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Month: September 2022

Smoking — Bucking the Habit

Smoking — Bucking the Habit

Nothing’s Straightforward About Smoking

I’ve never smoked a day in my life. So, you’d wonder why I’m so concerned about quitting smoking. I’ll try to explain.

A few times a week, I give a friend a lift, so he can actually go buy cigarettes. I sense you raising a brow. Some people would say I’m a thorough hypocrite, knowing cigarette smoking is unhealthy. Yet, here I am assisting a friend in the purchase of those same cigarettes. My mother thinks I’m this side of a pimp for doing what I do. And I imagine, in a court of law, I’d be charged with aiding and abetting. Case closed.

In my defence, for one, I do it out of kindness. Plus, whether or not I give him a lift won’t make much of a difference. I know he’d find a way. But when I do give him a lift, periodically, I casually offer comments about the dangers of smoking. Every now and then, I ask if he’ll ever go on the patch to help him quit. I receive one of those “Yes, but” responses. He acknowledges the dangers of smoking to his health, making comments like, “You wouldn’t want to see my lungs.” Yet, so far it hasn’t provided much of a push to convince him to stop.

You see, if anything, I’m guilty of one of the worst, albeit common, offences—the näive belief that friends or family can actually convince a smoker to quit. We all know it rarely works. Yet, many of us, myself included, persist. For me, I’m unfortunately not the sort to easily give up. So, it really is important to know how hard it is to really quit?

The Allure of a Cigarette

Well, there are some biological things going on, for one. Cigarettes may be readily accessible, but we can’t ignore the fact they are also very addictive. It wasn’t always known. For a while, smoking was certainly regarded as a bad habit. But it was not considered to be addictive. However, nowadays, the world is well aware that cigarette smoking is indeed addictive and nicotine is our villain.

It’s addictive for a reason. Apparently, upon inhaling, the nicotine is absorbed in the smoker’s lungs. The blood is speedily delivered to the brain, with the nicotine level quickly rising Nicotine, once it’s entered our bodies, it releases dopamine. The result is feelings of pleasure and a generally improved mood. It does all this in under half a minute. Who’d say no? Nicotine’s addictiveness is along the lines of drugs that can commonly involve jail time—opoids, alcohol and cocaine. It’s just as bad.

It’s not too surprising for people to seek the soothing feelings offered by nicotine. The problem is that the more someone smokes, the more nicotine they need to feel better. It’s a vicious circle. Some of the worst diseases are at the end of nicotine’s apparent glittery neon rainbow—cancer, heart disease, lung diseases, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The latter includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture does it?

Deciding to Quit

Faced with this harsh reality, it makes sense that many smokers are seeking to quit their dreaded habit. If we go online, we can find numerous tips and hints smokers can use to give up the habit. Actually learning to buck the habit is an immense challenge. Yet, I know of people who have been able to quit, cold turkey. My mother told me how my grandfather was a heavy smoker. He did it.

In his more elder years, he’d been to his doctor complaining of heart problems. His doctor told him to hold up his hand. There were five fingers evenly spread. His doctor then said, in no uncertain terms, that’s how much longer you’ll have to live if you don’t quit. Five years. So, with that dire warning, my grandfather didn’t smoke another cigarette.

I have another friend whose daughter had gone to the doctor for some ailment. The doctor had then informed my friend that it was his cigarettes that were the source of her difficulties. With that declaration, his smoking days ended.

What is Required to Quit

Motivation undergirded by fear. That seems to provide sufficient drive to make a change. But that seems too simple. I dare say, given adequate fear, we can move mountains. Still, nicotine is a tricky drug and once it has a smoker in its clutches, it’s very difficult to turn one’s back on it.

All the methods available are sound. However, from the perspective of a non-smoker, I’d sense the first and most vital step is to simply ask ourselves—do I really want to quit smoking? Do I really believe the risks to my life if I were to continue? Do I truly accept how my life would benefit if I were to stop smoking?

Maybe part of the reason it is so hard to quit, given the tips available to help clear the path, is partially because part of the smoker really doesn’t want to quit. This may be the first and most critical step. I dare say it’s a question a smoker needs to regularly ask themselves.

The Challenge Ahead

It’s baffling to me because I confess I regard smoking as a long-term suicide. We’re all fairly sure where it’s going to lead. Naturally, there’s a part of me drawing a conclusion this person clearly doesn’t love themselves. It may certainly be the case sometimes.

