The Whole30


Today is my second day on the new diet my Wife said I should try for the next 30 days.  Well it was nice to at least present it as a choice, implying that my mind had not already been made up for me. The word “Paleo” has its origin in Greek, meaning old or ancient, referring to the foods I would be eating and not my age.  The program is sometimes called the caveman diet because consumption is restricted to whole foods like meat fish and poultry, nuts, seeds, berries and fruits, and a lot of green vegetables, the leafier the better.  Sounds like cavemen did very well for themselves.

Not allowed are sweeteners, processed food, dairy, and legumes.  Legumes, in case you are not up on your botany, includes beans, lentils, peanuts, and soy.  What they did to upset the rest of the mummies in the food pyramid, I’ll never know.  But I have a fairly good idea why my wife wouldn’t want me eating beans. At any rate,  you should now have a good idea of what is allowed and what is not.  Anything you can kill or pick off a tree, good! Anything you might actually enjoy, bad!

Oh did I mention no alcohol, see last line, second paragraph.

Now fortunately for me, I’ve always been fond of fruits and vegetables. Apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, celery, all found at snack city central for me.  Snack, oh yeah, that’s frowned upon as well by the true fanatics (I mean purists).  It’s about having a responsible relationship with food and developing a healthy respect for our bodies and the nutrients with which we sustain ourselves.  My wife would argue that I have failed to develop these simple skills even on a personal level during fifteen years of marriage, let alone any across six decades of dietary hedonism. Did I mention no alcohol?

Even the most teetotaling of physicians will concede to the health benefits of red wine.  Many doctors recommend a glass a day to lower cholesterol and promote heart health.  If one glass of wine is that good for the average Joe, I can only assume that I am four or five times healthier than the general population.

As much as I will miss, the occasional Klondike bar, the hooch is where I will suffer the strongest temptation and probably reap the greatest benefit.  There are approximately 650 calories in a bottle of red wine, even more in a bottle of Chardonnay.  Hmm…I wonder if the spouse has thought this one all the way through.

I’ve already quit smoking, now no drinking for at least the next 30 days. In addition, take away ice cream, cookies or even a friggin slice of dried toast, and I can say that 2017 is off to an exciting start.  At this rate the only thing I have left to give up for Lent is my will to live.

Winter in Trenton


I still remember some events from my days in Scotland, although those memories fade with each passing year. But my time in Trenton Ontario provided some my fondest childhood memories. I lived there from eight years old until I was 12 when in the summer of 1969 my family moved to Texas. Considering my age, it is not surprising that those years stand out so vividly in my mind.  I was discovering who I was and where I belonged in the world. When we moved, I missed Canada.  I had left behind all that was familiar to me. Ontario and Texas were so different.

In contrast to Texas, Ontario summers were balmy, and winters were numbingly cold. In Canada we had all four seasons. In the autumn, leaves exploded with color in the fall, red and orange maple leaves as big as my hand, and poplar leaves the size of shovel heads. I remember each year waiting in eager anticipation of the first snowfall, anxious for the cold magical harbinger of Christmas.

In the winter we would skate on the playground at the elementary school.  Doused with water and allowed to freeze in the frigid night air, the tarmac surface stayed iced over from December till the end of March. There we played hockey, with our second hand skates and sticks, wrapped up jackets and scarves and woolen caps, imagining ourselves to be our favorite players from The Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadians.  There is something about living in the northern climate.  Despite the cold temperatures, people find interesting ways to enjoy the outdoors.

As soon as the first hard freeze arrived, fisherman would begin to move their huts out onto the frozen water of the Bay of Quinte.  They could be seen scattered 30 to 40 yards from shore, tiny dark cabins dotting the snow covered ice. Peering out from the back seat of my father’s Oldsmobile, my nose pressed to the cold window, tires rumbling on the metal grates as we crossed the Dundas St. Bridge, I wondered what it would be like to walk out onto the frozen ice and fish through a hole drilled to the water beneath. It was probably the contradictory nature the sport which fascinated me.  Adults were always telling kids not to walk out onto the ice, but every year in January they were out there by the dozens.  I never saw the inside  of an ice-hut, never fished for bass or perch or trout beneath the frozen surface of the river Trent, but I’m sure if the opportunity had arisen, the possibility of the ice cracking, opening up below me and swallowing me forever would have scared me off.

