My Home and Sacred Land

 

 

Standing on top of the highest peak that I can reach on the Black Tusk hiking trail near Squamish, British Columbia, I raise my arms high up into the clear blue sky, surrounded by fresh, crisp glacier air, and embrace this place I know and love as Canada — my home and sacred land.

 

When the first white visitors landed on the shores of the Maritimes and Quebec, there was not much more than native Indian villages in the region. Over time it was discovered that things were not all that different clear across the land mass to the Pacific Ocean on the west, including Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and the Queen Charlottes — now known as Haida Gwaii. Today, we still have the riches of those First Nations villages, their culture, their customs and so very much more.

 

To be a true Canadian is to know our country’s history, to know its geography and its peoples. It is to embrace democracy, our arts, our discoveries, ourselves. It is to know that hockey, lacrosse and basketball have roots right here, that the CBC is Canada’s public broadcasting resource and that the maple leaf is our national symbol. It is to carry our flag on our sleeves, if not literally then symbolically, wherever we go. It is to sing O Canada with conviction and pride in English or in French — or both ways.

 

To be Canadian is to know we have provinces, not states; we have a Prime Minister, not a President; and, that we recognize the Queen of the Commonwealth as our Queen. It is to know that we live in buildings not igloos (unless we live in our Far North); we have distinct seasons, grand forests, red surge Mounties and a funny, smart and proud Canadian named Rick Mercer raising the profile of who we are every week on television. He opens our eyes about a lot of things, especially about ourselves and makes us laugh with each other.  Fabulous satire programs like This Hour has 22 Minutes and the former Royal Canadian Air Farce add a lot to that unique Canadian spirit of insightfulness and fun. As they say: Only in Canada, Hey.

 

To be Canadian is to feel free, fortunate and safe. We stand tall and are the envy of many. We reach out and help whenever and wherever we can. When we speak, people listen; our voices make sense and, best of all, we don’t let our approach, our vision or our wisdom go to our heads. We are a proud people, but we do it quietly. We believe in moving forward, in trying new things, in researching new avenues for public policies, in trying new approaches to problem solving and we believe in discussing things rationally before making decisions.

 

Aboriginal, Acadian, Métis, Francophone, Anglophone or Ethnophone; white, brown, black, ebony, ivory; unilingual, bilingual or polyglot; male or female or transgendered; gay or not; able-bodied or not; rich or poor or somewhere in between; single, divorced or married — we are a tolerant and proud society of diversity. We aim high and don’t walk away from adversity. We speak against discrimination and do not encourage or insist upon assimilation.

 

Our country — Canada, truly north, strong and free, is our sacred home. Happy 150th to all of us and thank you for helping to get us here.

 

Canada turns 150 and look at us now!

Our Nation stands tall and proud, and it’s always been that way.

 

In 1867, our province of British Columbia had not yet amounted to much. We were merely the end of a block of continental land seen as a logical western boundary of a country called Canada. If I read the Stats Can information correctly, the population of BC back then, not yet officially a part of the Dominion of Canada, was 32,000 – today we have maybe around 5 million.

 

What was back then has little resemblance to what we have now. The revolution that comes with people moving in, changed the landscapes; and the arrival of the white man, changed the lives of our First Peoples forever. 

 

Once settlers became settled, their hamlets, villages and towns expanded. 

 

Procreation got the ball moving on the population growth, as did immigration. 

 

Rural communities were carved into the landscape, between valleys, alongside waterways and mountains, and within forests, from  the Kootenays, to the Cariboo, the Okanagan, Fraser Valley and the Fraser Canyon, Vancouver Island, and the far North – every region developed its own character, its own strengths and its own pride.

 

Once the significance of the mighty Fraser River was figured out, the forestry industry started as a manual labour organization to an incredibly dominate industry that all of our future depended on and benefitted from.

 

With people came the demand for goods and services – the railway, the waterways and ease of cross-border trade, helped us get established, diversify our economy, develop more settlements, build more schools, churches and hospitals, expand the forestry, agriculture, mining and fisheries sectors and, eventually, we were able to add tourism into the mix.

 

  • Democratic governance helped us establish public order and discipline. 
  • The Gold Rush put us on the world map.
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police upheld law and order, and kept us safe.
  • The Sisters of St Ann and the Grey Nuns of Quebec started up the school system as we know it today.
  • The Oblates provided spiritual guidance and support.
  • The Hudson’s Bay established trade relations and opened up the world of business practices evolving from a bartering system to currency exchanges, employing many and opening up employment opportunities in other sectors for the droves of people who were coming our way.
  • The promise of the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway truly was the last spike to building a nation called Canada and to defining British Columbia as a connected component, in 1871, of the Dominion of Canada.

 

We can stand back and say that was all history; but, when you stop and think about it, everything we are doing now is just a continuation of what has been happening all along.  

 

If it needs one definitive word, I would say that word is progress. 

 

Every day we wake up and look forward to the success of our efforts or to the success of the efforts of others to make things better. We all seem to have a drive to strive for more and when new things are discovered or new approaches are implemented, we want even more to come.

 

A great example of this is the evolution of printed communication. From the telegraph system to the manual typewriter, the IBM selectrix and any number of computer models that have flashed by our desks in just the past few decades. We just get something new, blink, and then something even newer is before us.  

 

I see the drive for progress and the embracing of that progress, as the spirit of our province and of our Nation. It may have started 150 years ago, but it has never ended.

 

From the very days of Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Wolfe and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, Captain George Vancouver, David Thompson, Simon Fraser, Sir John A. MacDonald, and a whole slew of others over the past 150 years, the seed continues to grow and to prosper. With our progress comes our pride, and together as proud British Columbians and proud Canadians, we have accomplished so much.

 

There is so much more to come.

 

Happy 150th Canada – we truly do have so much to celebrate!

 

Adopting Veronica

Today I am thinking of Veronica.

I met her at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba recently. We were awaiting the same WestJet flight out to Toronto and had a lot of time to kill. She is about a year and half old and not too confident yet with her walking but, nevertheless, very curious about things around her. She seems to enjoy climbing on to seats and then moving along sideways from seat to seat, lifting her little legs over the armrests. It is also her way of introducing herself to people along the way.

Suddenly I hear a tumbling sound and quickly turn and see the poor infant's head hit the hard floor, carpeted floor -- but only carpet on top of cement. I quickly look to see what the parents were doing and feel sick inside, not only about the incident and crying baby, but the parents whose attention was focused on their individual devices. The mother jumps up and angrily says something in a different language to her husband, who in return utters something back and continues to look at his device.

I wanted to snatch the poor Veronica from that mother and sign adoption papers there and then!

Eventually the crying stopped and off she went again, ending up on my lap. I took her hands to teach her how to clap. She didn't seem to want to do it. I then switched to clucking my tongue, making a series of cluck, cluck, cluck sounds, and she began to laugh and try it herself. This whole time the mother was beside me, never cracking a smile but only able to answer my request for the baby's name.

Curious Veronica had enough of me and climbed on to the seat beside me and over to the next grey haired adult along the way. That lady began to sing foreign sounding children's songs and Veronica sat on her lap mezmorized by the voice. It was very soothing. Again, the mother could not crack a smile.

The flight to Toronto is a long one and hard enough for adults to endure. Veronica simply could not be happy sitting on a parent's lap for any length of time. The mother would take her for walks up and down the main aisle, and Veronica would stop and stare at most people along the way. The mother cracked no smile as her daughter explored and tried her best to have fun.

Returns to their assigned seats, four rows behind me but on the other side of the plane, would result in some quiet mixed with cries, and occasionally there was silence. I would turn to see what was happening and I would see mother rapidly swaying Veronica in her arms in a way that didn't seem smooth and rhythmic, but rather rough and disturbing. Of course nobody could fall asleep with that approach, so eventually the crying came back, and the walks up and down the aisle increased, and the father just ignored it all as he played video games on his IPAD.

As we all prepared to disembark, I turned around for one last time and there was Veronica, clapping her hands and then waving good-bye. I waved back and whispered "good luck to you dear Veronica"!

Kris Kringle

A very unusual life story unfolded two weeks ago. An elderly neighbour was taking a rare stroll into the big Park across the street from our apartment building. She weaved in and out of the various roadways and pathways, especially the ones near the ponds. She loves to watch the ducks and swans, geese and turtles, go about their daily business, and quietly sits at her favourite spot, on her favourite bench. She has had a hard life, having lost her bladder and having had recent knee replacement surgery, but here she finds and feels her peace, as she sits in her swanky retro outfits and beautiful red hat that matches her lipstick and blush. She is no ordinary seventy year old!

She came knocking at my door that day to tell me about a very unusual encounter. A young guy came out of nowhere, smiled and walked by her, as she said hello. He said hello but just kept walking. She watched him as he carried on along the path, over the stone bridge taking him to the other side of the lake. He looked across the water and she waved at him. He waved back and sat on the bench at the edge of the water.

This was too weird for her so she gathered her things and moved to another bench, out of view. Then, everything changed. The young man wandered around the other side of the lake to continue his journey, and there he saw her talking to the turtles.

"May I join you?" he asked in awkward English.

"Hm, yes, please do."

From there they talked and walked and talked some more. They fascinated each other and felt no awkwardness. He was a cute young traveler from Germany, living in an equipped van and spending a few days in Victoria. She welcomed him in the true Canadian tradition, invited him in for some warmth and nourishment. They exchanged phone numbers and met regularly in the days that followed. She introduced him around, advised him on where to get his hair cut and where to buy winter clothes for his pending trek to the Yukon. He brought her grocery shopping and made her meals. They even spent three nights in a deluxe cabin in Tofino to storm watch! This encountered had clearly changed both of their lives, and it was truly great to see.

As a farewell and overview, and to help my neighbour see how her journey was perceived by me, I wrote the following consoling note on the night before he left to continue his bucket listed special journey in search of special things. He leaves with having found one extraordinary special thing right here in Victoria and having left behind one very happy lady! They will be soulmates forever.

Well lady friend, you have just been through a whirlwind of the ultimate of pure pleasure, a fortnight of purity, honesty, openness, and bliss! An angel appeared on your Lost Lagoon bench in the park across the way. He sat on your shoulder and whispered kind, soft spoken words, and a whole new world opened up for you and for him. Regular company, fun and laughter. Intrigue and adventure. A bridge between generations and a bridge between cultures. Its beginnings were magical and that magic made your heart smile and your life glitter like never before. Chris , a modern day risen Christ -- a true gift -- one that you welcomed and held on to, and leaving you with memories from which you will forever feel enlightened, enriched and happy, as you look forward to staying connected.

Soulmates forever.

Train Tale

Sometimes you hear people say the strangest things happen. Today, I am saying the strangest thing just happened to me. 

 

There is a lady named Laurie who takes the same West Coast Express train as me in the morning, and sits in the same car, and almost always positions herself in the quad section in front of me. 

 

Over a period of three years, which does not encompass a whole lot of time since I am only on the train for maybe 3 weeks of the year, I feel I can tell you the life story of this woman.  She takes the train into downtown Vancouver and then runs to catch the SeaBus, most days – sometimes she drives the whole distance. She works at ICBC -- the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

 

Laurie used to go to school in Burnaby and if my ears did not deceive me sometime last year, I think she even mentioned the name of the school, which just happened to be the same school I attended: Burnaby Central. This year she turned 60. She celebrated her 60th at her mom’s place – I think she said in Mission, because a daughter’s 60th is very special to a daughter’s mother. They ate liver and onions, because that is her favourite special meal!

 

Over the past 3 years, her life has transitioned from married, to separated, to divorced. She has two adult sons and lives in Maple Ridge. Her dad passed away about a year and half ago. One year after her divorce, which is this year, she put her house up for sale and it sold in short order. She found herself a nice townhouse somewhere else in Maple Ridge and she is slowly settling in.

 

Laurie joined a cycling club and does phenomenal fundraising gigs to raise monies for Cancer Research. She is involved with the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and rain or shine she is totally committed to the related events throughout the year.  Unfortunately, due to arthritis in her hands, she can’t cycle this year, but she is going anyway to help out on some of the many other tasks involved in coordinating such a huge undertaking.

 

Only recently have we been acknowledging each other on the train station platform, saying a simple hello and not much else. I don’t recognize her at all and, apparently, she doesn’t recognize me – at least I don’t think she does.  

 

My quick google search for Laurie ICBC and Ride to Conquer Cancer led me to this realization that Laurie is a former classmate of mine from high school. The search resulted in a reference to an obituary for her father, in which she was named, along with the names of her siblings. That was the clincher – her sister has a very unique name, and I recognized the mother’s name. I was able to connect the dots. Her mother was active in the Wesburn Park softball programme; I think I remember her as being the best volunteer scorekeeper! Her sister is one of my FB friends. And, Laurie, well Laurie and I did not hang out at school and my social life was focused in neighbourhoods away from hers, so we did not connect back then. It is, nevertheless, intriguing that our paths have crossed once again, and that I feel like I know her very well through eavesdropping on train-time conversations.

 

Next time our paths cross on the Maple Meadows’ train platform, I will smile, say hello and maybe a whole lot more!

Interpreting Identities

Toni has been enjoying her three weeks on the beach on the Dutch island of Aruba again this year. It is almost the southern-most island in the Caribbean Sea, a few kilometers north of Venezuela. This is something like her twentieth time in the tropics and every year brings more smiles.
 
Today, for example, a guy who usually occupies the tiki hut next to hers in the front row, called her Julia.
 
Did you call me Julia?
 
They have been talking back and forth to each other for several days without exchanging names, and today a name was slipped into the conversation.
 
Yes, he said. Aren’t you Julia Roberts?
 
Huh, you kidding me?
 
No, you look just like her.
 
No, I am not Julia Roberts!
 
So sorry, he says as he nudges his wife in embarrassment. She was equally sure. Maybe it’s the way you have your hair back; you look like Julia from her role in Pretty Woman!, she adds.
 
No, that’s not me, but thanks for being so nice to me!
 
One of the things that happens when you go to a fixed week timeshare vacation location, you get to know a lot of people who come each year to that same location at that same time. Such is the case for Toni and her family, and most of the other people on the beach or on the pool deck – they have made this journey together and every year it is like a huge reunion.
 
Some people tend to keep to themselves and that is okay. They are noticed and when their dynamics change, that is noticed too. Such is the case of a regular foursome from Ohio: two married couples. The husbands look like they are from the same gene pool so we saw them as brothers. The wives were very different and their routines were generally different. Although they travelled together, they never shared a tiki hut and never strove to secure side by side huts. Both would take a morning walk along the beach, but not at the same time. Both would go into the water several times a day, but only occasionally together. One wife would suntan in the sun and the other in the shade; both men always sat in the shade. Both couples enjoyed separate daily picnic lunches and afternoon cold drinks that came out of a common cooler.
 
Both couples went out for dinner together every night around 6:30 pm. They were consistent and predictable. They were intriguing to watch.
 
This year, however, that movie changed. Only three of the four showed up. Immediately people noticed and the stories started to spread – death, separation, divorce? On day one, Toni was under her hut in the front row, laying back with her head on her favourite red pillow, with her eyes closed and ears open. She heard a sobbing sound coming from behind her. She slowly moved her head to see what was going on. One of the women was whipping her eyes with her hand as the other woman reached over to console her. The husband left to stroll the beach to give the women some alone time.
 
Toni turned to her sister who was oblivious to what was going on and only vaguely remembers the foursome from years past. She, too, looked over and became curious. Days passed and eventually there was an opportunity to find out more. The two women descended into the Sea together mid-morning, at a time when Toni’s sister was already in the water. She engaged with the usual niceties of an opening conversation, including the standard how long have you been owners here? It was the perfect question as it immediately resulted in mystery solving.
 
Eventually the lady mentions her husband and how much he loved being in Aruba. Unfortunately, last September, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within 17 days. Everyone was shocked and stunned as there were no signs; it was just a routine health check up. She wasn’t going to return to their favourite holiday spot again but with the support of her friends and family, she decided he would have wanted her to come again and again.
 
Happily, her daughter and son-in-law were arriving that day for a week, and that would make it easier on her as well.
 
The spirit of this island paradise was good for her too.
 
On the other front, the pool deck, there was also something routine happening. A guy named Elias, a red-necked Italian who never had a kind word to say, secured a specific table and chairs for him and his wife. Over the years, Toni’s greetings progress from a wave from afar as she walked through the pool deck to the beach very early each morning, to a hello Elias, have a nice day and then to actually going to his side for a short conversation. The latter did not last long as his bitter attitude and foul language were upsetting and not appreciated.
 
Later in the day, Toni would walk from the beach back to her condo via the pool deck and she came to enjoy conversations with Elias’s wife Athana. Those talks were most pleasant when Elias wasn’t around.
 
This year Athana opened up a lot about her ten year marriage. They married while in their 50s. It was her first marriage and his second. His first lasted one year. She married him not because she wanted to be married, but because it meant a lot to her mother.
 
Athana was aware of his passion for gambling and had a prenup agreeing to have separate bank accounts, with a common pot for common expenses. His money was his and hers was hers. She never knew if he was winning or losing and did not care. It was not a happy marriage, but the spirit of paradise was good medicine for her too.
 
In Aruba, he sat with her on the pool deck every day until around 3. He would go to the condo for an afternoon nap, have dinner with her and then head to the Poker Club to gamble until around 3:30 every morning, returning home around four. At seven, he would be up and heading to the pool deck to secure the table for the day.
 
One day this year, Toni returned to the pool deck at around 3:30 and there was no Elias and no Athana. This seemed a bit strange but she let it ride thinking not too much more about it.
The next morning she sees Elias wondering around the pool deck with his head down, looking lost. She calls from a distance and says: hey, Elias, how you doing? She hears him mumble something and as she approaches closer she asks: what’s up?
 
Athana died last night.
 
What? What happened?
 
At five in the morning she was throwing up and couldn’t stop so we called for help. The ambulance brought her to the hospital and I left at around 11 because they wanted her to stay for observation. At five, they called to say I had better come quick because things did not look good. I got there at 5:30 and took one look at her and was sure she was dead. They told me she was not dead but they would bring her to ICU and work on her. By 22:00 she was pronounced dead. They now want me to pay them $5000 for hospital time; $4500 for cremation. I can tell you that is not coming out of my money; that is coming out of her money.
 
Elias, I am so sorry to hear this. I just talked with her yesterday and she seemed fine. She mentioned that you were not well and having trouble keeping your food down. She never mentioned having issues of her own. I am shocked.
 
Well, that is life. We come and we go. Off he went to make some phone calls to family back home.
 
The next day, Elias is at the table. Toni stops to see how things are going.
 
It is Sunday and I can’t do anything because the crematorium people don’t work on Sundays. I have asked the cleaning staff to take away all of her clothing and things because I don’t need her stuff. I tried to contact her brother but his f—phone is on voice mail so I finally left him a f—message saying if you would answer your phone I can tell you that your sister has died here in Aruba. I have no idea how she died although I suppose you have your suspicions since you have never liked me. She will be cremated and I am bringing her ashes to you so you can do whatever you f-ing want with them.
 
He then hung up the phone and has no intention of talking to him again.
 
Elias went on to tell Toni that he knew where to get his hands on 50 thousand dollars immediately, and with the death certificate and the Will, there would be probably another $500,000 coming his way. He was planning to make good use of that money right away.
Toni walked away from that conversation feeling perplexed and suspicious. He showed no remorse, just frustration that his holidays have been interrupted by this inconvenience and an eagerness to get his hands on her money. He expressed no remorse, showed no remorse, and just seemed ready to turn the page.
 
Vacations don’t usually get so eventful, and it doesn’t stop here.
 
On Father’s Day, there is an annual buffet brunch in one of the restaurants on site. Toni and her family go every year and this was no exception, except the experience was an exception.
Her sister was noticing something happening at the table next to theirs. She nudged her husband and made some hand gestures to Toni, to have us discretely observe an older couple move food from the table to their shopping bag on the chair next to them.
 
After loading their plates and hands with food, including 5 bananas, some apples, pastries and boxes of cereal, they sat quietly eating what was left from their stash and then got up to refill their plates.
 
The entire family was thinking the same thoughts: Lordy, Lordy, who are these people and why are they doing this? Paradise has clearly gone to their heads and they are the very types of people who ruin the pleasures we all enjoy down here. Disgusting and despicable especially since we know that old man is a former United States judge!
 
Our world is a strange place and strange things happen. Many of us miss it because our eyes are not always open or we tend to pretend our eyes are not open. It just seems easier to go on that way.
 
Then we turn on the television news and learn about rapists being freed, apes endangering a fallen child because of a negligent parent, alligators snatching a child from the water’s edge and a sniper killing 49 people in an Orlando bar. Shock and sadness are found everywhere. When it comes to the rest of us, all we can depend on is hope – hoping nothing bad ever happens to us and hoping that justice will be served.
 
All too often it seems justice just is not served here on earth, but maybe all of the injustices we experience or see now – such as the examples in this story, will be dealt with or explained in some other way, in some other celestial dimension none of us know about just yet.
 
Meanwhile, Toni drifts back into thinking about being Julia Roberts for three days and then, on the fourth day, one day after the misidentification, the interest in engaging in conversation has depleted.
 
Stabbings like this usually miss Toni's vital organs, since she is sixty and has experienced a lot in life. Hers carries on with her eyes wide open all the time, ready for the intrigue of new episodes, new stories, as they unfold virtually any time and all the time, making life in itself, one big collection of mysteries and comics and drama, topped up with beautiful music in many genres.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

This Song was Meant For You and Me

When I was walking, one august, quiet morning, I heard the lyrics “Sweet Dreams and Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music”. I was reminded about how much I love singing and listening to country music songs.  They tell stories, great stories, about real life things and experiences, and cover the gamut of emotions commonplace in human life.  When I did the convocation address to my first group of Grade Seven graduates, I used lines from various country songs, and presented them as one coherent story about life. 

 

I chose ‘country’ despite the moans and groans of the students because I wanted them to realize that despite their aversion to country music, the lyrics actually were powerful and meaningful in their own right, but also as strong metaphors about many other aspects of life. At the end of my presentation, many of them, and members of the audience, were in tears!  I wish I had kept that speech.

 

So, in listening to Sweet Dreams and Cadillacs and Hillbilly Music,  the other day,  I stopped to reflect about Back Then, and I still believe in the power of country music titles and lyrics as personifications or reflections of our lives and those around us:

 

In Life: Whose bed have your boots been under?  Did I shave my legs for this? Just Walk on By. Let Me Let Go. The Woman in Me. Any Man of Mine. Forever and For Always. Hello Door. This Coat of Many Colours. Just To See You Smile. My D.I.V.O.R.C.E!, and almost everything Patsy Cline!

 

In Politics: A Boy Named Sue. People Are Crazy. Have you Forgotten? Repeat After Me. I Need You. Something Like That. I Didn’t Mean That. I Didn’t Say That. Not a Moment Too Soon. Some Things Never Change. Nine Lives. Bring On The Rain, and almost everything Waylen Jennings and Willie Nelson!

 

So despite the moans and groans, the twangs and simple rhymes, the titles and lyrics of country songs speak to us, about us, for us and because of us. They help us see the bigger picture – enhance our spirit and self-confidence, help us to laugh and to cry and for me, most of all, they help to explain my smile!

 

My life has been a coat of many colours -- some bright and others have faded somewhat over the years, but not yet forgotten; my world has been a coat of many colours thanks to my mom and my dad who brought me here from their homeland, (that land is your land) to my Canada, (this land is my land) a place for you and me, and for that I am most grateful!

 

The Heart of the Train

The mighty train engine and sober engineer ride along the parallel tracks, at times intersecting with sub-arteries, where they take breathers, but always going forward, sticking to the schedule and moving from post to post, accomplishing more and more as each landmark is noticed and passed on this frequently travelled route.

Thomas grew up in a hamlet called North Bend, in the Upper Fraser Canyon region of the Province of British Columbia, Canada. It was a bustling Canadian Pacific railway town in those days, and very long trains would travel in both directions several times a day.

Building and building the mileage on the embedded odometer, the experienced engineer looks around at the beautiful scenery, often awe-inspired, sometimes indifferent, but always awake and looking forward to what might be waiting around the next bend. What he has learned is that what you can’t see does not exist until you see it, and when it is out of sight, it exists no longer, until the next time so enjoy the moment, feel the excitement and then let it go because there is still so much more to come.

The engineer never saw Thomas sitting on the top step of the front porch of the CPR house he lived in on Highline Road. He did not have any idea that a young boy was there watching almost every day, and paying attention to the sounds of the wheels rolling along the tracks and then the sounds of the screeching brakes that the brakeman would soon be checking. He did not know that as time unfolded over many years, Thomas learned a great deal about life by just watching the trains roll by and only temporarily stop.

Every box car carried something important for someone or many people. The cars depended on the engineer and on the men in the caboose to get them to wherever they were supposed to go. Through rain, snow, sleet, thunder and lightening, those trains were on a mission and the cargo they carried in each one of those box cars gave them life. One car depended on the other and on the ones in front of and behind that one too. They worked together and went no where if they were apart.

Thomas figured out early in his life that life is like a train in a lot of ways, and the human living that life is the engineer. The parallel tracks are what keep us in line ... our conscience with our actions; our actions with our goals; checks and balances … or just think of it as balancing. When the tracks are not parallel, the wheels derail and oh what a mess that could be.

A good train is one with a strong engine pulling many important box cars filled with products upon which others are depending. The foundation has to be stable and the strength of the engine has to be aware of the contents of its cars. 

A good life is like a long train with an engineer in an engine pulling many box cars of various important contents -- contents that give energy to life and enable people to keep on going further and further ahead. To succeed in his mission, the engineer has to stay awake and look forward to what might be waiting around the next bend. 

Life is also like a train ride, passing through forests, valleys, countrysides, cities and towns, by rivers and lakes, along side oceans and highways. There are smooth rides and challenges, and even sometimes derailments. The person in the front focuses on getting it right and, when necessary, switches into over time to get back on track.

Thomas figured out very early in his life, just from watching dozens of various trains coming and going day after day, all depending on the sum of their parts and the character of their engineer, that our lives are made up of a string of boxcars and we are all here on this earth to keep the adventure going and going, just like a train, until the engine comes to its final stop.

 

 

Tracking The Curve Ball

Jeannie has been airing out her closeted seasonal clothing by hanging them on a hook inside her kitchen window. A breeze is flowing nicely toward the window carrying the lovely scent of the recently bloomed lilac tree in the neighbour's yard across the way.

 

Spring has sprung and so has her enthusiasm about the opportunities ahead -- more outdoor time and longer days to enjoy evening walks and cycling treks.

 

As she later sits on her lawn chair on the recently mowed grass out front of her apartment building in Victoria, British Columbia, Jeannie's legs are stretched out on to the stool, as she slowly applies a generous amount of last year's leftover No. 30 suntan lotion on to her face, arms and legs, then massages some between her toes and fingers. It is like a sensual massage, outdoors, in front of the drivers and passengers in all the cars driving by, and the pedestrians as well. She just smiles.

 

Looking across the way at the open field and softball diamond, she sees and hears a group of young adults playing a game of softball. Flashbacks whisk her away to memory lane. She places herself back in time when she pitched a ball faster than the speed of light, while playing in a fun community league. The fun diminished when the game became too competitive for her liking and moved her up to provincial and national championships. When there was talk of going internationally, she froze, turned and walked away. Competition had taken away the pleasure of playing, and sucked the life out of enjoying tomorrow.

 

Jeannie hung up her Ted Williams leather glove with her favourite ball tied up tightly into the well-used pocket and decided to pursue her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher. It seemed to be such a popular career choice, in those days, possibly because the teachers of the day were so good, and so happy to hold such an honourable and important position.  

 

The UBC Teacher Training Programme was fabulous, comprehensive and a lot of fun. The students worked together as a team and helped each other out as they counted the days until graduation.

 

Jobs were plentiful and everyone got one almost right away; after all, there was no competition for French Immersion positions!

 

Happily placed in a small rural community, Jeannie put her best foot forward. But, it wasn't long for that noose she called competition to seep into her daily plans. The students were competing with each other for the best marks; the school philosophy was to churn out the best students in the district and the District Office wanted the community to be the best in the province. Students were under pressure, as were the parents, the teachers and the principals, and the original philosophy and psychology of education had been relegated to a back shelf.

 

Jeannie noticed that her students did not want check marks, stars or stickers. They wanted numbers, fractions, percentages or letter grades on everything and everything had to be recorded and displayed. She remembers announcing an assignment for which there would be no marks. Jaws dropped. Notes came from parents to the teacher, to the principal and to the District Superintendent. She stood her ground and over time noticed a bit of a shift in attitude, but it did not last long. Marks! They wanted marks! Parents rewarded their kids with money, gifts and privileges if they had certain marks. Marks could put one's name on the Honour Roll or the Principal's List. Marks translated into scholarships. 

Hello! This was elementary school!

 

Yes, this is what the joys of school had come to and Jeannie walked away after four years. Four years, like four bases, she ran the bases and that final home run comforted her. A good person. A great teacher, well-trained in the original philosophy and psychology behind education, able to distinguish between balls and strikes, but trumped by indoctrinated students who saw schooling as a controlled sport, with specific rules, fast strikes and a quest to win.

 

Gone are the days when school was a lot of fun and relaxing, with a primary focus on learning how to read and to write, and to understand arithmetic. Forget about teamwork when the strong helped the less strong, and the weak had something to teach others as well. 

 

Jeannie remembers when a lot of people thought it would be cool to actually be a teacher. She was one of them. She now sees a clear distinction between the fun competition of her youth softball games when winning brought smiles and losing made her look forward to the next game. Today, at school, it's every person for themselves, push, push, push, and don't look back. The stress and pressure is taking its toll; too many can't take it and great people with a lot to offer are left behind.

 

Jeannie is looking back today, as she now sits beside her bicycle, on a favourite bench overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is a beautiful clear day and her mind is smiling about her path of life, and thinking about the paths others have chosen back then and now. The most stressed and the most pressured have not fared well. Drug-related deaths are growing; memberships in AA and NA is increasing; suicides are higher than ever; mental institutions are filled to capacity; families are falling apart; divorce rates are almost four out of five; young teens are anxious to get pregnant; and, few people know the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, or that 'a lot' is always two words, not one.

 

Jeannie has turned the page, once again, and has become a philosopher and psychologist, with a long roster of clientele wanting to reconstruct their lives by identifying the curve balls and clearing all the paths that were cluttered with high expectations. She feels the balance in her life, and embraces a career that teaches others to stand up to competition, relax and to enjoy life and all its possibilities.

 

Jeannie: an anomaly -- likely; a black sheep -- evidently; a visionary -- definitively. She is a pitcher, a batter, and a coach, with eyes wide open to the bigger picture;  a steady portrait, steadfast to modifying humanity to get back to the community softball diamond where left field is just as important as right; where the pitcher sends the options and the batter makes the decision to swing; and, where the coach stands at the sidelines with encouraging words through each and every inning, never showing a prearranged signal telling the batter or runner what to do or asking for the score, but asking everyone to do their very best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultured Memory

Hahaha, Melanie can't  believe the luck in becoming inspired almost as soon as she entered Government House in Victoria, British Columbia, this afternoon. Today is all about recognizing and honouring a beautiful portrait of community service and community spirit, a diverse montage of people who have really made a difference.
 
She drives slowly through the dark black iron gates of the massive property, and is greeted by one of the Lieutenant Governor's footmen who announces a pleasant surprise -- a reserved parking spot, and then another surprise -- a man in uniform holds open the majestic, meticulously carved door of this lovely ceremonial home of the people of British Columbia. He extends a sincere welcome as he stands at attention and guides her to the registration desk at the top of the stairs. Melanie feels inspired by this entrance.
 
As she passes the registration desk, where she knows she doesn’t need to be, and  enters the red-carpeted reception foyer, she spots a familiar face. It is a former colleague, someone with whom she often cajoled over a period of maybe ten years, up to three years ago when the former employee was moved on. There is a volunteer sticker on her lapel. She is pretending to not see Melanie. It is that well-known sudden move, that move we are all so familiar with, you know the one, the sudden jerking of the head in a fast immediate jolt into the opposite direction of eye contact. Melanie laughs. What is up with her? 
 
Melanie suddenly feels excited for a creative writing reason she had not expected. She stands there feeling a bit stunned and then, as she does that, her mind flashes an image of Sister Wendy, that odd looking nun who loves art and art history and takes us on her art tours during interludes on public television. Sister Wendy is a quasi-cloistered nun who gets out only infrequently and she has developed a unique and impressive knack to see people, objects and actions for what they really are. Breathing is difficult for her, not because of any respiratory issues, but because she is so excited and consumed by the drive to reveal the metaphor and explain the meaning behind each aspect of the masterpiece in front of her at that moment in time.
 
Melanie stops, looks at this former colleague from a distance, clearly seeing a rejected soul, and she realizes exactly what she is seeing.
 
I do know what I am seeing and what I am feeling, and my inner self is so tempted to forget this Awards party, find a quiet nook and create a masterful piece of writing in the present tense. It could not be more present that this present here, right now. 
 
The urge to write this other story is burning inside of her but, unlike Sister Wendy, Melanie breathes and walks away. She chooses to swing back on track, to the story she came to write. She smiles, does a short pirouette twist to the right, then follows a straight path to videographer, Fred, whom she had seen at another event only just last week. She likes Fred. He is an interesting man of good character. They talk a bit and then they talk a lot. She mentions the odd encounter she had just had in the foyer and they laugh saying: are there really still people like that around? Apparently so! They give us reason to laugh and define who we really are. Thank goodness we aren't like that.
 
 
Let’s get back to this story at this moment in time. Today at Government House, with our Lieutenant Governor and a Minister of the Crown as hosts, we are about to honour forty special community achievers from all across the province. We hear the piper getting ready to parade the group into the main hall and we are told to take our seats. Melanie’s is a reserved one in the same row as the recipients. She is the only non-recipient in the recipient row; those were the instructions she received in the briefing, so she feels confident there will be no interventions. 
 
As she looks up and around the room, the glare of the peculiar volunteer hits her like a laser beam. It is that look of why are you seated there? It is that look of You aren't supposed to be there. And, that look of If anyone should be seated there it is me! Melanie turns the other way, discretely of course, and feels her inner self whisper: There is always something, isn't there? Life is never boring. What a delightful afternoon!
 
Ceremonies are ceremonies, and after being to so many of them, so often, over the past 25 years, one sometimes seems like just any other. Although the procedures are often the same, they are all very different experiences because of the people. The way they dress, walk, talk, sit, stand and mingle -- Melanie enjoys sitting back and taking notes, mentally and in script. 
 
People fascinate her, interest her, and inspire her. All the chosen award winners in this beautiful room are here because they fascinate, interest and inspire a lot of people. For everyone that is here, Melanie knows there are thousands just like them; but, today, only these forty get this experience. It is an odd concept that only forty people get noticed here today for being philanthropists, volunteers, inventors, program developers, coaches, mentors, artists, teachers, doctors, first responders and the like. 
 
Over forty years ago, when Melanie was an avid softball player, coach and program coordinator, she taught hundreds of women how to hold a softball and throw it with a powerful serge of energy they never knew they had. As a black sheep warrior in favour of building a truly bilingual Canada, she chose to love learning French, became a French teacher in British Columbia, developed fun curriculum for a course called Family French, did translation jobs at no charge, tutored students of any age for free, even on weekends. 
 
Advocating for bilingualism was a dangerous path to follow, in Western Canada, yet Melanie was a true warrior and never backed away. She even walked away from a marriage proposal because that mother in law-to be was a blatant bigot! 
 
