• My Life on the Road: Farewell to the Chill A 2021 Subaru Crosstrek with a roof carrier and bicyles mounted on it sits ready to drive.

    Time fritters away funny during a pandemic. It moves faster than shit through a goose when the weather is good. The sun's warmth whispers for you to take off your mask and enjoy the spring. Pray you're upwind from death. Come the cold, it crawls with the moody pace of a dying widower.

    We've been few places colder than Calgary, Alberta in the winter. That's where we found ourselves at the end of our time in Morocco.

    Alberta's cold enough to drive you out of the RV you've called home for five years. Cold enough to savor shelter in a sister-in-law's spare bedroom——the house full of loud children and uncertainty. Cold enough to make you understand that, come the thaw, you might not be able to drive across the U.S./Canada border but you can sure as hell cross the mountains. You can cross mainland British Columbia. You can cross 90-minutes of water and, finally, come to a halt in Nanaimo.

    Photo: Séamus Bellamy

    There are worse places to ride out a few relentless waves of a virus than Vancouver island. The weather is fair in the winter, compared to the rest of Canada. Forests, hiking paths and rocky public beaches are never more than a short jaunt away. COVID numbers remain low as the population of the island is low: 864,000 souls, half of which huddle together on the southern tip of the Island in Capital Regional District. Most mask without mumbling. There's patios and take out a-go-go.

    But even a haven starts feeling like a cage when you're used to roaming.

    The past two years in Nanaimo saw unseasonably cold winters. They pushed our ability to keep our RV warm enough to find any comfort in. As soon as the Canadian and American governments decided they were fine with opening their land borders to non-essential travel once more, we opened ourselves up to the idea of traveling south, to Mexico, without the RV. Gas prices had begun to soar and enough diesel to sustain a 6,000 km drive would be enough to put us in the hole. What's more the motorhome–a 2005 Newmar Kountry Star–had been built with smooth, straight highways in mind. It has neither the ground clearance or the suspension to survive the potholes and topes that many Mexican roads are host to.

    After a long jaw-wag, my partner and I decided bringing our home south with us, this time around, was a non-starter.

    Instead, we arranged to put the rig into storage and packed our car with everything we'd need for at least six months on the road. A carry-on suitcase and a backpack, for each of us. Toys and food for the dog. The dog herself. 80 N95 masks to get us started. An electric cooler full of eats to keeping from having to use the masks too often on our way south. Our bicycles and, above all else, a desire to be almost uncomfortably warm, once again. That we were leaving at the same time that I was testing a Leica Q2 Monochrom for the day job made all seem, for me at least, that much better.

    We left Vancouver island on Valentine's Day in a fit of self-love.

    At the time, the Freedom Convoys in Canada were denying drivers the Peace Arch Point of Entry the freedom to cross the border. Having stayed abreast of their lack of movement on social media and and the news, we pushed 40 minutes east to a crossing where 'freedom' wasn't at issue. We found transport trucks, which normally would have enjoyed swift passage at the multi-lane Peace Bridge crossing, were lined up waiting, one mile deep. There was no wait for cars. We passed through American customs in under five minutes.


    As dusk fell, we pulled aside to fill up on gas. Even with a shitty exchange rate and soaring petrol prices in place, it cost us $20 U.S. less to fill up than it would have back home. Driving into the night we saw Redmond by the light of a line taillights, the glow of The T-mobile complex and, Microsoft's windows. We were shooting for Snoqualmie where we'd rented an Airbnb for the night.

    It'd been a long day. The dog had had enough our in-the-car-but-not-going-to-the-park bullshit. Despite having a cooler full of food, we'd noshed nothing since leaving our nation, several hours prior. Our digs for evening the were in a quiet residential area: a sprawled out ranch-style home with an attached garage. There was a private entrance to the wee suite we rented. It was cozy on a cold evening. Hot shower. A decent kitchen to cook in. Most importantly, it put us within striking distance of the Twede's Cafe in North Bend.

    Photo: Séamus Bellamy

    They've got a cherry pie there that'll kill ya.

    Having not dined indoors without a mask in over two years, I felt all the anxious, just walking through the front door. The few people eating, the smell coming from the kitchen and, the fact that I was standing in the middle of a Twin Peaks shooting location made discomfort feel a whole lot more comfortable. Cherry pie and coffee were requisite. As good as Agent Cooper advertised. The real star of the sit-down, however, the the bowl of corned beef hash that I ordered. The serving size was larger than my head, which made me wonder, as rules are rules, whether I should attempt to eat the whole thing.

