Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Mystery of the Picture of Mom and the Old House on Isle Madame

Marie Jeffrey 1915

Marie Jeffrey in  1915

All I knew from when I was a kid and I first saw this picture, was that this was a picture of my mother next to a house on Isle Madame, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was in or near the town of D’Escousse, where she was born. Taken around 1915, when she would have been 11 years old, I thought it might be a picture of the home of a member of the Kavanagh family, my grandmother’s maiden name. In early September 1999, I spent three days on the island and could not seem to locate it. But on the last day, Vic Dawson, whom I first met on the internet and had been my guide around the island, took me to visit with Val Poirier, my 2nd cousin and closest relative still on the island.

Val told us quite a few stories about the people on the island. I asked where the Kavanagh family lived and he said that it was just down the road, but that house had burned down in the 60s and possibly not by accident as there was a dispute over ownership. This was a disappointment and it looked like I was not going to see the old house. Then I showed him the picture of my mother in front of an old house and I wondered if he knew where it was.


2nd Cousin, Val Poirier

In this audio clip, ValPoirier gives me a surprise answer to my question about the house in the picture. “You’re sittin’ in it!”

Val attested to all the changes that had taken place in the past 84 years since my mother stood outside: the windows and the mud room have been moved, the dormer and cellar doors added. This is the oldest, continuously occupied house on the island, built over 200 years ago and has remained in the Poirier family ever since! Below, I am standing near where my mother stood over 80 years earlier.


Dave Pivin, at the old house in 1999

View from Front Door

View from Front Door


In April of 2009, my cousin, Val Poirier, pictured above, passed away. The home was kept in the Poirier family and was beautifully renovated as a summer rental along with another Poirier family home on the island by Wayne & Cecilia Poirier. Photos of both homes be seen at this site, along with their history.

A Secret to Achieving Permanent Weight Loss
 (Other Than Divorce)

This article by me appeared in the monthly newsletter “Much Ado About Mensa” for July 2012.


No, it’s not some miracle pill or buying your food from some over-hyped diet plan or even hiring a personal “coach.” I’m just going to skip right to the answer, simply put:


Sure, easy for me to say. But here is what I have learned over the past 10 years since I weighed over 300 pounds and how I permanently lost over 100 pounds. How you do it makes all the difference. It’s neither quick nor a diet. It’s about un-learning the bad eating habits that got you to that undesirable weight and how you educate yourself in good habits that result in permanent loss.

First step in the process of adding years to your life is to discuss your current condition with your doctor and formulate a plan. Set a goal to achieve your ideal weight over an appropriate time scale. You will find that you will have to make some changes. Like I said, it’s bad habits that got you to where you are at. It may or may not involve changes to your current exercise routine, but the highest priority, the one with the most leverage, in my opinion, is to consume fewer calories.

Here’s what my doctor suggested to me: “Try restricting your calories to less than 1800 per day to start out.” He didn’t tell me to exercise beyond what I did at work or my infrequent hiking/walking. He gave me a “cheat sheet” of good nutritional meal plans with typical calorie counts. Seemed reasonable, but I then realized that it not only is it important to keep your diet balanced to stay healthy, you need to understand the nutritional value of what you eat along with the costly calorie “penalty” of continuing to eat the same quantity of the items you like.

The learning process for food value is a key to success in the long term and there are many aids in that area, ranging from printed calorie/nutrition guides to on-line programs that help you track everything you eat. And yes, it’s true, “there is an app for that.”

Read the labels on packaged food and visit the nutrition pages on restaurant web sites. If you simply record the calories of everything you currently eat for two weeks without trying to reduce your intake or change your choices you may be surprised. Weigh yourself at the start and end and see what average calorie count per day has resulted in what weight change. From there, calculate what your new average should be to lose 1.5 to 2 pounds per week by using the estimate that 3,000 to 3,300 less calories per week will mean losing about 1 pound. (YMMV and it works both ways.)

