Saturday, February 24, 2024

Celebrating Black History Month this weekend in Niagara

 February is, of course, Black History Month, and here in Niagara there have already been several observances of the month to take in, and there is another this weekend that's always been near and dear to my heart.

Several years ago, Laura Thomas, an old friend and founder of the locally-based choral group Choralis Camerata approached me to narrate a new concert they had designed for this very month.  If I remember correctly it was back around 2012 and I think it was in Niagara Falls at one of the area churches.  I returned to narrate the concert again in 2016 down in Stevensville on what I recall being a bitterly cold Sunday afternoon at the tiny church in the heart of the town.

The performances are always well attended and very entertaining, so when I was approached to narrate the concert again this season I readily agreed, even though I am officially now retired and my personal hosting opportunities are few and far between.  But always happy to be back in the so-called saddle again!

The problem this season was...where was the script?  They didn't have a copy as there had been a change of artistic directors and since it was 8 years since the last time they had done the concert, it didn't seem to be anywhere.  I checked my venerable old computer nearing retirement and found a reference to it having been saved many years ago, but somehow it became lost in the ether during the ensuing time period.

No matter.  I had plenty of time, so armed with a new set list and a set of parameters I knew I wanted to follow from my memories of previous performances, I began my research and rewrote the script from scratch.

Learning about the history of slavery in the United States as well as here in Canada is both enlightening and heartbreaking at the same time.  I find myself so often asking myself "how can we be so heartless towards our fellow man?!"  But history records time and time again that we can be.  I don't want to go into too many of the details here as some are quite frankly gut-wrenching and besides, I would humbly suggest to get the full effect of the history as well as the music that revolved around the period, you might want to come out tomorrow afternoon and attend the concert for yourself.

We held our dress rehearsal last evening at Trillium United Church at 415 Linwell Road in the north end of St. Catharines, a church I often delivered mail to during my days as a Canada Post letter carrier.  

I must say the choir is in fine fettle and primed and ready for action.

The current Artistic Director and conductor, Giancarlo Feltrin is a pleasure to work with and knows the strengths of this choir very well.  Joining the singers will be pianist Aaron Albano and Devon Fornelli will be featured on a variety of percussion instruments.

Interested?  You should be.  The concert, "Listen to the Lambs" is both educational and entertaining, and I guarantee you will be humming some of those old tunes on your way out the door tomorrow afternoon.

For more information, check out the website, and to order tickets.  The concert is at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon at Trillium United Church on Linwell Road.  Hope to see you there.

Have a great weekend!

February 24th, 2024.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

New Year's reflections and looking forward to 2024

 As I have done the past few years since being on my own, I thought I would give a brief update on where I am at on my road to recovery, so as the year is about to draw to a close, here we go...

Overall, the word that describes my mindset this holiday season is 'peace'.  I am at peace with myself and where I am in this world.  It has been a tough road to follow since I lost Sophie in the summer of 2020, especially as COVID continued to rage and is not done with us yet.

My first two Christmases were the worst as I was quite literally, left to grieve alone, as we could not congregate and the remainder of my small family lives quite a distance away.  So that was tough.  But last year was better as the family gathered here in the city for Christmas and although I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of people, which I was simply not used to anymore, it was special and I am thankful for that.

This year I found myself on my own again and frankly, I was okay with that.  I felt I could better manage my emotions and the being alone better this year, and I did.  I was, quite simply, at peace.  I have accepted the loss of Sophie and the fact I must move on with my life and chart a new course for myself.

This past September I took a major step in my recovery by taking a tour in England I really wanted to do, and which I know in my heart Sophie wanted me to take for the both of us.  It was difficult at times, being the first international trip on my own in many years, but I was surrounded by good people and all went well, in spite of the fact I came home with COVID for the very first time.

In a sense, I viewed the trip as a signal...a signal to myself and to the world I am back, I am living my life again and I am ready to move on.  It felt good to go and I do not regret the decision one bit.  It was clearly the right move at the right time for me.

Everyone's trajectory when it comes to recovery after a loss is different: some are ready to move on sooner and others, like myself, take longer.  There is no timetable to follow on this, you simply follow your heart. It will tell you when you are ready and mine did, at exactly the right time.