    Photo: Séamus Bellamy

    I used to spend a lot of time in diners. My regular breakfast joint knew me so well that they'd pour a mug of black spiked with some Irish as soon as I set foot through the door. Being back in my natural habitat made the food go down easy. I was left with a sleepy satisfied feeling that would stay with me until well into the evening. We were to make time that day. South, and to the east.

    Photo: Séamus Bellamy

    While planning our route the night before, I discovered a lot of splendid ways to waste our time on the road: A number of giant muffler men. A visit to the home of the zombie cheese sandwich. Christmas Trees made of deer antlers. Most took us too far out of the way: we had an agenda to maintain. The Teapot Dome Gas Station in Zillah, Washington, only required us to pull into a parking lot a few minutes off the interstate. Apparently, it was originally built in 1922 at the cusp of where Interstate 12 lazes today. It gave travelers a roadside oddity to glaze over at while they filled their tanks and reminded them of the Teapot Dome oil leasing scandal, uncovered the previous year. In 1975, the gas station was shifted from its original location to Zillah, with the notion of using it as a visitor's center. 

    It wasn't open when we dropped by. I suppose Zillah wasn't expecting company.

    We stopped in Boise for the night. Another Airbnb. It was see how hard you're breathing cold out when we pulled in for the evening. The joint had a backyard for the dog. We stop for multiple walks a day when we're on the road. Off leash time, however, is always at a premium. Boudicca rolled hard and at length in the frosted grass, working the smell and feel of too many hours of car stress out of her fur and flesh. I drifted to sleep in an overheated room wondering if I'd die for the privilege of eating in a diner like everything was fine.

  • Age of Viking settlement revealed using trees and astrophysics

    The Vikings reached North America long before Columbus' enslavement and brutalization of the Americas' Indigenous population, the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, was discovered six decades ago. Though many of the settlement's structures have been recreated, as accurately as dig site evidence and historical research could allow, the settlement's date has been difficult to place exactly.

    Until now.

    According to a new study published in Nature, scientists from a number of disciplines have been working together to see the mystery of the L'Anse aux Meadows put to bed. It's complicated stuff, and I am tired. So, I went looking for a dumbed down version of the study to help explain it all.

    The New York Times does not disappoint.

    According to The 'Times, the team working to date the site started things off by collecting samples of three pieces of wood, from around L'Anse aux Meadows, to be sent off to a lab for a bit of time under a microscope.

    From The New York Times:

    Back in the laboratory, Dr. Kuitems cut a tiny amount of wood from each tree ring of each piece… Working those samples — each representing one year of tree growth — the team isolated the carbon within the wood. All that carbon originally came from Earth's atmosphere.

    The vast majority of the carbon in the atmosphere is carbon 12, a stable atom with six protons and six neutrons. Only a fleeting fraction is radioactive carbon 14, also called radiocarbon. That isotope of carbon is produced when cosmic rays — high-energy particles from the sun or beyond the solar system — interact with atoms in Earth's atmosphere. Scientists who study cosmic rays used to think that these particles arrived in a relatively constant barrage, meaning that the ratio of carbon 14 to carbon 12 in the atmosphere has largely remained steady over time.

    Here's where the neat stuff begins.

    Some time ago, a physicist by the name of Fusa Miyakea discovered that couple of tress in his native Japan were holding on to high amounts of radiocarbon. As it turns out, instances of finding such high amounts of radiocarbon in wood are pretty damn rare: only a handful of such events have been able to cause it, in the past 10,000 One of of those events occurred during the Viking Age, somewhere in the ballpark of 992 A.D. to 993 A.D., with high levels of radio carbon seeping into trees all around the planet.

    With all of this in mind, the team set to work, using two great tastes that taste great together—the study of tree rings (dendrochronology) and astrophysics—to finally nail down a precise date.

    Again with The New York Times:

    The researchers found that their three pieces of wood all exhibited a pronounced increase in radiocarbon that began 28 rings before their outer bark. Ring 28 must correspond to the year A.D. 993, the team concluded. They ruled out earlier and later Miyake events based on the carbon 14 to carbon 12 ratios measured in the wood, which vary in known ways over centuries.

    With a date now pinned to an inner tree ring, "all you need to do is count to when you get to the cutting edge," Dr. Dee said. The three pieces of wood the team analyzed were all felled in 1021, the researchers calculated

    Pretty fucking cool.

