The Bird Man

Our dear friend Paul Berti passed away yesterday. He was 68. Rudy has known Paul since highschool in 1969. I met Paul in 1987. It’s weird to think we will never see him again.

Over the years we had many encounters. But it really all started in 1990. That was the year Paul convinced us to join a group of other couples in renting a summer seasonal cottage on Lake Muskoka. Paul contacted Rudy and explained the deal, but when Rudy didn’t jump on the plan immediately, Paul sent in his closer, Derrick. When we agreed to the rental (which wasn’t cheap by 1990 standards; $2000 for the season May to Sept), we had no idea what an adventure it would be.

The Coles cottage (named for the family who owned it) was on Browning Island, a fair sized island in Lake Muskoka near Gravenhurst. One of our concerns was the island location; how would we get to and from?? Paul assured us that this was no problem since there was a convenient water taxi service out of the nearby marina and also Derrick had a boat. We were dubious with good cause: the water taxi was nonexistent (Bob the marina owner prioritized his water shuttle services at the bottom of his long to do list) and Derrick barely used his boat. So after two weekends of frustration we bought a boat. A repo Bayliner bow rider was the beginning of our continuing love for boating.

On the first weekend we owned the boat Rudy was not able to be there. Paul and Derrick were more than happy to take me and our new boat out for an orientation. Even getting stopped by the cops (safety check that we failed miserably) was an adventure as Paul explained that we just bought the boat and didn’t have all (read any!) of our gear yet. Not to mention the ownership and registration which were in limbo due to the repo! We enjoyed every minute on that boat and looked forward to weekends when we could venture on the water.

But it was the cottage shenanigans that made the summer unforgettable. There were five couples. Only two of the couples were married. The others were dating. The cottage had a bunkie with four bedrooms and the fifth bedroom (ours) was adjacent to the dining room and only bathroom. As it turned out, the least desirable room was the plum. Ask anyone who has to bear the bugs and elements to pee!

The weekend parties were epic. As everyone rolled in on Friday (or late Thursday night) they would come laden with stuff. At the time Paul worked in sales for McCormicks (a food company) and he would bring cases of candy, cookies and other snacks. The Bear Paws were of particular desire but I could never understand why. I thought they were gross. The girlfriends had an unwritten competition for gourmet dinners. At some point, while trying to outdo each other, a kitchen feud started. Cliques formed and the rivalries began. Derrick’s girlfriend, Julie, was in my view the worst offender with her bacon wrapped scallops and other delicacies. One of the other guys, Lindsay (whose girlfriend was hardly there due to her job at the Jockey Club) would routinely start a scene when he couldn’t get to the appliances to make his standard hot dog dinner. It was truly comical.

Paul’s girlfriend, Mimi, was a fiery Italian who didn’t back away from anything or anyone. She and Paul didn’t last the summer (neither did any of the other couples) but while she was there it was never a dull moment. Over the years we reflected on that summer when Paul would come to visit and we laughed for hours. It was such a fun time.

After that summer we connected regularly. The epic parties continued and our friendship endured. Paul was a fixture at any events. He was a tall, athletic, handsome dude that attracted the ladies attention. His sense of humour and easy going attitude was contagious. I didn’t keep our old photo albums when we downsized several years ago, but I know there were tons of Polaroids (yes … take the toll of film to the Kodak store!) of our partying ways.

One year Paul introduced us to Sussi. We knew it was serious when the moved in together. Next thing we knew there was a baby on board. Alaiya Napa (named for the place of her conception) changed Paul’s ways for good. He became a family man complete with house and dogs. It looked good on him and we continued our friendship on new terms that included kids and pets. Paul and Sussi made a beautiful home north of Hamilton and I always marvelled at their sense of style. Paul enjoyed the nesting aspect and they showcased their good taste in their home. In particular I recall the dining room light fixture which was so trendy.

Paul and Sussi also acquired a cottage in the Muskokas. It was a cute A frame on the mainland near Walkers Point. Nestled in the woods above the lake there was also a bunker (our digs when we visited) and a lakeside dock that was the gathering place. The cottage was surrounded by trees and greenery and the large deck off the main room served as the outdoor eating and gathering place. Again, the flair for design was evident. The large teak table and chairs laden with lanterns was encompassed by a wooden railing; each rail post had a metal sap bucket overflowing with white baccopa fastened to it. There were strings of lights illuminating the cozy space. It was magical.

Alaiya became their style muse also. She was always so well dressed and cute as a button. They took a photo of her sitting in one of our leather chairs. She was dwarfed by the chair but it was her adorable bright striped tights and dress and her huge eyes that jumped out of the picture. We had it framed.

Paul got cancer and things were rough. Soon after his recovery, he and Sussi split. The stylish house sold and Paul kept his beloved cottage. Sussi and Alaiya and the dogs moved to Dundas. Paul retreated a bit after that. He kept to himself and stuck to a regular routine. Work, sleep, cottage (in the summer) repeat. When his father became ill, Paul added visits to St Peters to his routine. We saw him only a few times a year.

Our last get together was in Blue Mountains. Paul drove up to see us for a couple of days. For a change of pace I organized a wine tasting at The Roost Winery. Paul marvelled at the charcuterie board and told us this was a first for him. It was a great visit. Who knew it would be our last.

Paul’s birthday in January was always a point of connection. As well as holidays. I sent him a happy Easter text. Didn’t hear back. Sent him another text trying to arrange a visit when we got back from Florida; didn’t hear back. I told Rudy something was wrong. And on our drive home from Florida my phone rang. It was Paul. I answered in horrible Italian as was our tradition. Except it wasn’t Paul. It was Alaiya on his phone. Paul had fallen in his apartment and suffered seizures and possible heart attacks. He was in hospital on life support.

I don’t remember much of the drive that day. I was in a trance of some kind. So many memories and thoughts flooded my mind. When we got to Ontario a few days later, we stopped in Hamilton at the hospital to say goodbye. Seeing our dear friend in such a fragile state was unbearable. I wished him a peaceful journey to the other side and asked him to say hello to our friends who are there to greet him (including all of the furry ones).

Godspeed, Paul. Until we meet again.