So as I look forward to a New Year full of promise for all of us, what am I hoping for?  More adventures, more fun, and more valuable life experiences perhaps I have not experienced before.  That applies to all aspects of my life now and I am ready for that.

First and foremost, I am putting the failed dating disasters and relationship attempts of the past year or so in the rear view mirror.  They were all valuable life lessons for me and offer insight into just how difficult finding a second great romance can be.

I remain optimistic however, and I am totally open minded as to what form it may take.  I have learned to embrace change and be brave, be optimistic and face what life gives you with clarity and enthusiasm.  If it doesn't happen this year, perhaps next.  It doesn't matter.  I am ready whenever it happens.

In other aspects of my life, I am still reorganizing the house and simplifying my life somewhat, and redefining who and where I am in this world.  Yes, I have become a bit of a dandy now that I am retired and that is not by chance but rather by design.  I am enjoying the fun and sense of adventure (well a little bit anyway!) it brings me.  And in the process a lot of new friends too!

So for 2024 I say:  bring it on.  Let's see what happens.  Show care and concern for those around you and above all else, take care of yourself first.  I do and I feel now I am well taken care of, again, in my life.

Have a wonderful New Year celebration and embrace what the new year has to offer us.  I know I am.

Have a great weekend and Happy New Year!

December 30th, 2023.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

It's that time of year again to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus...

 We're now into the Christmas season and yesterday I started listening to Christmas music and decorating the house.  I ignore those who decorate right after Halloween and especially those who leave their Christmas lights up all year...

I'm not a Grinch.  I just feel December is enough, thanks.  I dutifully take the decorations down at Epiphany and that seems just about right.

One of the grand musical traditions at this time of year is to attend a performance of a work actually written for the Easter season.  I'm speaking of course of Handel's celebrated oratorio Messiah.  Handel actually wrote it at a feverish pace in about three weeks and it premiered in Dublin, Ireland in the springtime as a fundraiser.  How it came to be associated with the Christmas season still appears to be a bit of a mystery, but that is what we do now.

There are far too many to list in the southern Ontario area in the month of December, including the biggest of all at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall leading up to Christmas.  So I will just touch on two of my favourites here and hopefully they will whet your appetite for explore more performances elsewhere.

Tonight the Elora Singers under the direction of Artistic Director Mark Vuorinen will present their version of the holiday classic in nearby Fergus at the larger St. Joseph's Catholic Church, rather than their usual winter home at St. John's Anglican Church in Elora.  What I like about this performance is they draw the soloists from the ranks of the choir rather than bringing in special guest soloists for the evening.  Most every singer in the choir could very well be a soloist in their own right, so this will be the night some of them will shine.

If you plan things right you can enjoy a nice afternoon and dinner in Elora at a magical time of year and then head over to nearby Fergus in time for the concert.

Tickets will be tight I'm sure but you can go online to or call the box office at 1-519-846-0331 to see what's available.

Closer to home, the tradition continues in Niagara with our celebrated Chorus Niagara with conductor Robert Cooper performing the oratorio in Partridge Hall at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines later in the month.  Usually they perform Messiah on a weekend but this year it will be a mid-week event, scheduled for Wednesday evening, December 13th.  Partridge Hall is their home base and I know the chorus will sound superb as usual.

I have not attended a Chorus Niagara performance of Messiah in many years now, long before they moved downtown to the PAC, so I might have to look into that this year.  But we'd better hurry as limited tickets are available by calling 905-688-0722 or go online to

Whatever performance you attend and wherever you do just remember to stand during the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, of course...

Have a great weekend!

December 2nd, 2023.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Spamalot at Stratford Festival is lots of fun!

I only made one trip to Stratford this summer to catch a show at the Stratford Festival, and I did it in late September after my trip to England.  For me it was a wise decision; I try to avoid big crowds nowadays since COVID and especially since I caught it upon my return from my trip in September.

When deciding on a show to attend this year I opted for funny above all else.  I promised myself this would be a summer of fun, or as I put it at the beginning the Summer of Mike.  I wanted to put the past heartaches behind me and just have a fun summer by myself.  By all accounts, it was a success!

