Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on January 24, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

We are family


“We are family,

I got all my sisters (and brothers!) with me.

We Are Family – Sister Sledge

Warning. If you’re under the age of 60, please check your gag reflex as I once again go down that dreaded and well-trodden road, “the good old days”.

Most of my stories start innocently enough. Somebody makes a passing comment, or I see something online that catches my attention, and I’m off to the races.

Last week, I was travelling back home from “The Hawk” with a few work colleagues. We swapped stories about our day at school. We were all teaching grade 6-8 students. This is not an easy age for young people…or teachers. Never was and never will be but arguably, it is much more difficult being a teenager in 2024. There are so many more distractions with the proliferation of social media. Case in point. Whenever I grant a few minutes of “free time” at the end of class, the first thing the students ask is can they use their cell phone. Mercifully, most schools have a policy that requires students to deposit their phones in a pouch in a “phone bank” hanging on the wall as they enter a classroom.

My young colleagues were curious to know what I was like as an eighth grader, as it appears that this remains one of the most challenging grades.

Now, all of us have selective memories and maybe we choose to forget most of the bad stuff of our youth and choose to simply remember the good times. My siblings might have their own take on what I was like at 14. I won’t ask them to preserve my dignity.

I told my friends that I have fond memories of my youth. I liked school, I played a lot of sports and don’t recall any panic attacks or dealing with anxiety. My theory is that I was fortunate to grow up in a big family. We learned how to share, how to get along (most of the time) and how to have each other’s backs when things went sideways. Singing together and saying the rosary were staples. We also learned a lot about discipline and respect. I am not going to suggest that the present generation eschews discipline and respect. In the 60s, there was a delicate mixture of fear and respect – at home and in school. It was unthinkable to question authority.

I had a great chat with a school custodian the other day. Anyone with an ounce of wisdom knows that custodians and school secretaries are the most important people in schools. They know everything that’s going on. We were bemoaning the fact that it is almost impossible to discipline students in 2024. Certainly not in the fashion of 50 years ago. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Each of us had several stories about punishment inflicted upon us when we went astray as youths. Nuns were notorious for cracking our knuckles with a ruler. Our parents weren’t reluctant to use the same instrument on our backsides. We concluded our discussion, agreeing that a swift kick in the arse never did us any harm.

My big, unwieldy family went their separate ways after high school and university and we had siblings on either coast and several provinces in between. In retirement, most of us ended up on the east coast with several of us back in our hometown.

If you read last weeks’ piece (shame on you if you didn’t!), you might remember that I used the expression “everything old is new again”. Even though we’ve had our differences over the years, we now seem to be at a stage of quasi-permanent peace. We have accepted each other’s idiosyncrasies and enjoy getting together. Two things that have resurfaced which bring me great joy are the two things that bonded us in our youth: music and food. From time to time, we get together and sing some of the oldies at the Museum summer ceilidhs. We usually get together for a rehearsal even though we’ve been singing the same songs for 70 years. My sister usually hosts these practices and bribes us to show up by providing homemade pie at the end of the rehearsal.

Our sister also hosts a monthly dinner at her home. I wouldn’t miss these for anything. We reminisce and we spend most of the meal laughing and poking fun at each other. My sister prepares good old-fashioned meals, the ones our mother taught us to make oh so many years ago. Breaded chicken breast, mashed potatoes (the way mom made them!), mashed turnip, carrots and peas. The desserts are mom’s as well. Cottage pudding: white cake with a warm, caramel sauce.

A few of us have resumed playing bridge.

Simple pleasures. Fond memories.

At my age, I don’t want or need material things. Give me experiences. Good for the heart and soul.

Families. Sometimes you can’t live with them but in the end, you can’t live without them.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. I saw this in a book I’m reading: “In life, you have to learn to count the good days. You have to tuck them in your pocket and carry them around with you.” I like this sentiment.

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on January 17, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with no comments yet

Then and Now

(Source of image unknown)


“Your old road is rapidly agin’,

Please get out of the new one,

If you can’t lend a hand,

For the times they are a-changin’.”

