Christmas Tree 2017

Our little tree has been standing naked in the corner of our living room since Thursday evening. It soaked up a lot of water and arranged its boughs daintily while it waited for us. We finally got it all dressed up this afternoon, after I had finished decorating the rest of the house. A fresh pot of coffee and Katherine Moller’s CD “Greensleeves and Puddin’ Pies” playing in the background created all the Christmas ambiance we needed to keep us motivated.

I love opening the box of tree ornaments. As I lift each one from its pillow of tissue paper I’m reminded of its provenance – a gift from a patient or something handmade by a neighbour, now long departed. Others were given to me by friends with whom I’ve lost touch but I’m still warmed by the memory of their friendship. Then there are the ones which were conquests in Yankee swap parties with my co-workers, reminders of good times with people I grew to love and respect. Over the years I’ve collected many artistic creations at local craft markets, or from the places I’ve visited. Just a few of our ornaments were mass-produced in some distant land, probably by people working for a pittance. Those ones I bought because they reminded me of my animal companions or they delighted me with their whimsy. Re-discovering them each December conjures up fond thoughts of the people I was with or the events surrounding their acquisition. Each one of these little Christmas treasures holds a story.

I thought about doing something different with our tree this year, perhaps an update was in order.

“Do you think we should go with warm white lights instead of red, for a change?” I asked Bill.

“Well, it would look nice – but I really like the red,” was his reply.

So our Christmas tree looks pretty much like its predecessors for the past ten years, with soft red lights, an eclectic mix of ornaments, and wooden cranberry garlands woven through the branches. A wicker star, spray-painted gold and lit from within with little white lights glows on the top. I thought I would artfully drape some glittery gold wired ribbon around it as a finishing touch. Our little tree ended up looking like a young girl going to her first dance overdressed and wearing too much make-up. The glittery ribbon had to come off.

So here’s the annual Christmas tree photo – almost identical to last year’s picture, and the year before that, and the year before….

Concussion – Five Years Forward

It was five years ago today that I slipped on the stairs at work, hitting my head, and resulting in a concussion. It was a longer journey to recovery than I had anticipated. I’m immensely grateful for the excellent medical care I received and the support of my husband, family, friends, and colleagues. I also had excellent support from our HR Department and Worksafe New Brunswick. The Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) Team at the Workers’ Rehab Centre is highly knowledgeable and their specialized skills played a huge role in getting me back to work and back to all my normal activities.

We have all those high-profile athletes to thank for our heightened awareness of the long term effects of concussion. There’s still a lot of work to be done to educate family physicians, rehab professionals, teachers, coaches, parents, and the general public.

One thing we don’t know much about is the effect of concussion on the aging brain, yet many of the folks I know who have sustained a concussion are in their 50’s 60’s, and 70’s. Their injuries happened in the course of their normal daily activities – slipping in the shower, falling on an icy sidewalk, the trunk lid of their car coming down unexpectedly fast. No high performance athletics were involved.

Many of the current treatment options place an emphasis on the physical effects of concussion – regaining balance and strength, managing pain. However, that’s just one aspect of recovery, albeit a basic and essential one.

Concussion almost always affects memory, cognition, learning, and the ability to strategize, organize, and execute a plan. These are often the more devastating and life-altering effects. They are also frequently the more persistent deficits, but are poorly understood and not given the attention they deserve.

Another subject of research which is sorely lacking is the effect of concussion on the creative brain. It is much harder to measure how one’s ability to write, paint, compose music, choreograph dance, or engage in the performing arts is affected.

My experience with concussion has given me a new mission in life, as I have a rather unique perspective. I have treated patients with MTBI whose speech and language function were affected by their injury. Now I have participated in my own therapy and have learned a lot along the way. I had a tremendous advantage because of my education as a speech-language pathologist, with a good understanding of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology and the importance of what is called “executive function.”

I’ve heard some horror stories of people being given bad advice by their physicians or other health professionals, of teachers and coaches sending kids back into a game after they’ve had a bump on the head. There’s no longer any excuse for this lack of knowledge and judgment. I’d like to believe that everyone can access the kind of expertise and care that I received but we’re not there yet.

