Monday, March 24, 2014

Back to work already!

After focussing on songwriting through the month of February, enjoying a quick vacation in Las Vegas and swinging from Regina to Yorkton for music/writing related events last weekend, it is time to fall back into a work routine.

Yes, it was fun flying by the seat of my pants - working here,  playing there - since my Gamma Knife radiation session in January. But since my recovery from the Gamma surgery is complete and with spring upon us (I think), I believe it's the right time to put my head down, lock myself in my basement office and get back to re-establishing my new business.

Needless to say, it's been a hell of a year. March 7 represented the anniversary of a seizure that began the path towards the diagnosis of an atypical meningioma last spring. The time to move forward in full-force has long past. There will still be MRIs and doctor appointments to make sure my condition is improving, but they are months in the making. For now, my priorities are to regain the great momentum I seemed to acquire immediately after opening my freelance writing/music business in April, 2013.

Therefore, work has restarted on the second draft of my debut novel "Paco." I have found an editor and a potential cover artist for the book through a writer's group in Yorkton. I hope to have the draft ready for review by the end of April with an expected release date of mid-July.

Should you have any ties to Whitewood whatsoever, you may find the novel entertaining. The book is basically the fictionalized biography of a man who used to live and work in the town's old hotel and bar. I should note that the entire story is made up and no character is based on real people or situations, outside of my basic use of this old fellow as the face of a protagonist. The story comes purely from my imagination.

Meanwhile, I am open again for freelance journalistic work. I have written for publications in Esterhazy, Moosomin and Whitewood in the past, but have taken a particular interest in magazine work. This includes assignments from The Session, a trade publication produced by SaskMusic.

I am also available for contract work outside of the journalistic field. My background includes copywriting for advertising; the production of brochures and pamphlets; and editorial services for other writers wanting to have their work polished to a high sheen.

Then there's the music. After thoroughly enjoying performing at a house concert in Esterhazy, SK on Feb. 26, we hit The Windsor Hotel in Fleming, SK this Saturday, March 29. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, with the construction of our studio and the purchase of key recording equipment, Lorne Frape and I will begin preliminary tracking for an EP in April or May. The recording will include seven or eight of our favorite orginal numbers alongside a couple of brand new songs written in the past few weeks. We hope to have rough-cuts available for our June 14 show at The Lancaster Taphouse in Regina; if not, sometime this summer.

Until then, further shows are in development for Wawota, Round Lake, another Regina venue, Esterhazy and - although very early to say so - Yorkton. Follow along with us at www.reverbnation.com/theold21 and watch out for our new CD.

Last weekend, Saskatchewan's rising jazz and roots artist Belle Plain played a spectacular show in Regina. The concert was one of many hosted by Regina songwriter and The Old 21 contributor Trevor Doroshenko, who has brought the production of such an event to a high art.

The Old 21 also plays house concerts; the newest, most comfortable way to enjoy live music in Saskatchewan. The idea is simple: Invite a couple of dozen friends and family members; prepare some appetizers and refreshments (or make it BYOB); and set up some chairs theatre-style in your living room (or don't; it's really all up to you).

Lorne and I show up with instruments - and, if necessary, a sound system - and give you two hours of roots/folk/country music to clap your hands, stamp a toe or snap your fingers to. It's intimate, fun and gives everyone in attendance the impression that the artist is there to play solely for them. Should you want the party to continue after the show, we are happy to contribute even more music.

Among the many advantages are no lineups to the washroom, beer cooler or coffee pot.

Feel free to commentbelow should you be interested in being a trend setter in the province and hosting a night ike this. We are fully committed to help make each show a success and will provide further details on how to put it together.

Otherwise, please continue to support local art.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Pen, paper, mic and guitar: FAWM 2014


Less than a month after receiving the master copies of The Old 21's debut EP, I am calling back the songwriting muse for February Album Writing Month (FAWM).

Beginning tomorrow, I and thousands of others around the world will attempt to write 14 songs through the month of February. I successfully participated in the program last year. About a half dozen of those songs continue to be played in regular rotation at Old 21 live shows. Two - "Trouble Inside" and "Edge of a Knife" - were recorded on the EP.

As a side note, at least two of them were eerily prophetic considering the medical issues I experienced just seven days after the end of February, 2013. A song called "Anchor Me," for example, explains how my wife has been the rock I have clung to through my health situations. It was one of the final numbers I penned before the end of the month.

