From New York to Halifax, Nova Scotia and St. John, New Brunswick

Autumn Colours: Cruising a coast line of Canada

Heavy rains pounded the runway and pavements in New York. Our private driver met us at the airport, sheltered us with his umbrella as we made out way to the car. We proceeded slowly through the rain and congested Friday afternoon Manhattan traffic before we arrived at Hotel W, 541 W Lexington Avenue. We explored the surrounding area, tried to walk The Highline and find Agora Gallery but the heavy rain, impatient pedestrians, unruly umbrellas and noisy cars all conspired to slow us down and we decided to return to the Century Club to meet Scott for a fantastic dinner and interesting conversation.

The rain had stopped by Saturday morning and we found a great spot for breakfast– we chose our breakfast at a buffet, took it to the cash register where it was weighed and ate at small tables. We then wandered around the area of our Hotel W, checked out or the hotel and took a taxi to the Manhattan Piers to board the Gem, of the Norwegian Cruise Line. Our suite, the Amber stateroom, was extremely comfortable, with a small eating and bar area, a sofa, large TV, balcony, large bathroom with both a bath and shower that looked out onto the water. The suite also had a small second bedroom/sitting area with another shower and TV.

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The steward, butler and concierge, attentive and friendly, are ensuring that our time on board is pleasant.

Sunday was a sailing day. We travelled through thick fog and moderate winds but managed a few laps on deck to get some exercise.

Monday, our day in Halifax began under clouds but by mid afternoon, the sun broke through. We had decided to take a tour to Peggy’s Cove in the morning and explore central Halifax during the afternoon.

We docked at pier 22, the pier next to Pier 21 where immigrants to Canada passed through customs and immigration before setting out for new lives. That pier now houses the newest national museum and houses records of immigration. Haligonians take pride in their heritage and the city itself. Our tour to Peggy’s Cove included a quick tour of Halifax, passing by Dalhousie University, Halifax Public Gardens, the Commons, and Citadel accompanied by tales of the Loyalists as well as folklore from our guide. The leaves, lichen and ferns are just starting to display their colours. About 10 k outside of Halifax, the landscape changed: deciduous trees made way to evergreens and earth gave way to rock. We crossed over smooth rocks to the base of the lighthouse and a short stroll along the craggy coastline. We visited Amos Pewter wear and bough a tree ornament, had a quick cup of coffee and boarded the bus to Halifax.
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We returned to the harbour front, enjoyed lunch at the Farmer’s Market, the oldest continuously running market in North America, and walked through the Historic Properties, the extensive boardwalk lined with shops and hotels. The wind was biting so we stopped at souvenir shops, the Nova Scotia Crystal workshop, the only hand cut, mouth-blown crystal in Canada. We then decided to climb up to the Citadel, the fortress overlooking the harbour that extends 16 k inland. Our stroll took us into the university and back to the ship.

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Tuesday in St. John New Brunswick began with a stroll through the city. From the Harbour, we followed a well-marked path leading away from the water and directly to St. John City Market. This area houses many of the cultural activities of the city with museums, shops, restaurant, bars and cafes.
We were struck by the lack of information about the founding and development of the city, the oldest city in Canada, having been incorporated in 1755. In 1783, more than 200 Loyalists landed at the mouth of the St. John River. More settlers arrived a few months later. The winter was difficult for the new arrivals, many of whom lived in tents and perished during the winter months.

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From the market, we climbed up King Street and crossed a delightful park, complete with a copper roofed Bandstand and metal framework. The park is bounded on one side by the Imperial Theatre and on the other by museums and city buildings. A great fire in 1877 destroyed most of the original wooden buildings. A sign led us to the historic part of the city and we enjoyed and admired the architecture of the old wooden houses, stone churches. After lunch, we had arranged to take the tour, Highlights of St. John, to view various parks and the reversing falls. Our guide planned the trip to enable to visit the falls site twice. The first time, we saw the river rushing inland and the second visit, we saw the river moving towards the sea. What was strange about our time in New Brunswick was the lack of signage in French since NB is the only officially bilingual province in Canada.
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What I learned at school this week

One of the advantages of retirement is being able to dabble in areas of interest. This week I participated in two age and gender related health seminars.