Notes from Lac Temiscouata 2017

The past three days have been drizzly, but that’s given me some very satisfying time for reading and writing.

Today I awoke to the sound of an early morning rain drumming gently on the roof. I chose to blot out any worries about how much of the drizzle was seeping under the shingles in the back room of the camp. Soon the rain stopped and I lay there listening to the otherworldly call of loons out on the water. The dogs were stirring. It was time to get up before my cozy reverie was interrupted by a cold wet canine nose on my cheek.

The moment the dogs and I stepped out the door, we were greeted by the chattering of a squirrel, warning his confrères that those crazed beasts were on the loose. Ceilidh and Chieftain made a mad dash to the top of the hill in pursuit of whatever varmints were in their path.

As we headed down to the beach I could hear a chorus of soft, throaty chirrups – a seductive sound that drew me closer. As we neared the water’s edge, I saw a flock of mergansers bobbing in the ripples. They were chatting among themselves, perhaps discussing the best place to dine. Ceilidh and I stood watching them as they swam along the shoreline. Suddenly, they all seemed to be seized by the same urge. They appeared to be running near the surface of the water, their little webbed feet flapping rapidly. The sight reminded me of the old roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons. I’m going to hang around the beach for a while to try to get a video clip of them in action. That’s my goal for today. I think it’s a lofty one.

Sour puss

Subject: Sour puss

Here’s Arlo after a re-check at the vet clinic. Our dog, Chieftain, has aspirations to be a paramedic and repeatedly tried to disinfect the wound with his tongue. His method didn’t work too well, so this was the vet’s solution. Quite chic, I would say. Arlo doesn’t seem to agree.

Breakfast of champions

Subject: A Trip to the Veterinary Clinic

(Breakfast of Champions)

My day started with an early morning trip to the veterinary clinic with our cat, Arlo. He’s an indoor cat, but slipped out the door sometime late Saturday night or Sunday morning. We don’t know whether he was out all night or only for twenty minutes or so with the dogs. What we do know is that when I let the dogs back in after their first romp of the day on Sunday, Arlo, aka “the little grey dog,” was waiting at the back door with them. He was acting perfectly normal on Sunday, but yesterday didn’t eat all day. He spent the day sleeping on top of some Christmas wreaths stacked under the stairs in our furnace room – very unusual behaviour for him. Then, as I was running my hand over his head and scratching his ears, I felt a lump and something sticky in the fur on his forehead. We really couldn’t see anything, but it was definitely a concern, especially since he’s about fifteen years old and had surgery a year ago to remove a mast cell tumour.

Our vet was able to see him today if I could drop him off there first thing in the morning. So off I went this morning with my breakfast smoothie in one cup holder and a kitty urine sample in the other.

I’m now waiting for a phone call from the vet. BTW, the little bugger was rolling around on our bed looking perfectly fine just before we left for the clinic and he ate most of his breakfast. Just like a car that makes a funny noise right up until the moment you drive into the service station.

Our Lunenburg Experience 2017

Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival 2017

I have attended twenty-six of the thirty-two years this festival has been in existence. It’s near and dear to my heart for many reasons, perhaps the most important being that it’s where I met my husband. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the town of Lunenburg is my spiritual home. I feel a flutter of excitement as soon as we pull off the highway at Exit 11 and follow the road around the back harbour to the Oceanview Chalets, where we’ve stayed for the past nine years. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Lunenburg overwhelms with its charm, its steep streets leading up from the harbour lined with brightly-painted wooden shops and houses. It has a rich history of ship-building, sail-making, and fishing. Over the years, it has become a haven for musicians, artists, writers, and craftspeople, giving it a palpable cultural vibrancy.

The people who started the Folk Harbour Festival back in 1985 had a vision for what a folk music festival should be. I have attended a lot of music festivals throughout Canada and this one shines as one of the best, though it’s on a smaller scale than others which have become better-known. I think the key elements which set the Folk Harbour Festival apart are the idyllic setting, the superb sound quality at all the venues, the absence of liquor on site, and the Folk Harbour audiences who are renowned for their musical sophistication and appreciation of the performers. At Folk Harbour it is not at all unusual, when a performer invites the audience to sing along on a chorus, for hundreds of voices to be raised in four-part harmony. These people come to listen and learn, not to party or chat with their neighbours. They save the merry-making for after the evening main stage concerts and take it to the late-night stage venue or one of the local pubs.