    Image via Flickr, courtesy of Douglas Sprott

  • Bat-owning this Batmobile will cost you a whole lot of bat-bucks

    You might not be able to watch The Batman, a gritty reboot of the gritty reboot that was prompted by a gritty reboot of the campy reboot of the Adam West reboot of a 1943 theatrical serial starring Lewis Wilson as Batman and Douglas Croft as Robin (which was loosely based on some comic book, so I understand) until 2022. But today, like RIGHT NOW, you can forgo the purchase of groceries for the month in favour of picking up this sweet $500 limited-edition, remote controlled Batmobile… from a movie no one's seen yet and can't say whether or not they'll have enjoyed. Anyways…

    From Mattel Creations:

    The Batman is back, and he's grittier, darker, and more raw than we've seen in generations. Our Hot Wheels R/C design team happens to be full of Batman fans who are very excited about the mean muscle car energy emanating from every inch of this new iteration of the iconic Batmobile. Ripped right out of the upcoming movie, this R/C beast is less toy and more detailed movie prop.

    The Batman strikes dread in the hearts of Gotham City's criminals—and so does The BATMAN™ The Ultimate Batmobile™ from Hot Wheels. This beyond full-function R/C car is as close to a movie prop as we could get, featuring street-grade suspension, multi-color LED lights, flame FX on both the front and rear, and a water-activated mist effect creating the perfect atmosphere to stage scenes from the film.

    I wonder how much gritty dread that is, per dollar.

    Now, $500 is a lot to spend to spend on anything, these days. But, in Mattel Creation's Defense, look at this thing:

    If you're into collectibles, superheroes, cool movie tie-ins or just love ripping up a wee dirt track with a sweet RC vehicle, there are worse ways to blow half a grand of your hard-earned dough. That said, I'm betting there may be better ways, as well.

    Is anyone here ready to throw their wallet at Mattel to get their batt-mitts on one of these sweet toys?

    Image via Mattel Creations

  • $17,000 worth of girl guide cookies donated to charity

    While you're busy using your annual haul of Girl Guide cookies to raise your blood sugar, the Girl Guides use the coin you tossed their way to ensure that kids, who might not have the opportunity to do so otherwise, can do cool things like go to summer camp, hang out in a safe place with other their own age and, pick up some sweet life skills along the way.

    Pretty solid, if you ask me.

    This, however is even more solid: according to Canadian news network CTV, an anonymous donor from Vancouver Island, has purchased over $17,000 worth of Girl Guide Cookies over the past two years and then, instead of dying in a biscuit-fuelled sugar orgy, asked that the cookies be donated to local charities. 

    From CTV News:

    Cassandra Jack, deputy district commissioner for the Nanaimo/Arbutus District says monies raised from the sales will go a long way to helping the guiding movement in the area.

    "The money goes towards any of the activities that we do and we do everything from the outdoor camps, we have science programs come in and teach the girls different activities, all kinds of arts and crafts," Jack says.

    From what CTV has to say, the girl guides who sold the cookies are the ones who get to decide which charities will wind up with the cookies.

  • Michael Caine is done with this whole acting thing—kind of

    The Man Who Would Be King. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The Muppets Christmas Carol. Zulu, Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy and The Cider House Rules. Not one of these films would be what they were without the calm panache that Michael Caine drags in front of the camera with him. Now, after decades of being one of Hollywood's most reliable casting bets, he's calling it quits.

    Kind of.

    The 88-year old, who's been pretending to be someone else for money for more than five decades, told the BBC in an podcast interview last week that his latest film could well be his last. Hearing this, some news outlets declared that Caine was retiring. However, according to Deadline, it's not so much that he's sick of acting. Rather, he's excited by the notion of writing.

    From Deadline:

    Speaking of Best Sellers [his latest movie], Caine said, "Funnily enough, it has turned out to be what is my last part really. Because I haven't worked for two years, and I have a spine problem which affects my legs so I can't walk very well.

    "And I also wrote a book, a couple of books, which were published and were successful," Caine continued, "so I'm now not an actor, I'm a writer. Which is lovely, because as an actor you have to get up at half past six in the morning and go to the studio. As a writer, you start writing without leaving the bed!"

    Man, I wish that not leaving bed thing was true.

    To reenforce the fact that he had no intention of retiring, Caine took to Twitter to say that "I haven't retired and not a lot of people know that." Welp, now we do.

