9 Items to Improve Life a Little

This post is about a few of the items in my life that I really appreciate. It’s the stuff that I find myself using quite regularly or that I need to turn to in cases of sickness or emergency.

socks

  1. Wool socks. I can’t say enough about wool socks. Living in Canada, my opinion is that they are absolutely essential for comfort in the winter months and even to put on before bed on the cool summer evening. I’m not talking about acrylic or cotton. I’m talking about a high percentage of lambs wool or merino wool and a bit of stretchy stuff like nylon and Lycra. There is a huge difference between wool and acrylic and cotton. Wool remains warm even when wet.  Cotton is worse than useless when wet. You can buy wool socks in various thicknesses and heights, from no see-ems to all the way up to, and even over the knee. One of my favourite brands is out of Vermont and is called ‘Darn Tough’. These socks are 100% lifetime guaranteed. In damp weather, wool socks are essential. I always bring wool socks with me when travelling, even to the tropics.  On an aircraft, when the floor is cold, put them on.  In Cuba we had a day of rain and the weather chilled down.  I wore my capris with wool knee-socks.  Cute! Heading out into a snowy day, thick wool socks will keep your feet toasty. If you haven’t tried wool socks yet, give them a try and then let me know.burts bees.jpg
  2. Burts bees lip balm. It’s the best lip balm that I have ever come across and it has peppermint in the original flavour which brings a nice tingle to the lips.  It is expanding into different colours and flavours.  In fact, one time I had a bit of a mishap with a coloured one…Trying Something New ?? (age 38) 💋 which was pretty funny.coconut oil
  3. Coconut oil. I use coconut oil to remove my make up, to slather on after a shower, to soften my bath water, to sooth a rash or a razor burn and to cook with.  It is even my sunscreen, providing a natural SPF of 5. (I also use a shirt, hat and sarong on long days in the sun.) I am not much for commercial sunscreens but, will use them in a pinch.  I just don’t like how they feel on my skin. There are recipes for natural, coconut oil based sunscreens with a much higher SPF due to the addition of various oils.  For example: carrot seed oil has SPF 38-40; red raspberry seed oil has SPF 28-50. I keep little decorative pots of coconut oil in the bathrooms and a large pot by the stove. It is wonderful stuff.  If you have a sore ear, lay down with the sore ear up. Put a small lump of coconut oil at the opening of your ear and it will melt and drip into your sore ear. Keep it there for about 20 minutes. This is always helped me relieve a sore ear.  An Ayurveda teacher who spoke at the ashram that I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 told us to put a bit of coconut oil, at the opening of your nostrils and then just gently sniff it in and it will melt and coat the inside of your nose. This will help with relieving dryness there especially in the winter months or in arid climates.  One last treat is to use coconut oil in your coffee. Just stir in a teaspoon along with your cream.  Now taste the exotic smoothness of it.  So lovely.carabiner
  4. Carabiner Hook.  I was in the army for a number of years and wrote about it here: I’m In the Army Now … 🔫  The army is a great place to learn about good gear that makes your life just that much easier, especially when you’re living in a state of panic for weeks on end.  Have you ever thrown your keys into your briefcase, backpack or purse only to later have to completely empty it in order to find them? With a carabiner hook on your key chain, you can simply hook your keys onto a belt loop, bra strap, backpack strap…you get the idea.  Solved.
  5. Refillable Water bottle. I take a full bottle of chilled water with me almost every where I go. In Australia, I would have perished without my Nalgene water bottle, even though the water was hot when I went to drink it. We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28) 🦇 Saves having to buy a drink when I feel thirsty.  I keep home-filled bottles of water in the car in each cup holder too.  This saves money and helps with the plastic trash problem on the planet and in our oceans.  Another good trick though, is to find a public bathroom, wash your hands and then collect water in your two scooped hands and drink from your hands.  Another alternative is the LifeStraw http://lifestraw.com/  with a LifeStraw you can drink bog water and still be alive to tell about it.  I learned about LifeStraw on a TED talk.  Awesome product.Jaden-Sunning
  6. Sarong.  Going to the beach?  Take a sarong to sun-bathe on.  They are so pretty and not so absorbent as terry cloth towels.  They therefore dry much faster and are much lighter weight.  I learned about the benefits of beaching with a sarong while in Mexico, which I wrote about here: La Cucaracha Report – Mexico 🇲🇽 We had done a long beach walk from Sayulita to San Pancho.  When we got there, little 4- year-old Leo was pooped and I laid him down on my red sarong after he drank the coconut water from a freshly cut coconut.  He had a lovely little nap under a palm tree.  I then walked into the little village to buy another one for Dean and I to sit on. I still have the yellow one today, after 13 years and a bit of mending now and then. It has so many wonderful memories absorbed in it, I can not part with it. A sarong is also a very useful sunscreen or a light blanket to shield against over air-conditioning  (don’t get me started on that!).  In the photo above is my son, Leo, in Nicaragua being sun-screened with my sarong. (La Cucaracha Report from Nicaragua 🇳🇮) Of course, it can be used as a dress or a skirt or even a shirt, if necessary.tick spoon
  7. Tick spoon.  We came across this wonderful little tool when we lived in Virginia (which I wrote about in Prune Juice & Pregnancy (age 33) 😳), where we became quite aware of ticks and their habits and dangers. Here is the website for the tick spoon https://www.tickedoff.com/  We have used it several times to get a nasty tick off of us and our dogs and it can be added to your key chain or carabiner and then clipped to your backpack. forearm stand var
  8. Manduka yoga mat.  I had worn out several yoga mats before I finally got fed up and decided I needed to invest in a better quality one.  The Manduka is that.  It is guaranteed for life. https://www.manduka.com  I’m liking these guaranteed-for-life products.  I have two of these mats, the lighter weight one for travel which I used for 500 Yoga Teacher Training which I wrote about here: Ashram Rant 🕉 and the heavier one for home and studio.  In the picture I am doing pincha mayurasana (pincha my WHAT??! ha ha) forearm-stand variation on my lighter-weight green one.  There is not a single nick in either mat after hours and hours of yoga practice. Namaste to that!castiron pans
  9. Cast-iron pans. A guy I worked with when serving tables which I wrote about here: A Simple East-Coast Life told me of the benefits — added iron to your food– and flavour to be derived from cooking in cast iron.  I knew about the flavour because Mom had used cast-iron at  The Camp ⛺️ to cook up a feed of fish and a feed of bull-frogs (yep!).  Lots of butter or lard and you’re all set.  Coconut oil works well in curries.  Making sure your pans are well-seasoned and oiled is essential. We found all of our cast-iron pans at yard sales.  They were slightly rusty but not beyond a good scrubbing with steel wool and then re-seasoning.  Cast-iron can also go outside on the fire and can be used in the oven for baking or to melt cheese on something under the broiler.  They are heavy pans which do require maintenance (oil after use), but, they are oh so good.  We also have a gas range.  Couple cooking over gas flame with the awesomeness of cast-iron and it’s a real winner.

