Bucket List – Part 4

The final leg of our journey begins in Kamloops BC. It’s a humble town along the Thompson River with a few hotels and an open table ice cream shop. We really don’t get to see much as the drop off is late and we are pooped. But after a good nights sleep we are ready for the last day on board the Rocky Mountaineer. The sun is bright and warm. Another hot day is apparent.

The dry desert like surroundings look hot from our front row perch. It’s almost like you can feel the rocks heating and sizzling. There is abundant sage brush and it’s practically the only flora to be seen. It’s the type of rustic sage that Indians use for smudging and cleansing. It looks a bit like lavender. We start to see the layers of rock all around us as we chug along.

There’s a few good gold rush stories and the woeful tale of Billy Miner (the infamous train robber) adds to the colourful history of the Wild West. There’s a few wineries popping up and one of them pays homage to Billy by including his “most wanted” poster on their labels. All the wines are cleverly named after his antics such as Stick Em Up. Cute.

We spend breakfast with Luanne and Dewey. They are a retired (GM) couple from St George Utah. They’ve got no kids or pets but they have skied all over the world. Now they are also into “Jeeping” and pickleball. They like all sports, including hockey! But it was the jeeping that intrigued us so they explained. When they moved into their 55+ community a few years ago, they were invited to join a jeep club. Firstly you need a jeep. They have a Wrangler. But, they enthusiastically explained, that a base jeep is ho hum; you need to spruce it up with huge tires and other gadgets so that you can do the trails. St George where they live is near the Nevada border and so the desert terrain is where they go. As a jeep herd they gather at prearranged spots and “jeep” then hike and picnic. The group has gotten so big they’ve formed a splinter group with their neighbours. Who knew?? The cutest thing was, when I asked Luanne where her favourite destination is, she says it’s where her husband proposed. They were skiing and he popped the question.

The food is good on the train. I’m impressed with the menu for such limited facilities. The tables are nice white linens and everything looks so perky and inviting in the sunshine. It’s a glorious day!

After breakfast we head back to our viewing station. The landscape is slowly starting to change and there are a few trees here and there but still very arid. We are on the look out for big horned goats and osprey and bald eagles. We see all three but my camera action is not quick enough. The eagles and osprey are soaring around their aeries. The goats are trying to get watered at the river. I’m sure they are super hot, too.

Before long we are seeing a definite change in terrain. The trees start getting more plentiful and we can see white peaks again in the distance. We also see some haze. We are close to Lytton where wild fires are again threatening in the area. The haze is smoke. It’s easy to see how the region is a tinder box.

The next phenomenon is the convergence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. As they flow together their distinct colours remain separate (like a layer of neopolitan ice cream) for about 3 km before they merge into one. It is flowing and rushing like mad. Right into an area called Hells Gate , aptly named by the explorers trying to set up trading posts! We are told there’s more water gushing down than at Niagara Falls. It’s an absolute wonder how the river banks and deadly waters were handled. Our train virtually is on the edge of the river and feels like you could easily plunge over the edge and tumble down. The other marvel is the hydro lines and the highway. There are no words, and photos don’t do justice, for this rugged and remote region.

Once we are back down to riverside level we can feel the changes. More trees. More lush. Some shade. And we enter into the Fraser Valley home to a great agricultural terroir. The train passes vast fields of crops and along the train tracks are wild berry bushes to discourage the hungry wildlife from wandering into harms way of the trains. There are all kinds of freight trains en route carrying coal and oil and other commodities. Sometimes we have to provide the right of way and it’s long trains!!

We glide past Hope where the first Rambo movie was filmed. And other small towns. This is a change from the desolate areas we have come through. As we approach Vancouver we notice more civilization and traffic. Right around Surrey where we have a glimpse of the big city in the distance we start to get ready for the final threshold. But this last few miles takes us hours. It’s agonizing in the heat and everyone’s a bit more vocal. It could be the endless adult beverages that flow freely from morning on. More drinks are offered to placate the anxious guests.

We are meeting Sarah’s (Rudy’s daughter) mother in law, Vija, when we arrive in Vancouver. We haven’t seen her in person in years (she thinks 10!) and we are looking forward to catching up. Our hopes of a timely arrival, however, are dashed by the crazy delay and we get to the Pan Pacific Hotel just in time to greet her and, how appropriate, have another drink! The view over the harbour and Stanley Park is fantastic. And so is the company. Vija is a powerhouse. She’s a single lady that is in total control of her life’s path. She’s a world traveller. She sits on several boards. She lives in downtown Vancouver and doesn’t skip a beat. Her insights are interesting and engaging. We talk briefly about the obvious homeless problem in the city. Our shuttle bus passed through several blocks of tents, bodies, trash, movement and despair on route to the hotel. It was shocking and sad to see.

Our drinks vanished with the time and we hug good bye promising to not let another ten years fly by. We literally run to our room to get a much needed shower! Man we were hot and sweaty. As we dive into bed we groan at the thought of another early morning. Our flight is scheduled to leave Abbotsford at 9:40 am. It’s over an hours drive from our hotel. Ugh. 5 am wake up call.

The alarm goes off and the sun is already shining. I think sun in Vancouver is a good omen! While we get ready to launch on the last part of our trip, I check the Swoop flight status. Big surprise!! It’s delayed until 12:55 pm. The rush is over but the delay is a bummer. Better than cancelled. But the later we arrive in Hamilton the later our car ride will be back to Molly. I try not to let myself really miss her, but on the last day of any trip I can’t wait to hug her and get a wet lick.

I’m tapping out this post on our flight. We are descending into the Hamilton airport. It’s sunny above the clouds and I’m hopeful for a sunny drive home. Sun is my good omen. All in all a great trip. We couldn’t have squeezed another minute into it! It’s great to see old familiar faces mixed with new experiences, but I have to agree with Dorothy: there’s no place like home. ❤️

Spinach soufflé
Buttermilk pancakes
Two rivers – mixed hues
Logs ready to float down river
New Westminster
Drinks with Vija

Bucket List – Part 3

What a day! The Rocky Mountaineer does not disappoint!

We are picked up at our hotel by bus and shuttled to the train station in Banff. There are over 500 of us making the journey and the train is long! There are 12 passenger cars which consist of two levels: main floor with a viewing balcony, dining room and washrooms and a second floor with lazy boy type seats and a glass dome for panoramic scenery. As we board the train staff are directing us to the second level and at the top we find out our seats are at the very front and the seats opposite us are vacant!! Bonus!!

