Wednesday, December 17, 2008
The campground I’m in is mostly people who come for six months of the year but there are a few places saved for weary travelers. A lot of people have permanent mobile homes here with the undersides nicely boarded in, screened porches and nice landscaping. Others have pulled in large fifth wheel trailers with multi slide outs. The people to my right and immediately behind me are from Ontario. Everyone comments on how far I’ve come but the truth is I am a five-hour, direct flight from home.
I spent the night before last in a beautiful campground outside Orlando just six miles from Disney World. I stopped there after finally getting my van back from the Chevy service centre that worked on my dash air all day. But I now have ice cold dash air and sort of cold roof air – which I will need today as it’s supposed to go up into the 80s this afternoon.
Yesterday afternoon I looked at several potential places in Clearwater Beach but didn’t find the ideal spot for a Christmas stop. I will continue the search today and then head to DeSoto Park just south of St. Pete’s Beach. At least that’s the plan.
By the way, I filled up the gas tank yesterday for $50.00 Canadian - when I first bought the van last February, it cost me $130.00 to fill the tank. Gas here ranges from $1.51 to $1.69 a US gallon.
There is no free WiFi here although several secured networks show up. And one unsecured one which I've connected to with a weak connection. But it works!
Sunday, December 14, 2008
In any event, I am glad to be in Florida today: I checked the internet and it’s – 39 Celsius with the wind chill in Calgary. I’m sitting here in Tarpon Springs in the 75 Fahrenheit heat! I think I timed my departure perfectly!
Last Thursday when I arrived in Orlando, I picked up a rental car and drove to Winter Garden. After a night at the Best Western, I dropped the car at the Enterprise office and picked up my van. Cost was $591.00 US for a new roof air conditioner, repair/recharge of the dash air conditioning and the replacement of the sewer hose. (Part of the roof air was covered under warranty.)
I immediately headed for the Gulf Coast – and the fun began. I discovered that the dash air wasn’t working. Then I stopped to pick up some groceries and when I went to fill the fridge, I discovered that ugly, fuzzy stuff likes to grow in places that are dark and warm. I pulled into a rest stop and spent an hour cleaning and disinfecting the fridge. This required water. So I turned on the tap and discovered that my water tank was virtually empty. And what water was there smelled like rotten eggs. I certainly didn't want to drink or even wash with that stuff. Having seen what was growing in the fridge, I could only imagine what might be lurking the water tank.
So, when I arrived at the campground I armed myself with Clorox bleach and began the process of sanitizing the water system. This meant that I had to dig out my manuals and learn how to do it. It didn’t seem too bad: mix the bleach with water and then fill the tank. Let it sit for at least three hours, empty the tank and refill with water. Empty that water and refill again. If this tank smells of bleach (it did), then add a mix of vinegar and water, fill the tank and drive with it full for two or three days to let the vinegar and water mix slosh around a bit. Then empty the tank, fill it again and hopefully it will be OK. I’m still at the driving around with the vinegar mix in it. And keeping my fingers crossed.
I usually use the water from the tank so I had never hooked directly up to city water. So out comes the manual again while I figure out how to do that. (Actually it was pretty easy.) So if all goes well, I should be able to empty the vinegar out late tomorrow or Tuesday and be self -contained again.
I have to back track to Winter Garden tomorrow to have the dash air looked at again. When I phoned Chip, the friendly service adviser at Leisure RV, he reminded me that the Chevy dealer who had worked on it warned us that there might be a second leak so they had added dye to the coolant so they could find that leak if the coolant disappeared again. I will pick up Chip tomorrow and we’ll head to the Chevy dealer together.
On the bright side, I drove to Clearwater Beach yesterday and it was gorgeous. The view as you drive over the bridge to Sand Key is amazing. I will return there on Tuesday and find a place to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
So now it’s four o’clock and I think I’ll have a swim in the heated pool before dinner. Life is good. Sorry about the snow, Canada.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
As I drove I realized I didn’t have any reading material for the plane later today so I stopped at Target. Target is very much like our Zellers stores and even sells some of the same brands such as Cherokee. All the aisle signs were bilingual: English and Spanish. This was the first time I have run into restrooms also marked Bano.
I found the book section and side-by-side were books by Obama and McCain. (Obama’s was right next to a Spanish/English dictionary.) Obama’s space was full; McCain’s, has two books left. This was a bit puzzling as one gets the impression that there’s an Obama love-in in these parts. Perhaps Obama had sold out and his space refilled, I mused. Later this morning I bought a local paper (Orlando Sentinel ) that claimed the candidates were in a dead heat in Florida. Tuesday will be very interesting. The Sentinel also proclaimed that it was supporting Obama. Florida is a key state - remember what happened to Al Gore?
The Rock Church. There’s a shopping centre on the Bronson Hwy that I’ve passed several times in the last few days that has a sign outside announcing The Rock Church. Was that Rock as in “Rock ‘n Roll” or “Rock as in Jesus is my Rock”?
Today I decided to find out and went to the Rock Church’s 11 am service. The mystery was solved when realized that it was both. The church service was held in the “arena” – a true arena that holds about 1500 – 2000 people in comfortable upholstered seats although there were perhaps 150 - 200 people there. The floor of the arena was set up with several round tables and chairs which filled up mostly with people with babies and lots of baby paraphernalia.
The stage was set up to accommodate the singers whose movements appeared choreographed and who sang to recorded music. (I was secretly hoping for a live band.) They were enthusiastic and tuneful. There was a light show, the congregation stood and clapped and danced along. The young man leading this part of the service kept entreating the audience to clap, sing and dance. Clearly this service was about having an experience. It turned out the young man was 19 years old and had recently been cured of leukemia after much prayer.
This is a congregation that believes that God is active and personally involved in their lives. They had many prayers of thanksgiving for God’s intervention: thanks that Florence didn’t lose her home and now has money to boot; a small baby was brought up on stage – this baby was born weighing one pound and now was six months old, 10 lbs and thriving, and apparently free of residual effects; another woman had been cured of cancer and returned to her family; someone else had found a job.
The congregation was mainly Black or Latino or variations of both. White faces were the minority. The pastor who preached on a passage from Corinthians was a 40ish Latino woman.
I am glad that I went. It was both interesting and uncomfortable to worship in such a different way. I figure that anything that pushes me out of my comfort zone is probably good for me!
I had lunch after church and returned to the Best Western where I spent last night. I am writing this in their lobby. In a couple of hours, I’ll head for the airport – and Calgary.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Sandra and I spent 28 days living together in a 19 foot van, an impressive accomplishment I think even for two women who have been friends for about 50 years. Like many high school friends, Sandra and I didn’t really keep in touch during the years when we were raising our families. (This is particularly true for me as I moved from my home town of Saint John 1968.) However, we reconnected several years ago and have renewed our friendship. Over the last eight years or so, we have taken several shorter trips together, travelling by car and staying in hotels and motels which afforded us a little more luxury and privacy.
I believe that the secret of travelling in close quarters is to genuinely marvel at how another person does things and to remember that there is no right or wrong way to accomplish most tasks. It’s interesting to learn how another person approaches and accomplishes the everyday tasks that make up most of our daily living.
And we had lots of time for woman-to-woman talk. We compared how our families differed and how they are the same. We compared our views on relationships, religion and politics – no subject was off limits and there was no judgment when our views differed. Perhaps that’s the test of true friendship: acceptance and delight in discovering who your friend really is.
I will miss Sandra as I continue of the rest of this journey.
After I dropped Sandra at the airport I began the task of getting ready for my own trip home to Calgary on Tuesday. I cleaned through the van culling out anything I didn’t use - or wear – frequently. I did laundry, I bought a suitcase to travel home with, I made arrangements to have the van’s air conditioning fixed and for a rental car for the last couple of days before fly home.
The Roadtrek dealer here will keep my van on their lot while I’m gone so I don’t have to find a storage facility. This works well for both of us – it will take about three weeks for a new air conditioner to arrive from Canada (yes, the replacement has to come from Kitchener) and the dealer can work on Bessie at his leisure.
I’m looking forward to a break from the road. I have not been back in Calgary since the end of May. I miss my family and my friends there. It will be good to see them all again.
On Dec. 11, I will return to Florida. My Toronto daughter will join me here for Christmas. And then I will continue this great adventure as I work my way across the southern states, up the west coast and finally back to Calgary again.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
After spending our last night in St. Augustine in the pouring rain, we discovered that we had a leak at the back window – Sandra awoke in the morning to find her bed sheet strangely wet where the bed meets the back door. So after we arrived in Daytona Beach, we looked for a Dodge dealer to see if they could fix us up. Also the roof air conditioning wasn’t working. The dealer sent us off to Ormand Beach (about a 20 minute drive) to Giant Recreation World, a large RV dealer.
The folks at this dealership were very helpful (Pam even lent us her car so we could go out fopr lunch) and, after adding some additional rubber moulding, managed to fix the leaky back door. The roof air conditioning we were told would likely require a whole new unit to be installed as it is a sealed unit. We settled up for the door repairs and headed back to Daytona Beach to comfort ourselves with some outlet mall shopping.