The Times They are A-Changin – Bob Dylan

Most of the time, I hate Facebook. It used to be a place to share messages with friends near and far, but it has turned into a huge dumpster filled with ads, memes and ridiculous “touch the…” to determine your personality. But like sugar and cigarettes, it somehow remains addictive.

Last Sunday while picking my way through the online trash, I saw the cartoon that you’re looking at attached to this post. As a hopeless nostalgic, I couldn’t resist adding my two cents worth. A “penny for my thoughts?”

So, to all of you septuagenarians, I pose the question: Was it more fun being 20 in the 70s or being 70 in the 20s?

For me, this is a slam dunk.

As mentioned in last week’s post, I love being the age I am today. Most (not all!) mistakes have been made and lessons learned, with a modest accrual of wisdom. In the 1970s, most of us were just starting our careers of screwing things up.

But, oh, the fun we had doing it.

Last week, I hitched a ride to Port Hawkesbury to substitute teach. I no longer own a car. Thankfully, I don’t actually have to hitchhike which was one of the great rites of passage 50 years ago. Not many of my 20-year-old friends owned a car. If you wanted to go to Halifax to catch a concert or a sporting event, you just meandered out of town and stuck your thumb in the air. Occasionally on a rainy day, you would get a bath from a motorist. The thumb was then replaced by the middle finger. Just about every university student in my hometown owns a car these days.

My “chauffeur” was a sports and music enthusiast so needless to say, the drive to and from “The Hawk” was a delight. I told him about hopping on the rail liner at the east end of Main Street, heading to the Forum in Montreal to watch my (then) beloved Habs. I regaled him with stories of watching” Le Gros Bill” (Jean Belliveau) feeding a crisp, perfect pass across ice to a streaking “Big M” (Frank Mahovlich). Sitting up for 24 hours, much of it spent in the smoky bar car, was legendary.

On our way home at the end of the day, our discussion turned to music. My friend told me that he and his wife are music lovers, particularly music from the 60s and 70s. For a man in his 40s, he had an encyclopedic knowledge of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Neil Young, James Taylor… and on and on. He mentioned that he saw Dylan twice in concert and was nonplussed. He also mentioned Pink Floyd. I am aware that vinyl is making a huge comeback. He told me that he and his wife routinely purchase albums at Taz in Halifax. I was curious about the price, having paid the princely sum of $3.14 for Neil Young’s Harvest album at the campus bookstore at St.F.X. in 1972. He told me that most albums are in the $29.95 range with some going as high as $69. I understand inflation. Back in the early 70s, I could fill my VW Beetle for $5.00.

When I lived in Victoria in the early to mid- 70s, I had a terrific stereo system. I also lived in a dive and paid the princely sum of $85 a month rent. You might think that this was a steal, but you never saw “The Bongo Pad”. I think that my sound system cost me more than if I had purchased the ten-unit complex! I was in Victoria in 2023 and that building is still there. It might be the eighth wonder of the world. I could write a book about all the strange characters who lived there.

At the end of a work week, I would walk back from the mill to my apartment, pop a cold one, light a candle and slap “Dark Side of the Moon” onto the turntable. With headphones firmly attached to my skull, I would close my eyes and listen to the opening thumps of “Breathe”. Whenever I hear a cut from that album, I am instantly transported back in time.

One more vinyl replay. During my undergraduate years at St.F.X. I spent way too much time in the excellent music library at the Angus L. MacDonald library and too little time in the stacks. They had state of the art equipment and when I needed my music fix, I would grab the Simon and Garfunkel Bridge Over Troubled Water album, along with a set of headphones and head to a sound booth. One of my favourite cuts was Keep The Customer Satisfied. I loved hearing the sounds stream from one ear to the other.

Of course, vinyl albums had their day in the sun (or so we thought) and we moved on to cassettes, 8-tracks, CD’s. Today, you can dial up Spotify and get any song you ever heard in a nanosecond.

I once owned an impressive collection of vinyl albums. I had all The Beatles albums, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Buffalo Springfield, Carole King, James Taylor, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Moody Blues, Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison, The Who, and several hundred more. I treated them like newborns, and I kept them in pristine condition. When the tide went out on vinyl and I was no longer playing them, I (gasp) sold them all for a few bucks at a yard sale. Other than purchasing Tech stocks in the early 2000s, this was one of the worst financial mistakes of my life.

