Category Archives: appreciation

It’s Father’s Day again!

For some people, Father’s Day can be an emotional minefield. Some grew up without fathers. Others had the misfortune to have abusive or, at best, neglectful ones.

I was fortunate. My Dad was a loving man who did everything he possibly could for me, and for my mother.

My memory bank if full – full of love, full of laughter, full of life – thanks to the man I so admire.

Born without sight

He was born with congenital infantile glaucoma – in other words, really bad sight. He was virtually blind in one eye, and could barely see out of the other. When he was a young boy, he was playing with a stick and injured his ‘good’ eye. In the early 1900s surgical techniques were both primitive and dangerous and, with both optic nerves damaged, the doctors and my grandparents decided that he would lose both of his eyes.

He was one tough and determined little boy, My Uncle Hubert told me tales of the trouble they got into around the little farm in Albert County where they grew up. He also told me of the amazing skills my Dad had, even as a teenager.

Haying season on a farm is a critical time of the year. As a blind child, there were some chores Dad wasn’t able to do. He did, however, learn to drive the team of horses that pulled the hay wagon down from the fields to the barn.

“It was something to see your father turn that team and wagon around and then back them up the ramp into the hay loft,” Uncle Hubert said.

I’ve seen that ramp and I don’t think I could have done it!

Dad went to the School for the Blind in Halifax, NS. There he learned to be both an accomplished pianist and a piano tuner. In his final year of study he was sent out around the city to tune pianos in people’s homes.

Forty-five years later I was studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Dad came to the city, by bus, to visit me. The part of the city where I had my minuscule apartment hadn’t existed when he was living there.

I borrowed my boyfriend’s car and took Dad on a tour of the city. Once we got into the centre of the city and I told him we were on Spring Garden Road, he knew exactly where he was. We set off to visit an old friend of his who still lived in the same home as he had when they’d been students together. I followed Dad’s directions, “Turn left here, two more blocks, turn right. It should be the third house on the right, number 23 – it used to be blue I think.” Sure enough, we were right in front of our destination – and it was blue.

Humour makes life worth living

Dad’s sense of humour was legendary.

A new piano tuning client called one day and sounded quite upset. “I have an appointment to have my piano tuned tomorrow,” she said, “and I’ve just learned that you are blind. We live on the second floor. How will we get you upstairs?”

Not missing a beat, Dad replied, “Madam, I can not see, but my legs function perfectly well.”

He was always a busy man. He couldn’t just sit and do nothing. When my son was a little boy I asked Dad to babysit one night so I could go out on a date. David was bathed and tucked in bed and I got ready to leave.

My guest arrived and met Dad. After a few moments of chit chat, we headed out to go to a movie. As I closed the door behind me, I switched off the lights in the apartment. My date was appalled! “That’s the rudest thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

It took me a minute to realize what he was talking about and then I started to laugh. I said, “He’s blind. He doesn’t need the lights on.” When I was growing up, the last sighted person to leave the room turned the lights out, whether Dad was there or not. I laughed all the way to the car.

When we got home from the movie, since Dad was sleeping in the living room on the hide-a-bed couch, we tiptoed into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. While the machine dripped its elixir into the pot, I grabbed the utensil drawer that was always stuck and gave it a mighty yank. It flew across the room, spewing silverware everywhere clanging and banging enough to wake the dead.

Looking for something to do to pass the time, Dad had gone through the kitchen and had soaped all of the sticky drawers so they’d slide better and then, in the lower cupboards, had hung hooks for all of my pots and pans to give me more room. Good thing I made enough coffee for three of us!

Growing up with a blind father

I grew up with a blind man in the house and it was a good thing. I learned that a disability isn’t necessarily a handicap to life. I learned that a disability doesn’t mean you can’t have joy in your life and give joy to others. My Dad belonged to various organizations, could beat most people at cribbage and definitely humiliated me in the bowling alley. Then again, I not good at a lot of sports and never have been.

He enjoyed a good laugh, often at his own expense. He loved his family and the varied and many pets I dragged home over the years. He cried when each of our cats died, although I’m not so sure he was distressed when Hammy the hamster kicked the bucket. The little bugger bit him many times.

My mother spent the last three years of her life in the extended care ward at the Regional hospital. She had Alzheimers, Parkinsons and she suffered several strokes. Through all that time Dad would take the bus across town to visit her almost every day. In her mind, she thought that, when he left to go home at night, he was, in fact, heading out ‘on the town’ with other women, living the high life. This is my Dad – the man who never drank. The thought was ludicrous.