So, that’s it for now on my good gear items…Thank you for stopping by.  ~M

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160K in Holland (age 23) 🇳🇱

Forty K per day for four days over the rolling hills and through the city streets of Netherlands, in 1989 I did the International Nijmegen Marches with a military team…

In the summer of 1989, while posted in Lahr, Germany, I was asked to join a marching team as the token female, to head to Holland for the four-day International Nijmegen Marches, which is the largest multi-day marching event in the world.  It has happened every year since 1916 to promote sport and fitness.  Military participants walk forty kilometers per day for four days in a row, in formation of 20-soldier teams.  Almost fifty thousand marchers now walk this walk every year.

At the time, I was a transportation platoon commander in Supply and Transport Company in 4 Service Battalion in the Canadian Army.  To put it simply, I had a platoon of 30 soldiers who drove MAN 10-ton trucks10 ton Man which would carry supplies: ammunition, water, rations, various items, and spare parts needed by both forward fighting troops and other support units within the Brigade. During peace time, we conducted training operations such as weapons use, field exercises and fitness competitions to improve morale, esprit-de-corps and to prepare for future deployments. As the Platoon Commander, I routinely conducted all manner of administrative duties, personnel evaluations and reports, test and inspection readiness, subordinate training, orders groups, equipment maintenance checks, and many other duties in accordance with my rank and position.   In a field unit, staying physically fit is one of the requirements of the job. Five days per week, we did physical training first thing at 7:30 am.  Joining the Nijmegen March team covered the fitness requirement and provided an adventure and a trip to another country, all expenses paid.

formation
This is an example of marching in formation.  And of course our wonderful flag proudly displayed.

A month prior to the event, the march training began.  In combat boots and combat uniform, we would form up, two by two in lines and walk for eight to sixteen K out through the German countryside, along farmers fields, river-side pathways and over trails through small woods.  Back then, in ’89, there were no ‘devices’ to listen to, other than the odd Walkman, which almost no one had anyway, and nothing like spotify or itunes or podcasts to listen to. Marching in formation was a little bit like torture.  The back of one head to stare at and exacting ‘left right’ pace to maintain for the whole two to three hours.  Thankfully, there were a few songs we would sing for a while. One soldier knew all the words to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. You can get anything that you want at Alice’s Restaurant…(by Arlo Guthrie).  It was only slightly annoying to listen to it after about the second time, but, well, what could be done?  ‘Just take one more step. Now, one more step,’ became my mental litany. Most of the time, I was extremely bored and under-challenged by this walking.  Not only that, I couldn’t easily ‘talk it up’ with the soldier beside me because of the need to maintain a professional ‘distance’.  Sometimes being a female officer could be both isolating and awkward.  It was tough to stay positive and pleasant but that became another litany.  Stay positive and pleasant.  Just one more step. Stay positive and pleasant. I chalked this training up to good discipline.  One could never get enough discipline.  Am I right?

nijmegen marches

We went to Nijmegen by bus.  It took about six hours, due North, and when we arrived, there was already a tent city erected by the forward party and we were assigned to our tents and to our cots, within the tents.  We were to begin Day 1 at 06:00 the next morning. The route for the four days formed somewhat of a clover leaf out and around the city of Nijmegen.  The route wound its way through the Dutch countryside with its green pastures, cows grazing, chickens running, fences diminishing into the distance.

formation march

One time, a civilian marcher was playing the bagpipes and low and behold all the cows in the field got curious and began to trot toward the fence to more closely see the man. Thankfully, at the fence, the cows stopped and then just stood and stared, chewing their cud, looking bemused and fluttering their long eyelashes at the bagpiper.  Could it be that these ladies thought the bagpiper was a well-hung bull ready to service them?  One will never know.