Windsor Park United Church was the site for the first seminar on Healthy Hearts for Women. A variety of booths provided pamphlets before the formal presentations began. Personal stories of heart attack survivors pushed home the message from the clinical experts. The session began with a TED TALK that provides both an historical perspective about why the differences in symptoms in men and women are not always identified and direction for research on women’s heart issues. The local speakers, a molecular pathophysiologist, a lab administrator from the Happy Hearts Research Program, a doctoral student from physiology, and an interventional cardiologist provided timely information and responded clearly to questions posed at the end of the session. Both the Victoria Hospital Foundation and St. Boniface Hospital have centres for research into women’s heart issues.

One of the scary facts about heart attacks in women is that in about 40% of cases, no chest symptoms are present and often symptoms, such as restlessness, anxiety, sleeplessness, neck pain, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath manifest themselves about a month prior to the attack. These symptoms are often missed or dismissed by family doctors and people with these symptoms are told to rest.

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911, explain that you think you are having a heart attack, and a team of paramedics with EKG equipment will be able to run tests and arrange the heart team to meet you at the hospital. Time is of the essence.

“Gambling with your Bones: Know your Risks” was the second health seminar of the week. Sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Manitoba, the session provided tips on nutrition, on height loss, on fractures, on exercise.

Why exercise? A few key reasons are to build muscle strength, prevent falls and protect the spine. `It is understood that people who exercise regularly have lower rates of depression, heart disease, dementia, cancer, and diabetes.
What types of exercise? For people with osteoporosis, exercises are needed to increase muscle strength, improve balance and posture, and to maintain bone mass.
Target Muscle Groups Specifically the upper back, chest, shoulders, arms, upper and lower legs are the target areas. Consultations with a physiotherapist to develop appropriate exercises for the degree of bone loss will help to ensure a successful exercise regime.
Posture training individuals pay attention to how the parts of the body are aligned with each other. Poor alignment, especially during activities that involve bending and twisting place extra stress on the spine and result in fractures. Exercises that target back tensor muscles can improve the alignment of the spine. Frequent checks of alignment—balance weight on both feet, a straight ahead gaze, a tucked in chin, and drawing in of the belly and breastbone  — along with appropriate exercises can help address a curved spine.
Balance Training exercises not only increase coordination but may reduce falls and fractures. Before performing such exercises such as standing on one leg, walking on toes or heels, it is important to have a table, chair or wall nearby to hold onto or working with someone to guide you as you perform the exercises.

More information about exercise, diet, fractures, and bone health is available at Information

Vitamin supplements: Do we need them as we age?

Dr. Jim House, researcher who lectured in the Senior Lecture series sponsored by the University Of Manitoba, began his presentation with Mahatma Ghandi’s quote: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow; Learn as if you were to live forever”.

He then invited us to consider how vitamins and scientific knowledge about vitamins have effected the treatment of such diseases as pernicious anaemia. In 1925, as many of us learned in Downton Abby, pernicious anemia was a fatal disease. Since 1956, when the structure of vitamin B12 was revealed, the disease can be treated.

We learned the difference between water soluble (vitamins B & C) and fat soluble (A, D, E, K) vitamins. We learned that vitamin B12 supplement is recommended as we age because the Intrinsic Factor (IF) needed to absorb vitamin B12 decreases as we age. The other important vitamin supplement to take as our bodies age is Vitamin D. Most healthy adults, who follow the recommended dietary amount (RDA) of food should not need supplements.

Deliberate Dialogue: Facing Death

Deliberate Dialogue: Facing Death

How do we confront life’s final and inevitable challenge?

Dr. Harvey Chochinov opened his seminar, part of the University of Manitoba Alumni Senior Lecture Series, with a short video: from birth we begin our flight, flying through calm skies, turbulent headwinds, and then landing, sometimes softly but often with a hard bump. His work involves finding ways to soften the hard bump of landing that we all face.

His presentation referred to the notion of the will to live. Questions about whether the strength of our will to live is related to the level of pain we experience led to inquiries dying with dignity. Studies from the BenLux region of Europe indicate that 60% of those who seek assisted death cite loss of dignity as a reason for their choice, whereas only 5% cite pain as the reason. For many, losing dignity is associated with vulnerability, our notions of how others value and need us. When my mother talked about the end of her life, her greatest fear was becoming a burden to her family. So long as she could cook for her family, help with the care of her grandchildren or sew and knit for them, she felt needed. Her self of self, her personhood, involved the notion of helping and giving to others. When her family moved away and when her grandchildren no longer needed her, she began to lose her notion of self. She feared that people began to see her as needy. Escher image of agedThe Escher picture shows what the eye of the beholder sees. Chochinov and his colleagues maintain that those who work with the ill, aged or dying should see the individual and try to find out what has been and remains important to them. He differentiated between health care, which is knowledge-based and technically proficient, and health caring, which includes caring for the individual as well as knowledge and technique. When the needs of patients and families are not met by what the system offers and delivers there is patient dissatisfaction with the care but also an elevated incidence of professional burn-out since caregivers feel unable to offer what patients need.

