A Cultural Stew

Posted on November 23, 2017 under Storytelling with one comment

Karen and Jyotsna – stalwarts of Cultural Connections


“ There comes a time, when we heed a certain call,

When the world must come together as one…

We are the world, we are the children,

We are the ones that make a brighter day.”

“ We Are The World.” Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

Antigonish is the home of Coady. Every year, for decades, Antigonish has welcomed leaders from around the world. St.F.X. University and St. Martha’s Hospital, two big engines in our economy also attract many people to our community. And we boast, unabashedly, that we are the “Highland Heart of Nova Scotia.

Do we do a good job of welcoming new people to Antigonish, whether they are foreign workers, international students, professionals or refugees?

A group of interested citizens got together 5 years ago to try and answer this question. Discussions were held with the Director of International Students at St.F.X. who knew the Newcomer Navigator for the Strait region. The idea of a potluck dinner was entertained to allow newcomers and long-time residents of the area to get together to share a meal and make new friendships. St. James United Church, one of the most welcoming places you could find, stepped up and offered their newly renovated kitchen and hall. Several societies at St.F.X volunteered personnel and expertise. The International Potluck was born. The rest, they say, is history.

Rarely in life is a new venture deemed an instant success. When nearly 140 people burst through the door at St. James, the organizing committee realized that they were on to something special.

Do you eat to live or live to eat? I suppose it depends on which part of the world you call home. Most of us take food for granted. For many it is a daily struggle. A potluck is a terrific way for people of different cultures to share their food and their stories with “locals.”

Many of the potlucks are “theme based.” The Philipinno Community has been hosts twice. Cultures such as the Acadians, Chinese, African Nova Scotians, and Celts have all left an indelible mark on the event. The L’Arche drummers are always a crowd favorite.

The organizers were slightly overwhelmed by their own success and had to reduce the number of dinners. They also realized that there was much more to this than just a meal. A wider group was convened to brainstorm with the central question, “How can we make newcomers to our area feel more welcome and supported?”

In step with a broader mandate to build a welcoming community that supports diversity, the group decided that it needed a new name to reflect this reality. Cultural Connections Antigonish now liaises with several other groups in the community including the Immigrant Support Program, Arts Health Antigonish, the Nutrition Department at St.F.X. and the Coady Institute.

If you’re a foodie and you like meeting new people, attending a Cultural Connections Antigonish potluck at St. James is a must. All are welcome. All you need to bring is some food and goodwill.

Antigonish is becoming a melting pot and we are all the richer for it.

We are the world. At least it’s beginning to feel that way.

(With thanks and gratitude to Fran Wittgens )



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In The Sight of The Angels

Posted on November 10, 2017 under Storytelling with 12 comments

MacPherson’s Lament – Highland Games Mass


“ He who sings, prays twice.”

St. Augustine.

A great voice has been stilled.

James MacPherson was Antigonish’s eighth wonder of the world. With his amazing voice and staggering talent, he could have made it big anywhere in the world.  He didn’t seek the limelight. He avoided it much of the time. He chose to stay close to the ones he loved the most, his family, his friends and fellow musicians.

“ I will play for him on my harp, with my lute and ten stringed lyre.”

He was a big man with a big voice and a big heart. When he sang, you felt that you were in the presence of genius. And indeed, you were. He was an extraordinary pipe organ player. He could play with the delicacy of a butterfly and with the power of a thunderstorm.

“ Ave, ave verum corpus natum de Maria virgine.”

Sitting in the choir loft watching James sing, play and direct was an honor. On any given day, the choir was never sure what hymns he would pull out of the filing cabinet. It depended on his mood. Or the atmospheric  conditions. Or the sermon he just heard. Or a reading from the gospel. Inspiration came immediately from the deep well of his musical repertoire.

It’s not easy to play a pipe organ , sing and direct a choir simultaneously. Both hands and two feet are required for the organ. But such was James’ brilliance that he could make it all work. We often marvelled when he would improvise something on the fly. Communion would be winding down and he would just cut loose with reckless abandon, making it up as he went. It was staggering to watch. When he finished, he would look at the choir and say “ you’ll never hear that piece again.”

“ And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings… and hold you in the palm of his hands.”

Special occasions brought out special music. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was one of his favorites . The Our Father and Hail Mary on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day were spine tingling. The Easter music, sung over four days, may have been his favorite.

When the choir was “on”, he would beam with the greatest of joy. He was thrilled when St.Ninian’s started to refurbish the Ozias LeDuc paintings.  He stared in awe when they unveiled St. Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians, positioned appropriately just above the choir loft.