The train departs at promptly 8 am amidst staff waving at the station. It’s a gorgeous sunny day with miles of blue sky. As we chug along the town of Banff is left behind and we are heading into vistas only visible by train. True back country. The tracks meander along the River and through dense forested areas but everywhere you look there’s another postcard view that simply can’t be captured by a camera. I feel my eyes misting as I marvel at the spectacular display of natural wonder. It’s truly miraculous how the elements weave themselves into such breathtaking beauty.

We are supplied with a map of our journey and the mile posts are explained. It’s like buoys on the water; each marker is numbered and shown on the map. You can follow the entire journey. The first area we pass is Lake Louise and then we dive into the wilderness and an area of the continental divide where a corkscrew tunnel (I can’t even imagine how these were dug out!) winds us down from the peak elevation of 1,700 meters. It’s ear popping territory.

The river ebbs and flows (and in some case rages) as it pounds down the mountains. It’s a colour that can only be described as surreal: aqua, green, blue … amazing. The colour is due to the glacial water that flows into the river. It’s a snaking moving force that guides us as we roll through the terrain.

As the day begins with outstanding views it also begins with outstanding food and service. Shortly after boarding we are invited to get a seat n the dining room. They present menus with interesting options. Rudy and I choose the salmon and scrambled egg. Delicious. Our table mates from Utah tell us about their love of skiing (including at Blue!!) and how they are enjoying seeing the mountains in the off season. They’ve been to the Banff area many times to ski.

In this area, a bustling lakefront vacation area, there is plenty of boat traffic and beach goers. Apparently the lake is houseboat heaven due to limited actual cottages and people buying boats instead. Good idea!! Nonetheless, everyone enjoying the cooling lake on this hot day (39C) stopped to wave at the train. The tour guide told us that one local resident,Doris, was always in her front porch to wave. Every time. Supposedly she is alerted by her dog that a train is approaching and they both head to the porch to wave. Doris became such a thing that the staff of the Mountaineer pooled their points to buy her passage on the very trains she waves at. When her train passed her house she was amazed to see the staff and her dog waving at her!! This story is featured on a train tv show. Cool.

We drift into Kamloops BC fully sated, hot and sweaty. The landscape has softened from humongous snowy peaked mountains to dry rolling hills reminiscent of Vegas. The bus collects us at the station and transfers us to our hotel. We were given room keys on the train and our luggage is waiting for us in our hotel room. The service is seamless and efficient. I’m impressed.

It’s 7 pm. Which translates to 10 pm Ontario time so I missed my daily call with my parents. I collapse into bed after a luxurious shower…. Final approach tomorrow.

Good night Kamloops.

Our view from the front
Waving on departure
Breakfast of champions
Kicking Horse Resort
View at lunch
Lunch – Power Bowl with salmon
The seats behind us
Lake Shuswap

Bucket List – Part 2

Fun fact: I’m writing this from my premier perch on the train!!

Yesterday was a full day. It started with an early (ungodly if you ask me) breakfast followed by a tour bus pick up at 8 am. At breakfast our bill comes clipped to a very cool retro postcard; I immediately write a quick hello to my folks and, using a stamp from the front desk, post it in the vintage mail box by the elevators. We depart Calgary with our small group and bus driver Paul. The coach is brand new and well equipped; comfortable seats. As we leave Calgary behind the weather is cloudy and grey. A huge contrast from the perfect sunshine of the last couple of days. It’s about a two hour drive to our destination: Banff.

The highway starts to wind and twist its way through the foothills and into the mountains. I didn’t realize that Banff was actually in a National Park and you need a pass to be there. We pass several areas where cars are pulling off to get their passes and carry on into the park. Our first stop is Lake Minnewanka which translates to lake spirit. It’s the largest (22 km long) and deepest lake in the park. At the lake we are dropped off to use the facilities prior to hopping on the tour boat for a one hour cruise of the lake. Our captain takes us to the turnaround point in the lake and shuts off the engines letting us enjoy the backcountry (no road access) scenery and sensations. Tranquil and quiet.

After the cruise we board the coach and make our way to Banff where we are dropped off to grab lunch on our own. Rudy and I find a local brew pub with a second floor balcony overlooking busy, vibrant Banff Ave. The town is brimming with people, strollers, dogs, bikes, busses and cars. It’s a cacophony of sights and sounds. What I love is the flower pots everywhere bursting with colourful blooms. We savour a beer and a quick snack before rejoining our group at the coach.

The next stop is Bow Falls located directly behind the Banff Springs Hotel. The falls are a mini Niagara with a wicked drop off followed by rapids on the Bow River. We could see the white water rafting vessels just down stream. Rudy shuddered as he remembered the last white water excursion! Back on the bus for our final tour of the day at the Banff gondola up Sulpher Mountain.

The gondola ride was a 10 minute jaw dropping adventure to the peak. At the summit we met a group of “kids” (everyone is a kid now … my guess is late 20’s or early 30’s) from Texas who had hiked up. It took them over 2.5 hours. Our knees hurt at the thought. After a good viewing period in the broiling hot sunshine we boarded gondola for the decent. The views were nothing short of spectacular!!

Back on the bus we have three hotels to stop at so everyone has their overnight stay. We are staying at The Moose. Located in the heart of downtown Banff, it has a log cabin feel with a dining area and a rooftop pool. By the time we arrive and find the check in place for the train, we are ready for a quick bite and wind down. We enjoy a nice bottle of Tom Gore cab sav with our dinner and bring the remaining drops to our suite. It was a long day and we are grateful for the crisp linens and quiet.

Good night Banff. It’s been a slice!

1988 Olympic site
Prairies
Ribbon of Hwy
Glacier runoff
Elk grazing
Lake Minnewanka
Back country floating
Lunch with a view
Bow Falls
Bow River current
Gondola Ride

Bucket List

Retirement makes you evaluate your new priorities. One of them, for us anyway, is to explore some new places. You realize that, inspite of being really old, your parents are still providing lessons. Todays lesson is keep on moving and being curious because some day you’ll be content to just “be”. So since we have the time to focus on our spare time (which is all we have now) we have made a bucket list. A list of places and experiences that we would like to check off.

