Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Tribute To The Woodsman On The Loss Of His Wife

He calls himself the Woodsman, but not for the salacious meaning that may be crossing your mind.

He has a deep and passionate love of the woods and forests that surround his New England home. He and his wife Ann loved nothing better than vacationing deep in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

I've never met the Woodsman, I know him only through his blog and through his reading of mine. His blog tends to be more explicitly philosophical and his favorite philosopher is Alfred North Whitehead who once said, "Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains."

When I revealed my diagnosis of cancer, the Woodsman began writing privately to me with e-mails of support and suggestions. His wife Ann had successfully fought cancer six years ago so he knew something of the journey I was on.

Then in the summer he wrote to tell me his wife's cancer had returned, long after they had believed the battle had been won. However, he was full of confidence. They had beat cancer the first time and would again.

Yesterday, shockingly, he wrote to let me know Ann, his wife of 29 years, had died. No longer able to eat, she had been returned home from the hospital with the support of a hospice worker and had passed away in the embrace of her family.

My heart goes out to the Woodsman and his children at this time of their loss.

Cancer has taken just too many good people.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Linda becomes a 60's girl again today. Our daughter and her children are coming in from Guelph and we are going downtown to see the Nutcracker at the new Four Season's Centre.

Then out for a Birthday Dinner.

Hope all your dreams come true today Linda!

Happy 60th!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best Wishes For The Season

Barry Linda and Lindsay

Wish you a Peaceful and Healthy

Holiday Season

The Joy of Your Friends and Family

The Love and Comfort of your Pets

And the Knowledge that your Company

Your Thoughts, Prayers and Wishes,

Have brought us

A Deep and Abiding Comfort

Through a Difficult 2009

And were deeply, deeply appreciated.

Although I will be a frequent visitor

At Your Blogs, I will not be posting here again

Until 2010

Please accept my best wishes for a



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barry's Retirement Party

We were late but we made great time, hitting nearly every green light on the way downtown. Until we got to Bloor St where the traffic came to a complete halt.

And we sat and we waited.

There is major construction going on at Yonge and Bloor and our hotel for the night was only two city blocks from there. But traveling those two block took us over half an hour.

My retirement party had already started at another venue by the time Linda and I got to the hotel. We ran through our check in. The butler (yes a butler) helped us get our bags quickly up to the room and made certain the doorman had a cab ready for us.

We arrived at my party only half an hour late.

I worked for FSEAP for over 30 years. I hadn't intended to work there that long, but they kept giving me new responsibilities and interesting new assignments.

And I liked the people and was proud of the work. So the time passed.

Until suddenly, today, it was over.

Our Vice President, Carol-Anne gave a glowing speech about me, some of which was even true. And the staff of the agency applauded.

They gave me flowers. Massive bouquets. They played a Jib Jab video of me, and my two fellow retirees, dancing like elves. Showing moves Linda now insists I learn.

And I hugged and said goodbye to many many people.

Until it was all over. Then Linda and I headed back to the hotel for dinner.

We were staying for the night at the Windsor Arms, a small luxury hotel hidden away on a side street in the heart of Toronto. It may be small, in may be hidden, but it's where the rich and famous come to stay when they're in town.

Hence the butler.

I was tired after the drive and the party, so we stayed at the hotel for dinner.

Where we found Maryland Crab Cakes on the menu and ordered them in honour of fellow blogger Patty, a proud Crisfield Maryland resident. Well, in honour of Patty AND because I really love crab cakes.

Sir James and his family were dining at the table next to us. I'm not certain who Sir James is, but the waiter was delighted to see him.

"It is a pleasure to have you with us again, Sir James."

After dinner Nigel, the butler, got us a large vase for our flowers and brought us coffee for the evening.

Then the next day I went around the corner to Princess Margaret Hospital for one of the most important CT Scans for the year. I've been feeling great between chemo cycles, but we have no evidence yet that the Taxol is actually helping me. Nor will this CT scan likely show that.

What it could show is that the chemo isn't working. That the cancer is spreading. That I need radiation instead of chemo as a last line defense.