But it’s not so simple. If a smoker is still enjoying their habit, we know how nicotine, by it’s very nature, provides a pleasurable feeling. Remember dopamine. So, A., they’re not even thinking about the future and the consequences of what they’re doing. And B., Why on earth would someone want to give that up? Thus, a smoker must wholeheartedly want to quit, so as to avoid such inducements.

It’s not an easy task, to say the least. Those of you who are smokers need to look deep into your hearts to determine if you really want to quit. And fair enough to those who don’t want to bother. For them, the appeal of the chemical brew cannot be rejected. But know the potential consequences. People like my grandfather and the other friend I mentioned, they were faced with death and the consequences they could already feel. There is no better deterrent than the threat of death.

But we all know of horror stories where smoking invariably played a starring role in diminishing health. I’ve already listed some of the diseases that feature in the autumn years of smoking. Unfortunately, some pay the ultimate price. I knew someone who died at 65 following a decision to quit smoking that came too late. After quitting, he eventually developed lung cancer, an illness that despite a valiant fight, inevitably took his life.

The Final Decision

As a non-smoker, I dare say I’ll never truly understand the feeling leading to that audible sigh of relief after a smoker’s first inhale. Such utter relief. But I get it. I know the delightful feel nicotine releases. Still, there’s something a smoker must conquer. For, the other thing I know for certain is smoking is not healthy and will inevitably lead to a life of challenges. For some, it might just end their life.

The person to whom I give a lift I’m hoping will one day decide to buck the habit. All I can do is comment here and there. It’ll be up to him to look deep into his heart to find his answer. Life’s worth so much. Why give it away? But that’s going to his choice.

September and Its Hidden Secrets

September and Its Hidden Secrets

I confess I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for September. Every year, I love to see the trees as they cast their lengthening shadows over the landscape. Both the mornings and the evenings are a welcome pleasure as they become noticeably cooler. Minute by minute, the days are shortening.

Seeing there’s now a slight edge to the temperature, it gently urges us to remember our sweater before we head out. Every month has its hidden secrets. Still, September seems to be especially enchanting, its gold dust a treasure for all who wish to notice.

Preparing for Autumn

September is a month where we gear up. It’s time to begin putting away our summer clothes. Anticipating the months to come, we reach for our cosy wool sweaters, fleece and down. The days are still long enough so that even after a day of work, we can still take advantage of the daylight. It beckons us, and we respond, taking long walks or looking to the stars in the back yard on a cool evening.

Image of Charlemagne

Activities like school start up again, come September. And various organisations that took a break over the summer, begin their meetings, renewed for their annual march through the year. For gardeners, it’s a joyful time when they can reap their harvest. In fact, it was called “harvest month” in Charlemagne’s calendar. Charlemagne ruled over Western Europe from 768 to 814 and was eventually crowned as Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800. He was clearly a somebody, enough to warrant his own calendar—at least for a short time.

Changes in Nature

The month of September also marks another important stage in the dance of the galaxy. September is the month of the Autumn equinox in the Northern Hemisphere and the Vernal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere.

Illumination of Earth by the Sun on the day of an equinox.

It’s a noteworthy time. At this significant moment, the direct light of the sun will be crossing the Earth’s equator, on its way to the Tropic of Capricorn in the south. At this point, we will kindly welcome our Winter Solstice. But that’s another story.

Autumn Colours on Mount Pleasant, Placentia, NL

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the coming of Autumn is a signal that other changes will begin to take place. The woods will take on a golden hue, as the tender needle-like leaves of the larches, for one, gradually turn golden. Gently, they then fall to the ground. Meanwhile, the noble birches will also take their turn, eventually casting the woods in a splendid golden yellow.

Seventh Month

September holds other unique and distinct qualities. A long time ago, just over thousand years, in fact, will take us to the time of the Romans. At this point, September was actually the seventh month. It seems obvious when one thinks about it. Although, if you’re like I am, I confess, I never noticed. Still, looking a little closer, the last four months of the year actually are just numbers. September for seven. October for eight. November for nine. Finally December for ten.

A reproduction of the Fasti Antiates Maiores, a painted wall-calendar

from the late Roman Republic.

Right. Now we need to step back to around 738 BCE1 when Romulus, the first king of Rome, instituted a new Roman Calendar system. Following largely the Greek calendar system, their year had ten months in it, beginning with March or Martius. It was in this calendar where September appeared as the seventh month, the other months following behind. There was no winter season at first and so the year only contained 304 days. There were 61 days unaccounted for in the winter.

Later, it was apparently Numa Pompilius following Romulus who developed the Republican calendar. Two additional months were added—Ianuarius and Februarius. They were intended to account for the winter. It’s starting to look a little more familiar, isn’t it?