The tide goes out but it comes back in.

But how was I to know that “everything old is new again”.

Being 20 in the 70s was a gift that kept on giving. We were young and carefree and other than relatively small student loans, we didn’t have a lot of pressure or responsibilities. At least, I didn’t. I managed to remain single into my 30s.

My greatest accomplishment of the 70s was surviving them.

And now, I am in my 70s in the 2020s.

In some ways, life moves more slowly. We don’t move as quickly or athletically. We have physical aches and pains and plenty of emotional scars but here we are, in all of our imperfections. However, time seems to march on at a frantic pace. Most of us are content to hang around home, reading a good book, enjoying a simple meal and taking power snoozes.

I loved my 20s and I love my 70s… and everything in between.

“We’ve been through some things together,

With trunks of memories still to come,

We found things to do in stormy weather,

Long may you run.”

Long May You Run – Neil Young

Long may you run.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. The “Death Café” scheduled for last Thursday was postponed due to inclement weather. I have been asked to sing a few tunes for the gathering when we meet in a few weeks’ time. I have chosen John Prine’s Please Don’t Bury Me and Bob Bylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. After the postponement, I’m thinking of adding one more… Stayin’ Alive!



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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on January 10, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

Chair yoga


And… they’re off!

The first week of the New Year is behind us. New year. New beginnings. Leap year.

For many people, the start of a new year signals an opportunity for a reset. I’m one of those people who don’t hold much stock in New Year’s Resolutions. I find this an arbitrary and artificial exercise. I haven’t done exhaustive research on the subject, but my gut instinct is that the success rate is very low. It’s very difficult to just hit a switch to make changes in one’s life.

I was substitute teaching last week and my students were asked to list 5 New Year’s Resolutions and the positive outcomes that these might have. After listening to predictable responses, they asked me about my resolutions. I pointed out that I don’t go by the start of a calendar year. I set goals at times that are not date specific. For example, at the end of the summer when beer and barbeques had garnered much of my attention in July and August, I decided that it was time to change the script. The telltale sign of having to move to the next hole on my belt was all the motivation I needed to smarten up.

I have chronic back pain. So do many of my faithful readers. A while back, I decided to increase my core strength by starting a regime of situps and pushups. My plan was to start modestly – one situp and one pushup a day, increasing this weekly. If I was able to execute this plan, then theoretically, I would be able to do 52 of each by the end of one year. What a joke. The first pushup was respectable but when I got down on the floor to attempt the situp, my back laughed at me and said, “No way”. I don’t get discouraged easily. I decided that I had to exercise my back before attempting another situp. I have resumed chair yoga and hope that over time, I will become stronger and more flexible.

I don’t know about you but to keep myself accountable, I find it both useful and necessary to write down my goals and look at them regularly. I have my chair yoga chart and put a checkmark in my notebook every day. Ditto for my water chart.

I am a big believer in setting goals. New Year’s resolutions… not so much.

If you could choose one age that was your favorite, what would it be? This question was posed to a group of grade 6 students last week. It wasn’t my question. It was part of the lesson plan. I thought the question was a bit premature for a group of 12-year-olds who are just getting started on their long journey. One response caught my attention. One young girl said that she couldn’t wait until she turned 21 so that she could take all of her anxieties and “throw them into the trash can”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that at the age of 21, the stress meter would just be starting in earnest. That led to a wholesome discussion about stress and how to manage it. I told the class that eliminating stress was next to impossible. We will always have some stress in our lives, in varying degrees. I still believe that walking is the best stress buster. And lemon meringue pie!

The students turned the tables on me and asked me what has been my favorite age. I paused for a few seconds. I had to admit that right now was pretty darn good. Despite some aches and pains which is par for the course for septuagenarians, most of the heavy lifting of life is behind us. I have lots and lots of friends and I live simply. I think that’s a pretty good recipe for contentment. I try and laugh once a day.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. On Thursday, January 11th. at 7:00 p.m., I will be at People’s Place library to do a presentation for the Armchair Traveller series. I will be showing images from my recent 800 kilometre Camino walk in Spain.

P.P.S. I attended a “death café” yesterday which I will discuss in a future piece.



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