Monday, November 26, 2007

All in a Day's Work

Four men and eight hours is all it takes to shingle a roof, typar a bungalow and install seven windows. This was the house tonight at 17:30....three days ago, this was just a slab foundation. Some amazing, huh? Thank you to everyone who has helped make this real. We have a long ways to go, but I'm still holding out hope that Jay and Charlotte will be in their home for Christmas. For all posts on this story, choose 'Gifts from the Heart' from the subject categories.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

What if we had our own Dirty Dozen right here in Hillsborough?

Some days it seemed like it might never happen…but early this morning, as the sky began to brighten and a few flurries coasted down to earth, 12 very capable men congregated at a barren building site on the Mollins Road, just outside Hillsborough village limits. It was –7 with a cold winter wind, but they didn’t seem to notice.

They laughingly called themselves the Dirty Dozen and they were there for a single purpose – to build Jay and Charlotte a new home.

Planning started in September and slowly the pieces came together, local businesses jumping in to contribute building materials for this worthwhile project, tradesmen offering their services, individuals donating funds and labour to build a barrier-free home for the couple. It's amazing what can happen when a village works together.

Today, it finally became real for Charlotte, who was on site, snapping pictures and almost dancing with excitement.

“Jay and I are going to grow old here,” she told me, standing under the overhang that will be her veranda. It’s not even a dream come true for her, because she never dreamed she would ever have a real house to call her own.

A few months ago, they didn’t know what the future held for them. All they knew was that they couldn’t stay in their mobile home for another winter. It was falling down around them.

Charlotte looks away, quiet for a few minutes, eyes hidden by sunglasses. It’s been an overwhelming ride for them. “Sometimes,” she says, “we just cry together.”

It was amazing how fast the house came together. At 8:00 this morning, a small storage shed and a slab foundation on a gravel base was all that could be seen on the site where the mobile home once stood.

An hour and a half later, two walls were standing; by 11:00 am all four walls were in place.

The Dirty Dozen were pumped. They wanted to see how much they could get done in a single day. By the time the guys broke for lunch, the roof trusses were positioned.

By 4:30 pm, they were shingling the roof, but had to stop when the shingles started breaking in the cold temperatures. Before they left for the day, they installed the doors.

Anything is possible, when you put your mind and your heart into it.

Want Another Chance?

So, it's been a week since I bought my Nordic walking poles and they have been taking root in the closet. Between holding down a day job and freelancing at night, free moments have been scarce. But today, in spite of -6 temps and a chill wind, I dug them out and took Caledonia to the marsh trail and dykes in Hillsborough.

As I strode out the trail and along the top of the dykes, I couldn't help but feel tall, straight, strong, confident. The poles do that - they force you to walk tall - to stride purposefully. I completely see why Yennah chose the name Walking Proud for her Nordic Walking group. In spite of the wind, I was warm, breathing deep, fully involved in the rhythm of the motion. So very cool.

And I couldn't help but think this was a no brainer. If my time is of a premium, and I only have 30 minutes a day to walk, why not double the return on the effort by using the poles?

If you missed Yennah Hurley at the Nordic Walking demonstration in Riverside last week, you'll have another chance to talk to her. She will be attending the next Footloose! event on December 4th, 7:00 pm at Caledonia Regional High School in Hillsborough. You won't want to miss the evening anyway, as Sharon Wells will be sharing her success story of lifestyle change.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lessons on Friendship

Caledonia is teaching me how to be. How to show love; how to love life. She loves people exuberantly, without reservation; she lives spontaneously, without regrets. And people love her right back, the same way.

She is always ready to drop everything to be with me, regardless of when, where, why or how. She understands that life is complicated and so she waits patiently, without complaint, until I have time for her. I need the simplicity of her world to remind me of the importance of right here, right now.