So, now there were twelve months. The names were now out of sync with the new calendar system. Although, no one was too bothered. As with those of us, nowadays, everyone had likely grown accustomed to the months, by then.

Even after the Gregorian2 calendar was later instituted, correcting problems arising due to a slight miscalculation of the year, no one bothered to correct the oversight. This is the calendar we all casually hang around our homes at the beginning of the year.

Hidden Secrets

In so many ways, September is a month filled with the warm and welcome changes accompanying the sweet progression of the year. Yet, as we’ve learned, there are other delights to be found in the discovery of September’s unexpected and hidden secrets. Uncovering these treasures take us to long ago places and times that have largely fallen away from our day-to-day routines and rituals.

Ultimately, all we know is September is full of surprises. While many of us anticipate the delights of this month, at the same time, we are in awe of its unexpected riches.


1Before Common Era is a secular version of Before Christ.

2The Gregorian calendar, care of Pope Gregory XIII shortened the average year by 0.0075 days. This meant the calendar would not drift out of sync with the equinoxes. Our calendar is in line with the average solar year. There was also a drift in the calendar regarding Spring equinox which threw off the calculation of Easter. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after 21 March

A Love For Two-Wheeled Life

A Love For Two-Wheeled Life

It’s not the first thing anyone would’ve wanted at twenty-one. Still, developing multiple sclerosis (MS) was the first step on a long and meandering road that led me to an enduring love of bicycling. It’s something that has unquestionably changed my life.

Coming Up Against a Challenge

When I first developed MS, I was working. The idea of MS couldn’t have been further from my mind. At the time, I’d needed to write something and was suddenly incapable of lifting or even holding the pen. My hand refused to respond to any intention. Shock and dismay, followed by an uneasy and bewildering mixture of anger and frustration defined those moments. Now what.

Off I went on a hard journey along a rough and rocky road. When I look back, I realise it’s something I shared with too many who’ve been forced to face a future of uncertainty. I wasn’t alone. I must also admit there are many whose challenges far exceed my own. Anyway, in due time, I eventually discovered it was MS that was the source of my troubles. But I learned something else, too.

Confronting a Challenge

After a couple of years, I had regained the use of my hand and arm. So, things were looking up. I’m not sure where it was, but somewhere I’d encountered an advertisment for a Multiple Sclerosis Bike-a-thon. Interesting. A short time later, my mind was made up. I’d enter the bike-a-thon.

Bike-a-thon in Ontario.

Dutifully I trained with the help of my family. When the day arrived, simply put, I did it. On the first 75 km leg, I had to get a lift part way through. But I biked the full 75 km on the second day. It was an accomplishment. I think when any of us are faced with some challenge that appears insurmountable, we must find some way to push back. The bike-a-thon was my small way to do so.

In the years following, I entered two more bike-a-thons. Meanwhile, my life took me on a path into the world of academia. I followed from school to school, pursuing post-graduate studies, one of which landed me in St. John’s, NL at Memorial University.

Throughout, wherever I went, my bike accompanied me. By that time, we were inseparable. In fact, that is what I learned. I would develop an apparently unextinguishable love of bicycling. My bike offered a safe harbour for much of my energy, dedication and rapt attention. I was lucky.

MS affects everyone in different ways. When it had first struck, it had only left me partially disabled and then, as I mentioned, it’d seemed to have gone quiet. Yet, while at Memorial University, MS decided it was time for a reprisal.

And this time, it wasn’t going away either. Later, I moved to Saskatoon in the central part of Saskatchewan to pursue the final portion of my schooling. It was a little flatter than St. John’s. Thus, it wasn’t so difficult—just a few falls here and there.

Adjusting & Accepting

Fast forward to now. I’d moved back to Newfoundland and eventually found my way to Placentia. By the time I’d moved to Placentia, I think I’d reached a point where I felt I’d best just put an end to bicycling. Obviously, I couldn’t hope to ride the way I did previously, hopping on my bike and riding for 30 or so kilometres. It was impossible.

So, for just over a decade, I satisfied myself with walking up and down the hills around Castle Hill National Historic Site of Canada. All the while, I was declining. My legs were getting weaker. I suffered from all the usual disabilities that accompany MS, things like balance problems. It often left me looking often like I’d just enjoyed a bottle of whiskey. Or there was “foot drop” which just made it difficult to lift my feet. The result meant I’d sometimes trip on uneven terrain. And generally, I’d find it difficult to stand for long periods of time.