At ten K, twenty K and thirty K marks, we would come upon our unit’s flag and see our kitchen trucks, first aid station, water stations and porta-potties in a field.  We were well taken care of.  There would be a menu of foods or snacks and drinks for us, including huge schnitzel sandwiches.  I don’t think I ever went hungry, not once, while in the Canadian Forces.  We would sit on the grass with our plate and drink and rest for twenty minutes before beginning again.  One doctor attached to our unit even organized a child’s swimming pool with ice for us to soak our poor feet at the end of the day.

rest stop

While resting, we could also inspect our feet for the dreaded blisters.  I am pleased to report, I didn’t get a single blister.  Fortunately, a friend had told me of the wonders of moleskin and how to wrap it over the heel in such a manner as to provide fool-proof protection against blisters.  Secondly, Vaseline on and in-between the toes.  I now pass this on to anyone I know going on a long walk.  My friend Mary recently went for a big hike in Ireland.  Her feet were fine due to the moleskin application.  Blisters are nothing to sneeze at in a long, multiple day march, hike or walk.  Good feet are crucial to the success and comfort of the walk.  Bad feet can be debilitating and very painful especially if they also become infected.  Game over.  On training at CFB Borden called Environmental Specialty Land, which I did just after Nijmegen, our final test of the course was to complete a night march from Stayner, Ontario to the back gate of the Base, about 30 K with packs and rifles.  We started at 11:00 pm and we walked all night. Our friend Andy carried a huge boom box up on his shoulders and had it cranked and playing ‘FINAL COUNTDOWN’ by Europe, the whole way.  Song finishes.  Rewind.  Song begins again.  We were all very sleep deprived because we had been in and out of the field for weeks, up all night sometimes on missions, patrols and then duties and classes during the day and with no real time to recuperate.  Myself, I was literally falling asleep as I walked, while carrying my rifle at the ready.  There was this line that they would shout whenever someone was in danger of hitting the deck due to exhaustion: ‘SOLDIER! MAKE SURE YOU HIT THAT DECK BEFORE THAT WEAPON DOES!!!’  Kinda sums it all up, doesn’t it? Anyway, the Captain of this officer training course was Airborne – an elite group of Infantry. His feet turned to hamburger during this march. He had to get in the first aid truck and be driven to base.  Embaaarassing.  It wouldn’t have been so bad but he had bragged about what a great and fit soldier he was. Of course, HE didn’t know the secret of the moleskin. Myself, Dean and Nee sure did, and anyone else who cared to be prepared.  I had just finished the Nijmegen marches a couple of months prior, so I was fully aware.

I digress.

Back in Nijmegen, by the time we walked into the camp at the end of the forty K march, we were done.  I would soak my feet in ice water for ten minutes, show the good doc the mysterious lump on the top of my foot which may or may not have been a stress fracture, he said.  Having eaten at all the stops during the march, I certainly didn’t need more food, so I simply made my way to my tent, tucked my combat boots under my camp cot and fell fast asleep until the next early morning.

 

Nijmegen Marches
I like this picture I found of a female soldier fast asleep on her arm.  There was no staying awake during rest breaks.  The need to sleep just took over.

 

We Canadians are very much loved in Holland because our troops liberated the Dutch from the Germans in World War II in 1944.  So, anytime we would come across large Dutch civilian marching groups, they would holler and cheer and sometimes sing a song for the Canadians.  Weren’t we proud to receive these accolades.  We would all smile and wave bashfully and then take one more step.  Just one more.

nijmegen march backs

Everyday there would be at least one city to march through. There would be a lot to see and invariably young children would run along side our team for a bit.  We would give out those tiny Canada flag pins and then receive a sweet smile, sometimes with missing front teeth.  A few times, a tiny warm hand would slip into mine and we would walk together for a few minutes.  Priceless memory.

While marching, there would often be other Canadian teams from other units unrelated to ours, except that they were also Canadian and also posted in Germany.  For instance, there was an Armored Team, an Infantry Team, a Signals Team and the like.  I remember that I so enjoyed when the French Canadian Teams would be near us.  They would invariably be singing their old regimental songs which I found to be incredibly moving and haunting.  They would often pass us singing these songs in their deep rich voices. Bereted, dark-haired head tilted to the ground.  Arms swinging.  Boots hitting the ground in perfect synchronicity. It was mesmerizing.  One song they sang which is about the building of the dam across the Manicouagan River in Quebec, was especially sorrowful. If I try hard, I can still hear their deep voices singing this incredible song by Georges Dor. It is a song of longing and boredom and homesickness.

After the last day, there was a huge party in which a lot of Heineken were quaffed and then, the next morning, we boarded the bus back to Southern Germany.

Nowadays, there are so many folks wanting to participate in the Nijmegen Marches that they have set a limit of forty seven thousand marchers per year.  Doing this march was an honour and is a fond memory.

nijmegen finish(All photos courtesy of google images — I would have loved to have some of my own photos but I didn’t own a camera back then and there were no smart phones either.)

