A Trip to the Mall

We’re leaving on vacation this Sunday. While we’re gone, we’re having some painting and repair work done at our house. This necessitated going shopping for paint and stain. That wasn’t so bad. I rather enjoy hanging out at our local Home Hardware and the paint store. Ah, the paint store! So many pretty colours. Such limitless possibilities for creative endeavour.

Then I moved on to the Bulk Barn and Global Pet Foods, two of my favourite stores. Bill and I are regulars in both places. The staff have gotten to know us so well that it almost feels like we’re dropping in on friends.

Finally, like it or not, I had to go to the mall. The mall is perhaps my least favourite place on the planet. To put this in perspective, I would far rather go to the landfill site with a truckload of compost, re-cyclables, and garbage than spend a couple of hours traipsing around on concrete floors breathing stale air and listening to insipid music.

Despite my aversion to the trendy clothing shops with identical, mass-produced merchandise, I got sucked in by bright colours on a display rack and a big yellow sign that read, “Buy 1, get the 2nd at half-price.”

I went in and browsed for a few minutes. A twenty-something salesperson approached me and in a high-pitched, eager little-girlish voice said, “Is there anything I can help you find?”

“No thanks,” I said with a polite smile. “I’m just looking around for now.”

“Oh, go right ahead?” she chirped, moving on.

A couple of minutes later, I heard the same sales clerk in conversation with another customer. Again, she spoke in that high-pitched, breathy voice with a question mark at the end of every sentence.

The other customer, a woman I judged to be in her late fifties, had just emerged from the changing room. The sales clerk was quite animated in her appraisal of the clothing item the customer modelled. I was taken aback when the older woman responded in exactly the same child-like tone of voice, with the identical upward-inflection punctuating her sentences.

I wanted to march over to them wagging my finger in their faces and shout,

Both of you are adult women. Why can’t you speak like adult women?
Why do you insist on sounding like three-year-olds who’ve inhaled helium?

I’m a speech pathologist. I can treat that, you know. Here’s my card.

It was time for me to leave.

Harvesting my Herbs

I spent a glorious couple of hours today out on our deck harvesting my cilantro, parsley, and basil. My container gardens have flourished this year. If there is a heaven, I hope it will be imbued with the delicate fragrance released from those three culinary gems under the warmth of the sun. My thumb and index finger are stained from pinching off the leaves, but my hands smell wonderful. The herbs are all finely chopped and ready to be put into ice cube trays and topped up with olive oil. That will be my after supper chore – an enjoyable one.

Irish Mythen at Lansdowne House Concert

We’ve waited a long time to see Irish Mythen. We were supposed to see her last spring at a house concert at the Homeport, but on the day of the concert she fell ill and ended up in hospital. So when we saw her name in the line-up for the Lansdowne House Concerts in Fredericton, we jumped on the opportunity.

If I have determined that I really want to see a performer, based on the recommendation of other music-lovers, I resist checking them out on YouTube or going to their website. I want to experience them with an open mind and heart, devoid of expectations. So when we went to see Irish Mythen last week, at the home of Paul and Liz McDonnell (Lansdowne House Concerts), I had no idea what to expect. From the opening notes of her first song, I was riveted. She’s a small, sturdy woman, with a warm, down-to-earth manner and a full, powerful voice that fills every molecule of air in the room. Every song has a story and the stories are as compelling as the songs.

Irish plumbs the depths of her soul in the lyrics she writes, to the extent that I would not have been surprised to see droplets of her blood clinging to the guitar strings.

In songs such as Fifty-five Years, Four Walls, and Innocent Street, she mines the extraordinary in the ordinary and strikes gold. A self-taught guitar virtuoso, she teases out moods and feelings that transcend words.

Irish Mythen has a particular fondness for elderly people and has seized every opportunity to gain insight from the people she has met along life’s pathways. She shared with the audience an adage from her homeland in Ireland:

When an old person dies, a library burns down.

She has taken the meaning of that statement to heart. Many of her songs tell stories of tragedy and triumph that would otherwise be lost to the world.

Irish only departed from her original material twice. Her rendition of The Fields of Athenrye was the most passionate I have ever heard, made even more poignant by the fact that a relative of hers was one of the people who was deported to Van Diemen’s Land because he had stolen food to keep his family from starving.

For her encore, Irish sang The Old Triangle a cappella. She has forever transformed it in my mind from a catchy number sung in bars, to a castigation of the brutal treatment of Irish inmates in Mountjoy Prison.

By the end of the evening, I felt like I had run an emotional marathon. Irish had the audience alternately laughing, cheering, and wiping away tears. While her voice and guitar skills are rendered competently on her recordings, I would travel quite a distance to see her perform live again.



Our dear old “border spaniel,” Finnegan, was born 25 years ago today.

