Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

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

A stroll down memory lane

 

“Memories,

Like the corners of my mind,

Misty watercolor memories,

Of the way we were.”

The Way We Were – Barbara Streisand

Quickly. What is the first thing that crossed your mind when you saw the picture in this post?

The human brain. Easily the most astonishing part of the human body weighing in at around three pounds, the brain is “a complex organ that controls thought, memory, emotion, touch, motor skills, vision, breathing, temperature, hunger and every process that regulates our body.” Johns Hopkins.

And if you’re counting, there might be upwards of 100 billion neurons, our own version of the Milky Way which contains billions of stars.

Now, “dear gentle reader” (I sound a bit like Lady Whistledown from Bridgerton!), why on earth have I chosen the human brain, and more specifically, memory, for today’s missive?

I saw the picture of the schoolbooks wrapped in brown paper and my brain instantaneously carried me back in time over 60 years when we all had to cover our school textbooks. On the first day of school, we were handed all the books we would need for the year. We immediately marched home after school and the first order of business was to cover these books. Every household had a large roll of brown paper. With eight of us all vying to complete the task simultaneously, it was the definition of chaos. I learned at a very early age that I lacked some core competencies, one of them being the ability to wrap things. Fast forward to wrapping Christmas presents. I was an abject failure at this and kissed the ground of the person who invented gift bags.

How does the brain process so much information at warp speed? When I saw the picture, I could quickly visualize our kitchen table covered in brown paper, scotch tape and markers. And in the same breath, I thought about that same table and the same roll of paper as we gathered around to package a side of beef from John D’s Meat Market. Each sibling was assigned a task. Weigh the meat (ground beef, roasts etc.) on an ancient baby scale, cut an appropriate size piece of brown paper, wrap the meat, tie it up with string and indicate the contents and weight. Transport to the freezer in the basement.

All of these images created by a simple photo.

Of course, this took me down that rabbit hole we call nostalgia. I thought about the large barrel of powdered milk (Starlac) which produced some of the most unsavory, warm, lumpy milk imaginable. Some of you might remember the packages of margarine, the ones with a dab of coloring which you had to squeeze to make it come out looking like actual margarine.

My mind drifted to the rotary telephone. One of the blessings of the old technology is that you had the opportunity to slam the phone down on an unwanted caller. Very therapeutic.

Nesbitt orange soda bottle caps.

K-Tel.

Writing out the lyrics of songs by repeatedly lifting the needle off of the vinyl record.

All of these things are stored somewhere in this giant processor inside our skull.

Sadly, as time marches on relentlessly, memories fade and some of our neurons stop firing. Nowhere is this more evident than in an Alzheimer’s unit. Last week, I had the privilege of playing music at one of our local nursing homes. I performed for a large gathering in one of the lounges and afterwards went to the Alzheimer’s unit. If you haven’t been to one, it can be a sobering experience, especially seeing people you grew up with.

This awful disease has robbed so many people of their memory and dignity.

Last week, I included a quote at the end of my piece which bears repeating. I saw this while reading a book by Jodi Picoult. Not to press the point too far but reading a book illustrates the power of the brain. As the words are lifted off the page with our eyes, the brain instantaneously converts the words into images. Every person reading the same lines sees the image differently.

I digress.

“If you ask me, music is the language of memory.” Jodi Picoult

This is apparent in an Alzheimer’s unit. Electrifying might be a stretch. Maybe heartwarming is a more apt description. It seems like it takes a while for old neurons to start firing when your memory bank is almost empty. But fire, they do. I discovered that a woman who was staring blankly into space, was originally from Mabou, the heart of Celtic music. I asked her husband, who was visiting, what musicians she liked most. Not surprisingly it was the Rankins and John Allan Cameron. I played Four Marys. You know what it’s like when you decorate your Christmas tree and turn on the lights. It’s magical. A few lines into the song, the most beautiful smile, bordering on angelic, broke out on her face. She was struggling to find the words but there was no doubt that she recognized the tune. Another resident sitting nearby was unresponsive for most of the time I was there. When I played Mairi’s Wedding, one of the amazing staff came over and the two of them danced. Pass the tissues.

I couldn’t agree more with Jodi. Music IS the language of memory.

That’s a wrap.

Thank God for gift bags!

Have a great weekend.

 

 

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Posted on July 3, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with no comments yet

On the wings of a dove.

 

“School days, school days, dear old golden rule days,

Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.”

“School Days” – Cobb and Edwards

I recently finished up another school year as a substitute teacher. Over the past two years, I think I have taught every conceivable subject and have seen students from as young as pre-primary to grade 12.

I have a few observations.

First of all, some clarification. I did not technically “teach” every subject at every grade level. No school administrator in their right mind would turn me loose in an auto mechanic shop or woodworking shop and ask me to instruct.  Liability insurance has its limits. Let’s just say that in addition to shop, at a minimum, I have taught, and in many cases observed, Gaelic classes, grade 12 physics, music, physical education. “Cead mile failte.”