The first tick is The Rocky Mountaineer. I’ve seen ads and promos for this train adventure for some time. But seeing the ads now, when you can actually consider it!, made me act. Especially since the company was offering “free upgrade” to Gold Leaf. A bucket list bargain. Perfect.

Our tour is booked. We chose a shorter train excursion so that we could squeeze in some visiting time. Having family out west makes any trip out of Ontario a chance to reconnect with expats. Frame it around a birthday (my brothers) and voila.

We fly a discount airline (Swoop) out of Hamilton to avoid the hoopla in Toronto. However it seems incompetence and chaos are contagious. Our flight was delayed 8 hours (and then some) and upon arrival in Edmonton our bags took another hour plus to hit the conveyor. This regardless of the ungodly hour (2 am) and that our flight appeared to be the only one. Ugh. On the very bright side, I get a text from my nephew who is waiting to pick us up. He’s my hero.

Ben (my nephew) navigates through the airport jungle and onto to open road. Seems like the entire city is calm and peaceful except for the airport?! Weird. At the hotel we are grateful to collapse into bed and conk out.

Rudy’s daughter and son-in-law pick us up the following day and bring us to their house for lunch on the deck. It’s a hot sunny day and the deck is shady and breezy. What a perfect venue to catch up on years of missed in person stuff. It was awesome. There’s no better feeling than knowing (and seeing!) them thrive in love and life ❤️

After lunch we head to Ben’s house where my brother and his wife and Ben’s girlfriend are waiting. Another deck and more reconnecting. The sun is warm but it’s assisted by the very heartwarming heat that happens naturally when you’re bursting with love. Definitely priceless.

Rudy’s daughter leaves; they have an older dog (we get it) and have to work the next day (we also get it). The rest of us start the process to head for dinner. Ben has chosen a locavore restaurant that’s walking distance from his house. We have reservations at 5:15 pm. The place is https://www.rgerd.ca/ and it definitely lives up to to its rep as a buzzy high end eatery featuring everything local. Our meal is amazing and everyone agrees it was a fabulous choice. We celebrate my brothers birthday in style. After dinner we Uber back to our hotel.

The next day my brother picks us up for brunch. Again, we meet at and walk from Bens place. His neighbourhood, it turns out, is an up and coming hip area with tons of foodie options. Our brunch is outside (another stellar weather day) at https://www.tiramisubistro.ca/. I’m delighted with my asparagus risotto topped by scrambled eggs. Everyone’s meal looks delicious and is accompanied by hot, strong coffee. After brunch there’s a lot of hugging and kissing as we pile into my brother’s suv 🚙 for the trek to Calgary. He’s going to drop us off on his way back to Medicine Hat. The 3 hour drive flies by and before we know it we are pulling into the Hyatt.

It’s a bit sad to say bye to my brother. We thoroughly enjoy his company and dry sense of humour. And always look forward to the next time.

Not enough time to pout … we are off to dinner with my very dear friend Donna. Or D as I’ve called her for years! She lives in Calgary with her husband and spends most of her time in her pottery studio. Her two daughters join us also; I’m known as their fairy god mother going back years from when they were little. They are now close to 40. Yikes. Lots of history for sure. The best treat of the night is meeting the granddaughter, Paige. She’s adorable and the spitting image of her mother. Such a delight. After dinner the youngest daughter (now a police officer) drives us back to the Hyatt. What a full and emotional couple of days.

Rudy has arranged for us to play pickleball in Calgary. Can you say “hooked”? ! After breakfast we Uber to the park https://www.calgary.ca/csps/parks/locations/tennis-courts.html where we are greeted by Pauline who shows us the ropes. We help set up the nets and start warming up. For the next few hours we meet and play with an assortment of people and they are good competition. Soaked in sweat we Uber back to the Hyatt to collect our stored luggage and hop over to the https://www.fairmont.com/palliser-calgary/?cmpid=google_pal_search-brand-na_brand-e-revsh&kpid=go_cmp-193628073_adg-16368288753_ad-431543331027_kwd-638130390_dev-m_ext-_prd-&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIifSKveSW-QIVCWpvBB3CUgbYEAAYASAAEgLZ9fD_BwE

After a (extra long and steamy) shower with my favourite amenities (leLabo Rose31) we head to the bar for snacks and wine. It’s a good time to review our itinerary for the next phase of the trip. The Rocky Mountaineer!!

Us with Rudy’s daughter and son-in-law
My brothers birthday dinner
Bens girlfriend at dinner
Us and the girls. I’m holding Paige ❤️🧚‍♀️
Let’s talk train 🚂

Hello Stranger ….

So I’ve been lax. Going through the daily motions. Covid fatigue? Possibly. Personal rut? Also likely. And then whammo! A hastily planned vacation hits me like a thunder bolt and I’m firing on all cylinders. Who knew being retired and living life needed a jump start?? Who knew vacations in retirement are just as rejuvenating as they were during the working years?? It’s a new realization. And it’s great!

Retirement, after all, is going through your daily routine except without working. Not working is awesome; don’t get me wrong. But if you’re not careful it can be mundane and treadmill-ish. The mundane can creep up on you and suddenly you take stock and realize you’re bored of the same old. I think the covid trance is also at play wiping out live entertainment and dining options. Pointless mandates that, in addition to not working (to wit here we are 2+ years later …), are slowly killing people and their livelihoods. You want to support local business, but it’s getting old already. My heart literally breaks when I think of entrepreneurs who have had the rug pulled out viciously from beneath them. And silently thanking kismet for our lucky timing in retirement. We’d be broke and out of business for sure. Divine intervention saved our assets. No doubt about it.

But I think the tide is finally turning. People have been manipulated too far. And the push back has started to show cracks in the (to now) mostly compliant herd. Funny how the herd actually missed the herd part in the immunity factor and embraced the nanny government mandates. All the while letting our most vulnerable languish. Alone and afraid and sad. Totally unacceptable and yet we stood by.