She has never been in a group of forty, at a special posh ceremony in a special luxurious ballroom, in our beautiful capital city. It has always been perplexing to her as to why,  but she seems to get over it by believing recognition is still to come, either down here on earth or up at the pearly gates! She would prefer the latter.
 
Oh, but we digress. The ceremony has begun. Melanie is listening, smiling, clapping, looking, watching, wondering what the hosts are thinking, wondering what foods will be served later and should she or shouldn't she have a glass of wine. 
 
I am on duty and I am driving. Best not.
 
Looking at the lap of the recipient next to her, Melanie gets a glance of the achievement medallion. It is a Robert Davidson Haida creation called Cultured Hero, spirited, undaunted, fearless and bold. All of these forty people have those qualities and they will now each have and hold this extraordinary medal with pride, as they stand singularly on stage, between the Lieutenant Governor and the Minister, nervously and proudly smile for the official photograph, then exit stage right and walk back to their assigned seat. It is a lovely ceremony and Melanie is sure it will have lasting memories for everyone in this room like a beautiful carefully framed painting, a contemporary fresco, with lasting significance.
 
After the singing of God Save the Queen, a song Melanie loves to sing, the guests are all free to get up and socialize -- that would include enjoying the canapés and free drinks that servers were presenting around the room. She spots the volunteer standing alone near a wall:
 
It seems you don't want to chat with me?
 
Why would you say that?, she asks.
 
Well, we had a chance earlier; it isn't like the old you to walk away from a fun chat with me.
 
Well, I am really busy doing stuff here for the event.
 
But, you weren't serving anyone earlier and you are not serving anyone now.. Why can't we have a chat?
 
Sorry, I see someone I haven't seen in a while.
 
Off she goes and Melanie quietly laughs, realizing that she, too, as a character in this mural, has had a most delightful, memorable afternoon. She doesn’t need a medal to remind her later in life about this moment and she doesn’t need Sister Wendy to explain or interpret this society painting around her, this celebration of a unique moment in the lives of everyone in this room, except for this seemingly bitter volunteer! Even though Melanie has difficulty watching the nun while she does her art history presentations, she does listen and has learned a lot about life from her. Walking confidently through today's painting and noticing the nuances, is a case in point.
 
Sister Wendy is very bright and raises one’s awareness to a higher understanding of the meaning of life and the strengths and weaknesses of the human character. Her insight into the portrait of a person, the darkness, sadness, thickness, thinness, colours, facial expressions, and character positions in the settings, has clearly really helped Melanie a lot, as she now stands tall and proud,  as a figure in a piece of art, watching darkness and sadness walk away and disappear in the brightness of the happy, cheerful, inspiring, fearless and bold people in this beautiful masterpiece of life before her.
 

Flying High with Air Canada

I am sitting 34,000 feet above the earth, flying from Montreal to Vancouver, worried about what is awaiting me there. I am booked on a flight from Vancouver to Victoria, but weather delays seem to have made that an unlikely destination tonight. It is fast approaching midnight and the last flight out won't likely wait for me. What happens in such a circumstance, I wonder. Let's look at the options.

An agent will greet me at the arrival gate to whisk me over to the next gate to board a plane that has been held back for me.

An agent will greet me to rebook me on a flight in the morning and will give me a voucher to sleep at the Fairmont Airport Hotel.

An agent will greet me to rebook me on a flight in the morning and will give me a voucher to sleep at a less chic place in Richmond.

An agent will greet me to rebook me on a flight in the morning and will give me the it is not Air Canada's fault line so there will be no Hôtel on the table. 

I have done the sleep at the airport thing before and it isn't for me. I think I will book a hotel room at the Fairmont, crash in the lap of a luxurious room, with a heavenly bed, and smile the whole night through thinking about the days when I could not have imagined ever being able to treat myself this way, without hesitation. Will Air Canada at least give me a food voucher for breakfast at the White Spot?

I will have to wait to find the answer. We are about an hour away.


It is too bad this kind of thing has to happen after such a wonderful three days in New York City. I guess things cannot always flow smoothly, no matter how hard you try.

Circumstances like weather, slow employees, slow passengers who can't quite get a handle on how to board quickly and efficiently, the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing when it comes to getting atypical situations worked out, and people in charge getting pleasure out of not being the best they can be during difficult times, amounts to some trips just not ending quite like they could have. 

For example, the head flight attendant just came by and snapped at the two attendants sitting behind me saying you guys aren't watching videos are you? They are as surprised as I am to hear such abrupt rudeness. There is no call for that insult to two flight attendants who have served the passengers four times over, and are simply sitting for a fifteen minute, much deserved break. Besides, most of the passengers are sleeping on this red eye flight. 

The comment causes both to get up immediately to find something to do in the galley -- things that already have been done quite perfectly already and really didn't need to be done again. Moving the snacks from one drawer to another and latching and re latching cabinets are the most common examples I can think of at this moment. Why are some people determined to negatively impact the morale of others, I ask myself again and again.

This trip to New York City has been great, once again. I love standing any where there and looking around at buildings and roads and people. The lights, the entertainers, the honking horns, parks, museums, libraries, drug stores, clothing stores and, of course, department stores like the world's largest Macy's -- a place I can stand outside of or inside for hours without even shopping. It is an amazing place, filled with stuff, employees and customers everywhere, coming and going, smiling from ear to ear. I love that Macy's!

Departure day is always a weird one as I don't like to drift too far away from the hotel in case I miss the check out time and I don't  like to leave my luggage in the hands of the staff in a side room to which a lot of people have access. This trip plan, time wise for departure day, turns out to be very fine. 

We enjoyed the streets and treats of Manhattan for a couple of hours after breakfast, rolled our bags out of the hotel to the Airporter bus stop, and off we went to La Guardia airport. It is a thirty minute fast ride out of Manhattan and into the hinterland close by.

Upon arrival, the boards show our flight is delayed by an hour, meaning our connection in Montreal is even tighter than it was. As we sit there waiting and waiting, the boards change indicating a further delay. At this point we start to panic and imagine a Plan B. There was no way we would get home tonight. Where would we sleep? Who would pay? Would my travel companion agree to splitting a hotel or would she insist on sleeping at the airport? Without free WiFi at the airport, how would we alert family to the change?

Okay, this is one of those take one thing at a time as anything can change in a flash moments. Sure enough everything did change. I guess the pilots got permission to fly higher and faster and we got to Montreal in record time. Our connection had also been delayed, but only by twenty minutes, so we had to rush out of the plane, find our way to Customs, get through Customs and out the exit doors, around the corner, up the elevator, down a long hallway, through security, into a terminal with sixty gates, and then navigate ourselves to our Gate, all the while yearning to go to the bathroom. Getting to the Gate had to take precedence; the urine would just have to wait.

We get to the Gate, loading has begun but the lady assures me I still have time to visit the bathroom.

Off I go!  What a relief!

We are all seated in our allocated seats, with many empties all around us. People start to take liberties and move themselves to better spots, only to find the plane would be sitting there for another hour to enable other late comers to board. This is another one of those times where I am feeling good about being happy with what I have, although I am still working on that Plan B as at this rate I will not make my connection in Vancouver for Victoria. To settle my ever changing mind, I decide that I am worthy of a nice night in the lap of luxury -- the Fairmont Hotel at the Vancouver Airport at provincial government rate.

As the plane hits 34,000 feet, the pilot comes on the air and let's us know the anticipated route, speed and travel time, saying that we will arrive in Vancouver only about thirty minutes late, bringing me right down to the wire for my Victoria connection. At this point, it no longer matters to me. If I make it, I make it. If I don't , well I still make it anyway!

Five hours later, as we prepare to land in Vancouver, the head flight attendant cheerfully comes on the loudspeaker with good news for travelers connecting to Victoria. They are holding the plane for us. We are to be let off the flight first, before anyone else, and go directly to gate C37.

More rush. More panic. No heavenly bed at the Fairmont. No food voucher. Just a midnight flight to Victoria, a flight where about nine passengers have been waiting for us to board in order to complete the fifteen minute flight. I can feel their anger and quickly notice nobody is smiling and nobody makes eye contact when we board.

Oh well, such is life. Sometimes things work against me and favour  others and sometimes things work for me and disfavour others. You win some, you lose some. It is all about circumstances and the luck of the draw. It also boils down to the expression never worry about anything as eventually it will all work out -- not really an expression that I can quite hold on to, securely, but for as long as I am breathing, I continue to try.


Life is a Magical Ride

 

Paula picked up the latest edition of ELLE magazine this morning -- a special gift from a secret Santa -- wondering why this particular magazine was gifted to her and not something a little more familiar?
 
The cover features a rather tall, colourfully dressed, bejeweled, happy looking woman sitting tall and proud on the edge of a gigantic teacup -- like the ones belonging to the Tea Cup ride in Disneyland. The bold, bright blue headline reads Be Happy.
 
Paula smiles and cannot remember the last time she hasn't been happy. She has met a lot of unhappy people in her time -- people who cannot seem to pull themselves out of their misery -- and hoped that her approach to life would inspire them.
 
They try, they do try, but they just can't seem to get there. She does feel sad for them and realizes that their sadness is not always self-inflicted; in some cases it relates to mental health, financial or social challenges that have consumed them. It is not likely that this magazine can help them; in fact, a magazine like this could make matters worse.
 
Paula feels that sadness too. A glitzy magazine full of colour and pizzazz can be powerful, but not all-powerful; it can turn heads, but not always in the right direction; it can make people smile, but not all people.
 
So this month's edition focuses on happy. Page after page is filled with bright colours and busy-ness; zany fun fashions and party scenes; people laughing; people smiling. Foods, bubbles and nostalgia. All of it widens Paula's smile and creates waves of yes yes yes!
 
As she reaches as far as page 110, it is the last page of Georgia Nicol's annual astrological readings. She is a Canadian guru of reading the zodiac constellations to a greater degree of accuracy than anyone Canadians know. This horoscope section glitters with glitz, gourmet garnishing and good cheer for most signs in the year ahead.
 
Paula, a Sagitarrian, basks in the glory of her own sign:
 
You will love 2015 because it is full of travel and ways to expand your world through publishing. You will sail into 2016 to receive awards, promotions and acknowledgements. By 2019 .... life will be even easier.
 
Enough! Enough! Yes, yes, yes!
 
By now Paula's  head is high up in the clouds and she is exhausted. She closes the magazine and her eyes. Spinning and revolving. Spinning and revolving. She sees her bright future in a gigantic teapot, pouring more happy over happy, as she sits on the edge of her own special oversized teacup and continues to enjoy her spinning and revolving magical ride well into the future.
 
Bring it on 2015!

Cycling In Provence

Every year a group of non-athletic friends and colleagues gather for a cycling vacation somewhere in Europe. Our team is named The Carrot Team and we are usually at least 14 strong. Vermont Bicycling Tours is the company that does all of the planning and administrative work, well in advance, and we basically follow the fruits of their labour. Every aspect of the trip is organized to the highest standards. We arrive with a smile and we go home with a smile.

This year we decided to enjoy the south eastern part of France in the region called Provence. It is a gorgeous area filled with lavender fields and olive groves. It is the setting of Peter Mawle's A Year in Provence which is his story of walking away from his professional life in England in favour of the beauty and peacefulness of this warm and wonderful part of the world. His original intention was to stay for a year and that year has now stretched to 20 years, without a moment of regret. My teammates and I, now, definitely fully understand why.

The journey, for me, started at Victoria International Airport in October 2014. The flight left ten minutes early giving me a sudden surge of optimism about the journey ahead. Arriving early at Vancouver's airport is always a treat as the layout and composition do a good job at providing a lot to do to kill the waiting time --- First Nations art, shops, shoe shines, massages, reflection rooms, and food, lots of food.

As I stroll along the wide walkways, in the direction of my Lufthansa departure gate, I see a familiar restaurant -- Milestones. It is a good time for a full meal in case the plane food is a disappointment. I select beef dip with golden brown fries, and take my time to savour every bite, while watching other customers come and go. I can see my Gate from where I am sitting, and time is on my side.

Upon arrival at Marseilles Airport, a place I have never been, I feel calm. I arrive at the baggage area and walk right by as I only travel light, meaning it is just me and my carry-on -- an amazing feat in the eyes of many but, with my lifetime of travel experience and knowing all about lost or damaged luggage, I have found this to be the best way to travel. I get everything I need in one carry-on and a small supplemental bag. I wear a different outfit every day, throw away my cheapest and oldest undies and socks daily, and buy very little. Peace of mind is worth it!

As I approach the exit door, a man is standing there holding a sign referencing my name. He is my chauffeur to the Hotel in Aix en Provence, a forty minute ride through the streets of Marseilles and beyond. I sit back, relax and think about the days when I never imagined experiencing such service, or even having an opportunity to do a cycling vacation in Europe. Life is full of surprises.

Aix is a small place built on a hill. The streets are all over the place, much like a labyrinth. I ask the front desk attendant for a map, and some direction, as I am on my own until the others arrive from various parts of Canada. Since I am on the top of a hill, there is no other direction to go but down. Down I go, and store after store is an eatery or bar of some short and all of them are very full. When I see something like that I always say to myself who are these people? I look above the stores and eateries and see apartments, very small apartments, apartments without air conditioning. All of these people spend their days and nights outdoors in the warm months, as being indoors is likely not comfortable or pleasant. I feel a strong sense of camaraderie and my knack for ease-dropping is also enlightening because I understand what they are saying. I love this place!

I get back to the Hotel Aquabella rather late and go straight to my room and to bed, after asking for a 7:30 wake-up call. Traveling light means a lot of things, one being no devices with clocks or alarms. In the breakfast dining room, two round tables are set up and reserved for our team. One is already full and the other almost there. We all appropriately greet one another, and proceed to explore the plethora food spread out over the entire width of the room. From cereals and croissants, to fruits, cold cuts, boiled eggs, porridges, yogurt, teas, coffees, juices, and sparking water, we have a feast to enjoy before our first morning meeting at nine. 

On this first day, a bus is picking us up in Aix and taking us to the first small village where we will meet our tour guides, get fitted for our bicycles, and receive our package of information for the whole trip. We are starting our cycling in St. Rémi de Provence where we will stay in the heart of the village in Hôtel De L'Image. The guides, Olivier and Arnaud, and the Hotel have arranged a special in-house welcome reception and dinner.

The next day, we cycle from the hotel through the breathtaking scenery of Les Alpilles (small Alps) and reach the beautiful village of Les Baux. We tour the ancient fortress which sits on an 800 foot rocky plateau. There are many look-outs with stunning views. The church, town hall, castle, houses and doors, get much more than a passing glance. The village is an architectural amazement.

Later in the day, we cycle back to St. Rémy and a tour guide walks with us along the footsteps of Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh -- the Dutch painter who left the Netherlands and found peace and personal satisfaction in this particular village. Reproductions of his work are posted everywhere and most often at the very site depicted in his work. It is all phenomenal and amazing, and I feel myself getting hooked on knowing more about this man.

For those of you who do not know, he is the painter who cut off his ear, at the recommendation of a voice in his head. He was institutionalized in the town's asylum for 18 months after a diagnosis of depression and schizophrenia, and he painted about 150 of his finest works while there.

Our meal this evening is in a private home, the home of pastry chef, Odile Mifsud, who prepares a meal of stuffed egg plant and stuffed zucchini, with a fabulous garlic and olive oil salad made from her grandmother's secret recipe. Dessert is a Milles feuilles that is to die for! Absolutely fabulous!

The next day, we ride through the heart of Les Alpilles, along the prestige countryside, passing olive groves and pastures of the Rhône Valley. We stop to enjoy the timeless villages, where stone housing cling together along the small, winding streets. It is here that many of us buy a fresh baguette in the local bookstore!

By Wednesday, we have pretty well covered the region so we cycle to a spot that dates back to the year 1133. Can you imagine that? The first stop is Abbaye St. Michel de Frigolet. ( http://www.frigolet.com/en/ )  It is quite a ride, including a long progressive hill, which I proudly conquer with a lot of silent prayer to help me succeed. The steeple bells toll to call the villageois to Mass at eleven. Cars are speeding up the winding road, at the eleventh hour, to get there on time. My teammates are well spread out by now; but, we all make it, gather in the parking lot and fan out to explore the area, before remounting our bikes for the adventure to Pont du Gare ( http://www.pontdugard.fr/fr ) many kilometers away.

Pont du Gare is one segment of an ancient 31 mile long aqueduct built by the Romans in the first Century AD. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a proud piece of French history. The modern part of the site includes a museum, exposition, theatre, gift shops, restaurant and pathway to the Pont, where you can walk and imagine how life might have been back then. It is a stunning architectural achievement.

This evening we get settled in our new hotel, Hotel La Magnaneraie, right in the heart of New Avignon, also known as Villeneuve des Avignons. It is situated right across from Avignon, on the Rhône River.

When Thursday arrives, we enter wine country along the West Bank of the Rhône. The area is rich in agriculture and roads and lanes are named after the trees that grow there: apple, pear, peach, apricot, olive and date. On this day, we explore the villages of Tavel and Lirac, do some wine-tasting and enjoy a homemade picnic prepared by a local resident and his wife. He proudly serves us a cold soup, Vichyssoise, that is fabulous, followed by fresh pâtés, fresh baguettes, vegetables and fruits, along with his homemade wine.

As our time together approaches its end, on Friday we cycle southeast to the historic town of Avignon, a village known for many things like the Papal Palace  ( http://www.avignon-tourisme.com ), a sacred destination where popes, in the days when there were many popes on the Continent, hung out for a retreat or a break from the pressures of their papacies. The property includes a Cathedral and a Basilica, museums, restaurants, markets, shops, apartments, the former French currency Mint and the Bank of France, and, of course, the wonderful Pont d'Avignon built in the 12 th Century, where we walk, take pictures and sing the infamous song Sur le Pont d'Avignon! 

A learned and proud guide walks us around the ancient city, a city surrounded by the very thick ancient walls of its birth, with cobblestone streets navigated by people, cars, busses, bicycles and motorcycles. Despite the narrowness of the streets, somehow everyone is accommodated and not once do we encounter an accident or an incident of road rage. It is all quite perplexing and amazing to stop, stare and just take it all in.

It is all truly amazing, especially riding on several kilometers of the bicycle path, on the other side of the walls of Avignon, along the banks of the Rhône which, by the way, is the third largest river in France. Our route follows the agricultural plain covered with various orchards: apples, melons, apricots, peaches, pumpkins, asparagus and so much more. Oh! Did I mention the lavender -- this region is Lavender Central!

We stop for a break, a feast of fruits and beverages, at a spot directly across from the Palais des Papes and looking directly at the dead-end side of the Pont d'Avignon. We dance, and some of us sing, as we celebrate another great day of cycling and appreciating something new together.

The following day, the team sits down for its last breakfast buffet together in the Hotel La Magnanerie. It is both a joyous and sad time. Joyous because of all the great times we shared, all the neat places we experienced, and all the new things we learned; sad because all endings are sad and we know there is so much more in this region to discover. 

We comfort each other with our recollections and our stories of the most amazing thing, the funniest thing and the oddest thing that jumps to mind at that moment in time. For me it was walking in the footsteps of Van Gogh, seeing the Pont d'Avignon sticking out half way over the Rhône, and the movement of all forms of transportation along the narrowest of streets, never hearing a honk or someone yelling!

About half the group is staying at the hotel for an extended stay at their own expense. The rest of us board an arranged bus for our Fast Train express to Paris. It is a huge Mercedes Benz tour bus and much to our amazement, the driver manages to back it out of a very small driveway and on to a very narrow road, without so much as a murmur from the commuters who had to wait. Without asking, we know this driver has done this trek many a time!

Upon arrival at the train station, our team coordinator walks us through the process of validating our tickets and bringing us to the exact spot to board the train, a train that only stops for two minutes to let people on and off. He also explains the process for boarding with baggage -- walk on with the luggage and go directly to your assigned seat. Once everyone is on board and the train leaves the station, bring the larger and heavier luggage to the luggage storage area in an orderly fashion. There is space for smaller bags between the seats and on the rack above. This ensures a smooth loading process in the allotted boarding time and everyone feels relaxed. He was right.

All aboard! And off we go on our two and a half hour trip to Paris. We knew it would be a fast ride, but this is something beyond fast. Zoom zoom zoom through the countryside, between orchards and farms, valleys and towns. We see lots of land, but not a lot of civilization. This is a refreshing and surprising realization for North American urbanites who have witnessed and continue to witness, the gobbling up of land to build more housing, more industrial sites, more infrastructure, schools, businesses and shopping centers to accommodate a continuously growing population.

Once we arrive, on time, in Paris, a prearranged driver is standing on the platform to greet and gather us, and he leads us to the two minivans that will take us to our final hotel -- Hotel Rochester. We travel through the streets of Paris, and the driver points out the Musée D'Orsay, the Louvre, Tour Eiffel, Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe, as we approach the side road leading to the Hotel. We are in the heart of Paris and will have four hours of daylight to do whatever suits us.

Since I have been to Paris many times, the touristy things are not on my agenda. I have never experienced shopping in Paris so after checking in and getting refreshed, I get directions to the nearest shopping area. I am not really sure what I am getting into, but there is a bounce in my step as I enter a place called Printemps. It is a huge square block of buildings seven stories high. All of them are gigantic department stores focused on clothing, shoes, make up and jewelry. Instantly I know this is not a bargain hunters' paradise so I keep my purse closed and resolve to enjoy the experience just like I would a museum or art gallery. 

The place is amazing. Glitter and gold. People everywhere and they are clearly from every country in the world. They are buying, buying and buying some more. Clerks are stationed everywhere to offer assistance. The line-ups are long, and the customers are smiling and patient. I stop, look and listen, and say Wow this is amazing!

I spend about two hours wandering and wondering, before retracing my steps to the Hotel. En route I spot a Brasserie where I notice Croque Madame on the menu. I say to myself: I have to have that with Perrier!

I am seated in a comfortable booth and while I wait for my order, I reflect on this entire trip and start to pen this story.

Prior to this trip, I had not thought of Provence as a place worth seeing. I had never heard of the place, but approached the adventure with an open mind. In preparation, I researched the region, read Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence and viewed the four part movie on UTube. All of it was relevant.

This trip has left me awestruck and starry eyed. Although I have always loved Impressionist art, I had no idea Van Gogh did most of his work right there, and often in places where my feet stood.

Provence is amazing. It is a place filled with history, architectural and cultural treasures, scenery and cleanliness, mountains, hillsides, rivers, fountains and aqueducts, vineyards, orchards and farms, proud chefs, tour guides and, best of all, proud, warm and loving people.

This deluxe bicycle tour, organized by the Vermont Bicycle Tours Company, is perfect for people of any age and with any level of cycling experience. The company's commitment to excellence is sure to give you peace of mind and keep your mind off workplace or home-based pressures. It is a true vacation -- relaxing, comforting and easy. We have been back now for two months and, yes, my teammates are still smiling from ear to ear.

Don't take my word for it; treat yourself and give it a try! 

 

Book Marks and Book Ends

 

A long time ago, in the nation’s capital, I was enrolled in a Summer French Program at the University of Ottawa. It was an intense six week academic and cultural experience. Mikayla Robichaud, a proud Acadian and one of my professors, was responsible for the Media component of the syllabus.

 

When the program ended, the students flew home to their respective next steps; but, I remained behind as my next step included a Baccalaureate in Arts at the same University. When Mikayla learned this, she used it as an opportunity to expand my horizons from beyond that of an Anglo Western Canadian who had never heard of Acadia and who had never been to the Maritime provinces, located on the far eastern side of Canada. She took me on an Acadian journey and wow! what a journey it was!

 

We started in Ottawa. We drove through the eastern townships near Montreal and somehow, eventually, we arrived in New Brunswick. Our home base was her family’s home in Campbellton and our daily excursions fanned out from there, including Bathurst, Eel River Crossing, Percé, Gaspé and the entire Gaspé Peninsula. I saw things, met people and felt like I was in a whole different world – a world that explained a significant part of the French history of my country. The experience intensified my drive to be more aware, more embracing and more understanding of what former Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was hoping for all Canadians to realize, experience and include in their development as fully committed citizens of a wonderful country, with an incredible, interesting and inspiring history. Mikayla's personal pride in her French ancestry and her community's history lit my torch, energized me and kept me on the path to being a fully versed and appreciative Canadian citizen.

 

Although Trudeau’s dream for Canada was not shared from coast to coast and few people in western Canada at least, embraced bilingualism, I was a warrior and determined to follow that path. It was a Mission – my Mission for me and if others wanted to join in – GREAT! I am still waiting.

 

Nevertheless as my journey grew and reached its goal, I continued to keep in touch with Mikayla. We share each other’s ups and downs, successes and failures, adventures, opinions and ever-evolving personal lives.

She brought her parents out to British Columbia in 2003 and although I had not seen them since the summer of 1976, it took literally minutes to get back to that same page. They all proudly toured around our province by car, ferry, bus and train, and were awestruck by the bounty of our province – the nature, the mountains, waters, lakes and, most of all, the people. The experience changed them as people, just as my experience in their part of Canada changed me.

 

Mrs. Robichaud, Mikayla's mother, died a few years ago and her lifelong partner continued to keep in touch with me for a while, until he started to experience aging issues and could no longer continue to email or talk on the phone with me. Mikayla keeps me informed as he seemingly slowly slips away. He is a proud bilingual and successful businessman who brought up five fully bilingual citizens in Acadia, and helped to build his community of Campbellton to what it is today.

 

So now we are here in 2014, Mikayla and a friend of hers from Spain, have come to British Columbia. I give them the keys to each of my homes -- one on the Island and the other on the Mainland, and provide them with recommendations and answers to all of their touristy questions. 


A comprehensive travel schedule is built for both Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver introducing them to Victoria, Duncan, Chemainus, Salt Spring Island, Vancouver, Whistler, Fort Langley and Maple Ridge.

 

Quickly their primary focus is on our First Nations – the people, the totems, the longhouses, their art, their names, their home bases and their role in defining British Columbia. Everywhere they go, they learn and love what they see and do, and their memories are coupled with books and bookmarks, blankets, totems and Inukshuks, They are mesmerised and impressed, and more keenly interested than any British Columbian I know, including myself.

 

It is wonderful to have friends, especially friends who are open to exploration and adventure, and into sharing those experiences with others along the way. Their stories, with and without me, enlighten and educate me, open my eyes to things that have been before my eyes forever, but ones I had not really been seeing.

 

This vacation that brought two open-minded, enthusiastic and experienced travellers to British Columbia, from the opposite part of the country, was another one of those special moments in time – one that will be added to our ever-growing list of remember when stories, sure to bring us to laughter and smiles as we sit side by side in our cushioned green glider chairs, in our final decade of visits with each other, holding a book filled with book marks that together tell the amazing and wonderful stories of our interesting and intriguing, yet very different, Canadian lives.

 

 

Dick and Jane Revisited

This morning Sally woke up and decided today would be the day that she does a random act of kindness.
 
For months she has been hearing about an elderly couple whose lives have been turned upside down for many reasons none the least of which is old age and forgetfulness versus personal pride in ensuring everything was seen to be in order. They have been struggling, really struggling, and then the underground oil tank, the one that has not been used in twenty five years, cracked and the ground became a crater.
 
Between getting quotes and learning about environmental testing laws, and figuring out how to get a back hoe into their sequestered back yard, and wondering how they could possibly survive a summer without access to the patio or sun deck,  Dick and Jane were faced with challenges nobody could imagine experiencing themselves.
 
Quotes were higher than Dick's entire first three years of salary as a co-pilot on TWA in the 1960s; higher than the cost of every family vacation over a twenty year period; higher than what either he or Jane could imagine paying to have an oil tank taken out of the ground. They were not able to fathom the extent of what needed to be done: the removal of significant numbers of shrubs from the east side of the property for a back hoe to come in; the removal of the grass and patio tiles, as well as the back staircase to the back door on the second floor, and the cement stairwell to the basement door. Add to that the cost of labour and the price of all the replacement items to restore the entire backyard. What about the noise, the dust, the mess? What would the neighbours think?
 
Dick and Jane, in their 90s, had three offspring. When TWA went under, Dick worked in a factory bagging Epsom salts for the Record Chemical Company in Haney, and then at Imperial Glass in Middlegate where they made glass bottles for beer and wine and and jars for mayonnaise and peanut butter. He worked hard while Jane stayed at home to make meals, sew clothes, do housework and make sure the kids got off to school okay.
 
Their adult children and grandchildren who are almost adults are seemingly unaware of the reality of Dick and Jane's circumstances or, if they are, they are pretending to not know or nor do they care to know. 
 
Sally had learned a lot from the two of them who have enjoyed her visits over the years and the neighbours sometimes call her with updates now and then too. It is all very sad. They don't want the outside world involved, yet they can no longer deal with the obstacles themselves. One day, the issues or the problems are going to be much more than an old oil tank and it will take much more than a back hoe to fix it.
 
So as Sally slipped out of her warm and cozy bed this morning, she set her own house chores and errands aside for the day. She showered, dressed, got into the car and drove one hour North to the neighbourhood where Dick and Jane live. She parked a few houses away so she would not be noticed, quietly approached the yard with her two gardening tools in hand, looked around the front yard and said to herself: goodness me, where do I begin?
 
She flicked off her flip flops, descended to her bare knees and started weeding. She dug deep to get to the bottom of the roots, shook off the soil and threw the weeds into a big black garbage bag. Weed after weed after weed ... there seemed to be no end, as the hot sun penetrated through her dress and purls of sweat dropped from her forehead, over her eye lids, down her cheek, on to her shoulders, and soaked into the orange linen. Sally squatted and crawled, reached and pulled, over and again until the bag was full. As she proceeds to clear off the spilled soil from the walkway, she hears the front door open.
 
Oh darn, I am caught. I did not want this to happen, but she knew she had to face what was coming.
 
Jane was at the front door. What on earth are you doing?
 
Sally confesses to knowing about the hardships Jane and Dick had been experiencing, and she wanted to lighten the load by doing a random act of kindness, expecting nothing in return, not even a thank you!
 
Jane looks stressed, strained and very tired. They sit together on the front porch. She acknowledges that the whole yard and house is a mess because of the backyard oil tank disaster that started four months ago, and she was losing her confidence that all of it would one day be fine again. She emotionally acknowledges that they were both now too old and too tired to do what they used to do and changes would have to be made, as soon as the oil tank situation is resolved.
 
Sally reaches out to hold her hand, but Jane pulls back. She tries to lift her spirits by asking her to imagine the finished product: the new patio, the new grass, the new shrubs and, best of all, the addition of two water fountains -- a great added feature to give her the sense of peacefulness and calm that comes from water.
 
Sally does not think Jane's imagination is taking her there. She is stuck in the here and now, and can't look further ahead. It is as though her life had sunk into the crevice of that darn oil tank out back. Sally feels sorry for her and she feels sad for her, but she doesn't  have the magic solutions.
 
At this point, Jane looks down at Sally's hands and notices they are filthy from weeding without gloves. Sally asks her where the outdoor hose or faucet is located and Jane does not know. Dick knows, but he is busy inside and I can't disturb him now.
 
With some hesitation, she asks Sally to come in to use the bathroom sink. 
 
The house is a mess because we have been so busy lately with the oil tank disaster. We have fallen behind with chores and putting things away. Please don't look around.
 
She agrees and promises to not notice anything inside the house, as she follows her straight into the bathroom. Jane stays inside the lavatory with her, standing behind as Sally washes up. Through the corner of her eye looking in the mirror while continuing to rub her hands together, Sally sees Jane waving someone away from the hallway outside the bathroom. She is sure it is Dick. Who else could it be?
 
She obviously does not want Sally to see him and he apparently does not wish to be noticed, since he doesn't  even say hello. It becomes one of those strangest of experiences. Is he upset that Sally undertook a gardening job that he once proudly called his own? Was he wearing something less than appropriate, like his pjs at 11:00 in the morning? Had he not yet combed his hair?
 
Sally is sure the answer is somewhere between old age, the oil tank and personal pride.
 
As Jane and Sally once again stand outside the front door and enjoy in a bit more small talk, Sally gives her a light hug and says farewell. She proudly drives away, looking forward to coming back again, maybe a little earlier in the morning when they are both still in bed, and bringing along with her a gallon of water to cool her down, leaving enough to cleanse her hands, knees and feet, as she hopefully successfully fades away unnoticed, and happy to have undertaken a true random act of kindness for a once lively and energetic couple, evidently needing a lot of help, but still hanging on to their pride and determined to never ask.

 

Mavis, We Made it to YES!

 

Mavis awakens to an unusual roar coming from the earth below. She extracts a familiar voice from the crowd, a female voice – one of pride, confidence and determination. She remembers that same voice from a young bonny girl running around the basement room set aside for political campaigns in the family home, the room set up for silk screening red and white tee shirts and red and white lawn signs and big corner lot or abandoned lot signs, highlighting the name of the lone wolf who agreed to be the poster person for an almost dormant political party in the Canadian Province of British Columbia.

 

Mavis listens more carefully and looks through the silver lining of the layer of cirrus clouds, down through the stratosphere and then the atmosphere, and there she sees her little girl all grown up, standing tall and proud, looking up to the heavens and connecting at the very same moment in time. She hears the voice say: Mom, I made it to YES!

 

Make it to YES – that was a motto they carried into every dinner time discussion and debate over twenty years of a close family life. Making it to YES meant to never give up, to never leave any rock unturned, to not turn your back and to believe in oneself.

 

Mavis and her daughter, for that moment in time, are locked in a smile from the heart. With a reciprocated wink, the image of Mavis fades slightly, releasing her daughter to the crowd standing around her at the podium and throughout the auditorium. The people are cheering and applauding, standing tall and proud, as the numbers, the victory numbers, continue to flash on the mega-screens around the room. This is a landslide victory for the new BC Liberal Party – stumping all the pundits, shocking all the critics and opponents, and causing all deceased political activists and all their friends and relatives to roll over in their graves.

 

Vision. Strength. Courage. These three powerful words fly across the screens over and again; lights are flashing intermittently; the music generates bobbing heads, swaying bodies, and singing voices, among many hugs, kisses and lots of tears of joy. People cheering and necks stretching as the Leader approaches the podium, in front of a screen shot of Mavis with a dialogue box saying: we made it to YES!

 

On the morning after the night before, with confetti embedded into the carpet, and the rubbers from the popped and deflated regular and helium balloons here, there and everywhere, Mavis sees her daughter standing alone in the centre of the room. She looks as though she is somewhat mesmerized with both feelings of fear and pride, until she slowly exhales, lifts her arms high while tears of joy fall down her cheeks and on to the ground. The time has come after a very long haul, a long journey of enduring ups and downs, periods of optimism and disappointment, treading carefully and being disciplined every step of the way. 

 

There she stands as her whole life flashes before her own eyes – today is the beginning of something new, very new, an unknown, yet a dream has unfolded into a reality and today is the beginning of the rest of her life.

 

The echoes of Vision, Strength, Courage bounce from ear to ear, over and over again. Whatever the challenge, whatever the obstacle, vision, strength and courage would be the saving trinity that will hold her together; they would be the principles that will guide her; they are the seeds her parents had planted so many years ago, coupled with the nurturing elements needed to make her find her way and make a difference in the world around her.

 

From seed to seedling, to budding plant, this journey has been long, but fruitful. Today is the beginning of the rest of her life; the beginning of a very different life, doubtlessly scary and, ultimately, rewarding.

 

As she reflects on what this all means, the analogy of irrigation and drainage comes to mind.  A metaphor that seems to fit the journey ahead – irrigate the ideas and drain the waste, pull the weeds and bring out the fertilizer. Nurture the roots, keep the balance between wet and dry in check, don’t turn your back and don’t roll over and play dead.

