My Mandolin Adventure


By Stephanie Martin

I like to think of middle age as a “mid-life awakening” rather than “mid-life crisis”, a time when we “wake up and snap out of it” and realize we are middle age.

For some people, age is something they fear, or think is negative, or always thought they’d never experience. But no one is exempt from aging unless we expire early and in which case, aging is definitely the better option.

So we arrive at mid life and realize time is not waiting for us. It is no longer something to squander. If we are vain, well, looks change. If we have depended on our body and our image, it is likely to be our perception that our body is going to betray us in the next decade. If we have been a caregiver we may look in the mirror, and see an older more tired version of our once perky self. We may find regret in our life and lost time we can never retrieve.

During my 30s, I was busy as a stay-at-home mom, losing both my parents between the age of 29 and 37. My life was jam packed with raising (and having) children and helping my mom through cancer after losing my dad to a stroke, and one day it seemed I woke up and I was 40. There was hardly any time to really stop and think prior to that. I have no regret as I lived my life doing what I wanted to do.

But most of us look up, intermittently during raising our children, out of the flurry of action and craziness and realize time has passed. How did that happen? Even now, many of us are still on the mountainous climb of parenthood. We just can’t get off, because we’re only half way up the mountain.

People who do not have children do not seem to realize they have aged. They do not have that child to watch as a gauge of the passing of time. There’s nothing like looking at a 23-year-old son to know you are not as young as you once were.

So now we look up, the big birthday approaches, the 40th, the 50th. It is “mid-life” and as my friend said at 60, “I now realize I am no longer middle age, since I haven’t met any 120-year-olds.” At 49, I too, am likely past middle age.

When the marker age hits and the feeling of upset comes over us, it’s simply because all of our “taken for granteds” have up and left. The gift of youth has left. Now time is not on our side. It has ditched us while life got busy and we possibly missed a whole decade in the midst of keeping homes afloat, bosses happy, kids fed and relationships together.

What to do next?

We need to chill out. This is a natural process and doesn’t need to be painful or earth-shattering. It can be a fantastic transitional time where we set ourselves up for new and great things, cutting out a whole lot of bullshit in the process.

Time to ask a few questions:

What is our life missing? Do we hate our job? Are we happy? Did we give it all away, and now we’re angry? Have we done anything for ourselves and not just for everyone else if we are the caregiver type?

Are we vain and have never needed to look any deeper within ourselves? If so things are about to change and it’s much easier and far more graceful to accept reality rather than to fight against it. Finding beauty, real beauty is far more attractive than trying to desperately cling to vanity. Time to dig deep.

What hobby do we want to try? Why would we not try it? Why would we not take one hour out of the week for ourselves and do something that might make us feel great?

How is our love life? Are we afraid of aging or dying? Do we believe that we are in the driver’s seat for our journey? (In my case, I drove myself here, and I dropped myself off!)

Do we feel like we have options? What do we want? What are our dreams and desires? Do we think we can have them? Do we think we should have them? Shouldn’t everyone?

There is a bit of a slumber or “oblivion” that goes along with youth. A blissful sort of “not knowing” out in La La Land that I really do miss, and yes, oh how I did love it!

But no more not knowing.

Now if anyone (or our inside voice) tells us it’s too late, let’s kick their ass and opinions to the curb! It is never too late to re-invent ourselves and to be happy on the journey.

We are greater than the trap we often fall into and have greater reach than we know. In fact, thank goodness for “mid-life upset” as it gets us off of our complacent asses.

And we really need to get over the issue of death. We are all on the same train. Some of us are on the 9 o’clock and some of us are on the 11 o’clock, but be sure of one thing, we are all getting on that train. So just like aging, let’s embrace the process and stop fighting it. It is a waste of time. We are guaranteed only this moment and why would we not live it?

The time is now! That is what our mid-life moment is telling us.

Retirement is a useless concept. Some people don’t make it that far, and how many people do we know that got sick shortly after retirement?

But I realize the older I get, the less adventurous I feel and the more having a bowl of cereal for supper and an early bedtime seems blissful! That too is OK.

But let’s do it now and take the kids!

And love? We need to be happy first and in love second. Not only be happy. Be mature, be thoughtful, be kind, be fulfilled, be enriched. Take all of the bad things that happen and use them to help us know good, or at the very least to help us to know what we don’t want!

This is not about living a perfect life. Yes there is compromise, and it can’t always happen this very second, but we can make the choice to start on a path.

Messy is a part of everyone’s life, conflict is too, loss is guaranteed, hurt is inevitable, but I heard once that misery is optional.

Let’s take chances, tell people we love them, treat them the way we want to be treated, and always move forward. Maybe the bookstore is as far as we can get this week, or the park, or the front porch. But let’s go!

One of my favourite authors wrote her first best sellers in her 60s and wrote many more for decades. I’m sure she went to the other side when she died much happier than if she’d believed the nonsense of slowing down when you are older.