As I do during National Novel Writing Month - where, through November, one attempts to write a 50,000-word novel - I will be forced to divorce myself from my inner critic. It is the only way to maintain a sustainable pace to write 14 songs through February.

In the end, I hope to create at least seven or eight songs worthy of further play, while the rest can become fodder for other ideas developed later in the year.

Regardless, FAWM is a fun, creative and spiritually exhilarating exercise. The online community goes a long way in making this so. The people involved in the program are extremely supportive, providing further motivation to polish the tunes to the point where they are worthy of public consumption. I look forward to choosing the best of the lot for a planned LP, which will be recorded sometime in 2014.

So here I am, once again leashed to my computer for an extended period, this time writing, recording and producing my newest musical creations. I plan to have rough-draft recordings of the songs available on Facebook and Twitter as they are ready. Some may not strike a chord with you, but I am hoping a few will brighten your day or allow you to escape your busy schedule for three or four minutes at a time.

Nevertheless, I look forward to the challenge FAWM presents and hope you will tag along for the ride.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A leap forward: Driving and Vegas

Monday. Oh, blessed Monday.

Yesterday morning, I cried like a baby after learning my driver's license had been returned to me. It had been more than 10 months since I last drove after suffering from a tumour-induced seizure in March of 2013. The suspension that followed stripped me of my independence far beyond anything I could have expected.

To be honest, being forced to walk anywhere I wanted to go was definitely good for me. It was a bit of exercise to get me out of bed or off the couch during the recovery period following the surgery to resect the atypical meningioma.

However, the lack of a driver's license hindered my ability to enhance the freelance and music businesses I started after giving up my plumbing employment. It basically set the boundaries to my world to Moosomin-proper, unless my wife as available to chauffeur me elsewhere, like to the lake or the city.

I have long been an independent, proactive, self-starter. If I decide I need to accomplish something; be it a renovation, yard work or heading out of town for a football game or concert; I am impatient about getting at it. Without a license, I had to rely on someone else for the menial tasks of getting where I needed to be to get these projects accomplished. The frustration about the situation boiled within me, coming out in mood swings that were a burden for my wife and children through the past year.

Yes, I tried to maintain a positive mindset, particularly as it pertained to my recovery. This practice was integral to my victories over Crohn's Disease and a previous meningioma.

But as part of that recovery, it was essential that I attempt to maintain some sort of stable daily schedule. On occasion, my planned activities required travel. Instead, I was housebound.

There is a mental condition called cabin fever. It is real and I have suffered from it.

However, with the help of Amy Renneberg and Trevor Doroshenko from Henderson Insurance in Regina, Sask., my driving privileges were returned to me. I immediately jumped in my little-used truck and did some shopping uptown.

Oh, what a load off.

That's not all of the news from "Monday-oh-blessed-Monday," though.

During a visit with my neurosurgeon on Jan. 24, he confirmed that I was, once again, able to drive. He also gave me the go-ahead to travel and fly.

After taking the afternoon to investigate insurances, confirm a hotel room and book flights, my wife and I will be going to Las Vegas in March. The trip is the completion of an escapade we had to cancel last March after the seizure struck me down just seven days before the vacation was supposed to begin.

With this in mind, the trip booked yesterday will represent some closure to another medically challenging year.

I'm not a fool. I know my battle is not over. I must remain vigilant in maintaining a more healthy lifestyle. However, yesterday's accomplishments - my driver's license and a booked vacation - leave a sweet taste of victory on my tongue.

The biggest factor in overcoming what seem to be overwhelming obstacles is holding tightly to the idea that - despite the pain, inconvenience and mental anguish - you will get through them; that some things may have changed forever, but not everything has to.

For me, January 27, 2014 will be remembered as a day of victory; a day that proves the above statement; a day forever noted as "Monday-oh-blessed-Monday" in my life's story.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thus, I return to work

It has been more than a month since I last sat down at my desk with intentions of accomplishing meaningful work; be it freelance writing for area publications, my fiction and non-fiction book projects or preparing for an Old 21 show.

Today, I will be productive.

After celebrating the Holiday Season at Round Lake, Sask. then undergoing another medical procedure in Winnipeg, it is about time I step into my basement office, put my head down and return to the business I started in April of 2013. I will begin that task by continuing the second draft of my novel, "Paco," which I hope to have published online via Amazon and other ebook retailers before the end of Spring, 2014.