She loves me equally whether my heart is full of giggles or growls, when I’m taking or giving, even when I look grungy or smell bad. She just wants to be with me. I pat the sofa and she climbs up and settles right in – OK girlfriend, let’s hang out.

I catch her watching me endlessly…what is she thinking? She stares like she is reading – memorizing - the skin of my face, the freckles on my nose, the lines of my eyes; her wide chocolate eyes look concerned, totally involved, depthless. Like she’s dragging me into her soul. She looks right into my heart with those guileless eyes, like she knows more of me than I do. Sometimes she looks sad, like she knows something I don’t. Like she knows what lies ahead for me.

Or maybe she just wants my popcorn. After all, she is a golden retriever.

I want to be a friend like her, not because I want people to love me like everyone loves her, but because I want them to know how it feels to be loved unconditionally. Because I want them to know they can be themselves around me without worrying about acceptance. They can be happy or grungy, makes no difference.

That’s the kind of friend I want to be.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

20 Reasons to Try it

What if you learned about an activity that:
  1. is as enjoyable as walking (or more)
  2. protects knees and other joints
  3. increases lung capacity
  4. improves posture
  5. enhances heart and lung function
  6. strengthens upper body and torso
  7. relieves neck and shoulder pain
  8. builds and tones muscle
  9. eliminates bat wings and love handles
  10. takes the agony out of Albert County's hills
  11. provides the same intensity of running without associated injuries
  12. is equally enjoyable on ice, snow, pavement, gravel or trails
  13. can be done anywhere, anytime
  14. provides stability in the winter
  15. is economical
  16. doesn’t require fancy clothes or equipment
  17. has varying levels of intensity
  18. enhances mood (without drugs or hallucinogens)
  19. has 40-60% more total body workout than walking, and
  20. burns 40% more calories?

Would you try it?

Dozens did at the Nordic Walking demonstration in Riverside-Albert on the weekend. The demo was put on by Yennah Hurley of She brought along lots of poles so everyone could try them out. And a good number walked away afterward proudly carrying their new Nordic Walking poles, all gung ho and ready to rock the county.

I’m one of them.

I’d first seen Nordic Walking last year, but the demonstration was crowded so I really didn’t have the opportunity to try it. I thought it looked like a great sport for my parents, but well..I was already quite active so really didn't need something else.

Well, I'm a believer now. The poles add intensity to a regular walk. I found my pace was faster, my arms, shoulders and torso were fully involved, hills were easier and I walked straighter. I love cross-country skiing, so it seems natural that I would enjoy the Nordic Walking, which is much the same movement. And I was tickled to discover I could even use the poles when snowshoeing.

It's perfect.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What if we could never give back enough?

Remembrance Day changed for me in 2003. That was the year I travelled to Belgium to run the ‘In Flanders Fields’ Marathon in Belgium as part of the Arthritis Society’s Joints in Motion program. Known as the Marathon for Peace, the marathon was the vision of Andre Mingneau, who founded the race not just to honour his own family’s involvement in two world wars, but to connect people from all over the world in the common goal of peaceful co-existence.

In the days preceding the marathon, we visited the Essex Farm Cemetery, made famous by John McCrae’s poem, where I asked why some headstones touched while others were evenly spaced. I learned the burial ground’s close proximity to the battlefield meant it was frequently bombarded and often, remains were unearthed timed and time again.

The jumble of limbs, impossible to separate, were reburied together, yet honoured by individual stones…

We toured German and Commonwealth grave sites and saw the ‘Brooding Soldier’, a memorial to the Canadians who withstood history’s first gas attacks. But it was surrounded by 11,953 pristine white tombstones in the Tyne Cot Cemetery that I was emotionally shattered by the magnitude of loss. Each stone represented a rich and vibrant past, loved ones left to mourn. As I ran my fingers along a long curving wall engraved with 34,870 names of the missing, I allowed tears to flow freely to honour the endless columns of those who died without ceremony or last goodbyes.