The highest spot in town is Mt. Pelion. Not a true mountain, Pelion is more an anemic hill offering an overview of Trenton, the river and bay. Close by, to the west, is the golf course. In the winter, the greens and fairways lay covered in a deep blanket of snow.  Undulating slopes offered a great place to go sledding, but only if we could talk my father into taking us. Across the river, it was too far for us to drag a sled on foot.

Closer to home there was another smaller hill to toboggan. Though not as spectacular as the golf course, in the winter months we looked for any change in elevation capable of propelling us. If we couldn’t find one, we’d build it. Snow, packed onto the front landing and steps, created a runway that sent us hurling across the yard and into the snow bank, piled high upon the curb.

The snow brought us work as well as pleasure and removing snow from the driveway after each snowfall was an occasional and unwelcome chore.  After a heavy snow, the infamous plough drove down Byron St. and pushing the snow from the middle of the road, creating huge berms along the curb and across any driveways along the route.  My older brother Alex was often charged with shovel duty, but we all took turns scooping up the freshly fallen snow and discarding it into the front yard.  Clearing the drive we’d mine our way through the snow bank to the road.  We had no garage to store the car, so on extremely cold nights my father would run an extension cord to the drive way.   Attached to the engine block was a heater to keep the coolant and oil from freezing.

 I enjoyed those winters in Ontario.  Loading up the car for our trip to Texas, I had no idea it would be many years before I once again experienced the joy of building a snow man.

The Thief in the Attic


Unnoticed and uninvited, the Thief took up residence in my father’s attic. He had infiltrated with such stealth, for years no one suspected he was there. At first,the trickster stole only little things, picked them up, moved them about. My father would search for something in one place and it would be found in another. These misplaced items were easy to ignore.

“Oh it’s not important, it’ll turn up somewhere”, he would say and sure enough, a few days later, there it was. But then it would be lost again.

But the swindler grew more daring and my father became increasingly concerned as more of his riches began to disappear and so we suggested that he consult an expert in this type of criminal activity.

“Ah yes!” said the specialist.  “There is definitely a burglar in your house.  I would say that he’s been there for quite some time now.”

“What can be done for it?” my father inquired.

“We can try barring the doors and windows.”

“Will that keep the bugger out?”

“No, no.” said the specialist,“The rascal is already in your loft, there’s nothing we can do about that.  I’m afraid you’re going to have to live with him for now.”

“Ach!  Then what bloody good will the bars do?” asked my father with much irritation.

The expert responded wryly “It will slow him down as he removes your possessions.”

My father and I agreed this was not a very satisfying answer at all.

The barriers were installed and for a time, my father’s assets seemed more secure. But after a while the thief learned how to get around the obstacles that had been set up against him and once again my father’s articles began to vanish. In a few short years he had lost most all he had acquired throughout his lifetime, his place so bare it was unrecognizable. As a last resort, my father moved into a new home but to his surprise he found that the scoundrel had preceded him, and furthermore, many of the other people who lived there had also been robbed of their holdings.

The nefarious villain pursued my father now with relentless fervor, stealing from him with increasing frequency and boldness.  With cruel audacity he began replacing my father’s dearest possessions with items completely unfamiliar to him.  “Whose picture is that?”my father would say, or “where did this come from?”

Eventually, the vile miscreant had stolen every last thing of value and with the balance of his life depleted, my father teetered, fell and broke his hip. Several days later in his single act of kindness, the Thief crept into the hospital room and stole away his suffering.

The thief has been glimpsed but twice since my father’s death.  As the last of the old man’s things were being boxed for charity, the culprit was spied skulking room to room, filling his gunny sack with the meager fortunes of those already harshly dispossessed. He was seen again at the memorial service where he was recognized as the architect of my father’s long farewell. Despite having stolen so much from so many, his appetite for plunder was insatiate and as he scrutinized the solemn gathering for any future acquisition, our eyes met and I turned quickly away.

My Middle School Hell


I don’t think I could have been more terrified and confused if I had been dropped at the front gates of Hell.  Or perhaps it was Hell. No?  Well then Bussey Middle School in Garland Texas was as close to the doorstep of Hades as I had come. In the span of a few short months my family had moved from Trenton Ontario in Canada, to a rented house in a suburb of Dallas Texas, during the hottest summer in 25 years.  I had spent the next few months living in an old house in an old neighborhood attending a new middle-school.  Now here I was, six months later, living in a new, new house in a new old neighborhood. I’d been plucked out of one school mid-term and plopped into another after the Christmas holidays. Continue reading “My Middle School Hell”

Take a step every day, even if it’s a little one.