As I plow my way through that, I will also continue to work on my memoir, "This Attempted Life." That project is still a long way from completion, considering I have numerous interviews to conduct, then several rewrites. Regardless, I still need to lay down the final chapter involving what became of 2013.

Finally, there is The Old 21 and the exciting completion of our debut EP. The master copies were acquired from the mixer - thank you so much, Mr. Cunningham - on Saturday. Despite some rough points in a couple of songs, it turned out good enough to make my hair stand on end as I listened to it for the first time.

We are very enthusiastic about the CD's implications. It will allow us to expand our performance territory further abroad, including venues in Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Brandon and into Alberta. Having a sampling of our music to hand out gives us a much more effective tool in booking shows than our previous method; handing our business cards, talking over the phone, and directing people to our ReverbNation page.

( www.reverbnation.com/theold21 )

We will continue to do the latter, only now we have an audio sampling to say, "This is what we do. When can we come?"

We will have some of the seven recorded songs available for a listen on ReverbNation and Facebook in the coming few weeks. Otherwise, we will begin processing copies of the CD for sale at our shows or through me.

Betwixt it all - family obligations, the writing, the music - I am constructing a studio at my home, relieving my wife of the weekly turmoil surrounding The Old 21's rehearsals. That work begins next month, which will also include my participation in a songwriting competition requiring me to write 14 songs in February. It's just a personal challenge, but it should produce four or five decent numbers that can be worked into a growing catalogue of original music.

There are several irons in the fire, no doubt. And, should my freelance journalism work take off as it did last Spring, those irons are going to grow even hotter.

I'm moving on with my life again. Last year's medical emergency seems like a dream now. It held its tragedy, but there are so many blessings in the mix as well.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Gamma Knife surprise

I almost missed the phone call. I barely caught my mobile ringing in the kitchen as I plunked away on my guitar during the morning of Monday, Dec. 30, 2013.

That phone call changed everything that pertained to the treatment of my atypical meningioma.

It was Andrea from the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre calling to see if I was available for Gamma Knife surgery on Wednesday, Jan. 8. I told her I had to discuss it with my wife and make some arrangements to see if it will work.

In my mind, I already knew there was no way I was declining this invitation.

As of mid-December when I last met with the oncologist in Regina, the plan of attack on my brain tumour was - basically - nothing. An MRI examination was booked for March, 2014 to see if the small, remaining portion of the tumour was growing, but I was told to just return to my normal lifestyle. The Gamma Knife procedure - which was introduced as an option even before my brain surgery in June - was still on the table, but in my mind, it was a blip on the horizon; potentially years down the road.

Instead, Andrea called out of the blue and a trip was booked for Winnipeg during the first full week of January. I won't go into detail about what I experienced - I have to save something for my memoir, "This Attempted Life" - but the Gamma Knife procedure turned out to be a painful, but easy process. An MRI in six months will determine its success at killing the growth in my skull beneath my forehead.


A week after the surgery, my face is still swollen, particularly around my eyes. My head and nasal passages are congested and severe exhaustion slams me late in the afternoon. Otherwise, I'm fine.

This blog post is my first attempt at writing since the Gamma Knife appointment. It's a step towards resuming the new career I began following the grand mal seizure in March that led to my tumour diagnosis. Today, I write a blog post; tomorrow, I return to editing my novel, "Paco," for publication later this year; Thursday, The Old 21 begins rehearsing for a show at the Powder Keg Pub at the Asessippi Ski Resort on Feb. 8.

By next week, I am hoping my face returns to its pre-radiation size and I can put down the throttle on both my music and my writing.

Despite the obstacles thrown before me through the past 10 months - from the return of the meningioma to the lobbying efforts required to have it rectified - it seems obvious the Creator has been walking alongside us. I'm alive with almost zero side-affects from the tumour. It seems like the past year has been a dream; whether it is a good one or a nightmare is yet to be determined.

As of right now, I see this latest, life-altering experience as a blessing. I am moving forward with projects I never had time for but always wanted to accomplish; becoming an author, recording a CD, touring with The Old 21 and reprioritizing my life away from "stuff" and towards the love of my wife, my children, my family and my friends.

I was knocked down. I'm standing again.

Life is grand.


A selfie I took less than two hours after my surprise
Gamma Knife prodecure on Jan. 8.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Young Benjamins profile hits provincial mail boxes

This profile on Saskatoon-based, contemporary folk group Young Benjamins represents my first break into the trade magazine market. It is running in the latest edition of SaskMusic's "The Session" magazine.