We are so confident in the quality of the festival and the good judgement of the Program Committee that we don’t even bother to search the website as the line-up of performers unfolds over the months leading up to the event. We just know it will be fabulous. Every year, we look forward to some “big names” in folk and traditional music, but perhaps an even greater delight is when we discover amazingly talented musicians who are unknown to us, and become our new favourites.

This year’s festival was no exception. Every year, I have the best intentions of writing a review of each day of the festival while it’s fresh in my mind, but I have finally accepted that it’s not humanly possible unless I go without eating or sleeping for four days. So, I’ll touch on those musicians and sessions that were my personal highlights, with input from Bill and our sidekick, Ann Curwin.

Happy Surprises
Kim Dunn, a pianist and solo performer from Cape Breton, kicked off the opening night concert. For much of his thirty year career, he has been “the essential and versatile sideman” to an impressive litany of the east coast’s finest performers. He toured in Rita MacNeil’s band for fourteen years and his name appears on the recordings of some of the most notable musicians in the Atlantic region. Since 2010 he has focused on his own singing and songwriting. Whether he was playing his own compositions, interpreting a blues classic, or improvising a piano accompaniment to another artist’s song, Kim Dunn wowed his audience. It’s not often that the first performer on the opening night gets a raucous standing ovation, but he did, and deservedly so. We came away from each of his sessions wanting more.

Cassie and Maggie, sisters from Antigonish, have been performing in their home province since they were very young. In recent years, they have earned international recognition on the Celtic music scene. They are highly talented, Cassie on fiddle and Maggie on keyboard, guitar, and vocals, and have a natural gift for entertaining. They drove the grand finale, keeping pace with the legendary Ashley MacIsaac, and closing the festival with a flourish.

Chelsea Amber, a young woman of mixed race and cultural background from Halifax, has a voice and stage presence that command attention and admiration. She sings with power and emotion, and already has won an extensive array of awards. The audience loved her. This remarkable singer-songwriter’s star is rising.

Red Moon Road, a trio from Manitoba are my unparalleled favourite act this year. This is their second visit to Folk Harbour. I loved them in 2014 and came home with their first recording, which I’ve been playing ever since. They have continued to grow musically as well as in their stage presence. The three band members come from diverse musical backgrounds, ranging from jazz to progressive metal, and choral-trained vocals. They are all immediately likeable people whose authenticity and sincerity comes across on stage. Sheena Rattai is a vocal powerhouse, yet she can back away from a musical phrase to make it as delicate as the sound of a butterfly’s wings. The instrumental virtuosity of the two Daniels – Peloquin-Hopfner and Jordan, is woven around impeccable three-part vocal harmonies.

Reverend Robert B. Jones, pastor, storyteller, teacher, musician, and activist was a joy to experience. I use the verb “experience” deliberately. It’s impossible to merely listen to Rev. Jones. Sitting in the audience at the Folk Steps Conference, singing along with him at the choral workshop, and being there for his Mainstage performance and the Sunday morning Gospel Concert, we were in the presence of an immense talent, a vibrant life force, and a gold mine of knowledge. He beckoned us to dip our toes in a deep spiritual well. His voice is rich and sonorant and his guitar skill is noteworthy. When he told the stories and sang the songs of his forebears who lived in slavery, his words came from a place of profound personal connection.

Rosie and the Riveters are three strong vocalists with a vintage 1940’s flair. They’re sassy and witty and musically sophisticated. Their growing nation-wide acclaim is well-deserved. I hope they’ll be enticed to head eastward again.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar are categorized as “Rhythm and Blues.” Martin’s voice is aptly described as “cigarette-ravaged and whisky- soaked.” I didn’t think I liked voices that could be described that way. I have seen the error of my ways. Samantha Martin, who hails from Edmonton and now lives in Toronto, has power and layers of complexity in that voice and sings the blues with a sardonic element of levity. Her back-up singers added so much with so little, using just the right amount of volume and edge to enhance not only Martin’s lead, but also in improvising on other performers’ songs. They are a stunning combination. They shone at the Gospel Concert, lending their harmonies impeccably and respectfully to the songs of so many other artists. I also must mention the band’s drummer, Dani Nash. She is not mentioned in the bio, so may have joined them just for this gig. If so, they should sign her up. She’s terrific.