Monty Python's Spamalot is the brainchild of Python alumnus Eric Idle, who wrote the score with long-time musical collaborator John Du Prez.  Together, they have woven new material mixed with Python classics, such as "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from "Life of Brian'.  It's witty, wacky, nonsensical and brilliant.

Now having said that, I am at a loss to say much about the musical itself, as I must admit I have never been a huge Monty Python fan to begin with.  Oh there have been pockets of their comedy I have enjoyed but most of the time, it just seems too far off the mark for my particular tastes.  That, of course, is intentional, as this is clearly a farce in every sense of the word and in its purest form.  That can be an acquired taste, I admit.

I have nothing but admiration for the cast and crew, their sense of timing and comic acumen.  They are all brilliant.  Still, there were times I just sat there and said to myself, "why?!"  But maybe that's just me.

In a nutshell, Spamalot is a comic send-up of the classic Camelot tale, with King Arthur in search at first for candidates to become Knights of the Round Table, and together they are sent looking for the Holy Grail.  Along the way they encounter an evil bunny rabbit and a bunch of sarcastic French soldiers who toss stuffed cattle from the castle ramparts.

They also encounter the enchanting Lady of the Lake, performed with great zest by Kimberly-Ann Truong.  She thrills the assembled multitude in the dark and expensive forest as well as the audience with both her voice and her stage presence.  Yet in much of the second act, where is she?!  That's when she bursts upon the scene again with the fun number "Whatever Happened to My Part"?, otherwise known as "The Diva's Lament".

All of this nonsense seems to at times be lost on King Arthur himself, played by Jonathan Goad, although he knows a good Lady of the Lake when he sees one...

From top to bottom the rest of the cast is all exceptional as well and even though the set design looks rather low-rent, it is intentional and it all works admirably well.  Director Lezlie Wade and Music Director Laura Burton mine the musical for every ounce of fun, as does Choreographer Jesse Robb.

I would not recommend only seeing Spamalot this year if you can get to more show than one, but if like me you just do the one trip, you will not be disappointed.  But perhaps, like me, you might scratch your head from time to time if you're not a die-hard Monty Python fan, as most in the audience clearly were the day I attended recently.

Spamalot rates a strong 3 out of 4 stars and continues at the Avon Theatre downtown until November 18th.  For tickets and information go to

Have a great weekend!

October 21st, 2023.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Hello again London, it was good to see you again...

 I returned late last Sunday night from a week-long visit to the U.K., my first visit back since Sophie and I made our Trip of a Lifetime together in August of 2018.  After living through a pandemic and loss of Sophie three years ago, I decided it was time to revisit one of my favourite parts of the world, so that's what I will be writing about here this week.

As great as the trip was and as careful as I tried to be, I did get caught by the COVID bug upon my return, and I continue to spend my days quietly at home as I recover.  My symptoms have not been huge, but certainly of great concern to me and not to be taken lightly.  But I am working through it and although it did not please me, I do not regret for a moment taking the plunge and going on this trip.

Initially I planned to wait until next year to do any international travel, but when our local PBS station, WNED in Buffalo, started advertising a tour of England back in the spring, I was torn.  The tour was through Transcendent Travel based out of New York City, and they were the operators of the tour Sophie and I took in 2018 and it was exceptional.  So I had no qualms about that aspect of it, even though they are not inexpensive.

I was concerned due to COVID primarily, but also because I knew for me this would be my first trip alone internationally since the loss, so for me this would be hard one and rather emotional.  It was, but I knew in my heart I had to do this.

Upon reflection back in the spring I thought it over and realized Sophie, if she were still alive, would be all over this tour just as she was the last time.  And I felt I had to do it for her as much as for me.  Really, she would have wanted me to do this.  But more than that, it was going to be a major stepping stone for me on my road to recovery.  I needed to prove to myself, and everyone else, I was ready for this next big step.

So plans were laid out, the trip was paid for in advance and then the anticipation...and the butterflies...grew.  I admit to being nervous and anxious more than once in the months leading up to the trip but I managed to keep those emotions in check as I went out making sure everything was organized before I left the house.