Given the limitations of technology, the best it is likely to show is no visible change since the previous scan. From that the oncologist will assume, that Taxol is doing its thing (although it may not) and we will just continue with the treatments into the new year.

And hope for the best.

And a long retirement.

For me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday "My Town" Shootout--Dressed For Christmas

With retirement parties, CT scans, over night trips and Christmas shopping we were really late getting the FSO up this week.

But now we're ready!

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until February).

To see our contribution this week please CLICK HERE

Our tree is up, the lights are lit, and we're ready for you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Day Lindsay Met Santa In The Forest

The noise came first. A thrashing, pouncing, rushing sound coming out of the deep forest to our left.

Lindsay froze, tail stiff, legs braced as she turned to face the on coming rush.

Then snow began to fly and a bright pink nose bounded out of the woods.

Closely followed by the large pure white Labrador puppy to which it was attached. The large and friendly puppy was a frenzy of glee, bowing toward Lindsay, tail whirling like a helicopter blade.

Lindsay relaxed and returned the bow, her own tail coming to life, and the two of them were suddenly off on a game of chase through the mounds of snow.

"Rudolf! Rudolf!" A deep and hearty voice bellowed from a distance. "Rudolf, where are you dog!"

The two animals went racing off toward the sound of the voice.

"Ah Ha! You've found a friend!"

"He has," I called back. "And she is friendly!"

I rounded the large tree growing in the path ahead of me, and came face to face with Santa Claus. There was no doubt who it was, with a large Santa hat perched on top of his white bearded face. Of course the rest of him was dressed in a more contemporary style, a heavy gray scarf, a long winter's coat made from some form of leather and Cossack boots. He held a thick staff in his right hand and leaned on it as the two dogs tore about at his feet before they dashed back off into the woods.

"Ha Ha Ha! I can certainly see she's friendly," Santa laughed.

"It's a beautiful day out today," I said, not knowing what else to say to Santa in his off time.

"It is, it is," the old man replied, nodding his head toward the two animals. "The dog's name is Rudolf. My wife named him. Me with my white beard like Santa and him with his bright pink nose. She thinks its funny."

"Well," I said.

"Oh, alright," the old man laughed again. "It is funny. Maybe I'll shave the beard off one day and confound her!"

"No, don't do that!" I was appalled.

"Oh don't worry," his eyes twinkled above his bushy beard. "Even I wouldn't know who I was without my beard. You know I was Santa for a couple of years up at the Mall. Most fun I ever had. At work."

The two dogs came tearing past us again, whirling around our feet before racing back off into the woods.

"Look at them go," Santa said. "I sure wish I had their energy."

"Me too."

"Well, I guess I better get going. Nice meeting you."

"Me too. It's not every day I get to meet Santa."

"Oh heck, that's an everyday experience for me. You be well now," He suddenly said with some seriousness.

"I will," I promised.

He called Rudolph's name again, and set off down the path, leaning heavily on his staff.

Within minutes Lindsay was back around my feet, looking up at me to see if I appreciated all the fun that had just taken place.

I gave her a pat on her head.

"Have I got a story to take home to Linda." I told her.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unexpected Generosity

The Toronto newspapers this morning are filled with stories of murders, rapes, beatings, political skulduggery, and Tiger Woods' infidelities (hands up the lone woman who hasn't had an affair with Tiger).

It's enough to make you very discouraged about humanity.

That is, if the newspaper had gotten it right. The trouble is, Newspapers see only the exceptions to normal human behaviour. It's the exceptions that sell papers.

The "norm" goes unnoticed, unmentioned. But by ignoring the norm, by definition you are distorting reality. Big time.

What's normal is human decency. What's normal is human caring. What's normal is human generosity.

And it was an out pouring of generosity that greeted Linda on her return to work yesterday. Not only were there embraces all around from fellow teachers, but the children were ecstatic to have her back.

And as a token of their joy, the teachers at her school had done an exceptional thing. Because, you see, exceptions run in both directions, the good and the bad. Despite what Newspapers would have you believe.