  • From Canada? Want to go to the U.S.A.? Better have the right vaccine

    The last couple of years have been hard on Canadian Snowbirds. Many of us, myself included, are used to heading south in the fall, to escape the icy bullshit of a Canadian winter. Unfortunately, thanks to COVID-19, a lot of us have been trapped, north of the wall, since March 2020. 

    I've been fine with this. 

    When the land border was closed down to everyone but essential travellers, my mindset was that if I was going to get sick, I'd just as soon do it in my own nation where healthcare is free (yeah, we pay our taxes, but still.) Then, last winter, the vaccines started to roll out. By early spring, both my wife and I had been injected with two doses of Pfizer's version of the brew. We breathed a sigh of relief and began to hope that we might, one day soon, be able to start our travels again. I'm sure that lots of other folks did too. Unfortunately, depending on where in Canada they live, it wasn't a sure bet that they'd wind up with two doses of the same vaccine. In the rush to get as many Canadians vaccinated against the plague as possible, many provinces started mixing and matching whichever vaccines that they had on hand.

    So, you could wind up with Pfizer for your first jab and Moderna for your second. It's cool, they told us. Mixing vaccines affords tons of protection, we were assured. Why, we'd all be able to get back to our lives in no time… provided said life doesn't include travelling to one of many countries where vaccine mixing is considered to be a dangerous load of bullshit. You may have guessed by now, that America is one of those countries.  

    From The CBC:

    …at the same time the U.S. reopens the land border, it will start requiring that foreign land and air travellers entering the country be fully vaccinated.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently doesn't recognize mixed COVID-19 vaccines — such as one dose of AstraZeneca, and one dose of Pfizer or Moderna — and hasn't yet said if travellers with two different doses will be blocked from entry when the vaccine requirement kicks in.

    So that sucks. 

    According to the CBC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might soon consider changing their stance on mixed vaccines. I'd like to think that a crap load of data on the effectiveness of mixed vaccine dosing will play into such a decision. No matter how badly folks might want to head south for the winter, Americans deserve to be as safe as they can be. 

    In the meantime, I suspect that, just like last fall, many snowbirds will wind up on Vancouver Island, where I hang my hat, these days. It's warm enough here that living in an RV is both possible and comfortable.

    But I'll tell ya, it's a far cry from kicking back in the trade winds on the cusp of Texas' southern border.

    Image via Wikipedia Commons

  • The best pinto bean recipe is from Texas

    Between my work/writing schedule and my partner's returning to school, cooking dinner is no longer a daily occurrence. We're all about pan meals, roasts, Instant Pot oatmeal and sandwiches. As we haven't been able to drop down to Texas for the past two winters—nor will we now, as the culture has become, at least for us, untenable—I've been missing out on a lot of the foods that I love.

    The foods I love from down south are, typically, can be cooked in large quantities and noshed on for days.

    Take this recipe for pinto beans that the good folks at Texas Monthly whipped up. It's hearty enough to eat as a meal and tasty enough that it does well as a side to compliment other meals.

    From Texas Monthly:

    Memphis, Kansas City, and Boston have their sweet baked beans, but in Texas, we prefer pintos, and we prefer them savory and a little spicy. Pinto beans have become a pretty typical mainstay on barbecue joint menus, likely because the canned kind is cheap and easy to buy. And, even out of the can, they're pretty good, but it's hard to compare with a batch cooked from dry beans… These are barbecue beans, meaning they're made with barbecue (leftovers), barbecue sauce, and barbecue rub.

    I mean, vegetarians aside (and I'm sure the recipe can be tweaked to accomodate them as well,) who could resist that?

    Image via PXfuel

  • You can finish these crime novels in a single day

    I was once told by an English teacher that long books are strong books. It kind of smacked of bullshit, It tastes like a mouthful of it now.

    Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with a good, long read. I needed to pack a month's worth of provisions to climb to the top of Alan Moore's Jerusalem or just about any book written by James Ellroy. The payoff, for me, is almost always worth the amount of time I've sunk into a book. That said, when something I'm reading doesn't quite scratch the itch in my brain that I'm looking for, I tend to know it, early on. There's no shame in putting down a thick book that isn't doing it for you.

    Much of what I enjoy reading is short and sweet: typically under 400 pages. Pulp crime novels, chief among them. So, when I saw that Crime Reads had put together a list of 25 classic crime novels that most folks can devour in an afternoon, I couldn't click the link to find out what they were recommending fast enough.

    I already owned a number of the books on the list. The Postman Always Rings Twice, Playback, The Getaway and The Friends of Eddie Coyle have all been in my collection, for years. But man, there's a ton of great reads in here that I've either never heard of before or had completely forgotten about. I just finished Fuminori Nakamura's The Thief and will be moving on to Cotton Comes to Harlem, just as soon as I finish reading a couple of books for work.

