Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on July 26, 2023 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

A walk down memory lane

 

“Remember when we said when we turned gray,

When the children grow up and move away,

We won’t be sad, we’ll be glad,

For all the life we’ve had,

 And we’ll remember when.”

Remember When – Alan Jackson

 

Do you ever feel that things are moving way too fast and that you wish the world would slow down? It feels like we just celebrated New Year’s and now the summer is “slip slidin’ away” like a river after torrential rain. Is there a way we can put the brakes on or are we permanently on fast forward?

The other thing that concerns many of us is the general state of the world. Mother Earth is experiencing such extreme weather. Wildfires seem to be breaking out everywhere and at the same time, once in a hundred-year floods seem to be commonplace. The world is beset by wars and conflicts and many of the world’s most important politicians are taking us down very dangerous roads. Democracy, for those who still believe in it, appears to be threatened.  Is the world going to hell in a handbasket? It’s enough to cause one to bury their heads in the sand or, at a bare minimum, in a good book. Escapism is rampant. Just check the stock prices for Netflix’s parent company.

Gee, Len. You’re brimming with optimism this morning.

The greatest form of escapism I know is nostalgia. I wrote a piece last week that was oozing with “the good old days”. I received a lot of feedback and I mentioned to someone that if I could bottle nostalgia and sell it, I would be a wealthy man. Like a runner’s high, I believe that nostalgia releases endorphins! Let’s collectively put our heads in the sand for just a few minutes.

As we make our way through the muggy dog days of summer, let’s put our feet up, pour ourselves a cold one or a cup of courage (also known as coffee) and let our minds wander back to a simpler time when the clock moved slower.

Do you remember?

Do you remember your very first step? Of course, you don’t but I certainly remember many missteps in my life.

Do you remember your first birthday? Hell no. I can hardly remember my 71st birthday let alone my first. I’m sure most of you have a birthday that stands out. My 10th was one of those. My birthday is on the 10th. I was 10 years old, and I had 10 friends attend my party. How’s that for synchronicity?

Do you remember your first day at school? Sadly, yes. Because I was an August baby, I was young to be going off to school. I lasted until lunch time on day 1 and then took an extended leave for a year.

Do you remember your first confession? Only Catholics need to answer this one. Seriously? How many grade 2 children have sinned? It’s an awful thing telling a priest that you’ve sinned when you haven’t. Of course, at your second confession, you can tell the priest that you lied the first time you talked to him. Now, you are a legitimate sinner!

Do you remember your high school graduation? Many of my graduating class met at my parent’s house after graduation for a party. My father opened one beer which twenty of us shared. I believe that this was an early version of “safe grad”!

Do you remember your first job? For the princely sum of $1.00 an hour, I mowed graves at the cemetery. I worked alone and none of the residents complained about the quality of my work! The only time I got a break was when there was a burial.

Do you remember your first kiss? My first kiss was feeble and that’s being generous. It was memorable for me. Not so much for the unfortunate girl.

Do you remember your first love? It was memorable for me. Not so much for the girl. To protect the good name and reputation of this fair lass, I will say no more. Do you see a pattern here? We all remember our first love, usually followed quickly by our first (of many) heartbreaks.

Do you remember your first ice cream cone? There was a famous restaurant in my hometown called The Brigadoon. They had the best ice cream, milkshakes and sundaes. The back of that restaurant was the location of the bus stop.

Do you remember your first car? I bought a VW Beetle in the early 1970’s in Victoria, B.C. I paid $500 for it, and it wasn’t possible to squeeze $5.00 of gas into the tank. It remains my favourite vehicle of all time.

Do you remember the first movie you saw on the big screen? I can’t say with certainty, but I think my first movie that left an impact on me was Ben Hur. In 1959, our allowance was .50 cents. It cost .37 cents to go to the Saturday matinee. That left .13 cents to purchase penny candy at Dot’s canteen just across the street from the Capitol Theatre. With .13 cents, you could buy enough candy to keep all the dentists in Antigonish busy.