The next morning, I spoke to a couple who were also travelling in a Roadtrek. They had their roof air conditioner replaced about a year ago. He confirmed that the unit is a sealed unit and his had to be shipped in from Kitchener, Ontario. We decided to deal with all of this later – after all, I hadn’t needed the roof air since I bought Bessie. Naturally that night was so humid that we longed for some cool air so I resolved to get the air fixed when I can reasonable manage it. I have an extended warranty which should cover the work. (I checked the policy.) I figured that we did have an air conditioner in the dash and that would keep us going.
After we spent Saturday morning at the World’s Largest Flea Market in Daytona Beach (it is humongous), we headed to Madeira Beach on the Gulf Coast just outside St. Petersburg. The sun was streaming in the through the windshield as we drove and no matter how I adjusted the dash air conditioner, I couldn’t get it to emit cool air. We sweated uncomfortably. We said some nasty words. Now we were down to no air conditioner at all! What to do? We headed for beach – miles and miles of white sand and ocean water that’s warm enough to swim in! We also requested a camping space under some trees….
The Gulf coast is comprised of a series of beach communities that are separated only by an arbitrary dividing line decided on by civic authorities. On Sunday we stumbled on a Seafood festival at John’s Pass, a conglomeration of restaurants and shops strung out along a boardwalk. Along with tents set up to sell seafood (I had coconut shrimp), were rows of small tents featuring work by local artisans and craftspeople. The weather was perfect, the crowd clearly enjoyed the free entertainment and we were entranced watching the drawbridge come up – all four lanes of a major highway – to let the boat traffic travel between the intercoastal waterway and the Gulf of Mexico.
Another day, we came across a small “main street” with interesting little shops to satisfy our shopping urges. Sandra managed to find a gorgeous two piece outfit (skirt and top) for the summer clearance bargain of $12.50. Who knew?
Today we headed into St. Petersburg, parked the car and walked out to the end of the Pier in downtown St. Pete’s. At the end of the Pier is a five-storey, inverted pyramid filled with shops and restaurants. I succumbed to the charms of soft leather hand bag and blew what was left of my budget. It is gorgeous, though, and I know I will enjoy it. This is the third purse I have bought since arriving in Florida. What's that about? It's not like I have a lot of money to carry around especially with the dollar shrinking.
Tonight we are spending our last night at Madeira Beach. Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Orlando. And the next day (Thursday) Sandra heads home. How quickly this time has gone.
I’ll have a few days in Orlando on my own before flying back to Calgary on Nov. 4. I am equipped with the name of a Roadtrek dealer and will be going there to see if they can arrange to have the roof air conditioner replaced and the dash air conditioner fixed. Oh, yes, and I need another oil change. I have put 20,000 kms on Bessie since I set out on this journey. And we’re still having fun!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Once we were settled, we headed into the historic part of town for supper. On the way to town, we stopped at the beach to watch the surfers ride the waves and do a little wading ourselves. The joy of travelling in your house means that when you misjudge the force of the incoming water, you can easily change your clothes before you reach your dinner destination!
St. Augustine has had a permanent settlement since 1565 when Ponce de Leon arrived from Spain. Old fort walls and rusted cannons still remain. We were delighted to discover that Old Towne Trolleys operates a narrated tour here as well as in Savannah.
This morning (Wednesday) we went into town and booked a trolley tour. The nice thing about these tours is that they offer free parking at their boarding site and you can get on and off the trolley as often as you want throughout the day. And in St. Augustine, your ticket is good for three days.
We got off the trolley around noon on St. George’s street, a pedestrian walkway in the heart of the historic district, and headed into St. Augustine’s Cathedral. The cathedral is a magnificent building dating from the 16th century and has been built and rebuilt as fire and early wars took their toll. The current building has been built as close to the original as possible and is a very beautiful sacred space.
We then headed to Pizzalley for lunch. We had their “garbage can pizza” which had been recommended to us by a fellow Saint Johner – and it didn’t let us down! It was easily the best pizza I eaten in many a year. Fortified by beer, pizza and a deadly chocolate confection for dessert, we headed back to shopping.
Mid-afternoon we reboarded the trolley and got off at Our Lady of Le Leche shrine. This shrine honours Mary as a nursing mother. The shrine and grounds cover over an acre of beautifully manicured grounds on the water. On part of the site is the Mission of Nombre de Dios which has a 200 foot steel cross!
We then picked up the van and headed back to our campsite where I am sitting at the picnic table writing this.
We had planned to only stay in St. Augustine for a day and then go down the coast to Daytona Beach but St. Augustine is so charming with its narrow streets and small shops that we will go back into town tomorrow to tour a couple additional historic sites. It is wonderful to be able to change your plans on a whim.
Later tomorrow we expect to reach Daytona Beach – then again, maybe not!
By the way, Ryan, we are going to explore a rumour that there is a Hollister store in Daytona Beach.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I walked out to the end of the pier and spoke to a young couple who were fishing there. I asked them if there really was an alligator around. “Oh, yes,” the young woman told me. “You can see them in the distance sometimes and you can hear them splashing at night.”
Where have we been since the last blog? Well, first we toured the Biltmore House built by George Vanderbilt between 1895 and 1901. Six years to build a stone castle in the glorious hills. Sandra managed to charm free tickets from our next door neighbours in the campground. (She admired and praised their new pup.) Our neighbours had bought two-day tickets and gave us their second day. At $47.00 per ticket, it was much appreciated. Check out Biltmore House at out at www.biltmore.com.
We stayed so long at Biltmore House that we decided to spend a second night in Asheville. So we began the search for a new campground just as it was turning dark. We picked one from the AAA book and headed out. After a long drive through what started to look like Deliverance country, we pulled up in front of a largely deserted, run down site – and decided to heed those spider senses and keep on going. We finally found a good site close to where we had started and spent the night.
On Friday, we began the drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We programmed a campground into Bossy and took off. We arrived around 4 pm at a lovely campground and got a site at the beach. The beach was many miles of white sand and had the longest pier (1200 plus feet) on the east coast. The waves were crashing on the shore and I waded into the warm ocean almost to my waist! It’s great to reach the stage where you don’t care if people think you’re crazy!
We had supper and headed for the discount stores, finally falling into our beds after a stop at the pizza place.
The next day it was raining but we drove from our campsite in north Myrtle Beach to regular Myrtle Beach – and more shopping. We headed back to the campground for “Pig Pickin’” at noon – the annual buffet hosted by the campground. Then it was back to shopping. By 4 pm I had shopped ‘till I dropped and retired to the van to have tea and read my book. Sandra did her best to deplete the inventory in all 200 outlet stores in the Tanger Mall. Ahhh, the joys of having your “house” with you in the parking lot.
So brings us to today. We left Myrtle Beach and drove to Savannah, stopping at a couple of old historic plantations along the way.
We also had an “ice cream emergency” which was only heightened by the fact that we had eaten the last of our “emergency chocolate” the day before. After three stops we finally found some ice cream sandwiches in a small general store that had bait in the first two freezers that Sandra checked. It was just one of those days.
So tomorrow we will head into Savannah to check out this great city. Life is good.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The temperature is a balmy 80 degrees Fahrenheit. We have been driving through the twists and turns at 35 miles per hour (the speed limit), with the windows open and our souls aflame.
As we start out, the hills are dancing with the colours of autumn as the hickory, chestnut and white oak trees prepare for winter. Red, orange, yellow, overpower a few green holdouts.
There is layer upon layer of mountains and hills, and the moisture laden air overlays the hills with a smokiness that reminds me of a Margraf painting of Canada’s Gulf Islands. There are “overlooks” at every turn (lookouts or look offs to we Canadians). As you climb the mountains, you can see the valleys and villages on both sides of the road.
These mountains are definitely not the rugged Canadian Rockies. They are gentle, the vegetation lush, evergreens limited to a few pine trees. I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to leave here although practical Sandra pointed out that people probably leave here for the same reasons many of us leave the glorious Maritimes: to seek gainful employment. As we drove ever southward today, the vibrant colours were replaced by a greener landscape, kissed by colour here and there.
Tonight (Tuesday) we are still on the Blue Ridge Parkway 220 miles from tomorrow’s destination of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House is the largest house in the US and we hope to tour it tomorrow before heading to Charlston. From Charlston, we’re going to take a day and drive northward up the coast to check out Myrtle Beach. Then it will be on down the coast to Savannah.
** Note to my gorgeous granddaughters: get out a map of the US and see where we are.
** Note to Gail G. Remember the prediction you made at Sari’s party? Who knew that I’d really be travelling inland in the Carolinas? No sign of that wonderful man you said I’d meet here, though….
(Wednesday) Asheville, North Carolina. Another 80 degree day; another magical drive. For a short while we were back into green vegetation – then we started to climb. As the altitude increased so did the vivid colour. Today we were treated to hills of oranges and reds; yes, they were maple trees! We reached elevations of 4500 ft, the overlooks continued to delight, the sun sent fingers of light down into the forest, backlighting the trees, leaving golden leaves suspended in mid air.