    Check it out: Maybe there's something on Crime Read's list that you'll enjoy as well.

    Image via Wikipedia

  • So, who's down for the second Season of The Witcther?

    Apparently, between my day job and writing a novel, I have managed to live in a cave, far from the realm of fandom and the geeky stuff that I love. Netflix is set to drop the second season of The Witcher on December 17th. As I generally steer clear of YouTube unless I'm looking for fun/interesting/terrifying stuff to post here, this trailer was news to me… so far as I can remember. I've been hit in the head a lot, over the years.

    Hopefully, this time around, the storytelling will lean towards the linear. If I hadn't read the books before watching season one, I think I might have had a bit of trouble keeping track of what the hell was going on.

  • The reMarkable Tablet is moving to a subscription service model

    I've been using a reMarkable Tablet, for years now. It's great for taking notes at my day job. I waste no paper when I jot down meeting minutes, annotate stories and starting off new pieces of writing in long hand. I dig how easy it is to organize my notes on the tablet and that I can back them up to the cloud—including, recently, to Dropbox and Google Drive. The reMarkable's small development team has been making money, exclusively off of hardware sales. While I appreciate the frequency of their software updates and the functionalty of their E-Ink slab, it's always been in the back of my head that sooner or later, they might go bankrupt, taking their servers, along with my cloud data, with them.

    So, today when I heard that the company was going to begin offering a tiered subscription system, I was kind of relieved. If enough folks are willing to pay for the extras that come with their subscriptions, reMarkable will finally have a steady revenue stream.

    According to the reMarkable Website, here's the pricing we'll have to deal with:

    If you already own a reMarkable tablet, you won't have to pay a damn thing: you'll be able to enjoy their top-tier Connect subscription, for free. Anyone that purchases a reMarkable tablet, from today forward, will have to sort out what level of service they want from the company.

    I can say that, most of the time, I tend to use my reMarkable with no access to the Internet, and therefore, no access to most of the perks that come with their $7.99 subscription. Given the steep price of ownership for a reMarkable tablet, I can imagine that many people will be happy giving their free tier of service a go.

    Images via reMarkable

  • Paddy Moloney, founding member of The Chieftains, has passed away.

    Paddy Maloney, who over a span of decades has entertained hundreds of thousands with his wit, warmth and talent, has passed away at 83 years of age. One of the founding members of The Chieftains, Paddy, along with his band mates not only returned traditional Irish music to popularity in the Republic of Ireland, he championed it, internationally, for decades, bringing tunes once played around kitchen tables, in county halls and at sessions to the world stage.

    I first met Paddy in the fall of 1997.

    I'd fallen in with Martin Fay, The Chieftains' second fiddle at the time, after meeting him at a bar in Halifax Nova Scotia. The band was in town recording a few bits and pieces for Fire in the Kitchen. Every evening that week, I'd finish off playing at a bar down in the Historic Properties. He'd wander out to Maxwell's Plumb for a bit of dinner. We'd polish off the rest of the pub's open hours.

    Wash, rinse, repeat.

    On the last day of their time in town, Martin, along with the rest of the band at the time, came in to the pub. Unrecognized, they stood around, chatting and nursing pints. I was quietly introduced to each member, in turn. They were to be taking off to a new music festival—Celtic Colours—on Cape Breton Island, the next day. Martin asked if I wanted to tag along to keep him company. I didn't have any gigs for the next five days. I most certainly didn't have the money. I said yes, nonetheless.

    There were to be a number of sessions at the festival. Even if nothing was planned, trad players usually find a way to sit, drink and enjoy tunes together. So, I brought my bodhrán and bouzouki with me. I'd been in a bad head space and was on the cusp of making some life-altering decisions. I thought some time playing would do me well.

    The Chieftains were opening the festival with a concert at the largest venue in Sydney, Nova Scotia. I met up for Martin for a bit of a pre-show nosh. We walked to the venue together. He had me added to their list as one of the musicians on their roster. I assumed it was to get me back stage for some free pints and company. Just before the band went on, Paddy walked into the green room and welcomed me, by name. He told me that Martin said I'd be joining them on stage, that evening. I wanted to say, the hell that I was. All I could manage was a nod and a pressed-lipped smile. 20 minutes later, a stressed-looking talent wrangler came looking for me, told me to grab my shit and follow her.