The exceptional thing the teachers at Linda's school had done was to individually each cook us a meal from their favourite vegetarian recipe. Linda arrived at school to find boxes and boxes of dinners and lunches all prepared for her. To help ease her way back into the work force after 8 months of caring for me.

Of course, its surprising just how many people consider macaroni and cheese their favourite vegetarian meal. And in just how many ways it can be prepared.

But we literally don't have to do anything other than heat up a pre-prepared meal for the next month.

The world is awash in good people.

Believe it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Linda Returns To Work

It is still dark and cold in the early morning as the car backs cautiously down the driveway, pauses, and then backs out onto the quiet road.

The headlights swing away from the house and point northward. The car holds for a minute while gears are being switched and then crawls forward into the dark.

And Linda is gone, back to work for the first time in eight months.

She is only working a couple of days this week before the winter break but it is a preview of January when she will be working again full time.

Her time full and mine needing filling.

I had a plan for my retirement. I had carefully thought it through and had taken steps to put plans in place that would fill my days with activities that interested me. I had helped create a Community Association and was its first President. I created and maintained its website, was its Community Police liaison, chaired its monthly meetings, discussed our community needs with our local politicians, helped write its Newsletter.

I enjoyed it and looked forward to all I could accomplish with the extra time that would come my way when I retired.

But cancer ended that as it ended my involvement with work, years earlier than I intended.

Life, someone said, is what happens when you're busy planning other things.

For almost a year now my focus has been on regaining my health and it has been an interesting journey. Not fully won, but to a degree, certainly improved.

And to the degree I have my health back, I now need to think of ways to make use of it and re-involve myself in things that are less self centred.

Having good health, or even relatively good health, is like having a well tuned car sitting in the driveway, its tank full of gas. Only, cars were never made to sit in driveways. They are built for going places. For exploring.

I need to accept I have a future and an interesting life ahead of me. A life beyond, or certainly around, the next chemo treatment, the next doctor's appointment the next test.

Once I decide what to make of it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Partying With Teachers

"If I didn't know you had cancer, I wouldn't know you had cancer," He shouted.

"Thank you, I think," I shouted back, laughing.

"I hope you don't mind talking about this here," he yelled.

"No, I don't mind at all." I shouted.

Linda and I were at her staff's Christmas Party. I don't know if you've ever partied with teachers? I don't know if you've ever associated teachers with partying?

I remember as a child the first time I ever saw one of my teachers outside the classroom and realized, for the first time, that they didn't just live in my school. They were actual people with full and rich lives.

Who sometimes partied.

Since then, of course, I've married a teacher and have attended many parties with teachers, and I've become somewhat of an expert on teacher parties.

And I can tell you they are different.

For one thing, they are loud.

Which is why we were shouting.

Because, you see, teachers are professional talkers. They like to talk. And they do. And they're good at it. Animated. Engaging.

But put 30 or 40 of them in a room and the decibel level rises to a near deafening roar. They certainly know how to project.

Teachers also like to shop talk and teacher shop talk is a foreign language littered with almost incomprehensible acronyms. ESL, IEPs, IPRCs and the like. And they like to gossip. So, unless you know the names of every teacher in the school and the background to their lives, there is no hope of joining in much of the conversation.

"Well its great to see you here. When Linda told us about you're having cancer, we were really worried." He yelled.

"Barry!" shouted another teacher behind me. She gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "How wonderful to see you again. And your bald head and everything!"

You see, there is another thing about teachers that I forgot to mention.

Even when they party, they care.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday My Town Shoot Out--Christmas Weather

As you can see from their tracks, a lot of people have been out to have a look. What did they come to see?

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find out what all those people came to see.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until February).

To see our contribution this week please CLICK HERE

Dress warmly and we'll you over there!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Storm

My brother John's SUV cuts through the snow packed streets in the dark of early morning with calm assurance. Linda and I are bundled comfortably inside listening to the radio playing softly in the background and joking with John about the news of the day.

I'm on my way to Princes Margaret Hospital for my third cycle of chemotherapy and Toronto has just been hit by the first winter storm of the season It is very early and the streets are yet to be packed with commuter traffic. Toronto's 600 snow plows and 200 salters have been out all night grooming the roads and we are driving through an ugly slush, not ice or snow.