So, back to my case. I first used a program on my Palm PDA that had a database of common foods and I entered everything I ate into that. This allowed me to manage to my budget. I found it was easy to do that and so much so that I was able to easily stay under 1600 calories. In this way I lost my first 80 pounds at the average rate of 1.5 pounds per week. The doctor was pleased, my blood pressure went down, my tri-glicerides got more into balance, although he said I could exercise more. However, this is not the end of the story…

Even though I dropped the weight, I wasn’t close enough to being at a healthy weight. I had slacked off a bit in my calorie tracking and still didn’t exercise. However, I had learned a whole new set of “good” foods and what to avoid at all cost. I had drifted back up by 20 pounds over the course of a few years and then a wake-up call. A coronary artery blockage sent me to the emergency room. In spite of passing a treadmill stress test the week before and always having consistently low cholesterol I had to have five stents put into two blocked coronary arteries.

I needed to continue my weight loss and complement this with some exercise once I was released to do so by the cardiologist. At this point, I retired from working and had a lot of free time so I started riding bike a few days a week around the neighborhood. First 2 miles, then 4, then 6, then 8 and finally 10 miles each time I went out. I also began doing it more often until I was out every day, making friends with the other “regulars” running or riding in the neighborhood.

So over the past 10 years I learned what I can eat habitually yet still stay under 1600 calories average. I can still have pizza, chocolates, burgers and the like, but I just have to stay in budget. Speaking of budget, I now spend less on food! Holidays provide challenges, but keep the average around your budget and you will do fine. Today I use an app on my iPhone that tracks everything and even has a bar code scanner for packaged food UPC codes to lookup the information automatically.

In summary, I have learned that diets can’t possibly work, since they are always temporary. Only a permanent change in habits can achieve permanent weight loss and a longer, healthier life.

Photo at the top shows “before” on an Alaska Cruise in 1998 where I was approaching 300 pounds and below is “after” where I have lost over 100 pounds and completed a bike ride of 25 miles with daughter-in-law Lisa.


Poppin’ with Pop – A Recollection

After many years of absence, I returned to the neighborhood where I spent the early years of my life. I was walking down the street I had walked so many times on the way to school or to the corner store for an ice cream. Although the homes and street were familiar, the picture seemed much different now.



I brought my son to see my old neighborhood, to see where I grew up and he walked beside me now, gazing up at the trees that shaded the sidewalk as they had done for me then. It was mid-summer now and the leaves have reached maturity, especially the maples, first to sprout in the spring, with reddish-brown buds. Gazing across the street, a single tree stands deep green against the blue sky. A humid rush of air blows past me and tips the leaves back, exposing lighter green undersides.

The trees had always provided a dense shade for much of the block in front of the house, but the branches seem now to be hanging lower than I remember. Some places I even have to duck to miss.

Glancing down at my son I am struck by the realization that I was his height when I the memories were last imprinted on my mind. I remember how I often ran down this sidewalk and leapt into the air, stretching my arm out as far as I could to reach the leaves.

I encourage my son to jump to get one of the low-hanging maple leaves. It’s time to pass on to my successor generation some key knowledge which is bound to prove useful later in life. He runs ahead and captures a prize leaf. Maples always were the best. Large smooth surface, tender to the touch, broad enough to hang well over both sides of a small fist. Perfect ammunition for a ‘popper’ and room enough for several re-loads.
I don’t remember who it was taught me how to pop leaves, but it is something which I always did whenever leaves were within reach. Taking the hard won leaf from my son’s hand I begin to describe the process with the slow, deliberate motions of a magician. I place the leaf over my left hand, ample coverage even for my large fist. Holding my left hand out about a foot from my stomach I bring my flat open right hand down quickly on the loaded popper and POW! Oh, what a sweet sound!
Not waiting for further instruction, my son leaps for fresh ammunition. Dropping back to earth he notices that he missed a leaf but came up with another play-toy of the Maple tree, the “propeller.” Before he jumps again I take the propeller from his hand and say “Wait, look at this! Time for a nature lesson.”