I have also filled in for guidance teachers, a case of the blind leading the blind!

What has changed since I entered the teaching profession 48 years ago?

In many ways, the model hasn’t changed much. An educator stands at the front of a group of students in a rectangular classroom and imparts knowledge. The students consume this information and regurgitate it in some form. The tools for instructing and learning have changed significantly with Smartboards, Chromebooks and Google Classroom but the principles are more or less unchanged. Principals have changed, or should I say, their job description. Like hockey, the enforcer role, has all but been eliminated.

I spent most of my substitute days with Junior High students. This has always been a very challenging age. I need not elaborate. Back in the dark ages, a teacher’s primary role was to teach. The students listened, teachers had the support of the parents, and authority was rarely challenged.

These days it is difficult to tell just who is in charge.

The cases of anxiety amongst students (and teachers!) have risen dramatically over the years. In my own mind, there is little doubt that the internet and social media are the main culprits. I am neither a psychiatrist, physician, or addictions counsellor but I think internet addiction is very real. Students and adults alike are tethered to their electronic devices. Walk into a school cafeteria these days. They are still very noisy places but virtually every student is holding a cell phone. One wonders what this is doing to our collective brains.

Hands up. How many of you know the name Ken Dryden? If you’re a hockey fan, you know that he was a storied goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens back in the 1970s. Some of you remember him as a Member of Parliament. He is also a prolific author. Ken is smart and thoughtful. A “must read” for educators (IMHO) is Ken’s book “In School: Our Kids, Our Teachers, Our Classrooms”.

What actually goes on in schools?

Ken decided to find out. From September 1993 until June 1994, he attended a high school in Ontario moving from class to class. Even though this was written more than a quarter of a century ago, many of the problems plaguing schools continue to exist. His observations are still relevant.

It’s easy for armchair quarterbacks to lay out the myriad of problems facing the education system but there don’t appear to be any easy solutions.

I do know one thing for certain. Schools have always leaned heavily on secretaries and janitors. I have always felt that these were key positions in schools. More than anybody, these people know EVERYTHING that’s going on.

I also tip my hat to TA’s (Teacher Assistants). They work extremely hard with some of our students who face significant challenges.

I know that my opinion won’t be roundly applauded but I think we could use a bit more of the ‘hick’ry stick’.

Do you remember when you were sure footed? When you were brimming with confidence? When you rarely screwed up? When your mind was like a steel trap?

Neither do I!

“And there’s a rose, in the fisted glove,

Where the eagle flies with the dove.”

Love The One You’re With – Stephen Stills (Of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame)

I’m a lifelong list maker. I know. I know. You can just as easily make a list on your portable electronic device but it’s hard to break lifelong habits. Now, being Scottish, I don’t go out and buy fancy stationery for lists or even use post it notes. I never waste paper (I also eat leftovers for three days) so I routinely cut up used paper (drafts of my stories) into strips and these I use for my lists.

I usually have a couple of lists sitting on my dining table. When I run out of a food item, I immediately write it down for my next trip to the grocery store, lest I forget and have to make a second trip to the store. The other list is more generic. It is more like my “to do” list. Return library book. Learn the lyrics to (Enter name of song), visit so and so in the hospital.

Two important things about lists. Don’t leave them at home when you head out to do your errands and secondly, make sure you actually read the list…and check off each item as you go along.

I do a Costco run every couple of months. Yes. I have a Costco list and when I run out of something it goes on the list. A few weeks ago, I made my way to Dartmouth Crossing. It was an unusually quiet day at Costco. It may have had something to do with the temperature similar to that in Kuwait. In other words, the aisles weren’t crowded and gasp, I even did a bit of browsing, a very dangerous thing to do in this store.

You must be wondering why a person living alone buys things in bulk. When you crunch the numbers, it does make a lot of sense especially when you travel to the city regularly to visit family and friends.

I have a closet. Actually, I have several. One is for my unsold books; one is for cleaning supplies and dry goods like toilet paper, paper towels; one for towels and one for my extensive wardrobe. Now, I know that some of you routinely switch out your wardrobe when the seasons change but if I did that, my closet would be empty. I am a minimalist and that might be the understatement of the year when it comes to clothing.

Returning home from Costco, I started to put things away. In my dry goods closet, I also keep toothpaste and other toiletry items like razor blades, shaving cream and bars of soap (Dove unscented). And anti-perspirant. When I opened this closet, to my chagrin, I realized that I had just purchased a second box of Dove Men Care deodorant. I now have enough deodorant to start trafficking it. In fact, I reckon that I have enough anti-perspirant to keep me smelling just fine until the Second Coming.