Young Benjamins:
Building a future based on the present
 
By Chris Istace

It’s been less than two years since a quartet of Saskatoon musicians tossed a pebble into Saskatchewan’s live music scene.

In 2011, Vaero Poulin heard a performance by Neusha Mofazzali and Kuba Szmigielski. The Francophone violinist liked how they sounded and joined them, adding violin, keys and vocals to Mofazzali’s guitar and vocals, and Szmigielski’s drums.

In February of 2012, bassist Brynn Krysa – an acquaintance of Mofazzali’s from high school – completed what became Young Benjamins, a band that is now garnering national attention for a catchy brand of folk pop; a style of music they consider simple, but thoughtfully arranged and full of energy.

The pebble was tossed two years ago, but the ripples from that metaphorical action are now waves lapping live local music scenes as far away as British Columbia to the west and Quebec to the east. Music fans with a variety of tastes and backgrounds are appreciating the group’s music, propelling Young Benjamins through the release of their first LP and a pair of tours in 2013.

That momentum is partially due to their songwriting philosophy. Mofazzali said their ability to reach a wider spectrum of music enthusiasts comes by remaining intentionally unfocussed on the genre of the music they are creating.

“We went to Olds Alberta, which is a country town with a university that’s focused on agricultural studies. We were nervous about it. During the first sound check, we played ‘Out There (In the Wild).’ I’ve gotten pretty good at picking (the guitar) and the people were dancing and loving it,” Mofazzali said over the telephone recently. His voice is soft and patient with the hint of an English accent. The 23-year-old moved with his family from the United Kingdom to Saskatoon about five years ago.

“Then we went to Vancouver and had an indie-rock crowd rocking their heads up and down. We have found that sticking to one genre is too minimal. You won’t get the whole country listening to you. If you open up your writing skills, you’ll hit fans from all genres. We didn’t come by that purposefully. We just hit upon it.”

It seems to be working. Although it has been less than two years since the band was fully formed, 2013 has garnered national recognition and an impressive tour schedule.

In February, Young Benjamins were among those representing Saskatchewan at the 2013 International Folk Alliance Conference in Toronto. The conference includes shows by folk music performers and dancers for industry stakeholders including record company representatives, publishers, presenters, agents, managers and manufacturers. Three months later, the band released their debut LP “Less Argue”. (Their previous recordings included a pair of independent EP releases; one in 2011 and one in 2012.)

With the new project in tow, the group toured Ontario and Quebec this summer, with shows in Guelph, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor. They maintained their cross-country trek in September and October with a Western Canadian tour, interrupted momentarily by a one-night stand at the POP Montreal International Music Festival.

That second set of shows began on September 25 in Regina at the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Awards. By the end of October they had also performed in Saskatoon, Calgary, Revelstoke, Kelowna, Vancouver, Olds and Banff.

Mofazzali admitted that the foursome toured on the cheap. Most of their road trips took place in a simple Dodge Caravan, but they have travelled in a Chrysler Town & Country minivan when they feel they require more “luxurious” transportation. Regardless of how they get to their performances, Mofazzali says maintaining their homebase in Saskatoon has more advantages than disadvantages.

“We are pretty central here and sometimes, it’s not beneficial to stay here. But to be honest, we are better off than anyone else. Sometimes, it’s just a one or two-hour plane ride and we can be anywhere compared to someone who has to fly out of Vancouver,” he said.

“We also have the advantage of SaskMusic. They’re gold for us and really help us out…So the travel is easy, the music scene here is amazing and the support is great. For anyone starting out, it’s a good place to come from and a good place to come home to. It’s not as loud as, say, Calgary or Vancouver.”

The entire band now calls the city home. Mofazzali, Szmigielski, Poulin, Krysa and stand-in drummer Tyson Goodyear all hold jobs in Saskatoon outside of their work in the band.

“We all knew each other before (the band was formed),” Mofazzali said. “In the Saskatoon music scene, you get to know everyone.”

When EPs are not enough

Although the Young Benjamins garnered substantial bookings – including the 2012 Regina Folk Festival – based on their live performances and shorter recordings, Mofazzali said it was only natural that they would ultimately produce a full album. After all, it’s the next logical step for a productive band, he said.

The group is constantly writing, even when it appears they are at a standstill. Mofazzali admitted that he comes up with a majority of the ideas that become Young Benjamin songs – he is the lone member who does not play in musical projects outside of the quartet – but the entire group plays a role in producing the finished product.

