MUSIC STORIES for Short Attention Spans—The Story behind the Stories

This blog is a wee bit different from the others in that I’m sharing personal info that normally I shy away from. It has to do with the recent release of my instrumental album, MUSIC STORIES for Short Attention Spans, which includes fun instrumental anecdotes of my travels—the sights, sounds, people I’ve met.

To begin… My travels are not typical in that I avoid signing up with commercialized tour companies. Rather, I like to spend time in a place, living there, even if only for a few weeks at a time, so I can better understand the culture and people.

Arriving home from my teaching stint in China, out poured the compositions on MUSIC STORIES for Short Attention Spans (aka MUSIC TALES for Short Attention Spans). The trip occurred at a pivotal point in my life as a teacher, mother, spouse, and as a creative, gelling the present with the past.

The awkward, jilting, jolting, and general rhythms of life, as heard in CARTRIDE and LAUGHTER, flooded to the surface, overshadowing that steady breathing pulse of nature and survival. These two songs in particular express the sounds of the time I spent in the remarkable country of China.

At 6 o’clock each morning, noisy vendors would set up their kiosks in the market street below my apartment window, calling out to each other in Mandarin or Cantonese about this or that, the inflection of their languages adding melodic tones to the uneven clopping of produce-filled donkey-pulled carts on cobblestone. (Cartride)

At the end of a long teaching day, we professors would change our clothes for the third time—temps of 46 degrees Celsius (115o F) and 100% humidity with no air conditioning in our classrooms… you get the picture!—and head to a restaurant to enjoy local cuisine with our new friends. As our Chinese colleagues explained more about modern life midst their ancient surroundings, LAUGHTER often came in juts and spurts, depending on how good our understanding of Chinese was, or on the ability of a translator. Wonderful memories fill my spirit as I share this with you.

Central Asia was a different story altogether. The friendships there were built on compassion and understanding as I witnessed locals struggling to make sense of, while also trying to mark progress in, their countries filled with turmoil due to newly acquired freedom from under Russia’s steel umbrella. My new friends there would ask me to sing one of their favourites, Kumbaya, a song they felt connected to. They would insist I experience the resurrection of their culture and religion. (TEMPLE PRAYER and A DIFFERENT WORLD)

Greed, and the unquenchable thirst for violence, especially towards women, children, and expats, was unavoidable. CAPTURED reflects the pounding of my heart during the many close calls I had, which included the shoving of a machine gun into my sternum; or during the depth of sadness felt when seeing babies drugged silent, asleep on the street next to their mothers who were begging for bread.

A most distinctive sound was the RAIN clinking on roofs covered with lids from tin cans nailed into sheds that many called home, sheds where parents raised five to seven children, sheds without running water or plumbing, sheds the size of a single-car garage that in Canada would be condemned.

Moments of tranquility, though brief, were a much needed escape from the poverty and chaos. In spite of it all, the beauty, love, and generosity of local life-force can be heard in VESTAL.

My toes could touch his lips, he let me get that close! Pic by A. Riley

Travel experiences also included fun times such as racing across a road-less desert with the roof off the jeep, or BUMBLEling along bareback on a calm elephant that successfully ignored a buzzing bee, or hanging on tightly to the camel’s reins as it STUMBLEd, or watching PANDAs MARCH, or tossing a treat into the massive jaws of a hippopotamus that was an inch from my feet. That lovely hippo posed perfectly for my camera.

The five-hour wait in the Minneapolis or New York airport for a connector plane to Canada helped me to reflect upon the recent travel experience while finalizing entries in my travel journal. The ebb and flow of airports is yet another travel experience in itself, a hint of which can be heard in YEAH, CANADA, a song representing the sigh of relief to be returning home safely.

Well, there you have it. Thank you for sharing some of the thoughts and emotions underpinning my collection of original compositions in the album, MUSIC STORIES for Short Attention Spans. ‘Short Attention Spans?’ you ask… If the bustling rhythm of your life is anything like mine, finding a moment to listen to a sixty-minute musical exposé just doesn’t happen very often. May this thirty minute album brings you smiles and joy!

Oh, and just one more thing… I am ever grateful to my parents for including travel as a regular part of my childhood! From my birth to adulthood, we explored destinations in North America and abroad. Their push for me to be independent and a savvy traveler began at an early age… Four years old and I was alone on a bus, off to visit my grandparents two hours away—yes, it was safe to do such a thing back when! At sixteen, my sibling and I borrowed Dad’s car and traveled across Canada. At seventeen, I went to Europe by myself. The travel bug bit, and so it began.

There are a handful of places I still wish to visit, though with the fading of free-spirited wanderlust because of global turbulence strapped to the heels of a viral pandemic, I may decide to check out a few commercial travel organizations.

Arrow & the Song
May the Road Rise to Meet You
Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen
Looking Back
Can’t help Lovin’ That Man
Young As The Spring
Danny Boy | Too-Ra-Loo | How Ireland Got Its Name
ROSE in a BROKEN BOTTLE – Adult novel based on a true story
NINE GIFTS- with Study Guide
THE CURSE – with Study Guide
RUSH of the RAVEN’S WINGS – Youth short story with Study Guide
NO PASSPORT FOR ÉTIENNE – Short story inspired by true events
THEFT OF BABY ILY – Short story inspired by true events
MYSTERY of the SINGING GHOST – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the TRACTOR GHOST – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the THREE SISTERS – with Study Guide
MYSTERY of the LOST CELL PHONE – with Study Guide
TEDDY MEETS KIBOKO – Children’s novel with Study Guide
KIDNAPPED SANTA – Children’s novel with Study Guide


Canadian Healthcare. . . Death by Place of Death


My last stop is for cream at the far back corner of the grocery store. Reaching into the refrigerator for the small carton I need, an elderly woman politely asks if she can put her 4-litre milk jug into my grocery cart. She explains that she hadn’t thought a cart was necessary for the few items she was requiring. Now wanting the jug of milk, it is heavy and awkward to carry along with the items she is holding.

