Man’s Best Friend…

We’ve often heard the old saying “a dog is a man’s best friend”. As a child, I was never afforded the opportunity to have a pet. My mother and brother both had severe allergies to pets and my family spent most of my childhood living in rental apartments where pets would not have been permitted.

I had a batch of tiny red-eared turtles when I was a child, but let’s be honest: aquarium or terrarium pets aren’t quite as cuddly as a dog or a cat (they tend to die if you cuddle them). I used to spend a lot of my summers in my youth exploring rivers and brooks in Northern New Brunswick. There was never an outing where I didn’t manage to come home with some creature I found in the forest. And my father was totally on the band wagon. We used to collect crayfish, salamanders and fish from every outing. It used to drive my mother crazy, especially when a salamander or lizard made its way out of its terrarium.

My “Golden Doodle” Molly, as she was in when we took her into our home in 2014.

As I grew into adulthood, the idea of having a pet evaporated with time. But i’ve always been fond of animals. In 2014, my wife and I moved to a small community in southern Saskatchewan where we purchased our first home. Through social networking, we learned of a local woman who was moving out of her home and would be unable to take her dog with her. There wasn’t much information about this dog, as it belonged to the woman’s ex-husband who had abandoned the dog when he moved away. The woman was moving into a rental property that wouldn’t allow pets.

When my wife Laura saw the post, she shared it with me, as this woman resided within our community. Our newly-purchased home had a large fenced-in back yard and it appeared as though the woman would be bringing the dog to a shelter if she couldn’t find it a home. My heart went out to the dog and I suggested to my wife that we take her in. Based on the photograph, we were under the impression that it was a reasonably small dog and we could manage her within our household. We contacted the woman and advised that we would take her.

Molly after a fresh haircut in 2015.

When we arrived at the woman’s residence, we were shocked to find an 85-pound sponge of matted fur. Molly was a large dog, but so timid and came to us immediately. We still agreed to bring her home with us. I was on the job the day we picked her up, but I was able to bring her to my office and my co-workers took a liking to her immediately.

Once we got her groomed and checked out by a veterinarian, we brought her home. You know, most people don’t seem to believe how much heart a household pet has, but it became obvious in a very short period of time the Molly was so grateful to Laura and I for taking her in. She started greeting me at the door every time I came home. After a couple of months, she began running outside to greet me where we’d play for a few minutes before going inside.

Molly enjoying an afternoon nap.

One of the main issues surrounding Molly was that we had no information on her history. We had no idea where she was originally from or even how old she was. The veterinarian was able to estimate somewhere between five to seven years old. She was incredibly timid and seemed extremely gentle, but I had heard stories of rescued dogs turning on a dime, especially if their triggers are unknown.

When my son was born in late 2014, I was anxious about how they would interact with each other. Since Molly was in the household first, I worried she would consider herself the dominant one. I’ve also heard that since dogs are originally pack animals, they occasionally give in to their basic instincts and attempt to discipline human children by nipping or biting. There’s no need to explain why that would be an issue.

My son Nathan tentatively accepting a kiss from Molly.
Just try and tell me these two don’t look like they’re up to something…

But very soon after we brought Nathan home, it became quite clear they would become fast friends. Just another example of how dogs have a special place within the family dynamic. Molly would spend her nights sleeping by Nathan’s crib.

Partners in crime!

These days, it’s difficult to imagine what life was like before I had a dog. Molly is part of our family, part of the household and Nathan considers her to be his “puppy”. Lately, he’s been hugging her a lot and saying he loves her, which is sweet. Everyone who meets and interacts with Molly mentions how timid and sweet she is, which often makes me wonder about her background and how she got to be that way. Distant sounds frighten her (thunder, fireworks, even the occasional passing bus) and she gets skittish, but she’s a prime example of her bark being worse than her bite. She’ll conveniently bark at passing dogs when she’s tethered, but will walk quietly and just sniff if we pass another dog on the street.

Dogs are a special kind of creature. They have so much love to give, and they do so unconditionally. Even when Molly makes a mess or damages something around the house and I scold her, she’ll come running to me with her tail wagging within minutes. Besides being a faithful companion, she’s also a teacher of sorts. Nathan is being taught to be responsible for feeding her, brushing her and giving her treats. Watching them play together is heart-warming (except when Molly chews on one of Nathan’s toys and a melt down occurs).

Molly as she is now, in our back yard with Nathan.

So, treat your dogs well, folks! They may live much shorter lives than us, but they give freely of their hearts for the time that they’re here.

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Way of the Empty Hand, Way of Life…

Someone asked me when I started studying the martial arts and what style I practice. The answer is a bit convoluted, and dates back to quite a while ago…

I’ve technically been interested in the martial arts since I was four years old. I had access to a lot of reading material as a child, since my father was almost as much into books then as I am now. I had started reading about traditional martial arts in general. This is also around the time I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I had a significant number of medical complications in those first few years, including being comatose on more than one occasion. I wasn’t a sporty kid when I was young. Unlike most kids my age, I wasn’t involved in soccer or hockey and preferred to spend most of my time reading books and watching documentaries (yes, I know what that makes me sound like!). I had taken swimming lessons and even started the advanced training to become a life guard, although I didn’t stick with that.