Willie Stratton is a country singer in the tradition of Hank Snow and Wilf Carter. He has made it his goal to preserve and promote the country music heritage of Atlantic Canada. I hereby go on record as saying I really don’t like old-time country, but I have to admit that Willie Stratton does it well. He is a consummate guitarist and banjo-picker, as well as a strong singer – and he’s on-key, with no trace of nasal resonance. He is adept at some of the traditional local yodelling styles. As a speech-language pathologist I can say with some authority that yodelling, when done well, requires exceptional vocal control. Willie won my loyalty at the Gospel Concert. He caught the spirit of the moment and led the crowd in a moving spiritual with a simple, sing-along chorus, exactly what the occasion called for.

New Brunswick Artists
There were several artists from New Brunswick in this year’s line-up and they did us proud.

The Alan Jeffries Bluegrass Band – I used to say that I was not a big fan of bluegrass, until I heard Alan Jeffries and his band. Jeffries and his bandmates are the whole package – highly-talented musicians who put it all out for their audience and come across as nice guys who are having a great time making music together. Although they do share one mic for their vocals, there is none of the “four people singing through one nostril” quality that I used to associate with bluegrass (that’s a quote from Alan Jeffries’ father, John Jeffries). These four artists are exceptional instrumentalists and do beautiful vocal harmonies. If you think you don’t like bluegrass, you might have to re-think your position after hearing these guys. My personal favourite – a love song to coffee.

Sussex – a duo made up of Rob Lutes, singer and guitarist, and Michael Emenau, a world-class vibraphonist. Rob Lutes’ style is reminiscent of the smokey, whiskey-drenched voices of singers such as Louis Armstrong, but a gentler version. He sings his own songs as well as covers. Michael Emenau’s mastery of his instrument adds subtle overtones to their songs.

The David Myles Trio – Every time I see David Myles perform, I am struck by the sheer joy and energy he exudes from the stage. His banter between the songs and his ability to fully engage the audience is unparalleled. I always walk away from his performances with a smile on my face, a welcome David Myles ear worm playing in my head, and a spring in my step. What more could I ask?

Old Friends
I have no superlatives left for Lennie Gallant and his band, consisting of Patricia Richard (vocals, mandolin, banjo, bodhran), and his nephews, Jeremy Gallant (keyboard) and Mitchell Gallant (percussion), and Sean Kemp (fiddle). Lennie is a masterful storyteller in word and song and the musical virtuosity of his band is world-class.

John Wort Hannam is in the same rarefied song-writing league as Lennie Gallant. Both of them write from a core of authenticity, passion, and insight. He played two songs in one set which will require a long period of recovery for both Bill and me. One, Infantry Man, from his 2007 CD, was written for a friend in the Armed Services who was killed in Afghanistan. The other, Man of God, is more recent and was inspired by a book written by a survivor of the residential school system. Look this singer-songwriter up on Google and have a listen.

The Once, charmed the audience as they always do. They are known for their beautiful harmonies and intricate instrumental arrangements. At their Mainstage performance they sang through a fireworks display with aplomb. It was noteworthy that most of the audience chose to stay in their seats and forego the fireworks.

Suzie Vinnick, a ten-time Maple Blues Award winner is brilliant on both guitar and bass and is a crowd favourite for her sultry vocals, engaging manner, and warm wit.

Vishten are high-energy, foot-stomping, musical geniuses. They never fail to entertain and leave their audience wanting more.

Amelia Curran is always a delight. She’s understated, charmingly awkward and unpolished in her stage presentation. But there is nothing unpolished in the poetry of her songs or the warmth of her voice. Her lyrics require the listener to pay attention. My favourite of her songs is the one that asks the philosophical question, “What will you be building when you have to go?”