Do you remember your first UIC cheque? I contributed to Unemployment Insurance my entire life and drew exactly one cheque back in 1974. A number of my friends back then were on “pogey”, the term most frequently used to describe one’s state of unemployment. “Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No.” If you were out of work, you had to fill in a record of your unemployment status. There were five questions. If you were on pogey, the answers were easy to remember. Very often, when the UIC cheques arrived, we would have a pogey party to celebrate our good fortune. I believe that they now call it Employment Insurance but to my mind, pogey is still pogey!

Do you remember your wedding day? If you don’t, you’re either deceased or in witness protection. There was a hurricane the day before our wedding. It was still very stormy as we walked down the aisle.

Do you remember the birth of your first child? If you are a woman, I am not going to try to explain what you went through. In 1982, this was an era when men took an active part in labour and delivery. It was one of the scariest and most humbling experiences of my life.

Do you remember the first death that you experienced? An elderly neighbour passed away and, back then, the wake was held in people’s homes. It was a strange sensation entering the living room (which seemed like a misnomer on this ocassion!). I distinctly remember the overpowering smell of all the flowers and staring at the lifeless form of someone who once gave you cookies.

Do you remember the first (vinyl) record you bought? Was it a 33, 45 or 78? Being a 10-year-old in the early 60s, it was likely a Beatles record – a safe bet. I had a substantial LP collection which I sold for a song during a yard sale in the 1990s. Who would have believed that vinyl would make a comeback? I would love to listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” on vinyl one more time with a good set of headphones (and some legalized marijuana?!).

Do you remember buying your first home? We bought a very nice, practical, child proof home back in the 1980s for $86,000. Today, that wouldn’t be enough for a downpayment on a house in many Canadian cities. It would, however, buy you a nice truck.

I could go on ad infinitum, but I know that you have better things to do today than to sit with your eyes glazed over, thinking about the good old days.

Get your heads out of the sand and head to the beach and put your feet in the sand.

Have a great weekend.

 

 

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on July 19, 2023 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

It’s about the journey

 

“So put me on a highway,

And show me a sign,

And take it to the limit, one more time.”

Take it to The Limit – The Eagles

“Are we there yet?’

How often have we heard this refrain? For most of us, this simple but oft repeated question, conjures up memories of our youth. We are in the “dog days of summer” and many young families are on the move, going camping or simply taking a trip to the beach to beat the stifling heat and humidity. And as sure as day follows night, someone in the car will ask their parents if they are getting close to the destination, only a scant 10 minutes after leaving home. This theme will persist over our lifetimes.

Are we there yet?

When I was a child, our family often made the trek to Prince Edward Island for summer vacation. There was no Confederation Bridge back then so the only way to get to Anne of Green Gables backyard was by ferry. The ferry terminals on both sides of the Northumberland Strait were always clogged with long lineups of vehicles. There were ten of us and I am quite certain that not all of us travelled at the same time, but as you can well imagine, the car was jammed to the gunwales. Kids and sleeping bags were tossed unceremoniously in every nook and cranny. Of course, this was long before the advent of seat belts. Your brother or a sleeping bag were surrogate air bags. There was no such thing as air conditioning so things could get pretty sweaty. And long before we crossed the county line, someone would invariably wonder if we were close to our destination. Oh those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”.

Are we there yet?

Not every child has the luxury of attending school. We take our education system for granted but in many parts of the world, going to school is a privilege. At the time, it seemed like an eternity but as we inched our way towards completing high school, we anticipated graduation as much as a road trip. We wondered if we would ever be finished with school once and for all.

Are we there yet?

The next phase of life introduced us to the work world and many of us also got married and started having families. Whether it was cloth diapers or the new-fangled Pampers, parents often wondered if we would ever get to the point where our children wouldn’t need diapers. Are we there yet? Just think of the money we would be saving once our young ones were potty trained. How naïve we were. Little did we know that the expensive years were lurking around the corner. Yes. We took our lives and sanity into our own hands and took our children on summer vacations. We bought a camper trailer and after I learned how to back it into a campsite, a sure fire test of marriage vows (!) we had many pleasant outings. Even though we had air conditioning and seat belts, impatience at reaching our destination was the same as it was 60 years ago.