The Roost Winery

Back to School

I’ve always loved school. Well, certain schools. Like up to high school really and a bit beyond. Then our “school”. We made a career out of school. I don’t miss working but I do miss school. Yesterday Rudy remedied that. Sort of.

We spent the day at gun school. Handguns that is. A perfectly American past time. Living on our farm we had several guns. Shotguns and rifles used to fend off wildlife predators. There was never a fear of using the weapons for self defence. And Rudy attended all of the required training and acquired all of the licenses. He was a legal gun owner. When we sold the farm his guns were passed on to other legal owners and hunters. Gun ownership in Canada is only for criminals now and those willing to jump through the hoops. Crooks don’t care about laws.

The US is very different. In most states anyway, such as Florida. There are many gun shops, shows, ranges and classes. Rudy enrolled us in a one day hand gun class. It would be a two part class including theory followed by the firing range. The booking was done on line. Once we were booked in we received an email detailing the rules and regulations. Don’t be late; we start promptly. Don’t buy a gun to bring to class; we will provide them. If you have a gun already you can bring it. Bring safety glasses and noise protection if you have them. Bring ID. Bring a drink. It was a very thorough list of dos and donts. Ingauge Firearms Academy has done firearms training for years.

We got up a bit earlier than usual (for me and Molly) as we headed out the door at 8 am to arrive before 9 am. We drive to the facility in nearby Winter Haven and are the first to walk into the classroom. We choose a seat up front to the right. There are two rows of three tables with two per table. Each table is neatly set up with a pad and pen, a folder of materials, a registration sheet and membership pamphlets. Rudy remarks that the set up is better than my former workshops. Ha ha. Not funny. Mine were stellar.

There’s an instructor, Robert, who’s part GI Joe, part cop, part drill sergeant part something (he had a weird small pony tail that didn’t fit his image otherwise). He was wearing a short sleeved shirt tucked into khaki pants with a tight belt and sturdy hiking boots. He had a trimmed pencil moustache and wired frame glasses. I would have taken a photo but there was a neon coloured warning on the desk prohibiting any media. He was gruff and surly. He ticked off every box on the Chuck Norris wanna be list.

He remarked on my baseball cap (a Grey Cup cap from my friend Shari) and snorted when we said we were Canadians. There was a time and place when being a Canadian was an enviable trait; not in Polk County in Central Florida. They think we are a laughable hot mess. We agree. Thanks Trudeau.

The class full and sarge starts barking orders. He starts by announcing that he’s an equal opportunity offender and is not politically correct. If you can’t handle it leave now. Everyone sat still. Intimidated. Turn your phones off. The restrooms are located … fill in the forms. Get your ID out. Then he looked at us with disdain … do you even have ID?? Funny guy. Then he talks about the course and the organization and the NRA and the community work they engage in. The room is filled with plaques and articles and awards. And a sign that says: if someone wants to take your gun, give them the ammo first.

Then he asks who brought a gun. A few hands go up and he says pull them out and lay them on the desk in front of you. The couple beside us pull their guns out. Hers has a pink grip. I comment quietly that it’s cute. Sarge spins around and yells: it’s not cute!! Cute will get you killed!!! Yikes.

After we complete the paperwork we are instructed to open the folders. The first part of the class is demonstrating why a concealed weapon is a potential life saver. We are presented with several news articles about self defence cases and also cases where improper gun safety resulted in casualties. It is impressed upon us that guns are tools and must always be handled properly and safely. There are three rules that were drilled into us: always point the gun in a safe direction (the safe direction depends on where you are); never put your finger on the trigger unless you are prepared to fire (your finger should always be alongside the frame of the gun) and never have your gun loaded unless you are ready to fire.

Then we learn about types of handguns. Sarge is clever when he addresses the graph in his pages showing models and makes of guns rated best to worst. It’s clear that the people who brought guns were sold substandard guns (according to sarge) and the lives of them and their loved ones was not fully protected. He recommended a simple revolver for home safety as there was less chance for error and malfunction. All of the guns brought to class were semi automatics.

We learned about bullets. I had no idea how many types there was! He brought them out and placed boxes on each desk. There are different bullets for each model of gun. The bottom line is, according to sarge, when you buy bullets make sure to buy the one exactly for your gun, open the box in store and make sure it’s the right one, hollow points will do the most damage and that’s what you want when your life is at risk. Sarge explained that a hollow point bullet will make the biggest hole and stop the assailant. He also showed us the Stop the Bleed Kit as most gun shot wounds are fatal due to loss of blood before emergency teams arrive. He tells real life stories at each lesson to emphasize the point.

Sarge has talked nonstop since 9 am sharp. At 1:15 pm he asks who needs lunch. A few hands go up. Perfect! He says; the rest of you will drive directly to the range and those having lunch will be there no later than 3 pm. Those going to the range must go directly as we start shooting at 2 pm sharp. Yes sir!

We get in the car and Rudy is grateful for the sandwich we packed in the morning. The drive to the range is about 15 min and it’s in the middle of nowhere (as suspected). I thought maybe it was an indoor range but this was nothing that would have imagined. It’s a dumpy white small shack with a tent over a bank of tables in the side yard. The tables face a lineup of targets placed in the grass and beyond the targets is a sand heap. Very rustic. When we pull in (again we are first … eager Canadians) we park beside the only other vehicle: a red mini van with “Trump Train” stickers on the side showing a face of Trump as a passenger. An elderly lady (if I had to guess I would say 80’s) comes towards us. She’s got short white hair and grey army pants belted over her NRA instructor shirt. She tells us we can’t park there we must park outside of the fence. Another sergeant.

I need to pee and she directs me inside the shack. Oh no. My phobia kicks in. She says: it’s not pretty but it’s clean and gets the job done. I find my way to a tiny toilet but it’s clean. Really clean. Whew.

Back outside the others start to arrive and we chat. One lady lives alone in 33 acres and her license had expired. The other couple had guns and they were here on behalf of their church (I had to ask … why would a church need guns? Apparently crazies target churches since they’re sitting ducks and they have security to take out any threats). But they were most curious about us. Canadians. We are something of a novelty. And laughing stock.