I am happy to help, taking the milk jug while confirming that I am not in a rush, should she need to get other items as well. She says she is ready to leave.

Our stroll to the tills at the front of the store takes some time, as this elderly woman plods slowly, stopping every so often to emphasize a point in her story. She is angry…

… Her husband had sat in Emergency at the local hospital for thirty-plus hours before being put on a gurney. She finally left the hospital at midnight, returning early the next morning to discover he was in ICU. He died a few hours later from a heart attack.

“I guess that’s what we can expect at 83 years of age,” she remarks sadly, her eyes filling with tears. “I worked in that hospital for 40 years… no one cared! And, there’s nothing I can do about it!”

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THE ART OF AGING – Part XVII: Forgiveness—One of your favourite things?

t’s that time of year when family and friends gather together and spend 12 days of Christmas decking their halls with boughs of holly, everyone filled with hopes of having a holly jollytime. Then, things go sideways!

Suddenly, you find yourself asking, Mary, did you know what child this is that only wants a hippopotamus for Christmas? You’re praying, ‘God, please rest these merry gentlemen! They’ve imbibed a wee bit too much and claimed to see three ships come sailing in on Christmas morn’.

Fractured. . .

. . .  It happens! We lose our connections with others for a bevy of reasons—for everything from waking up to the fact that a person wasn’t truly a friend after all, to the death of someone we did indeed treasure. At this point in life, we come to accept that loss is part of the relationship package, especially when a death occurs.

Yesterday, a buddy from my stage career days was saying that in this past year, he and his wife have been attending an average of three funerals each month for loved ones, many of those elderly, and some not so much, such as a thirty-nine year old friend.

But, what about the fractured or severed connection with someone or a group because of a misspeak, because of ostracism, bullies, and so on? Are those connections lost forever? Can they be repaired? Are they worth repairing?

I recall a kind, generous elderly woman who, faithful to her church for decades, was eventually cast out of the congregation because she was unable to quit her sixty year old smoking habit. She had tried everything, medical and alternative, with no success. This grandma apologized, repented, did what she could to keep her connection to her church. The church was unforgiving, uncompromising in its constitution, punishing as it saw fit. Severing her from the group she identified with, the group that was part of her survival mechanism, took its toll.

So, how does one survive the break in a connection with others?

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THE ART OF AGING – PART XVI: Adult Friends. . . A Tough Find!

(Article views best on larger screens)

Sculpture by Ju Ming

riendless in a crowded city? Feeling lonely in spite of the myriad of activities available in the bustle that surrounds you? Surprised at how lonely life is now that you’re ‘all growed up’, especially since your younger self had no problem making friends? Is it harder and harder to get together with the pals you do have and enjoy a really good time like you used to?

Many things get better as we age… but one thing that gets progressively worse is our ability to make new friends. *

Perhaps we thought that. . .

… Having spouses/children/colleagues would fill the friendship slot. Not always—the companion who works long hours six days a week, or who travels many months of the year, or whose vacation ‘away from it all’ includes slipping in time each morning to answer emails and respond to a phone call or two, or the partner who’s too tired at the end of a 75-hour workweek to want to do anything but watch TV and eat snacks…

… The pandemic didn’t help matters! Working from home meant/means no office mates to confab with over lunch about the number of files yet to be resolved, or to enjoy the bumpy ride home with from the oilfield in the boss’ old Cessna, or to bellyache to about how your little tyke kept you awake all night…

Yet, making friends is a problem that predates the Covid pandemic!

In 2012, Vancouver’s mayor launched a task force to combat loneliness in the city. . .

In 2017, the U.S. Surgeon General declared a loneliness epidemic. . .

In 2018, the U.K. appointed the world’s first Loneliness Minister. *

Marion Rose (1955-2011)
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THE ART OF AGING – Part XV: Sacrifice in a World of Me

We must examine the nature of actions, namely how we ought to do them; for these determine also the nature of the states of character that are produced.Aristotle

acrifice… not a word we hear often except perhaps at Remembrance Day, that unique time each year when the word pops up here and there as older adults try to impress upon the young how important it is to remember why we enjoy the freedoms we do in our land of democracy.

Even then, honouring our war heroes isn’t such a big deal anymore. Remembrance Day events are shorter each year, and those who sacrificed for our freedoms are now but legends kept alive by a loved one or two. A private ceremony, a plaque on the wall, a medal of valour… if we do want to really ‘go all out to remember’ those sacrificial war veterans, we watch a movie about some courageous feat.

Cambridge Dictionary defines sacrifice as giving up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person. Of course, the definition also includes to kill an animal or a person and offer them to a god or gods, a definition what we tend to think of more commonly when we hear or use the word ‘sacrifice’.

So, why is it that the word ‘sacrifice’ is seldom used today? Political correctness? Our need to avoid ugly thoughts such as killing a baby for a deity? Or better yet, our consumption of self to the point where we can’t imagine giving up something we value for the sake of another?

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