Then she decided that not only was he living the high life, but that he’d had an affair with one of the nurses on her ward. Not only that, but they’d had ten kids! When she told me that story I decided I’d best speak to the nurse quickly because, in her demented state, you never knew what Mum might say.

The nurses on that ward were wonderful people. They personified kindness and patience. When I told her about my mother’s fantasy, she said, “Your Dad’s a great guy and we all really like him a lot. But, I think he might be a bit old for me.” We had a good giggle over that. Then she asked, “How many kids did we have?”

“Ten,” I said.

“Oh my,” she replied. “There must have been a lot of twins and triplets! I’m only twenty-three years old.”

Yes, it’s Father’s Day, again, and I’m glad to have this annual reminder. I think of him often, but this is the day I focus on those memories. That is his immortality.

 

 

Also posted in BLOG, family Tagged , |

Odes have been written to Spring

Flood waters of the St. John River near Maugerville, NB May 18, 2017

For centuries poets around the world have written odes to the beauty of spring. Spring, the re-birth of the world after a long, cold and dreary winter. Spring, the beginning of warmth and strong sunshine. Spring, the season of hope.

Beautiful blossoms

Trees of all sorts have been pushing forth their amazing blossoms, some setting fruit for the coming season.

But Mother Nature has been less than cooperative this year. The temperature outside is bitterly cold for late May. We have the heat turned on, the windows closed and I’ve dug out the heavy blankets for the bed – again.

Ever optimistic, the canopy rests on the deck, the bistro table and chairs are ready for morning coffee. The hummingbird feeder has been hung for quite a while – with only one lone, occasional visitor.

Spring? This is a cruel joke this year. Cold, heavy rains and strong winds would discourage the most optimistic of souls.

Spring? Where are you? Come back, please? And may summer follow you to warm our bodies and our souls!

 

Also posted in BLOG, New Brunswick, photography, seasons, spring

Chocolate heaven

Heaven’s plate!

Remember the song “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan? Well, a visit to Adorable Chocolat in Shediac, New Brunswick, is a chocolate lover’s version of knocking on heaven’s door.

I spent a couple of days with #DoreenPendgracs of #Chocolatour fame this week. She wanted to visit a chocolatier that she’d heard of from Shediac and needed a ‘tour guide’ who knew the area. Naturally, I volunteered – and I am SO glad I did.

I picked Doreen up at the Moncton airport Tuesday afternoon and we had a leisurely drive to Shediac. When we arrived the weather was perfect – the sun was shining, there was no wind to speak of and barely a ripple in the water!

Shediac is, of course, famous for its lobster. Sadly I’m allergic to shellfish so Doreen resisted indulging while I was with her, but I hope she was able to get some to take home with her next Monday.

We roamed around the town, getting our bearings. No visit to Shediac would be complete without the requisite photo with the world’s biggest lobster!

 

When a Prairie girl visits the Maritimes, she needs to see a few traditional things – like lighthouses and fishing boats at the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf. We enjoyed exploring what there was to see.

Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

 

Lighthouse on the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

 

Doreen enjoying the view from the Pointe-du-Chêne wharf

Then we headed off to Cocagne to meet our hosts for the night – Mathieu, Ginette and their two delightful children, Florence and Louis – and Pudding, the guinea pig. The conversation was, of course, all about chocolate. Spending time with Doreen is an education in the finer points of all things chocolate. Ginette, co-owner of Adorable Chocolat, the shop we’d be visiting in the morning, is passionate about chocolate and there was a lot of lively discussion between the two, and the rest of us, about various chocolate blends, sources of cocoa beans, recipes and methods. We sampled some bars of chocolate that Doreen had brought with her from chocolatiers from Mexico and Ontario. I was utterly fascinated as I had no idea how complex the world of a chocolatier could be.

After a lovely dinner en famille, we headed off to bed for a good night’s sleep. You want to be rested for this experience.

In the morning we loaded the car and headed back to Shediac for a tour of Adorable Chocolat and the opportunity to sample what, in my opinion, is the best chocolate I have EVER tasted.

The shop and café are on Main Street in Shediac. If you are heading to Parlee Beach you’ll have to pass right by!

Ginette Ahier et Frédéric Desclos – master chocolatiers

Ginette and Frédéric welcomed us to their shop and we spent a delightful two hours with them. I learned that sampling chocolate is a lot like sampling wine: you take a small ‘sip’ and let it melt in your mouth so the ‘notes’ or layers of flavour have a chance to reach the taste buds on the roof of your mouth and the back of your tongue. In some you can sense a fruity aftertaste; in others a hint of anise. It was intriguing to say the least.