Sarge shows up with a large case and we walk over to the tent awning covering the tables. He opens the case and pulls out several revolvers. We each choose the one that best fits our grip. Sarge informs us that the next steps would be like Simon says. Don’t move or breathe unless instructed to do so. One by one (there’s 6 of us) we are called to step up to our chosen gun and pick up the gun. They are all still unloaded. With our unloaded guns we take the stance: toes and feet pointed forward arms up at eye level, knees slightly bent and body leaning forward. An aggressive stance that protects vital organs and is ready to shoot. Relax. Guns down. Step back.

He demonstrates how to load. Four revolvers use the cylinder and the two semis have a magazine. Step up in twos and load under careful supervision. Relax. Step back.

We are ready to aim and fire. Put on your glasses. Put on ear protection. First shooter step up. Each of us take a turn. We fire two shots. Relax. Step back. This is repeated two more times. Six shots fired at close range (10 feet) to a 9” paper plate target (someone’s chest) stapled to a board. The bullets pass through the plate and bury into the sand hill behind.

We learn to unload and reload. Fire again. Then the targets are moved further away for three of us. The others remain up close. We fire on command. Relax. Unload. Reload. Targets move again for three of us. Step up. Fire at will. Unload. Make safe. After each round we collect our paper plates. Got the first round I shook like a leaf. But I managed to hit the target. Then I got into the flow. I surprised myself (and Rudy) with my ability to hit the target. However we were marvelling at church dude who’s potential perpetrators have zero chance. This guy was good!!

The lunch group is gathering off to the side as we wrap up. When we say good bye and leave the lunch group is looking for any feedback. They are nervous, ready, scared, eager ….

We jump in the car on adrenaline highs. What a day. Back to school was never so exciting. Can’t wait to get my “report card”.

Hip Hip Hooray!

For years I’ve had a pain in the ass. Literally. A dull, throbbing pain that started as an “angry hip” pain as defined by a personal trainer who struck a nerve while trying to stretch my left hip/leg about 10 years ago. Since then it has morphed and expanded to cause me to limp and have people ask if I was ok. Clearly I was not ok, but my efforts to mitigate the pain were not working. It’s not like I didn’t try everything: massage therapy, yoga, pilates, supplements, naturopathic treatments, FST stretching, osteopathy, chiropractic, laser treatment …. you name it I’ve tried it. All in an effort to overcome what the radiologist described as advanced arthritis nearing bone on bone in my left hip. I was staring a hip replacement in the face and was doing everything to avoid surgery. In my mind I was resigned to living with the pain.

I watched my dad undergo two knee and two hip replacements over several years. The procedure and recovery both painful and prolonged. He waited months, if not years, for the green light to get the operations and then the his recovery was horrible to watch. My dad has the highest pain tolerance of anyone I know and he was in excruciating pain. I recall taking him to an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon and saying the pain was a 10 out of 10. The poor guy, I thought. On one of our holiday trips his pain was so severe he chose to forego the excursions. I can’t imagine the pain. Actually, I can.

So here we are. Arthritis the culprit has invaded my body and I’m desperate to rid myself of inflammation. Once I started reading every shred of information (within my non medical brain scope; I draw the line at research journals and such!) I realize that inflammation can not be eradicated without ridding the source. Once your body is inflamed you have to start with removing the source of the inflammation. Inflammation is caused by many different things such as food and gut health. I’m convinced that my inflammation is centred in my left hip. No amount of fish oil, krill, glucosamine, CBD, or otherwise is going to be effective as possible due to the nature of my arthritic hip.

Once you throw in the towel and admit defeat, dealing with the pain becomes more tolerable in some ways. You just decide to deal with it. On the other hand, I’m entirely convinced that there’s a solution for me other than radical surgery. Every night when we go to bed, I take an NSAID and some cannibis. This allows me to have a comfortable sleep (which I can’t do without) but it takes a while (40 min or so) to kick in. During that time I putter on my phone and my “go to” websites are ortho related or real estate. A few weeks ago I stumbled on a website while doing a random search. I couldn’t stop reading. This was my potential solution!

I shared the information with Rudy who urged me to set up a consult. I did. We were booked to see the Doctor on February 1 2023. There are several offices, but Tampa was close for us; about an hour away. I completed the on line consult request form and the following day a representative from their office called. He answered several of our questions and sent us videos to watch then he scheduled us for a consult. Our appointment was scheduled for 3 p.m. and we arrived shortly before; the office is in a large building with very clean and modern facilities (so first impressions box was checked). Then I filled in the forms in addition to the on line forms we were supplied with. I provided the X-ray report from Canada that I had on hand (thanks to Medeo) and that gave the Doctor the basis for my personal information. He brings us into his examination room which is lined with joint posters and models. The three of us sit together and he picks up a hip joint model and starts to explain the radiology report I’ve given and showing how the enamel covering the joint has “cavities” and that’s exposing the nerve causing the pain. He explains that the enamel can be repaired by the body, but it’s harder for the body to do so as we age. We naturally produce less of the healing cells we need to make the repairs.

He offers a procedure (FDA approved) whereby the painful nerve is isolated and ablated; this kills the pain. Then stem cells derived from placenta and umbilical cords is injected into the joint to stimulate regeneration. In a few years the nerve grows back but the “cavity” is no longer there. Non surgical hip “replacement”. Based on my radiology report, my hip is nearly bone on bone so there’s a bit of space to work with the “cavities” are not entirely tooth decay. The Doctor explains that when a joint has deteriorated beyond the cavity stage and resembles cauliflower, there’s no alternative than replacement. I’m a good candidate for the procedure they offer. Rudy and I look at each other and are a bit stunned. Why didn’t we know about this sooner? Why isn’t this front page news? We leave the office in awe wondering if this is the magic bullet that has eluded us for years. On our drive home we debate the matter fully. In the end, we decide to contact my brother; the most reliable medical source I know. Plus, my brother doesn’t bullshit; just the facts.