    There'd been no soundcheck for me. No warning that this was happening. Mary Jane Lamond smiled recognition at me. Ashley MacIssac, who I'd played with in town a couple of times in Halifax, asked me if I knew Cotton Eyed Joe (no, not that one. This one.)

    I did.

    Two tunes later, I was a nobody local musician being welcomed on stage with two of the biggest names in Cape Breton music at the time, by the biggest name in Celtic music. It was absolutely fucking terrifying.

    And joyful.

    And over in under 20 minutes.

    After the show, the band returned to the greenroom to jaw wag and have a few social beverages. Paddy came up to me and apologized for the trouble I was having with my microphone. We talked about our families and the band's plans for the next few months. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. I joined Martin outside for a smoke. We exchanged home addresses and phone numbers to stay in touch. Over the years, I drove or flew out to see Martin, when time allowed, when the band was playing in North America. Each time I wandered back stage for a drink with him, Paddy remembered me by name. I was invited to play. Sometimes I took him up on the offer. More often, I did not.

    Martin died in 2012, leaving me absolutely gutted. He was a dear friend and father figure to me for over a decade. My association with Paddy should have ended there. It didn't.

    Over the next decade, I interviewed him for a number of publications I was freelancing for. On the event of our first phone call, he said he was glad to hear my voice and that I was doing well. We talked about 'poor dear Martin'. And how he'd tried to have him return to the band for one last recording, just before he passed. He was still proud of his children, one of which was working for NASA at the time (perhaps he still is.)

    For all of Paddy's fame and despite the hundreds of thousands of fans, acquaintances and reporters he must have interacted with throughout his career, it amazed me that he never forgot my name, or how dear Martin was to me.

    He was a fine man.

    An excellent musician and showman.

    I'll remember him, fondly.

    Image via Wikipedia Commons/Buckfarmer/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

  • Midweek Music: Little Maggie – Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters

    Robert Plant and Alison Krauss have a new record that's on the cusp of being released. I'm excited! But in the meantime, Plant's back catalog has more than enough meat to keep me satisfied.

    Yonder corner little Maggie
    With a dram glass in her hand
    She's in courtin' with another
    With another several men

    Oh the last time I saw Maggie
    She was sitting by the sea
    With a forty-four around her
    And a banjo on her knee

    Oh how can I ever standing
    Just to see those two blue eyes
    Which are shining like two diamonds
    Like two diamonds in the sky

    I'm going down to the station
    With my suit-case on my hand
    I'm going away, away to leave you
    To some far distant land

  • My Life on the Road: Metrics and Mindfulness

    The campground we wintered at here on Vancouver Island was flat. You want that, when you're dealing with larger RVs and fifth wheel trailers. What might seem a gentle grade to someone in a car or a 20-foot long motor home can tear the front or ass end right out of a larger rig, like ours. It's very easy to bottom out. We've lost a tailpipe to it, once already. I'm not keen on losing another, anytime soon.

    However, flat sucks, at least for me, for exercising.

    In my misspent youth, I was dragged, by my ankle, for close to a city block. No, I am not going to tell you why—honestly, it's not a great story. What you need to know here is that the ligaments in my right foot are now largely composed of scar tissue. Running and jogging, are not in the cards. I can't wear shoes anymore. Meandering, for me, has been a boot-only affair, for years. It's not so bad. It gives me an excuse to invest in a sturdy pair of kicks like the Red Wing Iron Rangers I wear as my daily drivers.

    Anyway, flat is bad. One of the first things I was told after having a stent jammed into my heart in 2019 was that I need to exercise, daily. At the time, flat was fine. For the first few months that I was out of the hospital, it was all I could do to shuffle a few blocks before feeling the need to turn around. Much of this had to do with the fact that my brain is something of an asshole. Despite the fact that having an 80% blockage removed from my ticker had left me in better shape than I had been during my previous decade of self-destructive behavior, any exertion that left me winded or sweating and I'd spiral into a panic attack. My brain was insistent that I was dying; that my heart was giving out. I learned to live with this problem, in a couple of ways. With the help of my therapist, I trained myself to become more mindful of my body.

    "Jesus fuck, am I having a heart attack? No. Feel your body. You're safe. That pain is coming from a pinched nerve in your shoulder. It's radiating to your chest. Your body is safe. You are fine."

    On with the walk.