Because I made the fatal mistake of browsing at Costco, I inadvertently bought something I didn’t need and forgot something that I needed which was on my list.

So much for lists.

Steel trap? Highly unlikely at 72.

No fools. No fun.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Saw this and love it. “If you ask me, music is the language of memory”. Jodi Picoult

 

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Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on June 26, 2024 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

A Tor Bay Treasure

 

There are hidden treasures in every nook and cranny of Nova Scotia.

When I was younger, I was always in a hurry to get from point A to point B. I rarely chose the secondary highways in my haste to get to where I was going. These days, I have shifted gears and now I crave slower speeds and “the road less travelled”.

I was eager to see my daughter perform with Shiretown, a band based out of the town of Guysborough. Jess and Greg Favaro are well-known locals who have been performing and teaching music for decades. I have discovered (once by accident a few weeks ago when I took a wrong turn after getting off the Country Harbour ferry) that one can get to Charlos Cove a number of different ways. On this particular day recently, we chose to drive down Highway 16 through the unspeakably beautiful Boylston, hugging the shores of Chedabucto Bay, the town of Guysborough and onwards towards Larry’s River.

Perched on the rugged shoreline of Tor Bay in Guysborough County, sits a little slice of paradise. In a setting that can only be considered idyllic is the iconic Seawind Landing Country Inn.

I only knew of Seawind by reputation. Many locals (and international travellers) go there regularly for a quiet getaway, a fine meal or a concert. Or you can do as I did and go for the whole package.

The first sensation one gets is tranquility. The property is immaculate and expansive. I can’t imagine that it ever feels crowded.

We were given a warm welcome by co-owner Ann Marie Bagnall and her dog, Teddy. Our room was well appointed and cozy. Prior to dinner, I walked around the grounds and found several small paths leading through the woods to bluffs overlooking the Bay. I hummed a few bars of “Peaceful Easy Feeling”.

Ann Marie and David discovered Charlos Cove seventeen years ago. It might have been a case of “love at first sight”.

Many years ago, the couple were living in Edmonton with challenging jobs. Ann was working as an accountant for an oil and gas company while Dave was in radio. Both jobs were demanding.

It all started with the purchase of a bell.

When Ann Marie and Dave started dating, they bought a bell at a gift shop in Kingston saying that it would look good gracing the front desk at an inn, a la Bob Newhart. When the stress and demands of work became too much, Ann Marie started scouring the net looking for an inn for sale.

“When we came out to see Seawind Landing, it was one of those beautiful September nights. The moon was huge and hanging in the sky over Tor Bay, creating a moonlit path. The buoy was doing its bong bong in the water, the seals were barking on the far shore, a gentle breeze was blowing – we were hooked. We looked at each other and could hardly believe that this could be ours. So, we dove on in.”

A recent addition to the Inn is a fabulous new dining room which doubles as a performance venue for musicians. My friend and I got to sit with the band for dinner. How good was that! Entering the dining room, we got to meet the other part of the ownership team. Ann Marie’s husband, David, is a warm, gregarious chap and a hell of a cook to boot! The food was simply sensational. I had the fennel arugula salad with red onions, glazed pecans, crumbled feta and zesty orange vinaigrette. For my main, I chose the breast of duck with Blackberry Chambord sauce. Succulent and very tasty. The dessert bordered on sinful! I chose the Bailey’s Irish Cream Crème Brulee. I happen to be a crème brulee fanatic and this was easily one of the best.

The food and company were exceptional. At an adjacent table, I spotted Jeff Adams, distinguished paralympic athlete. Someone told us that he has a quiet getaway in Guysborough County. I would have loved to have had a chat with him and congratulate him on his many gold medals but realized that he probably chose Guysborough to be “far from the madding crowd”.

As a senior, one of the things I appreciated most about the dining experience was the exceptional wait staff. They were all older women who know exactly what clients of the Inn desire. Their attention to detail was unparalleled as was their quiet, unhurried manner. Not a lot of texting on cell phones or drama from these experienced women.

After a delightful dining experience, we were treated to a fine concert. The opening act was Kyle Delorey. He strutted onto the stage wearing a black cowboy hat. He didn’t say much but let his music do the talking.

There weren’t any young women in the crowd which might have been a blessing because Kyle might have caused a “swoon fest”!

Shiretown, the headliners, did not disappoint. They had a delightful mix of original tunes and oldies, including some from the legendary Neil Young. My daughter peered out at me from the stage when they sang “Old Man”.

A quiet night of rest was followed in the morning by a delicious breakfast. I’m a sucker for Eggs Benedict. After one bite, I knew with certainty that the Hollandaise sauce was homemade. My waitress informed me that this was one of David’s creations.

Great location. Exceptional service. Terrific value.

Put this one on your “must go” list.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost.

Have a great Canada Day weekend.

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