Later in the year, these v-shaped wings will dry out and drop from the tree on their own, spinning down slowly to earth and depositing themselves on the ground. With the rains of spring they will sprout into a very fast growing maple tree.

But there is another use for these flying seeds. While they are still green and moist with sap, you just have to break the two halves apart and you have a Pinocchio nose kit for two.

By splitting the end with the seed in half, and peeling out the seed, we both placed the sticky propellers on our noses, prepared to go up for ammunition again.

His next jump resulted in success, now that this leaf snatching had a purpose. Anxiously, he placed the leaf on his hand and smacked it hard with his open hand and there was no pop…

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Aw, you got a blank, it happens sometimes.”

“No really, what did I do wrong?”

“Ahhh..the secret!”

“You need to form a circle with your fingers, keeping the fist slightly open, instead of a closing it ,” I said.

Aided by this age-old secret, he again smacked the leaf and fist and squealed with delight when it popped loudly.

“History Detectives” – A Personal Experience

The premise of one of my favorite PBS shows, “History Detectives” is that people bring artifacts to the team of investigators to get a question answered about the article. For example, “Was this an original Ronald McDonald costume?” The investigators followed leads and interviewed experts to answer the question and usually delight the owners of the artifacts.

So I have recently tried to organize my large collection of old slides, prints and negatives by putting them into storage boxes, arranged chronologically as best I can. This required looking through each packet or envelope to guess when they were taken as not all of them were marked or had writing on the back. I have a stack of 14 boxes but only one box of the very old ones.

As I was going through some of the negatives in the oldest box that had been saved by my mother in old shoeboxes, I found this one that triggered a renewal of a search for the identity of the photo on the wall above the fireplace. It was taken at Christmas in 1949. I would turn 4 in two weeks. My sister Dolores was 17 and in her senior year of high school.


Every year, my mother would put all the Christmas cards on the fireplace. Above them was an old black and white photo of a Navy ship. That ship, I was told, was one that my father had helped build during WW2 in the shipyard in Providence, RI. He had learned the plumbing trade from his father and took the job to help in the war effort as he was not drafted when the war started. This photo stayed up on the wall well into the 1950s.


In the early 60s it was taken down and replaced with one of my paint-by-numbers paintings and I lost track of it. Several years ago, I tried looking through Naval history sites on the internet, but didn’t get very far in my search and I gave up. So now, after over 60 years, I tried again to search for the ship that my father helped build.

I began to collect what little I knew about the ship’s construction to start a search. It was built during the war in the shipyard in Providence. I recalled that that dad called it the Kaiser shipyard. So now off to Google.

‘Kaiser shipyard Providence’ search term led to Kaiser Shipyards in Wikipedia. The shipyard in Providence was located at Fields Point, just south of downtown at the head of Narragansett Bay. The Fields Point Wikipedia entry led to the name Walsh-Kaiser Company, that had taken over operations of an earlier attempt to establish a shipyard under the Emergency Shipbuilding Program shortly after Pearl Harbor.

Walsh-Kaiser Shipyard in Providence started with Liberty Ships, made famous for the extreme rate of launches, although no records were set at that location, Kaiser had built the SS Robert E. Peary at Richmond, CA yard #2, that launched in only 4 days, 15 hours, 29 minutes from the time her keel was laid.

So looking through the Walsh-Kaiser page there was a list of all the ships they built in the period from 1943 through September of 1945: liberty ships, frigates and Artemis class attack cargo ships. Referring to the photo on the wall, that I clipped and adjusted below, I noted that it was not a liberty ship, or a frigate, based on a comparison to ships of that type, so it had to be one of the Artemis class cargo ships. But which one?

So each of the ships listed by name had a link to more details and some photographs. I started down the list and noted that the first one pictured was first of the class, the Artemis and she had the same characteristic shape and I was sure I was on the right track. Then I clicked on the link to the USS Sirona AKA-43 and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was the same photograph that hung over the fireplace.