As our hosts prepared each sample, they first asked us to figure out the flavours and then explained how they chose the various blends of chocolate from sources around the world. This is not your average candy bar. The chocolate here is a sensual experience.

Tasting their premium “Scorpion” bars – both milk chocolate and dark (my favourite) – is an adventure in pleasure. As the chocolate melts in your mouth the flavours saturate your senses and fill you with joy!

#DoreenPendgracs sampling Scorpion chocolate- a happy experience.

Premium bars in both Milk and Dark chocolate. This milk chocolate is nothing like the commercial candy bars you may be used to. It’s AMAZING!

The shelves of the boutique are filled with goodies to delight your senses.

And the delicate macrons each filled with a different and tempting flavour…

Doreen and Frédéric discussing the fine points of chocolate creation

Frédéric perusing his recipe collection

We were sad to leave our new friends at Adorable Chocolat but I know that I, for one, will return.

Merci beaucoup, mes amis. Je suis impatient de visiter bientôt votre boutique.

Also posted in BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography

Winding down in Ireland

We spent our last two ‘working’ days at the charming Old Ground hotel in the beautiful town of Ennis. After our last, and stimulating, official workshop with #GerardCollins we boarded the bus for a final tourism jaunt that included the amazing 8-mile long Cliffs of Moher , a visit to the Burren and a stop at the Poulnabrone Domen – an ancient portal tomb, surrounded by faerie trees. A magical day indeed and we were lucky to also enjoy clear skies and sunshine.

Atop the cliffs people were strolling and cattle grazed – hopefully with enough sense not to plunge over the edge to their deaths 700 feet below.

Cliffs of Moher

 

Very narrow roads through the Irish countryside.

One of many occasions when we were grateful for Patrick’s driving skills. This stretch was relatively flat with no serious drop-offs, but there were times when the sea was below us as we crept past oncoming buses or trucks.

After the Cliffs of Moher we headed to what was described as a lunar landscape of the Burren – well named. It reminded me of the area around Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia.

And then it was off to the Poulnabrone Dolmen. I’m a huge fan of the #Outlander series by #DianaGabaldon. Although her stories were set in the highlands of Scotland, I could imagine mystical characters touching these portal stones or witches dancing in the moonlight around them.

The stones date back to between 4200BC and 2900BC and no doubt possess some mystical qualities.

On the grounds there were also faerie trees. One of our number, Ann Brennan, was researching faerie stories for a children’s book she was working on. She pointed out one of the famed trees and left tokens of crystal and food for the faeries who blessed our visit. On our way back to Dublin the next day Patrick pointed out a spot where a major highway had been diverted around a faerie tree, so strong is the belief and respect for the traditions.

FaerieTree

 

#AnnBrennan telling faerie tales before placing tokens beneath the tree.

Continuing on with my tree fetish, I had to capture some shots of the way the branches grow in these mystical trees – perfect spots for faeries to climb, hide and keep an eye on things.

And so our adventure came to an end. We had a dinner back at the Old Ground Hotel that night and early the next morning headed back to Dublin. Once again we passed miles of dry stone walls and scenes typical of the Irish countryside. A final dinner was held in downtown Dublin followed by each of us reading something we’d written. The open sharing of experiences was amazing considering what a widely diverse group of people we were. There was a phenomenal amount of talent displayed that night – each piece read leaving us yearning to hear more from each reader.

Dry Stone Wall. Notice how the stones are placed to allow rain or snow to drain through, not stay to freeze, expand and destroy the structure. Clever builders those old craftsmen.

 

Farewell Ireland. I will miss the lilt of your people’s language and laughter, the sense of the mystical and magical that emanates from your very soul. I return to my ‘real’ life forever changed, for the better, I hope.

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Continuing on to Ennis

Jane Simpson greeting one of the ‘locals’.

Those who know me know I’ve been a horse-crazy person my whole life. Somehow, on this trip, I failed to scratch my equine photography itch except as we were leaving the Celtic Crystal spot. Right next door was a Connemara Pony breeding farm so I managed to catch a few shots.

New foal hiding behind his dam – a little camera shy.

 

We stopped for lunch in Galway City and had a chance to wander around the streets. At this point the cold / virus, whatever it was, that I’d been resisting for days really took hold so I made a beeline to a pharmacy right after lunch. Other group members managed to capture shots of the amazing street performers that seemed to be everywhere. Sadly I missed out on most of that – but that’s ok. I’m not really a ‘city’ person anyway.