A Posting to Germany and a Lifelong Romance 🥂

Lucking-out on a posting to Germany ends in a lifetime romance with my one true love.

During our training at CFB Borden in logistics and field army tactics called Environmental Specialty Land, almost all of my ninety or so classmates were officially asking for a posting to Germany following successful completion of their training.  Germany was considered one of the best postings for a young officer.  Living in Europe had its pluses: travel, good food, amazing souvenirs, clocks, chocolate, schnapps and furniture, it also came with overseas allowance, separation allowance, if applicable and, it was more prestigious – there was even a medal out of it: the NATO Service Medal.  This seems unlikely now, but, unlike almost all of my colleagues, I did not ask for a posting to Germany.  When asked, I told my career manager to send me anywhere.  I have no strings and I have no wishes in particular.  In my head, it would be a new adventure wherever I was sent.  I was excited to really start my career and, it was a big wide world out there.  Location wasn’t a big worry to me (although I would be sad to be sent away from Dean but, knew that that was inevitable).

 

I’ll never forget the day of the decisions for our postings.  I kept seeing classmates with red-rimmed eyes, like they had been crying.  Others were quiet and sullen.  Others were frantically calling their spouses from the pay phones (we did not have cell phones in 1989) and arguing loudly or discussing quietly.  Finally, it was my turn to go in.  I had no idea that what she was about to say to me would shape my future: bring me my true love, a wonderful son and the happy, contented life I now enjoy.

 

My career manager remarked about my comments about send me anywhere.  Hmm, she said, you’re doing well on your training.  I like your attitude.  How about Germany?  Would you like to go to Germany?  My answer was simple: sure, I said with a shoulder shrug.  I was truly feeling like this was just another one of my adventures in life.  I was feeling fortunate but trepidatious.  It dawned on me that I shouldn’t walk out of that office and announce it to my classmates.  I put a button on it and walked out looking down, like everyone else.

 

Then began the screening process for Germany.  There were a few steps.  The Canadian Forces wanted to ensure that healthy soldiers were sent overseas.  Mine was easy.  No family.  No spouse.  My no-strings life was likely the reason I was to be sent there.  Much cheaper for them. I was still very much in love with my Newfoundlander classmate, Dean, the first person I met on training (see post: I’m in The Army Now), but it was one-sided.  Me toward him, not both ways – not even close.  In fact, I walked around like a love-sick cow and could barely speak whenever he was about.  It was crazy.

 

So, I kept it on the low-down about my posting to Germany.  So many others had so wanted to go there, I thought they would hate me if they found out I got it.  Our training continued and I said nothing.  One day, that I will never forget as long as I live, I was sitting in the common room of our barracks spit-polishing my boots.  There were a few classmates in there too, chit chatting.  Walter says to Randy: did you hear that Dean is going to Germany too?

 

My head came up.

 

I dropped my boot.

 

Oh my god.

 

OH…MY…GOD!

 

It was meant to be.

 

It would only be a matter of time before we would be together.  I knew this in my soul.  This was another one of those pivotal times in my life when it seemed that the fates took over and steered my life in a certain direction.  I was just going with it.

 

A few months later, I arrived in Germany and moved into my barrack room.  It was a short walk to the Black Forest Officer’s Mess – one of the most beautiful messes in the Canadian Forces due to its German architecture, interior design and beautiful surroundings – forest and lush grounds.  Canadian Forces Officers were treated well.  I was in the common room, meeting up with some of the other folks who were in the same barracks.  Hearing the tapping of cleats on the floor, I looked up and saw Dean walking toward me.  Be still my heart.  He was in his soccer gear and covered head to toe and long strong, muscled legs, in mud.  He was so athletic, fit, boyish, gorgeous and delicious looking.  I was tongue tied.  With stars dancing in my eyes, I asked him what he was doing there.  He told me he had heard I was arriving today and he thought he would come and meet me.  Yikes.  I was so in love.  I was shocked that he was there for me.  I remember feeling quite surprised but pleased that he was there…for me.

 

The next day Dean picked me up and we went to meet our new Commanding Officer.  I was given ‘A’ platoon in Supply and Transportation Company of 4 Service Battalion.  Dean had Supply Platoon, same company.  So, we would be working closely together.  I got that same warm feeling of anticipation.  Again, it was being reinforced that we would be together.

 

So we began our careers side-by-side as young platoon commanders and it was busy – the learning curve was vast and challenging and not without tears.  We attended daily meetings and orders groups.  We went to gun-camps and field exercises together.  We did physical fitness and marches.  We had TGIFs and formal Mess dinners together and soon we started hanging out as friends.  We would drive to neighbouring countries, cities and towns and villages.  We would check out various restaurants and go for hikes or to a soccer match.  We would find English movies to watch in various Movie houses.  One of our favourite places to go was Strasbourg, France.  It was so beautiful and medieval. We also loved going to the baths at Baden-Baden.  We would stay at the baths for a few hours and walk on the cobble stone streets until we found a little bistro – famished from the baths.