The psychology of illness is the psychology of loss. When prolonged illness occurs, personhood is under assault. We viewed slides showing data gathered through questions about “Dignity Model”. Questions about feelings of worth, not feeling that the person had made a meaning or contribution, feeling a lack of control over one’s life, feeling a burden to others, and not being treated with respect or understanding were important to more than 80% of individuals. The rates for learning of distressing symptoms, wondering how life might end, uncertainty regarding the illness, and feeling depressed and anxious ranged between 40-70%.

An interesting study in progress involves caregivers speaking to patients and asking them: “What should I know about you as a person to help me take the best care of you that I can?” After patients had read and revised their responses, they were asked: “Can I put this on your chart?” these two questions enabled patients to explain what is important to them, who they are as individuals, and allows caregivers to learn about the individuals in their care.

Chochinov concluded the presentation by reminding us to hold end of life conversations, to name a health-care proxy and provide advance directives. HE also recommended q website with additional information: the Virtual Hospice.

Alzheimer’s and Age-Friendly Communitites

 

 

In the space of one week I attended two lectures and viewed a film, all related to Alzheimer’s and aging. Both lectures, part of Senior Seminars at the University of Manitoba, highlighted the importance of healthy living in ‘age-friendly communities.’ Most of us have read and understood the importance of a balanced diet, daily exercise and a supportive environment for people of all ages. Babies sleep to consolidate their learning. If we, as older individuals (read seniors) do not get enough sleep any new learning will disappear. Neurogenesis still occurs, despite advancing years IF we eat a healthy, balanced diet that we enjoy, exercise our bodies, exercise our brains, sleep, and choose to be happy.

The film, entitled “Remember’ follows a widower who suffers from dementia on a lengthy journey to find and kill the guard who had murdered his family at Auschwitz. We watch him as he receives assistance from fellow travellers, consults the letter that provides him the details of his trip, and interacts with those he meets. He manages to cope with several false leads that require his problem-solving skills to help him sort through his options. We also watch him when he is not able to cope with the journey. We rejoice at the kindness of strangers, often children, who help him when he is lost in time and space—a blank slate.

Active Aging encompasses one’s health, one’s participation in daily activities, and one’s sense of security. The World report on Aging and Health (WHO, 2015) outlines a framework for action to foster Healthy Aging built around the new concept of functional ability. Making these investments will have valuable social and economic returns, both in terms of health and wellbeing of older people and in enabling their on-going participation in society. A fact sheet about ageing is also available at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs404/en. In Canada, we know that those aged 65+ outnumber the youth and by 2020 will outnumber children 5 years and younger.

The diversity among the elderly with a range from independent to various levels of dependency needs to be considered when planning for the future and involves looking at transportation, social participation, housing, outdoor spaces and buildings, community support and health services as well as collaboration among agencies and information about services.

In the last few years, studies have demonstrated that active living, including a wide range of activities can enable individuals to maintain their independence for many years. That message is one that is important for those of us who are baby boomers—we can take steps to change some habits and include physical activity and mental stimulation in our daily lives. My grandmother died at 74 years; my mother lived to 96 but her last 5 years were lived in ever decreasing concentric circles and increasing isolation as her once active mind lost its flexibility. These losses are not inevitable.

 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

 

A friend recently mentioned that all Westerns begin with a stranger coming to town. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance meets this criterion. The fictional, frontier town of Twotrees accepts a stranger (Ransome Foster) who had been dragged, beaten and bloody into town by a local gunslinger (Bert Barricune). Foster is left at the saloon, run by a feisty and prickly Hallie Jackson and assisted by Jim the Reverend Mosten. Bert, Hallie and Jim know that Ransome has brought books with him and know that he is not equipped to survive in the West. Nevertheless, he stays in Twotrees after having promised Hallie that he will teach Jim how to read. Part of the agreement is that Hallie will also learn to read.

 

The plot is more complex because Jim is Black, having been abandoned as a baby on the steps of the salon run by Hallie’s parents. He is raised as a member of the family but folk in The West, although rejecting the rule of law, accept certain social conventions as law. When Liberty Valance gets word of Ransome’s teaching of Hallie and Jim, he rides into town, engages Jim in a high-stakes game, and calls his bluff, and then has him taken outside and hanged.