Everyone I discussed this with, including my friends, financial advisor and even my doctor, encouraged me to do it and felt the time was right after three years of difficulty.  I just had to convince myself...

The tour, entitled "All Creatures: a Television Focused Tour of England" began and ended in London.  I flew out of Toronto on the Saturday night of Labour Day Weekend, arriving in London around noon Sunday their time.  Tired but undaunted, I took the Heathrow Express train into central London as I searched out my hotel, The Clermont next to Victoria Station.

As is the case with all hotels on Transcendent tours, they are all exceptional and usually five-star rated.  I arrived a day early in order to rest a bit before the tour gathered and got underway on Monday afternoon.  Walking on Sunday evening and again Monday morning through London prior to the tour, I noted traffic is still about as awful as I remember it being in the past, but I noted also you see far more high-end cars on the roads than anything else:  lots of big BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and of course, Rolls Royces and Bentleys.

It turns out those folks are the only ones who can afford to drive into central London now.  The city of about 8-million is so busy now a few years ago a daily levy was imposed on those drivers who still choose to drive into the city, assuming they can even find a place to park, which is no easy task.  So now, all drivers entering central London pay a fee of 25 pounds per DAY to enter, and if your vehicle is not EV or otherwise assisted by hybrid power, you pay a further surcharge of 12 pounds a day.  With the going exchange rate on the British pound, that would amount to over 60 dollars each and every day you make the drive, over and above parking charges and of course, petrol.  Gas prices when I was there was set at about 1.51 or so a litre.  But that's also pounds, so roughly $3 a litre to gas up your thirsty vehicle in order to sit in bumper to bumper traffic.  Yikes!

When you move out of central London you notice due to space limitations and the cost, most people who drive cars own tiny little vehicles, and many of them are not available here.  Also, many more there are EV than here in North America.  Even many of the city buses, even the iconic double-deckers, are all-electric now too.  It's the way of the future, folks, whether you like it or not...

Incidentally, cycling lanes are everywhere and everyone is on bikes in London as you can imagine.  You have to be on your guard of course, as the traffic is on the opposite side of the road than what we are used to here, and drivers over there are very much aware of that fact.  But to their credit, everyone, drivers and pedestrians included, are unfailingly polite and helpful giving directions or gently reminding you to 'look left'.  Many thanked us for coming.  Imagine that!  Try getting that in say, Toronto perhaps?!

The tour took us to Cambridge, York and back again to London before departing on Sunday morning, with plenty of stops every day for sightseeing and walking tours.  I won't go into all the details here, as I have been posting lots of pictures to my Facebook page every day this week, with more to come.

But suffice it to say the food, accommodations and tour attractions were all first class and made every one of us feel very special indeed.  Everyone else on the tour was a PBS supporter as you would expect, so there were lots of stops relating to favourite PBS shows, such as "Call the Midwife", "Grantchester" and most importantly, "All Creatures Great & Small".  That was the part of the tour I most looked forward to and I know Sophie would have as well.

Touring the Yorkshire Dales is simply breathtaking but getting a good picture is difficult as there are not many places to stop on those narrow country roads the English are famous four.  We did make a few stops but really, the pictures I did get don't do the Dales justice.  You simply have to see it to believe it for yourself.

A highlight for me was visiting the James Herriot museum in Thirsk, which is the original home and veterinary clinic for the fabled writer and vet so many years ago.  We were also fortunate enough to have a visit and chat with Harriot's daughter Rose, now a retired medical doctor and still looking good at 76 years of age.

Shopping?  Oh I did manage some of that too.  Lots of food-related items I found along the way and my usual haberdashery finds too.  Socks, a navy blue bowler hat and an exquisite handcrafted brass and wood walking stick from the Yorkshire Dales that just simply took my breath away.  It will always be with me and a constant reminder of a special day in a special place for me...and for Sophie.

So, now back to the routine here at home and continuing my recovery from COVID.  I loved the trip but in all honesty, it is good to be home again.  And the cats missed me!

What more could you ask?!

Have a great weekend!