Our next break came at Coole Park en route to Ennis. It was formerly the home of dramatist and folklorist Lady Gregory who entertained famous writers and cultural icons of her time. There’s an “Autograph Tree” (a Cooper beech) in one of the beautiful gardens featuring carved signatures from Yeats, George Bernard Shaw and many others who spent time there. The 1000 acre park was developed by Lady Gregory’s husband and forebearers as a nature preserve and arboretum. The species of plants, trees and wildlife have inspired numerous literary and works of art. I could have spent all day there – but the bus was leaving for the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis.

A remaining corner from the original house on the estate before it was ceded to the Irish State in 1927.

I am, and have always been, fascinated by trees. Wandering the grounds of Coole Park I was totally intrigued by the scenes unfolding before me, any one of which would have made a wonderful setting for a book or movie.

Textures and faces revealed in the bark of this ancient tree.

Segments of the park were originally separated by stone walls like this.

I indulged my fascination with trees, their shapes, colours and textures. In the ones below I could imagine those long, skinny split branches as legs of an acrobat standing on his head, legs waving in the breeze.

There could be creatures here in these dark woods, reaching out to snag unwary passersby.

The urge to climb this tree and perch high in the branches to see what magical armies might be marching toward us was almost overwhelming. Such amazing settings for stories, folk tales and to stir the imagination.

Brave blossoms forcing their way up to the light and air through tiny crevices in the rock walls!

 

Also posted in BLOG, photography, Travel, writing Tagged , , |

Onward to Ennis

We left the town of Cong after touring the Abbey and exploring the side streets, not to mention a bit of shopping! Then our tour took us through Connemara – surrounded by mountains, punctuated with lakes and bogs. Patrick, our driver, educated us all on how peat is harvested, dried and used, the beauty of the many lakes, and farming practices in the area.

I was totally amazed by the endless ha’penny fences. According to Patrick, centuries ago children were paid a half penny a day to clear stones from fields. They were then used to make these dry stone fences delineating fields and pastures, primarily for sheep. An amazing craft, the fences are built with no mortar and constructed in such a way that any rain or winter snow won’t remain between the stones to freeze and destroy the structure. Mile after mile we saw these perfect, straight and strong fences and were astounded.

Ha’penny fences in Connemara.

Patrick then offered us an opportunity to diverge from our itinerary and visit the Celtic Crystal showroom to experience a demonstration of glass carving. We quickly agreed that this would be a terrific idea. The crystal creations are all created freehand by trained and experienced glass cutting craftsmen. No patterns or templates are used in the manufacture of these individual pieces.

 

 

We watched in fascination as the craftsman took a simple blown-glass bowl and began to cut the patterns, all by ‘eye’, into the crystal. It takes eight years of intensive training and practice to become so skilled in this delicate operation.

The Claddagh design

Irish Harp design on a portion of the 3′ high crystal cup

3′ high hand carved crystal cup.

 

Also posted in BLOG, photography, Travel, writing Tagged , , , , , |

Winter Sunday Sunrise

For many people winter isn’t the most joyous of the seasons. I can be one of those, whining about the cold, the ice, the aches and pains. But, since I have no choice to to head out every day for the benefit of my canine companion Harley, I’m working on retraining myself to see the beauty in all of the seasons.

We walk early in the morning, usually just before or during sunrise. Normally I take a camera, or at least my cell phone with its camera, when we walk. Today, unfortunately, I forgot to take either with me when we set out for our daily stroll down Mulberry Lane. In hindsight, it wasn’t unfortunate at all. Mulberry Lane runs between two large hayfields and the view in any direction is quite lovely. Sometimes the openness of the area is a detriment – like when the wind is blowing a gale across those fields, whipping any available snow into a frenzy that stings cheeks, eyes and fingertips.

Other times, like today, the air was exceptionally warm for late February and the fog lay heavily over the fields, obscuring both sights and sounds. For once we couldn’t hear any traffic on the nearby highway. Our view consisted of the tops of trees poking above the low lying fog clouds. So quiet, so peaceful, it made our pre-dawn walk a joy to the senses.

Once we got home I rushed to get my camera set up on the deck to capture what was left of the most eerie but pleasant feeling from our morning’s endeavours.

 

Sunny winter sunrise in Picadilly, NB

 

Winter sunrise on the hills of Picadilly, NB

Needless to say my constant companion was close at paw to oversee my efforts.

I can barely remember a time when my shadow wasn’t present for everything I do.

Harley watching sunrise

Every day is a gift, meant to be enjoyed, each moment appreciated for what it is.