So we went on a cruise. Just got back today. Five days of sunshine and pampering service. We loved every minute of it. But our decision to cruise at this time, not to mention our decision to winter in Florida during covid (omg …. the cases!!) was met with raised eyebrows and question marks. Be safe. Ya whatever. In order to cruise we needed a covid test prior to boarding. Rules. Safety first. Armed with our tests, vax info and masks, we board the ship. Everyone vaccinated had to wear a wristband so that they could enjoy the “V” areas on board. Yes. There was segregation. Appalling. The ship which normally held about 5000 passengers and 2000 crew, was sailing with full crew but only 1800 guests. Lucky us! It was very VIP. But the weirdness of all crew wearing not 1 but 2 masks with big indications that it was N-95. They also wore buttons with their photo under a caption reading “my smile under the mask”. There were hand sanitizer stations everywhere (not that they help … most nasty viruses fall into the .1 percent not covered by the “kills 99.9% of germs” … just ask Rudy – he got the noro virus on a ship once). It’s all optics as I’ve noticed. And still the cruise lines were under the microscope for being covid super spreaders. Hogwash.

The vacation, in spite of the reminders that things were far from normal, was rejuvenating. A complete break from the day to day routine. The cruise offered an app so you could plan your on board and on shore activities. I eagerly scoped out the possibilities and filled my calendar with exciting and interesting options. Not one of them materialized. LOL. I was delighted just to be. No yoga. Or pickleball. Or bourbon tasting. Or Pilates. It was vacation bliss! Our first beer on board was a lovely refreshment that tasted so good!

Because of the low passenger count, we got a great deal on a jr suite. First time ever for us and we have cruised a lot! The suite was on the 10th deck of 14. A huge ship. The room was 50% bigger than usual and included a walk-in closet and bigger balcony. The extra space was great and the seating area included a couch and a chaise. Very roomy and comfortable. I don’t think I will rush back to a regular cabin ever again.

For cruisers, you are all too familiar with the onboard safety seminar. They assemble everyone at a muster station and review the safety protocols including how to fasten a life jacket. However! Covid requires that social distancing is a must (except for when you’re fighting for position in the sales at the shops!!) so the safety procedures are done by video on the app; you watch the videos and it says “complete”. Even if you really didn’t watch I suspect. Clever, no?? It also meant that hoards of guests didn’t bunch up at time to get off the ship. After breakfast, return to your stateroom and wait for your group to be announced. Sure. Ok. We ignored the announcement. We got off the ship at 8 am and were in our car driving off at 8:20 am. Some of the extreme efficiencies developed in the name of covid are actually awesome. You wonder how many other efficiencies have been established … like working from home. How ingenious!

For 5 days we lounged and read and ate and, after dinner, enjoyed some of the shows. In particular there was a skating production (yes, the ship had a rink) that was quite remarkable. The headliner stage shows were also good. If you had a wristband on you could sit in the main theatre; if not you had to sit in the balcony. You could not attend the ice show. Crazy. We talked about how ridiculous that was and how it mirrored the themes in our Pam Jenoff books (if you haven’t read her novels I highly recommend!!). Non vaccinated people are second class; very disturbing to say the least. I’ve voiced my concern and disapproval to our local MPP. I’m sure he rolls his eyes. Especially since he’s leaving politics after his term (he’s had a few scandal type issues over the years) but not without his juicy pension! Who cares about rights and freedoms?!

The food, as usual, was amazing on board. Adding to the pleasure of taste is the service and the ability to walk away without clean up or dishes!! bliss!! Our waiter was from India and we were his last voyage before a 2 month break. He was going home to India and would be married. He seemed so young and so happy to perform his duties. I hope he has a safe trip. He was flying from Orlando to NYC. Then on to Doha and Mumbai and finally to Goa. I could tell he was excited and looking forward to seeing his family and his girlfriend. His name is Sykes and I wish him well.

I brought two books along. And I quickly plowed through them necessitating a trip to the library on board. I entered through the ornate wooden door on level 3 and entered the library/computer centre. It was deserted. The book shelves were bare except for three books: a Clive Cussler (no thanks … I’m not a fan of Dirk Pitt- Rudy and I jokingly call him Dirk Diggler), a book on card games (no thanks) and finally a Catherine Cookson novel which I chose. It was the most of the least appealing. As it turned out “The Parsons Daughter” was a good story that reminded me of Downton Abbey. A late 18th century British country manor; I couldn’t put it down. I must say, the Brits know how to ramp up the sultry bits!!

Before we left to head to the port, Rudy collected our mail. My dad mailed a birthday card and asked every time we spoke if I’d received it. The card was not in the box, but my book order from Barnes and Noble was there! My friend Marilyn is my book/reading guru; her recommendations are always bang on! She started me on the Seven Sisters historical fiction novels. I read the first one. Then I had to order the next 6!! Rudy suggested I bring a couple along on the trip but I felt I had enough book weight in my bag. As usual, he was right. Don’t tell him. Now that we are home I’m ready to dig in to the next installation!!

On that note, I’m signing off. With every intention of not letting my creative writing outlet either again for so long.

Thank you for watching Molly, Blair. We missed her but you afforded us peace of mind. 🐶💕

Final word: live life. Love life. Fuck covid. 💗

First beer on board.
Big space and big closet
Hello Nassau
Great balcony
Paradise Island
Afternoon cocktail 🍹
At sea

First Love: Part 4

The next day Brynn couldn’t focus at work. Colleagues were actually commenting on her “far away” look. Where are you? They asked her. You look like you’re a million miles away!! Indeed she was ….

After saying “I love you” it seemed that their relationship was on a new and exciting trajectory. They spent all of their free time together and shared their intimate secrets. And hopes and dreams. But it was a warm spring night at the end of the school year when things became very intense.

School was winding down and college choices were made. Brynn and Spencer were going to be heading to the same college in the fall. Him for business and marketing; her for youth and child studies. They were in the process of arranging their courses and schedules for the first semester when the conversation turned to careers and future plans. The thought of starting their life together and eventually a family lead them to joking about kids names. But somewhere in the mix they both stopped and realized they were planning their destiny. They would be together for life. It was overwhelming and emotional and before they knew it their kissing became more intense. They wanted each other in a way that was undeniable and full of passion and love. Spencer gently yet urgently took the final step and they were bonded for eternity. Brynn and Spencer both in tears after and realizing that their two bodies had in that moment become one. Fused and connected in the ultimate way.

Back in the moment, Brynn realized that here reverie had caused a rogue tear to escape her eye. Of course, in her very busy and public office, her admin assistant noticed. Are you ok?? You seem really out of it?? I’m fine. Just a daydream disrupted by office dust … not to worry. Smiling Brynn returned to her computer. I’m losing it, she thought to herself. This is nuts.