We’re settled into our campsite for the night. Tomorrow we’ll visit Biltmore House before we head to Charleston. Despite the election results in Canada, life is good! (The election comment is not shared by Sandra - she made me put this in :))
Sunday, October 12, 2008
The next day we decided to drive along the coast of Connecticut and into New York. As the day progressed, we decided to get on I-95 to make certain we could reach New York in time to find a camping site. Who knew that I-95 slows down to bumper-to-bumper traffic on Friday afternoons? It was after 6 pm when we crossed the Tappen Zee Bridge pulled into Nyack, NY (just past White Plains).
The first order of business was to eat – then we discovered that there was not a campsite for at least another 50 miles. What to do? We called the local constabulary to see where it might be safe to park over night. Alas we got a voice mail message referring us to a dispatch centre in the next town. So we headed for the fire hall. After we explained our plight, we were invited to park in the parking lot where we would under their watchful eye over night. A bonus was finding an unsecured wireless site in the neighbourhood so we could check email and I could sulk over the state of my RRSP.
First thing in the morning we headed for Washington,DC. Cherry Hill Campground in College Park, Maryland had been recommended to us by some helpful folks Sandra met at the Rhode Island Campground so we programmed the address into Bossy and headed off first thing in the morning. Cherry Hill has the most amenities of any campsite we’ve stopped at including two swimming pools, hot tub and sauna, conference centre where they run sessions on site seeing in Washington, a café, full RV store, free cable TV, wireless, etc. Also has the priciest entrance fee: $55.00 per night. We booked in for two nights, went to the sightseeing orientation session, did laundry and met some of our neighbours.
Today we took a bus to the subway and arrived at Union Station in downtown Washington. We stopped for a quick bit to eat – and the emergency horns went off and Union Station was evacuated. We were only told that there was an emergency situation in the building and we must leave immediately. We did. What surprised me were the number of people who ignored the whole thing and went on eating. We never did find out what the emergency was but it was short lived and we picked up our tickets for a “trolley tour”. These tours let you get off and on at various spots along the tour route.
Washington is an amazing city. Except for a couple of really old buildings (I saw three), all the buildings are built of white stone, mostly in a neoclassical style. Interspersed among the many federal government buildings are monuments honouring former presidents, war veterans and other significant people such as Ben Franklin. Smithsonian museums line the Mall. Like most tourists, Sandra and I walked up to the gates of the White House and saw for ourselves the building that represents the seat of power in the US.
Speaking of power in the US, it’s been interesting to look at the election signs on lawns. Obama/Biden signs definitely won in Massachusetts although Mike had pointed out that Massachusetts is famously Democrat (think Kennedy). It’s been hard to tell in most of the other states we have driven through.
Tomorrow we’ll sit at the picnic table, spread out the map and see how far we want to go. Finding a place with a campground will be a priority!
Travel Tip: Do not buy a prepaid cell phone from Net 10….Sandra has spent hours on the phone (land line) trying to get her cell up and running. As I write this, Sandra is using my phone to talk with her son – hers still is not working.
And did I tell you that the temperature has been in the late 70s and low 80s?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
We spent the last three nights in Boston at the home of Mike MacMann and Pat Randall. When we arrived on Sunday night, they fed us a winderful meal and sent us off to bed to sleep off our Freeport shopping spree.
Pat and Mike were peerless hosts and acted as our personal travel guides around the city. We took in the sights at Back Bay, checked out the “mother church” of Mary Baker Eddy (it was closed but we walked the "campus"), walked through the public gardens and the Boston Common. We stopped for lunch at a café in Beacon Hill and, sufficiently fortified, we headed up the one of the lovely historic streets and took a look at some of the most expensive real estate in the city. Then it was on to the Capital Building to check out the architecture and to see where the laws of Massachusetts get made.
And still we didn’t stop. We walked downtown to Quincy Market on the harbor front. By this time I had to call for a time out so we stopped for tea at a little restaurant before heading along the greenway at the harbour’s edge. Pat had left us at the restaurant to head back to Beacon Hill and pick up the car. She picked us up and we headed home for wine, conversation and a delicious meal. It didn’t take me long to fall asleep when I went to bed!
Pat was busy with work on Tuesday but Mike gamely took us out again. It was mostly a car tour this time but we did get out at Harvard and walk around the campus. We also stopped at Longfellow House and walked around the grounds as the building itself was closed. Mike took us to a couple of his and Pat’s favourite shops where we picked up steak, veggies and baguette for dinner. Pat was home in time to eat with us and, after dinner, we moved into the living room to watch the end of the presidential debate.
It would have been easy to extend our stay but alas Florida awaits. As we left Boston, Sandra commented that these last few days just might be the highlight of this trip.
Thank you Pat and Mike for your hospitality and your friendship.
Despite Mike’s excellent directions and Bossy adding her GPS instructions, we got lost leaving Boston and travelled too far down the Massachusetts turnpike. However, a pleasant man at the toll booth got us straightened around and we were finally headed to Cape Cod. We pulled into a visitor centre and made some lunch and took advantage of their free WiFi to check email. We’ll stop there again tomorrow to upload this blog entry.
Tomorrow it’s on to Newport , Rhode Island and points beyond…
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Our first night was spent in Bar Harbour, Maine. Bar Harbour is beautiful seaside town filled with interesting little shops sprinkled among the obvious tourist traps. We wandered around town and then retreated to our campsite for a supper that consisted of two-year old cheddar cheese, cracked pepper triscuits, hummous and pita and a bottle of wine! (We had eaten a large, proper meal at a late lunch.)
Yesterday we drove around Acadia National Park, a spectacular drive through autumn coloured lanes, spectacular sea views and a 360 degree view from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Champlain charted these waters,too, and I’m beginning to think he was everywhere in eastern North America!
This morning we are in Freeport, Maine and about to see if we can reduce the inventory at LLBean! Freeport is shopper’s paradise, a charming New England town filled with Outlet stores. Later today we’ll head for Boston and a visit with some long-time friends of mine, Mike McMann and Pat Randall. Mike claims to be an excellent tour guide and we're going put his claims to the test.....
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
My original plan was for Sandra and I to leave tomorrow for our leisurely drive to Florida but on Saturday Sandra’s 90-year-old mother Alice collapsed on her kitchen floor. Alice still lives alone and on Saturdays she cooks a noon meal to share with her two daughters, Sandra and her sister Heather. Last Saturday, Sandra was taking the chicken out of the oven when her mother said, “Sandra, I’m going to faint!” This was followed by a heavy thud as she hit the floor.
Sandra dialed 911 and Alice was whisked off to the hospital where it was later determined that she needs a pacemaker. The doctors have told the family that she is still able enough to return home once the pacemaker is in place. The only caveat is that someone should be with her for the first couple of days.
Alice gets her pacemaker today so our leave date is now set for Friday to allow Sandra to spend those first couple of days with her mother. Then her sister and brother will take over.
I am ignoring the falling stock market today and concentrating on the concert I’m going to tonight: just Elton John and his piano for two and a half hours in a stadium that holds slightly over 7000 people. It should be wonderful.
Okay, who can really ignore the stock market news of the last few days? I have really mixed feelings about the plunging stock market. Part of me cringes as I watch my life savings waste away, part of me thinks that maybe a major crash/depression is needed to wake us up to different possibilities for repairing the economic inequities that are solidifying in our society.
There is certainly room for major improvement in our current economic system, in the way we distribute the riches we have been graciously blessed with in this part of the world. There is something profoundly wrong when the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing, when families live on the streets of our richest cities.
Perhaps if more of us were hungry we’d be motivated to find a food distribution that would allow food to reach all of the people in the world. Do we really need the incredible array of choices in our supermarkets when so many people in the world are starving? Do we really need to spend our energy developing an industry around bottling water when we have safe tap water – and 30,000 people a day die of waterborne diseases in other parts of the world?
Could it be that we need to have our way of life reduced to survival mode in order to realize that no one life is more important than another? Perhaps we need to use our intelligence and education to figure out a more equitable way to share the world’s resources rather than worrying about how to preserve a system that isn’t serving the majority of the world's people well.
This morning I’m writing this in my campervan, Bessie the Bus. When I look out Bessie’s window I see a gorgeous 50-year-old maple tree that has begun to show off its fall colours: orange, red and yellow mixed with a few branches of defiant green. When the vagaries of world politics and economics tug at my heart, this is where I retreat: into the glorious arms of nature’s beauty.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
My friend Sandra is joining me for this leg of the trip. She’ll fly back from Orlando on October 30; I’ll fly back to Calgary on Nov. 4 and stay there until Dec. 11 when I’ll fly back to Orlando. I have no idea what I’ll be doing at Christmas yet other than go to church. This Christmas will be about the real Christmas and I’m looking forward to celebrating it that way. I’ll have a family dinner and celebration th Leslie, Todd and the girls early in December before I leave Calgary.
I’ve been back to PEI with my sister Nancy but mostly I’ve been enjoying two weeks of living in a real house and driving a car instead of a van as I’ve been house sitting for my sister Shirley and her husband Dave while they’ve been on vacation.