Also posted in BLOG, seasons, sunrise, winter Tagged , |

Why celebrate? Why not celebrate!

Last Sunday was our friend’s birthday. Chester McMackin turned a youthful 84. So, Judi and I (and Lola in spirit!) decided to celebrate the occasion with our Facebook buddy – face to face rather than keyboard to keyboard. We got together at his favourite coffee spot in Hampton and shared stories, laughter and, of course, cake!

With twinkling eyes and the lilt of laughter in his voice, Chester regaled us with tales of his childhood and more. In other words, life in general.

His dramatic reading of the cleverly written (and dictated by Murphy the horse) tribute from Judi, accompanying the lovely framed portrait, had us and everyone else in the establishment in stitches!

And then the cake appeared – chocolate upon chocolate – causing the recipients (us) to ooohhh and aaahhhh appropriately in anticipation of the sweet delight – such are our peccadilloes.

Armed with a potentially lethal weapon, Chester divided the booty among us – and the party continued!

Not to be outdone by the ladies’ gifts to mark the occasion (framed photo from Judi, fresh homemade shortbread cookies from yours truly!), Chester presented each of us a treasure trove of fudge to take home. Who could resist?

Yep, it was a very good day. We wish our buddy “Chesterkins” a very Happy Birthday and hope we can all celebrate many, many more!

 

Also posted in accomplishments, BLOG, family Tagged , , , |

Making friends – making smiles

I met a new friend today by happenstance. One of my friends on Facebook shared a link to this artist’s blog and it totally resonated with me. I posted a response to her #makeamakersmile blogpost, and she responded to me. We share a philosophy and a deep appreciate for art and landscapes, although we work in different media.

costa-flower-_l2h0700

Do check out her blogpost at https://www.janehunterart.com/blogs/news/make-a-maker-smile. While you’re there, poke around on her website. I hope you’ll enjoy her creations and perhaps even make a purchase. Who knows, this could become an international movement! Meanwhile, here on this side of the Atlantic pond there are many artists as well, several of them living a stone’s throw away. With the madness of Christmas gift giving upon us all, why not give a hand crafted item, book, image, painting or whatever that will be sure to delight the recipient and support a local artist as well.

Also posted in BLOG, Christmas, photography Tagged , , , |

Coping

Everyone has his or her own way of coping with loss or drastic change. For me it means grabbing a camera, putting a leash on the dog, and going for a walk on a country road just to stretch and breathe slowly, letting the stress out with each deep breath.

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Last vestiges of fall foliage

Sometimes if you take the time to peek into the ditches you’ll find remnants of the amazing fall foliage colours the Maritimes are famous for – and it will make you smile in spite of yourself.

Not letting go

Not letting go

And at the edge of the road a loan leaf clings to the naked branch of a bush, its comrades blown away by the last strong wind.

After two weeks of travelling in to the hospital to sit with my mother, brothers and sisters while her life ebbed away, and another week of frantic activity after the not-unexpected 6:a.m. call, the hubbub has slowed and the exhaustion has set in. When you are sad it is hard to get motivated to bundle up against the cold and go outside, but Mother Nature offers solace, encouragement and the rejuvenation needed to keep coping and moving on.

 

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Supermoon (Beaver moon) Rising

Last night I had intended to go out and set up my gear to capture the rising of the Supermoon over the local hills. One of the side effects of grief and attempting to cope is the inability to remember things properly and motivate yourself in a timely way. Instead of preparing, I sat down and ate dinner with my husband, only realizing after the fact that I’d missed that moment of the moon appearing over the crest of the hill. The best I could manage was a quick snap of it rising rapidly through the naked tree branches across the road.

Supermoon setting

Supermoon setting

My alternate plan, since I’m an early riser anyway, was to get out this morning and capture the giant orb setting over the Town of Sussex to the west of us. Mother Nature played a cruel joke on my plan and hid most of the moon behind cloud cover, showing just enough to taunt me!

Look closely and you'll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Look closely and you’ll see the lights of Sussex at the bottom of the photo.

Everyone has different coping strategies. For me it will be more walks with Harley and perhaps a camera over my shoulder too. It’s been a long several months and no matter how prepared for someone’s death you think you are, you aren’t. A death brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Hopefully those who cope by striking out against others will find their way back to those who support each other in coping with the loss of the linchpin that held it all together.

Also posted in Autumn, BLOG, caring, death, emotions, Fall Foliage, family, New Brunswick, photography, rural living lifestyle, seasons, writing Tagged , , |