 

Out on a field exercise once we had to do the Junior Officer Challenge.  It was twenty-four hours and 75 km with eighteen mini-competition posts along the way.  We nick-named it the Okey-Dokey Challenge.   The other female officers dropped out, as did many of the male officers — mostly with blisters and injuries.  Dean and I did the whole thing together.  I was the only woman to finish.  The picture here is of us at the last ‘competition’ – wine tasting.  Dean and I were seated on a bench, side by side.  We were blind folded for this one, for some reason.  I had a sore knee.  75 km is a long way to walk in combat boots.

okey-dokey-1990

 

All this time we were spending together though, didn’t turn into romance. I found out that my Dean had a girl-friend back home in Newfoundland.  Geez.  What would I do about that.  I was so in love with him.  Then it hit me: make him jealous.  That is what I did.  I started dating gorgeous specimens whom I would meet around base or at the Officers’ Mess.  Each gorgeous hunk I met and dated, I made sure to introduce to Dean: Pete, Greg, Chris, Fraser.  He would prickle slightly when I would bring a new guy to him to meet.  This went on for about eighteen months.  One Friday, I had made a date with Fraser — a gorgeous, sweet-natured, blond-haired, blue-eyed, muscled helicopter pilot and I was to meet him at the Mess.  I was in my office when in walks Dean and sits down.  He asked me to go to a soccer banquet with him later that evening.  I asked him if this was a date.  Yes, he said.  Well, I was so mad.  I called him an asshole.  He looked at me with shock.  I asked him if he thought I had nothing going on on a Friday night.  I told him about my date and that no, I couldn’t go to his silly banquet.  I was seething.

 

A couple hours later I was with Fraser and all I was doing was talking about Dean and how much he angered me.  How could he really expect me to be just available to him, just like that.  I went on and on.  Fraser looked at me and said: Morgan, go to the banquet.  Don’t worry about me.  Just go.

 

Off I went.  The banquet was in a restaurant just up the street from my apartment.  After the banquet, we walked to my apartment arm-in-arm.  We have been together ever since.  That was 1990.  It is now 2017 and I am the luckiest girl in the world.

 

After we started dating, we began to go away on weekend or week-long trips.  We went skiing in the Swiss Alps, staying at a chalet.  The Alps were beyond belief.  We would ride various lifts up to the peak, spend a couple hours skiing up there then ski down to a chalet for lunch and a beer – the scenery from the chalet was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  Spectacular.  After refreshments, we would ski for a couple more hours in the middle of the alps and then ski down to the base where we would find the lodge and end our day.  It was blissful.

 

Another trip found us in the Austrian Alps on an Officer Adventure Training trip.  Well subsidized.  The Austrian Alps were also spectacular.  This time we were staying in a quaint village that looked like something from a painting or a Christmas card.  So picturesque with its crooked, old stone buildings, shutters, balconies, cobble stones, wrought iron and of course, the layer of pure white snow on every surface.

 

The best trip we went on together though was to Corfu, Greece.  We had two weeks together at an all-inclusive resort and we had an amazing trip.  The trip ended with the two of us exchanging identical rings on a hill in an olive grove.  We were now engaged to be married.  Oh happy day!

 

In Corfu we met an older couple named Mary and David from Scotland.  They made the mistake of inviting us to their home the visit some day.  Well, we went.  We flew into London on a military air craft.  We saw Les Miserables, a Tottenham soccer match and we walked and explored all around parts of London.  We went to Harrods and stayed in a B & B.  Then we took a bus north to Glasgow.  Mary and David handed us a shot of whiskey as we arrived at their house.  For the next couple of days, they toured us around the countryside to see ruins of Castles, Inverness Village, boutiques and tea shops.  In one shop, I bought a lavender coloured kilt that I later wore to be married in.  Dean bought a deer stocker hat. We went to the pictures one night and then it was over.  We headed back to London and flew back to Germany.  One regret is that we did not get over to Ireland.  To date, we have still not been to Ireland and we would truly like to go.

 

It was at about this stage in our young relationship that we started to discuss the idea of getting out of the army.  We would make our own way out on civvie street.  We had no real idea what we would do for jobs, but, we knew for certain that we did not want to be ‘in’ any longer.  We were honourably discharged from the Canadian Forces in March of 92 and moved in with Dean’s parents into their 800 square foot house in Newfoundland.  A few months later we started another adventure…travelling all over Canada and into Alaska in our 1976 VW Van named ‘Betsy’ that we brought home from Germany.  Ahhh, but, that’s another post…

I’m In the Army Now … 🔫

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.

D.H. Lawrence

I went to Waterloo University for one month when I was told by my father that he would not be helping with the expense. He had told me all my life that I would be the only one of seven to go to University and that he would pay my way. Well, he was wrong on both parts of that sentence. My little brother Luke finished with a degree or two, with no financial help. I made it to University but was left high and dry when he refused to help with the fees. I even called my Grandfather, whom everyone knew to be well-off and with whom I had always had a strong relationship. He flat-out refused me. So there I was, nineteen at a huge University with their accounts receivable people hounding me to make a payment. I had worked the previous summers and had plowed my savings into the first payment for residence and for my books. I had no money left. I tried to find a job but that too fell flat. Thinking very, very hard about my current options, and not wanting to just walk away without a plan for my next move, I sat down to contemplate…then an idea struck…THE ARMY.