Training for my black belt in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

At seven years of age, I joined one of my friends at a local Tae Kwon Do class. I thought it would be a good way to get some exercise and it would allow me to satisfy my curiosity about the martial arts. I attended several classes over the course of the first year and started to enjoy it quite a bit. My parents didn’t approve of my choice to join martial arts as they felt that my Diabetes made me too vulnerable to be involved in rigorous physical activity. In some ways, they were very right. However, given how my body would react to Diabetes in the very near future, they were also very, very wrong…

Tae Kwon Do was fun, but it wasn’t quite right for me. For those of you who don’t study martial arts, or never have, allow me to explain; there are hundreds of different martial arts styles in the world, originating from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. From these styles, multiple offshoots of each style have emerged over the past centuries. Some more popular than others, some better known than others. I needed to find a style that would provide what I needed physically as well as spiritually.

In 1988, I started having more difficulties with my blood sugars and further complications arose from my Diabetes. I had an adverse reaction to extreme high blood sugar while sleeping one night and slipped into a coma. My parents found me in my bed, foaming at the mouth and my eyes rolling into the back of my head. I was rushed to the local hospital via ambulance, where they put me on an insulin drip and slowly lowered my blood sugar over the course of the following twenty-four hours and treated me for Diabetic Ketoacidosis (I ain’t explaining that one, that’s where Google comes in handy!). I was comatose for about three days. I woke up with the worse case of body pain and confusion I have ever experienced, even to this day. Further tests and a few days later, my doctors explained that I had insulin resistance. Basically, my cells were incapable of using insulin effectively, causing the high blood sugars that led to my coma. It was made quite clear that if we couldn’t find an insulin my body wouldn’t reject, my life expectancy was about three years. I was ten years old at the time.

I knew I would have to take matters into my own hands and do something. If being a child who was afraid of dying wasn’t bad enough, it often seemed as though the medical industry could do nothing to help me. Even at a young age, it appalled me that they could send a man to the moon but they couldn’t find a way to balance out my blood sugars. In the Spring of 1989, one of my best friends from childhood was studying karate in my home town. After a bit of inquiring, I learned that his father was the head instructor of the karate school, or dojo, and that it was a school of traditional Okinawan karate called Uechi Ryu. My parents were still sensitive from my coma, which had happened less than a year prior. They put a strict hiatus on my physical activities for fear that my waning health would suffer further. I ended up telling them I was quietly hanging out with friends when I attended my first karate class. I walked into that class full of hope and promise. It would ultimately lead to one of the best decisions of my life…

Practicing forms in Okinawa, circa October 2001.

Those first months in karate were rough. I had to attend classes and squirrel away my allowances to pay for tuition, all without my parents finding out. But the ruse paid off. Within the first year, my metabolism and immune system improved. I started to gain some mass and my insulin resistance began to dissipate. My parents noticed the improved blood sugars and health and I made my way forward.

By the time I had reached the point where I had to test for my green belt, it had become time to tell my parents. Considering that it would be a four hour test on a Saturday, it would be a little difficult to hide. My parents were NOT pleased with the fact that I had been keeping this from them for so long. But when weighed against the fact that it had helped towards improving my health to its current point, they agreed to allow me to continue training in karate as long as it didn’t affect my grades and schooling (which it hadn’t to this point). This solidified my martial arts lifestyle for the rest of my life.

Meditating on the mats after a two-hour workout in 2017.
Photo shoot at the RIOKK 30th Anniversary celebration in 2017.

I’m not going to say that karate changed my life, but… Okay, karate changed my life. Karate saved my life. I’ve been doing it ever since and its been an important factor in every aspect of my life. Its helped maintain my health, discipline and got me to where I am today. It also helped peak my interest in my current career direction. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of amazing people through karate and have experienced wonderful things. I began studying Buddhism in 1998 and it followed me all the way to Japan in 2001 where I had the opportunity to visit and study with Buddhist monks and train with the karate masters in Okinawa.

These days, I’ve been training in Kempo karate and furthering my martial arts training. I’ve been chatting with my karate instructor about testing for my next grade of black belt and my wife and son have started to train with me.

My three year old son and I training on the mats.
My son and I, sparring at home. Karate is in his blood!

I often wonder how far I would have made it through life, had I not started martial arts. I once heard that “we often find our destiny on the road we least thought to travel”. I have no idea who passed on the quote, but I know it’s stuck with me all my life. These days, I leave myself open to all schools of thought and train with people of all styles and backgrounds. After all, I was born with two ears and one mouth, so I tend to listen twice as much as I speak.

Feel free to leave me a comment if you’re a practitioner of the martial arts and would like to discuss.

