collar jobs in Canada – their story is the classic tale of people seeking a better life, a 20th century version of the pioneer spirit that made this country what it is.

Frugal, hardworking, tough yet affectionate in their own way, they shared their morals, their values, their ethics, and formed the foundations for me and my siblings to  become who we are.

Now, as they and I have entered that last stage of the parent-child relationship – that of friends – I find that our discussions, our chats, our walks, our games, our times together are all special and cherished. I have had the privilege of reconnecting with my parents two years ago as they nursed me back to health after the heart bypass; and though I would never recommend a serious illness to anyone, the whole episode was an opportunity to renew our relationship as adults – to learn about each other and to appreciate what we all offered from a totally different perspective than that of child to adult and adult to child.

And as I have learned from the relationship with my children, a weekly phone call to just say, “All is good here,” is always welcome and rewarding

Time marches on; hair grays, hearing fades,eyes become cloudy, energy saps, but they are always the same, sharing the same old chestnuts of family jokes and stories and laughing those infectious laughs that seem to make everyone’s day.

I love my parents and I am also in the enviable position of liking them as well!. They are a pleasure to be with and they are one of the main reasons I am as happy a man as I am.

Love you, Mom and Dad.