I send my brother the website and explain that we had a consultation. His questions and comments were simple: sounds reasonable, how do they landmark the probes to isolate the nerve and where do the stem cells come from. Good questions. The nerves are found using X-ray assisted probes; they locate the pulse in your groin (where the main hip nerve is) and using X-ray and computer assistance they insert the probe. The patient is fully awake and is able to say when the nerve is touched. The cells come from a lab which procures them from hospitals where they are harvested from newborns. There is almost zero chance of rejection. Sounds good, he says, actually it sounds “pretty cool”. So based on his input and my desperation, we book the procedure. February 14 at 11 a.m. $4850 USD.

In between the consult and the procedure, I travel home to Canada to celebrate my dad’s 91st birthday. His actual birthday is Valentines Day, but after the fiasco at Christmas, I vowed to never try travelling at holidays. As an aside, I decided to fly from and to small regional airports; I don’t think I will ever use huge international airports again unless absolutely necessary. The Doctor advised against using any NSAIDs or other blood thinner type medications 3 days prior to the procedure. So since I was travelling and without any supplements, I decided to eliminate all for the 6 days prior. It was harder than I thought. I had no idea that the whack of supplements I was taking did anything, but after abstaining I realize that they have a definite place in my regiment. My parents keep their apartment at a solid 75F at all times and even with the fan on high and the bedroom window cracked open, sleep is elusive. I’m a total grouch when I don’t get my sleep and it’s really hard to deal with my mother’s endless repeat of questions and comments. You didn’t eat breakfast …. why are you leaving …. there’s a cold draft in here …. sometimes the broken record plays in English and other times it’s German. My dad has a new equally annoying fixation: You Tube. He believes absolutely everything he sees and hears on You Tube as though it’s the gospel. It’s easy to understand how the mass media is so devastating to elders who have relied on its veracity for their information. Everything is getting on my nerve and that’s painful. Short on patience and long on pain, I can’t wait to have alone time and quiet. So I follow my mom’s lead and hit the hay at 8 pm. In the old days, my dad would pester me for another game of cards, but these days I think mom’s non-stop, relentless rants and ravings leave him craving the nightly solitude with the TV. Too bad it’s You Tube.

When I return to Florida there’s continuous activity to keep my mind off pain and procedure jitters. But finally the 14th rolls around and we are travelling to Tampa. To say I’m nervous is a bit of an understatement; internally I’m terrified. I hate needles and just thinking about them makes me panic and want to run the other way. Or limp the other way as it were. I’m driving so I’m grateful for the road and the many crazy drivers to keep me on my toes and my mind in focus on the road. When we arrive at the clinic we are 30 min early (the Rudy effect) and wait in the lobby. Now my mind is really racing and I cover all of the negative what if scenarios. A young (very fit and lean) woman walks through the lobby and distracts us momentarily … I wonder if she’s a patient although I quickly strike that idea since she was walking totally normally. My reverie is broken when the administrator gives me a folder containing all of the do’s and don’ts following the procedure. Rudy is snapped to attention when they gently request payment. As we are engaged in the paperwork, a previous patient comes out (he’s with the fit young lady) he’s also very buff and it’s clear he’s the patient since he’s got the gait of someone who’s had pain. He’s just had the procedure and he is remarking how he was able to put his jeans on without pain. I’m feeling hopeful. And then we are asked to move to the waiting room area.

This is a really modern clean area with a high glossy white kitchen area including breakfast bar and it’s fully stocked with coffee/tea/water/snacks. Adjacent to that in the large open concept space is a seating area with a huge flat screen tv. There’s a lot of green (albeit fake) plants scattered throughout. The space is all brightly illuminated by the many windows allowing natural light to flow in. It’s a peaceful place. While Rudy grabs a coffee, another couple (mom and son) engage us in conversation; the dad is having his knee done. Before they finish their drinks, the dad comes out the procedure room and they leave. My mind is starting to grasp that this is not a walk to the gauntlet. Within minutes of him walking out, they call my name. It’s happening.

I’m escorted into a large treatment room. On one side there is a bed with a large white contraption on rollers beside it. There’s a bank of wall units neatly stocked with supplies. I’m taken to the desk with a computer on top where the Doctor shows me what they are going to do. He takes about 45 seconds to do this and then he asks me to lay as flat as possible on the bed and pull my pants down to my knees. His assistant covers me with a cloth. The big white contraption is the X-ray unit; this is rolled beside the bed until the round globe part (about the size of a pilates exercise ball) is hovering over my groin. At the end of the bed is the screen showing my hip. He shows me the space between the ball and bone in the joint and explains that he will insert two probes into the area where the nerve is. Once they find the nerve they will ablate the nerve ending and stop the pain. Then they will inject the stem cells into the joint. Sounds pretty simple.

With my eyes firmly shut and my hands clasped in front of my chest, I’m bracing for whatever happens. First there’s a local topical freezing and cleanser applied. The Doctor looks for my pulse around the groin area; once he finds it he marks the spots with something (I’m not looking). Then the first “bee sting” probe number one is inserted. Then another sting as the second probe goes in. The Doctor tells me I will feel some pressure as they try to isolate the nerve. All the while, the Doctor is asking what I feel, where is the sensation. If I say my leg he wants to know where and is particularly concerned that it’s not below the knee. After what seems like hours of them probing (in reality it’s minutes) they find the nerve. At this point I’m ready to jump out of my skin. The jolt of sudden pain is excruciating. The Doctor is pleased and he lets me know we are ready to go. Next is a freezing (a bit of pressure) and then he gets the heating probe in place. He dials up the heat and keeps asking how I’m feeling. At one point I feel like the cloth covering should be smoking and smouldering; the Doctor sort of chuckles and says the heat is strictly internal. He reduces the temperature to what I can tolerate for 90 seconds. The machine beeps and whirrs. Then he says that’s it. Heat probe comes out and stem cells go in. Some wiping and 2 bandaids. Done. 20 minutes or so.

The assistant brings me an ice pack and ice water. I sit up and slide off the table. My legs feel slightly wobbly, but I walk back out to the waiting room where Rudy is surprised to see me, it was quick. And we leave.