 

Standing there alone in that big room that was filled with thousands of people last night, as media and followers await her triumphant entrance to the first day speech and scrum outside the auditorium doors, her thoughts collect, sort and line up in her head. She is ready to show her vision, strength and courage, using horticultural imagery, embracing the roots of her journey as key to building on the momentum of any new seedling, creating firm and healthy stock to carry forward to future generations.

 

With her foot in the opening door, the cheers begin once again. Mavis, who had temporarily faded from the moment, springs back to the scene, catches the risen eye of her proud and smiling daughter. They share their trademark wink and hear each other  whisper the words: We made it to YES!

 

There she stands proudly at the podium, eyes shining, cheeks glowing, body relaxed, shoulders back; she is smiling from ear to ear, as she prepares to briefly address her supporters and then the media.

 

It sure feels good, doesn’t it? We did this together. Our future is in our hands.

This story is your story and it is our story; but, it is also the story of my hardworking parents and grandparents who never gave up on their principles, their values, their passion or their vision for their family, their community and their province. 

We have all risen to this challenge and now we rise to this opportunity to truly make a difference for people today and far into the future – a future that is bright and promising. We are writing the pages of the next part of our history, and together we will make sure our time here will forever shine.

 

With that opening statement, the still stunned media starts to bombard her with questions. She responds to every hard ball and soft ball with the same degree of vigour and confidence, standing at the plate, ready for the pitch, with her team in plain sight, as she paves the way and rises to the opportunity to move forward to more YES goals paired with vision, strength and courage every step of the way.

 

She ends the scrum looking up, uttering a simple: thanks Mom!

American Egg visits Grand Forks

Joan keeps seeing herself, first leaned over in the kitchen looking at the bread pan in the oven and then squatting down to take in what was actually happening. Before her very eyes, the dough began to rise. It rose and rose and kept rising; blobs started to drop over the edge of the pan, some missing the elements and others not. Her eyes began to pop out of her head and she wondered if she should do something. Do something? Do what? What could she do?

There was a steady pouring of dough from under the muffin top, creating a hollow trough. Never had she seen or imagined such a thing and then began to wonder how it got to this point. She flashed back to the ingredients and the recipe. The only rising agents were the baking powder and the eggs, nothing unusual and she had used this recipe before without incident. Suddenly she realized that the eggs were American eggs; could it be that American eggs are different from Canadian ones?

Things continued to mount to the point where she had no option but to open the door, and let out the smoke from the smouldering clumps that had turned to charcoal at the bottom of the oven. With a spoon, she attempted to scoop out the continuous glob so no more would fall to the element. She worked quickly so the temperature of the oven would not decrease too significantly as it appeared the loaf was salvageable.

The timer went off; she removed the loaf; set it on a rack. She left the oven door open to release the heat to the kitchen. Ten minutes later, she grabbed the silicone tongs that her nephew gave her two months ago for Christmas, and removed the charcoal pieces and discarded them into the garbage bag and out of sight. She turned the holey side of the loaf towards the wall, and admired a very well risen piece of art. Where is it going from here?

Despite seeing a good cup full of dough find its way out of captivity, the loaf looked like a success story, a prop perhaps from the likes of the land of Little Miss Muppet; something a good chef can only imagine while in training; a photo op for proud up and coming bakers! It was huge and amazing.

People walked by her kitchen window and could not help but smell the fresh baking. Their heads would turn to have a quick look inside. Normally they would just keep walking as most of Joan’s baking looks pretty ordinary and most people don’t like to appear to be nosy. The gigantic loaf was the furthest thing from ordinary; it was extraordinary and getting a lot of second looks.

Word spread around town about the steroid-induced cinnamon raisin loaf. A photo was posted on Facebook and there were about 1000 hits in just one hour. The local paper got on board starting only with a photo and that was followed by several letters to the Editor wanting to know more. What is the secret? That loaf is amazing – tell us more, tell us more!

The Haney Express tracked down Joan’s house and staked it out for several days trying to get an exclusive. Other media outlets joined in. Joan was out of town on a business trip and nobody seemed to know for how long. Tents popped up on her front lawn and then spilled over into the neighbours’ yards. Children set up lemonade stands to quench the thirsts of the reporters, crew and by-standers. One lady got out the BBQ and offered speciality gourmet hot dogs made from locally created organic sausage meat; another tried her hand at selling deep-fried honey flavoured macaroni and cheese balls, made from locally produced honey, cheese and pasta. Soon came the swirly popsicles on chopsticks, the rainbow pop and the chocolate flavoured popcorn. By the end of the week, virtually every house of the block had a product to highlight, a cake to cut and a cookie to crunch. The huge loaf became a huge story about everything and anything but the loaf itself! It was amazing as the story grew to national and international interests, overflowing just like the dough in Joan’s bread pan – where is it going from here?

Before long, Anderson Cooper of CNN, Diane Sawyer of ABC, Peter Mansbridge of CBC and Sandie Rinaldo of CTV all stood on Highline Road in the British Columbian village of Grand Forks, a small community situated along the 49th parallel, sharing a border Customs and Security building with the State of Washington. They were all there to find out about this amazing live movie that was developing in real-time, attracting tons and tons of attention from all media outlets and across all sorts of social media options. It became a story about the unfolding of incredible and unique culinary experiments of very average, ordinary people, living happily and proudly in a small community void of extravagances and with virtually no extras.

The whole community got involved and soon orders were coming in fast and furiously from people all across our country and theirs asking for small and large quantities of all the various delights featured on television and on-line. Production moved from the family kitchens to assigned shifts in the Community Hall where there were three stoves, three fridges and three freezers. The younger youth were assigned packaging duty; the older youth prepared ads on line and created an amazing website; and, the seniors helped to fill the orders and handwrote the addressing details. The stay at home parents fielded the phone calls and emails, and piled up the faxed in orders. Working adults gave up some of their down time, to deliver packages to the local UPS pick-up station.

This once so sleepy town, was not so sleepy anymore. Instead of waiting for government to help them jump-start their dying economy and nurture their dreams for a better future, a Canadian lady named Joan made a cinnamon raisin loaf using an American chicken egg – an egg with enormous powers to raise a dough beyond one’s imagination, creating an everlasting lava flow of seemingly endless activity, eventually exploding on one side. Her one loaf raised the bar just enough for the story to get side-tracked and replaced with an enormous lava flow of a different sort – a new economy, a new booming economy, for a former 1850s Gold Rush town and former 1960s forestry town, a place that is now and shall forever be the celebrity culinary town of the Western Hemisphere, now once again truly living up to its name: Grand Forks! Cheers to all and Bon Appetit!

written May 2014

A Guy Named Arthur

Arthur is taking a break from his regular work and looking at a magazine he spotted on the table in the reception area of his apartment building that morning. It is the Visions Magazine of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions. He looks around for something to hide the cover because reading such a magazine could easily mean he is mentally ill or addicted to something or other. He finds a MacLean’s, rips off the cover, wraps it around Visions, and sits back and relaxes. The feature articles are about mental health in the workplace, with titles mentioning working for recovery and no bullies wanted in the workplace. He feels the edition was written just for him and that someone who cares placed the magazine on that table, around the time he would normally exit the elevator and walk through the corridor, out the front door and slowly stroll four blocks to his office in one of the many bank towers in downtown Vancouver.

He looks around.

Is anyone watching me? Is the person who made this happen standing behind a pole or a tree?

A voice in his head calms him and he turns the page. There is a letter to the Editor from the 60 year old mother of someone who would be 40 today, except her life ended at just a month short of her 20th birthday. It was the end of a secret life, a life of depression, hopelessness, silence, friendlessness; darkness, voices and visions. Her mother had no idea. Arthur’s heart sinks and his body shakes. He quickly closes the magazine and says: I can’t read this anymore; someone is watching me; if they see me like this, they will know.

They will know; they WILL know.

He rolls up the disguised pages and goes to the men’s room where he hides himself in a stall. As he sits on the throne as comfortably as possible, he unfolds the pages and tries to read some more. Working With a Mental Illness. The article points out that people think mental illnesses only happen to other people and they still think that way after their own diagnosis. Everyone around them is mentally ill and they are okay.

For many years Arthur has been pretending everything is fine with him and something is wrong with everyone around him. His mother tried to get him help and so did a few of his teachers. He ran away from home and away from school to get away from the wackos who were trying to get him admitted. He travelled across the prairies on the Greyhound bus to the end of the road in downtown Vancouver and, up to now, had never looked back.

Now, Arthur feels himself looking back as he stares up and through the slatted window above the cubicle and focuses on a dark cloud. The cloud is moving; it is moving closer to him. He hurriedly rerolls the magazine and holds it snug under his arm, pulls up his pants, uses a piece of toilet paper to cover his hand – the hand he needs to use to open the lock on the door. He grabs a paper towel from the dispenser above the sink, uses it to turn on the warm faucet and to press the soap button. He rubs both hands together, rinses and dries them, and off he goes.

He still has 40 minutes to kill before heading back up the elevator to the 17th floor where he works in the mail room. He can recite the alphabet forward and back faster than anyone anybody knows. He can start in the middle and do the same thing. The employees in this massive bank building, to him, are boxes, mailboxes with names … he can’t put their faces to their names, but he does know them intimately as stationary boxes in a wall in the mailroom. They are all his friends and he wonders how special those who receive mail feel and then wonders about those who don’t. He has given them nicknames like Mr. Darn Popular and Mrs. Lonely Loser; Ms. Junk Mail and Mr. Bill Collector. It is his way of making his work day fun.

Arthur notices a park bench at the Art Phillips green space near the Burrard Skytrain station. It is in a secluded spot and he feels drawn to it. As he sits himself down, he looks around before unfolding the now well-travelled magazine. Nobody is looking at him except maybe Art.

The next article features a photo of a man staring into his computer screen, deeply focused and unable to perform his work duties. Sweat balls were seemingly rolling from his balding head and down his forehead, around his eyes, over his cheeks and onto the keyboard. The headline reads I need help.

Arthur feels himself in that man’s shoes. Alone. Nobody sees him; nobody notices him. He gets up in the morning weekdays and does the same routine day in and day out – gets ready for work; takes the same route each day; says hello to the security guard at the bank and walks into the mailroom to a huge stack of daily mail he needs to sort that morning and, in the afternoon, another huge pile appears and he does the same thing; and, on his days off the routine is different but always the same: getting the apartment vacuumed, dusted, the dishes washed and put away, the laundry, the groceries, the bills paid. He sits in darkness most nights and only occasionally visits his television friends on the Murdoch Mysteries, Coronation Street or Downton Abbey. He sees it as a busy and complicated life, normally, but today he feels it quite differently – he feels it through the eyes of that computer screen: sad, lonely and actually all alone.

Before turning the page, Arthur notices an advertisement saying Here To Help. He feels himself running away from that page, but is really only running wild on a hamster wheel. He is trapped inside a circle; he can’t turn left and he can’t turn right. He can no longer see straight ahead.

He hears his mom’s voice and the voices of those teachers from so long ago. He refocuses on the pages and sees the phone number, sees the face of the man in front of that computer. It is himself; it is his face and those are his tears, on his cheek, his forehead and his balding head.

Arthur, shaking out of control, starts to scream and yell a whole lot of sounds and words that don’t make a lot of sense. His voice is high when looking up at someone in the heavens and it is deep when he is yelling at someone in a pond beside the park bench. The tone is different again as he lunges toward a tall, slim woman, wearing high heals and a fitted blazer, and screams you are not my mother!

His hands, arms and legs are like jelly flapping every which way; people are gathering around watching an enraged grown man completely out of control.

Arthur’s head is spinning and his heart is beating faster than ever as he looks at his beeping wrist watch indicating lunch break time is over. He panics some more and starts to cry, the world around him comes to a halt, he hears nothing, but sees people staring at him from all directions.

Confused, scared and embarrassed, he jumps on the spot madly, screaming No! No! No! With a rush of adrenalin, he turns on his heels and faces into the direction of his office. With a sudden surge of extra energy, he bolts faster than Wile E. Coyote of the Bugs Bunny cartoons he often watches late at night.

Through the front doors, past the Security Desk and past the elevator corridor, Arthur is screaming in tongues and his arms are flapping all over the place. He pulls open the Exit Door leading to the building’s indoor stairway. He takes a deep breath and holds tightly to the magazine as he rapidly ascends two steps at a time.

He makes it to the ninth floor completely exhausted, sits down and places his head between one hand and the magazine. He knows he is all alone and that something strange is happening to him and he starts to cry. The tears continue to pour down his cheeks and then the exit door opens.

A female security guard is standing there looking down at this pitiful site. In her soft voice she says his name and places her hand on his shoulder.

I am here to help.

He shudders and then his body relaxes, as he looks the lady in her eyes.

Where am I and what have I done?

The security guard reaches to pull the magazine from his hand, removes the MacLean’s cover, and sees the front page of a faceless group of people, well groomed and well dressed, looking both important and insignificant, each very much alone, but standing side by side.

She looks at Arthur lost in his thoughts and unfocused, and realizes it is her turn to stand up as a champion. She radios the Dispatch asking the corridor to the ninth floor be cleared so the two of them could go down the elevator to the subfloor parking level. She helps a quiet Arthur into the passenger seat of her Ford Tracker and drives him to the Emergency Services entrance of Saint Paul’s Psychiatric Ward. She does all of the talking at the Triage Desk, and waits there with him until an Orderly escorts him to the beginning of something that should have been done a very long time ago.

As they part, she places the Visions magazine in Arthur’s hand and says hold on to this Arthur. The road ahead is a tough one but the people here are here to help, and my colleagues and your colleagues look forward to your recovery.

Arthur looks up and tries his best to smile, as he is rolled forward through the double doors and into the beginnings of what could only be the unearthing of a long hidden treasure: a fine young man with a bright and promising future; a more balanced life with the tools he needs to step up and be his own champion for many years to come.

Panting with Panty Hose

People who show up late; people who don’t return calls; unpredictable weather; sale items that don’t ring up properly at the till; clerks who engage in conversation with people in line while it is your turn —- these are all things that really bother me; but, believe it or not, there is one thing that tops all of those.

 

The other day I got up, really looking forward to the opening of the Legislative Session in Victoria, British Columbia. I had put out my best outfit the night before, including a brand new pair of WonderBra panty hose. The sale ticket was still affixed: .99 and the wonderful store where I bought them sadly no longer exists: Woodwards, Department store that has been out of business for possibly twenty-two or more years. I remember the day I bought them, almost 20 years ago, because it was a closing out sale and the store had slashed prices to as much as 90 per cent off; the panty hose were .99 and I bought at least 20 pair. As per usual when i find a steal of a deal, I said to myself that they would last a lifetime and I would probably not have to buy panty hose ever again. I stocked them in my tickle trunk and, over time, I forgot about them until recently.

 

I happily jumped out of bed at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, had a shower, got dressed and off to work I strolled. Within a block and a half, I felt the pantyhose start to descend from my waistline. I gave them a tug. A few metres later, another tug and then another and I knew I was in trouble. The panty hose were defective. I debated on what to do: go back home and proceed to work where I thought there might be a spare. I opted for the latter and sure enough, there was another pack — Secret panty hose; .99 cents; bought at Woodwards. I slipped into the staffroom and put them on.

 

Since it was imperative that I deposit an investment profit cheque that day, midmorning I walk up to the bank. It is only two and half blocks away and I would be gone and back in less than 20 minutes. 

 

One block in, I feel my brand new panty hose slip down my rear. I insert my hand into the pocket of my winter coat, stop, grab my underwear waistband and the panty hose band in one giant grab, and tug up. I walked like that for a good ten paces before other humans were within view. I tried to be discreet and then started to walk slowly, hoping I could get to the bank and back, not thinking about how I would deal with the situation then.

 

As I stood in the bank line-up awaiting a teller, I decided I would have to bite the bullet and actually buy a brand new pair of panty hose, likely at regular price, at the pharmacy next door. I never imagined a day when I would actually buy something like that at its regular price nor had I ever imagined buying panty hose at a drug store. But, this was clearly an emergency and not a time for personal pride and frugality to take control.

 

I slowly walked into the Pharmacy. I spotted a Clerk and asked for direction to the panty hose section.  She led and I followed. As I thanked her I said: my panty hose are literally falling down so is there any chance that I can go to a back room to put on a new pair. She looked at me and pleasantly said that would not be a problem.I stood there looking and looking at all of the options; I could have bought singles or pairs; nude, beige or black; sizes regular or queen or super queen. Singles were around $6 each and doubles were closer to $9. My brain did the math and decided although they are not on sale, buying two would be better than one.I picked a double pack of black and as I looked down I saw a sale tag on the shelf saying 20% off Secret pantyhose! The tag was clearly hidden for nobody to see but me! Once again the angel above had stepped in to look out for me. I smiled.

 

I slowly walked to the till, paid for the panty hose and proceeded to find that clerk who would lead me to the back room. When we get there, the back room is nothing but a closet with a toilet and sink. Beggars cannot be choosers in times of desperation so I eased my way into the room and closed the door.

 

As I took off my coat and tried to hang it somewhere, I realize there is no coat hook and no place to put the coat so I carefully bunched it up and lay it against the door, as far away from toilet drips as possible.

 

Standing up, I proceed to get the old panty hose off my lower torso — that was the easy part.  Up to then, I had never in my life needed to stand up to put on a new pair of panty hose; but, that day, at that point in time, there was no option. Somehow I leaned my body against the door as balancing a 56 year old body on one leg while carefully pulling one brand new panty hose leg over my foot, then my calf and then my thigh, was incredibly difficult. It was even difficult doing it in a leaning position.Finally I got one leg on as best I could. I turned my body around to lean on the other shoulder. I jimmied my left arm up the second leg, reached down as far as I could to insert my foot, enabling it to slip in easily before pulling the hose up over my rear end and around my waist. Right away I could feel these were great panty hose — control top and they would never slip down on their own.

 

I placed the old ones into the mini garbage pail; picked up my coat, giving it a quick shake before twisting and turning to get it on before exiting. The clerk was standing outside, ready to escort me out of that ‘personnel only’ area and back into the store. I thanked her for making all of that happen and merrily skipped out of the store smiling and knowing it was just another day in the life of someone who can turn any experience into a story for others to enjoy!

 

[written February 2014]

Echoes of the Past: the Aftermath of World War II

 

 

Sophie has been thinking about her teenage years in The Netherlands during World War II. The memories have been suppressed from the day they unfolded at the time of the anticipated invasion, the bombings, the relocation of residents, before and during the planned occupation by the Germans.

 

 

Ringing through her ears, morning, noon and night:

 

The Germans are coming; the Germans are coming.

 

 

Lights had to be out; shutters on all the windows had to be shut tight; nobody was to go outside at night and in daytime it would be creepy as well as ill-advised. It was a scary time; an uncertain time; an unforgettable time and for most, an unmentionable time.

 

 

Murders, rapes, robberies; hunger, thirst; separations; worry; fear; anxiety; panic; anguish; sadness; death; depression; suicide.

 

 

Sophie is an inheritor of her past, a past she physically left behind when she and her family moved to Canada, but an inheritor just the same. As she grows up, she begins to feel less able to forget the pain of those early years; the strain in her father’s eyes continues to haunt her even now, forty-five years after his passing; and, the constant panic in her mother’s voice echoes in the night. She cannot even forget her brother’s deliberate attempt to avoid army duty by breaking his leg days before the call to arms came to his district.

 

 

War, weapons, disorder and confusion everywhere; no singing, no talking, no yelling; just silent breathing or gasping for air after the sound of brigades marching through town or after interrogations about hiding Jews in attics or crawl spaces to save them from German torment, concentration camps and death chambers.

 

 

 

Breathe; just breathe and eventually all will be fine, despite being surrounded by evangelists and silent supporters of the New Order.

 

 

Young Sophie, lay quietly with her head in her mother’s lap, silently wondering how her life would unfold or was this how it would forever be. She would look up into her mother’s eyes – blank, staring into the sheers hanging perfectly from the rod above, tears dripping down, an emptiness, an air of pointlessness or hopelessness, perhaps even a feeling of turning the sheers into nooses to spare the family from future agony, homelessness, starvation, slavery, insanity.

 

 

 

The War in The Netherlands took place from 1940 to 1944. For Sophie it can be summed up with one word: terror. Her memories are but fragments and when she puts the fragments together another word pops to mind: senseless. Not only were Jewish families destroyed; non-Jewish families were destroyed – some because they were caught hiding Jews in their homes and others because family members did not share the same point of view. It was a time of mass-confusion, threats, insecurity and insanity, resulting in internal fighting within oneself and between family members, families, neighbours and friends.

 

 

As she looks at some of the faces depicted in magazines, books or on TV documentaries, Sophie sees the fragments, the hidden words, the hidden stories – the faces are all images of terror of the unknown and the terror of the known, and they shall forever be carved in her mind. She hears the screams, feels the panic, sees members of the Third Reich marching the streets of Rotterdam interrogating, hitting, kicking and shooting at people, taking on prisoners, leaving dead bodies on the streets, setting fires and turning the insides of homes upside down. She still visualizes the bombs falling from the sky, her neighbour’s house burning to the ground, and her father being taken away from their ransacked home, accused of being a spy.

 

 

 

After he was released, they escaped from their home town, were hidden in an old abandoned barn, with no regular food, no drinking water, no heat, until a volunteer family came forward to offer them temporary accommodations. She remembers the misery, the madness, and the mayhem as though it was yesterday.

 

 

 

Sophie, and others like her, want to keep their history hidden inside for fear of something outside stirring the pot with questions, ignorant questions, and unanswerable questions. The War was a time to which newer generations could not relate. Many of the questions can never be answered or at least not answered logically, and so the revelations around the struggle to survive in desperate and incomprehensible circumstances would do nothing to clear the air or make the sadness go away. The wounds can never be healed no matter how far the victims run.

 

 

 

Sophie’s family stayed in The Netherlands to pick up the pieces and start again. Other families moved to other countries, some halfway around the world, in search for a new start, believing they would be unaffected by their experiences in their homeland. The idea was perhaps a good one, but the human psyche, short of intensive shock-treatment, becomes part of one’s DNA – the impact of life’s experiences cannot be eliminated and if the symptoms of trauma are not addressed, no matter where one relocates, the new start is really not new for the displaced.

 

 

Although the notion of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was an unknown diagnosis at the time, looking back and knowing what is known today, anger, fear, stubbornness, suspicion, silence, frugality, nervousness, depression and self-preservation became the backbone of life not only for soldiers of the time, but for the victims and witnesses of war. Living in silence and in constant silent fear, seems to have been a pact made by everyone who lived through the war times. They decided that their silence would be the saving grace to future generations, and all the while they suffered with the flashbacks, the nightmares, the worries and the fears.

 

 

Sophie often smiles as she looks in the mirror and sees a split image of how her childhood unfolded and how the lives of her Canadian children and grandchildren have developed. She suffers in silence but also suffers with pride. The sacrifices of leaving her homeland, her job, culture, language, parents, brother and friends behind, to go to a faraway place about which she knew nothing, was an incredible feat, a gamble and an act of love – incomprehensible to the uninformed; but, understood, embraced and celebrated by her forever growing family.

 

 

 

Flying Wounded: coming out on mental illness, unraveling the mess, the misery, the mystery

Flying Wounded – coming out on mental illness: unraveling the mess, the misery and the mystery

 

The morning headline reads:

With the backing of city council, Mayor Gregor Robertson formed a task force made up of health care practitioners, mental health advocates, social workers and others. 

 

Juliette is now wide awake as she sips the frothy cappuccino that goes with the good life she has been blessed with for the past 55 years. Despite all that is good for her, things are not quite so good for 3 out of 5 others, apparently afflicted with some form of mental illness. This is not new news to anyone, but figuring out what to do to at least bring the numbers down, has been a perplexing challenge for generations past and countless current politicians, medical health specialists, educators, community leaders and caring citizens.

 

The news bulletin brings flashbacks of not so long ago when a group of friends sat down with a loved one whose world was shaking and out of control. For perhaps as much as thirty years, Damian had been living behind a curtain – masterfully playing various roles in isolation of each other, until one day the curtain fell and his family and friends began to talk. They discovered there were several versions of Damian with bits and pieces overlapping but, for the most part, distinguishingly different personalities. It was an eerie revelation from which many walked away and only a few like Juliette, stayed to face the music head-on with confidence and determination to make a difference. Over time virtually everyone gave up trying as they lost hope and saw no avenue through which to effectively help him resurrect as one stabilized human being.

 

Juliette threw her life into the fire to do everything possible to save her lifelong friend. She stripped him of his make-up and costumes, brought to light his many trials and tribulations, unravelled his thoughts, worries and vision for the future, only to discover an Alice in Wonderland mentality that had been squashed by the hounds of the Baskerville, leaving him lost and alone, hopeless and helpless, void of any purpose or any desire to keep on living. Damian was exhausted and when the curtain fell on his near lifeless body, a body Juliette was led to in a pre-arranged set-up, she knew he had turned to her to redirect the show and get him back on his feet.

 

In a heartbeat, Juliette went to the library and pulled out virtually every book that focused on mental health, from medical journals to real-life stories. She joined a support group and became a member of the Canadian Mental Health Association. She entered into what amounted to a secret life, as nobody wanted to join in and nobody in her social circles wanted to talk about mental illness. The general attitude was that Damian could not be helped and it was up to him to help himself.

 

Through all of the readings and all of the discussions, Juliette was able to reduce mental illness to brain-juice imbalance for which there still was no known cure, but for which there were stabilizing drugs that could enable the afflicted to lead virtually normal lives. She came across a particularly poignant book containing the real life stories of several people diagnosed with various types of mental illness and some of the stories came from their loved ones. She read their stories and saw a bit of Damian in each, realizing the mess, the misery and the mystery that were plaguing his mind was something he shared with other mentally ill people.

 

With the right dosage or combination of drugs, be it Celexa, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, lithium, Dexedrine, RisperdalPristiq, Zoloft, Remeron and any other, a liveable and productive life was possible but, the key is for the patient to stick to the prescription and to get checked and evaluated on a regular and ongoing basis – without that, the cycle continues with hopelessness coming and going, with overdoses and stomach pumping, psychotic and paranoiac episodes, erratic behaviour, abusiveness to oneself and others, talking in tongues, talking nonsense, delusions, manipulations, and drifting back into a dark and secret life.

 

Damian could not then, and cannot now, tackle the illness on his own; success depends on the presence of a caring and astute loved one who commits to being a part of the complex and sometimes scary journey of a person condemned to a life of curtailing the demons associated with mental illness.

 

To keep up with it all, Juliette’s life is diverted to realms she never imagined, often leaving her family and friends behind or at least on a backburner, as she strives to believe in the power of unconditional love as a means to help the down and out. One of his amazing statements to her during the worst of times was:you are a gem in my life, my BFFL and I love you, but you will be better off without me.

 

When she got home from the psychiatric ward that night, a place she visited every single evening for a minimum of 3 hours, that statement continued to echo in her mind. The truth is her life would be better without Damian, and she knows her family and friends would agree, but that route seemed to be a cop-out and so inhumane. This wonderful breathing human being, someone Juliette has known since high school, is now a 60 year old broken person. He is exhausted from lifelong role playing, moving from psychiatric ward to psychiatric ward within one institution and from institution to institution over a period of two years, each doing its best to instil within him the importance of following the prescription given, getting reassessed regularly, talking out the thoughts and feelings, setting goals and working towards those goals with confidence, pride and determination.

 

Juliette understands that basically starting over, late in life, can be overwhelming and exhausting, and the enthusiasm to do so in not easy to muster. It is tough for human beings who suddenly have to face a turnabout in their lives like a sudden job loss, a life-threatening health issue, the death of a child or the end of a marriage. Such unexpected bombshells are even more challenging for the mentally ill, especially on their own. It can be easier with a mentor, a friend, or a family member who carries a positive attitude and does not heed to the pressure of the patient fighting back, saying harsh and incredibly hurtful things, falling off the moral scale or making threatening comments.

 

Juliette was a willing participant and often felt like she was flying wounded while caring for a wounded and vulnerable hawk. She wanted to help resurrect someone from the evils of mental illness, but eventually the expedition led to the edge of a cliff – a direct personal threat.  She felt as though she had just undergone electric shock therapy, leaving her tongue dislocated and lifeless. It was now she who felt lost and alone and scared, and she was ready to take the back seat.

 

Three years of personal time and sacrifice, and three years of long, intensive and expensive mental health services, brought Damian back to his lifelong comfort zone of make-up, costumes and role-playing, hidden in a secret and dark world, now ostracized by former friends, acquaintances, colleagues and some family, alone, lonely and scary.

 

Damian receives the best of Juliette’s love in absentia because as long as someone’s eyes are open and breath comes from the mouth, there is hope. As a phoenix rises from the ashes of ruins, Damian -- a person haunted by a debilitating mental health diagnosis, can and will rise again – with the help of prescribed medications, regular reviews and the comfort of understanding and caring loved ones, including his BFFL who has stepped aside a wee bit, but is never far away.

 

Finishing off that last soothing sip of cappuccino, Juliette prepares to send an email to Mayor Robertson to offer her insight for the Task Force on Mental Illness, for an insider’s view can lead the way for brighter days ahead for all people suffering from mental illnesses, as well as for the struggling family and friends who currently stand-by feeling helpless and often hopeless.

 

Smiling With Sicily

For weeks Emily has been worrying about the weather in her home town of Victoria impacting her travel plans to Seattle, where she is to catch her flight to Italy. It is a European cycling vacation package deal, via an American company, including airfare from/to Seattle, making the trip from Victoria a separate transaction. Not getting to Seattle on time, or at all, would mean a total forfeiture of the trip of a lifetime with 15 friends on the Island of Sicily. 

As she approaches the Victoria Airport in the falling rain, with fog lingering at maybe 5000 feet, her worries augments as she sits nervously in the waiting area, wishing the fog away and watching the monitor to see if delays were posted. None occurs. 

Emily arrives in Seattle slightly early and her smile returns. She is heading to the rolling hills of the Island of Sicily, just south of the boot of Italy, to explore by bicycle and on foot, virtually all there is to see between the capital city of Palermo in the north and the city of Syracusa in the southeast. 

With three hours to spare upon arrival, she heads to the US Passport Control line-up, a very long line-up, and then to another very long line-up at Security leading her finally to the main terminal monitors, where she easily locates the departing gate – a mere escalator ride up two floors. She is familiar with Seattle’s airport and finds it easy to navigate, but is happy that there is not too much navigating to do this time. She is hungry and needs the time to sit down, relax and enjoy a bowl of Italian Wedding soup and a cream cheese bagel. 

For reasons that are yet to be understood, attaining boarding passes for all legs of the trip could not be done from home. She did get the Seattle to Paris pass from her home computer, but getting them for Paris to Rome and then from Rome to Palermo was impossible. It made her feel like there was a problem, perhaps an impossible problem to solve, and she would be in Paris for 8 days wandering along the Champs Elysée and feeling no triumph in front of the Arc de Triomphe! 

The Delta Airlines customer service representative seems to be familiar with the problem, as suddenly Emily has all her boarding passes in hand. She feels calm and collected, and ready to fly. Off she goes to Gate S4, stopping by the Seattle’s Best Coffee counter for a lovely large café mocha to sip on while starring at the myriad passengers coming and going over the next two hours. 

The flight to Paris boards and departs on time. Her smile gets bigger and bigger as each leg comes and goes, on time or early, all the way to Palermo where she is greeted by a company rep who leads her, tired and hungry, to a limousine van that takes her to a four star hotel in the heart of the old part of the ancient city. Palermo is the capital of the Island of Sicily. 

Once checked in, she drops her bags in the room and quickly admires the view, before heading right back down to the foyer. The desk clerk unfolds a city map, highlights some local eateries and offers directions.  At this point any eatery will do, so she takes the most direct route and finds a charming little pizzeria with outdoor and indoor sitting. The owner is behind the counter kneading small balls of dough; someone is singing in the kitchen and the busgirl is sweeping the grounds. There are no customers at 6 pm, but the pictures on the walls show it is a very happening place. Emily decides to stay and peruses the menu. 

Somehow through the use of broken Italian, hand signals and other body language, Emily realizes the service does not start until 6:30. They don’t want her to leave, but want her to know that it takes time to heat up the gigantic oven and they will turn it on early just for her. She negotiates the possibility of ordering a salad first, a bottle of Pellegrino and then a pizza later. It all works out nicely; she orders a tomato salad and roasted mushroom, prosciutto and mozzarella pizza. The tomatoes taste vine-ripened and the pizza is unlike any she had ever tasted before – this was the beginning of much more to come!  The bill comes to nine Euros [$15] and she leaves an extra tip. 

Upon returning to the hotel down the street, four of the 15 cycling teammates of The Carrot Group are in the lobby to greet her: Mary Lou and Shane from Boston and Heather and Dean from Calgary. They exchange pleasantries and talk about their time in Palermo for a bit, and then an exhausted Emily politely bids them adieu so that she can get a very good night’s sleep before the official journal begins. They understand. 

Emily had hoped to do daily journal entries, but the first 3 days were a whirlwind of activities, leaving hardly any time to sit back and reflect. Breakfast: 7:30; briefing: 8:30;  and, on the road by nine. Travelling up and down  hills, through valleys and along straight, flat stretches, between what seemed like endless miles of orchards and farms, she discovers Sicily is a land of agricultural richness – lemon, orange, grapefruit and olive trees plus crops of cauliflower, eggplant, artichokes, zucchini and so much more. The Island supplies ten percent of Europe’s fruits and vegetables. 

Homes in towns are embedded into the rock surfaces of mountains, seemingly piled on top of each other and at the very top one finds the highest building on the peak is the dome of the mighty Catholic Church. Between the mountain sides, in the valleys below, lay the streets of commerce – shops, restaurants, banks, schools and some apartment-style housing and, inevitably, another church or two or three. 

The Island of Sicily is in the shape of a triangle which explains the official symbol of a goddess Athena’s head surrounded by three legs representing each side of the triangular island. Its history is like a hot potato with sudden changes of occupation from the days before Christ to the nineteenth century: Byzantines, Normands, Greeks, Spaniards, French, Italians, Turks, Arabs and others. The Island was devastated by a major earthquake at some point and major towns and cities were lost. Some were rebuilt in the same locations and others like Noto, relocated to what was deemed to be a better area in which to settle. 

In a lot of ways, the people of Sicily are a proud people. Their island is an autonomous region of the Republic of Italy. They depend on each other and stand by each other, and see the people on the Boot of Italy to be a people unto themselves. They speak differently, work differently and live differently. They don’t share the same history and in that sense it makes Emily think about the history of Quebec and all that the people of that province have endured over the past few centuries. They kind of feel as though they don’t belong or they can’t relate, so they continue to thrive in accordance with their own roots, their customs, traditions and language, minding their own business, solving their own problems and building a good life for themselves. 

The first full day of the journey involves a tour bus and tour guide taking the team from Palermo to Piazza Armenia to see the amazing mosaics of Villa del Casale. This Villa was once the 3500 square foot home of a high ranking member of the Roman Empire and built between the third and fourth centuries. It is world famous for its amazing mosaic floors representing heroes of mythology and episodes of every day life in the region. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a very popular destination for tourists. 

From there the Carrot Group continues south to Ragusa where they are checked into a residence built in the 1800s, formerly a master house, with annexes, a stable, barn and guest rooms, but now fully restored with modern wings added on to accommodate more guests. This is where Emily and her teammates are fitted for their bikes and given their first orientation on how each day will unfold. They take a short ten kilometer test ride in the region around the Poggio Del Sole Resort, and this is followed by a welcome reception and traditional meal of 5 courses. 