In fact, they were so proficient at songwriting, they needed to get the best of what they had recorded so they could move on to new ideas, Mofazzali said.

“I think we’re just following the evolution of being a band. We actually didn’t believe (a full album) would be necessary in the beginning. We didn’t have good enough exposure to make it worth our while,” he continued. “But the album allowed us to get even better opportunities.”

Less Argue was recorded at Avenue Recording Studios in Saskatoon and mastered by John Keane in Athens, Georgia. Keane has worked with internationally recognizable bands like the Cowboy Junkies, REM and Indigo Girls.

Young Benjamins’ debut album contains 11 tracks, opening with Poulin singing “The Colonial Pt. I (You’re Only Twenty)” in a haunting, high-pitched intonation over a distinctive percussion line and Mofazzali’s unique licks on electric guitar. The pace picks up when Mofazzali takes over lead vocals for “Out There (In the Wild)” and “Jasper, Ab.”, where the group takes a more rock-oriented turn.

Midway through the album lays “Green Eyes,” the shortest song at 57 seconds, but the number with the clearest example of Mofazzali and Poulin’s harmonic abilities. The lyrics are based on poetry translated from Farsi written by Mofazzali’s grandfather. Less Argue goes on to close with “The Colonial, Pt. II,” where Poulin’s widely recognized abilities on violin step even further into the spotlight.

“Whenever we jam, there’s a new song written. With having the new album, it’s nice to get them down so we can move on to build on something else,” Mofazzali said. The basics for many of the songs on the album were set down before was established. Mofazzali said the addition of Poulin and Krysa were instrumental in getting the songs the best they could be.

Poulin is a classically trained pianist and violinist who is also establishing a solo singing-songwriting career. She was recognized for her work in the 2012 “Best Of” edition of Planet S, an alternative arts and news magazine in Saskatoon.

“We were all going through something weird with our lives, all having to do with the heart,” Mofazzali said about the theme running through Less Argue. “Most of the songs were written before the full band was formed. But ‘Jasper,’ ‘Colonial, Pt. II,’ ‘Out There (In the Wild),’ weren’t fully finished and were not as good as they are now that we have the full band.”

Mofazzali’s own songwriting habits are sporadic. Ideas will pop into his head randomly, forcing him to drop what he is doing, pick up his guitar and get them on paper or recorded on digital file. He is particularly attentive to catchy melodies with simple verses.

“Sometimes, I just sing a melody or a phrase that sounds really nice into a recorder,” he said.

He admits he has been more productive with his work since forming Young Benjamins, where the passion and excitement of collaboration has motivated him to write down his song ideas when he really doesn’t feel like it.

“Putting ideas down and finishing songs is something we all seem to be good at together,” he said. “When I used to play solo or in the duo (with Szmigielski), if I couldn’t finish a song in a half hour, I’d just forget about it. With the band, we get all of it down and we just kind of go for it to finish it off and add in the details.”

The song becomes what it is naturally meant to be through the band’s songwriting method. Mofazzali said they do not set out to write a specifically folk-rock, folk-pop, roots, country or alternative song. It simply becomes what it is as the process unfolds.

“The motive we have is to play really simple music with really simple structures,” he said. “We have bridges in our songs because we like having moments where we can jam a bit. We actually laugh sometimes at how simple our music is. ‘Into the Wild’ sounds complicated, but we’re actually just repeating two chords.”

Mofazzali’s musical influences are somewhat geographically specific. Although he picked up some traits by listening to Pink Floyd and Simon and Garfunkel – music his father appreciated – much of what he does is based on a foundation built by members of Saskatchewan’s independent music community. That includes bands like Rah Rah and Library Voices of Regina.

Instrumentally, Mofazzali is a self-taught guitarist who found his unique sound through independent learning. Originally a piano player, he picked up the guitar about three years ago and began learning from CDs by musicians like Jack Johnson. He said if he had tried to copy what he was hearing on traditionally popular music for guitarists – The Eagles, The Rolling Stones or AC/DC for example – he would not have the simple-but-original sound he produces with the instrument.

The impression or message the band wants to leave with people is yet to be determined. “As long as people like the songs, that’s a bonus. I would keep doing it even if people didn’t like the songs,” he said. “On the musical spectrum, we’re not even near ‘there’ (where bands are concerned about the impact of their music on their fans). There’s so much more to do. We are moving pretty fast, but it seems to be working out okay.”