Back in the car with Rudy driving we head home. I try to articulate the procedure, but I’m still in a bit of shock. Physically I’m fine, but my brain seems fried. Rudy’s driving is excellent, he’s always cautious and careful, but he doesn’t keep an even pressure on the gas. The on and off motion is usually tolerable, but today I feel like I might be sick. They did tell me that nausea is a common possible side effect. I’m not sure, but the combination of the car motion, the empty stomach, the nerves. Who knows. We get home and we are both hungry and wiped out.

The next day I wake up ready for the usual morning dread of going pee and putting weight on my left leg. However, when I stand up I realize there is no pain. I walk tentatively to the washroom thinking it feels weird to not have pain be my first greeting in the morning. I go back to bed and lay there thinking it’s a fluke. But when I get up for real it’s apparent that the pain is gone. I have to lay low for a week. I think I can last 5 or 6 days. I’m icing the probe entry points as they are a little bruised. The nurse calls to follow up on how I’m feeling and tells me to remove the bandaids anytime but not to bathe or swim. My muscles are used to favouring my left side and they are reeling from the new situation. There’s a series of exercises that I will be doing (they resemble a yoga class) and I’m hopeful to get a normal gait back asap. Rudy is overly protective (which I love) and asks me repeatedly if I’m ok. I guess we are both a bit awed that something so huge was really a nothing.

I will post an update on the progress, but for now it’s Hip Hip Hooray!!

Flash in the Pan

My sister and I play Wordle everyday and share our results via text. Some days the words cause us to continue the game in our silly made up way by creating similar words. For example “grill” would be the starter and I will respond with “thrill” and she will reply “frill”. We do this for several minutes or until one of us is called back to the real world. It never fails to make me chuckle.

Today I was awakened at an ungodly hour by my dog who decided to re-nest in our bed. She spooned me to the very edge and promptly started to snore. I have one leg swinging over the side and am lying on a precarious angle trying to keep a strip of real estate. It’s a losing battle. But as I grapple with covers and pillows on my tiny island, my arm movements are causing my faux Fitbit to light up. Each time I move, the ungodly hour of 5:05 am is flashing in my face. And there it is. The word “flash” … and I can’t get it out of my head. I lay quietly while my bedmates snore and think of all the ways “flash” impacts my life. Cuckoo.

I simply loved school. Everything about it. Chalk dust (there were no white boards). The smell of markers (used on flip charts which were like white boards). Felt boards. Globes. Recess. And Flash Cards! Mostly for simple math drills, these cards (not like playing cards, but bigger like the size of an iPad) had a math formula on one side and the answer on the back. One person (the teacher usually) held the card up to the audience of students and answers were shouted out. 3 + 6 = …. It was so much fun I created a homemade set for my siblings. Flash cards. What a flashback.

Today’s modern technology provides some useful gadgets. Our mobile phones for example are handheld treasure troves. I’m sure that (like my brain) I’m using a mere fraction of the potential of the device (I only need to be around my nephew and his girlfriend for 3 seconds to know the fraction is actually embarrassingly minute) but of what I do know there are two features that I marvel at. For starters, the flashlight. Having lived rurally for many years, we had flashlights (the actual battery operated version) of all shapes and sizes all over the house. You never knew when the power would go out randomly. Rudy kept a huge, heavy model near his bedside; his flashlight provided light and protection. He also had mini ones that he could set to the strobe light feature and ward off nocturnal rodents. Simply set the strobe light on the outside deck and voila: no raccoons 🦝

The other phone feature is the photo flash. You can turn it on or off. Or simply set it to auto. They call them smart phones for good reason. The phone knows when you need the flash on if you can’t decide yourself. My mom and dad had a camera when we were little. In those days you needed to buy flash cubes which you plugged into the top of the camera. Flash cubes allowed you to take photos in a dark space and light up your subject with one big flash. The thing actually made a weird popping noise as it sparked a huge flash. Then, rather than passing the phone around for a peak at the result or using airdrop, you had to take the film out of the camera and have it developed at a photo centre. Only to pick up the developed photos a week later (Kodak one hour development was a pricey luxury!!) and find out that the flash made us blink or have devilish glowing red ember eyes. Like demons. The flash cubes were a one hit wonder. Poof. Garbage.

We spend our winters in Florida. It’s nice. But we get there after the stormy season. This year it was a double whammy. First Ian then Nicole wreaked havoc on the coasts and to a lesser degree inland. Our place is inland by choice. Storms is one of the many reasons. Florida has storm reservoirs to capture the overflow of excess water. But the deadly surges causing flash floods are devastating. The clean up from the flash floods is ongoing today. New roofs are being installed in our community today. But Florida is not alone. There are Canadians from the east coast of Canada in our community and their flash floods this fall were brutal, too. With all of the media attention on Florida we neglected to remember that our coasts were battered leaving many without power for weeks. Good time for flashlights.

Every now and then you get a movie flashback. Recently, with the untimely death of Irene Cara, I thought of Flashdance. That movie had it all I think. A bit fairytale. A chick welder. Who rode her bike to the job site. Badass. Dated the boss. Who drove a Porsche 911. She lived in an uber chic warehouse where she practised her dance moves with her pit bull, Grunt. and Irene Cara blasted out What a Feeling. 1983. Year of the leg warmers thanks to Flashdance.

Around the same time frame (early 1980’s) we experienced another phenomenon. Michael Jackson and his superlative creative genius gave us the quintessential music video Thriller. It also was the first (as far as I know) flash mob dancing routine. The writhing and twitching mummies led by MJ on the video have been the much copied flash mobs of even today. So many videos circulate of copy cats of the Thriller dance but others as well. They are fun to watch! German Flash Mob

A number of years ago we took a boat cruise up the Thames River in London England. On the cruise (which was actually a part of the transit system!) the captain gave an informative (and hilarious) narrative to points of interest along the way. There are so many historical sayings that have travelled the years and are still in use today. “Box office” for example. As we cruised past an authentic theatre in the round a la Shakespeare, we were told that theatre goers placed their entry fee into wooden boxes at the end of the seat aisles. The boxes were collected by the attendants and brought to the managers office for counting. The office was referred to as “the box office “. Flash in the pan is similar, but there are a couple of versions. One relates to gold miners during the infamous gold rush. As they panned for precious metal they would sometimes be eluded by a “flash in the pan” or a glint of something mistaken as gold. It didn’t “pan out”. The other version refers to the musket where gun powder placed in a pan on the firing pin lit the charge causing the gun to fire a bullet. If the gunpowder ignited but failed to launch the bullet it was called a flash in the pan. Or, in other words, a fruitless effort.