The traffic flow has locked us into proximity with a "Shred It!" truck which is changing lanes periodically without signaling and speeding up and slowing down erratically. At one point it even pulled into a "No Stop" zone in front of us, put on its 4 way flashers and came to a complete halt. Blocking us in the lane behind it for several minutes until the traffic cleared and we could pass.

"Well, at least we've put him behind us," said John.

Only, 5 five minutes later he was back beside us again.

Despite the traffic and the storm and the "Shred It!" truck, John got us to the hospital only 10 minutes later than usual. Much faster than the nurse who was to administer my taxol. The traffic delayed her by over an hour, as the chemo waiting room filled to capacity and it was nearly 10 when we were called in for my treatment.

Although armed with two books, a kindle, an ipod filled with music and Linda for company, I slept through most of the 5 hour procedure. I'm getting bored with chemo. Bored with cancer. Bored with nurses and Princess Margaret Hospital. My explorer's nature wants always to move on beyond what I know and into the new.

Chemo is no longer new. It is become predictable. After today I will have three days of fatigue, then the side effects will begin. My joints will start to ache like a moderate case of arthritis, the glands in my neck might swell, I will start to loose more sensation in the tips of my fingers and the bottoms of my feet (a sensation loss I might never recover) and I would develop a chemo allergic rash across my head and down my body that would require Aveno baths twice a day and Benadryl (on top of all my other drugs).

Finally I would have a couple of weeks of freedom and relative normalcy as I recover my strength prior to the next cycle.

My MEDS program (Meditation, Exercise, Diet and Stress Reduction) is working well. It is largely focused on keeping my immune system from being too impacted by the taxol. During my previous cycles of chemo, in the summer, my immune system got dangerously low. So low consideration was given to discontinuing chemo altogether. This time around it was a healthy 3 after the first cycle and a near perfect 4.7 (a reading of 5 would be ideal) this time.

By 3 oclock we are finished and John arrives to drive us home. Outside the temperature has warmed up and the snow has turned to rain. We again beat the rush hour traffic on roads that are now only wet.

Lindsay greets us at the door as we arrive home. She has been cheated out of two days of walks and will get only short walks over the next few days as my post chemo fatigue settles in like a heavy weight.

Only the weight now has a new name for me--boredom. An old enemy. Too familiar and too boring. I will have to give it some thought. But for now, I'm very tired and have a lot of sleeping to do.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Toy Wicker Baby Carriage

It doesn't really resemble this photo. For one thing, it isn't painted and it isn't lined. But it has been in our family for nearly 40 years and has been loved by all our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friendly visitors.

However, although it was one of the most loved of toys and one of the most used, and although we have stacks of photos of messy play rooms from down through the years, and I have searched through all of our albums, I am unable to find a single photo of it. It was always where the mess wasn't, I guess.

The wooden wheels squeak now, but otherwise it has been remarkably resilient to the passage of time. And the rough treatment of babies.

I'm not certain how we came by the wicker baby carriage, except that it originally belonged to my oldest daughter Kathy, who would load it up with dolls and parade it around the house. In her younger years the dolls were unceremoniously dumped into the carriage and only as she grew were they tucked in with any tenderness.

The little carriage inspired grandmothers and great-grandmothers to create blankets and sheets and pillows, which would almost immediately get dumped on the floor so more babies would fit within.

On Sunday we dusted it off and took it as a gift to my 16 month old granddaughter Hailey. We baby sat her for the afternoon while her parents took their older son to see Toronto Symphony's version of The Christmas Carol.

At first Hailey looked at it with some suspicion, toddling around it and poking at the baby within. Then taking hold of the handle and tentatively pushing it on squeaking wheels.

Before dumping the baby out and then picking it back up again and throwing it back into the carriage on its head.


Exactly as her mother Kathy had done to a similar baby over thirty years before.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

An Unexpected Transition

Black clouds like evil barges filled with winter snows are pushed violently across the cold skies of late Autumn. Massive winds guide their destination but also take time out to rock the car in which I'm sitting. Waiting. In the parking lot of the school where Linda works.