As the cycling tour begins the following morning at 9 and for the next five days, following a program deemed to be easy-moderate, at times it seems to be more moderate than easy. The hills are not too steep, but they are long and protracted, and require constant pressing on the pedals. If those thigh muscles are not in good shape, this type of peddling can be very hard.

Although Emily’s goal was to never give up and to never be last in reaching the meeting point, on one occasion, on an especially hot day with many, many protracted up clines, she did give it her all and finally after the chain fell off her bike for the second time, she had had enough for that day.  

The Tour van came along, picked her up and drove her to the meeting point where the gang was awaiting a tour of chocolate factory. Suddenly the feeling of failure escaped; she learned about how chocolate is made, toured the chocolate shops around town, took pictures, stared at people, enjoyed a lunch and then off the team went on the van for the journey to the elegant five-star agric-tourism Hotel Kallikoros Resort in City of Noto. The route highlighted quiet, but steep and winding country roads, flanked by dry stone walls and a myriad olive and carob trees. The property is a working farm loaded with olive, lemon, orange and grapefruit trees. 

The following day, after another hearty breakfast buffet, the cyclists set out to Vendicari Bay and Natural Reserve pedaling on country roads far from traffic. It is a beautiful countryside experience with greenhouses and working farms all around. Every field and every property is encased or fenced by a four foot high stone-piled wall, all very much the same and all at exactly the same height. They have stood like that for over a hundred years. 

After about two hours of cycling, they enter a short driveway leading to an old cantina to learn how the sweet moscato wines are made and, at the end of the tour, they taste some of their specialties coupled with cheeses. 

From there, they set out to view more countryside en route to Vendicari Park – a piece of property that stretches eight kilometers along the sea, with magnificent views of the Mediterranean marshes, deep blue sea water and white sandy beaches. 

The Reserve is home to about 250 different species of birds, including pink flamingos, and it is only accessible on foot. This is where the cyclists enjoy a picnic lunch within the well-preserved ruins of a formerly active tuna processing plant right on the shores of the Sea. It had been closed just after World War II and its shell has been preserved for future generations to remember the fruits of labour of past generations. 

Following a most pleasant, easy cycle back to Hotel Kallikoros, the hosts take the team on a grand tour of the property, proudly showing and talking about their fennel, olive, orange, lemon and grapefruit productions. 

Later that evening, the Carrot Team receives a quick training and demonstration of a typical Sicilian dinner meal, including the ricotta cheese-based Sicilian specialty dessert known as Connoli, and four volunteers partake in producing the meal for all to enjoy. 

The following day the Team cycles to Noto Antica. In 1693, an earthquake destroyed the town, once one of Sicily’s wealthiest and most beautiful areas. The area is now a tourist site enabling people to easily navigate the grounds, identify key landmarks and witness the devastation of a town completely decimated. The destruction was so vast that little effort was made to retrieve anything, and a decision was made to relocate the town of Noto elsewhere, giving everyone who survived a fresh new start. 

Lunch on this day is at an animal farm featuring donkeys, geese and pot-belly pigs. The meal is served in stages with each guest receiving a large plate of several antipasto treats, followed by an appetizer, Italian tomato and prosciutto pizza and a light lemon-flavoured dessert. 

The post-lunch cycle takes the Team on a mostly downhill ride and lots of flat scenic roads leading to the final cycling destination – the elegant Hotel Borgo Pantano in the Syracusa area, located in the southeast part of the Island. 

The hotel is truly amazing and situated on a massive and meticulously cared for property, set among a sea of orange and lemon groves, and a manicured garden of fragrant flowers, fennel and another plethora of olive trees. It is definitely a little bit of heaven right here on earth – a great place to relax, meditate, enjoy solitude and company, a swim, Jacuzzi and garden walk; a quiet drink or outdoor meal; a manicure, a pedicure, a massage and so much more. 

The last full day of cycling featured an easy ride along long stretches of quiet, country roads with little or no traffic most of the way to the sea and beaches of Syracusa. The temperature is warm and the sea is wild, too wild for a swim but perfect for quiet meditation and photography. 

This is the place where a well-known detective series is filmed, featuring a local actor named Salvo Montalbano. The show is a worldwide favourite for Italians and a mega-tourism success story for the Island of Sicily. Inspector Montalbano solves crimes in a fictitious town called Vigata, crossing paths with housewives and priests, special ladies, liars, saints and Mafia dons. It is based on the best-selling mystery novels of Andrea Camilleri. Vigata encompasses scenes from all regions of the Island and just watching the show highlights all of the beauty and strength of Sicily. 

As Emily sits back now and reflects on the absolutely amazing cycling vacation through inland and coastal villages of Sicily, mesmerized by the beauty, tranquility and pride of the people, the communities, the regions and the entire Island, she comes out of the experience a new woman, with a new perspective on values and on what to value in life. 

After centuries and centuries, before and after Christ, of turmoil and disruption because of the geographic location of the Island of Sicily in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and the quests of various Empires to over-throw and dominate the land base around the Sea, Sicilians stand tall and proud, determined and focused on preserving their own culture, their own language and their own way of living – for those things cannot be conquered, consumed or destroyed as long as the people stand together, forever independent, proud and smiling proprietors of a land, a landscape, a life and a lifestyle that cannot be matched.

Garden Party

 The Garden Party

Rachel met a lady named Arthur, the other day, at an afternoon garden party. That was his name when he was born and although that person went through a life changing operation since exiting puberty, she retained the original name.

In her mind Rachel heard herself say Freeze screen, I need to get this into perspective. The screen could not be frozen at that moment so the conversation, although awkward, continued.

Pardon?
Arthur, my name is Arthur,
she said.

Oh, hello Arthur, I am Rachel and this is my partner Sam. Nice to meet you and in what line of work are you involved?

I am a Palates Instructor and have my own studio uptown. I also do home visits and private group sessions.

Rachel glanced sideways at Arthur, while Sam engaged in conversation about his personal interest in Palates.

It’s definitely a boob job to be noticed. The pads of gel had been hoisted up to the point of overflow in her kinky summer dress. She wanted to reach over to press the gel blobs down somewhat, but refrained.

She slipped away from Sam and Arthur on the pretence of getting a glass of wine, but really it was to take a view from another angle. She checked for hairy legs and mid-drift bulges – could not see any. As she re-approached the conversation, she looked for facial hair, stubby fingers and bushy eyebrows – none. Exaggerated voice tones – no. It was a perfect replica of a woman.

I thought you were going for a glass of vino?

Oh yeah, I got sidetracked in talking with Emily over there. Do you want anything to drink?

Sam, she continues, I want to introduce you to some people over here for a moment, okay?

Sure, go for it, he said.

He pardoned himself from Arthur as Rachel reached out to hold his hand to guide him to the other side of the living room. They spoke to a few other guests, some of whom mentioned Arthur and others who pretended there was nothing odd or comfortable to reference. People can be so odd sometimes.

How was your conversation with Arthur, honey?

The name-thing didn’t quite get to Sam as it had to most of the women and a few men in the room. However, through Sam, Rachel learned that Arthur did come to the party with a male date; he was from out of town and they have known each other for about ten years. He was up visiting a sick aunt at the local hospital, and was a house guest in the host’s downstairs suite. Arthur was not staying with him as she had her own place in the outskirts of town. If Rachel’s eyes were only half open at that moment, they were fully open now.

Note to file: they have known each other for ten years; he is visiting for a week, yet she can’t offer him accommodation.

Arlie seems like a nice lady; we should invite her to join in on one of our parties this year.

Rachel’s eyes could only roll at this point, realizing Sam’s hearing was somewhat off again. All she could say to that was: Right!

In the days following that afternoon, the gossip stations were on overload about Arthur. Anything else that may have happened at the party was soon forgotten.

Why could they not stay in the same place? She has another partner? She has a difficult teenager or two at home who can’t be left alone and they become even more difficult when guests come to the house? Accusations of adultery are hovering overhead and adding fuel to that fire was not a good idea? She is female by day and male by night?

The jury is out on this one ... likely a hung jury ... forever hung on limited information, perplexed with pondering the possibilities and tired of the lingering deliberations.

So the story starts, I went to the garden party and I met a woman named Arthur, Arthur nor Arlie, ... and that is the only truthful thing I can say. The rest is fiction, glorious fiction, leaving us in an endless stream of possibilities, coming from our active imaginations, making the truth much less desirable or necessary.

Go for it! 

Leaving the Aruban Sunshine

Today is Delénia’s last day on the Island of Aruba – until next June that is. These past two weeks, on this one happy Island, have flown by and she feels like staying longer, like forever. The air is warm and breezy. The water in the Caribbean Sea is crystal clear, turquoise and refreshing and, along with her little red air filled pillow, she loves to float out there for hours on end, weightless, reflecting, reminiscing, dreaming, anticipating, planning and looking forward.

 

The employees at the La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club are amazing. They are always around when you need them, always helpful, pleasant and somewhat shy. The guests are most often familiar as it is a timeshare and, as such, the same owners are there at the same time every year. They call each other seasonal friends. It has been 20 years for Delénia.

 

The life of a longtime timeshare owner usually means the daily activities are pretty well set. Gym time, beach time, pool time, bingo time, meal times. This year Delénia thought of something different to add to the roster. She noticed over the years that a lot of the workers do not speak English or they are a little hesitant to speak English. Being a teacher, she decided to give something back to the wonderful people at La Cabana and offered to teach English for one hour a day.

 

 

The employees at the Club come from places like Columbia, Venezuela, Haiti and the Dominican Republic and many don’t speak a word of English. Others need a bit of encouragement.  The class was a mixed group of 10. On day one they were all nervous, shy and apprehensive. By day eight they were full of enthusiasm asking each other questions and proudly standing tall ready with the answers. Their farewell was very heartwarming and most of them are going to enroll in English classes in the weeks ahead.

 

On one particular morning, one of the students was on duty at the Beach. Antonio works in the Pool and Beach Department. He unstacks the chairs, places them under a tiki hut and wipes them clean. He spotted Delénia from a distance and hurriedly scurried over to provide her with a lounge chair and one upright chair. He stayed to chat in his broken English and his smile never left his face. He was so very proud of himself and it was an honour to serve his teacher.

 

As Delénia sits back on her lounge chair, upon the plush burgundy towel, she looks around. Lots of regulars, a new family on her right building a sand castle under the blazing morning sun. They are building a sand community and having a blast together. Over to the left she sees that a new turtle hatching area has been cordoned off with barricades so the hatching process can unfold without human interference.  Momma turtle, approximately 1.5 metres in diameter, apparently gets impregnated in Nova Scotia, Canada and travels through the waterways seeking warmer waters and ends up in the Caribbean Sea. 

 

Last night she came up from the sea, waddled about 30 feet up the beach, dug a gigantic hole, laid as many as 50 eggs, filled the hole and went back to sea. She rests out there for about a week to ten days and comes back to the beach, to another spot, and does the same thing, and continues this routine until all of her 1000 eggs are laid. Her delivery time is usually between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. The clearly indented pathway from the sea and up the beach is always a delight for the morning turtle watching volunteers who walk the beach during this season, ready to place the red and white barricades around the area.

 

In something like 18 days, the eggs will hatch and tiny little black squigglies will stick their heads above the sand and find their way to sea. It is always a celebration and always monitored by the members of the local volunteer beach turtle environmental club. It is an amazing sight and hundreds of locals and guests partake in the occasion bringing their own drinks and treats to occupy their time during what can be a very long process.

 

The females who survive and become adults eventually return to this same spot to lay their own eggs and the cycle continues. It truly is an amazing story.

 

Delénia just looked around again and everyone is staring into the water, meditating quietly, reflecting on peaceful thoughts, sorting through personal dilemmas or planning their day. Soon conversations will take place between tiki hut occupants and those just strolling by. She reaches for her beach bag and pulls out her breakfast. Today’s meal is a nice slab of freshly made apple filled pastry, a farewell, see you next year gift from two friends who usually sit three huts away. Rick and Sue are from Toronto Canada. They left yesterday and Delénia and her family leave tomorrow. Normally she would bring a toasted gouda cheese sandwich and a piece of fruit, but today was special.

 

The sun is shining brightly and it is hot already. It is only 9:30. Delénia rests for a bit longer before reaching for her little red blow-up pillow and brings it with her to the water. The pillow serves as an extra set of lungs enabling her to just lay and float for hours on end. She can do a back float, front float and even a side float. She can even stand straight in the deep water without moving a limb, although she does a lot of underwater aerobics. It is like her best friend bending over backwards to ensure her happiness, never complaining and never talking back. Eventually all kinds of people come into her direction and the pillow becomes a talking piece, opening up new conversations and starting new beach time friendships.

 

She looks back up to the beach area and notices that more people have arrived. Lots of waving back and forth. Lots of smiles. It must be around 11 now. She exits the water, engages in some conversation about the night before and hears about plans for the day, before she returns to her hut to enjoy the morning paper that her family has brought down, engages in conversation with them and then drifts off to think about the best way to write this story.

 

 

 

Flying Hairy

Flying out of bed early Friday morning to catch a 7 a.m. ferry, with her foot heavy to the metal to get to stop number one in Maple Ridge for the rest of that day and night … then flying out of bed, back into the car and off to a camping weekend with family at Logan Lake – three hours away, about one hour beyond Merritt on the Coquihalla Highway, Julianna’ s very hairy life is flying high!

 

Speeding up “The lonely Coq”, enjoying the fast and smooth ride on and over an unforgiving mountain without amenities, except a toilet at the halfway point, Julianna glances through her rear view mirror and in a split second sees the tail end of a vehicle flying high off the road and surrounded with a plume of dust and dirt. The driver had misnegotiated the turn and literally flew off the road, over the embankment and likely deep down a gulley – unless a tree abruptly ended the fall.

 

She looks again and it’s over, like it never happened; but, it did happen and now what should she do. She is a half kilometer away. Stopping on a busy major highway and walking back to view the scene, seems senseless. Looking down would solve nothing. Plus, she is in a dead cell phone area.

 

Her heart begins to double beat and she decides to drive to the only nearest town, Merritt, to let the police know. She decides to speed carefully through the pass hoping to spot a police car along the way. No such luck. An hour later she arrives in Merritt, sees no signs directing her to the police station so she sees a citizen and asks for direction to the police station.

“I just moved here; sorry, I don’t know.”

 

She asks another: “Hm, I think it might be down there.”

 

Julianna drives down there and sees nothing. She stops, enters a store, gets direction and off she goes. She arrives at the RCMP detachment; the parking lot has about 20 police cars, but the entrance doors are locked. She rings the doorbell; nobody comes. She sees a sign by a phone saying something like pick up phone to report.

She picks up the phone; four rings later a voice mumbles something. She holds back a desire to say something like  is this a call centre half way around the world? She ignores whatever the voice said and just blurted out that she just saw a car fly off the Coquihalla Highway, about 5 minutes north of the toll booth.

 

“Hold a moment” [no please; no thank you]

 

The operator returns:

 

“We have 2 reports of accidents on the Coq; one is probably what you saw."

 

“Probably?” Julianna asks.

 

“Yes."

 

Julianna hangs up in disgust. She has done her civic duty and diverted her time enough, and she does not want to carry this emergency situation any further. She is not in the mood to go up against police procedure while on vacation. Her heart continues to pound as off she drives back to the main road into the direction of Logan Lake.

 

Her mind reflects on how the world can be so strange sometimes. Some people are so not right for their line of work. They do nothing or nothing above and beyond, just enough to fly under the radar and receive a pay cheque. A conscience does not factor in. Julianna finds this so mind-boggling and so very sad as the word probably rings through her head over and again: probably, probably, probably.

 

Suddenly she sees something ahead – it is truck parked along side the other side of the road and a man is taking down a political election sign. She recognizes the name and then the man – “that is Harry!”

 

But, it is not safe to stop so she drives on.

 

“I should not just drive on; I should stop and talk to him.”

 

Just ahead is an open area where she can do a U-Turn.

 

She does and returns to the spot, parks, gets out of the car and says:

 

“Hello Harry”

 

He drops his sledge hammer and a chunk of wood, sprints over and they hug.

 

“I am so sorry you have to go through this” she says.

 

“I am sorry to but that is politics”  He then proceeds to release his anger, his disappointment and his theories on how it all happened – complacency, negative advertising, taking the high road, no volunteers, believing they would win hands down, taking things for granted, flip flops, stay at home eligible voters – most of whom would have voted for him etc etc.  Poor Harry.

 

Julianna understands the need to vent and to point fingers. She listens and helps him load the truck with his now useless sign and all the pieces of wood used to erect it on the side of this lonely road where nobody lives.

 

Losing is never easy; however, rationalizing seems to help so she listens and listens, and puts forward the occasional question like where do you think your campaign lost its footing?  and Did you get much support from the Central Campaign Office?  

 

This encounter is good medicine to set aside the events of earlier in the day. She bids Harry farewell and wishes him all the best in the future, as she jumps back into the car, makes a careful U-turn and smiles all the way to Logan Lake, where the sun is shining, the family is waiting and the bubbly is about to be poured.

 

Julianna is flying high – higher than a kite, as a principal behind the scenes of an astoundingly successful provincial election campaign. The odds had been consistently against her Party. The pundits were relentless in spewing their poison; the pollsters were somewhere in outer space; the efforts to condemn the incumbent government was constant.

 

Julianna and her Central Campaign teammates held the flag high and proud throughout. The negative thoughts were cast aside and they breathed optimism each and every day. They worked fifteen hour days; took few breaks; endured the common cold and flu bug issues; endured the most unbearable heat in a poorly ventilated office; dealt with issues and problems head on; and, followed the work of the Leader and the candidates every step of the way to the victory.

 

This weekend, for Julianna, is a celebration. It is a celebration of victory but also a celebration of supportive family and friends who put up with being left out, ignored, snapped at, or with an empty seat at important family or social events. She stands tall and proud, in a campsite in a small BC town, dancing on sunshine, preparing for four more years of hard and honest work in an often hairy setting – where work is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by outsiders, yet essential and important for peaceful, orderly and safe lives, economic stability, a state of the art health care system, the best education system possible, helpful and effective social policies and a prosperous future for upcoming generations.

 

Flying high in a hairy world – kind of sounds like an oxymoron; but, great leaders like Premier Christy Clark and loyal supporters like Julianna and many others, bring the two together to the middle of the road and make great things happen … not probably … more than probably --- absolutely, definitely and jubilantly!

Cocooned

The caterpillar, all snuggled warm and fuzzy in its cocoon,  looks out once in a while, to check out the environment surrounding its cozy life and to get a feel of what the outside world is really like. It is not in a hurry to face what is inevitably about to become of its life but, ultimately, in the end, it has no choice but to follow the will of Mother Nature.

 

People who are suffering from mental illnesses are somewhat like the caterpillar except they live within that cocoon most of their lives. Instead of looking out once in a while, they actually physically come out to make an appearance for short periods of time and then retreat back into the dark and cozy comfort of that cocoon. It is a lifestyle, a different kind of lifestyle, but a lifestyle – one that is perplexing to the masses, but commonplace to the afflicted,  their family and friends.

 

Patience and understanding is the best we can do if we truly love and care for that caterpillar persona. Medications are what keep that person going because love and understanding just do not cut the mustard in the complex world of mental illness.

 

I know there is still a lot of research to be done on the whys and hows related to the many questions and answers people have about depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. It is always encouraging to read stories of philanthropists coming forward with huge donations to enhance or expand mental health services; we are so fortunate to have people like the Courtnall Family on Vancouver Island who created the Archie Courtnall Mental Health Unit at Royal Jubilee Hospital; the Segals – Joe and Rosalie – two fabulous people who led the way in Vancouver with a $12 million donation to the Vancouver General Hospital Mental Health Centre and, most recently,  Vancouver’s Condo King: Bob Rennie, announced an estate gift of $2 million for the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital Foundations to help create  an $82 million mental health facility.

 

The money announcements sound great; the projects sound impressive – all of that helps to raise awareness of mental illnesses; they bring the subject to the forefront of public dialogue and help take away the stigma of a condition that has been with us, directly or indirectly, since the beginning of time.

 

I commend everyone who has come out of their cocoons, over the past decade, and effectively raised the profile of mental illness through funding announcements in support of research efforts for future breakthroughs, as well as announcements about funding for local, immediate services to help those who need the help now – including the needs of their families.

 

Our world is a better place when people step outside of their own cocoons to help make the lives of others so much better.

Rena's Lost Son

As a timeshare owner at the La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club on the Dutch Island of Aruba in the Caribbean Sea, over the past nearly twenty years, I have come to know a lot of people who own timeshares during the same weeks as me. We have become like family – a whole bunch of interesting brothers and sisters who talk to each other a lot and a little, or simply acknowledge each other with a wave and a smile. It is all so very delightful and it is an experience I look forward to each and every year.

 

Recently, however, I have learned about the possibly tragic disappearance of the son of one of the management employees of the Resort. I don’t know the son, but his mother’s name is Rena.

 

Rena is one of the bright lights of the Management Team. She speaks well and listens well. She has charm and a sense of humour. She shows compassion for others and passion for her work is shown through her smile, her appearance and her attentiveness.

 

Compassion is something Rena really needs from others right now. Her son is missing and the uncertainty of his fate is likely the most difficult experience a parent can possibly endure. He was last seen on a boat and was apparently boating on the sea when the silence struck – no communication since he set out into the sometimes unforgiving waters of the vast Caribbean Sea.

 

My thoughts and prayers are with Rena during this very sad, nerve-racking and heart wrenching experience she, her daughter, other family and friends are going through. Let’s encourage her to hold on to the memories of better days, as those will help her through this most terrible journey.

Moving Me On, Turning Me Off RANT

On my way home today, I stopped by the unnamed couple’s street level garden patio; I feel I have known them for a dozen years as that is how long I have noticed them either sitting in their living room watching television or seated in the enclosed patio area enjoying the hummingbird buzzing around the birdfeeder in their garden.

 

Our paths have crossed from time to time, but an unfortunate bad encounter early on has left a rift between us. The unnamed woman reported me to City Hall because I had been parking in front of her apartment building which is technically not where I am supposed to park. The spot was never regularly used by anyone and since there is no parking allocated for my building, why not be a good neighbour and leave me in peace.  Only she would know why the cruelty of a report and subsequent $50 ticket, was necessary.

 

Mrs. No Name had confronted me earlier in the decade expressing her dismay and her intentions to report me, but I thought she would give her anger a sober second thought. She evidently never did sober up, and went ahead with the phone call. A phone call, that is all it takes – one phone call, no investigation, no conversation, no logical reasoning.

 

Oh Gawd, logical reasoning, did I actually type that expression. So much of the world around me seems to be void of logical reasoning. I can’t even get people to reason with me on that concept. I still get the stale that’s just the way it is or that’s the way it’s always been. Those expressions drive me crazy. We need to stop, breathe, think and change things that are void of logic. Why do lamps have shades that block the light?  Why do four intersections on a long stretch of road have four-way stops and hidden between them are two intersections with two way-stops?  If a University-educated English language major tells you a comma follows a conjunction, and an undereducated person with a higher title says otherwise, why would you doubt the former even for a second? If nobody in an apartment building ever parks in front of the building in which they live, why can’t a needy person from another nearby building void of any other parking options, park there? Alas, I digress.

 

So this lady who used her power to spark me, over the years, was becoming noticeably disabled. From walking on her own, to a walker, to a mobility wheelchair, her life was rapidly changing while, at the same time, her husband was experiencing signs of dementia, talking to himself and to imaginary people, forgetting where he lives and who people were. I started to feel so sorry for both of them and started to forget about our beginnings.

 

Life is too short to let anger brew and sad feelings linger. We say we learn from the experiences of others yet, time and again, spats become turbulents and that Red Sea splits again and again, never again to reconnect to secure a better tomorrow with each other. Divorce rates are increasing throughout the world – the desire to work things out dwindles with more and more attractions diversifying our options and keeping us apart from problem solving and mutual efforts to resolve even the smallest misunderstanding and difference in opinion.

 

Gone is a connection to commitment because there is so much more, more more to explore, to enjoy, to embrace. There is no longer a need or desire to look back – we don’t need to as so much more is coming our way. From the manual typewriter, to the IBM selectrix, to the beginnings of the computer age to this new age of new generations of computers coming forward several times in a year, who cares about that manual typewriter?

 

Sadly, it seems, we don’t need to spend time on what was, nothing is as sacred as it once was, nothing or nobody is as important as before. Our choices are endless and trying something new is easier, less stressful and less laborious than trying to fix something strained, spilled or stressful. It all brings a new definition to smelling the roses; we either don’t have time to do the smelling or we smell and run to the latest to bloom – one conquest follows another and another and another.

 

This is a changing world and we are a changing people and our connection to one another is becoming weaker and weaker and weaker. We have become nameless, two-legged species roaming the land on this planet. We are noticed for a while and eventually not at all.  Material goods have become a central feature of our lives, new investments, new stuff, new options, new accessories. We always need the latest, the biggest, the best. Out with the old, in with the new. No time to linger. Move on. Move on. Move on.

 

“Moving me on” has become a new generational motto. It is a trending now concept and people are jumping on that bandwagon carrying themselves away from yesterday and today emotionally, personally and materialistically. It is so weird, so astounding and so very disappointing. I want off this fast rolling bus; I want to go back to that parking ticket scenario in my neighbourhood and work through the anger and disappointment between human beings – it is now too late.

 

Give me back the beautiful Strauss Waltz – grace, beauty, order, structured and sequential, rhythmic, respectful, resilient and clearly logical or is it too late for that too?

My Ferry Inspiration

Normally my bi-monthly BC Ferries trips between Victoria, British Columbia and Tsawwassen on the mainland of the province, are uneventful and painfully boring; but, today, things have been somewhat different. I was an early arrival, as usual; in fact, I was fourth in line. I’m okay with this, as now I know I will be on board the next sailing. I will be on the new Coastal Inspiration.

 

I lean the seat back, slightly, pull out my IPAD and start checking for messages, before going to my word games. I look up and notice two men wearing security vests. One of them has a German Shepherd dog on a leash. The other man signals me to open my window.

 

        “Hello, how are you this morning?”

 

        ‘Fine, thank you; what are you up to?’

 

“We are checking for hazardous materials with a working dog. We are just going to check the exterior of your car and then move on.”

 

‘Okay, thanks for doing that.’

 

I didn’t know what else to say. I hope he liked my response.

 

        “Okay, you are clear,” he says, as the two men and the dog proceed to approach the car behind mine.

 

So glad to know I am clear. I can now go back to my emails.

 

 

There is a new one from my real estate friend, Helen. She checks my house once a week, while I am on duty elsewhere. She is telling me my neighbour’s house is for sale – that is a corner unit with a fireplace and a grass yard. It also has more natural light, and has enjoyed recent renovations.

 

Hmm, I feel a sudden interest and fire off a response asking for her thoughts. I also send the notion to my younger brother and sister for their thoughts. I start to imagine buying it and retaining mine at the same time, creating a passage between the two both upstairs and down, doubling my capacity. I wonder if that is allowed? I suppose it’s never been done so getting Council to agree will be a challenge. Anything out of the ordinary is hard for ordinary people to embrace or even fathom.

 

I, again, think of that philosopher who once said something like look out as far as you can and then look a little further.  If I remember correctly, I think it comes from a guy named Thomas Carlyle. He did a lot of thinking about self-improvement methodology. This phrase is a mantra I have adopted but, it’s too difficult for people to make the effort to look a little further. I don’t know if it’s their level of self-confidence or IQ, or just a fear of approving something non-conventional – sometimes I just have to swallow the lack of giftedness in others and their reluctance to try something new.

 

I think the thought of connecting both units is not farfetched and is possible; but, in a strata scenario, one owner can’t act without approvals. It does not hurt to ask.

 

I just opened my eyes and drifted away from thinking over to seeing the world around me. As I raise my head and turn to the window view, I see we are halfway to our destination, in an area called Active Pass. I notice the sky is blue and, looking more easterly, I can see that the Salish Sea is calm on this very cold winter day.

 

A beautiful big, white seagull is perched on the emergency escape boat and a group of Korean tourists are mesmerized by this sight – click, click, click go their cameras; photo after photo of this lone seagull. He is getting right into this photo shoot, posing to the left and posing to the right; lifting a wing and swinging a leg, opening and closing its beak, wondering which tourist will provide him with feed. Nobody does.

 

At the same time, the ship’s Captain is now on the public announcement system letting us know of a pod of orcas on the port side of the vessel. The translator springs up to let the group know what was said and, suddenly, everyone scurries over to the port side, like a group of tadpoles spearing for the dusting of food sprinkled on the surface of the water in their fish bowl!

 

The vessel suddenly seems to lean, as virtually every passenger heads portside. I just remain in place, starboard side, smiling and enjoying the ride, along with the seagull who is no doubt wondering if it was something he did. Even a bird’s life takes odd turns, without warning.

 

It’s almost time for me to head back to the car. As I take the long way, I notice a Sale sign in the gift shop. Most things there are overpriced to begin with, but a sale draws me in. It turns out to be a good decision as I find bright red planters’ pots – a great item into which I can put baked seasonal edibles and package them up as gifts next Christmas. They are $2.00 each. I also scoop up the last of the five dollar children’s tee-shirts – a matching set perfect for the twin boys in my life.

 

Okay, the descending announcement for drivers has come and gone twice so I had better get down to my security-cleared car on level one of the parking deck. The mainland awaits and this well-paced day off work is expected to unfold smoothly – well in advance of the horrendous bad after work traffic routes recently identified as the second worst in North America.

 

I will get to my home with peace of mind and put the wheels in motion for looking at the situation of buying the house next door, as far as I can imagine it and then look a little further.

 

I think about it day and night, talk to some family members and some friends and welcome all of the feedback. The better people in my life are those who make me analyse my thoughts and take into consideration other factors like extra costs, similarities and differences – like how much of a difference would that unit be and is it worth the extra cost, plus the moving costs, any renovation costs and the best comments of all were from Susan who said if I bought both units and got permission to pound out the walls, I’d have two monthly strata fees and she also said soon wood-burning fireplaces will be banned. Karen mentioned the lawn – since I travel a lot and work away from home a lot, I’d have to factor in the cost of getting someone to cut the grass.

 

So, over the course of 72 hours, I made my decision. Opulence does sound impressive, but not practical. Buying both units is not a good choice. The fireplace can only be wood-burning, as we don’t have gas-access here in the forest where I live. Wood-burning may soon be banned, leaving this attractive feature to be nothing but an eyesore and a reason to frown. Grass-cutting would mean an extra monthly expense until I can live there fulltime, at which point I would have to buy a lawnmower and make time to put it and me to work. I’d have to buy a sprinkler and set that up during times when we are not inundated with rain.

 

All in all, the new thoughts are stimulating. I have leaned one way and then the other, and now I am back to my equilibrium. Status quo is the way to go. One day in the future I may want to upgrade to another location, although that is very hard to imagine. It is all a part of looking further and that comes when things are stale, frustrating or meaningless. Right now, things are neither stale nor frustrating, and life here is a long way from meaningless.

 

I don’t believe in running like a pack of tourists to the next exciting moment. I like to stop and smell the roses until the petals fall and there is no chance of any life coming back to a previously vibrant scenario. Practical and sensible, working with what I have instead of running away – sounds like the makings of a great and wonderful relationship with life; and, moving on when there really is no need to move on, tells me I am in a pretty darn good place.

 

I hope my decision will include some new quiet neighbours with whom I can enjoy backyard BBQs and front driveway chats, as we go about our daily lives, happy to be alive, happy to have a home with a heart, and happy to feel the strength of logical and rational reasoning for every possible adventure that lies ahead.

Looking Beyond this Point

Maddie wrote a poem for a significant friend, her husband, the other day. What I mean by other day is two-fold – one, Maddie wrote the poem the other day and two, Tim was both her significant friend and husband the other day. She called it Only One Me.

 

Maddie never gave the poem to him right away because something inside of her told her to hold off; after all, when marriages struggle, they say things eventually get better.

 

Her lifestyle so structured

Behaviour sequenced

Take away one sign post

She starts to feel tense.

 

The pattern is broken

Her mind put on hold

A short circuit interruption

Leaves her out in the cold.

 

Striving for independence

In a world so confused

Can be a struggle, a mission

Some win and some lose.

 

 

Isn’t it funny how when you analyze a seemingly positive relationship at a moment in time, you feel confident, your confidence level is high and you are convinced this is the one. You kind of expect that positive feeling to be etched in gold and cherished forever – after all, isn’t that what happens with negative impressions?

 

But, like the price of gold, the positive image of the moment fades in and out depending on the direction of the wind or the time of day. It is completely unpredictable sometimes and predictable at others.

 

Maddie and Tim are in the midst of a rumbling storm at the moment, so she has read that poem once more, to see if the image is still clear and if she sees any hope on the horizon. Her strong inner self assures her that the image is clear and when the storm lifts and the sun starts to shine again, that would be the best time to bring the message forward.

 

In the meantime, they will be sleeping in separate beds again and living under separate covered quarters again for a while.

 

Fixing the now downed electrical wires that once made the association so strong, so meaningful and so bright, will require some more attention and some more effort. I do realize Benjamin Franklin is dead and gone, but Maddie’s positive attitude tells me the A-grade she once got in electricity might be the key to getting the circuit to work again. Maybe Smart Meter technology fits into this metaphor too – out with the old and in with the new; it is time to move on smarter, stronger, better.

 

As difficult as it is for Maddie to sit back and wait for the wipers to start swaying across the fogged windshield again and for the dark clouds to lift, she is going to wait for a little while longer. Time heals all wounds, they say, so maybe that will be a good start.

 

Maybe this storm is just another wrinkle in time, she thinks, shielding once again the open and the honest lyrics of the poem he has not read, or blurring the image he is unable to see for himself, and blocking the message he has never heard: Maddie wants and needs her independence.

 

She does know the sitting back approach is just a delay tactic and it is getting old. It has been going on for a dozen years. It is like holding back feelings, misleading people or leading them on as they grow old, distant and removed. Silence is easier than words but, ultimately, at some point the words need to be spoken.

 

Why do people do this to one another? Why is openness and honesty so difficult to verbalize? Why can’t an end be seen as a new beginning? I suppose it has something to do with humanity and humility – the fragility of trust and the scariness of honesty. I guess Maddie thought they had a handle on those concepts and that nothing could or would ever set them, the couple of the century, back.

 

Evidently, her naivety overshadowed reality once more. Maddie had set herself aside for too long and then froze in the marriage. She realized her independence was fading; what was once two had to become one – not the real one equals one, but the two equals one -- the oneness that happens in couple-land, first leaving some of herself behind and then almost all of her.

 

This latest storm is no doubt a sign of sorts; it is a message; it is the message that Maddie has been blocking perhaps for too long and possibly Tim has been as well. In the past while, they have endured more storms than calm. She knows she needs to listen better and hear the message come from her mouth to her ears and then to his ears. If it feels right, it must be said and that poem can be the gift that seals the package.

 

Three months later and as the year comes to an end, Maddie and Tim sit together on a park bench and look out over the ocean as far as the eye can see and then she says: let’s look even further. That was the line, the power line, that put their relationship into perspective. Throughout their lifetime together, they kept looking to a certain point and did not allow themselves to look further. They needed to look further because there is so much more to consider – feelings, philosophies, facts, fiction and future.

 

Their circuits had clashed and crashed time and again. They were as different as series is to parallel and, most importantly, they were not grounded. A good circuit board needs to be grounded and when they both looked further than the furthest point in their horizon, something clicked and they understood – their circuit board was indeed not grounded and they needed to walk away, with their heads high, cleared of confusion and short-circuit crashes.

 

Those twelve years have ended and the experience keeps Maddie and Tim strong. They thrive on less structure, less sequence, less struggle. Maddie ultimately gave Tim that poem and he remains a significant friend in her life, as they have each branched out, become happily grounded in separate circuit boards, feeling smarter and getting so much more out of not leading ‘dependent on each other’ lives.