There are no words to describe the worst kind of flash. The hot flash. Ugh. Hormonal surges that appear out of nowhere and make your mother ask: oh, did you get a perm?? Like a personal humid monsoon. It descends on you like a moist sauna and lingers just long enough to make your skin drip. A steamy moustache. Boob sweat. And at night, in the deepest, darkest sleep, aided by a super hot canine, you’re suddenly awake because you are struggling to get the covers off. Your bed is a virtual swamp.

Let’s hit the flash sale! It will be gone in a flash. Did that guy just flash me?? If I flash a smile he might not ticket me …. I’ll be there in a flash.

Fill your Cup: Paris V

After a difficult day filled with sadness and loss, we rebound with something far more palatable: Calvados

A short drive away from our dock in Honfleur through rolling French countryside complete with farms, thatch-roofed houses, wrought iron gates and quaint gardens, we arrive at the Calvados experience. A cross between Disney and a how-to video, the experience includes a series of rooms cleverly disguised as scenery featured in the videos showing the process of distilling Calvados.

Essentially it is an apple brandy, but the delicate production from fruit to liquor is painstaking. The results are amazing. Following the experience we are able to sample. There is a generous piece of baguette and brie from the region served along with the spirits.

And then we finish the tour in the bottle shop.

My personal assessment of the visit is two thumbs up. It was so well done and informative.

Following the tasting we travel into the quaint village P’tit Beaumont We hop off the bus to take in sweeping views of the lush rolling landscape and also manage to visit a few shops.

From there we return to Honfleur and the boat. After a quick bite for lunch we venture out around the historic harbour town.

Back on board we get ready for a special dinner. it’s a seven course menu with complementary wines.

Amuse Bouche: roe with sour cream in a tiny cone
Tuna with wasabi foam and cheese pouf
Herb velouté with a toasted crisp and quail egg
Citrus ice
Braised short ribs with carrot purée
Raspberry custard bombe with a pistachio crisp
White selection
Red selection

Fill your Cup: Paris IV

Today was a hard day for a few reasons. To start, our alarm was set for 6:30 am as we had to be on the tour by 8 am. The weather called for rain. Lots of rain. And our tour would take us to the battlefields and trenches of The Somme. When we set out and walked from the boat to the bus it was not raining but the paths were wet; it had rained quite a bit. Luckily we hit a dry patch and in the semi darkness made our way to the coach. It was not a full bus so we could spread out and relax.

It was a 90 minute drive to the first museum housed in a small village within a school donated and built by Australia. Victoria Hall is on the second floor and contains a neatly curated collection of artifacts from WW1 including letters, photographs, uniforms, artillery and kit items. Some of the items are so well preserved; it’s a miracle they survived at all. The display cases are neatly marked and labelled with care. Among the items are a few German pieces as we learned throughout this day that the losses and suffering were great on both sides. The European Allies in the war (also called the Great War or the war to end all wars) were grateful to receive military aid from other commonwealth countries and this particular museum pays tribute to the Australians who fought in the area and liberated (then defended) the village. It was clear that the weather today fit the somber mood. The images and feelings around the battle fields and trenches was emotional. But as you glanced out of museum windows into the courtyard below you could watch the children playing and laughing. Such a dichotomy yet fitting. One of the guides read a letter from a soldier who questioned if the sacrifice was worth it. Watching the children answers that question.

From here we continued on to the Sir John Monash Centre a short drive away. The skies are clearing and there’s no rain at all but the ground is wet. This is an amazing place built and maintained by Australia. It is an immersive experience into the trench warfare based on the Australia brigade under commanding officer John Monash. His personal story is also very interesting. The bus pulled up to the centre and parked. It was a hilltop and you could see the French and Australian flags flying by the cemetery prior to the entryway to the museum. It’s stark and austere with imposing stone edifices However, the museum entrance itself was designed to have visitors experience entering the trenches. It is a downward sloping maze with street name signs (they named the trenches) such as Wallaby Rd and the rattle of artillery fire is piped in on speakers cleverly hidden in the walls. At the doorway to the museum you are greeted by a foyer displaying large art installations such as a tapestry and a large wooden wall using different native Australian woods to signify each region of the country. Museum staff explain how to use the app as it tracks your location while in the museum and you can play the audio for each display by accessing it on the app. In the centre of the museum is a larger presentation room where you can become fully immersed in the trench battles. After spending an hour or so inside you are transported back to the years of war and your heart becomes heavy with emotion. Once you leave you can walk through the cemetery on site and the devastation and tragic loss is profound. I personally found it hard to breathe and certainly wiped many tears away. Canadian graves were marked with a Maple Leaf but many had no names as remains were not identified. Horrific. These young men were sons, brothers, husbands.

As you can see, we emerged from the museum into a perfectly sunny day. How ironic.

The bus takes us through rolling countryside farms and pastures. We stop for lunch but my appetite is nonexistent; today was day I should have had breakfast. I ate without tasting the food.

After lunch we continue through the picturesque farmland until we reach our next destination. It’s the Newfoundland memorial sponsored by Canada. It’s a piece of land owned and managed Veteran Affairs and is a series of trenches, monuments and graves. At the time of the war Newfoundland was not a Canadian province so the 2000 approx soldiers fought under the British army. Another stark display of the grim conditions during the war. There were trees planted after the war as the ravages of battles levelled the fields and left them barren and broken. There is one weird tree, known as the danger tree, that soldiers used as their landmark to know where they were in no man’s land (the area between the two opposing trenches). On July 1 of 1917 the allied troops suffered devastating losses as they tried to advance and push the Germans back. They were slaughtered. Aside from the trenches (now grassy moguls) there are huge grassy divots/craters from the bombs. The grass makes things soft and park like when in reality these were the killing fields where armies of young men brutalized each other following orders. There are no words. Standing on the grounds you can see the distance from trench to trench and it catapults you to the image of wasteland and death. The danger tree is a stark image.