But it wasn’t until that evening, as 230 Canadians gathered under the Menin Gate to lay wreaths for our war veterans, that we experienced the dedication and commitment of the Flemish people to this ritual of remembrance and reverence. Every night, traffic is halted on this main thoroughfare while Fire Brigade volunteers play The Last Post. As the first strains of ‘O Canada’ began to lift upward, Belgian and Canadian stood side by side, wiping tears, sharing an instinctive bond created before most of us were even born. I noticed one elderly woman who came early, bringing a folding chair. She sat silent and alone beside one of the columns. I somehow sensed this was a nightly ritual for her.

Faced with this dedication to remembrance, how could I ever fail to observe another Remembrance Day?

Two days later, I ran the marathon proudly wearing my poppy and with Canadian flags and maple leafs stamped on my arms and legs. I handed out maple leaf pins and flags to the Belgian volunteers and families who lined the route cheering ‘Ka-na-da!’ as we passed. Skirting the fertile fields that still give up their dead, thoughts of the incredible courage and sacrifice of our soldiers kept my legs moving when they wanted to give out.

No doubt these boys spent many hours feeling inadequate or questioning their worth. But yet, their fight for the freedom of others continues to impact the lives of many every single day. I went to do my small part in the struggle against a disease that affects millions – and while my actions seemed insignificant in the whole picture, I realized when one stands with many, we can make a difference. Together, we can win our own individual wars.

A hundred metres from the finish line of my first ever marathon, I again passed through the Menin Gate. This time, I breathed a prayer of thankfulness for the thousands who lived and died for a cause and for the lessons they continue to teach.

A Remembrance Day as not passed since, that I do not relive the experience, the emotion and the gratitude I felt that day. And I wonder how I will ever give back what has been given me.

Read more about my marathon experience.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What if who I am is more important than what I have?

Last summer, I wrote an article about Chuck Bernard (The Woodchuck), a wildly eccentric woodcarver in Bouctouche (his shop is just a little south of the Dunes. It’s the one that looks like a Spanish galleon sailed right through it). Chuck likes to use his art to challenge people to think outside accepted norms.

For just a toonie, he will stop his woodcarving to give tourists and visitors a performance of his life story, scenes of which are carved into his coffin. Yes, his coffin. Trust me, it’s truly a performance worth seeing. He’s lived a pretty colorful life.

A toonie doesn’t seem like much, but you’d be amazed how many people balk at letting go of one.

It’s not about the money, really. (He gives the toonies away.) Chuck has never had money, so hoarding it is of little importance to him. He knows that who he is, is more important than what he has. It’s more about teaching people to let go of stuff.

Chuck also knows that all those frivolous self-serving things we choose to bring into our lives slowly eclipse our true nature. But that each time we give something away, it helps us uncover our deepest desires; the things that matter most. Ask anyone who has lost it all, whether possessions are important.

What if the most important thing in life is the one thing we cannot lose; the thing that has been there all along?

Monday, November 5, 2007

What if to do nothing is to gain nothing?

A couple weeks ago, Hillsborough residents gathered in a community hall to discuss the problem of teen vandalism in the community. To our great surprise, a contingent of teens showed up with a spokesperson to state their case. At the end of the evening, they were soliciting the names of people who had damage done to their property and were promising to fix what had been broken.

Unfortunately, they can’t. What has been broken is a community’s trust in policing. People asked why the RCMP force tolerates drunken, underage teens in public. We heard stories of unsatisfactory follow-ups on complaints. Response times are laughable due to the large geographical area covered by too few officers. It appears inadequate staffing is to blame. Since removing the detachment from Hillsborough, we no longer have a lockup or a handy police presence. We’ve had to hire outside security.

We can accept this and bitterly complain to ourselves while the situation worsens from acts of vandalism to violence, or we can refuse to accept the degradation of our community lifestyle and proactively complain to Hon. John W. Foran, Minister of Public Safety. Last week the village sent out a newsletter encouraging people to write to our government about these concerns; they even have form letters for residents to sign at the Village Office. Whining that it will do no good is not an acceptable response; to do nothing, is to gain nothing.