The Art of Reading…

Lately, I’ve been thinking that the reading of actual books has become something of a lost art. I remember sitting in coffee shops in the mid to late 90’s and seeing people reading actual books. Oh sure, the occasional person would have a laptop in front of them, but they would ironically be bloggers or writers. If you step into a coffee shop nowadays, you’re more likely to see something akin to the current trend; laptops, smart phones and tablets galore. And it’s hitting younger and younger ages. My son is only four years old and he has his own iPad and runs to it, first thing every morning when he wakes up. I swear, the theme song to Paw Patrol and PJ Masks is permanently burnt into my mind.

As a child, I remember having my father walk to my bedroom and scold me because I was reading books under the covers with a flashlight. I could never get to sleep without reading a few pages, and that instinct still exists today. Although some of my methods have modernized (e-readers and tablets), my wife and I still own and read several hundred physical books. My wife also holds an actual library membership, and takes full advantage of the selection, going through story after story within very short periods of time.

I believe that despite the advancement of the technological age, nothing quite compares to holding a physical book, feeling the pages turn in your fingers and breathing in the scent of aged paper. Over the decades, I’ve come to realize that although I tend to read certain genres more than others, I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of everything. Being a student of the martial arts and Buddhism, I tend to read a lot of books and manuscripts covering those subjects as well. Books allow a person to develop their sense of imagination (this is why people often say that the movie ruined the book for them). So, keep a few books handy! The art of reading isn’t dead yet!

The book shelves in our “Reading Room”
All the extra books that haven’t been fitted onto the shelves. Yet.

Sweet, Blessed Caffeine…

It’s hard to imagine a time when I didn’t need a solid shot of caffeine to get my day started. I know such a time existed, but it seems a long forgotten time. I’m often jealous of my 4-year old son, Nathan. Once his eyes open in the morning, he can vault out of bed and have a bottomless reserve of bodily energy that sustains him through the day. I’ve often said that I wish I could bottle some of Nathan’s energy and save it for times when it’s really needed.

In my twenties, I worked a number of different jobs throughout my college courses and travels. Some of these jobs included working as a security guard and often working overnight. Somehow I was able to accomplish these tasks without the use of caffeine. But now it seems I won’t survive my day without a coffee or an energy drink. Okay, yes… Before everyone gets on the anti-energy drink bandwagon, I’ll admit that they aren’t the greatest for you. But they also happen not to be the worst thing one can consume.

I believe it was in the early 2000’s, when I was managing a local pharmacy in my hometown in Northern New Brunswick, that I was truly exposed to caffeine for the first time. I had tried coffee at an earlier time, but this was the beginning of the end. A distributor for a popular brand of energy drink visited the store (I won’t name which one for liability reasons, but I will say it “gives you wings”) as we were slated to start carrying them in the store. I had never tried them before and the distributor offered me a sample. He was even able to accommodate my Diabetes by offering me a sugar-free alternative. I was hooked!

So how much caffeine is too much? According to the Mayo Clinic, an average adult can safely consume approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine contained in four brewed cups of coffee or two energy drinks. (as per http://www.mayoclinic.org). This often depends on the blend of coffee and what else may be contained in them. It also depends on your weight, age and any outstanding health concerns that may be affected by caffeine. For example, my morning go-to wake up juice is a 473 mL can of energy drink. This gives me roughly 120 milligrams of caffeine to start my day. Problematically, I tend to start bottoming out towards the lunch hour and will follow up with a brewed cup of coffee. It’s definitely safe to say that I hit my four-cup limit by the time the evening arrives. I also happen to weigh close to 220 pounds!

This poses a different problem: how does caffeine affect your sleep? I, on the one hand, can down an energy drink at 8 pm and make it to bed by 10 pm and be snoring within moments (just ask my wife!). Some people are so sensitive to caffeine that if they don’t stop drinking it by the early afternoon, they won’t get a good night’s rest. It’s important to remember that the average person requires seven to eight hours of rest every night.

At the end of the day, caffeine is one of those things that need to be consumed in moderation but can be greatly enjoyed. An article from the New York Post back in November of 2012 suggests that coffee could disappear altogether by 2080 due to climate change and environmental issues (as per nypost.com). If I’m still around by then, I can easily imagine the chaos that will ensue.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grab a steaming cup of ambrosia,… I mean coffee!

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

New Brunswick’s Flora…

Back in 2017, I travelled to New Brunswick with my wife and son to visit my parents. Many people who visit the beautiful Province of new Brunswick are able to marvel at the Appalachian Mountains, the open bays and rivers as well as the diverse tourist attractions and wonderful people. I took advantage of a quiet afternoon to photograph some of the flower life during the late summer at a local Provincial Park while my son was climbing on the nearby play structures. Most people focus on their surroundings and often overlook what’s at their feet. I’m far from considering myself a professional photographer, but I do love snapping a few photos when I’m out and about. Check them out..