Finnegan arrived in my home as an 8-week-old puppy. He had already been sharing my bed, my couch, and my comfy armchair for 14 years before Bill came into my life. He gladly made room for the new two-legged critter and was a devoted companion to both of us until he left this earthly dimension at the age of 17 years and 4 months. He was a medium-sized dog with a big attitude and an even bigger spirit – and Border Collie smarts.

Stephen King once wrote of a departed friend saying,

He will always be part of my heart’s neighbourhood.

Those words are eloquent in their simplicity, a beautiful turn of phrase. They pretty much sum up how I feel about Finnegan.

Bill decided we should declare Finnegan’s birthday our personal holiday and celebrate it every year.
So here’s to you, little friend. I hope you’re in some parallel universe, thinking up new schemes and sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. We miss you.

Photo by Sue Curwin taken at Saints Rest Beach, Saint John, NB.

McKasson and McDonald at Dancing Tree House Concert

Last week we attended the inaugural house concert at the Dancing Tree Listening Venue. This is the newly-renovated home of Ralph and Karen Holyoke, former owners of the Homeport Historic Bed and Breakfast. The house concert series they hosted at the B&B was a huge success. Ralph and Karen are so committed to bringing high quality live folk music to our area, that they
renovated Ralph’s family home on Kennebecasis Drive with a view to continuing the tradition there.

Their first Dancing Tree house concert was auspicious. The musical guests were Ryan McKasson and Eric McDonald. Both musicians have a passion for traditional Celtic music.

McKasson coaxed the full spectrum of emotions and moods from the strings of his fiddle. He highlighted the various styles and traditions which have influenced him over the years. His interpretation of pieces by Québec’s André Brunet and Scotland’s Alastair Fraser were memorable.

Eric McDonald, on lead vocals and guitar, shared traditional ballads and more contemporary songs written in the style of the traditional ballad. His voice has a plaintive quality that harkens back to the minstrels and storytellers of a bygone time. McDonald’s skillful and intricate guitar-playing and McKasson’s understated vocal harmony added a rich texture to the music.

If this first concert is an indication of things to come, Dancing Tree will become a successful and popular venue. Thank you, Ralph and Karen, for opening your home and hearts to great musicians and the folks who love listening to them.

To find out details of future events, “like” and follow the Dancing Tree Facebook page.

The Power of Words

I heard a wonderful story at “Read by the Sea,” the literary festival I attended in River John, Nova Scotia.

The story was told by Lesley Crewe, writer of nine novels set in Cape Breton. Born and raised in Montreal, she and her family have lived in Cape Breton for many years. She was one of four Canadian authors who read from their work and participated in a panel discussion.

I don’t even remember the question. I think it was something along the lines of, “What led you to write your first novel?”

Crewe’s answer was poignant.

She and her husband lost their second baby, a son, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She loved his name – Joshua – and said she didn’t want to see it “only written in granite.” So she gave her infant son new life by creating a character named Joshua in her first novel “Relative Happiness.” She said she sat at her desk in her bathrobe and wrote his name over and over again in that novel, working through her grief and loss.

Such is the power of words to heal not only those who read them, but those who write them. Through the creative energy that grew out of her grief, Lesley Crewe gave the world a work of fiction that has the ability to move her readers, to make them laugh, to make them cry, or to make them reflect.

Seafoam Lavender Farm and Gardens

It’s turned into a sunny afternoon. I’m in River John for the “Read by the Sea” literary festival and have some free time between events, so I made my way to this magical place. Just the name of the community “Seafoam” has an element of whimsy.

The sight of fields of lavender just on the cusp of full bloom is impressive enough, but as I stepped out of the car I was greeted by the delicate fragrance of the plants dancing on the breeze.

Everything here is done on a lavender theme, from the painted picnic tables, lawn chairs, and benches to the owner’s shirt.

Dave, the very friendly and hospitable owner, is on hand to greet visitors. He invites them to stroll through the fields and run the plants between their hands to release the aroma. I accepted the invitation. He also told me to take my time, sit for a bit, and relax. I didn’t need to ponder that for long. The grounds are beautiful and the scent of lavender is known for its calming effect.
They hosted a wedding here this afternoon, over by the koi pond.

After a stroll around the fields, I headed for the gift shop. When I opened the door, the intensity of the fragrance made me feel like I was entering a whole new dimension. They have a vast array of products made with lavender and lavender essential oil, including culinary items such as teas and sea salt, cosmetics, cleaning products, and soap. They even have dog shampoo and conditioner, and bug spray. Everything is made with all-natural ingredients, many of them from around the Maritimes. In September, they will have lavender honey, produced by local bee keepers.

Note the signs for pet-friendly parking spaces and the warning about the presence of hardworking bees.

You can learn more at:

Summer Sounds

Mid-morning on a clear summer day in Saint John. The air is warming up under the climbing sun, a playful breeze carrying the call of gulls and the faint fragrance of the sea. I’m early for an appointment, so I spend a few minutes at a secondhand bookstore. This is a bookstore for the discerning reader. The stacks are neatly filled with hardcover copies of some of the most memorable literature of the last century. The owner is playing a Bob Marley recording. I sip my coffee and stroll through the stacks of books, quietly singing along with Bob.