I've tilted the seat back and opened my Kindle to my place in 9 Dragons where Harry Bosch has just had unexpected news that changes the thrust of his story's plot as surely as if the wintery clouds above me had all decided to change direction and head south.

I knew how he felt. Linda and I had just received unexpected news from the doctor that was now in the process of changing our lives almost as radically. In a way it was good news, or at least was driven by good news.

I am managing this latest round of chemotherapy so well, the side effects are so minimal,I no longer need Linda's assistance. No longer need a primary caretaker. She is free to return to work. Immediately. The doctor said.

It's hard to disagree with him.

It's been 8 months now that we've both been off work and if some of those months were terrifying both physically and psychologically, those times are passed, have mellowed out. We've adjusted to a new reality. And now it's time for Linda to get back to work.

The wind suddenly reaches down and rocks the car gently. I look up from the Kindle to the school where Linda is in talking with her Principal about when she will start back. Its nearly the end of the term and her replacement has been hired on a long term/occasional contract and the timing of Linda's return depends not just on health issues but the terms of the contract along with the needs of the children in the class. Linda is hoping he will tell her to start back in January but the doctor's note says she is able to return tomorrow.

I have heard from my own work as well this week. I've received an invitation to attend our Seasonal Get-together next week, for the first time as a retired member of staff. Part of the plan for the get together is to honour all those staff members who have retired this year, so I am included. Although this was not the way I had planned to retire.

And suddenly Linda is outside the car, clutching papers in her hand. I unlock the doors and she jumps into the seat beside me.

"So?" I prompt, looking at the papers.

She follows my gaze and shakes her head no, "These are about something different" she says. "It looks like I'm starting back in January, but I may have to forfeit some pay. The Principal's going to see what he can do. There's only two seeks left now til Christmas break and a natural transition time for the kids."

"Well that's good news. What are the papers."

"Our staff party. You're invited. We're having dinner at a restaurant like last year and then going over to Gail's for a while. This is the menu and you have to choose what you want, although there are only two vegetable choices."

I look the menu over and pick the lasagna.

"We're going to need to get the battery replaced in your car," I tell her. We've been using my car for most of the time she's been off and her battery is run down and wouldn't start the other day. "I don't want it failing on you between home and work."

"Well, we've got some time to get that done now."

We do. And time to adjust.

Linda gets out and runs the papers back into the school.

I click off the Kindle and start the car and after a minute begin to feel the heater kicking in. Linda's days will soon be filled with work once again.

And I better get some plans in place for myself.

As the winter clouds roll in.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday My Town Shoot Out--My Favourite Things

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. This week we explore our favourite things about the early Christmas season. And if we don't have favourite things, then we have to build them. That's what I'm getting ready to do in the photo above.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which was to end at Christmas but now is extended until February).

To see our contribution this week please CLICK HERE

See you over there!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lindsay's Reading List

Her dad may have his nose buried in a Kindle, but Lindsay prefers traditional paper books. Books with feel. Books whose spines crackle when opened. Books that can be picked up and read anytime and never need to be plugged in.

Fortunately for her various bloggers have kept her little life enriched with reading material.

Cindy from Alaska
introduced her to Ned Rozell's extraordinary dog Jane ("Walking My Dog Jane")who hiked the entire length of the Alaska pipeline from Valdez in the south to Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Along the way they not only encounter Alaska's rugged geography, her amazing cast of iconoclastic characters who live in your memory long after the book has ended, her incredible wildlife, but come to know and trust each other with that special bond between man and dog and stretches back thousands of years into the prehistory of China.

If Jane explores the natural wilderness of Alaska, filled with the natural sights and smells of the Alaskan wilderness, Annabel Goldsmith's dog Copper has learned to explore and feel at home in the strange civilized world modern man and dog have made for themselves in the very heart of the British Isles. "Copper, a Dog's Life" was a gift from Sara Diane Williams in the UK and it tells the story of a dog who has learned to use life's modern conveniences to his own advantage. Copper would think nothing of hoping on a bus to go down to his faviourite pub in the evening, sometime escorted by his good friend Jessie the cat. Or, if the wanderlust really took over, he would travel to Richmond, Kingston or Brighton.