Are we there yet?

For most of us with children, there was a 25 year period, that was a blur. We were busy with jobs, ferrying our children to early morning band classes and driving all over the county to drop off our teenagers to meet up with friends. I’m sure if most parents were honest, they would tell you that, while raising children was the most rewarding thing that they did (except grandparenting!), they often wondered “are we there yet?” Most of us looked forward to the day, when the pressures of parenting would disappear like early morning fog. More naivety.

Are we there yet?

As the years passed, we became conscious that at some point in time, we would have to face the prospect of retirement. After raising and educating children, saving for retirement seemed like a pipe dream. Some of us were lucky and enjoyed our working careers but for many people, getting to the finish line was very much like those early road trips. Will I ever be able to retire and if so, will I ever get there?

Are we there yet?

Many of us are now in a very interesting phase of our lives. We are in our golden years. It has often been said that the only thing golden about retirement years is the color of our pee! We have come to the realization that it is not about the destination but about the journey. Two graphic examples for me are the Boston Marathon and the Camino. I have done them both… twice. I thought that crossing the finish line in Copley Square in Boston or arriving at the great plaza in Santiago de Compostela was the ultimate achievement, but I have come to realize that getting to the destination was the ultimate accomplishment. And so it is with life. The ultimate destination for s senior citizen is a more sobering prospect so it is incumbent to enjoy the ride… with or without seatbelts and air conditioning!

On my recent 800 kilometer walk across Spain, I met a young woman from Australia. Her walking pace was much faster than mine, but she was polite enough to slow down and walk with me for a few hours. She was bright and engaging. She came to Spain after quitting her most recent job and was hoping for some enlightenment about what to do next. Just before we parted I suggested to her that she had plenty of time and would likely change careers several times during her lifetime. I told her that she had “plenty of runway” left while my runway was much shorter. Without breaking stride, she looked at me and said, “Len. Just take a smaller plane”.

My plane is smaller, but the sky is the limit. I plan to take the advice of The Eagles and “take it to the limit” while I still have good health and time.

Are we there yet?

I hope not!

Fasten your seatbelts.

Have a great weekend.

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on July 12, 2023 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

 

Warming up after a walk in the rain

 

“Reflections of my life,

Oh, how they fill my eyes.”

Reflections of my Life – Marmalade

It’s a natural thing to be reflective. While we are repeatedly told to “live in the moment”, it’s hard not to look back from time to time and review our life in the rear-view mirror. It’s just a normal part of the aging process. The key is not to dwell too much on the past. As Chad and Jeremy once crooned, “But that was yesterday, and yesterday’s gone”. And then there’s tomorrow. Anticipating what’s coming next can evoke a lot of emotions.

I have been in a reflective mood for the past two weeks after returning home from my second walk across Spain. It’s hard to replicate a first experience. First love. First car. First job. Sometimes a first experience is one that you never want to go through again while others are magical. My first Camino in 2019 would be in that magical category. I had never tackled a long walk before. I loved everything about it, minus the blisters. I met many extraordinary people from all over the world and wrote about them in my 6th book called “Eat, Sleep and Walk: Stories From the Camino”.

Many of my readers are not on Facebook and as a result did not get to see my twice daily posts from my recent Camino walk. Each day, morning and afternoon, I posted pictures of things I saw along the route along with a brief commentary. Now, I certainly don’t plan to use this space trying to re-create my walk in its entirety – all 800 kilometres, but I’ll give you a few of the highlights.

The Camino Frances (The French Way) begins in the city of St.Jean Pied de Port in southern France and the first leg of the journey, one has to navigate the Pyrenees mountains before arriving in Spain. Having travelled the previous day from Canada, I decided to take it easy on Day 1and only walked 8 kilometres to Orrison. This turned out to be a smart move as that initial phase of the Camino is straight up the side of the mountains. I was in reasonably good shape arriving in France, but I must admit that I was huffing and puffing by the time I arrived in Orrison. The vistas were spectacular until I reached my destination and then the fog and rain arrived. On that very first night, I met Biljana from Slovenia and Casper from The Netherlands and they would be constant companions for the next two weeks.