At times I find myself listening to that critical voice within that feeds on negativity.  You know the one.  That nagging internal harpy that condemns you for not getting enough accomplished, for failing to follow through on this or that, for not… well, you get the picture. I’m not saying that there is no validity to what that voice has to say, it’s just well… listening to a constant diatribe of negativity is enough to leave anyone discouraged.

I try to keep that voice at bay by setting smaller goals, meaningful but achievable, goals I can accomplish daily.  Stop and think about what makes up your day.  If it’s anything like mine, there’s very little time left for you at the end of the day.  I have found that if I want to accomplish anything outside my daily obligations, I have to be very specific about what it is I want to achieve, and plan ahead.

For example, I have set a goal that I want to write one thousand words a week.  I know, for a writer that seems like a pretty insignificant amount. But those thousand words are in addition to the time I spend writing in my Journal, or reworking life- stories. See there is that negative voice driving me to justify my actions.  The point is, in reality I have to carve out time in my busy day to sit in front of the computer and bang out those words.  For me that time can come from one of three available time slices.  I write at my desk before work, during lunch, or steal an hour away from my family in the evening.

I feel good about myself when I meet that challenge.  When I meet that goal consistently, I will raise my expectations and perhaps shoot for 1500 words.  Right now my goal is meaningful and achievable.  I try to take small steps every day with my weekly goal firmly in mind.  I understand that because my life is so busy, I won’t always be successful.  And if my little voice of disapproval begins to cry out, I remind it… Take a step every day. The length of the stride doesn’t matter.  Just keep moving forward.

Gods of the Night Sky

nightskyLake Ray Roberts State Park lies approximately 60 miles north of Dallas, Texas, just beyond the college town of Denton. At campsite 137, on early summer evenings, before the Texas heat makes outdoor activities unbearable even at night, you can lie on your back on the old sun beaten picnic table and be lost in the night sky.  Looking out over the water-color moon washed lake, a vanguard of monolithic pines at your back; you can gaze up into the infinite vastness of the star-spackled universe.

Peering into the vaulted expanse, it is impossible not to consider how our prehistoric ancestors looked up in similar wonder.  No doubt they expressed their innate human creativity to organize the stars into patterns and created associations real or imagined to match their philosophy, explaining for them the unknown.  And how could they not? The ability to make these connections is the very cornerstone of human intelligence. How many nights did story-tellers sit around their hearth-fires forging tales of great hunters and warriors, hammering their leaders and heroes into legends, infusing them with superhuman strength and abilities before casting them into the heavens as gods?

The sun, moon, stars and planets are constants in the firmament.  The movements of heavenly bodies have been studied, tracked and plotted for millennia. To ancient civilizations, they were the harbingers of the cyclical events of nature. The sky gods they created explained the seasonal fertility of the land, foretold of the migration of the herds, prophesized the changing weather; they offered order and stability in a dangerous and chaotic world, if only man were faithful in his observations and rituals.     I have often imagined the marvels visible in the night skies of ancient times and thought; to what else could they have attributed an eclipse, a comet, a shower of meteors other than as an outward proof of the enigmatic gods.

It has been many years now since I lay on the picnic table at campsite 137, but I have seen the same night stars under other skies and sat by my hearth fire and gazed into the star filled abyss.  In modern times, the number of stars visible to the naked eye on a clear night is extremely limited due to the amount of ambient light and industrial pollution in our atmosphere and is estimated at between two and three thousand. Still, looking up at the celestial sphere through the hazy filter of man’s achievement and desecration, I still sense the lasting magnificence of the divine and the fleeting consequence of the individual.  And though my understanding of the universe continues to expand my comprehension of god’s essence seems diminished in equal measure.

But then again, I long ago abandoned my search for a god who could be explained with any satisfaction and settled for one with whom I could reach a mutual understanding.  I can profess no religion.  Religion requires formality of devotion, limiting the infinite transcendence of any god worth imagining.  My theology, if I may lay claim to one, is an acceptance that the alpha and the omega are unknowable and all the more wondrous for it. The gods of the night sky, placed millennium ago, still hold fascination for me.  They are past, present and future, constant reminders. I am composed from the same star stuff, interconnected with the universe. And as for god and man, faith alone has never been enough for me to explain the relationship between the creator and the created and who is who.