In her hilarious book, "Mama Pajama Tells A Story", blogger Patience Renzulli set out to buy a dog. Just one. After much searching and researching she eventually found a Whippet named Evil and Evil spoke to her in a way no other dog had. Evil often does that to a person, even when that person decides to rename Evil Gracious. And although Evil started out to be an only companion for Patience before long Evil (er Gracious) had been joined by eight other Whippets and Patience (and her husband's) lives were transformed.

Lindsay and I are only just getting into Patience adventures with her pack, but she is already whispering in my ear, "No we do not need another dog in the house--or another eight. And I'm getting too excited listening to other dog's adventures. Isn't it time to go out and have one of our own."

And so we shall.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mr. Toast's Tea Party--And How I Named My Blog Day

"Oh, I forgot to tell you. We're going to a tea party today."

"We are?"

"Yes, a virtual tea party at Mr. Toast's home in Aspen."

"Well, that's too bad. You know how much I love a good tea party, but I think I'm having chemo today."

"No that's next week."

"Well a CT Scan then?"


"MRI?" "No." "Full body X-Ray?" "No." "Ultra-Sound?" "No." "Radiation?" "No." "PET Scan?" "No." "Root Canal?" "No." "Surgery?" "No." "Hang Nail?"

"NO!" said Linda. "We're going to a tea party and you are going to love it."

"I will." I asked doubtfully.

"A virtual tea party. In Aspen. You will love it. But first we're going to Whistler to pick up some special friends to come with us."

To find out if I loved it, who the special friends were and what Linda had planned, check out Linda's blog HERE.

Or, if this is your cup of tea and you want to just join in the fun, drop into the party HERE


But before I rush off to the Party, Ruth at Synch-ro-ni-zing is holding a "How I Named My Blog Day" requesting we all give an explanation of how our blogs came by their monikers.

Well, here's what I had to say about that back when I began this blog back in May of 2008....

I have a philosophy of life.

That sounds a little pretentious. But I'm not unique in this, nor is having a personal philosophy of life elitist in any way.

You have a philosophy of life as well. It may be more elaborate than mine, it may be better reasoned, it may even be more passionately held. Or your philosophy may be more felt than articulated, less well organized and may contain more elements destined to cause you harm.

But either way, you cannot escape having a Philosophy of Life that guides you and protects you in important ways. My life's philosophy has led me along certain pathways to certain destinations.

It has led me into an exploration of life. It has led me here.

Over the next few weeks and months I want to share this philosophy with you. Feel free to join me.

There have always been explorers from the earliest times of human existence. Sometimes they were driven to explore by desperate circumstances following famines or drought. Most of the time it was just a part of their nature. They couldn't not explore.

Where others were content, they were driven to learn. It was sometimes not a survival trait, at least not for the explorer. For the tribe, having explorers in their midst usually provided an evolutionary and competitive advantage.

In those early times, exploration usually meant seeking out new territory. Learning what was over the next hill, what was around the next corner. Those were the days of the physical explorers whose current embodiment are the astronauts who may soon be living, and dying, on the Moon or Mars.

But there have always been intellectual explorers as well. In the beginning they were the shamans who sought the reasons for disease and misfortune, who wondered about the healing powers of herbs and plants, about the forces that moved the moon and the stars, who wondered at the seasons and the storms, who found the behaviour of animals and other members of their tribes of compelling interest. They guessed at explanations and put those guesses to the test with little understanding of the laws of science or the ubiquity of coincidence.

As always for explorers there is trial and a great deal of error.

But because of their courage to explore, we all learned. Gradually and painfully.

I'm not an explorer in those grand terms. I am an explorer on a more personal scale. I love to travel and love to meet people and love to learn. I love to try new things. I am restless for novelty and adventure. Although usually those adventures are of the intellectual kind.

It makes for an interesting life.