Recruiters had come to my high school the previous year with posters and glossy pictures of the kind of life you could have in the army. (It was just like that scene in the comedy Private Benjamin when Goldie Hawn looks at the glossy pictures of what she thinks of as military yachts and she is SOLD on joining the US Navy.)  I had been told, after an aptitude test result years before, that I would do well in uniform. Hmmm. That caused pause for reflection. I pulled out the phone book for the city of Kitchener-Waterloo and found out the location of the recruiting centre. I put on some nice clothes and did my hair, hopped on the city bus and made my way there. I walked in to find a young man in uniform sitting behind the desk. He asked me all about my high school life and extra-curricular activities. When he heard that I was active and sporty and had good marks, he told me that I was, in his words: Officer Material. Wonderful I said. What next. He told me to come back with a thousand word essay about why I wanted to get in the forces. He said there would be an aptitude test when I returned. I went back to rez on a mission. From there, I wrote the essay, took and passed the test and checked out of Waterloo University.

The week I arrived back in Walden, I moved in with my Mother and her alcoholic boy-friend. I had no bedroom. I slept on the couch. I found two jobs serving tables. One at a five-star restaurant and the other at a bar on the opposite end of town. Living in this way brought me down. It was a tough winter.  All my high school friends were away at school except Flo who was at the Walden community college. Thankfully I had a good steady job to go to every day.  My boss was a womanizing prick from North Africa, who would lean in to talk to me just a little too closely, but, that is another blog post.  At least I had a steady gig and it got me up and out and talking to people and making a bit of money every day.  The chef at the five-star restaurant taught me one or two things about the joy of good food.  He was extreme in his thinking and very sharp in his opinions. Swiss.

In April I got the call that I had been accepted into the forces for Officer Training and would need to attend a swearing-in ceremony in downtown Toronto. Next was Basic Training which would begin in June and last for six weeks. At that point, I didn’t know where I would be sent, after basic, but had been informed that the Canadian Forces would be sending me to University and that I would also receive a salary while at school. That sounded promising.

Basic Training took place in Chilliwack, BC at the Officer Candidate School. The six weeks went by in a blur of running, push ups, inspections, weapons training, map and compass training and combat field training: how to erect a hoochie, dig a latrine, march with a rucksack and the beginnings of how to issue Orders, amoung many other things like: combat first-aid, introduction to code and de-coding, bed-making with sharp corners, folding shirts into an exact square, sock-rolling, knot-tying and more. I found it fascinating, most of the time, and did well on this training, passing in the top third of my platoon: ‘Nine Platoon – DOGS OF WAR’.


The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, in Sooke, BC. I was told that the first month, or, ‘Recruit Term’ would be very difficult, but, that I should stay positive and it would pass quickly.  ‘Difficult’ was an understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.

A typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. Our wake-up song for our flight was April Wine’s What a Night. What a Night starts with a fire alarm bell mounted on a cymbal stand being rang at a fast pace. It truly was the perfect harsh sound to get the heart racing and get the panic started for the drills for the day. We had until the end of the song to be up, dressed, toileted, bed made and ‘layout’ ready for inspection. Everything in the room had to be ‘laid out’ to specific standards. For instance, our uniform shirts had to be folded to exactly 25 x 30 cm, ironed and TAPED into our top drawer. Socks had to be rolled into a tight little ball, in a specific manner that we were shown and TAPED into the drawer. Same with pants. Boots and gators had to be polished and spit-shone to a high-gloss. We had three uniforms in our closet which had to have all buttons done up and all lint removed. The problem was, there was absolutely no free-time to do these things. So, we did them in the middle of the night and we were all quite sleep deprived already from basic training.

After morning inspection, we were run, that is: we ran over to the next building to the mess hall for breakfast where we would try to choke down some food but we were constantly being yelled at and ‘steadied up’ by our superiors. ‘RECRUIT, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT TO USE YOUR LEFT HAND TO EAT YOUR TOAST??! STEADY UP WHEN I ADDRESS YOU.’ At this point, with his face inches from mine, and he breathing terribly hard, hot breath, I would have to sit at attention with arms straight down my sides and with tight fists say, ‘YES MR MAYLOR. NO MR MAYLOR. I WILL DO BETTER MR MAYLOR’…suffice to say, with all of the interruptions and the stress of being inspected so closely by our superior cadets, it was nearly impossible to eat. After a couple of weeks of Recruit Term, my uniform pants were falling down as I ran.

After breakfast there would be hours of panic drills where we were made to complete some task and then stand for inspection. It may be to lay out our rifle with all parts displayed, by the end of the song. It may be to put on our dress uniform and then stand for inspection by the end of the song…remembering that our rooms and beds and cupboards and dresser had to be completely perfect, not just our person. There was a lot of insults and yelling: ‘RECRUIT, YOU ARE A COMPLETE BAG OF EXCREMENT. RECRUIT, YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT TO THE CANADIAN ARMED FORCES. RECRUIT – GET DOWN AND GIVE ME 25 PUSH UPS ON YOUR KNUCKLES.’ It went on for hours. There would be another run over to the next building for lunch and a muster before lunch where we would have to stand in completely straight lines and have our uniform looking sharp – which was impossible after the previous activities. We would all be sweating, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied and females’ hair buns falling out. So more yelling and insults. ‘YOU PEOPLE ARE MAGGOTS – LESS THAN MAGGOTS. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES.  MARK TIME’!!!!  This is where we would march in place with knees as high as our waist, sweating profusely.  Next, try to eat.  Not likely.