The day dragged on and Brynn busied herself with the giant pile that never went away like a permanent mound on her desk. The clock ticked more slowly than ever before. Finally it was time for her to duck out to her “appointment”. See you tomorrow! She waved as she breezed through the office and to the elevators.

A quick stop in the ladies as she left assured her that her efforts in dressing for the occasion were valid. A light sweater set and a pencil skirt we’re going to send the right message: business yet a tease of what’s beneath without being overt. Again she chided herself on her crazy thoughts. It’s only coffee. Really.

As she drove to the west end of town to the coffee shop it occurred to her that she hadn’t seen Spencer in real life for over 30 years. Yet her mind and emotions were right back in that summer before college. She feels the heat rising to her neck and a quick glance in the rear view revealed her deep crimson blush. Quick. Turn on the AC. Just pulling into the parking she can start to feel the chill calming her nerves and her skin. Here’s goes nothing she thinks as she exits the safety of the car. Keep it together!!

The coffee shop is quite busy; it’s a lovely spring day and people are out enjoying the break from lousy weather. Entering the coffee shop she scans the crowd and notices a man at the window. He’s waving. At her. It’s him! Gulp.

She winds her way to his table and he stands as d as he approaches. Brynn he says with a wide smile. It’s so great to see you!! You look amazing. Brynn smiles and replies: you too. In her heart she’s thinking that little has changed over the years. His brilliant smile and kind eyes are so familiar suddenly. Her brain, however, tells her to take off the rose coloured glasses and get real. They both sit and take a breath.

The conversation starts out benign. A history of the past 30 years packed into reader digest sound bites. The difference is when Spencer starts to talk about his kids. They are clearly his gold crown achievement and they are heading to college (like the two of them so long ago). Brynn listens with intent as he relays their goals and paths; he’s proud and with good reason. It’s clear he’s done a great job as a parent. But they have two parents. He’s not mentioning his wife. So Brynn jumps in. Tell me about her.

And he does. They met after college and dated for a few years. Then married and started the family. He looks at Brynn to see her reaction and Brynn, remaining calm and professional, continues to ask questions. After a lengthy back and forth Brynn and Spencer settle into an awkward silence. Where do you go from here??

Brynn turns the conversation back to business and talks about her charity endeavours. And again is grateful for the generous gift. She adds in how interesting that her philanthropy should have their paths cross again after so many years. And starts to make her way to get up to leave. Spencer holds her arm gently and asks her to meet again. Brynn feels the electricity from his touch shooting up her arm.

With a sudden and unexpected wave of emotion Brynn thanks Spencer for the coffee and the chat. Glad he’s doing so well. Wishing the family much continued happiness and success. Additionally thanking him for the very deep reminiscent memories his contact stirred up. “But our lives are on separate paths now. Our history, while intoxicatingly pleasurable, is just a fond memory now. Let’s live our best lives knowing we share a lovely piece of each others past. Take care.”

And with that Brynn stands and leaves the coffee shop knowing that her first love will not be her last. She has more love to give and her heart is open to that possibility. 💗

First Love: Part 3

Her hands trembled as she entered the number into her phone. Before pressing the green button to initiate the call, Brynn had second thoughts. What would she say? How would she begin? And then her logical brain took over: it was a courtesy thank you call to a generous donor. She’d made tons of these calls over the years. No biggie. Deep breath and activate.

It rang a few times before voicemail kicked in. Brynn almost chuckled in relief not even considering the possibility that voice mail would intervene. At the end of the brief professional message callers were invited to leave a message. Brynn inhaled sharply and the first words came out a bit screechy. Hi Spencer; it’s Brynn. Remember me? (Nervous giggles were unavoidable) I’m just calling to thank you for the very kind gift to a great cause. Your generosity will make a huge difference in our efforts and you will receive a tax receipt to the address on your cheque. Thanks again. Click.

No muss. No fuss. Just business. Brynn tried to brush off the fact that her palms were damp and her heart was racing. Does anyone ever get over their first love? Brynn’s thoughts trailed back in time ….

It was February 10 1986. The big Valentines Day dance at Lincoln Highschool. Brynn and her friends, a tight posse of popular girls, had spent the better part of a week transforming the gym into a red and pink wonderland. There were more Kleenex flowers pressed into hear shapes than you could count! They even included a Valentine bulletin board where you could pin up a message to someone (anonymously if you didn’t have all the nerve) and a flower stand where you could buy stem for someone special with proceeds going to the science club (the flowers were donated by the science teachers wife who owned the shop). The pink and red theme was carried throughout the venue including the “lovers lane” red carpet for photo ops with the av club. The DJ booth had a “heart line “ request table where you could request and dedicate a song on red heart cut outs. The girls didn’t miss a detail and the excitement of the event was making the busy school halls vibrate with anticipation.

Doors open at 7. By 6:30 Brynn was flitting around her bedroom putting the finishing touches on her outfit. Her long blond hair was done earlier in the day at the local salon; her crew decided it was their best way to match – big hair embellished with baby’s breath and pale pink flowers. Her mom shouted up the stairs: Brynn! Spencer just called. He’s on his way! Hurry!! One final glance in the mirror. Brynn was pleased with the reflection. Her retro ivory dress (think Marilyn Monroe) with a strapless fitted bodice hugged her lithe frame to her waist where a thing pink belt emphasized her trim figure and then flared out in full crinoline lined skirt to her mid calf. Matching pumps and tiny clutch purse completed the look. She was ready.

Brynn bounced down the stairs where her mom waited with the ever present camera. Brynn! Her mom cried. You look absolutely charming! A beautiful valentines princess!! Let me get a photo!! Just as the camera clicked and the film advanced, the doorbell chimed. Spencer stood in the frosty night air and visibly awed at the sight of Brynn. You’ve never looked more gorgeous, he breathed as he stepped into the hallway. Almost forgetting in his wonderment, he handed Brynn one long stemmed red rose before moving in for a hug and a peck on the cheek. Wait! Brynn’s mom interjected: I need a photo of you both together!!

Spencer had borrowed the family car for the evening. So he opened the door for Brynn to slide into the giant vinyl seat of the Caprice. She slid to the middle close to Spencer as he climbed behind the wheel. The drive to the school was quick and before getting out they sat in the parked car in the parking lot and Spencer remarked again at her beauty. Brynn felt and looked like a million dollars! They walked carefully through the slushy lot to the school doors. Spencer, ever the gentleman, held the door for Brynn and they stepped into the school.