September 16th, 2023.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Shaw Festival production of Blithe Spirit is spirited fun

I can't remember the 19th-century couple's names I read about quite some time ago but the story has stayed with me.  The wife dies at a relatively early age but just before she goes, she warns her husband he had better find a new wife within the first year of her passing or she will come back to haunt him.  Apparently a true story!

I thought about that story while making my selections for reviewing at this season's Shaw Festival, and how it resonated somewhat with me in my own personal situation.  Mind you, it's been three years now so the one year limit has long since expired.

That said, Elvira in Noel Coward's play "Blithe Spirit" has also expired, and indeed has come back to haunt her husband, Charles.  In this case, wife number one seems not too impressed with wife number two.

This may not be Sir Noel's strongest play, but his work has received plenty of exposure at the Shaw Festival going as far back as 1984's storied production of Private Lives with Fiona Reid and former Shaw Artistic Director, Christopher Newton.  That production still ranks as one of my favourite evenings at Shaw over the years.

The Festival knows how to serve up a Coward play and this time is no exception:  it's stylish, witty and is blessed with a very strong cast.  Even though the plot is rather thin when spread over three hours, it mattered little to the audience at the performance I attended.

Written during the Second World War when humour was hard to come by, "Blithe Spirit" premiered in London in 1941 and proved to be just the tonic a weary public needed, even though Coward took a rather lighthearted look at the subject of death.  He basically says "What if your spouse were to come back and continue to annoy you"?!  What indeed...

The story opens with newly-remarried Charles Condomine and second wife Ruth relaxing in their spacious and stylish country house.  We learn friends are coming over and with them, Charles has invited a local medium to join them over the course of the evening to conduct a seance.  Ruth is understandably uncomfortable with Charles suggestion the medium, Madame Arcati, try to reach out to his first wife, Elvira.

Its all a big joke and much frivolity ensues until the joke is on Charles and Elvira actually appears.  Not to anyone else in the room but to him.  And she sticks around, too.  Charles now has two wives to contend with and Elvira and Charles pick up where they left off with their witty bickering.  And Ruth?  She can't see Elvira but does her best to accommodate the unwelcome spirit into their home.

As mentioned the cast is uniformly strong here, with Damien Atkins' Charles a good foil for the returning spirit of Elvira, played by Julia Course.  Donna Soares' Ruth is nicely drawn, but one has to wonder what the attraction was for Charles after we are introduced to Elvira.  

The visiting guests that evening are Dr. Bradman and his wife, played by David Adams and Jenny L. Wright.  Though good, the two roles are only incidental to the overall story, really.  It's Deborah Hay as Madame Arcati who gets the most laughs with her exceptional portrayal of a more-than-eccentric English medium, offering up such clever lines as "Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked."

The set is done almost entirely in different shades of green and even Elvira is green from head to toe, even including her makeup.  Not sure why green was chosen but it is effective.  Many of the costumes are reflective of the well-to-do characters we meet, with both Charles and Dr. Bradmon looking exceptionally glitzy.  It's one of the few times I can remember the men's costumes being more dazzling than the women's.

Sets and costumes are by James Lavoie, incidentally, and the atmospheric lighting is by Kevin Lamotte.  The play is directed by Mike Payette.

Blithe Spirit is perhaps not the strongest show at Shaw this season but it is a very enjoyable ride, and rates a very good three out of four stars.  It plays at the Festival Theatre until October 8th.

For tickets and more information go to

Have a great weekend!

August 24th, 2023.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Three Years...a recovery update

 It has been awhile since I updated you on my progress as I continue my recovery from the loss of Sophie in 2020, so three years in earlier this month, I felt it was time to get this done.

Overall, things have gone well and really for the most part, according to plan.  I was told early and often everyone is different and each person sets a different timetable that works for them. as I have done.  I knew recovery would not be quick, nor painless, and perhaps for me the journey has taken longer than expected.

It was certainly complicated by the pandemic as I was totally alone for the better part of two years save for an occasional visit when conditions allowed.  Even two Christmases were spent totally on my own, which was hard.