The weather here has begun to showcase a lovely eastern fall. The clouds and fog have departed in favour of warm sunny days; crisp, clear air and cool nights. This morning I sat up in bed and turned up the thermostat to dispel the morning chill. A few trees have begun to turn colour: lovely maple reds, oranges and a bit of yellow. In a few weeks the hills will don their full fall coat, a truly wondrous sight.
I’ve started reading a book on neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change and heal itself. I wonder if there will be anything there to help Mum who has lost her mobility and is now confined to a wheelchair. Or for the rest of us as we age.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
So the other day I called Donna and Chris to see how she was doing. I got a glowing report this time. Holly, it seems, has settled into adult doghood and has left her annoying puppy habits behind.
Holly was a “bolter.” If she saw a place she’d rather be, she’d bolt , taking off at a full run - and stay as long as she pleased. No amount of calling or bribing could get her to return before she was ready. And there was no way you could keep up with her.
She took off on me several times and she had done this to Donna as well. No more, says Donna. “We hardly put a leash on her now. She’s even figured out which of the neighbours will welcome her and which ones to avoid.” Mmmm, I thought. Very interesting.
Next I was told that she no longer is so food centered. She no longer sneaks into the kitchen, nose in the air, checking for unguarded food on the counter. Nope, not Holly, who was previously known to eat anything that resembled food that was left within her reach. Donna told me that she makes Holly’s food now. Once a month, Donna boils up brown rice, lean ground beef, grated carrots and other healthy morsels for Holly’s breakfast and dinner. Maybe this food is more satisfying for her. At any rate, Donna and Chris no longer have to make certain that anything remotely edible is carefully and quickly hidden away. That must be real freedom.
But the real news is that Holly is still working at some of the local hospitals. She is now working with children. Donna takes her to the ward where the sexually abused children stay. Donna says she can feel the oppression when she enters the ward – but Holly just goes in, climbs up on a bed and snuggles – and those terribly abused little children respond to her. They hug Holly and talk to her when human contact is still beyond their reach. One of the nurses stopped Donna as she and Holly were leaving one day and said, “If only you knew how much good you do by bringing Holly here….
So while I still miss her, I have to acknowledge again that Holly is where she is meant to be. God bless her – and Donna and Chris.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
The day timer is an unassuming black book with a full page devoted to each day. At the top you can circle a little box with weather symbols in it and add the temperature. There’s a box for your daily priority that I’ve been using to write in the day of the week. My life is not being driven by ‘priorities’ these days!
I thought I’d list my activities for a couple of days to give you a sense of what it’s like to be living in Saint John this summer. And then I’ll talk about my trip to PEI.
Thursday, Aug. 21
· Sunny, 25C
· Hung out with my sister Shirley. She works three days a week now and takes Thursdays and Fridays off. Her husband was away so we had some lovely ‘sister’ time.
· Went out to Shirley’s daughter’s for a quick visit and played with Shirley’s little granddaughter. (McKenzie, almost one)
· Went to visit Mum. Took her out to the central courtyard gardens at the Villa.
· Had supper at Boston Pizza. (Small individual pizzas loaded with feta cheese.)
· Went to see Momma Mia. (OK, so Pierce Brosnan can’t sing but he’s nice to look at.)
Friday, Aug. 22
· Sunny, 25 C
· Took Shirley to catch the ferry to Digby where she was meeting her husband, Dave and attending Dave’s nephew’s wedding.
· Went back to Shirley’s and went back to bed!
· Went to Walmart. Bought a twin air mattress, small ironing board that can be stowed in the van and some bio oil that my cousin Barb swears will reduce the wrinkles on your face!
· Drove up the Saint John river after lunch and spent the afternoon with my long-time friend and maid-of-honour, Judy. Judy oozes creativity: she is an accomplished painter, sews, knits, crochets, cooks, can strip down a car engine and wield a hammer like a journeyman carpenter. I am in awe of her many talents.
· Visited Mum. Went through the book Sails of Fundy with her and we checked off all the ships that were built by the Suthergreens in Advocate Harbour
And then there is PEI. There is a reason it is called the Garden of the Gulf: it is green and luscious and, for the most part, manicured. Even modest homes are surrounded by a riot of colourful gardens.
I drove over the Confederation Bridge and the van was high enough that I could look out over the sides of the bridge and see water stretching off to the horizon on both sides. It takes about ten minutes to drive across the bridge and I drove along with a big smile plastered on my face. I have crossed this bridge before but you can’t see over the concrete abutments when you are seated in a car so this crossing was special.
I meandered across the island on highway 13 to Cavendish. I have always loved the town of Hunter River and was delighted to see that it hadn’t changed since I was last there about ten years ago. I spent the night in Cavendish in a KOA campground.
The first time I camped at Cavendish, I slept in a tent in a field. I don’t remember that there were any real campgrounds there then. That was in 1972, the year that Leslie got lost on Cavendish beach. I remember the terror and panic I felt then as if it were yesterday. She was just seven and had taken the wrong path coming back from the bathroom. The paths ran among the dunes and they must have looked all the same to a seven-year-old. Today there are boardwalks to walk on to save the dunes and most of the area is a national park. I’m glad I was able to experience the magnificence of this part of the country while it was less endangered by human beings.
I had lunch in North Rustico. Lobster, of course. When I was there ten years ago I was with my mother, my Uncle Phil and Aunt Jean. They were all lively and engaging then. Uncle Phil, the last of my father’s brothers, died several years ago. Aunt Jean and Mum are both in nursing homes in various stages of dementia. Old age is not for the faint of heart.
The highlight of my PEI trip was a night at the Confederation Arts Centre to see the British Invasion: America Strikes Back. I had seen the first installment of this high-energy musical production in Calgary about four years ago and met my nephew Jeff’s father, Terry Hatty, for the first time. That’s another whole story. Terry is one of the featured performers in this production too and I met him after the show. (I hung out at the stage door until he was ready to leave!) We had a nice but short visit.
The next day I stopped in Victoria Harbour for lunch at the Orient Hotel and Tea Room. (yes, there is an Orient Hotel in Victoria Harbour, honest!) Victoria Harbour is a beautiful little town on the seacoast. If you ever go there, be sure to have lunch at the Hotel and have the sticky date pudding with caramel sauce for dessert. – it is worth every calorie!
I stopped at two Hamptons on the way home, one in PEI where I went to an antique shop, the other in NB where I visited for a couple of hours with my aunt and uncle, Marilyn and Jim McKenzie. Jim is the prime genealogist in the family and I had picked up a copy of the Sails of Fundy for him, too. And he was delighted to get it.
So there you have it, life in the Maritimes. Who says you can’t go home again?
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I arrived in Parrsboro by accident. I was trying to get to Advocate Harbour to spend the night where my Swedish ancestors settled in the early 1800s. Somehow I missed exit 4 on Hwy 104 and ended up taking exit 5 into Springhill. Rather than backtrack, I decided to drive through Springhill (a depressing little town despite the fact that Anne Murray was born there) and on to Parrsboro for the night.
I’ve been to Parrsboro several times before and it is a beautiful town with leafy streets and big, white, historic homes. My mother told me that in the 1800s the wives of sea captains often sailed around the world with their husbands. Their children came too and when they were old enough for school, they were boarded in Parrsboro for the school year. Widows of men who were lost at sea would support themselves and their families by boarding these children.
My great grandmother Sarah Jane Suthergreen sailed with her sea captain husband Bryson Knowlton but she was always sea sick! When my grandmother, her sister and brother were born, Sarah Jane stayed ashore with her children. She and Bryson decided that they should move to Saint John where they felt their children would receive a better education. The family was living there when Bryson was washed overboard during a storm and eventually his body washed up on Block Island off the New England Coast. There is a family legend that tells how Sarah Jane was awakened in the middle of the night by the front door bell ringing on the night that he died. She told her children the next day that their father had died at sea. It was several days later when the telegram came confirming what Sarah Jane already knew.
Sunday morning was foggy but by 11 the fog was lifting and I headed to Advocate along a twisty stretch of road known locally as the little Cabot trail.
I stopped in Port Greville at the Heritage Age of Sail museum and bought two copies of Sails of Fundy by Stan Spicer. The book tells the history of shipbuilding along the Parrsboro shore and includes a list of all the ships built there including several by J. E. Suthergreen, my great, great grandfather.
I stopped briefly in Spencer’s Island and then drove out to the end of Cap d’Or on a road that didn’t exist the last time I was there. The view from there is magnificent and interpretive signs outline the history of a copper mine that was active there in the early 1900s.
Then it was on to the cemetery to find again the graves of the relatives who are buried there. I first visited the Advocate cemetery about 20 years ago with Mum. This cemetery sits high on a hill overlooking the town and the sea that figured so prominently their lives.
Mum took me around the Advocate area pointing out some of the old homes where our relatives had lived. She told me stories of our people who had lived and worked there. She was concerned that once she was gone no one would make the trek back to Advocate or keep the memories these people alive. I told her then that I would come back there, that she could tell me the stories and that I would pass them on. It is both an honour and a responsibility to carry these stories. These are some of the stories I share with my granddaughters over tea.