After lunch, we would be taken running, sometimes with rifles, for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely beautiful. A temperate rain forest. Our physical fitness instructor was Mr Snellwood. He was a kinder soul and once, at the beginning of Recruit Term, he sat us all down in the woods and tried to reassure us that we would all pass recruit term, as long as we stayed diligent and showed that we were working hard. I was sitting there thinking about the 3 more weeks that had to be endured. I thought he was sweet and kind, but, I also had serious doubts about whether I would pass or could ‘keep up’ with this system.

We were allowed a two-minute shower after running and then we were back at the panic drills. Every now and then, something not-so-hard was offered. Like: Chapel visit, uniform fitting, tour of the Japanese Gardens, tour of the boat shed, tour of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall which was instruction on how to use all of the various cutlery and glasses that were part of a mess dinner function. As Officers, we would be attending these nice dinners several times per year, and we needed to know how to sit properly at a formal table and how to use the formal dining layout.

One time, they hauled us all out of bed early. And, I do mean, hauled. We were blind-folded and we were taken out into the back woods. This was the Escape and Evasion exercise. Our superior cadets were talking in bad Russian accents and we were to pretend that we had been captured by enemy forces. In the woods, they had us get down on our bellies and they told us that we would be set free and that there would be a prize for the first recruit to make it back to barracks without being re-captured. They left and we all got up and removed the blind folds. We all started wandering around. I hooked up with a couple of people and we began to walk. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking for a couple of hours, we came upon a huge blackberry patch just completely laden with huge, shining, juicy blackberries. We fell on it and started to gorge ourselves. I must have had blackberry juice all over my face. They were better than delicious. They were scrumptious. And no one to ‘steady us up’….we thought. All of a sudden: RECRUITS HALT. HANDS UP. TURN AROUND. We were re-captured and would not be winning any prize today. The berries were worth it though.

After supper, we were given study time, or time to do some tasks that they wanted us to do. One evening they told us to write an essay about our lives so that our section commanders could get to know us better. I started off with the COSSA Basketball tournament that my Dad was coaching and then into the camp details and high school sportiness. I had heard our section commander say he was originally from Huntsville, Ontario which is just south of the where the camp is. So, I made sure to mention Huntsville. Later that evening, we gathered with our sister flight and some of the essays were read aloud. Mine was picked. I read it aloud and when I came to Huntsville, I looked up at Mr Maylor. He grinned at me. I had made a connection. Now I was a little more hopeful that I would make it through this hell month.

At bed time we had another routine to endure. We had to do 100 sit-ups in the hallway by pinning our toes under the heater and with knees bent and fingers laced behind the head, pump them off. There was a catch. We had to do 100 sit-ups, take a shower AND brush our teeth by the end of our ‘goodnight’ song: Stairway to Heaven. I did not wash my hair for 30 days. I kept it tightly braided and would wash just my bangs. There was one shower and two girls on our flight. The two of us showered together. Writing this thirty years later, it seems bazaar that we would shower together. But we did. We just did.

On the final day of Recruit Term, we had the obstacle course and all recruits had to pass this final test. The Obstacle Course was a 5 km course through the woods with obstacles the whole way. Most of the obstacles involved dunking the head fully under into mud to say, get under a barrier or to jump over a barrier only to land fully in mud. There was a rope wall to climb with a fall into a muddy pond; balance-beam fast crossing of a mud river with a necessary dismount into…you guessed it…MUD. I looked up at one obstacle to see a boy from my street back in Walden (he had actually been a boyfriend of mine but was now dating Sally, my good friend since kindergarten). He was yelling at me to GO! YOU CAN DO THIS MORGAN. YOU CAN DO THIS MORGAN PLAYER – he kindly was not using the word recruit to cheer me on. I remember thinking in my exhausted haze that that was very kind of him.

The final obstacle, when exhausted and with mud in every orifice, was to swim across a deep, lily-pad covered pond in combat boots. This was an individual test. Ironically, we were not allowed to help each other on any part of the obstacle course. Ironic because up until that moment it was ALL team work. I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. I would think this way due to all the swimming in my childhood and even in lily-pad covered ponds. Thank goodness I passed it. Afterwards I showered for 30 minutes but still had mud in my ears. I passed Recruit Term at the top of my flight.

We then had a big celebration down at the cadet mess that was called, DECKS. We had a big supper and lots of drinks. We had been told to dress up in nice civilian clothes or, civvies. Now we females were visually checked out by the senior cadets. As a young woman with certain healthy curves, long dark wavy hair, green eyes, straight, white teeth and full lips with a good fashion sense –I wore a blue knit, V-neck dress with a wide belt synched tightly around my tiny waist and leather pumps. I turned some heads at this celebration. (I was not beautiful, nor was I pretty, but, I was certainly attractive and the ratio of women to men was 1:8, so good odds that I would turn some heads). What a difference a shower, clean hair, some lipstick and civvies can make. It was a fun night. I should mention that I have not often shrank from having a fun time at parties. I enjoy being quite silly and having conversations with all sorts, especially handsome young, athletic and intelligent men. I also don’t suffer fools. So, if the guy couldn’t keep up his end of an interesting, or, even silly conversation, then I would just move on.