On the third anniversary of Sophie's passing earlier this month, I didn't quite know what to expect.  But what happened rather surprised me:  I was largely at peace with myself and where I was at this stage of the journey.  It was less emotional than previous years by a wide margin and I took that as a positive sign.  I felt finally my heart was coming to terms with the loss and I am indeed starting to move on.

But last week, I was surprised again.  On the anniversary of the visitation, which was exactly a week after she passed, I felt much more emotional and reflective and that quite frankly caught me off guard.  Was I relapsing?  I really don't think so; perhaps it was just my heart catching up to my head, in a way.  It was not too bad but the ache in my heart was still palpable.

I have since come to the conclusion that ache will likely always be there.  No matter what happens in my life in the coming months and years, as much as I focus on moving forward with my life, I will continue to honour and reflect on the past.  I am not sure if that is always the case, but I sense due to the quickness of Sophie's illness and how relatively young she was at the time, it may never be fully resolved in my heart.

That's perhaps not a bad thing either.  I have always believed you learn from your mistakes and when the opportunity comes up to try again, you are older, wiser, richer in compassion and understanding, and willing to try even harder to achieve what I have come to refer to as my "happily ever after."  The ache that remains in my heart to this very day serves as a reminder how richly blessed I was for almost 20 years with Sophie and how wonderful life can be again should love find me once more.

And to be honest, I want that.  I will honour the past but I refuse to live in it.  What we had was beautiful; there is no reason in the world the next time cannot be just as beautiful if not more so.  All that stands in the way is a reluctance to move forward with your life and grab the opportunity when it knocks on your door.  Or perhaps when you do the knocking...

Having said that, I will be careful.  The past year or so I have dipped my toes into the tepid waters of the senior dating world, and I wish I could say the results were promising but unfortunately, they were not.  Oh, there was a tremendous amount of happiness shared in both cases initially, but I guess I had not taken into account the fact not everyone is as ready to also move on from the past and look to the future as perhaps I have been.

Let's be clear though.  I have nothing but good memories about both special experiences I had and will always feel that way.  I have tremendous respect for both individuals for taking a chance on love with me as I know full well how difficult that level of trust can be to achieve.  Both experiences were also valuable learning tools for me going forward and perhaps, it will be third time lucky for me.  We'll see.

But if, and this is indeed a possibility I am prepared for, I end up living the remainder of my life alone, I am fine with that too.  I met Sophie when I was 44 so I had plenty of experience with living on my own and I am quite prepared to do that again.  Will I worry about it?  No, not at all.  Whatever will be will be, and I will make the best of my life no matter what unfolds in the future, or with whom.

The important thing now is to focus on living my best life, which I am concentrating on doing this summer and I know that is what Sophie would want for me.  I am blessed with good health, financial independence and a love of life, so the future is bright no matter how things play out.  A friend once said my Dad raised retirement to a fine art, and I intend to do the same!

I have taken baby steps in getting back out into the stream of things, as well as some larger ones, such as a return trip to Ottawa for my birthday back in June.  I have another even bigger adventure coming up later this year and I will write about that when I return, you can be sure.

Right now I am concentrating on day trips and making new memories in some familiar places I want to return to, and that will continue off and on as time permits.  There are so many great memories I will never forget and mixing those with the new seems to be a remedy I need right now to help me move forward in a positive spirit.

Before I go, I would be remiss if I did not offer sincere and heartfelt thanks to all the friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have reached out these past three years to check up on and help support me.  Your help is invaluable and I hope you all know that.  No man is an island and that has been proven to me time and time again over the years.

A special mention of gratitude must go out to those I refer to as "Sophie's Angels"...her close circle of friends who all helped with her final weeks and afterwards, have all been there for me as well.  So in no particular order, I offer thanks to Kathy Brophy, Norma Chan, Denise & George Papaiz, Mary Kudreikis, Sheila Krekorian & Joe Skura, and Lisa Raham.  If I have forgotten anyone please forgive me, but your considerable efforts towards both of us cannot be overstated or appreciated enough.  Thank you all.

So, onwards and upwards I say.  Fasten your seatbelts...the best is yet to come.  I am ready for my next great adventure!

Have a great week!

August 16th, 2023.