One of my closest friends is 74 and plays several instruments. We are having a blast learning the mandolin together, even if it is, in her words, a “miserable little prick to tune.”

Who gives a hoot about what anyone will think of us? The comparison game is silly, as no matter who we are, there will always be someone younger, someone prettier, someone more athletic, someone more talented, someone wittier, someone smarter, someone happier. But there is only one of us.

Mid life should be embraced. We have so much to offer to others, things we didn’t know at 20: empathy, understanding and knowledge. We have many accomplishments, families and experiences because we have lived this long.

Yes we have wrinkles and some of us moms, stretch marks. So what?

For me, putting my thoughts out there for others to read is scary, but what the hell? This is my opportunity to move past my own fear at “almost fifty” and at least try something new.

I love to help and I have thought about aging and wish I could have read this approach instead of what I always heard about “mid-life crisis”: He bought a sports car and had an affair, and she is a cougar which is all a negative, nonsensical, North American, old-school pile of hooey. Maybe some insight would have allowed me to move a bit quicker and grow further and be more supported.

I’m not saying that everyone shouldn’t hit mid life and have a sports car and want to look 10 years younger but I think it may be better done with a clearer understanding and intention. I feel like at “almost fifty” I am still transitioning out of my mid life. Who knows, I could end up to be 98 and still blogging.

Let’s be brave, have fun and expand. Maybe we’ll all be blogging at 100. So some day we can say, “Woo hoo! What a ride!”

Or if we leave on an earlier train, we have no regrets and know in our hearts, we have left no stone unturned.

And we were darned good on the mandolin.

Alexander Graham Belt


By Jim Hagarty

When you were raised on a farm, only some of your farmish ways leave you when you make your way into the concrete jungle.

One thing that sticks with you is the inventiveness you learn as you watch lifelong farmers at work, making do with whatever they happen to have lying around.

Every farmer is an inventor. Two characteristics of farming make this necessary. There is often not enough money on hand to buy the latest and greatest gadget. And there is rarely the time available to go make such a purchase, even if the bank account allowed it.

And I guess there is a third reason. The farmers I knew growing up took great delight in finding ways to solve problems that didn’t involve sitting across the desk, straw hat in hand, from a stern-faced, stingy banker.

My Dad could never afford a four-wheel-drive tractor. He had several good old tractors, but none of them were super powerful machines. For awhile, the closest thing he had to a heavy-duty tractor was a John Deere AR.

One wet fall, the ground was too soggy to harvest the corn. The John Deere bogged down in the muck as it tried to pull the harvester.

Needed was a four-wheel-drive.

As it happened, a neighbour owned an identical John Deere AR. So, with the help of that farmer and our friendly local welder, Dad borrowed the other tractor, removed its front wheels, and hooked the two tractors together, the one without the front wheels behind the one that still had them. Our welder made the alterations and he also connected up the clutches and throttles of both tractors.

Cars stopped along the road to see the strangest thing their drivers had witnessed in a while. A corn harvester being successfully drawn through a muddy field by two identical tractors joined end to end.

The experiment was never repeated. Maybe it wasn’t the raving success I remember it being.

But failures never entered into the picture. It was simply on to the next creative solution.

Last month, I was scheduled to play a concert, opening for a singer-songwriter who was a boyhood hero of mine. It was a big moment for me, kind of a dream come true.

But before the concert, the leather belt I had paid $40.00 for, broke and could not be repaired. I could have raced out to the store and bought another one.

But there’s that farmer’s son thing …

I went out to my garage to find a substitute. I wasn’t there long before I spied a black bungee cord.

And so, I walked out on the stage at the biggest musical event of my life, water bottle in one hand, guitar in the other …

And a bungee cord holding up my blue jeans.

The concert was a success. And so, apparently, was the bungee cord.

So I kept wearing it.

But the thing about bungee cords is, they stretch. After a few weeks, it had to be retired.

But I know that somewhere on my property, there exists an item, maybe made of twine, maybe made of chain link, that will make for a suitable replacement.

One thing I do know for sure.

No more $40.00 belts for me.

New Word for the Day

By Jim Hagarty

It’s fine being a creative writer and all.

For those in close proximity of a creative writer, however, it can get a bit tiresome.

For example, our cats have a habit of chowing down too quickly, then clawing their way onto the living room carpet and upchucking.

This, of course, calls for a new word to describe the experience.

Hence: Barfullawfulloffen.

Now I need a new word to describe the reaction of the family members who have been subjected to my new word all morning.

Brain don’t fail me now.

My Work Schedule

By Jim Hagarty

When I was 15, I thought I had to be working very hard at a job to get ahead.

When I was 25, I thought I had to be working very hard at a job.

When I was 35, I thought I had to be working very hard.

When I was 45, I thought I had to be working hard.

When I was 55, I thought I had to be working.

When I was 65, I thought I had to be.