 

Happily in their case, there is a lasting calm after a collection of storms and then, of course, that final storm -- it opened their eyes, their ears and their minds, clearing the way to personal certainty and security that came to them that very special other day on that particular park bench, a special bench that each of them visits, from time to time, looking confidently further ahead on every thought, idea, feeling or plan that embraces and defines their renewed and happy independent lives.

Mrs. Raj, Part Two

It is not quite Christmas today, but I am home alone nursing a terrible cough and cold. I’m not exactly sure when the germ hit me, but its greatest impact was December 22. I decided to stay quarantined in my cozy bed, with the room temperature turned up, and seasonal music playing from the stereo downstairs. I have two days to get over the worst of it and my best efforts require me to hold back from the temptations of shopping, talking and going outside.

 

Staying inside is not natural to me as I am always on the go or I always have the freedom to be on the go. It takes some effort and a lot of positive thinking, and eventually I will get into accepting this setback.

Most of this segregated time will be spent in bed – my mind is set out on a quest to find the actual cure to the common cold. I will keep notes.

 

As I move around the bed from side to front to side to back, fetal position or stretched out, I determine that laying my upper body on a pillow covering the chest up to the neck and then a higher pillow beyond that for my head, seems to stop the coughing. For the cold part, I notice that lying on my back, with my chin stretched up, enables me to breathe better, but does nothing for to suppress the cough -- as soon as I turn to the side or on to my front, all of the above changes. I was no further ahead in finding that cure.

 

I stop playing Einstein and decide I will just have to wait it out. I rest for a bit, then get up to do a chore or two. I manage to get two loads of laundry done, some gifts wrapped, bags unpacked, watch a bit of television, get the recycling organized, make some chicken broth, peel potatoes, clean out half a closet and ignore ringing phones. This is definitely not a time for talking.

 

As a reward for staying focused and getting significant things done, I decide the pile of Christmas gifts in the corner of my bedroom, gifts from family, friends and colleagues, is too big. Since I had succeeded in staying home and getting a lot of indoor jobs completed,  my reward could be the opening of one gift.

 

I looked at the pile – differing shapes, sizes, colours, weights. All of them looking inviting and the temptation to open them all right now is at the forefront of my mind. I resist that temptation and reach out for one with an envelope attached. It is from Mrs. Raj.

 

For those of you who read my story last month about Mrs. Raj, you will know who she is and how she impacted my life. I smile as I open the envelope and read the card:

 

Friendship happens in that special moment when someone reaches out to another, trusts, comforts, believes in another, hopes the best for another, and makes a special difference that no one else can make ... At this time of giving, I want to thank you for giving me your friendship. It has been and will always be a priceless treasure. Merry Christmas.

 

I put down the envelope and read the card again and again. I feel emotion and then a tear of happiness drops down from my eye to my pillow. I put the gift aside, lay my head down and drift off into a peaceful sleep, feeling happy and proud at the same time. When I awaken, I reach over to the gift and open it slowly. Inside are two CDs of an inspiration speaker similar to the guy she introduced me to during my home-stay at her house while the rest of her family was in Australia. He is one of those speakers who confidently makes a connection between the human spirit and the celestial spirit, and strongly believes we can only experience inner peace when we include both spirits in our every day lives – in our thoughts, our prayers, our actions and our words.

 

I reach out for the card and hold it in one hand and the CDs in the other and say: there can’t possibly be a better gift. I love Mrs.Raj!

 

I set the card on the pillow next to me, slip under the covers for another restful snooze. I sleep through the night and although I am not cough and cold-free, I sense I am improving and my spirits are definitely high. As I awaken Christmas morn, my arm reaches over to the extra pillow and lays itself on top of the card; I smile and recite the message from memory. I am not spot-on, but pretty darn close.

 

I now feel ready to get up, stretch and then stack the other gifts on to the bed. This is it, Christmas morn, a time for sharing our thoughts and feelings for others through special gifts. Every person is special and every gift is special, and those feelings are expressed in different ways by different people. Each tells a story, a rich and wonderful story about listening skills, getting to know people, sharing oneself with others and celebrating special and unique relationships – relationships that gift us each and every day of our lives.

Mrs. Raj and Housesitting in Broadmead

I was delighted to be asked by one of my long time Victoria friends, Sulo, to house sit in her huge Broadmead home, in a swanky Victoria neighbourhood, for the 2.5 weeks that she and her husband would be in Australia. They were going for a family wedding and, to make the trip more worthwhile, they planned an extended vacation.

 

Sulo’s 85 year old mother from Sri Lanka lives in the basement of the house and does not like to be there alone at night. Her actual name is very long, but I just called her Mrs. Raj – she said that would be just fine.

 

I had only met Mrs. Raj once previously and had not really said much more than hello to her. My stereotyping assumed she could not speak English so, at that time, I made little effort to figure out her comprehension level.

 

When thrown into a lion’s den – what do you do? You figure it out!

 

I walked into this housesitting situation with both feet on the ground. Early on, I realized that on that first occasion of our meeting each other, I had been on the wrong track with regard to her language skills. The lady speaks wonderful English having been brought up in Sri Lanka when it was called Ceylon and under British rule. She loves to read and especially loves to read about history, and then she shares her revelations with others who will listen.

 

I listened. I learned.

 

She also enjoys a certain spiritual show on public television on Sunday nights from 6 to 7. The host does not refer to himself as a pastor or reverend or priest. He does seem to have a vast knowledge of the bible and gives very inspiring interpretations to an auditorium full of listeners.

 

 

Mrs. Raj listens and gives the man two thumbs up.

 

I listened with her this past Sunday, and I must say the guy got to me too. He talked about adversity and how you can either let it eat you up, hide within yourself, build a wall between you and the world, or stand up tall, stand back from the adversity and say now I am going to fix this. You fix it not by turning to drugs, alcohol, stealing, over-eating, adultery or buying sex, but you fix it by building a bridge between the adversity and what you really want for you.

 

Look forward and imagine how you would really like things to be and work to that end. Don’t moan and groan; don’t sulk; don’t resort to bad behaviours; don’t give up. If you feel lost or incapable of doing it yourself, ask a trusted friend, family member, teacher, doctor, or spiritual person to lightly hold your hand on your important journey to overcoming whatever is setting you back or stopping you.

 

Mrs. Raj loves to talk about the connection between spirituality and the lives we lead, and she certainly helped me feel proud of positions I have taken on the matters of wrongdoing, amorality or evil that have come my way over time. Sometimes there is a tendency within me to hold on to bad relationships because I believe I can change that person. I can’t change anyone except my self.

 

I have learned, over the years, to stop, listen, and learn to let go. I am only actually responsible for me, my words, my thoughts, my actions. I can give to others, I can give a whole lot to others, but I can’t do the full repair job for them.

 

I am grateful for the peacefulness and love I feel within me. I share those traits with the significant people in my life, in the hopes that those who are in turmoil, lost or forlorn, sad, depressed, lonely, or alone will draw strength from the realization that getting to where I am is completely possible – building that bridge from adversity to something better is key to making it happen.

 

So Mrs. Raj and I have gotten to know each other quite well in 2.5 weeks. She came upstairs to talk with me every night at around 6 and sometimes stayed for two hours.

 

I made her cheese scones and shortbread cookies; I gave her a History of British Columbia book. I took her shopping. She took me out for a nice lunch, gave me a birthday gift and a birthday marzipan cake from the Dutch Bakery. She made sure the house lights were on for me on the one night a week I had to come home later than 6 pm.

 

I had a refreshing wonderful break from regular evening housework, computer work and IPAD word games. I had a diversion from small apartment living and experienced the joys of a huge and fabulous kitchen. I completed reading two inspiring Memoirs, prepared my Christmas cards and Christmas event invitations, wrapped gifts and fulfilled my baking plans for the Season.

 

Best of all, I made a new friend: Mrs. Raj – a kind, loving, interesting and inspiring person who has carried forth the values of her parents, produced a family of her own, and found comfort in spiritual messages, books, Handy Dart services, buying things on sale, Murdoch Mysteries, Perry Mason and Classic movies, and living with her loving family.

 

I will miss our evening chats, but be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to spread my wings and meet someone who really is somewhat of a kindred spirit.

 

Thank you, Sulo and Bawan, for asking me to stay at the house, your home. It was an all around wonderful, uplifting and enlightening experience, and one I would do again for you and for Mrs. Raj any time at all.

Believe Achieve

October 2012 I went to the British Columbia Liberal Party Convention in Whistler. I have been to virtually every such Convention since I joined the Party in 1980. My first such experience was at the beautiful Resort at Harrison Hot Springs. I got to go free as a young Liberal, sponsored by a wealthy contributor. I remember going with my boyfriend at the time, Robert something or other. It was his first time too! We were 24 years old.

 

Both Robert and I were under the tutelage of Jim Clark. He was so interested in us and determined to keep us in the fold. Those were desperate times for the Liberal Party in those days; few seemed to like us and the membership was at an all time low. Jim knew he had to draw in more members in order for the Party to do better. One of his sons was on board, the other not interested and his daughter, Christy, was too young to be a Young Liberal; but, she was a keener around the silk-screening machine that we used to make cardboard signs and red/white tee shirts.

 

In those days, there was a general lack of interest in politics; but, an even higher degree of disinterest in the Liberals. We did have a hard time finding someone who would run as a Candidate. Jim did finally find someone named David something. We hurriedly got signs made but few households wanted one on their lawn. We became innovative and found good street corners where we were allowed to pound in our signs. Then the problem became the lack of volunteers to help. Robert and I were the entirety of the ‘Sign Crew’ – we both took the calls at HQ and then took turns rushing to the homes allowing us to place signs. I used to get my younger brother to join me, against my parents' wishes, but he did it willingly and was very good at pounding the sledgehammer on to the posts and pegs. I am happy to say he still remembers those days and he has done some politicking since. Nobody else in my family is keen, but that is okay with me as long as they vote Liberal, that is! I think most of them do, but sadly one does not!

 

Anyway, back to Whistler. If I had not dozed off on the ferry to the mainland last night, I would have had a better sleep. It could also have been my thoughts about the Convention and the Party that kept me up. Lately we have been at an all-time low in the polls and we are scrambling to turn the tide in our favour. We need to draw upon the strength of our membership, just like we did under Jim Clark in the 80s and 90s. We need to stay focused on our plan for the future – it is a great plan, an impressive plan and just like with everything bold and innovative, the results are not instant. We need to be positive; we need to be optimistic but, more importantly, we need to reach outside of our membership and get non-partisans to feel our music, to jump on our platform and keep the choir growing. It is a beautiful, upbeat and inspiring song we have put together and I want it to be heard, felt and appreciated by greater numbers of people.

 

At this Convention, we have drawn to together people from all walks of life. We have even called in experienced campaigners from other jurisdictions where experiences are different yes, but, somewhere within what they do and what they have learned, I think we can learn a lot. We seem to have come a long way on ‘just winging’ it, and it is now time to be more strategic, more organized, more structured. We can capture things from the experiences of others and use that as gas to keep the momentum growing beyond the walls of the Whistler Fairmont Convention halls.

 

The energy at this Convention was very high. I feel encouraged; re-energized and more optimistic than ever before. We have what it takes to turn turned heads back and to get them back on board. We are free enterprise people with middle of the road policies. We are bold, not moderate. We have aspirations, but we believe in fiscal conservatism. We can’t be spending what we don’t have – the past has shown all of us just how regressive that approach to governance is. We can’t go there again and we won’t go there again if the British Columbia Liberal Party stands tall and proud, at the plate, not in the field.

 

We do have what it takes to build our province to be the best it can be. We call it the BC Jobs Plan and it involves attracting investments, encouraging business development, developing trade relations with Asia, opening up training in the trades, advocating for lean and clean decision making, healthy eating, fiscal prudence, expanding employment opportunities for people of all ages and all skill sets, and getting the people of British Columbia more involved in the decision making process.

 

Yes, we do have what it takes to believe and achieve. I remain optimistic that in May 2013, BC Liberals will have a further opportunity to keep the momentum growing for the betterment of all people, families and communities in our great province!

Diving Is Allowed

The strangest thing happened to me while I was at the Commonwealth Place Diving Pool last night; I had the whole, entire pool to myself as it was Hallowe’en Night and lessons had been cancelled and kiddies were busy doing other things.

I stood at the edge of the pool and reminders came to mind about voices and signs throughout my lifetime saying ‘Do Not Dive’ or ‘No Diving’ or ‘No Diving from edge of pool’ … those ‘rules’ were so embedded in my head that, at that moment in time, I had not dove from the edge of a pool since I left my former hometown of North Bend – where there were no such rules and where I dove all the time, from the edge of the pool, on the deep end and the shallow end, as well as from the sides and tip of the diving board. It was bold and dangerous, yes, but I LOVED diving.

So there I was, Hallowe’en Night, all alone at the edge of the Diving Pool, hearing those warnings, looking around and seeing nobody … I lifted my arms ever so high above my head,  rocked back and forth on my tippy toes and blasted myself into a gigantic stretched position, like a speeding bullet, skimming the surface of the extra warm water. As soon as I hit, I realized that I was not breaking any rules – this was the Dive Pool. The Dive Pool is where people dive! You don’t have to be on a board to dive; you can dive from anywhere around that pool. For the past two years, I have been a regular swimmer in the lanes of the Dive Pool and never once, until last night, have a dove into that water. I LOVE to dive and now this 55 year old body will be doing just that each and every future time I enter that wonderful pool!

Meaningful Family Days

I am embarking on a different sort of summer vacation – a small one to the depths of Cariboo country in the Lakes District near 100 Mile House in central British Columbia. I am a little leery about this adventure as it will be void of shopping options, paved roads, TV, phone, radio and Internet – not only that, but the cabin does not include a toilet.  This is just a little too rustic for me and that is why I have avoided this annual family time for three years now. I am putting aside my personal reservations and just giving it my best effort.

 

Family is important and family time is very important. We are in this together and I will turn a blind eye to my fear of encountering wildlife, as well as my discomfort about washroom options and the inability to not only communicate verbally, but to communicate at all with the outside world for three days.

 

I know all of those inhibitions will be non-issues once I get unpacked, sit back and relax in my reclining lawn chair with a fresh cold apple cider in hand. I can also think of the glory of riding in a new motorboat around Sulphurous Lake, and being the spotter for the tubers and water-skiers in tow. I know I won’t do those activities because falling in the middle of a lake, even just the thought of falling in, gives me an instant stress headache. I have packed the Tylenol just in case.

 

I set out on my journey very early Saturday morning and take the long country highway to Mission, cross over the mighty Fraser River and link on to the Trans Canada Highway. Driving east to Hope, I stop at the Blue Moose Café where I buy a delicious café mocha and a freshly made ham and cheese sandwich for the road. It is a trendy place and unique to Hope – a basic town with all the amenities for travellers of all kinds.  I always have a chat with the barista to find out if he knows a certain person or a family with whom I might have past links from my childhood days of living in a hamlet about 40 minutes away. Not many people have heard of North Bend, but people in Hope know exactly where it is and many have actually been there too!

 

When I arrive in Hope, I can’t help but notice the traffic. It is a junction point – the place where the Hope-Princeton and Trans Canada meet, and it is the passage way to the Coquihalla Highway to Merritt and the Okanagan. The streets and sidewalks are very busy and there is something happening in the town’s main park – it is a vendors’ market and a chainsaw carving contest where 5 people, four men and one woman, are set up with large pieces of cedar logs, hurriedly carving out a gigantic and amazing piece of art. The scent of cedar is everywhere.

 

“Wow, this is a happening place!”

 

Alas, I have to move on, driving further north through the Yale, Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar, Alexandra, Hell’s Gate, Ferrabee and China Bar tunnels along the Fraser Canyon portion of the Trans Canada Highway, past Hell’s Gate, and stopping in Boston Bar. This is across the river from my former hometown of North Bend where I enjoyed living my childhood years. The grocery store, the only store in town, is open and I drop in to say hello and buy the Hope Standard newspaper and a lottery ticket.

 

Just past Boston Bar, suddenly traffic comes to a halt. It’s either a rock slide or accident or road construction. As I get closer, I see five cars parked on the right meridian and some people standing outside looking across the road at a young bear. Its right paw is hanging over the cement barrier, its head hanging down parallel to its left front paw, unable to help itself over. It is crying helplessly and clearly in pain as I notice a trail of blood smeared from the roadway to the barrier. It had been hit and there it will likely die once the conservation officer arrives on scene.

 

“Poor thing,” I say just before driving on and ‘I wonder where its family is?”

 

It will likely be shot as we generally don’t know how to mend a broken bear.

 

I am making good time on this trip. My next stop is the King of the Hill fruit stand just before Spence’s Bridge. I always seem to stop there and buy something. This time I buy the tree- ripened peaches. When I come back I will buy other things.

 

Two hours later I arrive at the Lake. The family is waiting for me and welcoming me with open arms. The cider is cold; the chair is set up; the sun is shining. It is late afternoon.  Half the gang leaves to prepare for dinner – preparations take a long time in rustic settings where all the usual amenities may not be available. I stay behind to talk with others and to get started at reading my Canadian Living magazine. I don’t get a lot of leisure time in my busy work life, so reading a magazine is always a joy. When I am finished, I will pass it on so others can have that added pleasure as part of their days as well.

 

We drive in my car down the road to my sister’s log house. Supper is Shepherd’s Pie – a very nice hot meal coupled with a slice of the homemade blueberry pie I brought along. My pies are well-known for their especially flaky crust – it is a recipe a Grey Nun in Montreal brought to my attention about 30 years ago. I call it my never fail pastry recipe and I think the secret is in what you do with the egg.

 

Night falls early in the forest. My mom and I are sharing a two bedroom cabin in a Resort down the road from the log house where the rest of the family is staying. We are all lakeside and both locations are great, except, my location lacks an in-house bathroom. There is a separate cabin down the way with 2 regular flushing toilets and a shower stall. This may sound fine except when you think about it, it is not all that fine when you gotta go in the middle of the night! There is no way I would wander outside amongst the nocturnal population in the forest in the middle of the night!

 

My mom, bless her heart, brought along the solution – a bucket. Well that did not really appease me because I don’t have a lot of squatting experience as I like to settle my bum on a toilet seat. I generally don’t need to go to the washroom at night as long as I go just before bed. Of course, I do that and my mind can’t get off the track of thinking about ‘what if’ I do have to go and then, the thought of hearing my mom pee in her bucket would make my mind go in overdrive thinking about my bladder and I would be in a predicament.

 

Sure enough, I am awakened in the middle of the night to sound of my mom urinating. She does it quietly but, in the still of the night, no movement is silent. I hear her and instantly my mind starts imagining and thinking about how urine is created and how much there is in my bladder and can I wait until morning. I can wait; I can wait; no, you can’t; no, you can’t. The inner battle continues until finally I give in. I slide my body out of bed, reach for the pail, situate it, squat and let go. I hear it descend and land, and then I feel moisture around my feet. I must not be aiming right or the track has sprung a leak and is spraying off course. Oh gawd, how do I deal with this; the floor is wet and I can smell it. I can’t sleep with the smell of urine at my nose.

 

I get completely out of the room, open the cabin door to the veranda where there is a mop. My mom jumps out of her room and freaks out wondering what on earth is happening and why. I explain to her the dilemma and she does her best to not laugh, but helps out. The situation is dealt with and we both go back to bed, laughing. I really don’t find it funny and start worrying about the next night. I listen to the loons on the lake and fall back to sleep until day break.

 

I can see it is going to be a bright sunny day, as I set up the chaises with a table between, and enjoy my glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a buttered cheese scone. Oh yes, and my Hope Standard newspaper. Mom joins me with her coffee in hand and her bowl of oatmeal. She eats oatmeal every morning no matter where she is. She tells me she is going to make us cinnamon raisin French toast for lunch, and my mouth is already drooling.

 

We talk a bit about my work and the political situation in our province. We talk about my new car and things I need to fix in my home. We talk about my Plan B for the future and my passion to learn more about my place of birth – Rotterdam, South Holland in The Netherlands. I tell her something she knows all too well, but refuses to accommodate – there is no place called Holland. In the 1800s and some of the 1900s a large part of The Netherlands was called Holland, but not in the 20th and 21st centuries so using that word is actually wrong. I also recite the names of the 11 out of the 12 provinces that I have come to know. I always seem to forget the one called Overijsel. I am teaching myself all of this important stuff as I feel it is important to know about your birth place – its geography, its history, its culture and its language. I tell my mom this will be my hobby for the next many years. She kind of understands, but not really.

 

After lunch we walk to the log house where the rest of the family is waiting for us at the dock. We are going tubing and sightseeing around the lake. It is a glorious day. The sun is shining and water is calm. Nobody else seems to be out this afternoon, giving us a lot of space. I slap on the suntan lotion, sit back and relax. It is hard to relax as my mind remembered that driving back to the cabin last night an indicator light was on in the car. I checked the manual and it related to tire pressure. I checked the pressure and three tires were fine and one was not. I needed to have this problem tended to, but we are in the middle of a forest where the closest town is 30 minutes away and may not have an air pump. This kind of thing worries me, but I did not want it to bother my family so I kept it to myself for as long as possible. Needless to say, I needed to bring it up since I could not solve the problem on my own.

 

My brother in law tells me the owner of the Resort has an air compressor and that he likes to work on cars. I decide to ask the man for his help when he returns from work later in the day. My mind is at peace once again, for now.

 

The boat ride expedition is over so we walk back to the Resort. Dave is home from work so I ask him to help solve my worries. I drive the car to his workshop; he sets up the compressor; adds air; checks the pressure and then asks me to inch the car forward five inches at a time so he can examine the tire. He has a magnifying glass in hand. She spots something and calls me over. With a bit of water on a rag, he blots a spot and asks if I see the air bubbles. I do. He thinks I have been losing air for at least a month or two, so it is a very slow leak. He adds more air so I need not worry about a flat en route home tomorrow. He is a life saver! I ask him to put a chalk mark on the backside of the tire so in case I need to direct the mechanic to the hole, I can do so with ease. I am really not sure why my brain would recommend me to ask such a thing, but I did.

 

The next day, I merrily go home the same route as I came. I stop at the King of the Hill and buy a huge box of apples for two dollars. They are seconds – normally fed to horses apparently, but good enough for my baking projects and apple sauce. The apples are Akonas – red, firm and delicious, and fabulous for apple sauce. I also buy a jar of fresh local honey and two bulbs of garlic.

 

Next stop, Hope and back to The Blue Moose for another delicious mocha. It is now nearly noon and I am making good time. I find the traffic rather busy and wonder who all those people are on a Monday. It is good for our economy so I won’t complain. We need more tax revenue to pay for all the things that make British Columbia so beautiful and wonderful and fabulous.

 

As soon as I get home, I call Toyota to get my car in to address the slow leak issue. They take me for 2:30. They have free WiFi so I bring my IPAD and use the time to tend to emails and word games. Fifteen minutes in, the supervisor calls me over and asks me to follow him to my car. They can’t find a hole and he asks if I am sure it is that tire. I am astounded. Two men in a car repair shop can’t find a hole in my tire, whereas a man with a car hobby in the middle of the forest has no problem finding it.  Plus, now me, a woman is standing in a brand name car repair shop about to show these two men where the hole is. I point right to it, ask the guy to bring over the water, and voila! – air bubbles! The mechanic was clearly embarrassed, as was the Supervisor.

 

As I walk back to the waiting room, I turn to the guys and say you should be paying me! In the waiting room, I tell the receptionist that I found the hole. Can you believe me, a woman, I found the hole! I can now add something more to my résumé!

 

I sit down and say to myself. This is too weird. I am in a Toyota Dealership, the place where I bought the vehicle only a year ago, and I am telling them information they should have found themselves. Is this a place to which I would bring my car for future repairs?

 

I remain calm and decide it would be an experience that would enhance a future story line and social conversation in the days ahead. Upon presentation of the bill, the Supervisor points out that my work order was given a complimentary wash and vacuuming, and ten percent off the quoted price since I found the hole. I smile and say thank you very much, but I am still feeling like the whole job should have been complimentary. I really am perplexed, but I guess even car dealerships are desperate for income.

 

So these past few days have been a series of interesting experiences – a pleasure to live through and a pleasure to share. The slower pace reminds me that every day is actually a series of stories and my mind goes through them at day’s end, as I enter into a dream state and imagine them as they were and then they grow into something so much more as I drift off for seven good hours of rest, readying myself to face whatever the next day brings.

Tasting Victoria

I bit the bullet on July 19, 2012 and actually paid $80 to attend a special wine and food tasting event called TASTE VICTORIA – a Festival of Food and Wine, featuring special recipes, special wines as well as food and wine pairing as a labour of love. It was dubbed a trade event – I think for me it was trade in the sense of trading feedback with my date – he drank whatever I drank and ate whatever I ate, and we traded our thoughts and feelings as we went from station to station to station on the first level and second level of the converted Victoria Crystal Gardens.

 

We were greeted by two very welcoming people who handed us an event booklet and our wine glass for the evening, and John gave us a bit of an overview of what was to come. He reminded us, as if we were regulars to such events, that once we receive our wine or food sample, we are to step back from the table to allow for others to come forward. He said spitting and dumping is encouraged, although I knew I would not do that, and, of course, he reminded us to not drink and drive. It was time for us to move on to station one: Averill Creek Vineyard featuring their Grigio, Gris, Prevost, Noir, Gewurztraminer and Cowichan Black. They are a Cowichan Valley Pinot Noir specialist and the sample was delightful.  We skipped over the next four wine stations in search for some Syrah or Shiraz – found some at station seventeen – Mission Hill Family Estate. The 2009 Reserve was remarkable, especially after eating the Salt Spring Island cheese and crackers across the way. Interestingly, the food stations were not identified in the program booklet John handed to us.

 

From there we moved to Enrico Winery, to Forbidden Fruit and on to Blasted Church and then to a remarkable new discovery of a Blackberry wine called Blackberry Mead – nice scent, great body and it went down smoothly and happily. It is a Coastal Black Estate Winery product and they are located near Comox, British Columbia. It is a place I will visit the next time I am out that way, and I will definitely look for their Blackberry Sparkling at a specialty wine shop locally, as that would be a great hot-weather thirst quenching drink prior to a salmon barbecue on someone’s outdoor patio at Foskett House B and B – hint hint!

 

While we took a break on the second level of the showroom, we looked over the banister to see if there were other people we knew there that night. Ironically, my eyes spotted the former husband of someone with whom I went to high school. After graduation, we went our separate ways but reunited thirty years later in Victoria. It was a very sad time for her, a very difficult time, as a failed marriage is very hard to take and particularly hard to admit to oneself and the outside world. She took it very hard and the timing of our getting together could not have been better.

 

I had never met the man, but knew about him through the eyes of one person at a personal level and I found out a bit about him at a professional level in a quasi work-related way. My early recollection was that I would never talk to the guy as my impression was that he literally broke someone’s heart, and left her feeling like that poor Bullwinkle caricature who fell from the highest cliff, smacked down, face embedded into the ground, and very alone.

 

As you will recall, Bullwinkle always found the strength to get up and meet the challenges ahead. My friend has shown similar strengths, I am pleased to say. After attempting to successfully jump a few hurdles over and again, despite some setbacks, she has become the phoenix – the blackbird who has risen from the ashes, and closed the books on the failed marriage, a tough separation and long drawn divorce proceedings. She stands proud on her own two feet and is slowly, but surely, realizing that her original self is there inside of her, calling out to her, supporting her and encouraging her to embrace and celebrate the many options at her disposal. Alas, I digress.

 

Back at the wine and food fest, looking down over the banister, I saw the guy wandering around with his son. I felt my blood pressure increase and sweat formed at my brow. I gave my date a bit of background.  Oh my, what do I do if our paths cross? It was inevitable that would happen and sure enough it did. I had met him once before at another work-related event, but it was only a quick introduction and handshake – at least that is all it was for me. I had met his son many times before since I was, and still am, his mother’s best friend.

 

Lo and behold, the man remembered me and was happy to see me there. I was somewhat reserved but, politely acknowledged him, congratulated him on his recent promotion and introduced him to my date.  They exchanged words on a business level as they had something specific in common. I was relieved and thanked my date later for taking control of that scene. I basically stood there, pretended I was interested, and was glad to move on. When it comes to divorce, it is very hard to establish or retain good relations with both parties, and although he comes across as being a pleasant enough guy, I won’t be accepting any personal invitations from him no matter what the circumstances.

 

We said our farewells and moved on to a group of food kiosks – pulled pork, smoked salmon, prawns, lamb, grilled cheese, blueberries, desserts. I broke the rules about only sampling one item from each presenter as the prawns, pulled pork and salmon were just too good. The desserts were fantastic too, but I find it easy to not take seconds of those as all I think about is how they seem to find comfort in my thighs and stomach far too quickly and stay there far too long!

 

This truly was a fabulous tasting event and an interesting evening. It required me to be bold by trying new things and enduring a bit of awkwardness, and not regretting doing so. I even ate something that had blue cheese in it and that is a step forward beyond belief!

 

The event was very well attended and very well organized – the latter being the clincher for me as anything less than organized usually results in relentless rancour. No rancour will come from me in the days ahead;  I was amazed, awestruck and energized from start to finish and beyond.

 

If you ever have a chance to give up an evening for some fun, adventure and surprises, give a local Wine Fest or Food Fest or a Wine and Food Fest a try. The organizing of such events is a labour of love and the presentations match that commitment. It did cost me eighty dollars, but the wine, food, information, entertainment, people and this story -- made it all worth it. 

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Amazing Aruba

 

The ABC Islands are located in the Caribbean Sea, almost as far south as you can go without hitting Venezuela. They are a part of the Netherlands Antilles and they belong to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  I don’t know much about the ‘B’ (Bonaire) or the ‘C’ (Curacao), but I sure know a lot about the ‘A’ (Aruba). It has become my retreat Island – a home away from home, and one heck of a happy place.

 

I am doing my annual trek, at least the travel part, on my own this year. My mom, sister and brother in law left Canada the week before me and my niece is arriving the day after me. The mish-mash relates to our work schedules and the use of points, but we are just so happy that we will be together for at least two weeks.

 

Before I get on with my diary, as a preamble I just want to say this is the very first time I arrive at Victoria International Airport with a clear mind – a mind free of work-related stresses and void of the evilness of last minute work orders that were impossible to complete before my departure. It is also the first-time I travel free of personal stresses relating to dying and crying people who have been down on their luck, afflicted with illnesses, borderline personality disorders, bankruptcy, prison sentences and legal battles. I finally see that their issues are not my issues, and this is my time to savour my good health, my good fortune and my good life! This vacation is all about me and for me, and with that in mind I look forward to celebrating the break – after all isn’t that what a vacation is supposed to be!

 

The trip starts off great. I arrive at the airport early, as always. I check the monitor and notice there are two earlier flights. I approach the counter and ask to be put on one of them so I can enjoy a nice dinner in Vancouver. The clerk obliges.  I get to Vancouver and I check the monitor and notice a similar option. I approach the counter and the clerk obliges. In Seattle, no such luck – there is only one flight to Newark (my next stop) and I am already booked on it.

 

The opportunity to stay at Seattle Airport for 5 hours sounds daunting, but I have done it before and knew I could do it again. They have free WiFi and I have my IPAD in hand. I pass the time checking and sending emails, and playing my word games electronically with others and myself. I stroll hallways, watch people, listen to people, check out the shops and then the eating options. It is a fabulous airport with lots to see and do. The time flies by as I reflect on the marvels of being able to go to a Caribbean Island for the twelfth time in my life; before I know it I am on the flight and ready to pull out my little red blow-up pillow. Getting an early start at snoozing helps to ensure I am not too overtired upon my arrival in Newark, giving me the right frame of mind to enjoy a freshly made breakfast of eggs and deep-fried potato cubes in the Food Court.

 

The flight to Aruba is 50 minutes late; I have no way of contacting my family so all I can do is hope they check the internet for an update on flight arrivals. Since I am a seasoned traveller, I know how to travel light so I never have any baggage to check-in. This saves a lot of time upon arrival, but it also gives me further peace of mind, as no longer will my baggage be a lost item or damaged, as has happened in the past, and my bag will never again be the last off the cart as it won’t ever again be on a cart. I just carry my bag on to the plane and wash my hands of any of that other stuff that has the power of creating disappointment, frustration and a lot of wasted time. I will be one happy passenger arriving at one happy Island.

 

I can’t seem to forget the trip to Italy about 5 years ago. My travel companion who was not a seasoned or experienced traveller, showed up at the airport with two HUGE suitcases bursting at the zippers and two smaller carry-ons, without a care or second thought about the problems this would cause for taxi, bus and train travelling, as well as getting from stations to hotels and back, as we travelled through Venice, Florence, Rome and the Cinque Terre. I hoped that my example of travelling with one carry-on and one smaller bag, would be helpful to her in future travels, but apparently carrying the kitchen sink with her is a habit she can’t shed! Alas, I digress so let’s get back to Aruba.

 

The family is at the Queen Beatrice International Airport in Oranjestad, Aruba. They patiently waited that extra 50 minutes in the very hot and humid airport arrivals corridor, happy to see me and my light load. We get into the rented car and drive along the main road and right away I notice the results of a concerted Island effort to clean up the uninhabited zone between the airport and the center of town. The streets are nicely paved, signs painted, boulevards cleared of vegetation waste and piles of discarded stuff. As we approach town, unfinished buildings have been finished and dilapidated ones removed. A new street market is up and running, a cruise ship was in the harbour, I see there is a Starbucks in the Renaissance Mall, traffic is running smoothly and before I knew it, we are at La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club – my five star home away from home for the next two weeks. It was 3 pm.

 

I unload my bags, get into my swimwear, slap on the #50 spf, and skirt off to the white sandy beach, where the crystal clear turquoise water awaits.  I set up my chairs – one in the direct sun and one in the shade for me, and other chairs all around for my guests who would come down later with the cold watermelon for an afternoon snack. The water is so fresh, soft and warm as I lay stretched out with my little red pillow in my arms; my legs kick me along at a slow and easy pace, the full length of the property. This is definitely heaven today, tomorrow and for the next 13 days.

 

I got the usual heat stroke by day’s end as my system is usually in shock on day one. I try to curtail that each time I come; this time I did better than last, but next time will even be better. I think the trick might be to drink a lot of water and to sit in the shade more than the sun. I tend to get a little over eager to get that tanning process going, since two weeks is never enough time. Next year I plan to go for three weeks so I am sure it will all work out.

 

Some aspects of my time here are pretty routine; every morning I jump out of bed at around 7 and I go to the gym for a 30 minute workout. The gym is on the property, but I take the long way around so I can say hello to the early bird pool deck staff and guests who all seem to be real socialites and love to chat. I enjoy those encounters as the personalities are diverse and their understanding about Canada is quite perplexing. Sometimes a five minute visit is about all I can take and still stay polite.  I don’t strain myself with any of the exercises; as soon as I feel a sweat, I go to another machine. I usually focus on exercises to downsize my hips and tummy, although two weeks is hardly enough to make much of a difference. Every move matters!

 

The other part of ‘routine’ is that after the gym, I meet everyone on the beach where my mom has gone earlier to reserve two huts and she arranges with the beach boys to have enough lounge and sitting chairs set up for the gang.  I generally stay at the beach all day until maybe 3 pm, with a mid-day break to the condo where I get some time-out, eat lunch and maybe watch a bit of the Young and The Restless.  The rest of the family leaves the beach at around noon and hangs out at the pool deck. The evenings we usually go on an excursion into town or to an area called the High Rises – that is where you will find the Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Riu and other big name hotels, along with interesting boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and casinos. Oh, there is a Starbucks in that area now too and that excites me as I LOVE mocha frappicinos, especially on hot days and every day in Aruba is HOT.