Despite what would seem to be a poor prognosis, overall, I was in fairly good condition. In comparison, however grim my condition may seem, I am far more fortunate than too many others. Many of the challenges I faced, with a little ingenuity, determination and patience, I could work around. I was slower than most, but it was possible.

Panorama of Placentia in which we can see Placentia’s

surrounding hills (Source: Tom O’Keefe).

It’s within reason to understand, then, how after a little over a decade, I began ruminating. The Placentia flats where I live are just that, flat. Although, it’s surrounded by hills. Ironically, for the history-minded, this was the reason it was initially used by the Basque all those centuries ago, with others gradually settling afterwards.

Taking the Next Step

When I think about it, I’d needed time to allow myself to look at biking, not as I did. Rather, in a new way, taking into account my limitations. Once I’d made this mental shift, I was seeking a challenge. For me, I was going to attack the issue conservatively. I’d buy an exercise bike and build up to actually transitioning to a real bike. But a friend of mine suggested, why not just go for it. You’ve got nothing else to lose. So I did.

Here’s a woman from the 1890s on a step-through bike.

I now ride what some refer to as a “low step” or a “step through” bike. For me, it’s what many of us grew up knowing as a woman’s bike. The design has made it a little easier for me to mount the bike. Otherwise, it’s much the same. Of course, I can’t go as far as I was once able to do. I’m certainly conscious of my limitations and I behave accordingly. Most of the time.

For the first year, I happily rode around Placentia. It was just a thrill to be back on my bike. Although, with all earnestness, I would look with stars in my eyes at the hills leading out of town. One day.

A Step Further

The first bike I’d bought was essentially what’d be referred to as a “comfort” bike. It had seven speeds and so, I couldn’t really dream of ascending any hill. Still, I was haunted by the sight of those hills every day I rode by them. They beckoned me. Surely, if I had a bike with more speeds, it’d be possible.

And so, after a little hemming and hawing, my new 21 speed bike arrived. After my first ride, I knew it was a match made in heaven. Every morning, at around 6 o’clock, I’d suit up and go for about a 40 minute ride, up the hill I dreamed of climbing.

Like many, though, as soon as one reaches a plateau, others lure us from above. I can’t help wanting to stretch further, straining to go a bit higher and a little longer. While I may have more limitations than your average cyclist, invariably, I’ll try to do as much as I can.

Passion for the Pedals

It’s the love of biking that keeps us going. Many people around the world would nod their heads in silent and solemn agreement. We are all steadfast in our membership to that group of people who share a love of bicycling.

If you check online, there’s one thing that comes up, time and time again—freedom. To me, I love being able to go someplace, knowing I did so solely by virtue of me and my bike. Am I overstating it by saying there’s something almost holy about the bond between a people and their bikes. I remember reading online how someone felt when their bike was stolen. I could only lower my head, acknowledging a similar feeling when the same thing was done to my bike. It’s like a part of me was stolen.

Our relationship with our bikes is certainly a deep one. But there are other reasons people may feel inclined to renew their relationship with their bikes. Some may just wish to get a little more exercise. Others may simply want to be in a world free of cars. It doesn’t mean necessarily getting rid of our cars if there’s too much of a need for one in our lives. Still, there’s room for improvement. Step on the pedal rather than the gas.

I’ll be forever grateful that biking has reignited in my heart. I acknowledge the existence of MS in my life as something over which I have little control. But I can control how I deal with it. So, for as long as I can, I’ll always seek to cherish and kindle my love for my dearest beloved bike.

Knowing Gabby

Knowing Gabby

Meet Gabby

It wasn’t hard to fall in love with Gabby. I always loved her eyes. When I sat on the sofa, she watched with this deep anticipation and hope. Then, when I patted my hand for her to get up or come a little closer, jubilantly she did so.

For the impact she had on me, you’d think, first of all, she was my dog, and secondly, that we’d known each other for close to a lifetime. You’d be wrong on both counts. But it didn’t matter. The short time we had together was long enough to learn a lesson that will be with me until the end of my days.

Gabby Moments

She was my brother’s family dog. Her name was officially Gabriella. Although, I’m not sure if anyone ever used that name. While it may have sounded very sophisticated, she had humble origins. As an orphan, Gabby was a stray who lived in an elephant camp in Thailand where my sister, a vet, was doing her Ph.D. research.

Apparently Gabby would hang around where my sister was working. Over time, as you’d expect if you’d known her, she charmed her way into my sister’s heart. When they finally left, so did Gabby. Fast forward to their home in Britain where I met Gabby.

Gabby by the canal where we used to walk.