You could hear the music and the DJs voice down the hall and there were many other students arriving in all their splendour. When they entered the gym, Brynn immediately scanned the room for her friends. She spotted them by the bulletin board giggling and pointing. When they noticed her they waved her over. Spencer couldn’t help but comment on the matching hairdos and they all laughed.

Spencer was decked out handsomely in a white tuxedo. He was the most good looking guy there! His dark thick hair shaped into the fashionable mullet (popular at that time) curled over the collar of his tux. He looked lovingly at Brynn and asked her to dance when the DJ conveniently played a slow song. He held her tightly, arms around her neck, and looked into her eyes. I love you, he whispered. Brynn was stunned. They’d never said that to each other before. She looked into his handsome face and surprised herself by saying: I love you too.

Brynn was snapped back to reality when her phone started to vibrate. It was Spencer returning her call from moments before. Before she foolishly let her mind wander to a time when life was perfect. Shake it off she chided herself. Seriously!! Snap out of it. She pressed the answer button. And said: Brynn speaking.

Hey. Brynn. It’s Spencer. I’m so sorry I missed your call. Do you have time for a quick chat??

Brynn heard herself say “sure!” But her mind was racing. Heart suddenly pounding. Spencer had already spoken and was finishing by saying something about coffee when Brynn focused. She agreed to meet the next day for a late afternoon coffee. They hung up and Brynn tried to piece the conversation together. She realized that she missed most of the call. But did know for sure that she was going to meet him the next day. What was she doing????

First Love: Part 2

As her mother’s words sunk in, Brynn could feel her heart racing. Why did Spencer, even just hearing his name, have such a moving effect on her?! As her logical self chided her emotional self for the fluttering heart, Brynn knew her love for Spencer would never truly fade or disappear. Why was he randomly popping back into her life now? Her mind rotated around some possibilities but nothing made sense.

Since their gut wrenching breakup over 30 years ago, both had moved on with their lives. Brynn focused on her friends, family and career and Spencer did the same. He eventually got married and had three children. His consulting business thrived and he enjoyed a lucrative lifestyle with a grand family home. Brynn, still single, moved in with her mom after they lost her dad in the family home she grew up in. Spencer had no trouble finding it; he knew it well.

When Brynn arrives home she can’t wait to get the full rundown of events from her mom. Brynns mom was visibly excited to recount every detail and they sat at the kitchen island with their coffees to begin. Brynn urged her mom to start at the beginning and not skip anything. Then she held her breath while her heart fluttered and she listened with her whole being.

It was just after lunch because The Price is Right was over. While I got myself another cup of tea, the doorbell rang. I answered the door and a well dressed man was standing there holding an envelope. He said hi; it’s me Spencer. I took a closer look and sure enough, I recognize his brown smiling eyes and big grin. His hair is shorter and thinner, but he’s filled out nicely and wears a suit well! He tells me he heard about Brynns latest project and wanted to contribute. He hands me the envelope but I’m still a bit surprised; I take the envelope without asking him in or if he would like some tea. He must have sensed my shock and told me he would reach out to you in a day or so. That was it. Before I knew it he was gone.

Brynns mind was in circles. Spencer was here. At her house! Images of him standing on her front porch in his business suit caused butterflies to dance in her belly. Brynn forced herself to shake it off. He was married. She would thank him for the donation and move on. This school girl crush mentality was not healthy. Where could this ever lead?? She took the envelope from her mom and retreated to her room claiming she wanted to change into her lounge wear. But really she wanted to look at the cheque and the note in private. Surely just a few more fond memory moments wouldn’t hurt.

She scrutinized the envelope. The letterhead was inscribed with his company logo; it was sharp and Brynn smiled to herself at how well he had done for himself. She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the two contents. The first was a cheque for a generous amount payable to her charitable cause. The second was a hand written note. Brynn immediately recognized the familiar scrawl. Spencer could have been a doctor his hand writing was a professional blur. Brynn read and reread the note: hello Brynn, it’s been along time. I’ve thought of you often and hope you accept this small contribution to your current endeavours. I’m very proud of your community spirit. Would you like to meet for coffee and catch up? No pressure; I’d love to see you. Give me a shout. Spence

Seeing his signature using the short form of his name made Brynns whole body tingle. Her mind couldn’t resist wandering into her past where they shared intimate hopes and dreams of a future together and planned the celebration to start the rest of their lives. Family. Children. True love to bind them as one. Kissing and touching. The tenderness and awkward impatience of youth as they fumbled with learning every inch of each other. A sudden recollection of the painful end to their love story jolted Brynn back into the moment.

She would call Spencer to thank him for his kind and generous gift, but there would be no meeting or coffee or reminiscing. The painful past was more than she could bear and the thought of opening the deep old wounds after more than three decades was too raw. Brynn decided to leave well enough alone.

Brynn gathered her emotions and dialled the number she thought she would never dial again. Her resolve was impressive. Until she heard his voice.

First Love – Part 1

Brynn had the world by the tail. At 50 something she was the epitome of “made it”; thriving career, good looks, wonderful network of friends, and money to travel. From the outside looking in, you could easily envy her as she flies past in her luxury convertible with her long blond hair whipping in the wind. But Brynn was missing one thing. A big thing for her: a romantic relationship.

Sure, with her good looks and personality to match, she was in demand and has plenty of opportunity. So what’s the problem? The problem has a name: Spencer. Brynn has been spinning her wheels since she was a young girl. Ever since Spencer, her first love, broke her heart.

Actually, it wasn’t Spencer. It was his family. They broke both their hearts. The young lovers were happy. Soul mates and best friends. But they were young. Barely out of school and getting ready to start their adult lives. They knew beyond a doubt that their lives would be together. So they got engaged. It would be a match for a lifetime and they couldn’t wait to start the journey. But his family wasn’t on side. They were a tight knit bunch and made decisions as a group for the group and the family members in it. The decision to end Spencer and Brynn’s love was made. It was over.

Brynn and Spencer were heartbroken. But their fate was decided. Their confusion and sadness shrouded them like a thick dark cloak. Their hopes and dreams shattered. How would they ever carry on with their hearts ripped from their chest in such a cruel way.

But they were young and as it happened they were able to pick up the pieces and move on. Their wounds and love for each other were deep. But Spencer’s family commitment bond was stronger. This would have to be! Their paths were severed and each took his own direction. Brynn moved on with a focus on her career and Spencer did the same.