 

This being a timeshare resort, every year we are on site for what is called weeks 23 and 24 or 24 and 25. We own 3 weeks, but only stay for 2. The neat thing about timeshares is that the same people are there with you each year. I have made friends with many over the years and being together in Aruba is like a family reunion.  Most of them are from the USA so I get to learn about the similarities and differences of people from various States. Some of the people from New York tend to be rushed, loud, impatient and abrupt; some of the people from New Jersey know what those people from New York are like and work hard to not be like them.

 

Maxine is an interesting lady from New Jersey; she used to live and work in New York. She does know the difference.  She is laid back, quiet and calm. She has no time for bitching and complaining types; she shies away from loud and annoying people, and she definitely loves to party with the many New Yorkers and Bostonites she has met at La Cabana over the years. She is one of those people who is naturally rich from the inside out – she smiles from the heart and walks the talk of an honest, caring and loving personality. Sometimes her daughter comes down with her for one week. Maxine is a three-weeker and does not know how to swim; she does, however, go into the sea with others and always holds on to her noodle.

 

Marsha and Arnie are also from New Jersey – a quiet and lovely couple who love to read. They are almost always on the pool deck, in the quiet area, reading from hardcopy or the Kindles. They always wear hats to keep the sun off their heads, even in the water. They always sit in the shade. Marsha likes to play bingo and Arnie doesn’t so once in a while I will come up from the beach and join Marsha for a bingo session at 2 pm; we play 4 games for $2 and the prizes are all quite good. We don’t win often, but Marsha has better luck than me! Marsha and Arnie used to go to the gym every morning at the same time as me, but over the years that has dwindled. I think Arnie was there 3 times when I was there this trip, and Marsha only came once. Working out is really not a lot of fun and if you are not interested, you are just not interested. I am really not all that interested, but I just keep telling myself it is good for me and only for 2 weeks.

 

Sue and Rick are from Markham, Ontario, Canada. She is a former social worker and he is a scientist who discovers vaccines.  She has major struggles with packing so tends to pack a lot of stuff, just in case she might be in need of something specific like a garlic press. They have found a great deal on WestJet from Toronto … $200 each way plus her extra costs for baggage. That is a fabulous fare but, unfortunately, I live $800 away from Toronto so that deal does not apply to me! I do still manage to get to Aruba at under $1000 return, without overnights, and it is worth every hour it takes.

 

As timeshare owners, we go to an Owners’ Meeting on Wednesday mornings at 10:00. It includes a continental breakfast with baked goods to die for and freshly squeezed juices, along with the usual coffee, tea and water.  The management goes through the news of the site, updates us on plans and issues, and gives us opportunities to ask questions.  I enjoy the opportunity to learn and listen, but I especially enjoy sitting in anticipation to find out if I win a prize for showing up. The prizes are amazing … meals in the great restaurants on site or free products or discounts on products from the high end shops like Aloe Aruba and a jewellery place. Sometimes they give out free bingo cards or art work or La Cabana tee-shirts. This time I won $25 for a meal on site in the fabulous Las Ramblas restaurant that overlooks the sea, giving you a bird’s eye view of the sun setting and a menu that can please any palate. The food is cooked outdoors on the outdoor grills and barbecues, nicely hidden from sight.  I had the Surf and Turf which was a nicely BBQed filet mignon, with 3 skewers of local prawns and scallops marinated in garlic butter and herbs. Mom had the local fish – Grouper – coated in a nice crushed almond crust. Both meals included mashed potatoes and a selection of fresh vegetables.  If you eat later in the evening, the atmosphere includes lovely and live instrumental music.

 

One other night we went out for dinner with Rick and Sue. We intended to go to a place down the street called The Tulip. Unfortunately it was closed so the next best choice was on that same street – the Chalet Suisse, built by a German who loved Switzerland and dreamed of opening a restaurant on the island of Aruba. Its design is much like you would see in the Alps, which is odd for a spot near the equator, but it is a place enjoyed by many year after year.

 

Luckily we were there in time for the early bird special – three courses for one price. Most of us ordered the Caesar salad as a starter. Mom ordered the soup of the day. The Maitr’d had said it is chicken vegetable. When she ordered it, the waiter articulated Iguana Vegetable. All of us heard it and laughed a bit in disbelief; my mom is hard of hearing so she did not hear what he said. When it was served, the waiter said Iguana Vegetable for Madam. Again mom did not hear, but said thank you. The rest of us looked at each other and at the straight-faced waiter, and said nothing.

 

All the meals were excellent; most of us chose schnitzel – a huge slab, beautifully presented with mashed potatoes and mixed fresh vegetables. My brother-in-law chose royal sirloin. Desserts were either apple strudel or red kisses – hot raspberries on vanilla ice cream.

 

Later that night, I asked mom how she liked the soup. She said it was delicious. The chicken was so nice and soft and tender!

 

Our Resort also has a pizza restaurant where you can get individual pizzas for $7.11 less the Owners’ discount. It is a great quick and easy pick-up, and something I enjoy doing at least once a week. I did it with my niece Andrea once and with myself once, and both times on the beach. It is a real treat and a real delight.

 

We tend to go grocery shopping once a week and get a good selection of various foods for breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as snacks.  While browsing from aisle to aisle in the Certified Foods Mega Mall store, I spotted something I had not seen in over 30 years – Malaga port wine. It is something I experienced in Holland when it was served on ice cream. It was a taste I never forgot and eventually you could buy it in Canada at a specialty liquor store. Then, suddenly, the liquor store stopped getting it and I never did see it again until now. There it was in a small half litre sized bottle – crying out to me! I had to stop and look twice to believe my eyes. The price was $5 US and I instantly wished I could buy a crate of it and ship it back home! I settled for the one bottle and immensely enjoyed a bit of it each day until the last drop. I soaked the bottle in hot water to salvage the label as a lasting memory.

 

The International Film Fest is on during our time on the Island. I have seen Kim Cattrell and that man who was in Pretty Women, Richard Gere, in the past. This time it is Marc Anthony but, unfortunately, our eyes did not meet. He was on the Island for a concert in downtown and could not make an appearance at the red carpet in the area of the High Rises. We did see a lot of people walk the red carpet; the locals seemed to know who they were and there was a lot of clapping and cheers, so it was just nice to be there watching people appreciate their opportunity to be within a stone’s throw of someone who made it to the big screens. The feature film when we were there was The Children of The Wind – filmed in Bonaire where windsurfing is huge and the story focuses on 3 youth who have turned their lives around with the sport they love most. The whole cast and crew walked the red carpet and you could see the pride in their looks, their walk and their clothing. It was a special night for all.

 

Every visit to Aruba is special to me. Having four members of my family with me made it extra special for me this year. We all love the place and we all look forward to the next year. For me, next year will be a three week visit and years after that it may well be three months!

 

Confined Tricks

May is a special birthday month for Mabelene [Mabel] Rimmell who was born in 1956, and who would now be turning 56.

 

She was the second born in Vancouver to two loving parents, and soon became a middle child and then a typical middle child stuck between an aspiring upcoming scientist and an average kind of guy. At an early age, she strove to soar like an arrow from a bow to beat the odds and do better than both her elder and younger brothers, and everyone around her. It was an uphill battle, but she strategized and focused, and carried those skills and her determination with her everywhere.

 

Her early schooling began in the isolated community of Haney, at West Waterfall Elementary, a few blocks from home. Each morning she would be up, bright and early, to get ready for school. The bed had to be made, the curtains opened and the body fed. On went the frilly white bobby socks and crinoline multi-coloured skirt, with a well-starched, perfectly ironed blouse and patent shiny leather shoes. With the long black crinkly hair in either a French braid or piggy tails, off she would go alone down the hill, around the corner and along the street – same route each day going directly to school and coming directly home.

 

During her spare time, after school, after doing her homework, she would dress and undress her dolls -- indoors on bleak days and out on the back lawn on better days, just her and her dolls, along with her favourite teddy bear and her imaginary friend named Yo Yo watching from the sidelines. They were her friends – her only friends. Nobody seemed to mind.

 

After grade seven, students in that neighbourhood transferred to Willingdon Junior High, a school with a very bad and scary reputation of the drug kind. It was the late 1960s. Mabel’s approach was to stand above all of that tainted image, arrive at school at five minutes to the starting hour, go directly to her classes, hide out in a classroom every lunch hour to do her homework, eat her lunch and read her book. At the sound of the afternoon bell, she’d speed off to her locker, grab her coat and run out the side door, down the pathway to the back roads leading her home.

 

Once home, she’d eat the cookie and drink the milk her stay-at-home, wheelchaired mom had placed on the kitchen nook table, before heading to her shared bedroom to get on with her homework until dinner time. She’d help with the dishes and one other chore, and back again to her bedroom, to work on her school assignments or to play with her dolls. The phone never rang for her; the doorbell never chimed for her. She was alone; all alone.

 

The three years at Willingdon Heights led to two more years at Haney Central Collegiate – a fair distance from home, requiring another extended bus ride with a transfer. This was Mabel’s branching out period where she was determined to be more like the others. She joined the drama club and became an instant star in two high school musicals. If her parents could not drive her to and from the rehearsals or performances, she would take her bicycle. She had found a new niche and loved performing, loved acting and make-up. It exposed a voice, a body, a personality that few, if any, had ever yet experienced. She practiced being a new person with a new beginning. But, it might have been a little too much, too late as people were not warming up to her – still no phone calls and still no doorbells chiming.

 

After graduation, it was off to Paragon University – not very far away from home, but far enough to wish she had an apartment closer to campus. An hour to and an hour from the campus each weekday, and sometimes to study on weekends, took its toll in year one. Mabel took a big step and lived in a basement suite nearby.

 

To pay the rent, she assumed a new persona: Candy Cai and worked the strip bar circuit in the Downtown Eastside where she was sure nobody would notice her. It was her secret; her secret life; another performing art and a great opportunity to dress up just like her childhood dolls. But, the secret did not last – someone spotted her as a former high school classmate placed a twenty into her thong. She was mortified, but did not quit. She needed the money and those hours fit into her schedule. She studied by day and worked the circuit by night. On weekends, she would study in her basement suite or at the university library, alone, all alone.

 

Soon, word got out about her pastime and that did nothing to help her hone friendships. Few even so much as said hello to her as their paths crossed the same hallways day after day. For team projects, the professor assigned her a group. The team players never asked her for her insight and left her with the grunge jobs which she took in stride because passing the course was job one.

 

Mabel was lonely and all alone for most of those university years, until in year four her eyes caught the attention of someone who winked at her and asked if he could sit at her table in the student cafeteria. There were no other options for him at the time, so he sat there and they began to talk. He was a first year law student and, although he could not stop talking about himself, she suggested they meet again, the same place, same time, the next day. Tom showed up and that led to a movie date, a warm and passionate goodnight kiss and an invite to spend the night – all in the span of ten days. It was her first date, her first kiss and the end of her innocence.

 

With all the talk about law school, moot courts and precedent-setting case work, Mabel was inspired enough to take the LSAT – the official entrance exam for prospective law school students. She studied and studied, alone and with Tom, for hundreds of hours before test day.

 

The extra efforts, which always came naturally for her, paid off and she just made enough to reach the lower limit for acceptance at Paragon U Law School.

 

That summer, Tom’s dark side began to show and he became verbally and physically abusive. It took a near knock-out punch to get Mabel to walk away – she walked away from him, but not her pursuit of a law degree and career. The School of Law was big enough for her to avoid any interactions with Tom who was a year ahead of her.

 

Mabel again needed to make some quick money so she got back into her secret life for a while – just long enough to build a pot of money to sustain her expenses for that first year. It only took her seven weeks of day and night shifts on the circuit which now included poll dancing and lap services. She and that pole were so very good together and the men would come, and some women, from far and wide to see her special show. Enough was made by the end of August and she was ready to roll for a year of Law School.

 

During orientation, she met Edgar – a young, shy Iranian; a settled refugee, new to the Campus. He asked her for directions to the used book store and she offered to walk him there. It wasn’t a long walk, but long enough to exchange pleasantries and to suggest they meet again later that day in the Campus Pub. They both arrived at the same time and Mabel felt like she had just fallen in love. They dated for a month, studied together, went to classes together, argued cases together and then, they slept together.

 

Except for class time, the two were clung to each other’s hips; inseparable. They were together in the hallway, in the library, the cafeteria and in the classroom. He sat to her left and she sat to his right. He walked on her left and she walked on his right. In bed, he was on top; she was beneath. It was routine; all routine and never anything out of place or out of the ordinary -- structured and sequential, neat and tidy, all day and all night. Everything in place.

 

When Edgar went to visit family in the province next door, Candy Cai would do a quick round of pole dancing and stripping gigs around town to generate a lot of extra income. He had no idea she was slipping into her other persona, in and out of her secret life.

 

In their fourth and final year, Edgar decided to do his Articling in a remote town 500 miles away. He needed to focus and felt the distance would make that easier. Candy Mabel understood completely and she was especially secure about this plan as he proposed to her and set a wedding date before he left.

 

For an entire year, they rarely saw each other, and phone and internet reception was difficult. They both kept busy and Mabel was especially busy with her Articling year, making money secretly and making wedding plans on her own at the same time. He gave her free reign and basically stepped right back from the entire process, including the payments of related expenses. She did not mind; she was in love, in love, in love. Edgar showed up the day before the wedding date, played his part and that was it – they were married August 1987.

 

Mabel did not complete her Articling requirements, but her grades were sufficient to become a Notary Public. Once the paperwork was complete, she and Edgar looked into opening up their own law firm, a small one, just the two of them, in a small community west of Hope.

 

No sooner had they put up the awnings and hung their shingle, Mabel realized she was pregnant. She kept that secret for a while as the timing was bad, really bad. She needed time to figure out how it could all work.

 

Change is not always easy and sometimes it happens at just the wrong time.

 

Eventually it came out; they discussed it and the decision was for Mabel to work until drop day, become a stay-at-home mom for six months and then return to fulltime work at the practice.

 

It did not quite work out that way as the business was suffering with just Edgar at the helm. Mabel needed to come back to help out earlier than planned, with one baby in tow and number two on its way. The performing pages of her life were now turning much more quickly than ever, leaving her head spinning faster than her body ever could around those poles.

 

Many a day would come and go, over the next twenty years, where she was contemplating getting off the spinning wheel. Things got so very bad that she had to be put on medication for life and occasionally institutionalized for brief periods for her own protection. She felt so alone, and was so alone ... no dolls to help, no teddy bear to help and her secret friend, Yo Yo, was so far gone, she did not know where to begin to find him again. Nobody dropped by to replace him. The phone was still not ringing nor the door bell chiming. The husband was too busy. The children were too busy and Mabel did not have it in her to draw her parents into her turmoil, her personal struggle, feeling they would not be understanding and helpful.

 

Lost and alone, yet again; but, her life did not actually end there. The business ended; the marriage ended; the parenting ended.

 

But, a brand new personal opportunity, a new beginning was presented to her, something nobody could figure out, nobody could understand, nobody wanted to ask about; and, she was completely okay with that; completely okay with being alone, all alone, trapped within a secret world, a secret life,  shrouded with secret fun, secret gifts, phone calls and visits at all hours of the days and nights, secret laughter and smiles – a new life, not really all that different from before: alone, all alone, void of real happiness, self-esteem and self-respect. Alone, so very much alone and yet, she went on believing she had found happiness and a purpose for her life, until it all came to a sudden halt – the two of them were outed, and that curtain fell with a huge bang including legal action, estrangement from the children, some family and some friends, as well as embarrassment, anger, disappointment, shock and dismay across the board.

 

Mabel’s heart finally gave up in March 2010 at the young age of nearly 54; her curtain fell one last time.  She died alone and her cremated body was poured into an urn shaped like a Yo Yo, as per her written wishes filed only weeks before her self-imposed passing.

 

The unique urn was placed at the foot of a special pole, a white shiny pole, erected inside the special memorial building of Haney’s oldest cemetary – Saint Patrick’s Garden of Peace. The string was affixed to the top of the pole as the Yo Yo urn hung lifeless five feet down;  no more spinning, no more pulling, no more cradles, no more tricks and, best of all for Mabel -- no longer alone nor abandoned: Yo Yo and his Mabelene Rimmell immortalized and notarized, forever together.

 

A secret person, a secret life, put to rest in character as her final act.

 

May she rest in peace.

My Time in Burnaby Schools

I am a proud product of the Burnaby School System. As a former student of Chaffey-Burke Elementary, Moscrop Junior High and Burnaby Central, I am pleased to share with you some of my fondest memories of my time in these Burnaby schools.

 

It was in elementary school [1968] that I learned how to sing: doe, ray, me and la la la la la. In Grade Seven, the choice was to either take music theory or join the choir. Since I had no interest in reading notes or playing an instrument, the choice was easy for me and I have no regrets. I loved to sing then and I love to sing now. In fact, some would say I have sung myself through life and I would not disagree with them. I owe a lot of my happiness to the experience of the joy of singing!

 

Going to Moscrop – that big and scary high school, in 1969, was a bit nerve-racking on that first day. For some reason, school started at ten a.m. that day, but I was anxious and eager to get there so I arrived at 8. I waited and wondered why nobody was there at that time, not even the teachers. I sat on the hillside above the parking lot and waited some more. Finally I saw people arriving, young people, all dressed in brand new beautiful outfits. I looked down at what I was wearing, nothing new, just my same old pink jeans and a tee shirt that said nothing. That tee shirt may not have said anything, but the outfit sure did – I was not ready for the first day of school!

 

I could hardly wait for the day to end so I could run home and forget about it all. A neighbour stopped me and saw me cry. She sat me down in her kitchen, served me some hot chocolate and a slice of a cake that had several layers. She explained to me that those new outfits would all be old in a week, and I would meet some of the nicest people. Somehow that statement stuck with me and I made it through the week and the next one too, and started to make friends. All of their clothes were now old, just like mine, and none of that mattered anymore. We shared some of the same classes, joined the same sports teams and decided if we wanted to be cool or studious! I wanted to be cool and studious, but it took me a while to get that part just right. I played the cool role throughout junior high, and only got mediocre marks as a result. I knew it did not matter much at that level, but also knew I would have to take a different approach in Grade 11. An IQ test we all had to take in that school cafeteria in Grade 10 confirmed that I had to change course, and take the learning part of schooling far more seriously.

 

My first and favourite French teacher, Diane Spraggs, took a liking to me early on and, unbeknownst to her, she became my mentor and my inspiration. I used to deliberately earn detention times in her class, just so I could talk to her at a different level and find out more about how to become a French teacher in a world where French was not encouraged or embraced because the guy who made French so special in Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was not well liked in our province. Nobody wanted to believe him that being proficient in two languages would make for a much better and enriched life all around. I set out to believe him and I am sure glad I did – I now sing happily in both English and French!

 

Burnaby Central Senior Secondary was a different school and in a different neighbourhood far removed from my home life. I had to be up at a certain time to catch a certain bus. I had to leave school within minutes of the bell to catch that same certain bus home. The distance was at least five miles so there was no way I could ever get a detention. The sad part of that was I could also no longer play badminton, volleyball or ping pong, except during intramurals at lunch time. I did not come from a family with two vehicles – my mom did not drive and my dad refused to be helpful in that regard.

 

As such, school became just school – just the scholarly part of school. Since I had not really applied my scholarly-ness in the past, the adjustment was difficult; but, after seeing that first Report Card – horror of horrors, shock of shocks, I changed gears, remembered that IQ test results, and put in my full potential.

 

I began to shine, but deliberately stayed under the radar in terms of making the Principal’s List or the Honour Roll. There was a stigma attached to being in that domain – those people were not cool; they were bookworms and library nerds; you would never catch them out at the back of the school at lunch, smoking or kissing or strategizing for the next incredible weekend party times that included alcohol and perhaps some other illicit activities! I was a watcher and, in those days, watchers were not ostracized. Cool people liked to have large followings so my just being there was cool!

 

I managed to get grades that were high enough for university entrance, and I was handed some lesser known grants, fellowships and bursaries on the side to help me pursue my dreams of making it in this world with a solid and proud career – a career that would enable me to continue to sing from within and feel the melody of a fine and wonderful life, as each day unfolds.

 

Thank you to the teachers, administrators and students at Chaffey-Burke, Moscrop and Burnaby Central for being a part of my life during those very important formative years. I am who I am today because of me, yes, but I could not have gotten here without you!

Lauderdale By The Sea

I was able to take a trip this January to a place I have never been. I went on my own, but was in the company of someone I met a number of years ago in Aruba. She lives on Long Island, but she has 12 weeks of timeshare time at The Windjammer at Lauderdale By The Sea. She suggested I come to check the place out – I am so very glad I did!

 

Lauderdale By The Sea is actually a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. It is located on its north arm and all of the land was donated to the community by the original owner centuries ago. The town has grown to be a quaint, delightful location along the windy shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The Windjammer is situated on that shoreline, with easy access to the beach – a beach that stretches for miles, far beyond what the eye can see to the north and to the south.

 

My days were filled with relaxation and adventure. I spent most of the time on the beach, despite the cloudy with sunny periods weather. The constant wind was a delight as I lay there on a most comfortable beach chair – a chair that included a head pillow that fit nicely into my neck nave. I could snooze, talk and read very easily, with my water bottle descended into the left side cup holder and my magazine accessible from the right side pocket. The sand was soft, warm and beige, and the seagulls were only a problem if you had food out in the open.

 

Leslie had Unit 17 and I had Unit 18. I had a nice view of the ocean and, at night, I particularly enjoyed the sounds of the waves and the wind. There was something especially peaceful about those sounds and it is those sounds that will draw me back to that place next year.

 

Leslie has been going there for something like 20 years so she has established a routine – she is a routine type of person. I like to set my own routine and I quickly learned that her routine was not my routine to be.

 

She starts her day in the morning with a cuppa joe. I don’t do joe – not straight joe, but I do enjoy the occasional mocha joe. She then prepares to tell the maid what needs to be done. I let the maid do her own thing and don’t mind telling her to do nothing at all. Leslie subsequently gets ready for a morning run through town. I don’t run.

 

I opened my days with an email check, shower and half a Florida-grown grapefruit that I would eat on the back balcony overlooking the vast ocean. After a bit of daydreaming and mental day planning, I would go back to my suite, gather my beach requirements and spend the first few hours of the day on the beach. I would stare, read, talk, then stare, read, and talk some more. For a bit of a break, at lunchtime I would go back to the room and make something good to eat, check emails and plan the afternoon. Beach or pool; beach or pool. Some days – beach; other days – pool.

 

By then Leslie will have been back from her village run and settled herself in her lawn chair at the south side pool. I would sometimes go down and join her, chat awhile, swim a bit, read a bit, snack a bit and then snooze a bit. She never joined me on the beach as she found the wind too wild and the temperature too chilled.

 

One afternoon I did take public transit to a great mall 21 minutes away. I got incredible bargains at Ross Dress For Less, Macy’s and Sears, but not Penney’s – they are changing their pricing system and it appears to be a system that will not succeed in bringing me closer. Clearance and Sale signs have to be visible from afar – if not, I won’t be drawn to the product. Sorry Penney’s, your new approach does not work for me.

 

 

While on the pool deck, we would discuss dinner plans as that was the only meal we experienced together. The meal, often made on site and eaten in either Unit 17 or 18, would be followed by a village walk and talk, and then a goodnight gesture, leaving me with the rest of the evening to reflect on the day, check emails, play word games, watch some CSI or NCIS or Law and Order, before laying my happy head onto the down-filled pillows to drift off into an eight hour sleep mode, enjoying the smile on my face and that all important smile within.

 

Lauderdale By The Sea is another piece of paradise. I do hear the wind and the waves beaconing and that will be my reminder that it is a place I plan to enjoy again, same time next year.

Reasoning with Respite

 

The future is very much on my mind these days – that is part of the reason I am on this solo New Year's weekend trip via catamaran from Victoria to Seattle. I needed to be away from familiar people, places and things – not because I don’t love or even like them. I just feel the need to step aside and enjoy a more low key, less stressful experience for one quick weekend.

 

I am something like 52, not completely sure unless I think about it a lot and figure it out. I know that sounds weird to some people who truly feel accuracy in age is very important. Those are the types that have been programmed early on about irrelevant things. I have never understood the relevance of knowing one’s exact age. I know the changing of hair colour matters to some – not to me. I know the exact weight gain or weight loss matters to some – not to me. I also know the sense of morality of others doesn’t seem to bother people – when moral behavior falls over the cliff, it definitely matters to me.

 

So what about the future? I have been house sitting for an ill friend who has been institutionalized 4 times in as many months. I love the house, the yard and the neighbourhood, and I especially love the bed that has been assigned to me. My head hits that fluffy feather and down pillow and falls asleep quickly, after a day of yard work, veranda, driveway and sidewalk sweeping and keeping the inside of the house clean and orderly. The window above my head is always slightly ajar allowing the fresh evening and morning air to envelope the room. The house gives me a sense of inner peace although the reasons for being there do not.

 

My sense of faith and optimism tells me I am meant to be there for now, at least until diagnosis’s are made and other options are considered. The house has become a chamber of bad decision making, bad behavior and if I think too hard I can feel haunted by the aftermath of extreme trauma, near death experiences and realizing that I have possibly been nothing but used and abused on many levels.

 

At a time of panic and fearing income loss, the house has been desperately put on the bad time to sell real estate market adding more fuel to the realm of the unknown. Perhaps she will be institutionalized for life in a state facility? If not, she will need a place to call home – one not tainted by past memories. The other home would not possibly be big enough to enable me to serve as live-in friend and guardian, and yet this is not the time to believe her being on her own is a very good idea. She is all over the map: scared, lost, hurt, broken, forlorn, lonely, impulsive and vulnerable.

 

Because of a marital meltdown, the happily ever after fantasy has shattered to pieces and there is no hope in hell of a resurrection.  That cloud had been hanging over her head for 4 years and for some reason she can’t get out from under it, perhaps because she is believing the ex will come crawling back and settle into the never yet used other half of the king sized bed that she retained from the marital home that long ago. It is so hard for a free spirit, lifelong happily single person like me to fathom almost all of this!

 

So this special journey over the Straits of Juan de Fuca is taking me away from all of that uncertainty and confusion – my respite for a weekend of endless shopping, fine dining and great sleeps on the heavenly beds of the Westin Hotel!

 

I arrive at 8:30 pm and jump in an assigned cab to the hotel. I immediately slip into my swim wear and enjoy doing many laps in the heated pool before enjoying some time in the hot tub. I have the place to myself and feel like God has something to do with it. He knows what I have been doing and he knows I needed this escape at this time in order to retain my sanity, to regroup my thoughts and to allow my mind to shed the blinders and prepare for worst-case scenarios, just in case. The soothing music in the background put me in the right head-space and with a small skip in my step, I wander back to the room, drop my robe and slip under the white down comforter and white 500 stitch Egyptian cotton sheets.

 

In the morning, the newspaper is delivered to my door with an incentive for room service. I eagerly check out the ads for the best sale deals in town and map out a plan – Macy’s first, followed by Ross Dress For Less, and over to Nordstrom Rack. Lunch will be at the trendy café around the corner, near Pike’s Place Market, where I will enjoy eggs benedict with salmon lox and spinach. Back to the hotel for a rest before heading to the shopping strip beyond Spring Street and then a juicy thick New York steak dinner at the Sheraton. Oh life is good!

 

Back in the hot tub, I try to reflect on options to living with her. I can’t live with her; she is difficult; obsessive compulsive; fussy; secretive. Wow, I was not able to say that yesterday, but here I am saying it today. I think despite her personal challenges unrelated to me, it is hard for her to see me for whom I have become – someone who rose from the ashes of a wild and crazy teenaged past; became intelligent, educated, employed, talented in the kitchen and in the written word, honoured and praised professionally, financially stable, organized, certain, confident, loving, honest and completely reliable.

 

My life is in cruise control and I will never apologize for that because it is the result of a lot of hard work and determination.  There are no silver spoons or sugar daddies in my life. My smile comes directly from my heart. I think she has a hard time with all of that and maybe it is her need to turn everything into a competition, that will ultimately be the demise of what should be, can be and has been virtually the greatest and most sensible friendship she has ever had in her entire life. I know she does not see it nor does she feel it, and sadly it is very clear to me that my clairvoyancy or my progression is troubling her.

 

I recall her once saying to me that I am very smart and she asked me how I got to be that smart. I just smiled as my mind reflected back to the Grade 10s being in the school cafeteria, doing an IQ exam for a graduate studies class at UBC doing thesis work for their PhDs. Two months later the Vice Principal and school counsellor called me to the office and, with that test’s results in hand, asked me why I was not performing to my maximum potential. I just told them I decided school was a place for me to have fun and the serious studying would happen later. I was right. I took an IQ test at thirty and the results have not changed. I can’t do anything to change that and why would I?

 

Okay, so now as I board the boat back to Victoria on this sunny Sunday morning, the conundrum about my future as referenced early on in this story, flashes to my mind again. I am who I am because I am exactly who I want to be: ME. I am not you nor he nor she nor they. I am ME. I created me; I love me and I love sharing me. Don’t be afraid. Don’t feel intimidated. Don’t try to compete. Don’t try to change me.  I do realize people who were swayed by parental or peer pressure to follow certain paths, are generally not entirely happy people especially when they meet someone like me. It is like they have either missed or avoided a very important life skill – listening to and hearing the person within.  It is hard, and for some it is stressful and sad when they look in their mirrors and say What have I done to my life? and their answers don’t come easy or the answers are ones that cannot be shared with pride.

 

To that I say: look again, shut out the voices of people who are not you and listen to that person who has been trying to reach you since you left her behind.  She is sitting on a stool deep inside of you, looking up and yearning for your attention. She does have the right answers and don’t let others tell you otherwise. Yes, it means take baby steps and embrace changes.  But with your focus and determination, you will be walking and standing tall in no time. Your true friends  will be there for you and with you.

 

Happy New Year, I say to the Customs and Immigration officer as I disembark from the catamaran Sunday morning, smiling and ready to face another day with confidence and pride.

Dazzling Doug

Doug – he is a guy who predictably walks by my Victoria apartment with his gym bag in hand, en route to or from the local YMCA. He is an avid exerciser and the long walk along the road and up the hill has made him a local celebrity.

 

 “Oh look, here comes Doug”  or  “hey look, there goes Doug”

 

You can spot him a fair distance away. He is eclectic purple spandex or white leather shorts or pants, a muscle shirt or no shirt, very tall, very bull-legged and always smiling.

 

 Today I greeted him in a slightly different way. I waved him over to where I was sitting on my lawn chair and tried to converse with him beyond a ‘hello, how are you, fine’.

 

“Doug”, I said, “Today I, too, went for a work out. I think I spent 45 minutes at the Commonwealth Games Fitness Centre and tried 3 machines.”

 

“Only three. Which three?”

 

“Something to walk on; something to peddle; something to press weight down with my ankles or calves.  Now, I am exhausted and resting. How long do you spend at the Y?”

 

“Three hours”

 

“Three hours! No wonder you look so great.”

 

At this point, he pulls out a photo of himself, virtually naked, only wearing a g-string and posing like a real hunk of a guy on a faux fur rug. His well-tanned, slender and fit body was greased and despite the exposed unclothed skin, muscles and bones, my eyes focused on his smile.

 

      Doug, you have such a great smile,” I said as I handed back the photo. 

 

He looked at me and then looked at the photo and said with a perplexing look on his face:

 

“Thanks” and then continued his light footed journey to his apartment down the block.

 

“Okay, have a nice day. Bring along the photo next time when Suzanne is with me as I know she, too, would love to see it.”

Palliative Scare

 

It is a gloomy, cloudy day as I disembark from a BC ferry at Tsawwassen terminal and drive in my new car to the Burnaby General Hospital. All kinds of thoughts are buzzing through my head about what it might be like to walk into a palliative care ward where people are living the very last days of their lives, and just waiting to go. I am going to visit my friend Brenda’s 90 year old mother who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and she has dementia. 

 

I speed my thoughts right past those images, the possible sounds and possible smells, and imagine standing at the foot end of Mrs. Brown’s bed, quietly waiting for her to open her eyes and notice me there. My inner voice reminds me that she will likely not remember me and likely not welcome me and likely not talk to me. I have to be mentally prepared for any possibility, as I simply could neither see nor identify the actual canvass clearly within my mind’s eye at that moment in time. I felt like I was walking into a scare.

 

“I can’t let this image deter me from going. I must not be weak.”

 

As I approach the best and most direct route to the hospital, I remember getting permission, the night before, to park for free in front of a friend’s parents’ house one block away. I arrive exactly at the time I said I would and there, on the porch, is the father. I wave at him and say “Good morning” and try to signal that I am going over to the hospital and will come back for a visit later.

 

He can’t hear me so I have to approach.

 

My inner voice says to me: ‘don’t you let this diversion keep you away from going to the hospital’

 

I explain to Alex and Julie that I have to get the hospital visit done first and then I would come back to have tea with them.

 

They understood, promised to look after my car, and off I went.

 

The volunteer at the information booth volunteered to walk me to the ward, and his soft-spoken voice was both calming and soothing as I started to feel uneasy and nervous.

 

I introduce myself to the nurses’ station and tell her why I have come. The nurse, as she gradually guides me to the room, tells me the patient has not eaten and is not doing all that well.

 

I approach ever so slowly and have to pass a very ghost-like face in the first bed, beside which there were two sobbing people holding bibles in hand.

 

The scare activates again: ‘Oh my gawd, what am I going to walk into next?’

 

I get to the edge of the bed and Mrs. Brown is kind of drowsy and her eyes are kind of closed.

 

“Mrs. Brown”, I say.

 

Her eyes opened fully.

 

“It’s Netty, Mrs. Brown, Brenda’s friend from school.”

 

Her eyes opened ever so much more with an expression of gleeful surprise, as she held out her hand to welcome me.

 

“I have not seen you in a very long time; oh, your hand is very cold” she says.

 

“Yes, I have come directly from outside; just came here directly from the ferry.”

 

“The ferry?”

 

“Yes, I live in Victoria some times.”

 

“Oh Victoria … such a nice place.”

 

“Have you been there lately?”

 

“No, but when the kids were younger.”

 

She drifted off into a dozy state for a few moments, so I took that opportunity to write a note to Brenda as the opening of this visit was so uplifting and surprising. I also took a moment to scan the area and noticed her lunch meal had been delivered but, had not been touched.

 

“Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Brown, would you like to know what the lunch meal is?”

 

“Oh, not really but okay”

 

I read off the menu: “cauliflower soup, sheppard’s pie and pineapple.”

 

“What was that dear?”

 

I repeat the list. “These green beans look fabulous. They are a really deep green. Rich in colour and rich in vitamins. Do you want to try?”

 

“Well, let me see them first.”

 

I show them to her.

 

“Shall I put a scoop into your mouth?”

 

“Okay.”

 

She seems to enjoy the first spoonful so I ask if she would like another and she said yes. I did it again for a total of four scoops of green beans followed by 2 scoops of mashed potatoes and ground beef, and 3 times she swigged from a water bottle.

 

I was riding high with excitement as both the nurse and Brenda told me she had not been eating.

 

Is the camera on, is the camera on? This woman is definitely eating!

 

At this point, she is looking outside and asks me what time of day it is and acknowledges the nice sunny day. I can see she is tired and fading into a sleep.

 

I put my hand on her forehead and say:

 

“You look as beautiful now as when I first met you many years ago.”

 

Her eyes light up again and she smiles.

 

“And your smile is so contagious and it is just like Brenda’s.”