    The other part of how I talk myself down, is by paying attention to the heart rate tracking on my smart watch. As my body goes through imaginary death throes, I get all up in my mindfulness and, to reinforce what I'm explaining to myself, I check on the metrics the wee computer on my wrist spits out. If my heart rate gets too high, according to my watch. I stop and allow my ticker to slow before pushing my chubby ass forward again.

    Over time, I built up the mental and physical resilience to be able to walk for hours.

    On the flats of the RV park we stayed at this past winter and, while tromping through the wooded paths that surround it, I would walk for around two hours a day, as fast as I could, in an effort to increase my cardiovascular health. Some days I came home sweating with kilometers under my belt. On others my brain would throw frequent fits, insisting that the end was near. In such instances, I'd return home, pop a Lorazepam to get my body back in line and promise myself that I'd try again tomorrow.

    For two years, this pattern and these tools have shaped my physical well-being. Last week, I realized that the technology that has insinuated itself into every moment of my waking life was driving me insane. So, today, I thought I'd try a little experiment.

    The location where we're currently parked is half way up a cliff, overlooking the water on Vancouver Island. The road to get to our site? Not flat. Since we moved here at the start of April, I've walked the equivalent of 24 floors up and 24 floors down to the country lane at the bottom of the hill. After a winter of flat, it's been kicking the shit out of me. I love it. I do not, however, love how often walking the hill has my brain telling me that there's a grave for me and its time to fill it. At least once each ascent, I do the work to calm myself out of a potential panic attack. I talk myself down and reinforce it with metrics from my watch.

    On my first trip hoofing it up the hill, I used my tools and took the time to ensure that I was all right. I had to stop, twice. Each time, I gasped for air. on my second run up the hill, I turned my watch off. Instead of looking to it for reassurance, I gave all of my attention to my body, mindful of my physical pain and my breathing. I found that I could feel more and, more importantly, was better able to regulate myself in my uninterrupted mindfulness. Getting to the top of the hill, on my second go-around, I was less exhausted than I had been on my first ascent.

    While I'm wary of confirmation bias, I think I may be on to something. For close to two years, I've relied on my smart watch as a crutch, to such an extent that it has kept me hobbled. In turning it off, I was able to pay more heed to what my body had going on.

    Meeting a step count feels great. Being awarded a new badge for your fitness accomplishments? Great bit of dopamine, that. But neither match the wonder and frustration I felt today when I discovered that switching a supposedly helpful device off may well be healthier than leaving it on.

  • My Life on the Road: Losing it

    I've worked from where ever I've called home, for the past eleven years.

    In my old career, I worked in close contact with the public during Ontario's SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. Later that same decade, I was charged with creating a business continuity plan for a large private security company as the threat of Swine Flu loomed large. When I first read about the viral outbreak in China in late 2019, dancing with paranoia and anxiety as I do, I calmly headed to Home Depot in search of N95 masks and a number of pharmacies, to buy up the supplies I'd need to keep myself an my extended family well-stocked with homemade hand sanitizer and cleansing wipes, for months to come. On the way home I thought to myself that, without knowing it, I'd been preparing for a long time to deal what might be to come. My wife and I then fucked off to Africa on a working vacation, for a month. As we backpacked across Morocco, I kept up on the case count in Asia.

    We left Morocco a day before the kingdom closed its doors to air travel.

    We were only home for a few days when Calgary, where we staying with family at the time, was ordered into lock down. I made hand sanitizer and wipes. We'd just done a Costco run. We were worried, but calm.

    Most days, I spent time talking my sister-in-law down, after she watched our Prime Minister's daily COVID-19 briefing. I did my job. I prepared an isolation room for my wife when, while on her way home from a week's rotation at her job, she called to tell me that she had a number of symptoms that suggested that she might have contracted the virus. I brought food to her and monitored her condition over the next week. I prayed to Santa Muerte (we'll talk about that some other time) and brought my wife food and cold medication. She was tested. She was fine.

    We lasted until the fall in Alberta before making for Vancouver Island to winter in the RV.

    Setting up camp in relative isolation helped with the stress of living in a time of plague. We were fortunate enough to be surrounded by wooded walking trails. The ocean was a few minutes of driving away. We could do nothing, in so many beautiful places. We're still doing well, as the number of third-wave cases and an inept vaccine rollout fills hospitals and soon, morgues, across my county. We've laid in supplies again, hoping for the best, expecting the worse.

    At any time during any of this, I could have fallen into a deep depression. The isolation or the fear of simply breathing the air could have paralyzed me, despite the drugs I take daily to help me hold my shit together. It didn't happen.

    And then it did.

