Rideau River Walk

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Since last August, Sue and I have been living 50 metres from the Rideau River. Our Conservation Co-operative is blessed with greenery. On a day like today going to work is more meditation than walk. Moving alongside the river, nature’s disco lights flash from sunlight glints through leafy trees and off gleaming water. The river walk opens into Strathcona Park with its ancient trees planted for us by those whose life could not be long enough to enjoy this majesty.

Climbing the stairs at the park’s end, I emerge at the heavily gated Russian embassy. It is a few more blocks through the oldest part of Sandy Hill (now being re-branded as Prime Ministers’ Row – https://pmr-apm.ca/) until I reach the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

Our current advocacy effort for a supervised injection site aims to reduce the harm, death and personal tragedy from drug addiction. The walk and the day could not be more fulfilling.

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Owen’s First Holy Communion

Owen1stHolyCommunionLife brings blessings small and great. This morning I enjoy the last of the St. Viateur Bagels Sue packed for our Toronto trip. Many years ago, Joel Verbin introduced me to the ‘poor man’s lox’, anchovies on bagel. Family support includes tolerance of little fish. We are sharing an AirBnb in Scarborough. Too many of us now for Simon’s house.

We are all together for Owen’s First Holy Communion today at St. John’s. Owen is a peacemaker in the school. He is the quiet, thoughtful observer. Theology and liturgy are the surface of practice. In the church basement classmates fidget while Fr. John gives final instructions. Cameras and smart phones capture digital memories without discrimination.

Owen’s part of the Prayer of the Faithful is for our planet. My prayer is that this generation will inherit it in good enough shape that they can turn around some of our mistakes.

Simon and Beth invite family and friends to dinner at the Beech Tree on Kingston Rd. We have the place to ourselves. Even if we did not, the energy of seven cousins who don’t see each other often enough would have cleared out other diners. Not only is it a wonderful social event, but a gourmet treat. The owner invites us to stay past the alloted time.

We share our ageing. Each moment becomes more precious for itself. Children become adults caring for other children. Now knowing that those responsible for their childhood memories face difficult decisions along with their own finality.

Tomorrow we drive to Washington where Lisa is part of a conference panel. Sue and I will tourist with the grandkids. Each moment brings its own blessings.

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St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2016

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Outside the chapel we gather before Mass. This lobby is a place of reunion, reflection and renewal. Old classmates and friends meeting again. One can’t help but reflect on times past and the life events which bring us together at this place once again. Scanning the plaques, trophies and photos reunites one with the spirit of SFHS. Experienced uniquely, we share it collectively across generations of graduates. This year the list of those remembered includes a classmate, Roger Palczewski, a seminary colleage and Facebook friend, Fr. Linus Desantis, and a grad too young to be on this list, among others.

The official Commencement Program lists 64 graduates of the class of 1964. Seven of us have died. After coming regularly for about a dozen years, this year is the first time we are joined by a classmate’s family. Carol Palczewski and son Todd come to rememember Roger with us. Dan Galluch, Ron and Lynda Michnik with their son, Todd, and Ron and Patricia Hartman join us at Mass. Todd Michnik is a grad of ’88; the same year as Paul Bartell, the school’s VP of Development.

Later in the cafeteria we share memories and stories about Roger. He was a big part of our 50th reunion in 2014 https://sfhs1964.wordpress.com/50threunion/. Other attendees recall Roger’s work with SFHS after returning from military service. Our table is the last to leave the cafeteria. John and I make plans to join the Michnik’s for dinner.

Alumni may fondly recall the nearby sister school, Immaculata Academy.  After 88 years, it recently announced http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/hamburg/closing-of-immaculata-academy-in-hamburg-came-as-a-surprise-20160227 its closing at the end of this school year. With that closing, the question of St. Francis going co-ed is circulating in the community. There are limited choices for young girls wishing to attend a Catholic High School in the South Towns of Buffalo.

Earlier in the day John Macmillan and I enjoy breakfast at Peg’s Place, the former Howard Johnson’s on Route 5. We sit at the counter with the regulars. One asks our waitress about the colour streak in her hair. “I’m wearing pink for Jen.” A friend is undergoing cancer treatment. We share our hopes and best wishes.

With some time John and I decide to visit Buffalo. Driving down South Park we see the dome of the Olmstead designed Botanical Gardens . Yet another place I’ve passed many times without visiting. We change our plans and spend a delightful afternoon visiting the greenhouses. Sitting in the Palm Court one can forget about the Ottawa winter. Cabin fever has raised the thought of a winter getaway for Sue and I. Maybe next year I’ll bring her here.

We end our day with a dinner at Duff’s with Ron and Lynda Michnik. This gathering of my life long friends who’ve just met creates endless stories and laughs. This is the latest John and I have ever stayed. With our chicken wing take-outs, we return to Toronto. Tomorrow it will be back to Ottawa.

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Sharing remembrances and praying for peace

Wnuczek Charlie’s Cub Scout troop participated in today’s Service of Remembrance at WestminCharlie with AlexPolowinster Presbyterian Church in Westboro. Charlie met and talked with guest speaker Alex Polowin a WWII Canadian Navy veteran. Alex served on naval convoys to Northern Russia. His ship the Huron was in a group responsible for sinking or disabling 56 enemy ships during the war. Charlie was very interested in Mr. Polowin’s medals which include the French Legion of Honour (Chevalier), the Atlantic Star, the Russian Commemorative Medal and others. Alex gave a moving personal account of life on a destroyer during war time. I’m glad Charlie got to speak with a WWII veteran. We will remember them.