Brynn’s career became her focus. She watched her siblings get married and have children. She revelled in family love showering her nieces and nephews with the generosity of her heart. Always happy for others while her own heart was breaking. Over time the raw pain of her own loss would subside to a dull ache. But her first love was unrequited.

The years roll on and Brynn is now a successful career woman who is respected and admired by her peers and colleagues. She has a way of making everyone around her feel appreciated and necessary. It’s as though she has overflowing love inside and rather than waste it on bitterness and regret, she shares that love liberally. Everyone around her senses the aura. Brynn needed to fill her void.

There’s been a few relationships in the years gone by. A couple that were deep and meaningful and promising. But fate again would step in and intervene. Brynn remained single and hopeful. Her friends and siblings closest to her nudged her and encouraged her to keep looking for true love. But Brynn knew she had found it and by now felt she would never find it again.

Brynn was involved in many community activities and her fundraising abilities were renowned. Her latest project landed her on a morning talk show for publicity. Brynn loves the camera and it’s mutual; her flair for style and beauty shines through. She makes her pitch for a good cause and implores people to consider making a contribution. She had no idea who her appeal would touch.

Later that day Brynns mom calls her to say that a generous cheque had been delivered to her house. Brynn is delighted that her efforts were making an impact and so quickly! But she wasn’t prepared for what her mother said next: Spencer dropped the cheque off in person. And he left a note.

We Called her Piggy

Hanging out with my parents is a quilt of emotions. There’s laughter, frustration, admiration, impatience, love and sometimes sheer surprise. My mom has dementia which makes things very interesting; you never know when a nugget of raw wisdom or blur of confusion will enter the conversation. Yesterday was a great example.

When we visit them at their apartment, it throws my parents off their routine. They have a very specific and regular routine that revolves around the television programming schedule and meals. Not that they eat much anymore, but meals are the cornerstone of their daily lives. Normally my dad will wake up first around 7 a.m. followed very closely by my mother who can hear and see things at that hour; she knows when my dad is up and apparently doesn’t trust him to manage himself alone in their small abode, so she gets up when she knows he’s on the move. My dad is now the family short order cook since my mother can’t see well and her memory isn’t great for short term items (did someone say they wanted a coffee?). My dad is content to head to his “office” (the den with the extra large tv … I hate watching it with him as it’s like being in the front row at the theatre … he loves it and that’s all that really matters) and “flick” while mom hops around the kitchen putting a fruit plate together. If you ask mom what she has for breakfast, even though she likely doesn’t really remember, she will tell you by rote the usual menu: sliced fruit, bread or cracker with cheese and coffee. My dad has eggs which he makes himself.

However, we were there yesterday and something got lost in translation when we discussed the amended routine to accommodate our presence and Rudy was heading out around 8:30 a.m. to head to an appointment. That small tweak threw my dad for a loop. He woke up at 5:30 a.m. to ensure he didn’t miss making Rudy’s breakfast. When he got up at that ungodly hour, he (according to my mother) thumped around the room and turned on the light in the bathroom without shutting the door to block the light from the room where my mom was still sleeping. My mother was adamant that my dad did this on purpose to which he replied simply: I needed to put in my teeth. The breakfast did get made and Rudy hit the road. No problem.

The next mission was getting my mom to the dentist. Getting her going at any time is a process. You let her know that we are leaving in 15 minutes and it would be a good time for her to start the steps: bathroom break, shoes on, cane and sunglasses etc. She dutifully gets up from the table (she is loathe to miss any conversation and resents that she needs extra time to prepare for an exit) and starts into the next room. On the way to the next room she has to pass through the adjacent kitchen area; this is a trap for her as she can’t resist feeling her way around the counter and in this action she forgets that she was actually on her way to the washroom. I remind her that she needs to pee before we head out. Oh … she says, that’s right; I was on my way. Distractions are deadly. My dad is quite happy that he’s off the hook for now and can take his time showering and getting ready. In the getting ready sense, my dad is a bit of a diva. He always strives to look fresh and shaven and well dressed if he knows there’s someone to see or something to do. In this case it was the pedicure nurse coming later in the morning. Take your time he says. I chuckle to myself thinking that’s how parents might have felt leaving their kids with a willing and able babysitter.

I bring mom to the dentist office. She hates wearing the mask that’s required these days; I tell her to keep it on her chin just for appearances. I don’t see the point of wearing it to the dentist office where the whole idea is to get your teeth checked; pretty hard to do that with a mask on. In any event, she wobbles in where the nurse says she will take it from there and don’t worry about the mask. I tell mom I will be back to fetch her as soon as they give me the nod. Off she goes. About 30 minutes later the nurse comes out and waves at me in the parking lot. Your mom is ready and wanted to wait for you to get her. How cute! The nurse could have brought her out (she came out to wave at me) but mom told her: my daughter is here to get me and I will wait for her. I grab mom and bundle her into the car. Off to the grocery store.

It’s my brother’s birthday. My parents beam reminiscing how on this day 53 years ago their baby boy bounced onto the planet at around 7 p.m. They would love to speak to him, but I remind them its a work day for him and may not be possible. The truth is, my brother lives far away and has for years; he doesn’t get to feel the emotion of the family umbilical cord as acutely as my sister and I do. I sent him a text the day before to ask when a good time might be to FaceTime …. crickets. He’s often in his own (western) world. So plan B is to get a couple of birthday “cakes” and sing happy birthday on a video which I will send him. Mom and dad think that’s a great idea so we head to the bakery after the dental visit. I pick up the cakes and candle (one for each of them) and when we get home we create the video which is hilarious and painfully cute. My parents are now kids. I have to remind myself often that they are the parents and have a wealth of knowledge and experience and raised three kids. It can be hard.