The memorial is staffed by Canadian students who apply to take on the position. There are two criteria: you are a full time student who is bilingual. The two we met today were lovely. Bright pleasant shining examples of Canadian niceness. One from Cape Breton and the other from Victoria BC. To this day farmers and locals unearth remains of the battles and when they do forensic anthropologists are engaged to determine origins. A large caribou statue stands tall pointing to the Canadian held front line of battle. Among the grassy trenches is a herd of sheep happily grazing blissfully unaware of the history under their food supply.

The final stop on our tour is Lochnagar Crater it’s a very short ride from the Newfoundland memorial. It’s a privately owned site (bought by the owner to ensure it wasn’t plowed into farmland. The crater was made by a 60,000 ton bomb. It’s huge. The site itself is in disrepair due to lack of funding. But the impact is astounding. The crater site is surrounded on all sides by farm fields. Some of which are apparently potatoes.

It was a day for reflection and introspection. Having grown up listening to my dads war stories it impacted me in a personal and sad way. There are no winners of wars. Only innocent young men following orders bravely. Many paid the ultimate price. Lest we forget.

Fill your Cup: Paris III

Over night we motored through more locks and arrived in Rouen. We will be here for two days. The day starts with a sunny and mild morning stroll into the historic old town just a few blocks from the boat dock. Our guide leads us to the cobbled streets and back in time to a medieval fantasy of churches and saints and ritual. All I can think about is Les Miserable and how the world was in those years.

A prominent figure in town is Joan of Arc who the French worshipped and the British vilified. We learned from the previous days tour that the Normandy region was held by the British and later fell back to French hands. It was a constant struggle and religion played a major role. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by the British and became a saintly icon to the French. There are many monuments and even a church in town in her honour. The significance of burning her was a deliberate tactic to disparage the Catholics as having no body to bury leaves the soul in purgatory. In those times churches collected relics which attracted parishioners to come to services. Relics included body parts and clothing items as well as other precious pieces.

The main attraction in Rouen is the Notre Dame cathedral. At one time there were 70 or so churches in town; some only meters away from each other. At the time it was built, the Notre Dame cathedral was the worlds tallest building. It’s amazing gothic stone structure was bombed during WW2 but managed to survive virtually unscathed. It is now undergoing major repairs. It is a huge structure and the spire can be seen from miles away.

The Courthouse, another ancient building also served as the jail. During nazi occupation years it was the nazi admin headquarters where resistance prisoners were jailed and then shipped to death camps in Germany. It’s flamboyant renaissance architecture makes it a prominent structure in the heart of old town. On Juif Street (the Jewish quarter in those days) it continues to function as the court today.

The streets are narrow and cobbled. Store fronts are a mix of modern signage and old facades. Everything is available including mouthwatering patisseries, cheese shops, art galleries, clothing stores and even McDonalds (which is in the oldest building). In some cases the wooden structures are bending and waning but they have been painstakingly preserved to honour the history. Every turn of your head results in a wonder for the eyes. The most famous sight is the Town Clock it is a gateway in the centre of town.

After our guided tour, Rudy and I head to the covered market where fresh flowers, produce, cheese, meat and seafood are displayed in a mouthwatering fashion. Locals bustle around choosing fare and shopkeepers are busy readying their wares in wonderful displays. Everything is fresh and abundant. Wishing we could take it all home with us, we wander back to the boat where a bbq lunch on the top outdoor deck is waiting for us. It’s a gorgeous warm sunny day – perfect for an Al fresco lunch on the Seine!

After lunch we take a bike ride along the river and enjoy the mild breeze while soaking up the landscape. When we return to our cabin it’s time to get ready for a presentation about The Somme battlefields which we will visit the next day. The presenter is none other than Ben who is making his story come to life by wearing a full military costume from 1914 complete with gas mask and weaponry. He sure knows how to engage the audience.

Following the presentation we are invited to a private VIP dinner. The small dining area is elegantly set with white linen. We are dazzled by the 7 course tasting menu accompanied by complementary wine selections. The food is outstanding both visually and in flavour. The evening is capped off with live musical entertainment (60’s style!) and dancing. It was good to move after the feast!!

Fill your Cup – Paris II

Is it just me or are unions the pits?? There’s a petroleum strike and it’s escalating to a general strike around Paris. Our cruise is due in Les Andelys but the last lock was “closed”. We were shy of our destination so the cruise staff jumped through crazy hoops to accommodate. We were just fine: didn’t skip a beat. Union protestors only pissed off the general public. Good one.

Our tour today was around Richard the Lionheart aka King Richard. He was the courageous warrior king of England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 in 1100 bc or so

I was not a history buff by any means, but this king was brought to life by our tour guide, Ben. Ben is an Englishman army veteran who loves to weave a hood tale and he took us on a journey that I won’t soon forget. The cruise director told us that a special guest would lead us to King Richards castle and when our bus unloaded us in town and this character in chain mail with sword and shield and helmet approached I knew we were in for a ride. Les Andelys is a quiet village on the Seine and the surrounding hillsides are rife with sheep and fields. It’s claim to fame is the castle which King Richard the lionheart built. Most castles of medieval times took 10 to 20 years to build. But this fortress was completed in a mere 13 months. It took thousands of workers to accomplish and the result was formidable.

The Chateau Gaillard is perched on a steep hilltop overlooking the Seine and the quaint village. It’s construction is complex and thoughtfully planned with bridges and moats and fortifications to make it impenetrable. Our guide leads us up the steep narrow road to the castle. We pass ancient houses and sheep herds to arrive at the top where the views are breathtaking and the history astonishing. Ben is painting a vivid picture of the times and his stories are engaging. I felt like I was transported back in time. As you stand among the restored ruins of the castle it is easy to envision life in those days. Hollywood helps and the reference is made a few times.