Ashley MacIsaac was the perfect choice to close the festival. He hasn’t slowed down one iota since he was in his early twenties. His electronic/Celtic fiddle fusion was mind-boggling, but his ability to return to his roots with masterfully-rendered reels, jigs, and strathspeys was even more compelling when juxtaposed with the more innovative contemporary offerings.

The Program Committee has done it again. They have delivered an impressive line-up of performers and a varied selection of workshops and thematic talks. They’ve resisted making the festival bigger and more brash. They have always strived for, and have succeeded in maintaining its quality and its unique essence.

The dates for the 2018 Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival are August 9-12.

Searching for Abegweit

Searching for Abegweit is a celebration of PEI’s culture, history, and heritage in song and story. PEI native, Lennie Gallant, performs with his hugely talented nephews, Lawrence and Jeremy Gallant, multi-talented Patricia Richard, and violinist Sean Kemp. He weaves stories of his own ancestors and contemporary family members into the history of the island he calls home. The Gallants were one of two founding European families, and they were among the Acadians who survived the deportation in 1758, three years later than “La Grande Dérangement” in Nova Scotia, with the help of the M’ikmaq people. So their story is intimately intertwined with the story of “Abegweit” the M’ikmaq name for PEI. The show opens and ends with a powerful vocal
overlay of Hubert Francis, M’ikmaq singer, chanting and drumming.

The stories are heartwarming and the music ranges from rollicking (Back to Rustico) to deeply moving (La Tempête).

I have been a fan of Lennie Gallant’s since the release of his first recording, “Breakwater” around 1989. Usually it’s possible to track the growth of an artist over the course of 28 years. But when he sang a couple of songs off that first CD tonight, I realized that he was that good back then. The only thing that has changed is the musicians with whom he surrounds himself.

Lennie and his band have chemistry on stage. They also have wonderful rapport with the audience. Their vocal blend, instrumental virtuosity, and intricate percussion serve to enhance Lennie’s brilliant song-writing.

Karen Gallant’s paintings, interspersed with photographs, form the visual backdrop for the show. The delicate lighting brought movement and depth to the artwork.

I had seen some of Karen’s work featured in a magazine a few years ago and was curious, but unmoved by the strange, big-eyed people depicted, often suspended in mid-air. Now that I’ve seen her paintings in the context of this show, I am struck by the power of her work. It equals the power of her brother’s lyrics. She has harnessed the vibrant beauty of the island and the vitality of its people. The faces she depicts reflect both the hardship and the joy of generations of Islanders. And over, around, and through it all, there is music and nature.

I had the pleasure of visiting Karen Gallant’s studio in Rustico yesterday. My mission was to come home with one of her prints. I loved all of the ones on display and thought choosing one would be a hopeless task, but Réveiller la Nuit seemed to leap out at me. I can’t wait to have it framed and hung in our home. The original painting is 5 by 3 ft.

We have now seen Searching for Abegweit four times. It just keeps getting better. The PEI Brewing Company, with cabaret-style seating, was the venue in 2015 and 2016. It had many virtues, most noteworthy being the fine craft beer. This year, the show moved to the Habourfront Theatre in Summerside. The sound and lighting were excellent and the soft theatre seats an added comfort.

Tonight is the last time Searching for Abegweit will be performed for this season. As yet, there are no firm plans for another season. This is a show well worth experiencing, and it really needs to be taken on the road. We’ll be keeping an eye on Lennie Gallant’s website for any news.

If it’s All Right With You

Tonight we went to see, “If It’s All Right With You,” a tribute to the life and music of the legendary Gene MacLellan.

The show was written and performed by his daughter,
Catherine MacLellan, who has achieved notable stature as a singer and songwriter. She weaves the narrative of Gene MacLellan’s life and his struggle with bipolar disorder around many of his best-loved songs. And what a compelling story it is. She traces his life, from his childhood illnesses through the checkered development of his career, with love and compassion and she doesn’t hold back on the dark times.

Gene MacLellan became a reluctant icon in Canadian folk music. His life was marked by a constant restlessness and the quest for peace. Catherine shares stories of the good times when he played with his three children and filled their home with laughter and song. She talks about a period of his life unknown to most of us, the years when he left the music business behind to do prison ministry, taking a message of love and hope to inmates.