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Hike to Dogtown

Hiked to Dogtown Commons with my two oldest grandsons this morning. Mushrooms, toads, even a small snake were some of their endless discoveries.
Listening to Charlie nine, son of Lisa and Verity, and Owen, seven, son of Simon and Beth, discuss the essentials of rocks, earth, bees and trees helps focus my own thoughts on what truly matters.

May they too be blessed to someday enjoy a hike in the woods with their grandchildren. When it happens, I will be there.

Selfie at the Whale’s Jaw

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St. Francis Alumni Mass – 2015

Peter Kuhn’s name on the list of remembrances is the second surprise. The class of 1964 shared four years with Peter. He came daily by bus from the Springville area as a ‘day-hop’. My memory of him is a gentle person with a great smile. Based on the book of condolences attached to this obituary http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/buffalonews/obituary.aspx?pid=174179754 he lived his life the same way. Sadly we didn’t hear from him during last year’s 50th reunion.

The first surprise comes a few days earlier with Facebook posting the passing of John Moldoch, a seminary colleague for several years and a lay teacher at SFHS for thirty-three. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10152991673099854&type=1

Fr. Michael warmly weaves alumni, family and benefactors into his homily. Several return here each year to honour and remember those who passed. Throughout  the years this chapel remains the heart and centre of St. Francis. Current students and returning alum drop in to gaze at the altar and windows. We share the pews in prayer and memory with each student, teacher, and visitor. Past and present.

Going into the cafeteria afterwards, my friend John Macmillan from Toronto and I join a table with Mark Gillen ’79 and Anthony Antek (pen name) ’59 and Lynn his wife. In no time we are in a lively discussion about the local and national economy. Mark is a commercial banker and Anthony is a retired educator.  Clearly both have different perspectives about the causes for the financial losses of 2008. What is remarkable is the polite and sincere reciprocal
acknowledgement of each other’s points. If their approach could transfer to opposing political parties, it would advance both solutions and respect for government.

Anthony is the author of Bipolar Buffalo. This is my third surprise. The book is on a personal reading list. What a delight to find the author sitting across the table and to learn that he is an SFHS alumni. He invites us to visit his home in Lakeview. Anthony is also a collector of antique toys, especially the first toys made by the Fisher-Price company started in nearby East Aurora, NY. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher-Price.

Early little people toys Fischer-Price original Rail layout First Donald Duck

Besides restoring old toys this author applies his creative skills to beautiful original creations from Lake Erie driftwood. He invites us to visit the nearby Graycliff home designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright where he used to volunteer http://graycliffestate.org/  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graycliff.

John, two surprised college students, Anthony Greycliffe front Greycliffe lake view

Closed for winter we cross over the chain. Anthony invites two foreign college students to join us. They have come to view this signature building and are ready to leave in disappointment. All of us enjoy his in depth explanations of the house, its features, and  especially of the relationship between the architect and Darwin Martin who commissioned both this summer home and his regular residence to Wright  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwin_D._Martin_House).

I share the idea raised at our 50th reunion of a bi-annual get together of SFHS alumni in the Western NY / Ontario region. Anthony organized the 50th  reunion of the class of ’59 and invites us to consider his vast outdoor garden overlooking the lake as a possible location.

We leave with autographed copies of Bipolar Buffalo and priceless memories of a remarkable day.

Next stop – the Red Top. John and I enjoy our annual visit and conversation with the crew of the Red Top. I will post our experience on the ‘I ate at the
Red Top’ group page on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/GBOlmaRedTopHots/

John and I enjoying the works. Executive dining lounge at the Red Top

Starting back to Toronto we take the city route along South Park. Earlier in the day we’d stopped in at Daisies Cafe for a great breakfast.Sandy's smile is warm and delightful like the breakfast.

Ahead is VFW Post 898 – I remember that Ray Pulinski is a past commander. Dropping in for a surprise visit we find that Ray and his wife Karen are in Florida. Sharon the
bartender says, “Wait a minute. I’ll call him in Florida.” “Ray there’s two guys here says you owe them a drink.” We chat about Florida, Pete Kuhn and the endless winter. Facing the drive home, we pass on the drink offer and promise to get together during a warmer time.

Before crossing the border, John and I enjoy wings at Buzzy’s in Niagara Falls http://buzzyspizza.com/ and order take out for Sue and Mary back home. It’s been a day of surprises.

Bipolar Buffalo cover.

Note: Bipolar Buffalo, which includes many SFHS stories, is available through the website of the same name – http://www.bipolarbuffalo.com.

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Strangest Polish Christmas Eve Superstitions

Spirit of Wigilia sets the coming year. Christmas in today’s Poland – http://www.buzzfeed.com/polandinusa/21-magical-photos-from-christmastime-in-poland-utuk

Crazy Polish Guy

Boże narodzenieChristmas Eve in Poland, known as Wigilia, has some very beautiful traditions. Breaking the Opłatek wafer, caroling, opening gifts, the midnight mass, or Pasterka–these are practices beloved by every Pole and person of Polish descent, including myself.

But there exists a stranger side to the way Poles used to celebrate Christmas Eve, filled with mystery and superstition. Most of these beliefs have not been taken seriously for well over 100 years. When I ask Polish people today, especially younger ones, they haven’t even heard of them.

Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting to travel back in time and study some of the odd beliefs our ancestors held. For that reason, I present to you some of the strangest Polish Christmas Eve superstitions.

Wigilia predicts the rest of the year: An old Polish belief claims that whatever you do on this day will affect your entire year. If you fight with your loved ones…

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