I left Advocate in late afternoon and drove to Fall River to my sister Nancy’s home. Yesterday it was warm and sunny and we just hung out in Nancy’s backyard at her swimming pool. Her backyard is gorgeous and her home welcoming and comfortable. Today it is overcast with thunder showers forecast for this afternoon. Our plan for today is to go antiquing.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
My first stop in Fredericton was Christ Church Cathedral. This Anglican Cathedral was built in 1853 and is one of the earliest and best examples of the nineteenth century revival of Gothic architecture. This Cathedral was the first new Cathedral built using the Gothic Revival style on British soil since the Norman conquest and the second built in the Anglican communion since the reformation.
I learned these and other interesting facts from my personal tour guide, the verger of the Cathedral who speaks with a deep American south accent and has the unlikely name of Hank Williams. (The verger in this case is the church official who is responsible for ensuring that the Cathedral is set up properly for the various services held there.) You can check out this wonderful Cathedral at: http://www.christchurchcathedral.com/
My next stop was Gallery 78 just down the street from the Cathedral. I stopped hoping to catch Drya Eaton, a local artist, who has a studio there. Drya’s parents, Bob and Jane, are long-time friends of mine dating back to the 1960s when we were neighbours in Moncton. Unfortunately Drya wasn't there but the curator did take me into her studio though and showed me a lot of her newer work.
But the most serendipitous event was walking into another studio and coming face-to-face with David McKay an artist whose work I’ve admired since the very early 1970s when I interviewed him for a TV show I hosted back then. I have seen his work in different galleries when I’ve been back home visiting but never run into David himself. We had lovely conversation and, if I had an extra $4,600.00, there is one picture of his, Ghost Canoes, that would be making the trip back home with me. Unfortunately I have to choose between that piece of art and gas for Bessie the Bus! You can see both Drya’s and David’s work at: http://www.gallery78.com/
My final stop in Fredericton was the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. I went specifically to see the Building New Brunswick exhibit by local architect John Leroux although the Beaverbrook also has many outstanding collections. Check out this gallery at:
The weather was sunny and I stopped a lovely supper before driving back to Saint John – on the highway this time. It was another one of those perfect summer days.
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
When I was engaged to be married, I received numerous china cups and saucers as shower gifts. It was common in the early 1960s to have a cup and saucer shower to ensure the new bride would have pretty china in which to serve tea.
When I was first married, Brian and I lived in a small apartment that was heated by a stove in the kitchen that burned both oil and wood. I always had a pot of tea sitting on the back of the stove top keeping warm. When someone dropped in, I added a fresh tea bag and more water. Most of my friends and neighbours did the same. There was always time for a cuppa and a chat when someone appeared at your door.
Anytime there was a weighty decision to me made, a family crisis, or fatigue to be overcome, out came the tea pot. It’s the Maritime way.
I still start each morning with a cup of tea and some quiet time before breakfast each morning. And when someone arrives at my door they are always offered tea.
When Leslie moved out on her own, I lent her my good china tea cups and saucers to add some elegance to her first apartment. Several years later when she went into labour with her first daughter, she drank a cup of tea before heading to the hospital. She drank that last cup of tea before she became a mother from my personal favourite - a fluted china cup covered with roses.
Over the years, Leslie has collected a cups and saucers from her grandmothers and great-aunts as well. She also inherited a wonderful – and large – collection of cups and saucers from Todd’s grandmother. And when she moved into her current home, she bought two display cabinets to display her favourites.
Many years ago, I was browsing at an antique fair in Stony Plain just after my eldest daughter has settled in Toronto. I found eight lovely cups and saucers in Royal Albert’s Old Country Roses pattern, a pattern that she fancied at the time. So I bought them and sent them off to Toronto. We still drink tea from them when I visit.
Over the years I have rebuilt my own collection of cups and saucers. (Many of my original ones remain part of Leslie’s collection.) I have some special ones that I carefully packed and sent to Calgary after we dismantled Mum’s apartment when she moved into the nursing home. I have a couple that I found particularly pleasing and bought at estate sales. I have eight matching cups and saucers from my Noritake Tahoe dishes.
One also needs teapots and creamers and sugar bowls to go with cups and saucers. I have, of course, a variety of "regular" teapots for everyday use. I have the Noritake teapot, cream and sugar that came with my dishes. I have a silver teapot, cream and sugar that I bought at an antique shop because they match the Old English Reproduction silver tray that was a wedding gift to my mother from her new in-laws. I serve my tea on it now.
But the most precious teapot I own is a Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing, that belonged to my maternal grandmother, Beulah McKenzie. I brought that teapot, cream and sugar across the country on my knee when I flew back to Calgary from New Brunswick after Mum settled into the nursing home.
I have shared many cups of tea with friends, relatives and neighbours but the most special cups of tea I share now are the ones I now share with my four granddaughters.
I take out the china cups that were once my mothers and they each pick their favourite one. Now that I have my grandmother’s Wedgewood teapot, we most often use it. We sit at the dining room table and the conversation often turns to the women who drank tea together many years ago from the same cups and saucers. They are always interested to hear stories of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great grandmothers and great-great-great grandmothers. And I am honoured to share the wisdom and strength of the generations of women who populate our family tree.
On Monday, August 4th, at Tim Isaac’s annual New Brunswick Day auction in St. Andrews, I made the winning bid on 22 pieces of Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing.
I now have four place settings that match my grandmother’s tea set. I can hardly wait to sit down with my granddaughters and serve their sweet treats on plates that match their great-great-grandmother’s teapot. And maybe when they choose their favourite tea cup, one of them will chose to drink tea from a matching Wedgewood Queensware cup and saucer.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
At its height in the early 1980s the MRA as it was known had over 600 members, it’s own clubhouse and a paid recreation director who tended to the day-to-day business and organized monthly dances. We’d rent a community centre and hire Maritime musicians to play for us. We’d try to tie into the touring schedules of Maritime bands and there was usually a bagpiper or two to start us off. These events became very popular and lots on non-Maritime Calgarians showed up, too.
We also had a Grand Reunion each summer. The year I was president of the MRA, that reunion took place at Rafter Six Ranch in Kananaskis County. We had 3,500 people show up for a weekend in the sun, a lobster dinner – and lots of good music. We flew in our crowd favourite, the Minglewood Band to close the show. By then the crowd had been listening to groups such as the Powder Blues Band and Doug and the Slugs and other popular groups of the day since early afternoon.
Our budget for that one event was somewhere in the vicinity of $135,000 – for a weather-dependent event! And the weather had to be good in various part of the country. We had lobster suppliers in the Maritimes building our supply of lobster in lobster pounds on the East Coast. Air Canada then had to fly it to Calgary on the day of the event. We had ordered about 10,000 pounds of lobster.
The day of the concert the lobster landed in Toronto and Air Canada called us to tell us that they couldn’t get it to Calgary due to the weather situation in Toronto. All we could think of was 3,500 people sitting in a sunny alpine meadow, drinking beer all afternoon, and we were going to have to tell them they weren’t going to get the lobster they had paid for! Finally, after many phone calls, Air Canada said they could break the shipment down and sent it out on two planes.
I loved being part of the MRA; I met a lot of wonderful people; we even managed to get on national television a couple of times. That year I was president, we had a cash flow of around $250,000 all managed by a small but dedicated Board of Directors.
So are you wondering what triggered this trip down memory lane? Two things actually.
It was July 4th this year before the fog lifted enough for Saint John to stage its July 1st fireworks. July 4th was a lovely summer evening and my friend Sandra and I headed down to the Market Square Boardwalk in the inner harbour to see the show. As we walked past the stage where performers entertain the patrons on the patios of the various restaurants and bars that line the Boardwalk, I was catapulted back in time to an early 1980’s MRA event at Calgary’s Hungarian Centre. We had brought Matt Minglewood and his band in for a show. Near the end of the evening a very pregnant young woman was invited up on stage with the band. She sang with an unbelievable style and a voice I could never forget. I even remember that she sang Caledonia. Her name was Theresa Malenfant and over the years I would occassionally hear her on the radio when I was back home.
On July 4th, as Sandra and walked in front on the little stage on the Boardwalk, Theresa walked out on the stage and began to sing. The moment was pure serendipity. After Theresa’s set was over, I waited to speak to her and tell her how she had blown me away all those years ago. She remembered the evening and told me that son she was carrying is now 27 years old! This wonderful encounter was followed by fireworks over the harbour. Another perfect summer evening in Saint John.
The second event is the current leadership race for the leader of the Progressive Conservative party in New Brunswick. One of the candidates for leader is Rob McLeod, who was a hardworking member of the MRA Board the year I was president. I have been reading Rob’s regular commentaries in the local newspaper since I arrived. The little bio clip at the end said he was president of the PC party, a fact that I didn’t find surprising as his father had been a Cabinet Minister in Richard Hatfield’s government. But last week Rob resigned as party president and two days ago he announced his candidacy for party leader. Way to go Rob! Who knows maybe a former MRA colleague will end up as Premier of the New Brunswick one day.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
So I decided on my birthday in September 2007 that it was time to get fit. I joined the World Health Club in Calgary and signed up for 24 sessions with a personal trainer. I loved my trainer Maureen but I hated going to the gym. It would be nice to report that I’ve lost all that weight and now participate in triathlons but sadly that is not the case. I have lost ten pounds though and I’m happy to see the scale head down instead of up. And I do have more energy so that’s a bonus.