 

She smiles again.

 

“I hate to go on and on but I have to tell you that your teeth are so bright and white, and nicely lined up. I think some people might think they are not your own!”

 

“They aren’t”, she says, at which point she flicks her tongue around and jiggles her jaw, and the top plate flips out into her hand.

 

I was aghast and almost gagged, as I walked away in shock saying to myself that I definitely brought this one on myself!

 

Mrs. Brown giggled as she saw my horrified look, and then I put my hand on her forehead once more and said:

 

“Have a great sleep.”

 

She smiled, cupped my hand with both of hers and said: “Thank you for coming.”

Tragedies

Life certainly does come with some very amazing turns.

 

Last month my newest friend who lives in New York State lost her mother; it was a sudden death, an unexpected death, a quiet death.

 

Leslie was devastated, in shock and inconsolable. Being Jewish, the burial took place within 24 hours and that service was followed by a traditional shiva: mourners are required to undergo a week-long regimen of self-denial during which they receive support from the community. This period is called "sitting shiva" as the mourners are required to sit on low chairs for seven ("shiva") days.

 

Although an entire community may participate in the mourning process, the rituals of mourning are specifically reserved for seven closest relatives to the deceased: father, mother, spouse, siblings, sons and daughters. These individuals are required to sit shiva; all others (including grandchildren, close friends, etc.) participate by comforting the mourners and attending to their needs. This is considered a good deed ("mitsvah") of a very high order.

 

Leslie does not come across as being a full-fledged Jewish woman, but out of respect for her mother and her father, she followed the credo to the best of her ability. She tells me she felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder and she continues to receive signs that her mother is watching out for her each and every day. This gives her peace, but she still is deeply grieving and struggling with the reality of the death:  no more daily phone calls, occasional visits or shopping trips, difficulties getting herself over to the house where she once lived, and being at that house to empty out drawers and closets containing her mother’s things. The first attempt was 3 weeks after the passing. She only covered off one room, resulting in 35 boxes of stuff.  The process will likely take a number of additional days.

Read more: Tragedies

Voluntary Splash in the Harbour

I have always admired the many people who step to the plate and volunteer their time, energy and expertise to make a great community event possible – whether it is a walk,  run, pageant, fundraiser, market, carnival or film festival, their success depends on volunteers.

 

This year, I have decided to be a volunteer. I used to do a lot of it in my younger days, but stepped back for 30 years as other things always seemed to be more important.  I woke up one morning, a month ago, and decided it was time to step to the plate once again. I volunteered for the 2011 Symphony Splash celebration in the harbour in Victoria, British Columbia. It is an annual event to which tens of thousands of people from every where, gather to enjoy the many events that lead up to the fabulous sounds of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra and then a half hour of exciting, vibrant fireworks.

 

I went to my first orientation at a place in downtown called The Odd Fellows Hall. I have often cycled by it and, out of respect to people who belong to that group, I never actually looked at the building or at the people who might be going in and out of it. What kind of person would hang out in a place with that name – since I am not looking for more friends, I decided I would never really need to know. I never imagined ever having to go inside!

  

  As I approached the building, I had trouble finding the actual entry door. When I did, it was manned by three burly men who confirmed my name was on a list permitting me entry. I was told to either go up the stairwell or take the elevator to the second floor, turn right and enter the Grand Hall. I was so excited to have such a unique privilege and, at the same time, images of Fred Flintstone, the Grand Puba, entering the room with his moose-fur massive hat, came to mind.

 

 

As I entered that Hall, to my amazement it was merely a plain rectangular room with tables and chairs. There were no pictures or statues; no scrolls; no plaques; no ribbons; nothing. The walls were paneled with locked cupboard-like doors, behind which I am sure were the real secrets of the Odd Fellows’ Club.  I could feel the question marks in my eyes and see them in the eyes of others, but nobody even whispered a sound of curiosity.  We were all being respectful, and grateful to have a nice big room in which to meet.

 

The orientation was well organized, with a video and oral presentation to start, followed by the creation of sub-groups to meet our leaders and get our instructions. The tasks for volunteers are rarely difficult but we do need some direction and praise, to enhance our eagerness and enthusiasm. We get to keep our bright orange tee-shirts and cool orange pens and Thrifty’s shopping bag. On the event day, we get a free lunch including a sandwich, cookie, one fruit and a bottle of water. When we get through our shift, we check out at the volunteer tent and collect our free ticket for a future symphony concert ticket. Hey, I am happy to volunteer, but the perks will be a much appreciated added bonus.

 

 

Liberated Liberals

 

The ride along the highway from Kelowna to Penticton this morning was delightful. The roads were clear and dry and it felt like I was the only one on the route to the Peach Bowl Convention Centre, to attend the 2011 British Columbia Liberal Party Convention.

 

The ever-increasing cost of gas was on my mind, as it seems to be perplexing to all – there ought to be consequences to the misleading analysts or oil company executive types who deem that the cost of gas at the pumps must go up instantly when the price of oil from the ground increases; yet, the price of gas does not ever go down when the price of oil from that same ground decreases. On the basis of logic alone – it makes no sense at all.

 

The upcoming excitement of the Convention is also on my mind – it would be a huge celebration of our great new Leader, Christy Clark, a maverick in the world of politics; a charmer; a leader and our shepherd to a new decade of affordability, sustainability and progressive democratic governance.

 

I arrive on time for the Cabinet bear-bit session and it is great to see the entire cabinet on stage, ready to answer any question that came to them. There is a great participation level with long lines behind the 3 microphones. I am standing along the side wall and my eyes are gazing around the room to spot familiar faces from past conventions over the past 30 years – yes, it has been that long and that many conventions and year after year, it is amazing to see some very familiar faces – the real die-hards who have been with me and this incredible party from the days of nothing, to barely something, to something and then to all of what we have now. We do have so much to celebrate … some of us just never gave up on a dream and look at us now! Our collective energy has moved us to where few would have imagined.

 

Right now I am in the main meeting room, with thousands of people talking about, and listening to, information about the Harmonized Sales Tax. It is refreshing to hear elected members openly say that although the concept would modernize our tax system, the methodology used to bring it forward was pathetic. We are now working backwards to fix a wrong, but hope to end up with a similar final product – a 10 percent HST tax system instead of a 12. We definitely needed to be together on this, as time was running out to pick up the momentum on support for this new initiative. The crowd is lapping it all up and everyone seems re-energized and confident that the public will be forgiving and embracing at the same time.

 

It is almost four in the afternoon now. The feature speaker is taking her last moments of breathing exercises in a separate room, before the energized delegates witness the grand entrance of our first BC Liberal female Premier. This young lady took on the odds and won the leadership of this great political party and she took on those same odds to win a seat in the Legislative Assembly to serve as an MLA and as the Premier of British Columbia.

 

Christy Clark is standing tall and proud and she is speaking with confidence and pride, as she awes the audience with her energy, enthusiasm and determination to take hold of the reigns of power, change the way government does its business and announce the coming of a new age of people-friendly governance. She is pumped and her energy is enveloping the crowd. This is Christy’s era; this is Christy’s time; and, this is Christy’s opportunity to make a difference – it is really going to be a great ride home!

 

Aruban Ecstasy

 

I have landed, once again, on my Island paradise, deeply positioned in the southern section of the glorious Caribbean Sea, only a few kilometers north of Venezuela. It is my other home away from home, and the place where I will spend more and more time, each and every year, as the calendar months unfold.

  

This trip we flew out of Seattle to Atlanta, Georgia and then across the water to Oranjestad, Aruba – Queen Beatrix International Airport. My sister and brother-in- law are here to greet us and to transport us, via their rental car, to our beautiful La Cabana Beach and Racquet Club Resort timeshare condo. Our second-floor balcony overlooks the ocean and is on the quiet side of the building.

  

The sun is shining brilliantly, as the wind blows evenly over the landscape and through my hair. I love that feeling – warm air and flowing winds.

 

As we drive along the only road to the Resort, we pass by Wilhelmina Park named after former Dutch Queen Julianna’s mother. There is a huge statue of her in that park and now it is joined by a beautiful new statue – this one is a commemoration of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who was worshipped and praised for writing about what it was like for her and her family during World War II in The Netherlands. The statue had been unveiled recently in a lavish ceremony that included Martin Luther King the III who stands tall as the proud son of assassinated black rights activist with the same name.

  

A little further along the road, I see the same old Paddock restaurant and the Crystal Casino and Mall and, amazingly, off in the distance, I see a small round, out of place, green, black and white, Starbucks sign. I don’t care much for the Americanization of my Island paradise, but it is happening.  I could think of worst such things, so I smile and look forward to my first trip downtown later in the week.  

  

Finally we get to the round-about at the outskirts of the downtown core and there on the left is the beautiful crystal blue sea. The waves are timid; the people are tanned and spread all along the 8 mile stretch as we approach our location. I feel the blood pressure increase, as I try to hurriedly sort out a logical order of doing things quickly in order to get out on that beach in no time at all.

 

This is my fourteenth time visiting Aruba. The process is down to a science -- structured and organized. 

  

We register; get the key; roll our carry-ons down the hallway, up the elevator, along the skywalk and into our unit. I walk directly to my set of drawers, unload just enough stuff to reach my swimsuit. On it goes and I fly out of the room, straight to the towel hut and off to the available Tiki hut, with two lounge chairs and two regular chairs, right in the front row overlooking that gorgeous Sea.

 

I am suddenly able to confirm – I am back in heaven for 15 fabulous days, flying higher than a kite.

Golden Sofa

Not long ago, I decided to go out on a limb and have my carpets replaced with hardwood – golden oak hardwood.  The job was done during my absence from the location so when I got back, it was like a whole new home – fresh and clean with shiny engineered wood floors. The smell was like heaven and my smile stretched from ear to ear, as I slid on my stocking feet from room to room.

 

Without much thought, I decided it was time to eliminate the old furnishings and bring in the new. I shipped a lot of stuff out and made due with two easy chairs, a lamp and a marble coffee table. My goal was to find the ultimate deal on a Natuzzi leather sofa and build the furnishings from there.

 

When I set goals like that I never set a time limit and I definitely don’t buy without ensuring I have checked out every possible option. I talk to people; I read ads; I browse through stores; I check the Internet. Whether it takes a few days, weeks or months, it does not matter. It has to feel right when it feels right, I know it is time to do the deal.

 

Last week was the announcement of this week’s Sears’ Warehouse Sale. I perused the colourful flyer and stopped immediately upon seeing the featured Natuzzi leather sofas and chairs.

 

‘Wow, wow, wow’, I said to myself as my eyes zeroed in on a style that was to my liking. I put the flyer into my car and encouraged myself to set weekend time aside to have a closer look wherever there was a Sears.

 

Saturday morning I decided to go to the first Sears on my route – Brentwood in Burnaby. They do have a very good selection and the place is not a busy location.  I spotted the featured couch in the Natuzzi section. As I approached it, I noticed a sign hanging on a hooked stand on a floor right beside the couch, indicating the name of the item and the price.

 

‘Oh, that can’t be right’, I said to myself. ‘I better read that again.’

 

I sat down in the couch. It felt great; smelt great; looked great.

 

‘This couch was meant for me’, I whispered as I kept my right eye on that surprising sign next to me and thought of that IKEA commercial where the woman runs out of the store yelling ‘Start the car, start the car!’.

 

I again looked at that floor sign and then looked at the sign on the coffee table; the name of the item matched; the price did not match. The coffee table sign reflected the flyer price. This other sign was significantly different.

 

I called over the salesman to tell him I loved the couch and would like to buy it in accordance with the price on this special floor sign. 

 

 He said:  ‘Yes, that is fine;it is a great sale this week, isn't it?

 

‘Well, yes, isn’t it?  Did you notice the price as per this sign here?’

 

He looked and his face went white as his jaw dropped.

 

‘Oh my gawd, this is not right. Where did this come from?’

 

He carried the entire apparatus to the Manager’s desk and the two of them walked back to me. The Manager was beet red and speechless; she admitted it was a store error, but would have to honour the price.

 

‘Yes, great. I have heard of this happening to others but it has never happened to me! This couch was meant for me and I want to buy it at that price!’

 

Suddenly I heard the IKEA commercial ringing in my ear again: ‘Start the car! Start the car!’

 

Off I went to the customer service desk to complete the transaction. With tax and delivery charges, I got this fabulous Siena II Natuzzi leather couch for just over $1000.  Its regular price was $2100 and the sale flyer said $1599, not including tax and delivery.  This has got to be the greatest deal in my entire life!

 

I am already looking forward to my first afternoon nap.

 

Motivating Memories

The lyrics Memories from the corners of my mind jumped at me the other day when I was walking in the annual Times Colonist 10 Km event in Victoria. Before getting started, I knew I would have to focus on something or some things other than walking, in order to complete the challenge successfully. I decided to focus on what brought me to Victoria in the first place.

 

Everyone who knows me knows why I stationed my professional life in the Capital City. Most understand the strains and stresses, the demands and expectations. Most understand why I have enjoyed it for the past 20 years.  

  

Every day is a new day, an interesting day and sometimes a surprising day. In this line of work, you develop interesting relationships but the ones I want to focus on today are pen pal relationships – the eager beavers who have all the answers; they have their finger on the pulse and want to be sure we know what is going on and how we should deal with whatever it is. We get our regulars to the point where we address each other on a first name basis. 

  

We have the guy who gets in and out of a mental institution now and then, and during his out time he applies for a hunting licence so he can hunt elk and moose up North. He can’t figure out why he is always turned down. 

  

We have the woman from Qualicum who yells and yells into the phone and we never know if she is yelling at us or her husband in the other room. It is always about the price of gas going up and up and why we are continuing to allow this to happen. 

  

Then there is the King of Prince Rupert who has his pulse on everything that is going on in his community. He once put his name, including his self-created regal title, forward for mayor but only got 25 votes. Everyone in town addresses him as King. 

  

Of course, I cannot help but remember the red-inked letters from the intriguing senior who seems to write prolifically from the desk of her common room, in the residential home where she lives, summarizing every front section newspaper article in the morning paper. She wants to get our issues management people up to speed on how best to move forward, including how to capture the local police’s most wanted. 

  

These memories are what helped me move forward, one step at a time, during the 10 Km event. They helped me laugh, smile and persevere, and they made me think. They made me feel lucky to be alive and living the life I have. They made me feel anxious for the walk to end, the weekend to end, so I could get back to the job and embrace the sincere efforts of people from all walks of life to be a part of our democratic system.  

  

We listen to everyone; we read every letter and every email. Together they define our world and the composition of our neighbourhoods, communities and our province. It is amazing, colourful and sometimes outrageous – the 10 Km was equally as amazing, colourful and outrageous. The people in this recreational and competitive event define our society. There are people of all ages, all walks of life, all abilities; there are people in costume and not, coiffed and ragged, clean and dirty, loud and quiet, talking and silent, lay and professional, employed and unemployed, walking, running or rolling, fast and slow. The things we have in common with each other are energy, determination, confidence and smiles.

  

My job is a great and motivating job and this community 10 Km event became for me, as I advanced one step at a time, in the company of nearly 10,000 others,  a metaphor for it: lots of variety, pleasure, diversity, strains and stresses, clear goals and objectives, a thirst for more, and a great satisfactory conclusion, remembering that all we need be is the best that we can be in all things that we say and do.

 

 

 

Ideals of Italy Part One

 

When people ask me how my trip to Italy was, the first words that come out of my mouth, without a second of hesitation, are:  absolutely fabulous. I just had two weeks of complete and absolute pleasure -- two stress-free and pressure-free weeks; two totally enjoyable weeks.

 

My travel companion [Agnes] and I planned out the route and finalized the accommodations weeks before our departure date.   We knew where we were heading, how long we would stay in each place and exactly where we would be sleeping. All we had to do is get there.

 

Get there we did – arriving in Venice at midnight at the airport meeting the challenge of finding a vaporetto (water bus) that was heading to the Island of Lido.  We took a taxi from the dock to the hotel [Buon Pesce] only because it was late and we really did not know the area.  We never again took a taxi because it was a delightful straight line walk in a very quiet and safe neighbourhood.


The following days we explored the area, bought some concord grapes in a corner store, walked barefoot in the Adriatic Sea, picked shells, enjoyed hot chocolate and a baked goodie out on a terrace and spent time amongst the crowds over in Venice – across the Grand Canal – a short vaporetto ride on route #1.  We covered San Marco’s Square, walked through the ancient and majestic Basilica covered with beautiful mosaic artwork on the walls and floors, marble everywhere and huge statues including victorious horses outside several metres above the ground, overlooking the Square. We enjoyed views from on high, studied the textbook about the significant sites within the Square and we were surrounded by friendly and bold pigeons. Agnes allowed them to invade her body – mostly her hands and arms. I took photos and did my best to fend them off. I never did like uninvited guests – pests included.

 

In Venice, we also managed to get into the Dolce’s Palace – kind of Italy’s version of the original role of the Louvre – the place where the almighty ruler of the day lived. Each time there was a new ruler, the insides of the palace would be renovated or extensions would be added on. The place is amazing – full of masterpieces, armoury, marble floors, a Senate room, Council chambers, Assembly halls, prison cells and so much more. So much history.

 

We walked over the Rialto Bridge – a tourist site, swarming with people, covered with small shops carrying every possible souvenir item. We found a post office to purchase stamps, bought some postcards and gelato out in the square, walked and talked, took photos and then escaped the crowds by getting back on the #1 to the serenity of the Island of Lido and our very quiet and beautiful resting spot.  How could life possibly be better?

 

Quick naps were important to both of us and that regenerated our systems to go out for an evening of exploration around the Island, and a wonderful quiet and delicious outdoor or in-house dinner.  Once we just purchased edibles at a grocery store and brought those back to the room for a massive feast, including wine, for next to nothing in cost – we both appreciated that experience very much.

 

One evening, while walking into town, I decided to feel the water of the Canal of San Marco with my hands. There was a boat launch ramp in site so I proceeded to descend … suddenly the descent was out of control and I slid and slid. The surface was plagued with thick slime.   Luckily I was able to turn my body around to enable me to at least try to grip the grooves in the ground work to stop me from sliding. It worked, but I needed assistance from that positio n in order to get back up safely without slipping down further. My black leather sandals were already soaked. I started to feel panicky about my money pack, including my passport, possibly getting soaked. I worried about the current taking control. It was a pitch black night and my body would likely not be found .

 

A good test of friendship, I thought.  Would she come to my rescue or stand there and laugh some more?  What are friends for?  Besides getting a great laugh out of what could have been a total disaster, Agnes did respond responsibly.  She stood on dry ground and reached down to help heave me up.  I was laughing and crying and remembering how this kind of behaviour is not foreign to me … feels kind of good to still be so footloose and fancy free at the age of almost 50!

  

On Day two, prior to heading back into Venice, we decided to take a public transit bus tour of the Island of Lido.  We got on the bus on the main drag and waited for the driver to board. Off we went to places unknown, ready to explore. We went through the downtown core and along side the beaches, covered some neighbourhoods, noticed some industrial sites, and then suddenly ended up on a ferry deck.  The ferry proceeded to take us to another piece of land, unknown to us, and once over on the other side, the bus continued on its way, along a country road, with not much to see on either side. We started to be a bit concerned, Agnes more than me as I know public bus routes are either circular or parallel and always end up where you started.

 

Needless to say, we found the local bus trip rather long and thought it would be best to make enquiries before we found ourselves in Switzerland.    We finally found one person on the bus who spoke English and he reassured us we would be fine. All we had to do is stay on the bus and it would get us back to Lido. I kind of knew that, but it was nice to be reassured. I gave the man a 2010 pin .

 

Despite feeling a bit frazzled, we did get on with our day and enjoyed some touring time on vaporetto route #1 – it was very scenic and the waterways were quite busy with boats, ferries and gondolas.

 

On Day Three we figured out how to get to Morano – the place where artisans make things of glass.    We did a tour of a factory and listened to a multilingual presentation. We were amazed by the number of studios and independent artisans and the multitude of variations in techniques, shapes, sizes and products. We walked around a lotand enjoyed virtually a full day there – topping it off with our feet hanging over the edge of the canal, with a gelato in our hands. The sun was shining and commerce was moving and we were feeling very fortunate. I picked up some tips on a future crafty project -- find sheets of mirror and decorate the outside edges with glass beads.   

 

Many things about Venice will be hard to forget – buying cheap wine that was absolutely delicious with no side-effects; the bus ride to somewhere and back; vaporetto rides; dipping my feet into the Sea, a 72 hour public transit pass, Venetian history, glass making, hot chocolate like I like it most, boiled eggs for breakfast every day. 

 

The next day we would be heading to Florence.

 

At the Venice train station, we had the misfortune of dealing with an airhead clerk who sold us a ticket for a train that had already left the station.  Such poor work ethics continue to boggle my mind.  It was particularly bothersome to us as we were new to the concept of train travel and were focused on knowing how to buy a ticket, where to look for departure times and track locations – we felt very confident for all of that except we did not anticipate having to scramble through the hassle of getting our tickets updated and validated for another timeslot. What’s worse? The clerk seemed to get pleasure out of disappointing us!

 

Once aboard, the hassle was forgotten and we studied the map and the book about Florence.  We mentally visualized the walking route from the train station to the hotel – it seemed rather easy and straightforward.  When we got there, it became far from easy and not at all straightforward.  The map was not comprehensive and we were facing numerous additional streets and landmarks, and the lay out of the city made it impossible to see beyond the building in front of you.  We asked and asked and asked again … finally, we were in front of the archway leading to Alberge Firenze – our home for 3 nights. It was beautiful … lots of character, quiet, clean, fresh, spacious, and right in the heart of Florence. The outside window looked over a small courtyard and it had a parallel bar upon which we could hang our wet laundryjust like the locals do. I looked forward to the experience.

 

On    our first night , we explored the immediate neighbourhood and enjoyed street entertainment and markets in the square down the road. We enjoyed a bottle of wine and pizza in a small bistro, and then joined the audience in the church across the way for a concert featuring a flutist, organist and vocalist. It was very relaxing and beautiful.

 

When we returned to the hotel, I did some handwashing and hung some items out on the window bar to dry. The next morning, two items were dry and one needed some more time. We left the hotel about mid-morning to find the Duomo – a large main cathedral in Florence not far from our home.  We stood in line for the opportunity to climb 5000 (exaggeration) steps up – I am not fit enough for such activities but I managed to make it and the rewards were priceless – full view of the entire city, fresh windy air and a personal feeling of accomplishment.

 

After our descent, we strolled back along the same route we came, bought some grocery items and returned to our room for a rest. I looked out the window to see my underwear was no longer on the bar. I asked Agnes what she had done to my undies and she denied knowing anything about them.  I opened the window, stretched my neck out and looked down. There below on the balcony two levels down, were my newest beige undies, spread out on the surface of a stranger’s deck! What was I to do? My face must have gone blank and white – I see a challenge ahead. Okay, I said, if this building is rectangular and each floor is similar to the next, then logically the room number two levels down would be 108. I went to the front desk and explained my dilemma but only mentioned that something fell from our window.  He confirmed the room # would likely be 108 but someone was registered there so I could not be let in.  I noticed on the wall behind the clerk, that there was no key in the holding box for room 108 – this means the person is in the  room because when you leave hotels in Europe, you have to give your key to the front desk.  I decide to be bold and knock on the person’s door. 

 

A half-clad man opens the door and he speaks English.  I tell him my dilemma and asked if he would mind looking out of his window to grab my garment for me.  He closes the door--  at which point I felt like running away feeling  mortified and totally embarrassed.  I don’t run. I stay. He has a balcony and comes back to the door to tell me he does not have a balcony. He suggests trying the guy next door. I thank him and apologize for disturbing him. At this point, I don’t want to pursue this quest anymore. I had to  accept defeat and would have to adjust to  having one less pair of underwear.

 

I go back to our room, still incensed and go back to the window to look at my loss. I laugh and laugh, and still try to figure out how I can possibly retrieve them. They were one level above ground; would Agnes help me figure out how to get to that open space and heave me up so I could grab them? I did not have it in me to ask her. I decided it would just have to be a write-off, a loss, a memory to hold on to, something about which I could always laugh.

 

That evening we went for a walk and one of the first stores we saw was a lingerie one

 

Let's go in, she says. No, I don’t wear that stuff! Let’s just keep walking.  Down the block, there is another lingerie shop – no, no, I am not going in there. We continue along the road and spot an internet café with rates that were very reasonable.  We buy a half hour each; that’s all I needed but Agnes needed more. As she sat doing her thing, I told her I’d go out for a bit of a walk and meet her back at the hotel. En route, I spot a little shop with various items and off in a corner I see a pile of undies. ‘ I just have to buy one – it will be the best souvenir ever.’  Pink, lycra with a bit of mesh design on the front. They are the most expensive underwear I own and I am sure they will give me everlasting pleasure.

 

 During breakfast in the dining hall the next morning, we sat with four women from Montana. Two were retired teachers and I forget the background of the other two. Every year they plan a trip together and leave their husbands at home. They were very friendly and talkative and shared some of their recommendations with us. We enjoy hearing  about the travels of others and shar experiences with them as well. It was kind of like having breakfast with family. I gave them each a 2010 pin .

 

   This was our day to find the Uffici Museum which     is a huge multi-block edifice something like the Louvre in Paris massive amounts of sculptures, paintings and mosaics. Lots of Michaelangelo and Da Vinci, some Dutch artists’ pieces -- lots and lots of things to see and lots and lots of space to cover. So much history and so much culture all in one location.

 

[for more go to Part Two]

Ideals of Italy Part Two

Part Two of Ideals of Italy

Many things about Florence will be hard to forget – drinking Grappa (a liqueur made from grape stems and skins), eating meatloaf with mushroom sauce, green weed salad, climbing up a Dome, reliving art history in the Uffici, sort of seeing David, losing my underwear and walking in and out of many, many leather shops.

 

Next stop:  Cinque Terre – translation: Five Lands. Five fishing villages far removed from the urban lifestyle, for a vacation within a vacation – hiking and quiet time and a beach – part of the Italian Riviera. Our home would be a Monastery – Sanatorium of Our Lady of Wisdom – Santuario nostra signora di Soviore.

 

This beautiful place is located about 7 kilometres up a long and winding road from the village of Monterosso – the furthest north of the five villages of the Cinque Terre. It is the only structure in a massive mountain and once you are there – it suddenly impacts you – on your own – no noise; no entertainment – just quiet serenity and a breathtaking view of the village below.

 

Every hour the church bells chime reminding us we are in the presence of a religious order where quiet reflection and very good behaviour is expected at all times. The experience is very good for the mind and for the soul and I felt ready, willing and able. I found a chair and a bench and made use of both as I quietly pursued my knitting project and occasionally looked around at the birds in the trees and took note of the olives in those trees. I attended mass at 5 pm.

 

Agnes was taking a nap in our rather pathetic room, sorry, I mean sparse room – a place where we had to make our own beds and walk on broken tiles and endure the occasional presence of creepy crawlers, one of which was on my pillow.  The shower stall was a menace – the faucet lacked a cover making the outcome a non-spray outpouring of some water, and if the curtain which was too long covered the drain, water would rise over the frame of the stall and all over the floor! Agnes was the first to use the stall and had the overflowing experience. Thankfully she mentioned it to me so I would avoid similar circumstances.

 

Despite the conditions of the room, the place had many assets – an adjoining church for quiet indoor reflection, a library, coffee shop and dining room. Benches and chairs outside enabled us to talk to each other, read, write, knit or just sit quietly. Agnes joined me there after mass, and we used the opportunity to have a very long talk about everything and anything that came to mind -- quality time without distractions. We had hit the halfway mark of our trip and our friendship was still intact – in fact, I never had any doubt and if she did, I think this time at this place took all of that away.

 

The room rate included breakfast and dinner. The breakfast was continental and all the baked goods were produced on site. During breakfast time, we got a multiple choice list for dinner. The choices were in Italian and it was hard to get clarity on what anything was; sometimes I could recognize the word but most often not. These evening meals were definitely four stars, including a bowl of fresh fruits, and we complemented the meal with local wine and limoncello liqueur.

 

The remoteness of the location did cause me to stray from proper behaviour – just a little.  There was an intriguing 3 wheel vehicle parked on the deck leading to our room.  I passed it on our first night down to the dining hall.  En route back, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to open the door and sit inside. Agnes was surprised, I think, at least for a moment and then she realized this was me and such behaviour seems to be a part of my make-up. I pretended to drive it and she took some shots.

 

The next night I went one step further. I entered the vehicle and noticed the keys were in the ignition.  I announced that I would start the engine and try to drive it up and down the runway.

 ‘No, No, No … don’t you dare. Get out of the car. Please get out of the car.’

 

‘No, really, just stand by and let me try … what could possibly go wrong?’

 

I turn the key and no sound; I try again in the other direction – no sound. It is dark and I can’t really see but I push all of the buttons and the pedal below – no action. Okay, well, I won’t pursue it, I say, as Agnes delightfully takes more shots.  It was fun to play and yes, I know I was lucky nothing more became of it! The photos will always make us smile.

 

The reason for the above behaviour may have been my acting out for being subjected, earlier that day, to doing a horrendously difficult 2.5 hour hike from Monterosso to the next village called Vernazza I think it was called. I don’t really want to know as it won’t be an activity I will ever be doing again. I was a good trouper and managed to make it but there was no way in hell I would go to the next village nor would I be walking back. 

 

During lunch, I announced my intention to not hike another inch. I encouraged Agnes and her friends who met us in the region, to go ahead. I assured them that I am completely okay with taking care of myself and meeting them back in Monterosso for the last bus up the hill and home. My plan was to enjoy lunch, explore the village, catch the train back and sit and enjoy the outdoors at an outdoor café or on the beach, until the meeting time approached.  Agnes decided to stay with me and I really hope she did not do that for me.

 

When we returned to Monterosso, we walked along a boardwalk and amazingly as I looked at the people along the way, there were two of the four Montana women we met in Florence. How is this possible?  I called out to Agnes who tended to always walk ten feet in front of me, and signalled her to come back and see who was there. We were both momentarily speechless and so excited to see familiar faces. They invited us to join them.

 

Agnes offered to go inside to order us something to drink and eat, and she surprised me with my favourite thick Lindt hot chocolate and a piece of double chocolate cake which we shared. She was so thoughtful and I think it may have been a reward for my having been such a good trouper about the horrendous hiking experience. I think she would agree that it was not an easy trek for me. I could have given up at anytime but I did not want to spoil the day for the others.

 

The next day, our last full day there, we decided to spend it on the beach in Monterosso … it is actually on the Ligurian Sea – it is a Sea connected to the Mediterranean Sea, and it is the southern part of the Italian Riviera. It is not a spectacular beach – no sand and the water is kind of dark – but it is a beach and we rented two cots and an umbrella.  We took turns going in and out of the water because our possessions had to be guarded. Agnes used the opportunity to continue reading a good book … something that I think was very good for her. Her busy life, both personally and professionally, takes a lot out of her and being far removed and being able to delve into a fictional piece, was a good thing. I chose to just lay and let the sun do its thing. How more great could life possibly get? How about an ice cold bottle of Prosecco on the boulevard café! – Italian champagne that does not leave you with a headache. We are really living large and loving it all very much.

 

My memories of the Cinque Terre will be the horrendous hike, the beach, great dinners, more great talks, and spotting familiar faces on the boardwalk.

 

We caught a one euro taxi ride down the hill to the train station where we purchased our ticket to Rome. We would only have to transfer once and would arrive in Rome by 2:30 pm.  While waiting for the train, an old man started to chat with Agnes whom he preferred over me.  I let them go at it and then ignored them – especially when I saw him hold her hand. At that point, he was approaching her more closely and trying to kiss her. My first instinct was to plough him but then I broke out in laughter and proceeded to go in the other direction to get some help. Did she actually let him kiss her?

 

On the train to Rome from the transfer point La Spegia, we sat in roomettes of six chairs.  The seats are numbered and assigned. We were in a room with 2 Dutchies for a bit and then a new group of three later on.  The male had an horrendous body odour problem – it was evident immediately and even more so for me as he sat right next to me! Initially we had the sliding door to the hallway closed, but Agnes came to the rescue by opening it. This helped somewhat but I just had to get out of there – fortunately there were pull down seats in the hallway and I was still able to watch our possessions and communicate with Agnes during the trip.

 

Arriving in Rome was very exciting. The map we studied on the train was very comprehensive and we had no problem finding our new home – B&B Boncompagni Suites.  It is a fabulous apartment location on the 2nd floor [in Europe that is actually the first floor]. The luggage and I went up in the elevator and Agnes took the stairs. Upon arrival, the staff insisted on carrying our luggage from the elevator to our room. They graciously welcomed us and gave us the scoop on how to turn on the air conditioning and how to order breakfast. The room was absolutely wonderful – quiet, clean and spacious, with a great bathroom and orthopaedic beds. The view was a building but that did not matter. We were actually in Rome and we felt very safe.

 

We both took showers and grabbed a quick nap, before starting our exploration of the neighbourhood.  First stop:  the Spanish Steps – a bit of a long walk and only moderate difficulty finding them but it was awesome --- a very large stairway with a drinking fountain fountain and a view of one of Rome’s fanciest shopping streets. The stairway was actually designed by a French man.

 

The drinking fountain was a beautiful large fountain into which people could step and reach over to a waterspout for a drink. I encouraged Agnes to do this and I would take a photo. As she approached, her sandaled feet slipped on the wet surface and she almost went face first into the fountain. Accidents can just happen so quickly and I immediately thought – oh my gawd, where are her medical insurance papers? She survived the moment.

 

From there we went into less populated areas and found an off the main road restaurant for dinner. We both ordered pasta and shared a salad and a bottle of wine, and then enjoyed limoncello for dessert. Finding our way home was a bit of a challenge, but ultimately I did not panic as I carried the map in my purse and it was very explicit.

 

Breakfast was served in our room at 8 a.m. on our little bistro table. It included pastries, buns, crackers, cheese, orange juice and cappuccino to which I added a chunk of jersey milk chocolate to make a mochachino. We got dressed and prepared for our walk to the Colliseo – the Colliseum, the Forum and Palatine Hill.

 

We opted for a grand tour of the entire site and it was three and a half hours of non-stop historic, political and cultural information about the role of the Colliseum – it was a gathering place for the locals to keep informed and enthused about the leadership; it gave them the feeling of being involved in a democracy – deciding on whether captured people should live or die a long slow death or a sudden one on the floor below. The tour included a trip to Palatine Hill upon which once stood a massive building in which one time rulers lived. It was the first home of Caesar Augustus, adopted son of Julius. Most of the structure is gone due to the Fall of Rome, deterioration and the effects of earthquakes, and the pieces of marble and sculptures along with pieces of marble and sculptures of the Colliseum are found in various buildings, particularly churches and the Vatican grounds. The view from the hill is of Rome and it is simply spectacular. The area has been beautified by gardens and pathways.

 

Following the tour, we walked away for lunch on a side-road terrace. It became evident that we were not in a quiet place as suddenly swarms of vehicles were roaring along side our table. Oh well, can’t always win. We stayed and put up with the distraction. We were hungry and tired and happy to be sitting.

 

I order ‘grilled cheese’ and ‘grilled cheese’ is what I got – one big slab of cheese, grilled. No bread.  Upon its arrival, I simply asked for an order of bread and transformed the plate into what was more familiar to me – a grilled cheese sandwich.

 

Agnes ordered pizza upon which came a boiled egg and a chuck of artichoke – ideally I would have cut both up and spread them out evenly, but she didn’t.  I think she was tired.

