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.

 

 

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In the garden

In the garden I could generally be described as a failure. When we first moved to our current home the lot definitely needed a little sprucing up, a few additions to brighten the space and make it feel more like a home. So, off I went to our local nursery, #SunNurseries. 

I got lots of advice and when I confessed my total lack of knowledge and or skill in terms of keeping a garden healthy and blooming, they recommended some perennial plants that (at least in theory) even I couldn’t kill (easily). I do believe they were right. That lovely white rose is from one of three double blooming rose bushes that are thriving under my (complete lack of) care. In fact, at the moment, they are covered in delightful buds just waiting to burst forth into full bloom!

The side of the garage was a rather barren looking space, so a perennial bed was created there and we planted an assortment of plants – some flowering (like a lilac bush and some black eyed susans for the fall) and some with interesting foliage (like the now humungous hostas).

To create a bit more colour around the property I added five hanging baskets on the side of our deck plus a planter on the top rail with some gorgeous purple and mauve flowers. Just because we live in a mini-home in a park doesn’t mean our environment has to be barren and dull.

 

I am no gardener, but at least I can make an attempt to brighten our environment and make our yard a pleasant place to be.

 

Posted in BLOG, New Brunswick, photography, seasons Tagged , , |

Friends I’ve finally met!

Today I read the last of the poems in #ThelmaAnnBrennan’s collection entitled #EarthCarriesSpirit published in 2014 by #ChapelStreetEditions in Woodstock, NB. It made me think about the lady who wrote the contents in this anthology and what her words meant to me. I like to think that now she is a friend.

I met #AnnBrennan on my recent trip to Ireland with #GerardCollins and the Go and Write Ireland expedition. Ann was one of the participants, new friends all as we got acquainted with each other. But there was something about Ann – a kinship I felt immediately but couldn’t define.

Ann became our de facto tour guide as a few of us ventured out to explore Dublin. A prolific writer herself, historian and lifelong learner, this wasn’t her first trip to the Emerald Isle. As we roamed the streets, Trinity Library, the parks and the pubs, she regaled us with the history of the places, development and stories of her adventures.

Checking out the lunch menu

Ann’s gentle manner drew us all in as we learned to appreciate her unique viewpoint on Dublin, Ireland and the world in general. In turn, she keeps herself firmly routed in rural New Brunswick.

She’s a Leo

After our stay at Clontarf Castle, we headed to the west coast of Ireland. Again, Ann’s extensive knowledge of both the history and the mythology kept us intrigued.

Bundled up against the stiff breezes at the Cliffs of Moher

Ann’s passion for the faeries of Ireland drew us all in as we explored Poll na Bron – a portal to somewhere, or perhaps some time, else. Standing beneath a faerie tree she told us tales of the wee folk and their powers of regeneration or rebirth of the spirit and the land. And she left tokens to mark our passing through to thank them for their hospitality.

Under the faerie tree

Participating in an adventure like Go and Write Ireland yields unexpected benefits. New friends. New perspectives.

Thank you, Ann, for the gift of your friendship, the copy of your book, and the chance to follow your adventures around the world through your words and rhythms.

Ann Brennan with her Lion at Clontarf Castle

 

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Little rays of hope

Spring seems to be delaying her full arrival here in the Maritimes; but there are little rays of hope.

In the fields full of dandelions…

Dandelion Fields Forever

Or little individual blossoms…

Even in the seed heads past their prime, there is hope. Hope for the summer to come. Hope that the bees find the flowers and drink heartily. Hope for warmth and sunshine and hope for more flowers as well.

 

Dandelion Seed Head spreading the joy.

There is also hope in the lilac blooms finally appearing on the shrubs.

And in the tiny white flowers on the trees…

In other words, it is the season of hope, the season for dreaming and planning for the future. It is the season when we can finally venture outdoors without quite so many layers of warm clothes and, when the sun does shine, it is the season when we feel its warmth on our skin.

Spring does bring us little rays of hope with each lengthening day.

 

 

 

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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!

 

Posted in appreciation, 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.

Posted in appreciation, BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography

The ups and downs of Mothers’ Day week-end

I wandered down the card aisle in my local store last week and suddenly realized that, for the first time in 67 years, I have no mother to buy a card for. That realization hit me like a sledgehammer.

The woman who chose to be my mother when I was just four months old passed away in 1988.

She chose to be a mother – my mother.

The woman who gave birth to me and stepped back into the role of mother for me in 1992 passed away last November.

She gave birth to me – and became my mother, again, in 1992 – giving me the sisters and brothers I’d always wanted.

Instead of two mothers, now I have none.

I became a mother in 1973 and learned what an overwhelming, but totally fulfilling, role that was and remains until the day you die. Your baby remains your baby no matter how old they are, how grown up, married or even parents themselves, you still hold that tiny infant in your heart.

I was so young!

It feels strange to be the oldest generation in my family. I did find a lovely Mothers’ Day card for my daughter-in-law. She’s the mother of my two grandchildren and deserves recognition for that role for sure.

Mothers’ Day carries a lot of emotional baggage – not just for me but for many women out there who are affected by the constant reminders: those who’ve lost children; those who, for whatever reason, didn’t have children; those who are pregnant but not by choice; those whose children have abandoned them; those who were abused by their mothers who should have protected them; and so many more.

Perhaps we should celebrate the day for the concept of motherhood alone – for we wouldn’t be here at all if we hadn’t had mothers, would we?

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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