When I reached Saint John, I joined a Good Life fitness centre. They have a three-month membership in the summer aimed at students and it fits the bill for my time here. My sister and my friend Sandra both go there so I do have company from time to time. But I have to confess that what I enjoy most is Good Life’s showers. There’s nothing like being on the road or living is a small place to make one appreciate large luxurious shower stalls and unlimited hot water.
My friend Dianne tells me that when she and Mark travel in their travel trailer, they find out where the local recreational centre is when they first pull into town. The next morning they go for a swim, have a nice hot shower, eat “the breakfast of champions” and then head on down the road. They’ve found this a wonderful way to start their day.
When Dianne and I started this trip, Dianne took on the cooking duties. Dianne is a gifted cook and I was more than happy to let her do the meal planning and cooking. If fact, if the truth be known, I attribute some of my weight gain to Dianne’s fabulous sticky buns and rich desserts! Dianne, too, is now concerned about fitness and weight loss but not at the expense of good food. So she’s modified her tasty recipes and developed new ones.
We, too, started our day with Dianne’s “breakfast of champions” – a dish she developed to help Mark bring down his cholesterol. (It worked.) Here’s Dianne’s recipe:
In a cereal bowl add:
· Cooked oatmeal (steel cut oats are best but we opted for packets of instant oatmeal for convenience’s sake)
· A layer of Honey Nut flavor All Bran (sweetens the oatmeal and adds more fiber)
· One-half a medium/large apple cut up (skin on- more fiber))
· A generous measure of cinnamon
· A splash of low fat milk
You end up with a bowl full of fiber that tastes yummy and is both filling and satisfying.
Dianne’s “breakfast of champions” has become my regular breakfast now and I love it. Those wonderful showers are a lovely reward after my work out at the gym. Maybe I don’t have to enjoy the exercise. Perhaps it’s enough to just do it!
Friday, July 11, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Sandra and I headed down the coast to St. Andrews for the day. A St. Andrews’ day-trip is de rigueur for those who visit the southern part of the province.
St. Andrews is a coastal town where well-heeled English Montrealers summered in their large summer homes (mansions is a better description) at the turn of the century. The women and children would arrive by rail with their trunks and household help to enjoy the more moderate coastal climate. The men would join them when they could. The wonderful old summer homes have by and large been well kept and are still occupied today.
The CPR also has one of its resort hotels there. The Algonquin is of the same vintage as the Banff Springs though not so large or quite so grand.
St. Andrews' main street is lined with shops and art galleries and Sandra and I went into all the shops on the water side of the street, stopped for lunch when we ran out of shops and then poked in all the shops on the other side of the street!
There are many other things to do in St. Andrews (whale watching tours, a visit to the Kingsbrae Gardens, golf) but Sandra and I headed back to Saint John along the coastal route. We went through fishing villages such as Maces Bay, Beaver Harbour, Dipper Harbour. We stopped in Penfield, the blueberry capital of the province and bought blueberry muffins that were still warm from the oven.
This week I went to Cambridge-Narrows, a lovely village on the Washademoak Lake. This is where Leslie and Todd and the girls are staying in a rented cottage. I visited with them on July 1st and spent the night; this week they are in PEI for the “All Things Anne” festival. I spent a couple of nights parked at their cottage and dunking myself in the Lake trying to keep cool. The temperature was in the low 30s.
I then headed up the Acadian Peninsula along the western shores of the Northumberland Strait. Again I took the coastal route feasting my eyes on the villages, harbours and small towns. I ended that journey in Kouchibougauc National Park where I camped overnight. Kouchibouguac boasts the warmest ocean water north of Virginia – by mid-summer the water temperature at its white sand beaches reaches 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yesterday I poked my way back down the coastal route stopping in Shediac for lunch. Last night, after a supper of lobster rolls at the Reversing Falls restaurant, my sister Shirley and I sat on Saint's Rest Beach on the Bay of Fundy and watched the breakers roll in. We marveled at the sound the water makes as it rolls back out to sea over the smooth pebbles on the beach.
The world is full of “thin places” if we can be quiet enough or intentional enough to find them. Thin places are those places where the veil of the earth becomes almost transparent, where we can touch God or all that is good, where our heart tells us the universe is unfolding as it should. New Brunswick is full of thin places.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I came across this quote today and it got me thinking about a wonderful story I was told the other day. A friend of mine quietly told me of something she’s been doing for the last several months and, despite Mother’s Theresa’s observation of our world, this story is one of widening our circle of family.
My friend and her husband have a favourite restaurant here in Saint John where they go for breakfast on the weekend. Usually they are served by the same personable young woman, Melissa (not her real name). Melissa looks straight into your eyes when she speaks to you, I was told, and she holds your gaze. While this is an engaging habit, it became apparent to my friend that Melissa also held her gaze to ensure that her customers looked at her eyes, too, and not at her mouth.
Melissa is missing two front teeth, has other teeth that are misaligned and cavities that need to be filled. In short, her mouth is in a bad state.
By now my friend knew that Melissa was a single Mom with two teenage daughters. And my friend also knew Melissa would always be relegated to waitressing if her teeth were not fixed. So she told her husband that she would like to offer to pay for Melissa’s dental work. Her husband was supportive so the next time they saw Melissa my friend asked Melissa if she would meet her for coffee the next day as she has something to discuss with her.
Melissa’s first reaction was to ask, “Have I done something wrong?”
When they met the next day and my friend told Melissa that she would like to pay for her to go to the dentist, Melissa burst into tears and fled to the bathroom to compose herself. They talked for a couple of hours over coffee and tears in Tim Horton’s.
“There are no strings attached,” my friend told her. “I was once a single mother, too, and I’d just like to do something to help you.”
Melissa countered that she’d never be able to pay her back and my friend told her that she didn’t expect to be paid back. She told Melissa that she had confidence in her and that she believed that someday Melissa would be in a position to help someone else. “Just pass it on if you can, that’s all I want,” my friend assured her.
My friend told her to go home and think about it and make sure she was comfortable with the proposal.
My friend went with Melissa to her first appointment and introduced her to the dentist. She still continues to go with Melissa when she can. Melissa has now had another couple of teeth pulled, the gaps - and several cavities - filled. She has one more dental appointment left.
The dental work tally has now hit about $2,500. and my friend told me with a conspiratorial grin that her impulse to help must have been right because “I haven’t even missed the money; it just seems like it was a little bit here and a little bit there.”
My friend also tells me that “You should see Melissa now. She not only has a beautiful smile, she has self confidence. She walks with a spring in her step. It is wonderful to see.”
I went to my friend’s home the other day and there was a small statue of an angel on her table and a wonderful letter from Melissa telling her how her life has been changed by this act of kindness.
My friend’s circle of family just got wider. I’m wondering how wide I can make my circle of family. How wide can you make yours?
Monday, June 23, 2008
Mum shakes: not just the small tremors of old age but her legs shake and wobble making even walking with the walker a supreme effort. Getting Mum in and out of Bessie the Bus was a feat of ingenuity and strength even with both Shirley and I participating.
My mother is a study in growing old gracefully. She has a wonderful sense of humour and has the ability to laugh at herself when the indignities of old age present themselves. Each mounting of the steps into Bessie resulted all three of us bursting into gales of laughter at the wobbling and bobbing that inevitably resulted.
Mum and Shirley tell the story of the time they were trying to get Mum into the front seat of Shirley’s car. Mum was standing outside the car with her back to the passenger seat, bobbing and weaving as her bottom hovered over the seat trying to land. Finally she collapsed into the seat prompting a passerby to comment, “It ain’t pretty but it works.” This cracked Mum and Shirley up. We heard this story several times on our brief adventure until one of us would break out laughing and say “it ain’t pretty but it works” before we heard the whole story again.
My mother also lives with dementia, another indignity of old age. She is only mildly impaired cognitively though. Mostly she just gets confused sometimes. As we drove to Alma, she asked me who I thought would win the U.S. election this year and was quick to voice her opinions. She still reads the newspaper every day. And she is very aware of her own struggle to communicate. She struggles to find the words to get her thoughts out to others. So we play a kind of Charades: is it this? Is it that? Or we say “sounds like” as we pull an ear. This again results in great laughter and sometimes when the struggle ends, the word will come.
Mum apologizes for her slowness in putting thoughts together, her inability to find the right word. We tell her not to apologize, that it doesn’t matter to us. We tell her that we can’t begin to imagine the frustration that she lives with. We tell her that we marvel that she has kept her good nature and sense of humour as old age chips away at her. We tell her that she is teaching us to laugh at ourselves, to grow old gracefully. And whether Mum believes it or not, she is teaching us to live the best life we can whatever our limitations.