 

Next stop – home for a nap. I was going to get my hair cut at a place we spotted upon arrival in Rome. I knew exactly where it was and how to get there. The cut would have been 7 euros – about 11 dollars Canadian. We were very tired so I just decided the cut would have to wait.  After the nap, we roamed the neighbourhood and found a deli where we bought a huge selection of scrumptious foods and went home to prepare a fabulous in-house meal – spinach, Swiss cheese, olives and meats, crackers, buns. Agnes bought herself a nice pastry, but I passed. Oh, we also enjoyed an ice cold bottle of Prosecco. It only costs 10 euros … probably 4 times that amount in Canada. By 9:30 pm, we were sound asleep.

 

September 30th we enjoyed another breakfast and walked to the Vatican with only one odd and perplexing experience en route. A seemingly lost man in a dark car waved us over asking for instructions on how to find something.  He insisted on shaking our hands when he learned we were from Canada and said something about being from there or knowing someone from there.  He seemed to be in a tizzy about trying to find the French Embassy so Agnes pulled out her book about Rome and proceeded to try to help him. While she is doing that he asks us our names and how tall we are. We give him our names and Agnes tells him she is  55; at this point I don’t want to talk to him anymore because something was up. I basically said ‘the same’ … he then reaches over to a bag on the passenger seat and pulls out a pair of leather slacks. He says he is a representative of Versace and would like us to have the slacks as a token of thanks for helping him out.  We hadn’t helped him! I start to signal to Agnes that we best go but she has her face in the book trying to find instructions to the French Embassy. Then the guy says, if you don’t take the pants for free, I will accept $$ for gas as the gas gauge is low.  At this point, I back away and say to Agnes – ‘Agnes, we better leave, come!’  She realizes we have been had and we walk away in a daze – ‘what just happened’ we asked ourselves and each other, as we walked speechlessly for about a block before bursting out laughing.  What kind of idiot was that? Please don’t ever buy me anything Versace! We really don’t know what that was all about!

 

All of that experience was forgotten once we crossed the Tiber River, over to land near the Vatican. Over to the left, beyond a canopy of deciduous trees holding light green large leaves, we could see St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome – we were almost entering a new country filled with rich religious, cultural and historical significance. 

 

As we approached, an English speaking tour operator encouraged us to take a 3 hour complete tour for 52 euros [$75.00 cdn]. Seemed like a lot but we only live once and would likely only be there once so we went for it.  We both agree that the amount was well worth it.

 

Our tour guide was Erin from Texas although her accent was very Canadian. She was fabulous and very obviously passionate about her job. She really knew her stuff and enjoyed sharing her vast knowledge with us.

 

We went through museums, the courtyards, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica – a massive church bigger than 2 football fields filled with artistic and historic memorabilia, masterpieces, tapestries, sculptures, sculpture pieces, the tomb of St. Peter, marks of previous popes, and marble, marble, marble everywhere—mostly from the ruins of the Colliseum, Forum and Palatine Hill, Egypt and Africa.   

 

The Sistine Chapel is supposed to be a very silent place and they have Swiss guards inside ensuring silence and order and no flash photography – amazingly some people just don’t get it and I think it is another example of how because of them, one day the Chapel will be closed to the public.

 

We were awestruck by the experience of actually being at the Vatican but exhausted from all the walking on marble steps and hallways. We slowly found our way out across St. Peter’s Square and down a side road leading us back to the Tiber River. We were hungry and we were thirsty.

 

We returned via the same quaint back road neighbourhood we came and managed to find a cute independently owned and operated bistro. We enjoyed a glass of red wine and a little something to eat. Much to my satisfaction, we made it back home with no difficulty whatsoever.  We each had a quick shower and slipped into our beds for a quick nap. It was late in the day and we had to pack up and prepare for an early morning departure. We paid our bill and arranged for a 4:30 a.m. wake up call and a 5:30 taxi.

 

I felt sad because a fabulous vacation was about to end and I was not really ready. We went out for a final stroll and ended up in a restaurant featuring buffalo dishes. I had no idea and who would have thought a place would be so limited. Everything on the menu seemed to include something buffalo. Being someone who hesitates to try new things, I was not entirely comfortable about eating there but I was too tired to suggest otherwise. I found something that included buffalo cheese but it was in a salad so it was easy to mask. Turns out, I actually enjoyed eating the stuff. It is kind of like a mozzarella with a smoky flavour.  My pasta dish had different looking stuff in it, including meat, so I may well have eaten buffalo bacon too. The ice cold bottle of Prosecco helped me out a lot.

 

And so, our fabulous time together was coming to an end. Reality was going to set in within 24 hours.  My best memories will be the solidifying of a fabulous friendship, being able to speak in different languages, being successfully frugal and realizing that actually seeing things I know about is far more enriching that just reading about them.  I want to travel more; I want to get out more and I want to write more --- all noble goals and all very do-able.

 

These have been [were] the best two weeks of my entire life!

Mistress Bride Part 1

Her life is consumed by a passing fancy, the Mistress Bride – always a bride and never the wife. Certain of secrets and lies and hypocrisies, forever mindful of cautious whispering oratories, uninvolved conversations, desperately shielding the light, diluting her sad reality, she is shamed and shameful, stuck and stupid, hidden under a code of silence.

 

Her life has rendered her nameless but she is easily named by her behaviour, closely observed and analyzed from afar by her family, friends and colleagues. They see the darkness with the occasional glimpses of light bringing them sadness and feelings of helplessness. Her military face, her military gestures and her military dress emulate the messages behind the silence, the evasiveness and the temperament. They have seen her slip deeper and deeper into depression, despair and darkness. They diagnosed her with big pox, as she constantly carries a nagging fever and a devilish rash. She is zombie-like, delusional and disjointed. The diagnosis is not something new; the symptoms have been around our societies for centuries, always cleverly hidden or shielded. It makes the carrier and her victims feel troubled, walled in, desperately lost and very alone, with nowhere to turn.



Unlike small pox, big pox itself is not contagious nor necessarily terminal. It does have a festering impact on the carrier and on all those who suspect or know about it. It directly affects eyesight and hearing, and obliterates any sense of feelings for oneself and others. The symptoms are very controlled and the treatment is easily manipulated. The condition does not have the power to make the observer a carrier, but it has the potential to be life threatening and certainly life altering, particularly to personalities. 



Over time it had become apparent that something had been dying within this Mistress Bride, yet she continued to breathe. She walked around like a zombie, going through the motions of normalcy, avoiding mirrors, eye contact or serious conversation. She was alone and lonely, scared, scarred and scary, losing herself within secrets and lies. She had cried out for help, reached out for help and the record shows that she had accepted help. She talked the talk, but her past had bruised, disillusioned and damaged her; her misguided understanding of the purpose of life and misunderstood definition of happiness, had impacted her mobility. She could not move herself forward with a sense of confidence and pride. The disease had stolen her self-respect, love of self and self esteem. She felt herself sinking deeper and deeper, becoming more delusionary and more isolated on each passing hour, day, week and month.

 

Eunice was one of those people with deeply set darkened eyes, with a chiselled forehead, botoxed lips, pierced ears, tattooed ankle, enhanced buttocks, breast implants and reconstructed jaw on a head framed with a mass of thick auburn naturally curly hair, with bangs hanging as a means to cover her accentuated widow’s peak.

 

Her life had become that of a character in a human comedy. She kept running across the stage, sometimes on tippy toes and at other times running endlessly and getting nowhere. Everyone stood back watching at arm’s length gasping, but saying nothing. She was a mystery to those close to her and mystifying to those she met.

 

It’s the Military way.



People could see the set and the props; the learned could predict what was coming next and what was about to happen. They heard the music transcend from light and fancy free to dark and gloomy, as the scenes unfolded progressively to an ultimate and unsurprising end. It was Balzac’s Human Comedy all over again, always intriguing and predictably leading to a human tragedy or many human tragedies. The audience, as most people since time in memorial, holds on to a glimmer of hope that maybe this time things will be different.

 

For this Mistress Bride, the plot of her life had been defined by one big regret, an overriding premise; namely, accepting a marriage proposal at a time of desperation and worry that nobody would ever again pose the question.

 

Sadly, her marriage was a set-up, orchestrated by both parties, a façade for public acceptance and appeal. Dedication to Clay became less and less evident under their roof and her optimism crumbled more and more each passing day.

 

This became increasingly evident after the birth of the third and final child, when the gradually phased out acts of husbandry eventually stopped all together. She felt rejected, ugly and unwanted. She endured that pain for many years to come, feeling worthless and manic, unloved, unwanted, disrespected and unnecessary.

 

One day, the Mistress Bride left the stage and went on a trip to a far away place. Lying calming on a hammock tied to two mid-sized palm trees on a beach overlooking the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, she slipped into a dream state, holding a mirror to her eyes and seeing a blurry impression of someone once named Eunice. For the first time since running away from the horrors of a terrible marriage and actually feeling uncomfortable with her secretive life and subsequent secret life choices, she was able to put her current self, the dalliances and all, into perspective. She vomited uncontrollably and the angels dropped by to encourage her to not stop. She struggled and struggled, and desperately tried to stop, but couldn’t. She gave in and realized she had to get it all out of her in order to recover.

 

Eunice was always an agreeable woman at first, with a hidden agenda that was never actually articulated but, over time, so obvious to the astute. Her story is reminiscent of a woman with many private lives, struggling between challenges and ambitions as a daughter, sister, military wife, lover and mother. Hers was a lifestyle that ultimately led to misery and failure – an end that she was unable to fathom, predict or understand. There in that mountain of vomit lay the everlasting truth. There could be no better manifestation of the results of her labours.



The smells were disgusting; the lumps and slime scattered over a new canvas like a mishmash of mosaic tiles shook around in a Boggle game container and dumped out. The angels said: this is your boggled life coming out of you; look at the fruits of your labour.

 

That voice penetrated her ears and she heard the message repeatedly. It would not stop as she twisted and turned and tried to run away. She was standing on ice and running endlessly to nowhere.

 

This is your boggled life coming out of you; look at the fruits of your labour.



And, again echoing all around her:



This is your boggled life coming out of you; look at the fruits of your labour.

 

She was weak and dizzy. Her head was spinning round and round. She could no longer run. She was exhausted. She tried to speak, but couldn’t. She tried to look through her clouded and tearful eyes, but couldn’t. Suddenly she realized all she could do was listen.

 

I am not listening; I am not listening. You can’t make me. Stop. Stop. I am not listening. I don’t want to listen.

 

The more she struggled, the more awake she got. Eventually her eyes dried and she slowly examined the pesky portrait in front of her. She looked, but still refused to listen. Suddenly she fixated her eyes on something and wondered what it was.

 

What is that? How did that become a part of me? That’s not mine; that’s not me.

 

The angel’s voice said:  yes, this is you; this is all of you. This is your creation.

 

The Mistress Bride lay there quietly and looked some more, as more tears fell from her eyes. She heard her mom’s voice, her children’s voices and her best friend’s voice. They were all there reaching out to her, but she could not allow herself to reach back.

 

Go away, she begs, go away.

 

They responded in unison saying:  you need not be ashamed; you need not go through this alone. We are here for you. We believe in you. We have faith in your ability to love yourself and to rise from these ashes.

 

As the Caribbean wind shifted and tomorrow turned into today, her dream carried her further into her err of mysticism, still wallowing in an imaginary ecstasy and still aware that her reality would be chastised even by the only slightly interested. She would be freer in a real prison, but she is mesmerized by a self-created belief system that nobody will understand and nobody can help her bounce back.

 

She knew her marriage was doomed as early as the honeymoon. He fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow on their wedding night. Subsequent nights were not all that different and then came the stresses of his work, his fatigue and his worries about meeting the expectations of the upper brass. The signs were there but she did not risk bringing them up for discussion; that all changed soon after the birth of their third child.

 

The nightmare of her life all came to a fold when Clay decided it was time for a king-sized bed, giving them each a full sized twin mattress with a well-defined middle line reminding her of the territorial rule. She was not to cross the line as that would disturb his much needed rest. Clay declared that intercourse was meant for creating offspring and since they would not be able to afford more mouths to feed, that phase of their life together had come to an end.

 

You don’t work so you wouldn’t understand. Trust me I am doing this for both of us.

 

Like in all old houses as they age, eventually the floors start to creak and the door hinges begin to squeak. No amount of renovating, restoration, wallpaper, paint or oil can shield the problem, like they once did. The castle of her life had been gradually crumbling over an eighteen year stagnant and cruel relationship, perched on its flank, about to fall over the embankment. It was time to take a bold step forward. The shocking bed rule was the last straw.

 

At the very next required attendance at a military social function, the Mistress Bride was born. She entered the gala event at the NATO base auditorium, located not far from the Canadian base and only about a five minute drive from home, looking jubilant and full of life, ready to write a new chapter. She glanced clear across the room, past the merry maidens and gossiping socialites, past the uniformed majors and minors and superior officers representing the allied troops. She made instant eye contact with a tall, blonde French Lieutenant Colonel and boldly left her husband’s side. 

 

Have you come alone?

 

Yes, my wife is close to her due date and in no condition to attend, he said in a beautifully accented, irresistibly passionate broken English. Her heart sank. His demeanour and his voice aroused her instantly and sent her mind off on a tangent it had never experienced before.

 

Come and join us at our table.

 

Clay was perplexed when she came to the table to introduce a high-ranking officer from another jurisdiction.

 

Clay, this is Lieutenant Colonel La Framboise. I have invited him to share our table.

 

He greeted the man according to the expected protocol and offered him a seat next to him. His no longer dutiful wife sat clear away from Clay and next to the Lt. Col. She remembered the new king-sized bed and its rule, and decided the Lt. Col would be that crack in the middle. [end of Part 1]

Mistress Bride Part 2

[Start of Part 2] She joined in their conversations with ease and comfort, and avoided eye contact with others in the room -- the people, men and women, ranked and unranked, who would have deemed such behaviour to be highly irregular and downright improper, including her husband.

 

The bed has made me do this, she says to herself.

 

A toast!  she proposes as the men lift their glasses in military unison, to peace in the Balkans, Iraq, Iran and Ireland! She winks quickly at the Lt. Col. and brushes her knee against his. He smiles in return.

 

It was time to reconstruct a whole new foundation amongst the long overlooked or ignored colourful and bright foliage that had been around her and remained untouched. She decided her life was not over, despite the dud of a husband in name only, and that she can be celebrated, honoured and respected once again.

 

The soon-to-be Mistress Bride knew that night that the tides were a changing.  It was one of those fairytale moments. Her head instantly had flashbacks of scenes of the Romanticism Era in the words of French 19th Century writers like Balzac and Baudelaire, Stendahl and, of course, the infamous work of Flaubert entitled Madame Bovary, highlighting the life of a beautiful, married French woman who fell from the grace of women to whom the highest standards of morality steadfastly remained a sign of prestige, honour, pride and high self-esteem. Debauchery became Madame Bovery’s legacy, as it did [and does] for all women of her standing.

 

The French authors’ focus was on debauchery, dalliances and adultery at every turn, intriguing people of all classes then and for decades to come. In this more modern age, such insanities continue using some of the old ways of camouflage as well as new ones such as late night untraceable text messages or phone calls announcing opportunities to get away for a quickie, Skype communications, calls from disposable cell phones or pay phones, walks along secluded greenways, drives along meandering roadways after sunset and luncheons at the posh dining rooms of the five star out of the way resorts, nestled neatly within mountain passes. They were hard to get to, but worth the effort, until the car breaks down and the sweat starts to pour down the forehead and chests of both players.

 

Three years into her new journey with this man who was 25 years her senior, a time during which she saw her distance without obstacles as long as she stuck to the song sheet, a journey embodied by secrets and lies, deception and footloose and fancy free debauchery, the condition had run its course. The torrid love affair, filled with expensive gifts, mid-day private encounters and overnight visits when respective spouses were out of town, non-existent out of town conferences or those that were not attended alone, and those promises of divorce and then marriage, eventually got stale. She felt trapped within the walls of a very secret life that became as painful as her confined and buried married life. It was clear that there would be no divorce and subsequent marriage in that fallback relationship. The excuses were subtle at first and then, as is most often the case, reality dictates that it is the status quo forever or nothing at all.

 

At this point, the Mistress Bride had become thin and sickly. The weird attraction to being second fiddle to anyone, to giving a married man the best of both worlds, to running and hiding, and living with a rear view mirror affixed to her forehead, led her to a state of cerebral fatigue.

 

While laying there on the hammock, she became a somnambulist – a transition from awake with her eyes closed to asleep with her eyes open. It was eerie to see, but encouraging at the same time. She actually looked at peace for the first time in a very long time.

 

She lay there like a still born flower in a meadow of thoughts, as the bright crescent moon shone above her. Her thoughts took her to the beginning.

 

Clayton T. Raven was a bit of an anomaly all of his life. He went through school on a military base because his parents and grandparents were patriots and commitment to military service was embedded in their being. He stood out as a bit of an oddball; some thought it may have been a form of autism, although no military person would ever use that word. He was deemed as shy and a potential Einstein; grew up as a loner, bonded with nobody except his doting mother who dressed him and fed him throughout his youth and young adult life.

 

As Clay entered the military in his teens as a cadet, he dreamed of becoming an aeronautical engineer so that he could pilot the prestigious AWACS surveillance jets for Canada and, ultimately, NATO. It was an ambitious endeavour, a challenging one, but he was focused and determined. He studied hard and well beyond the requirements of the program, scoring high in all the evaluations. He was put into an accelerated program and became the military’s next new shining star.

 

By the age of 30, he had progressed from Cadet to Lieutenant to Captain and then to Major in the Canadian Forces’ officer rank structure. He started piloting jets for Canadian dignitaries including the Governor General, the Prime Minister and sometimes Cabinet Ministers. He did his first overseas stint at a Canadian base in Western Germany, near Söllingen. He piloted the mighty AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] 30,000 feet above Turkey and Greece, monitoring troop movements and weaponry, and then strategically communicating the findings directly with the allied forces.

 

When he reached the level of Major, he knew further progress would be helped by an impressive personal history as head of a basic nuclear family. It was expected of all military men. He pondered over this tradition and thought long and hard on how he could fit this into his quest to eventually become General of the Canadian Air Force, five levels from where he stood. There was still a lot of ground to cover.

 

One day after the Söllingen duty ended, while on his annual leave in the Nation’s capital, he noticed a Pennysaver publication on the counter at the local café. As he leafed through the eight pages, he noticed on the last page a series of personal ads. He was drawn to a few and read them over and again.

 

What the heck. I will give it a try.

 

He went home and placed his own ad offering a ticket to the next Ottawa Roughriders football game. He had never been to a football game. He had never played football and did not know the first thing about the game. But, he needed a ‘hook’ and had heard that women like football.

 

SWM seeks SWF for courtship. How about a football game to start us off? Please send your photo and background to Box 5555.

 

A week later, he went to his assigned postal box at the Pennysaver office on the outskirts of Ottawa and found nine responses. He pondered over each very carefully and separated them into three piles. He analyzed each meticulously only like a military person would. He could not be too careful. He judged paper quality, content and presentation. The photos were interesting too. Since he had never had a girlfriend and hadn’t really spent a whole lot of time with guys, he found himself in a weird place. He felt stressed.

 

Finally, he gathered up all of the letters, flicked them down the long stairwell in his heritage townhouse and reached down to the one that fell closest to his feet.

 

This is the one!

 

Her name is Eunice. She is a nursing student, about to graduate. She has bushy thick hair. Dark eyes. A smallish nose. Her front teeth were straight, her body was slim and in shape, and her smile was very inviting.

 

He rehearsed the phone call over and again before placing the call. He got her voicemail. He liked that as he was so nervous and just wanted to say what he had to say. Several hours passed. She returned the call and accepted his invitation to the football game. They agreed to meet at the nearby Starbucks an hour before game time.

 

Clay quickly google-searched football to get a clear sense of what was to come; he memorized the lingo, the names of the Ottawa players and some of the key numbers. He also checked on the rules and then secured two end zone seats on line. He was ready.

 

He was punctual; she was late. They both dressed in their best casual outfits and felt starry-eyed as they got through the initial introductions. Clay held the door open and pulled out her chair at the table closest to the window. He had heard that women like chivalry and they like window seats. He asked her what she would like to drink and out came an incredible list of adjectives to describe a certain type of hot coffee drink with a certain flavoured sweetener (but half the usual amount), certain precise temperature, half full, half empty, froth instead of whipped cream, soy instead of milk, ceramic cup instead of paper – the list went on and he felt it was a test.

 

She was instantly impressed. She knew her drink order was complicated and perplexing but Clay’s very structured and sequential learning experiences throughout his life – to the point of knowing a bed can only be made a certain way following a hundred steps in precisely the right order and that a dishwasher can only be filled in one correct way, his brain had been well trained to repeat a drink order in precisely the way it had been given. It was kind of like marching.

 

Their first conversation focused on football as that seemed like the appropriate way to go. Eunice seemed quite up on the game and had been a fan for years. Clay felt somewhat inferior but tried very hard to not let it show. He shared his recently acquired knowledge and the time went by very quickly, especially during the segment that focused on him. Eunice got into asking him all kinds of direct questions about his education and his plans.

 

He then recalled the purpose of the date.

 

He hopped right into talking about his life and his mission, and his long term plan to become the Air Force General. Before getting there, he would have to do placements in various bases around the world, often for 3 year stints and sometimes longer. But, he also realized he had a dream of one day getting married and having children, and travelling with his family around the world to better understand our history and all that our planet had to offer.

 

Eunice’s eyes lit up and she was instantly all ears. The questions kept coming and the answers drew her deeper and deeper into this dream. She started to see people salute her. There would be a daytime driver and a night time driver to take her anywhere she wanted. There would be receptions and dinners, dances and embassy events every week. She would wear a different fancy outfit each and every time, just like Vanna White. Everyone would call her Mrs. Raven, wife of the ambitious Major Raven.

 

Suddenly the time had come to leave the café and head toward the stadium. Eunice felt mesmerized and off in la-la land. She was glad they were moving on as her life, somehow, seemed much less interesting and since she had no vision of moving her career up to becoming the Chief Executive Officer of a hospital, she now looked forward to the football game.

 

The game was an exciting one. Clay cheered with the crowd and frequently glanced at Eunice to ensure his eyes were aimed at the right zone. He often found that he was starring at the clock trying to figure out when the clocked stopped and when it was actually ticking. Sometimes the play seemed to be going on, but the clock was stuck. He thought the game would be one hour but at some point it was running into hour three. It became frustrating for a structured-sequential mind. Disorder and surprise were not his strong points. He began to feel agitated but as per military expectations, he kept his feelings inside and showed no emotion.

 

This date will soon be over.

 

Finally the game ended. The hometown crowd stood up and cheered in jubilation and then swarmed to the exits. Eunice said:

 

Let’s let the troops go ahead. [end of Part 2 - click below for Part 3]

Mistress Bride Part 3

[Start of Part 3] He was impressed with her military reference although somewhat insulted as it suggested troops were disorderly. His troops were never disorderly and he was unaware of any disorderly troops. He let it pass. Dating was new to him.

 

They sat and talked about the game and talked about certain memorable plays. He confessed to her that he had never been to a game nor seen a game nor played one. He suggested football because he had heard that women like football.

 

Good choice. I am impressed.

 

By then the crowd had disbursed and the clean-up crew had emerged. Up they got and proceeded to the exit. By now it was well past the dinner hour and Clay did not have it in him to push his luck by tacking on a dinner. That was not part of the plan.

 

He walked her to her car in a pay parking lot, wondering why she would pay for parking when street parking four blocks away was free. He knew, at this point, his question would be best left unspoken. She looked good beside him, was a career-minded person and seemed to like him. As far as he was concerned, the pawns were in place and he was ready to go.

 

A week later, the phone rings. It is Eunice asking how his week had gone and if he was up to seeing her again as other offers had come her way and she had some decisions to make. She mentioned that ideally she would like to go out with him three times before making a decision either way.

 

Clay suggested dinner and movie. He chose the restaurant and the movie and later, after discussing this with his mother, he called her back to give her the opportunity to choose a restaurant and movie of her liking. She threw it back at him and asked him to recommend three restaurant options from which she would choose one. She was trying to warm up to his suggested science fiction flick – not a genre with which she was familiar and thought Top Gun would be nice. Although he had already seen that movie the first day it was released, he agreed to the movie choice but did not tell her he had seen it already.

 

Their third date was a turning point. Clay invited her to meet his family at a backyard BBQ. The family welcomed Eunice with open arms and their warmth warmed her heart. She had never felt so welcome in someone else’s home; she was instantly comfortable and knew this was it for her. She had found her man and made a decision. She would enter the military and serve as a nurse in the medical services unit. Clay was so impressed, he embraced her like there was no tomorrow.

 

That tomorrow could not come soon enough and he helped her make the right contacts. Although her family was shocked and chocked with the sudden news, they went along with it as it was the first time in a long time that she seemed sure about realizing a once imagined future with a prince charming. Clay had stature, charm and grace. He came from good stock, had a secure and impressive career with great potential for advancement; he was ambitious and had money. It was like a dream come true all around.

 

Six months later, upon Clay being stationed in Grostenquin, France, they got married just before his placement. It was the only way they could go there together, as living together unmarried was strictly forbidden in the military. Although Mrs. Raven had not yet secured a nursing position job in Grostenquin, she would go along with the plan. They would work out that loose end later.

 

Once they got settled in off-base housing – a beautiful three story heritage home with the original windows, shuttered from the outside, a fountain and gazebo in the back yard, Mrs. Raven soon realized that she did not have the proper credentials to work on the base nor did she qualify for work outside the base. The military brass had to be approached while in Canada and that matters of that nature were not addressed during active duty. Her husband was on active duty and she had become a military wife. He sacrifices his life; she her career.

 

The Military Wives Club as it was known, consisted of all the wives of military brass in levels Major and higher. This was a group of about twelve; many were high school educated, two had some college time and Mrs. Raven was the only graduate. The wives were seen as trophies that stood by their men at military social functions – functions that took place rather frequently on the base and sometimes at Embassies and Consulates off-site. The wives also had an at-home role to play – ensuring full breakfasts every morning by 7 a.m., clean clothes and shiny shoes at hand at all times, bagged lunches handed to their husbands at the door, followed by the required good-bye, kiss/kiss, I love you farewell. Dinner had to be ready and served at the table by six p.m.

 

While the husbands were at work, the women were at their leisure organizing day trips to areas within an hour of town. Some organized craft sessions or gab sessions and baking or cooking afternoons; others formed knitting and quilting clubs and sold their wares at a semi-annual fair in the mess hall on the base. There was also the book club, the running club, the swimming club and the card club. Oh – bingo too!

 

Children were a requirement of families and there was a silent understanding that the couple was required to make this a priority. Clay and Mrs. Raven did not get started on this task until the boxes were unpacked and all their possessions were in place, including a new chain on the motorized outdoor shutters of the bedroom window.

 

Mindful that their first attempt was to be Clay’s first time, Mrs. Raven was nervous about perhaps having to show him some leadership. He needed a lot of leadership but she held back, as his ego would likely explode from the humiliation of a wife guiding a husband. It was not the military way. She had been incredibly patient and understanding as he had a lot on his mind as he made the transition from Lieutenant to Captain and needed to make an impression.

 

The first attempt was a disaster. He could not find his way as she lay there in anticipation. He was feeling too anxious and suggested they just lay side by side for a while. Suddenly, as she lay there patiently, she glanced over and he had fallen asleep. She stared at the ceiling and said:

 

What have I gotten myself into?

 

Later that night, he awoke and it was like a whole different person was lying there beside her.

 

Who is this man? She said to herself. Whoever it is, don’t let him go away.

 

He was good -- so very good, and she let him know it then and the morning after.

 

The next night it was the same as the night before. When he is awake, he can’t perform; when he is half asleep, he does very well.

 

Eventually Mrs. Raven got pregnant and he was sure intercourse while pregnant is not a good thing. She tried to convince him otherwise, but to no avail. This cyclical behaviour went on three times over, at which point Clay felt he had done his husbandry duties, met military expectations of a man in uniform and had secured Lieutenant Colonel status. He was on the right path to becoming Brigadier General and then three steps later he could be chosen to fill the ultimate position of General. What happened to Eunice?

 

Who’s Eunice?

 

Over the course of 20 years, Eunice went missing. They had moved the family from Grostenquin and back to Canada; to Davos, Switzerland and back to Canada and then to a top secret base in South West Asia. Uprooted; new beginnings; new loneliness. Mrs. Raven had sunk into a deep, dark hole, desperate, depressed and disillusioned.

 

Don’t ask; don’t tell. Shh!

 

Life had become a living nightmare. No functioning husband; no job; no meaningful life; no roots and no foundation. She felt she was hanging on with merely a thread.

 

A heavy gust of wind shook the hammock and Eunice awakened. Her paleness was less obvious and she felt eager to get up. For the first time in a very long time, perhaps for the first time ever, she felt comfortable right there, at that point in time, within that embracing hammock. She realized for the first time ever that she had been living a lie – stuck in a predetermined lifestyle, being what her parents wanted her to be, being who Clay wanted her to be, what he, their children, his parents and the military expected her to be. She turned into someone she did not want to be and that led to becoming someone she did not even know, did not want to know and someone nobody else could get to know, including her children who had been successfully captured by the power of their father. Again alone, very alone, wanting to run but with really no place to go.

 

At that point, the doors and windows in her life were no longer sealed. The shutters were slamming to and fro. The wind started to break through. The tight seal under which she was compelled to live, had broken. She could see that the varnish had worn off the banisters; the children had been enrolled in military college. She had not seen a football in twenty years. It was time to make better choices; it was time to take control.

 

As Eunice lifted herself out of that hammock, without assistance and without needing to be told how, she felt refreshed. She was a Mrs. Raven and all that defined that person, no more. She was meant to be Eunice, first and foremost, and nobody else. She knew she would welcome some professional help to get there, but get there, she would. It was time; it was her time and nothing and nobody would stop her.

 

She packed her bag and arranged to be on the next flight out of Aruba and straight to Amsterdam, where she would board the train directly to the secret village in South West Asia, to get her life on track. She arranged a conference call with the children to share her plan to go back to Ottawa, to take the nursing exams over again for certification and start working in the field of her choice for the first time in her life. 

 

Although she was severing ties with Clay and her secret military and other secret life, she assured her children that she was not excluding them from her life. She was proud of them and their many accomplishments. It was now time for them to feel great pride in their mother who had lost herself in the prescribed expectations set by the Military, an institution that led her on, as a military wife married to the offspring of generations of people committed to military service, turning her into a person with low self-esteem, low self-confidence and virtually no self-respect. The time had come to revive her self.

 

The Military is what it is [for lack of a better expression] but I know that I want no life like it, she told her adult children. The secrets of the Military, the secrets of military life, military wives and military husbands are all shrouded in mystery and misery, and a very loud code of silence. I have unknowingly been moulded into becoming a non-military soldier, over the years, rendering me powerless, yet powerful at the same time. Now is the time for me to seek fairer seas and follow the trade winds to a meaningful destiny. I have more tools now. I will find my way out of misery and secrecy and do myself and all who love me, proud.

 

Her three children stood tall and embraced her as she set out on her special journey.

Little Red Pillow



 

My comfort, my companion, my little red pillow has travelled with me about five thousand miles and has been my comfort, my companion each and everyday for the past fourteen days.

 

It all started last summer when my neighbour Louisianne shared her little red blow-up pillow with me. We often sat outside of our apartment building on our folding camp-style lawn chairs – the kind that fold up like an umbrella and pack away nicely in the accompanying bag. The chairs have very bad back support and smart shopper Louisianne found a perfect solution at an all-purpose Victoria hardware and house wares store called Capital Iron. There is no store quite like it anywhere else. 

 

This special pillow is made from that originally designed air mattress material – a good strong canvass and it comes in red or blue. I was so impressed with the positive impact of the cushion on my back, my reaction remained in Louisianne’s mind long enough for her to remember the next time she was at that store that she should surprise me by buying me a pillow – it would be my very own little red blow-up pillow.[click 'read more' below to continue with this story]

 

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North Bend Revisited

 

Today I have embarked on a journey thirty years back in time, through the seven tunnels of the Fraser Canyon Highway, in the province of British Columbia. Yale, Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar, Alexandra, Hell's Gate, Ferrabee and China Bar.

 

I feel nervous and curious at the same time, as I am about to become a stranger in what once was my hometown -- a place where I grew up for ten years; a place that is no longer my actual home but, in my heart, it shall always be my North Bend.

 

The journey along the new bridge that used to be a one car aerial ferry crossing, the only one of its kind in North America, is eerie. It is the only way into the village from Boston Bar and on days when the ferry was not working or the crew was on strike, we would actually be stuck. We would have to rely on the train to bring us in supplies and hope that nobody would need to get to a hospital anytime soon.

 

Once across, I stop to see if there are any physical signs of the ferry cage or cables. I see a structure that might have held up the heavy cable, but other than that, I see nothing. The unique ferry service is a memory --- only a memory.

 

The road into the village is paved now, but the landscape is overgrown and unkempt. Things that used to be far away, are very close. There are new houses, here and there, in areas where there used to be only open fields. Old houses are gone or dilapidated. I try not to look at those because I don’t want to see them. [click 'read more' below to continue this story]

 

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Tugboat Tammy

 

Tugboat Tammy, battered and bruised from a well-logged length of service, sitting alone along the shores of virtually any British Columbia coastal community, purrs along the waters of Desolation Sound today, silent and sturdy, emerging from the misty fog, like a steady workhorse, tugging a collection of strategically placed logs to the mills near Powell River, in time for supper. The unprotected waters have been violent and controlling, overwhelming to her hull, as she struggled to meet her immediate needs, with limited visibility.

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The Pericles Experience

 

 

His eyes lusted over me as he looked at me from a distance and then suddenly he was very close up. His body was shaking with desire and ready to grab me and carry me away to a dark alley for some incredible and uncontrollable demonstrative passion.  My inner self shook with fear as I realized I was almost not able to get away.

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Act of Human Kindness

In November 2007, Pam and I went to Vegas for many reasons – she for a personal reconstruction conference; me to see a lifelong male friend once named Bob, then Robert and now Chris. Our common goals were to enjoy Elton John at $300 a ticket and to shop. While Pam attended the conference, Chris was my ‘proud of Vegas’ tour guide.

Originally we had three tickets for the concert as someone was going to meet us there and enjoy it with us. Unfortunately for her, she was unable to attend.  So what would you do with an extra ticket to a fabulous show in fabulous Las Vegas? Chris was not interested. 

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Be Your Own Hero

I started reading a new French novel today, the novel isn’t new, it is actually quite old, but it is new to me. It’s about racist attitudes of the 70s and 80s – attitudes that accentuated out of the other world of generations past where the thoughts and feelings about Blacks, Jewish people and Asians were either suppressed, kept silent or expressed in acts of war.

As I read through the first two chapters, I put the book down to reflect on the unusual experience I had in a shoe store in Haney over the weekend. The flamboyantly expressive, happy and proudly gay sales clerk enriched my day with his openness and self-confidence. He hid nothing and feared nothing about being who he was always meant to be and who he loved being. We clicked instantly and he basically went on to tell me his life story.

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Along the Ivy Line

  Ivy is a strong, determined and uninhibited woman who has lived in Vineyard County for many, many years. Her roots are well-embedded into the fertile Okanagan ground, like the strong and hardy grape vines that surround her life, filled with the juices needed to produce a product of excellence year after year. 

One day in 1996, Ivy decided to branch out further and follow a path leading to an interesting Ledge in a far away place. There she saw hundreds and hundreds of twinkling white lights, like stars glistening in the night, strung around every edge of a huge stone building. It was the British Columbia Legislature.  She was instantly curious and wanted to know more.   

 

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