Then there were the times when he slipped into despair. Near the end of his life, he was a shadow of the young, talented troubadour whose songs were covered by Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Glen Campbell, and other musical giants of the day. Catherine, the youngest of three children, was only fourteen on that day in January 1995, when Gene MacLellan died by suicide, never having had a truly effective treatment for his disease.

Catherine ends her narrative with honest, straightforward words about her own struggle with depression and a message of hope and support to those who live with the black dog.

The story is compelling, but it is the music that gives us the most intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of Gene MacLellan. To hear his lyrics and melodies interpreted by his daughter and the stellar musicians in the band is a delight.

The show’s director, John Connolly, also performs in the show, on piano, guitar, and vocals, his voice blending with Catherine’s in a way that breathes new life into the songs. Chris Gauthier is brilliant on electric and acoustic guitar. He and bassist, Rémi Arsenault, also do an impressive job on back-up vocals, while Dale Desroches provides a steady undercurrent on drums.

“If It’s All Right With You” is a fabulous show that I found uplifting, despite the sadness and struggle with mental illness that marked the life of this remarkable man and ended it much too soon. The musical legacy he has left us is a gift of the highest order. The value of the gift his daughter gives in telling his story is immeasurable.

Rainy Day in Lunenburg

It’s been a cool, rainy day on Nova Scotia’s south shore – the kind of day we New Brunswickers haven’t experienced for a long time.

After taking the dogs for a long walk in the drizzle and getting through our morning routine, I planned to spend the day writing. But then we had unexpected company and passed a pleasant hour or so in conversation. The day was getting away on us, so we had to make a decision about how to spend the rest of it. Hmm, what to do on a rainy vacation day in Lunenburg, a World Heritage Site?

There were a lot of options. Visit some of the museums and art galleries in the area? The south shore of Nova Scotia is a noted haven for folk artists. Maybe browse in the numerous funky little shops which carry a vast array of high-quality crafts as well as fine imported clothing, art, home decor, and gift ware? Perhaps park ourselves with reading material
and notebooks at one of several charming cafés, and whet our creative juices with steaming mugs of Laughing Whale coffee?

Well no, we had a better plan. Ceilidh, my muse, was dirty, so we figured there was no better way to spend a grey afternoon than visiting the Dog Shop Bath House and Boutique in Mahone Bay for a DIY grooming session. The bath area is well-designed and they provided everything we needed, even free doggy treats. All we had to provide was the dog and our elbow-grease. Best of all, their staff does all the tidying-up. By the time we left, Ceilidh was clean, fluffy, and
sweet-smelling. Bill and I, on the other hand, were damp and dishevelled and smelled of wet dog. I’m sure the unmistakable aroma wafted in our wake as we strolled back down the street and sat sipping a latté at The Barn Café and Social House.

Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here.

First Night in Lunenburg August 2017

It’s been a frantic week of doing laundry, cleaning the house, cooking in bulk, running errands, harvesting herbs from the garden, meeting a deadline for a chapter of my book, and getting all the details in place for a painter to do some work at our house while we’re away. Finally, we had the car packed and the dogs comfortably ensconced in the back. We had sent numerous text messages back and forth to our friend and kitty-sitter, Nancy, with all the details of caring for our four geriatric cats. At last we were off to Lunenburg – an hour and a half later than we had planned to leave.

When we arrived at the top of the hill overlooking the back harbour we were reminded that it was all worth the effort. The owner of the chalets, Wayne Oickle, greeted us with a big hug and the words “Welcome home.” Yup – that’s one of the reasons we come back here every August for a vacation built around the Folk Harbour Festival.

By the time we had the dogs and ourselves settled we were too hungry and tired to cook supper, so we headed down to the Knot Pub. I love this cozy and casual little hole in the wall. It oozes with character and ambiance. The food is uncomplicated and delicious and the service is excellent. They have a good selection of local craft beers on tap, and I was more than ready to sample one.

When we got back to the cabin, I took the dogs out for a walk. The moon was like a huge pearl on a dark blue velvet background. The air was filled with the fragrance of hay and horses. Someone nearby had a small campfire going and I’m convinced I could detect the aroma of toasted marshmallows mingled with the fragrance of wood smoke. Ahhh….