Prior to doing this walk, I had done a lot of research to see if I could avoid the blister curse. Walking 25-30 kilometres a day wreaks havoc with one’s feet and blisters are as common as poppies on the Camino. The first three days were incredibly challenging, especially navigating the sides of rock-strewn mountains. Miraculously, after three days, I didn’t have a single blister. I was giddy at the prospect of walking pain free. That illusion was swept away on Day 4 as several nasty blisters appeared out of nowhere. From that point on, it was like “whack-a-mole”. No sooner would I get one blister under control than another would pop up. Things got so bad that on Day 9, I had to stop and take a rest day as it was too painful to walk. At that point, I wasn’t discouraged but I felt that my Camino was in jeopardy.

On Day 20, I spent two days in the city of Leon and received some excellent footcare from a first-class podiatrist. Even though my feet were a mess, she said that I could continue on my quest without incurring any risk.

Prior to Leon, Casper had to return home and Biljana had time constraints and was going to be doing some long days. As a result, I was on my own once again. It didn’t take very long to inherit a new “Camino family”. While we rarely walked together (everyone walks at their own pace), we planned our days so that we would end up in the same villages or towns at the end of the day. Veasna, Jannis, Silke, Sarah and Di became fast friends. We would all end up at the finish in Santiago de Compostela within 24 hours of each other.

Of course, food and drink are important aspects of the Camino. Tapas and red wine are staples on the Camino… and very tasty and inexpensive, I might add. Wine is so cheap and plentiful in Spain that at most restaurants, they offer guests a bottle of water or bottle of wine as a beverage! In the city of Melide, I tried a local favourite – octopus or pulpo as it is known in Spain. We went to a famous restaurant in the city which is known for their pulpo. The octopus is cooked in huge pots, similar to what we might use in Nova Scotia to cook lobsters. The pulpo was lightly seasoned and I must admit that despite the look and texture of a cooked octopus, I found it quite tasty.

The focal point of my walk was to disperse my brother Tom’s ashes at the highest point of the Camino. In 2018, Tom walked the Camino and scattered the ashes of his great friend, Mark. When they were young men, they vowed that in their old age, they would do a simple walk (!) like the Camino. Sadly, neither Tom nor Mark grew old. Tom passed away from cancer in 2019 and I wanted them to be reunited. The weather was absolutely stunning on Day 24 when my small Camino family gathered with me to reunite two buddies.

After scattering Tom’s ashes, the rest of that day’s walk was enormously difficult. Ask anyone who has done the Camino and they will likely concur that the 18 kilometres from the highest point on the Camino to Molinaseca is the most demanding. It is all downhill and the terrain is very rocky and uneven. One has to pay attention to every step. The only saving grace is that it wasn’t raining. I had visions of me sliding down the side of the mountain on my bum. It might have been difficult to explain blisters on one’s arse!

The day ended on a high note as me and my friends celebrated Tom’s life with a magnificent feast in the city of Ponferrada.

And speaking of rain. Overall, the weather was just about perfect. The mornings were cool and clear, especially on those days when I headed out at 5:00 a.m. I’m sure that not everyone would be keen to walk through a forest in total darkness, save for the headlamp that I was wearing. I found these mornings profoundly peaceful. The further west we walked, the hotter the afternoons became and almost every day around 4:00 there was a violent thunder and lightning storm. Because I was an early riser and was only walking 26 kilometres a day, I was off the road long before the storms arrived.

One of my favourite memories was the day that Billie, Casper and yours truly arrived in the small village of Luquin. From time to time, a pilgrim has the option of taking an alternate route. On this particular day, we took a mountain trail which was spectacular. I was the first to arrive in Luquin. I sat in the local bar having some food and beverage. There was only one alburgue in the village and as fate would have it, the owner was also at the bar. She told me that the alburgue was open and unattended and that I could just go over whenever I felt like it. There was no formal check-in and an hour later, Billie and Casper arrived. We had the alburgue to ourselves. The most violent storm erupted with pounding rain and hail. After supper, we sat around, and I played tunes while the storm raged. This was one of my best moments on the Camino.