Mofazzali wants to continue to see and enjoy the wave that has taken them across Canada in 2013.

“We love what we do and we love each other. We really look happy and smiley on stage,” he said. “We love playing as a band and that gives us the high energy.”

Their accomplishments since Less Argue’s release in May keeps them moving forward while focusing on the present. This, said Mofazzali, is fundamental to their long-term, well-planned success.

There are discussions about American and European tours and talk about releasing CDs with foreign labels (having released Less Argue with Canadian independent label Dollartone Records), but Mofazzali’s instinct says Young Benjamins should take these steps tentatively and only with a solid foundation under them. No one should lose their standard of living while attempting to force the band’s success, he said.

“We just want to make sure everything is done correctly at this moment,” he said. “Everything we do now has an affect on our future. People who think too much on the future lose contact with what they are supposed to be doing now.”

After a break from their recent swing across Western Canada, Young Benjamins are returning to the studio to record an EP. Mofazzali said they may try something different, as well.

“We might go the music video route,” he muses. “We’ll release a single and if it does well, we’ll build another album around that.”

For more information on Young Benjamins, visit www.youngbenjamins.com or www.dollartone.com.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My gift this Christmas is life


My Christmas spirit required the lift I recieved
during a recent sing-along with my son.

Until last night, I was suffering from Christmas angst. The line-ups downtown wrankled me. The bumper-to-bumper traffic frustrated me. The unbridled commercialism of the season angered me.

Christmas now seems to be all about the giving; a nice ideal until you consider what your giving and to whom. Does your mother really need another crockpot? Can't your brother buy their own underwear and socks? Haven't we filled our homes with enough stuff we will not even look at, let alone use?

Giving is only a small part of Christmas. It's also about sharing feelings and moments that make life more worthwhile; spiritual gifts that cannot be boxed and wrapped.

After surviving my second atypical meningioma brain tumour this year, I am convinced more than ever that giving things is far less important than experiencing joy this time of year. Giving and recieving is nice, but a greater emphasis should be placed on the sharing of laughter, love, joy and blessing. If I am looking forward to anything this Christmas, it's the opportunity to experience more time with family and friends.

Ironically, my shopping is completed and, yes, my family and I have fed the seasonal merchantile monster. But gifts be damned. I will recieve what I get with grace and appreciation, but my real present this Christmas is time. I'm still alive. I'm still breathing. I'm still bitching, moaning, celebrating, congratulating, caring, loving and appreciating.

For the third occasion in my life, I'm living on borrowed time. My priviledges at the library of life have been stretched to their limit. I will seek to place a greater value on the laughter and love I will share with those around me this Christmas.

Which brings me to last night. Until then, I was Scrooge, openly spouting my disdain for the season and it's atrocious focus on gift-giving over real charity and spiritual discourse.

After finishing supper with my family, I learned that my nine-year-old son had never heard the song, "Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer." I pulled out the guitar and played it for him. He walked around the kitchen table and sang the chorus with me.

I opened a guitar-tab application on my iPad and found more Christmas music. We continued to sing, putting our own twist on some of the Christian and secular classics you are probably listening to right now.

And as I sang, my Christmas angst turned to Christmas joy. All of these frustrations with the season fell away, clearing my mind to make room for the simple pleasure of sharing a moment with my son.

An hour later, we wandered in opposite directions to do our own things for the evening. However, my heart was lifted. My chest felt lighter than it had in months. My emotions - which have been darkened by the challenges of stress, medication and post-surgical side-effects - were more positive, even joyous.

I had received my first Christmas gift of the year; sharing a special moment with my son singing seasonal music for no other reason than being spontaneous. He may not remember the moment like I do, but that doesn't matter. It has changed my mental and emotional state about the season.

I am no longer focussing on or worrying about my negative feelings. I am going to live in the "now" and appreciate what came very close to not being; me... alive... for Christmas 2013.

Because of this, God has granted me the greatest gift of all; allowing me to maintain the promise I made to my wife before we had even discussed marriage.

That we would grow old in each other's arms.

Merry Christmas and God bless, everyone. My family and I wish you the very best in 2014.

Thanks for following me and my musings on This Attempted Life. Watch out for a memoir of the same name outlining my experiences with Crohn's Disease and two atypical meningioma brain tumours. I hope to have it out sometime in the next 12 months.