    Two weeks ago, all of the shit I had managed to hold on to, for over a year, got lost.

    I was surprised to find that it had nothing to do with sickness, worry over my family and few friends or how unbalanced I feel staying in the same places, for so long. I realized that I was fed the fuck up with technology. It's digging a hole and asking me to lay down and fill it.

    My days are spent in front of laptop, desktop and tablet displays. On the evenings that I write for this site, my screen time runs hours longer. I left Facebook and Instagram in a white hot rage. My interactions on Twitter with friends I have not seen for years feel hollow. Cruising CounterSocial for content reminds me of what Twitter used to be, but I'm not able to engage and know no one on the network. The news angers and numbs me, in turns. I have a smartwatch that tracks the meaningless moments of my life and a smartphone which, of late, only tells me things I do not want to know. It's all I can do to sit down and write. I started this post and deleted it five times, before surrendering. My first successful draft was crafted in longhand.

    I hope to find a way out of my digital despair. But, working in online service journalism for a living and currently having no other window on the world—due to the state of the world—I have no idea, yet, of what changes I can practically make.

    I'm looking at it as an experiment in mental health. I'll let you know how its going as things proceed.

    Image via Flickr, courtesy of Jeff Myers

  • A toast to frozen margaritas: 50 years young

    My hands-down, favorite drink of all time is a zombie. Unfortunately, precious few bars that I've run across in my travels stock all of the hooch required to make one. Fewer still are the bartenders who can recall how to make one—it's an old alcoholic's drink from a bygone era that, given the amount of alcohol it takes to make one, is most likely better left in my past. I think about them, often. Sadly, that's usually as far as it goes. I was told, a couple of years back that, with the number of heart medications that I take daily, I shouldn't be drinking. Most of the time, I accept my fate. But, very occasionally, when the weather's fit to scorch a hole in ass of my pants while I sit and write, I cheat on my cardiologist's orders with a single frozen margarita. Today, I ran a damn fine account of the origins the beverage, written by Texas Monthly's Patrcia Sharpe.

    On May 7th, 2021, the Frozen Margarita will celebrate its 50th birthday, brought into the world by restaurateur and liquor savant, Mariano Martinez.

    From Texas Monthly:

    Martinez, now 76, takes up the story he has recounted with gusto for five decades. "I tossed and turned all that night," he says. "The next morning I went to 7-Eleven for coffee and a pack of gum." While there, he glanced at the store's Slurpee machine, and "it came to me in a flash, like a gift from God." If that thing could make a slushy soft drink, surely it could make a frozen margarita. When the Southland Corporation, the parent company of 7-Eleven at the time, declined to sell him one, he and a mechanically minded friend named Frank Adams bought a used SaniServ soft-serve ice cream machine and lugged it to the restaurant.

    "We tinkered around with it," he remembers; they installed a stronger motor and compressor to swirl and chill the ingredients, and then Martinez experimented with different amounts of tequila, orange liqueur, and fresh lime juice. A few days later, on May 11, as they were setting the industrial-looking apparatus on the bar, he recalled a bit of advice from his friend Norman Brinker, the brains behind Chili's. The restaurant guru had cautioned that people wouldn't pay much for a drink made by a machine. He'd also warned him not to destroy the mood. So Martinez covered the shiny stainless-steel box with wood-grain contact paper. The icy green slush that would soon emerge from it was about to make cocktail history.

    If you have the time, kick back with a frosty glass, mind the brain freeze and read the rest of Sharpe's story. It's fabulous.

    Image via Flickr, courtesy of Bex Walton

  • Innocence isn't affordable for many Mexican families

    In some areas of Mexico, drug violence is so intense and so frequent that small communities are forced to arm themselves lest they get caught up in a cartel's crossfire or directly targeted for getting in the way of business.

    I hate that folks just trying to live their damn lives are forced to protect what's dear to them, with force. I'm saddened that these same people feel the need to train their children, albeit with fake wooden firearms and sticks, to be a defensive force—ready to watch over their loved ones at the cost of their innocence.

    This is in Mexico. You'll find it in far too many other places, as well.

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on Kickstarter

    I never got around to watching the latest iteration of MST3K on Netflix, but I have fond memories of the original, insanely low-budget series and subsequent film.

    In 2019, Netflix, as Netflix does to so many of the projects they air, kicked MST3k to the curb. Now, series creator Joel Hodgson is back with a new Kickstarter to kickstart another season of the cult classic.

    If you're interested in helping to make it happen, you can check out the project, here.