In all honesty, I never checked the weather once the entire time I was on the Camino. On one memorable day, (Day 12) the buzz around the alburgue early in the morning was that there was a 0% chance of rain that day. I had just passed through the town of St.Juan and entered some deep woods when I heard a rumbling off in the distance. My first thought was that it was a train but as I got further into the woods, it got very dark. I felt a few raindrops and immediately got out my foul weather gear. A few kilometres later, I exited the forest and now I was completely out in the open, exposed to the elements. It turned into a terrific thunder and lightning storm including torrential rain and hail. Now, standing out in the open, with a pair of walking poles, in a thunder and lightning storm is probably not the smartest thing but I had nowhere to go so I decided to embrace the situation. I actually quite enjoyed it and when I arrived at my alburgue in Atapuerca, looking like a drowned rat, a group of us gathered around a table to exchange stories… and wine! Early that evening, I went to a local pub and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in front of a roaring fire with a new Camino friend, Steffi. That night was the only time in 33 days that I was relegated to a top bunk bed. Realizing that getting out of a bunk bed at 3:00 a.m. to pee was going to be a major pain in the butt, I simply hauled my mattress down to the floor where I slept comfortably!

So much for 0% chance of rain.

It didn’t happen very often but whenever I arrived at my accommodation, and there was a guitar nearby, I played tunes. This was always a lot of fun.

I am pleased to report that the last five days on the Camino, I walked pain free as my blisters started to toughen up.

I must admit that I didn’t feel the same excitement walking into Santiago de Compostela on the final day of my walk as I did in 2019. It was more of a relief to get off my feet. When the others arrived, we went out for a final dinner and the next day we went our separate ways. Parting in these situations is difficult as a strong bond had formed over the weeks.

I spent my last few days in Portugal, first in Porto (a great city) and then Lisbon. I was told that if I was in Lisbon, that a must see was Sintra, a Portuguese town featuring many historic buildings, including the famous multi-colored Palacio Nacional da Pena, one of Europe’s finest palaces. This is a major tourist attraction and an UNESCO World Heritage site. In other words, this city is crawling with tourists.

Now, there is the small matter of getting to the palace and various castles on this large acreage. They are high up in the mountains. The vast majority of sensible people take a bus, taxi, tuktuk or private vehicle to get to the top. The remaining .5% walk up the mountain. I decided to go to the tourist information centre to check out my options. The young woman who chatted with me, strongly advised me to take public transportation to the top of the mountain. She said that it was an arduous climb and would take me at least 90 minutes. Having climbed a lot of difficult mountains in the previous five weeks, I was not daunted by this prospect. However, had I known that I would have been climbing a very steep mountain, I would have brought along my hiking boots and poles. I had no poles and was wearing flip flops!

Early on in my ascent, I came across a husband and wife and their two young, teenage children. I tucked in behind them and while the going was tough (I even walked barefoot for a while as the flip flops were a serious impediment to climbing), we made it to the top in 45 minutes. As one would expect with a major tourist attraction, coupled with the end of school, it was chaos at the entrance to the royal grounds. Had I done my homework, I would not have been surprised to find out that one had to reserve tickets to gain entry. I queued up to purchase a ticket and realized that I would have to wait nearly 4 hours before I could get in. It didn’t take me long to make up my mind. I took a tuktuk down the mountain and went to a restaurant where I had the most delicious sardine sandwich and a monster piece of apple pie.

And now, I am home and reflecting on my second Camino. After any major experience, there is bound to be a letdown. There’s an emptiness that creeps in and I’m feeling this like most of my Camino friends. However, there are more roads to walk and mountains to climb.

Just days after returning home, my brother sent me a link to another walk. This one starts at Land’s End in southern England and ends in John O’Groats at the northern tip of Scotland. It is 1200 miles long (1900 kilometres) or more than twice as long as the Camino.

Who knows?

“These boots were made for walking…”

Have a great weekend.

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