 

Hallie is heart-sick when she and Ransome return from the theatre and hear of Jim’s death. Jim was her best friend and colleague. The confrontation between Hallie and Ransome foregrounds important issues and beliefs that represent the town of Twotrees prior to Ransome’s arrival: the place of African-Americans in the town; the disdain that folk feel for education and book learning; the privilege of those who hold power; the inability of the justice system to deal with crime and intimidation; individuals who feel responsible for Jim’s death, and finally, the man that Hallie loves.

 

Ransome then decides to hunt and kill Liberty Valance; Bert’s attempts to dissuade him are in vain. The inevitable meeting between Ransome and Liberty Valance takes place in Hallie’s saloon. The rather lengthy conversation between them reveals Liberty’s understanding of men like Ransome as well as areas of mutual understanding. The duel occurs; Liberty is killed and Ransome is wounded.

 

The play, written by the British dramatist, Jethro Compton, is based on a short story by Dorothy Johnson. That story was made into a film in 1962 starring James Stewart and John Wayne and has been selected for preservation in the U S National Film registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’ The narrator is Robert Vaughn, famous for his roles in Western films.

 

The ensemble worked well. Jim managed to balance a deferential manner with pride in his auditory memory and his development as a reader and thinker. Hallie softened her feisty manner and biting tongue by accepting Ransome’s invitations to learn to read and to accompany him to the theatre. Bert conveyed a quiet honesty and strength through his short utterances. Liberty’s swagger hinted at his power over the frontier territory and legal system. Ransome’s arrogance could not quite endear him to the audience. All the characters are fueled by hope. The play lets them experience their lives, their loves and their sacrifices.

 

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck

Seminar by Theresa Rebeck opened the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre Winnipeg’s 2015-16 season. Four aspiring writers, Martin, Douglas, Kate and Izzy, pool their money to engage an established novelist for a 10-week master class.

The ensemble of the young quartet worked well. Sparks flew as the relationships among them shifted and as Leonard, their teacher, reacted to their writing and their personas.

The opening scene, in Kate’s apartment, allows us to glimpse the quartet spar with words, the passion that unites them. Martin, nephew of a famous playwright,appears as a parody of serious students of writing. His arrogant use of terms such as the interiority and exteriority of the landscape, his description of the trees and shrubs he has passed on his way to the apartment as balanced for growth, and hints about a possible publication in “The New Yorker” place him in the realm of those who seem to prefer to talk about writing, rather than working at writing. Martin challenges him and mocks his words, trying to gain the support of Izzy and Kate.

When Leonard arrives for the class, he asks to read a piece of writing. Kate steps up, handing him a piece in the style of Jane Austen on which she has been working for 6 years. Leonard stops at the semi-colon, rips her work apart and leaves the class.

Each week another member of the quartet presents work; Izzy’s work is praised; Martin is told to go to Hollywood and Douglas rejects Leonard’s scathing remarks about his friend’s work. When Martin comes a week later and announces to his fellow students that Leonard had been accused of taking the words of others, Douglas then has the courage to reveal his words. Leonard cannot remember having read the first chapter of Douglas’ novel, the piece he had submitted to gain entrance into the seminar. Douglas and Leonard joust before Leonard reveals a hidden part of himself, becoming honest  perhaps for the first time during the play.

Creating works of art is a lengthy process; refining that work also requires time and effort. Leonard’s remarks after a superficial reading of his students’ work, dismiss their creative processes. He acts on the assumption that telling his students the hard truth is the best approach to teach them how difficult the task of becoming successful writers is. His students would prefer him to comment on their talent and let them know he values their work. When they do not accept his remarks, he begins to attack their character as well as  their writing. They begin to wonder about the class but also about the profession they have chosen.

His remarks call into question the narratives they have constructed of who they are. All of us construct narratives of ourselves; these narrative slip and elide depending on contextual influences. Why should it be any different for the aspiring writers? When they begin to question the each others personal narratives, shifts and cracks appear in the faces they present to the world. They begin to tell each other little lies, stretching and reshaping the truth to fit their own purposes. Even Leonard undergoes transformation when confronted by rumours of plagiarism and false memoirs.

Rebeck’s exploration of serious themes, such as personal identity and creativity did not come alive for me, despite the efforts of the actors and some good dialogue.