What we don't stop to consider is the bigger picture. What we have to lose is not just safety and the protection of property, but the future of our youth. How many teens are learning to deal with life using anger and alcohol?

A silent voice will never be heard. This isn’t just a village problem, it’s a growing problem. I’ve sent off my letter already…have you?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Searchers in the Storm

Early this morning, just after 3:00 am, as most of eastern Canada was asleep in their warm, dry beds, volunteer search and rescue personnel from Tri-County Ground Search and Rescue were driving north through the gale force winds and pelting rain of Hurricane Noel to the small village of Sunny Corner near Newcastle to search for two lost hunters. The irony was not lost on them, as they donned rain gear and hunter orange vests in the warmth of their vehicles and prepared to head into the woods at the first hint of dawn.

The two hunters, who were from Ontario, were separated from their party and became disoriented in the unfamiliar landscape late Saturday afternoon. As their families in Ontario gathered together to await news, the two stayed in one place through the storm, leaning with their backs against a tree in an attempt to preserve body heat in the torrential rain. They couldn't have picked a worse night to be out in the elements.

During the search, the noise of the wind hampered whistle blasts and the threat of falling limbs and blow downs was a constant danger. In the heavy rain, brooks became rivers, and bogs became ponds. Joined by searchers from the Miramichi region, the TCGSAR group fanned out through the area on foot and on ATVs. At one point, one team heard a shotgun blast, called out and blew whistles, but the hunters were moving away from the search team and could not hear their rescuers in the wind.

The search group narrowed in on them around noon on Sunday. The pair were hungry, cold and soaked to the skin, but very glad to be in the company of perfect strangers.

I can't help but wonder what kind of thoughts went through their minds, all night long...

The team needs volunteers...if you'd like to leave your warm bed for the satisfying task of searching for lost souls in the night, contact TCGSAR. Their website has information on joining:

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Not So Merry Hurricane Noel

It's just after 10:00 p.m. here in Hillsborough, New Brunswick, not far from the Bay of Fundy coast, and so far Hurricane Noel hasn't presented much of a problem for us. Rain started this afternoon around 4:00, becoming heavy by 7:00pm. The wind is starting to pick up considerably now, but nothing too serious, yet. Our house is in the trees - this might be a good thing...or bad. We scouted around the property, looking for potential blow downs this afternoon, while putting away all the lawn furniture, plant pots and other vestiges of summer.

An hour ago, I let the dog out. She took five steps off the veranda, then did an abrupt about-face. I hope she's ready to hold it all night. We may go through an entire bottle of Bach's Rescue Remedy tonight...she hates the wind.

It's sort of eerie; this knowing something big is coming, but not knowing how big. We get a few storms here along the bay, but certainly nothing like our southern neighbours. Fortunately our high tide was two hours ago, so the flow will be ebbing with the worst of the storm.

Weather like this always brings back stories about the Bay of Fundy's Perfect Storm. It was October 4-5, 1869 when the Saxby Gale hit New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy coast. The storm was predicted, exactly to the day, one year earlier by a navigator and amateur astronomer in the British Navy, but no one paid much attention, thinking him somewhat daft.

But, sure enough, that October morning, just south of Saint John, NB, a thunderstorm coming from the west collided with a tropical storm advancing up the eastern seaboard. Wind gusting to 200 kilometers per hour caused waves that swamped unwary vessels and caused severe flooding along the Fundy Coast. The high waves combined with a high springan tide and the strong winds to create a tidal surge that flooded the low lying areas and breached the dyke system that kept out the high Bay of Fundy tides. These were the highest tides ever recorded along the eastern seaboard. Many lives were lost before the winds abated.

It should be a wild night. Probably not much sleep.