The pedicure nurse arrives and I take that opportunity to venture out to visit my aunt. She’s been living in a retirement home since my uncle died last year. It has been excruciating for her (and most seniors in her predicament) as the plandemic has isolated them and crushed their spirits. Finally after months of “jail” time, we are able to visit in person. When I arrive in her suite she is sitting at the window and working on a word search puzzle. She’s surprised and happy to see me. I ask her if she would like to walk outside and sit under the tree as I have Molly in the car and it’s a hot day. So we mosey outdoors and the three of us sit under the big shady tree in the front yard of her building. She seems a lot happier now than she was last time I saw her and she has gained some weight back; she still misses her husband, but is getting used to being alone. It makes me want to cry thinking about how her life has changed so much. She tells me that she calls my dad just to hear his voice (she says it’s similar to her husband’s and that’s comforting) but he seems disinterested. I let her know that he’s super hard of hearing and if he’s not sure who he’s talking to he’s a bit ornery. She thought she might have caught him in the middle of a soccer game on tv; that’s very possible! Her son (my cousin) has retired since my uncle died so he’s been the main source of care and support for my aunt. He took her to the grave site and she mentioned how happy she was that my dad had kept up the garden around the grave stone. She noticed that there was a lantern at the stone and asked about it (she asked my dad on the phone but that conversation didn’t go very well). I explained to her that when my dad and my uncle were young boys and were displaced from their family farm after the war, each of them was sent to different farms on either side of the valley in their village. The young boys made a pact with each other to communicate across the valley via lantern. Each night at the designated time, each brother would hold up a lantern and swing it in the air like a signal. They would each see each other’s signal and know that all was well (under the circumstances). My sister installed a lantern at the grave of my uncle and an identical one on my dad’s balcony and every night the battery operated lantern lights up. The story brought a tear to my aunt’s eye and she said that the brothers were connected in life and in death. I waited until I was in the car alone before I let the tears flow.

Back at my parent’s apartment the daily lunch routine is underway. I brought soup and fresh bread. With their toes neatly primped, lunch is in order. Dad is heating the soup and mom is busy looking for utensils (…. he knows I can’t see!! why can’t he put things back where they belong!!??). We sit down to eat and mom pecks at her soup adding more salt and seasoning … enough to make anyone cringe. She eats most of her bowl before she declares herself full “up to here” drawing a line across her throat. Dad wolfs down his soup and bread so fast and I wonder what the rush is. Then it’s clear! He wants to attack the birthday cakes!! One is a fudgy caramel creation that is burning desire into his palate!!

After lunch we play cards until it’s time to head out again. Cue the departure routine where mom, on her way to the washroom, stops in the kitchen and wonders aloud when we are going to have lunch. Oh dear. We just ate and she’s forgotten already? Her hearing aid appointment is scheduled for 2 p.m. This is an extraordinarily busy day! Dad is coming for the ride this time as we will be stopping at the grocery store and the gravesite on our way. At the hearing aid centre mom and I head in leaving dad and Molly in the car with the AC on; dad declares that both will be napping for sure. sugar rush???

Inside the clinic (mom with her mask around her chin) the receptionist asks mom the covid questions (seriously, we are at the hearing aid place! hearing is not the strong suit); I respond to the questions on her behalf. They allow me to accompany mom into the testing room where they perform a hearing test on her. The audiologist is super patient and accommodating; I guess that’s par for her job daily. At the end of the test we go into her office to review the results. While seated in front of her desk, mom has to cough. My mom has a very gross phlegmy cough (that disgusts me to no end! I joke that she should start smoking to justify the cough!!) and as she coughs she looks at me and then at the young audiologist. I’m sorry, she says, my daughter hates it when I cough, but I’ve had this terrible flu …. I immediately jump in at that point and clarify that there’s been no flu (fearing the covid death squad to enter the office at any minute) that my mom has this cough and it’s nothing to be concerned about. Did my mother know that her words were potentially dangerous??? We continue through the rest of the appointment which includes my mom trying out a new pair of aids (and the audiologist standing behind her and asking questions to test the clarity … wouldn’t you know it, one of the questions was “what did you have for lunch” … I cringed inwardly until mom answered and said “my daughter’s soup”) and the end result is new hearing aids required; her hearing has declined significantly and better technology would help with background noise reduction and clarity. Also, these aids are rechargeable! no more batteries.

When we get in the car, my dad wants to know what happened. I let mom fill him in and she mostly remembered the whole episode. A moment of clarity. Whew. Off we go to the store and the gravesite. At the cemetery we let dad out to water the plants while mom and I take Molly for a stroll. On our walk we run into a lady who steps up to us and starts talking like we were long lost friends. She’s tending to her friend’s grave (Mrs. Culliton) and starts to fill us in on how her friend would be so sad to know the troubles befalling the eldest son (who’s a lawyer in town and presently going through a law society and police investigation for fraud). This is titilating information for my mother who can’t decide (as we walk away from this stranger) if it’s more important to ask who that person was or what was the son doing?? My mother loves good gossip!! As it turns out, my dad was done watering and watched the exchange of conversation between us from afar. He’s also craving the scoop … who was that?? what did you talk about?? my mother is delighted to fill in the story to which my dad says “I read about that in the paper”. This throws my mom right off her game: what do you mean you read it in the paper??? why didn’t you share that with me??? she’s getting hot and bothered at the notion that my dad would keep such juicy tidbits to himself. My dad looks at me sadly and then turns to my mom: I did read it to you …..

There’s a moment of unpleasant silence as the reality of dementia slithers back into daylight. It’s painful for everyone. But the moment was just that. A moment. When we leave the cemetery we drive past my mom’s old friend’s house; it’s a small government assisted apartment building near our middle school. My mom’s friend is in the hospital and we don’t know the status. My mom says she’s sad that she hasn’t been able to see her friend in over three years (for some reason, mom seems to have three years as her go to date for things she can’t remember); I console my mom by telling her that we saw her friend a few weeks ago on her birthday and she was so glad my mom could hug her and wish her a happy birthday. My mom relaxed after that. For a moment.

We drive through town and pass another building. Out of the blue my dad says, I wonder if you could look someone up on your computer (referring to my cell phone); there’s a guy that lived in that building and I wonder if he’s still alive. (lately my dad has been obsessed with how many of his friends and colleagues have died and lamenting that he’s the only one left) My mom wants to know who he’s talking about and he starts to explain. My mom says: I don’t know that guy. Dad says: Yes you do. He was married to Piggy. I practically drive off the road; grateful that along the park drive it’s so slow reaction time is not an issue. Piggy? My mom: Oh, ya. Piggy. That was the clue she needed. I need to know: Why did you call her Piggy?? Dad, who comes up with very hilarious (and unconventional) vocabulary says: Because she was distorted. She was short and round and had a round pig face. Your mom and I nicknamed her Piggy. Then we all laugh. It was another moment.