The views from the castle are breathtaking but the vantage from a military perspective is not lost on us. Ben describes the scenarios so clearly you are immersed in it. His words mingled with the visual impact are profound. There’s hope and defeat and gore and devotion and courage. In the end, King Richard is shot with a crossbow by a cook. The bow is removed by the King but the arrowhead remained and the ensuing infection was the fatal blow. As the guide spoke you could have heard a pin drop. The story continues with the succession of brave Richard but (very much like today) the leadership thereafter was weak and ineffectual. As our guide said: if King Richards successor was even remotely brave we would be eating Fish and Chips instead of French Cuisine!

The tour ends in the village and we take some time to explore. There are quaint shops and, of course, a church. We enter the church and light a candle to remember and honour those we have lost. The stain glass windows let in enough light to reflect in our remembrance.

The bus brings us back to the boat where we tidy up and belly up. What a day !!!

Fill your Cup: Paris I

During the plague years (2020/2022) while we were locked down and handcuffed (thank goodness for the state of Florida) we yearned, dreamed and planned for better days ahead and the resumption of travel. The only one who benefited entirely from the stay at home lifestyle was Molly. So our new adventure may not be sitting all too well with her! Back in 2021 we collaborated with our good friends about ticking off a major bucket list item. They suggested a river cruise and so the plotting began. Our friends did all of the due diligence and reported back that the cruise line of choice was Scenic, an Australian owned company where absolutely everything is included. They asked us to review the cruise offerings and get back with our top choices. Amazingly we all had the same number one choice: the Seine River. Clearly the usual choice for river cruises is the Danube or the Rhein but we have never been to Paris. And Rudy is a war buff (is that a guy thing??) so we all agreed that Paris was our place and we started the process.

The itinerary was appealing as it included the Normandy beaches and the Somme. Ironically our ancestors fought for the enemy in this case (Italian and German) so there’s no memorials for that! But as Canadians and living in a free country speaking English we laud the heroes of the war who fought for those rights. We are forever grateful for the life we have to live and enjoy thanks to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. I get goosebumps thinking about the environment that existed for those brave men and women and what they gave up for life, liberty and freedom. ❤️

Once our decision was made we had to decide on timing. This was a huge bucket list item and we had a few boxes to tick off. Such as: cabin location. As boaters on rivers (trying to navigate the Trent Severn) we get that the body of water is narrow and the boat smaller than a cruise ship. We wanted the full exposure possible; we opted for the aft cabins to get the back and side views. Also, it’s a long overnight flight and we opted for business class. Big dreams … once in a lifetime. No compromises.

In order to get everything we wanted we booked a fall trip. The alternative choice was August but we declined based on heat. Fall may be cool and rainy but it’s easier to hike and bike in cooler climes. So it was settled: departure Oct 16.

Having a fur baby is amazing. But arranging travel to accommodate your precious pup can be daunting. We are so grateful to our wonderful friends for helping out. There are three sets of sitters who will be tending to Molly in our home. Luckily they are all dog lovers and will cuddle our girl as we would. Molly might not think it ideal but it’s a truly win/win. Once that arrangement is in place you can plan with confidence. (Even though I inwardly cry and agonize)

As the departure day approaches the finishing touches are made: book parking, arrange phone service abroad, make a packing list, get Euros, confirm insurance etc. whew. It’s a challenge. Isn’t funny how random things pop up as you try to organize a civilized escape???? Geesh. It’s ten lousy days. How does this other stuff suddenly become urgent??? In any event, the departure day arrives and you just make it happen. In spite of the midnight wake up thinking you have forgotten something 🙃

Off to the airport in Toronto. We avoid YYZ like the plague except it’s a must in this case. Air France flies out of Terminal 3 at Pearson. Once we check in we are invited to the lounge (hello business class!) and this is where we meet our friends. There are 3 couples altogether. Everyone is excited and nervous. And all have had to make puppy arrangements. Funny the difference in the female/male reactions to that issue. (We all agree there’s only male and female btw) all the ladies are sensitive to the doggy well being while the guys say it will be just fine. Ok. Whatever. Even though our flight is delayed we are in good spirits when we board.

It’s a huge aircraft and we take our places up front in the “pods”. It’s the most cool set up with a chair that flattens to a bed with a side table and large screen. Everything is top notch electronically with gadgets and interactive devices. You’re supplied with a pillow and blanket and welcome champagne (vive la France) and it keeps getting better. At 11 pm my time I think it’s time for bed. I’ve watched two movies (Marry Me with JLo and Elvis … both I loved ) and my eyes are getting tired. I take out my contacts, hearing aids and earrings (it’s a process) and flatten my seat for sleep. Well. It worked. I missed breakfast. (Dinner was great btw) and I am startled by the “we are making our decent” announcement. What????

It’s early morning and we are arriving in Paris at Charles de Gaulle airport. Air France uses Clarins amenities on their flight and I have freshened up with the tonic and facial cleanser. Yum! (I should have brushed my teeth but didn’t bring my stuff into the bathroom) Once we disembark we have to clear security and customs .. a breeze since they use facial recognition. A totally streamlined system that incorporates body scanning and image screening. Cool!! Then we take the hike to collect our bags. It’s a massive airport with a huge capacity. While I take a moment to use the ladies room our bags have arrived. Very impressive. We proceed to the exit where the Scenic reps are waiting and we are immediately transferred to a private car to take us to the ship.

It’s about a 40 min drive. And our driver is limited in English. He points out a few highlights en route such as the Olympic structures for the 2024 summer games. We also notice Amazon warehouses ….

At the boat we are greeted with smiles, welcoming remarks. And champagne. This is going to be good!!! We join our friends on board and excitedly await our cabins. There is no disappointment when we are presented with our keys and a concierge escorts us to our cabin. At the very back of the boat we are ushered into our home for the next week. Breathtaking. I’m in love. Storage galore, a fully stocked mini bar. More champagne. Plush robes and slippers. Aaahh.

Our first night at dinner we are seated together and the wait staff is attentive and accommodating. Dinner is delicious. Wine is delicious. What else is there??

After dinner we continue the frivolity in our friends cabin. We watch the scenery as we enter the locks. And enjoy more libations. And then it’s time for bed. What an adventure so far!!

This was one of the waiters. He agreed to take a group photo and snapped a selfie of himself. Cheeky.

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