This trip we ate a lobster dinner at The Tides, Mum’s favourite thing to do. We returned there for lobster rolls the next day for lunch; We drove along the coast to Cape Enrage. We stopped in Sussex to buy an ice cream cone on the drive home. On Sunday morning, all three of us piled into the same bed for a cuddle.
Last year, Shirley took Mum to Fundy National Park by herself. Last year, Mum still managed to struggle up the stairs to their room. This year, it took two of us to help Mum get around. None of us know what next year will look like. But the annual trip to Fundy National Park is still penciled in our June 2009 daytimers.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
My radio is a small box (approx. 5” X 5” X 2”) and runs on my choice of three AA batteries, a lithium battery, AC power (with an adapter- not included) or you can crank it by hand in case of emergency. It also has an emergency light and a siren. But all I really wanted was a small radio that played AM/FM/SW (shortwave) and had a decent speaker.
I remember my father sitting at the kitchen table with a radio much like this. He’d sit with his ever present home-rolled cigarette and glass of rum and listen to programs from around the world on shortwave. His radio could also pick up police and marine broadcasts. It was the marine broadcasts that I liked the most: ship’s captains talking back and forth to one another. We’d listen as the tug boat captains gave orders to the ships they were leading into the harbour; we’d hear captains talk among themselves about where they had been or where they were going.
I had a tenuous connection with my father. His alcoholism was a barrier to the kind of relationship I would have liked to have had but we could sit and listen to his radio and be transported to a different world where there was no rum or cigarette smoke.
This morning is a grey Maritime morning. I am looking at the Bay of Fundy from my window and listening to classical music on CBC Radio Two. In a few minutes I’ll switch to shortwave and see who’s out there in that other world. And I’ll remember Dad with fondness.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Bessie is nestled against a wall of cedar trees on the driver’s side and I can see the Bay of Fundy from the windows of the passenger side. I have opted to live in Bessie rather than join Sandra inside her comfortable and much larger home. I am living small.
Living small is teaching me a lot about the footprint I leave on this planet. I am acutely aware of each precious resource I use. Most of my resources – water for drinking and washing, propane for heat and cooking, gasoline for the generator and for driving – are stored in tanks. And every time I flush the toilet or turn on the tap, the waste water goes down the drain and into two other tanks.
I have a test panel that tells me when these tanks are getting empty - or full in the case of the waste water tanks. And each time I need to fill or empty a tank, I have to pack everything tightly away and drive Bessie to the appropriate destination.
There are benefits to living small. Two days ago I decided that I needed to do a good clean up. I tidied and stowed things away (there is only one place for each item to go so that part is easy). I pulled out the mats I have laid over the carpeted floors and shook them outside. I swept the carpeted floors with a whisk. I took a Norwex microfiber cloth and wiped all the interior surfaces. I sprayed Clorox in the kitchen sink to disperse the tea stains. My home was clean and tidy in approximately 20 minutes.
I must confess that I’ve tapped into Sandra’s power and use her shower. Last night I even snuggled up in her living room to watch TV while I waited for Sandra and her sister Heather to return from a shopping trip to Calais, Maine.
It was raining when I returned to Bessie for the night. I flipped on the furnace for a few minutes to dispel the chill, then snuggled into bed to finish Eric Clapton’s autobiography. The sound of raindrops on the roof lulled me to sleep in short order. Living small keeps life simple.
Friday, June 13, 2008
We left gorgeous Ste. Agathe with equally gorgeous Catherine, Mary and Mark’s daughter, and drove to Quebec City. Catherine is a law student at Laval University and was returning home to Quebec City and her summer job. The bonus for Dianne and I was having Catherine as our own private tour guide. We poked along the secondary route on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River for part of the way and then Catherine took us through old Quebec City. We stopped at a lovely little restaurant for supper. Then we pointed Bessie back to the north shore and spent the night in a nicely wooded campground at Beauport.
Last Sunday when I called my brother Jim’s home to speak to Mum (who was there for supper), Jim pointed out that the largest pilgrimage shrine in North America, Ste. Anne de Beaupre, is just 30 kms from Quebec City. So that’s where we headed on Tuesday morning. The basilica is magnificent – the mosaic art and statuary is a real testament to the creativity and artistic ability of the hundreds of artists who have plied their craft there. While we were touring around, we could hear singing in the main part of the basilica and returned there to find that mass was starting – in French. So we stayed. The liturgy followed a familiar pattern even if we didn’t understand the words.
From there we took the bridge to Ile d’Orleans. We drove around the perimeter of the island (64 kms) through lovely villages with old homes, farmland and vineyards. We also discovered that the oldest golf course used continuously in North America is located there.
We left Ile d’Orleans and hooked up Bossy (GPS in case you’ve forgotten) to help us navigate Quebec City and lead us to the south shore. Bossy spewed out her directions – and led us right back down to the old town! Yikes – in right in the midst of supper hour traffic. Big Bessie and narrow streets, not a great combination. We unplugged Bossy, reset her and tried again. Same result. So we did what one does when you need directions: we rolled down the window and asked people. The first person didn’t speak English, but the next one did – she got us on the right track and soon we were over the Pierre La Porte Bridge and on the way to Beaumont where Dianne’s ancestors landed on the shores of the St. Lawrence in 1672.
Beaumont is a beautiful village just a short drive from Quebec City. It still has some original old stone homes. It is a clean and tidy village with an air of peacefulness about it. We first stopped at the local restaurant (there is only one) to have supper. The proprietor, who also seemed to be the cook and server, didn’t speak English. She was very accommodating as we ordered in very broken French and even managed to produce both Yellow and White Pages in response to my badly delivered request , “Avez-vous un livre de telephone?”
The library is housed in one of those original stone buildings with two-foot thick walls and we headed there after supper to see if they had any information on Dianne’s people. They had a couple of local history books for sale that mentioned them so Dianne bought them and photocopied some other information – all in French. The next day we went to the local historical office and gathered some additional information from records from the old church.
Then it was on to New Brunswick. We camped that night just north of Fredericton on the Saint John River and headed to Kings Landing, an historical village, first thing in the morning. Kings Landing depicts life along the river over a couple of centuries and requires a lot of walking to cover it all. We ate lunch there and left feeling virtuous for having gotten some exercise after so many days in the car.We headed to Saint John after lunch and reached my sister Shirley’s around 3:30 pm. My Mum was there waiting for us and we had a lovely supper and visit.
Today, Friday the 13th, Dianne flew back to Edmonton ending the first leg of this adventure.
I’ll be reconnecting with old friends over the next couple of days, doing laundry, finding a site for Bessie, making arrangements for a small economical car, etc. And then I’ll be back to blogging. I have discovered much to my delight that one of my sister’s neighbours has an unsecured wireless connection that I can “borrow”.
So watch for upcoming blogs on speaking English in Quebec and eating “Dianne’s way”. (I even lost weight over the last two weeks though our exercising was sparse!)
Sunday, June 8, 2008
It’s been hot and steamy since we arrived at Ruth and Pat’s in Kanata on Friday. Amazing how much the temperature can change in just a few days. There seems to be no let up in the heat and our poor bods are trying vainly to adjust.
We slept in the van outside Pat and Ruth’s and were lulled to sleep by the sound of rain on the roof. In the morning we headed into Ottawa after Ruth and Pat went to work. It took a while to find a place to park but we did finally find a spot in the Byward Market and headed up to Parliament Hill. We watched some boats coming through the locks on the Rideau Canal, picked up coupons for a free tour of the Parliament Buildings and then decided to have lunch.
I figured we had to “do lunch” at the Chateau Laurier so we joined the business crowd in our rather touristy attire. As we were finishing lunch, I pointed out to Dianne that Joe Clark was sitting at the table next to us. My decidedly extroverted friend decided that she would stop by for a chat with Joe as we were leaving. This was not as quite as an audacious undertaking as it might seem at first. Dianne is a long time resident of Joe’s old Yellowhead riding and we also knew that one if Dianne’s fellow parishioners at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in Spruce Grove had managed at least some of Joe’s campaigns. Joe was unfazed at being approached and introduced us to his lunch partner Sen. Norman Atkins who has family in Jemseg, NB and who was coping with the flood damage to his NB cottage on Grand Lake.
From there we joined up with our tour to see the Parliament Buildings. I had never taken a tour of the buildings although in my days with TELUS I had been in various parts of the buildings for meetings and even had lunch in the Parliamentary cafeteria on one occasion.
After the tour concluded we had a short stroll back to Bessie and decided to leave the oppressive heat and drive to Kingston to see Cousin Jane and her husband Mark Banyard.
We arrived in Kingston (which appeared to be even hotter than Ottawa) and parked at the waterfront to have a bite to eat. We made ourselves a nice cold meal and Dianne headed off with our garbage to find a garbage can. She returned a few minutes later minus the garbage and with an invitation to have a glass of wine with a lovely couple who had been admiring Bessie from their patio a few metres away. So wine and conversation it was. Mavis and Dennis had emigrated from England shortly after WW II and, as Mavis put it, “I think we’re going to stay.”