“ Goodness and mercy all my life, will surely follow me,

And in God’s house forever more, a dwelling place shall be.”

He sang for the Pope. He sang for royalty. And now, he sings with the angels.

Rest well, good and faithful servant.




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Getting to The Bottom of It

Posted on November 9, 2017 under Storytelling with 2 comments

Pre-surgery meal


“ This is the end, beautiful friend,

This is the end , my only friend, the end.”

The End. The Doors

I’m not so certain that Jim Morrison of The Doors was referring to the gluteus maximus when he penned this song in the mid 60’s.

None of us is going to live forever. Most  people don’t want to live a long life if they are going to be plagued with poor health. Most people I know, given their druthers,  would choose “ quality of time over quantity of time.” We are all aware of the things that we can do to mitigate risks and give us a fighting chance at longevity. But no one can make us eat properly or get us to exercise. Our doctor ( and our spouses! ) can advocate moderation in all things, especially vices like alcohol, tobacco and sweets. At the end of the day, we are “ masters of our own destiny.”

In other words, doing our best to prevent illness would seem to be a laudable objective.

We are deluged on a daily basis about advances in medicine, especially when it comes to cures for many cancers. Just about every family has a family member or knows someone who is going through cancer. There are many fundraisers in support of “ the cure.”  Billions and billions of dollars are being spent on research in an effort to eradicate this scourge once and for all. Not many would dispute these efforts  but one wonders about the other side of the equation , namely, prevention. I haven’t seen many fun runs in support of “ the prevention.”

Many years ago, Cancer Care Nova Scotia piloted a colon cancer prevention program. It starts with a “ do it yourself” kit that they send to everyone in Nova Scotia between the ages of 54-74. The program is designed to help find cancerous and pre-cancerous growths. The test is done every two years and I have been doing it since inception. To find out more visit http://www.cancercare.ns.ca/en/home/preventionscreening/coloncancerprevention/default.aspx

About 6 weeks ago, I did the test and the results came back as abnormal. I was surprised but not alarmed. My lifestyle is far from perfect but as a non-smoker, non-drinker, an active walker and an adherent  of a reasonably healthy diet, I didn’t think that I would receive this news. Yes, I have been accused on more than one occasion of being full of shit but I thought that that was only a metaphor!

I was strongly urged to have a colonoscopy.

I had an appointment with a nurse at St. Martha’s who walked me through the upcoming procedure. I was told not to worry as, more often than not, cancer is not found. They might have to remove a pre-cancerous polyp but most people come out unscathed.

Do you have a seat belt on your toilet? If you’re going to have a colonoscopy, I would highly recommend one! In the preceding 24 hours  before the day surgery , you’re restricted to clear liquids, starting first thing in the morning. This includes water, black tea or coffee, juices, jello and popsicles. At 4:00 p.m you take four little pills and a fizzy laxative. And then the fun begins. Quickly. I doubt if Mt. Vesuvius experienced eruptions quite like this. And just before going to bed, you consume another glass of the laxative. I can say with utter certainty, that, by sunrise, I had the clearest colon on the planet.

I arrived at the hospital at the appointed hour. After checking in at admitting, I walked down to day surgery and waited to be called. I looked at a chart on the walls seeing what things couldn’t be worn during the test. I sat with the day surgery nurse to complete the last of the paperwork. When she asked me if I had any more questions, I told her that I was quite upset. She looked alarmed but I assured her that I wasn’t one bit worried about the procedure.  I took umbrage that I couldn’t wear make up while the colonoscopy tube was being inserted into my nether regions. We both had a good laugh.

It helps when you know the surgeon who is going to shove a tube up your rectum. We shared a few family stories and even some laughter before the anesthetic was inserted into my IV. I woke up in the recovery room to a good cup of tea and a muffin. I had no recollection whatsoever of the actual procedure. There was a note by my bed from the doctor indicating that they had removed a small polyp from the lining of the colon.

I was picked up by my better half and we drove back to the apartment. En route, I had some fairly serious pains in my abdomen. I wondered if the doctor had taken a detour with the scope . Then I remembered that the colon is inflated during the procedure to give the surgeon a better look.  The gas build up went away quickly.

After no solid food for the better part of 40 hours, I was ravenous. As much as I craved some spicy Indian food, I thought better of that and dined on scrambled eggs and toast… and three Reese’s peanut butter cups, a holdover from Halloween.

I am a big believer in prevention and taking part in this cancer screening program is a great place to start. I received excellent care along the way.

I would like to propose a toast to the health care system: “ Bottoms up.” !




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