Whenever I visited, one of the highlights was always taking Gabby for walks. We’d go in the morning and then, once again in the afternoon, before supper. I remember watching Gabby while we’d be walking. From one side of the road she’d go to the other. All along she’d pause for a while, sniffing, gleaning a wealth of information I could never hope to comprehend. I always referred to the times she’d pause and sniff as “Gabby Moments.” It was at that time when I realised just how simple life truly is.


We’d go for our walks and aside from times when she’d be playing with my brother when he took her for a walk, she’d just sleep. It was so beautifully uncomplicated. I know, the first thing anyone reading those words would say, “sure, but she’s a dog. Of course her life is uncomplicated.” Yes, I know. But it’s more the simplicity in which Gabby was pursuing her life. There was an uncanny “nowness” to it that granted a feeling of peace to the entire time we’d go for a walk.

While we were walking our attention was on where we were and what Gabby was doing. At other times, I’d be looking at the places along my walk, consumed by an array of pastimes and activities. My family lived near a canal and my walk would take us along its journey nearby the town.

Importance of Not Thinking

There were farms and the animals ambling about, boats, people fishing and all sorts. I know many people value the time walking a dog as one in which they can think about different aspects of their lives. There are some who apparently make significant decisions about the path of their lives while on a walk with their dogs.

Yet, for me, I valued it as a time for not thinking. You could say it was a type of peace of mind. I was so consumed by everyhing I was experiencing on the walk. And watching Gabby enjoy chasing smells, exploring interesting bushes or just walking along made me aware of how simple life can be. Any animal with whom we share some of our time would be the same.

The Simple Life

I’m not saying our lives can be simple in terms of nothing much going on or interacting with fewer people. There are myriad ways to pursue a more simple life.

It may mean not cluttering up our lives with things we don’t really use. For instance, for me, most of my time I’m working from home and so, I’m almost always near my computer. Therefore, why bother complicating my life with a so-called smartphone. I use a simple antiquated flip-phone and that’s more than enough.

There are so many other ways we can simplify our lives. We often have too much stuff. Maybe we don’t need that twenty odd pairs of shoes. It might be possible to get by with only one or two. Ditto with the clothes. We can ask ourselves, when last did we wear something? If it’s more than three years ago, it may be time to pass it on. More than enough places would welcome your donation. There’s Salvation Army or The Gathering Place in St. John’s, NL. Wherever you are, I’m sure there are an ample number of places for you to donate some of your abundance.

Thinking even larger, perhaps we don’t need that large a house anymore. Ultimately, we may spend most of our time in the kitchen, bedroom and sitting room anyway. Maybe there’s only only one or two of us. So, there’s little need for a vast amount of space. Again, same things for our vehicles. Our cars can be a straightforward affair. If there is no need to haul large items, a small car would do. Keep it simple.

For some us, our homes are filled with a host of appliances, entertainment do-dads and more, all of which we may rarely use. Maybe it’s time to pass them on.

Making Decisions — They Can Be Simple Too

In other ways, too often our decision-making grinds to a halt with numerous “what if’s” or “you never know’s.” And many times when this happens, we realise we didn’t really want to do what we were contemplating anyway. A lot of times, we’re complicating the decision-making process.

Our decision-making process can involve a fairly elementary process. Begin by writing down the problem. It could be ‘do I want to have some surgical procedure’ or ‘do I want to take a holiday?’ Then below, form a list of pros and cons which are then rated based on their importance—give it a ‘1’ if it’d not be that big a deal or ‘5’ if it’s crucial.

Afterwards, sum up the numbers and whichever is highest is your decision. Go or don’t go. Do it or don’t do it. But critically, as a final step, what does your gut tell you? Whatever your gut says, go with that, even if it’s counter to your earlier decision-making. Simple.

Simple to Try

I could go on, but I think you’ve got the picture. We often complain our lives are too complex. But how much of that is our own doing. Some of the methods to simplify our lives are more involved and longer term. Yet, others are uncomplicated and easy.

I touched on only a few methods. However, there are many ways we can simplify our lives. Still, the first and most important step is to recognise that life could indeed be simpler. Again, walking with Gabby was always a delight. In so doing, watching her just simply live and thoroughly enjoy her life was my signal for a change.

It’s never always that easy. Sometimes, the complexities of life catch us up. Sort of a “where do you think you’re going so fast?” After taking a few measures to pare down our lives, however, our response to the potential complications of life get easier.

And then, it’s worth our while to just sit quietly and listen. Maybe we’ll hear the wind blowing, the waves washing onshore, or the song of the birds in the woods. All are a wonder, simple in their majesty. Give it a try.