On to the Banyards and their much appreciated, air conditioned home. Mark had just returned from Japan the night before and Dianne was intrigued by work they have been doing there. (http://www.kam-international.net/about_us/index.htm) We had a lovely, relaxed visit with the Banyards. We slept in Bessie again and joined the Mark and Jane for breakfast before leaving for a tour of St. George’s Cathedral and the farmer’s market. Rebecca and Oliver surfaced before we left and all four bid us good bye.
Jane told us that it was only a four-hour drive to Ste. Agathe-des-Monts and Cousin Mary’s home. So, ever the intrepid adventurers, we decided to brave driving across the outskirts of Montreal to reach Ste. Agathe and visit Mary and Mark Gibson.
Ste. Agathe is a beautiful little city on a lake in the Laurentians. Homes dot the shore line, many with boat houses where you can just open the garage-type door and drive your boat right in. Years ago Ste. Agathe was populated by hotels, where vacationers would settle in for the summer. Over the years as people have bought and built cottages, the hotels have become fewer in number. Some of the older, opulent cottages and summer homes are still in use by subsequent generations of the original owners.
Mary and Mark welcomed us with a luscious meal including barbequed steak, fresh asparagus and a rhubarb torte made from rhubarb from their garden. We opted to sleep in our familiar Bessie beds and got up early to attend communion at 8 am at Mary’s church. Mary presided and it was very special for me to be there. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with all of my family, Mary is an Anglican priest.)
Last night Mary and Mark took us on a long walk around town; after church this morning, Linda, one of the parishioners, took us on our own personal guided tour of the area.
As I write this, Mary and Mark have just returned from picking up their daughters Sarah and Catherine at the airport. Sarah and Catherine have been in Wales. Tomorrow Dianne and I will take Catherine with us to Quebec City where she has a job.
I’m writing this in Mary and Mark’s screened gazebo as the sun drops behind the Laurentians. A brief thunderstorm has cooled the air. I’m beginning to think that this place is a little bit of heaven on earth.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
We stopped today in the wonderful little town of Deep River to stretch our legs and take a look at an artisan’s co-op. My chatty friend (and potter) Diane soon managed to get us an invite to the local potter’s guild. Next thing you know, we were directed to a local eatery, The Bean Pot, on the main street. So we had lunch (borscht for Dianne; lentil soup for me) and ate surrounded by the work of more local artists. Deep River is a pretty town of 4200 souls – clean streets, newer municipal buildings and friendly people. After lunch we gassed up and headed towards the Capital Region.
This morning after dodging clouds of mosquitoes we left the campsite and I finally got up on the local wireless network and posted a blog. I also checked the comments and see that my cheeky friend John purports to have bought Walmart stock based on the number of visits we’ve made. And he didn’t even know about the trip we made yesterday! I think Dianne and I should offer to do one of those commercials like the Tim Horton’s commercial where the young men stop at each Tim’s on the way across the country. For those of you who are interested, I want to say that we did NOT stop at a Walmart today!
While we didn’t go to Walmart, we did walk to the Dairy Queen after supper and buy a cake for Dianne’s birthday. So now we’re settled in for the evening and it’s started to rain, nicely cutting down humidity.
Tomorrow we’ll head into Ottawa and do some sightseeing.
Dianne just came back from loading our laundry and reported that a father and son combo down the lane from us caught a 43” pike! She’s gone back to take a picture of it. They almost swamped their fiberglass canoe when they landed it.
It is gorgeous here and I’m thinking about Mary Pat spending her growing up years in this lovely environment.
We got a late start today. Bessie needed an oil change and yet another fill up. We seem to use a tank of gas a day at an average of $130.00 a fill. We also needed to have a huge rock chip filled in the windshield compliments of a large truck we encountered yesterday. Thanks to Dennis at Gus’ Auto Body and Glass, you can hardly see where it hit.
We made yet another trip to Walmart this time to pick up a TV antenna. Yes, Bessie has a TV but somehow I managed to break the antenna as I tried to stow it away the other day. I do swear Bessie gets smaller each day.
We expect to reach Ottawa sometime tomorrow and will visit Cousin Ruth and her family. We’ll tour around the nation’s fair capital for a day or two. It will be a welcome respite to not be confined to the car all day although when I called Ruth last night she told me it is supposed to be plus 30 in Ottawa on Friday. I hope she is mistaken!
Tomorrow is Dianne’s birthday. I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate. Life on the road calls for some ingenuity and I’m sure we’ll figure something out. I guess I can always wake up our fellow campers with a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday!
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
So we headed to the fire hall. While one firefighter came out to the car to check the fluid levels in the engine, the other one called around to see if there was a mechanic on duty anywhere. There wasn’t so he supplied us with a map to the Chrysler/Dodge dealership for the morning.
(Note to travelers: I you need directions, ask a police officer; if you’ve got mechanical or other problems try the firefighters.)
So Monday morning we stopped at the dealership at 8 am on the way out of town. They were most helpful. They put old Bessie on the computer and determined that there was nothing serious going on (probably just the oxygen sensor) and sent us on with a smile and good wishes – and no charge. So we were off to Rossport on the shores of Lake Superior.
We stopped in Ignace for lunch at Subway. As we left we asked one of the locals what people did for work in Ignace and he told us that most of the people were on welfare as the mine had closed and the railway and Government transportation services had moved out of town. So sad.
As we pulled into Rossport, we stopped to talk to two fishermen who were on a fishing trip for rainbow trout. I’m sure they would have been disappointed to learn they reminded Dianne of her father, an avid fisherman. Actually, I’m disappointed since they were only about my age!
As we were setting up camp, Lisa the local Park Warden stopped to chat. (Actually, she was probably checking to see if had paid our camping fees but we had a great chat anyway. She had travelled in Australia in a van at one point and so swapped some stories. She had just cut up a downed birch tree that day and told us to use the wood for a fire. We did. I gave her the blog address. If you’re reading this, Lisa, hello from Dianne, Elizabeth and Bessie the Bus!
Actually I had camped at Rossport on another cross-Canada trip about 30 years ago. That trip was done in a Volkswagen Beetle with a tent and a charming male companion! While the rest of the world has changed, Rossport hasn’t – It’s still as quiet and beautiful as it was then. In fact, if anything Rossport has improved – this time there were wonderful, hot and luxurious showers.
As we got ready to leave Rossport, the two fishermen drove into our site to suggest a couple of places we could stay tonight. They told us they do this fishing trip every year. This morning though they were off to a late start. As Dianne says, “Some days you don’t catch fish, you just catch friendship.”
In the end, we decided to pass their recommendations by and get closer to the Soo. So that’s where we are tonight, settled in the Glenview Campground and experiencing our first battle with black flies. Battling black flies is new for Dianne but my memories of growing up in New Brunswick include black flies in June and I’m just surprised that this is our first encounter with them.
By tomorrow night we should be within shouting distance of Ottawa and cousin Ruth.
The friendship tour rolls on!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Our first night we spent at Foam Lake, Saskatchewan in a little campground where the only other people in the place were a couple of mature tenters. Other than stops to eat, we pretty much drove all day. We stopped in Lloydminster to visit the Walmart so I could pick up some shampoo – I had forgotten to pack it - and also had a healthy sub at Subway.
It was fun to see road signs to places that I’d only heard about as we crossed Saskatchewan on the Yellowhead Highway. Just an hour or so east of Yorkton, we passed a “little mosque on the prairie”. Who knew that one actually existed outside the CBC show of the same name?
The much maligned Saskatchewan scenery is actually quite pretty. It’s a lovely time of year to travel with the trees sporting that wonderful spring sap green.
Yesterday, we had to stop at another Walmart to pick up a hairbrush for me and some sweats and runners for Dianne. I think we’re fully stocked now.
Yesterday, we also stopped in Neepewa, the home of Margaret Laurence, not to see her birthplace but to find a Safeway so Dianne could satisfy her Starbucks craving. The Safeway store had been recently renovated – but no Starbucks. We took a short jaunt into Portage la Prairie to see if we could find a Starbucks there but struck out again. So we gave up although Dianne looked somewhat distressed. And we erupted into gales of laughter when we spotted a road sign a short time later with an arrow pointing to Starbuck, Man.
My trusty Garmin Nuvi navigated us through Yorkton, Portage la Prairie and around Winnipeg although we could have done just fine relying solely on road signs. We’ve given a name to that strident voice that’s always telling us where to go or constantly stating “recalculating” when we are disobedient. We’ve dubbed her “Bossy”. So now there are four of us on this Friendship Tour – Dianne, Elizabeth, Bessie and Bossy!
The van is performing admirably, the beds are comfortable, the food in the fridge is cold, the microwave warms our food perfectly and the loo is a godsend in the middle of the night.
Our campsite at Falcon Beach is in Whiteshell Provincial Park. It’s a lovely treed site with the lake and the town site a short walk away.
Last night we stopped at the local pub for a beer and discovered that it has WiFi access. So we’ll stop at the pub on our way out and I’ll upload this to the blog. Then it’s on down the road and that vast stretch of highway across northern Ontario.