One love, one heart. Let’s get together and it will be alright,” I sing as I drift through the biographies and historical fiction.

By the time I get to the General Fiction, Bob and I are singing “No woman no cry.
I feel myself swaying to the infectious rhythm of the music with no concern about what others might think of me. My greying hair and wrinkles liberate me to completely disengage my give-a-shit.

Snow days – Snowmageddon 2015

Well, we’re anticipating the fourth major snowfall within the past 10 days here in southern New Brunswick. I must say, being retired allows me to experience snow days in a whole new way – more like when I was a child.

During my years of employment in the New Brunswick health care system, there was a notable degree of nonchalance about the safety of workers during “major weather events.” When schools and businesses were closed, buses and even snow ploughs were pulled off the road, and the RCMP were asking people to stay home, our employer required us to show up for work.

In the same circumstances, our patients were notified that they were not expected to attend their appointments.  No one is going to die or experience pain or deprivation if they have to delay a therapy session. Nevertheless, we were expected to ignore the RCMP’s warnings and risk our safety to show up on time, ready to do therapy on absent patients. And God forbid you should leave early to try to get home before dark, in the midst of a driving snowstorm. Needless to say, you could fire a cannon in the lobby of the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm and you certainly would not be in danger of hitting any of the “policy-makers.”

Now that I’m retired, I can celebrate snow again. It’s liberating to not have to worry about what time the plough will show up and how much I’ll have to shovel at the end of the driveway. I can avoid the white-knuckle drive to town and the stress of worrying all day about how much worse the drive home will be.

There’s nothing like the day after a good snowstorm to bring people out. Everywhere folks are bundled up and out shovelling or snowblowing. Kids are tobogganing. People are clambering over huge snowbanks to walk their dogs. I thoroughly enjoy taking my time shovelling the walkway and clearing off the deck. I lean on my shovel every few minutes and take a some deep breaths of fresh air while I watch the dogs cavorting in the drifts.  Our new-fangled ergonomic shovels are terrific. They really do save your back and allow you to dump the snow with a simple turn of the wrist and forearm rather than twisting your torso. When I’m finished, I find myself just nicely limbered up for taking the dogs for a walk.

What is it about snow-clearing that makes it feel more like play than work? I think it’s the adult version of building snow forts and digging tunnels. Maybe it’s because the shared experience of “a major weather event” makes us feel tough and resilient. Or perhaps it’s just relief that, so far, we haven’t lost power Whatever the reason, I like the fact that Mother Nature gives us a little tweak now and then and forces us to pay her due respect.


Happy 2015

January 15, 2015.

Here we are – 2 weeks into the new year and 2 months following my retirement from the public health care system. So – Happy New Year, friends! I hope 2015 will bring all of us happy adventures and good health, and spiritual strength. I’ve seen a post circulating on Facebook which I just love and am inspired to reference here. To paraphrase, it says: “I hope that in the year to come, you make mistakes – because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world.” I’m going to try to remember this the next time I have a culinary failure.

I’m loving retirement! I wake up each morning thinking “What shall I do today? The possibilities are infinite.” One thing I’m really enjoying is listening to CBC Radio. Despite the Harper government’s attempts to decimate our national public broadcaster, and the scandals with which it has been beset in the past few months, there is still a lot of good programming. Earlier this week, on the “Behind the Design” segment, the topic was Velcro and how that ubiquitous product came to be. It was the brainchild of a Swiss engineer who, in 1941, came in from a trek through the woods with his dog and was curious about the sticking power of burrs in the dog’s fur. He did some observation and analysis of the structure of the burrs and – voilà! – came up with Velcro. This whole discussion was making me a bit squirmy and I couldn’t quite figure out why. Then I remembered.

As a child, I was quite intrepid when it came to snakes and spiders, bats and bugs. I once found a nest of baby snakes in my outdoor sandbox and happily let them slither over my bare legs. When a bat flew into our house, prompting my mother to stand on a chair swinging a broom, I was rooting for the bat.

While most children feared the monster in the closet or the boogeyman under the bed, I had an irrational fear of burrs. I grew up in a rural area, surrounded by woods. I spent many happy hours tramping through the thick underbrush. It was pretty much impossible to avoid contact with burdock bushes. If I found a burr on my clothing or in our dog’s fur, I became hysterical. “Get it off!” I would scream. I’m not sure what the source of the fear was, but I think I thought they were little live creatures, maybe in the same category as leeches, which would bite me and suck my blood. I no longer go into hysterics, but I find it really off-putting to have to comb burrs out of our dogs’ ears and tails. They just feel icky on my fingers and I can’t get past the feeling that if I leave them too long, they really will start to suck my blood. I wonder if I need therapy….