The academic year began with classes, assignments, essays, exams and social experiences. The difference, at Military College is that almost every weekend was jam packed with military or varsity sport requirements in the form of parade and parade practice and athletic events and competitions. The schedule was brutal.

At Thanksgiving, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all.  We had been more or less locked up for a couple of months and ready to just wear our jeans and hit the open road for a wee adventure.  With a back pack each, we hitch-hiked a couple hours up island to Lake Cowichan where we had booked a cabin for two nights.  Our first ride got us most of the way there.  Then, we were stuck for a bit on some country road with the sun going down over the next hill.  This is nothing, I thought.  We’ve just passed through hell and found some freedom.  Nothin’ is getting me down now.  On that note, a red pick-up pulled over to offer us a lift.  The man inside was more than a little scary looking with wild eyes and even wilder hair.  Cindy and I looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in.  He turned out to be a decent fellow and he dropped us at our rented cabin.

Next: what should we do with our free evening.  We had heard tell of a dance in a hall nearby.  We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair, off we went…only to find five or six of our classmate cadets already there.  Not sure how that happened exactly but it was sure to be fun.  Well, when you work hard, it only seems natural to also play hard.  That is what we did.  We basically started dancing and didn’t stop for a few hours.  At one point during Rock Lobster, we were all down on the hard-wood floor doing the worm.  Yes, just like it sounds.  Squirming.  Full-body contact with the floor.  It was hilarious.  Likely one of the most fun nights of my entire life due to its spontaneity, timing and remote location.  We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to the cabin with us.  Appetites were satiated, in a sense.

Come the summer, it was time to take French courses at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, On. RMC is set on several areas with significant lake frontage and several huge piers on Lake Ontario. That summer was a lot of fun. Being in the city of Kingston was exciting and the summer sun would see us sunning on the big docks on campus and running and jumping off the piers and swimming in Lake Ontario. That was the summer my friend and I met a couple of guys while driving on the 401 to Toronto. Communications were done while driving side by side at high-speed via black sharpies and large note pads. Writing greetings and then holding them up to the window for the fellas in the nearby car to read. This was before cell phones, remember. We ended up asking them, by note, to meet us in downtown Toronto at MR GREEN JEANS restaurant in the Eaton’s Centre. They made it! And, we had a lovely dinner with them: Doug and J.R.. We went to the Hard Rock Café afterward until my bus was ready to depart for Walden. (My friend had already driven off to her home in Bradford and J.R. and Doug had already registered for the 10km run early the next morning in Toronto). J.R. and I ended up dating all summer until it was time for me to go back to Victoria, BC. Interestingly, he was a southern lad and a lieutenant in the US Army and was stationed across the border from Kingston in Fort Drum near Watertown, NY. It ended there, but, it had been fun.

Second year began at Royal Roads Military College (RRMC). My heart was not in it. I didn’t enjoy the academics. Several of my profs struggled with the English language, even my English prof. It was not how I wanted to spend my prime years. I made it known that I was interested in the program allowing a cadet to go straight into a career. I got it, but it was not until the following year. I was told I would become an Army Logistics Officer and that training would begin in October 1988 in Borden, Ontario. What would happen to me for the year???

I was put to work in the Castle, Hatley Castle at RRMC. Severely boring work, just managing paper and simple tasks. I had to do quite a bit of photocopying and would inevitably run into this same civilian woman working there. She would ask me every time I saw her: You’re still here? I would have thought they would have come up with a better occupation for you by now. Hmmm. Thanks. It’s not like I wasn’t already feeling like a fish out of water. I was then sent to Comox, BC, up island, to help with administration at the Air Traffic Control Tower. That was interesting. The best thing about it was learning how to use a word processor called Word Perfect. That came in handy later.

I began playing on a slow pitch team and met some good folks. One of them was Stevie Henderson. Steve was a lumberjack up in Tofino. He was also an avid mountain biker. He and his buddy and I would go on mountain biking day trips to Denman and Hornby Islands. Challenging trails but extremely fun too. Suddenly, it was time to go East.

I bought a new little car: a 1988 Chevrolet Sprint, 3 cylinder. I began the journey across Canada, stopping each night in a flea-bitten crap motel advertising colour tv, my ass sore and my eyes glazed over from the miles and miles of the day. It took me six days to arrive in Leefotd, Ontario at my eldest sister Eva’s house. I scared the living be-jesus out of her, walking into the house unannounced and finding her concentrating on something. She was so happy to see me, jumping up and down, screaming, crying and hugging me. No kidding. We Players take our greetings seriously. She wanted to know how long I could stay. I told her about heading to Borden for a course the next day. I could stay only one night. It was a nice time and we caught up on all the news.

It was a couple of hours drive to Base Borden where I started my clearing in process: getting the key to my single barracks room mainly. Classes started the very next morning for the Basic Logistics Officers Course. The first person I met on the course is now my husband. When I met him, we were both hanging up our Army issue trench coats. Our eyes met and he smiled at me and said hi. I saw stars. I was instantly in love with this very good looking dark haired, green-eyed man. Later we had an English grammar test and he achieved a perfect score. I knew then that it was him. He was gorgeous, sweet, gentle and intelligent. When I saw him kick a soccer ball, I swooned. It was poetry in motion.