Sticks and Stones 🆘

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Also Hurt Me…
Sticks and Stones Break only Skin while Words are Ghosts that Haunt Me. Pain from Words has Left Its Scar on Mind and Heart that’s Tender. Cuts and Bruises now have healed, it’s words that I Remember.

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Recently, two of my brothers became aware of my writings.  I had never actually invited them to read my stories because I didn’t think they would be interested in the least.  Their reaction to the news that I was blogging about my life, including when I was a child and also including very honest descriptions of our father’s behaviour during and after the divorce, was violent and bitter.  To clarify, they were violent and bitter toward me, not toward Dad.  Toward me.  Wait, I was the one who was abused.

I find myself deeply disappointed in them.  No one was there to protect me.  No one.  My little brother Luke was there, but he is almost three and a half years younger than me.

I am doing my best to therapeutically write about this part of my past.

Lately, I was on the phone with my best friend from childhood, Flo.  Ever honest, she reminded me that she was there too.  She said, ‘Morgan, I remember arriving at your house to find your dad walking around in his boxer shorts with the no-button fly wide open.  And, the thing is,’ she said, ‘He didn’t then go and put on his robe.  He just stayed walking around in his open-fly boxers.  It was disgusting.’

She continued with, ‘When Mark was manic (bipolar 1) he dry-humped me on the bed while I screamed for him to stop.’  Flo would have been 16 and my brother Mark would have been 21 at the time.

Last night, over our supper, I was again drawn back into the memories of the past.  I told my husband of twenty-five years, Dean, about times when I would witness my dad being truly mean and abusive to my siblings.  Telling them these hurtful messages:

‘You’ll never amount to anything.’

‘Be a man.’

‘You’re weak.’

‘Get some backbone.’

‘It’s a good thing you’re beautiful.’

I clearly recall a time when I was in the army and had a month off over Christmas.  I went to visit Dad, my step-mother, Wen, and Luke who were living in a small border city  then.  At that time, Dad and Wen were the owner / operators of a 9-room motel. (The same motel that was the excuse for him not helping me with my University fees when I was at Waterloo and then consequently decided to join the army.)

At the time, 17-year old Luke was working as a server, trying to figure out what he would be doing for school and for the future.  He could have used some gentle, fatherly guidance.  He did not get that there.  What he received was verbal and emotional abuse and aloofness.  When I saw him on that visit, he seemed to be in a bit of a slump.  He talked little.  At meals he slouched over his plate with a rounded back, barely lifting his face from his food.  It was heart breaking.  Where was my witty, intelligent little brother who could make me laugh at any moment?  Dad was so mean to him and he wouldn’t stop.  He just wouldn’t stop.  Every word was a put down.  An insult.

I remember Dad taking us to a tacky, cheap diner for a very inexpensive meal.  I was into my new army career and doing well.  I was on top of the world.  I had passed all the difficult training, won a great posting to Germany and had my own platoon.  I was best friends with Dean and looking forward to romance with him.  I knew he would be mine soon. ‘Just a matter of time,’ I would tell myself.  At this diner, I was dressed in nice clothes: my new suede skirt, leather pumps and freshly pressed blouse, earrings and soft makeup…all dolled up, because it was important to be all dolled up around Dad.  He had a sharp, critical eye and an acid tongue.

So, we’re sitting in a booth having a nice little chat about my work in the army.  In the back of my mind I suspected that there would be a dig coming soon.  And so it did.  Dad says, ‘Morgan, that mole under your nose, why don’t you get it removed?’

WTF Dad.  That mole under my nose??? So, this is what you’re going to talk about at this time?  The mole under my nose???  My face turned dark red.  I was furious with him.  I should have known though.  I should have known.  There was always a dig.  And I ask myself, what must have been done to him, for him to behave that way?

I remember this one Christmas when Dad gave my brother Job a second-hand dictionary.  He actually wrapped up a used dictionary, but, before he did, he inscribed it:

To Job:

Read this daily and you just might make something of yourself.

From Dad.

How was that supposed to make a ten-year-old feel?  How?

I have striven my whole adult life as a wife, parent, sister and friend, to watch the words that come out of my mouth…that they should not hurt, scrape or strike but that my words should make others feel fine, helped, free or loved, happy or better.  I have made mistakes in the heat of the moment, that I know.  But, at least I am aware of the effect my words can have.  We all have that power.

Amazing power to do harm or good with our words.

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(Pictures come from google images.  Thank you.)

Let the Games Begin ~ Part 3 🐭🐱

When the cat’s away, the mice shall play

Continued from Let The Games Begin Part 1 and Part 2

Mom and Dad would sometimes go to Florida at Christmas or March Break and would leave us at home with one of the eldest sibs in charge.  One year, my oldest brother Matt was left in charge. He and his new teen-age wife, June took care of we younger ones.  Let’s just say that there were a few parties down the basement and sometimes we had really bad tasting spaghetti sauce, a la June.  One time, June tried to pass off tomato soup as spaghetti sauce.  It was so bad that not even Sammy, our faithful leftover and liver-eating dog, would eat it.  I’ll never forget it because I ate most of it so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings.  Years later we broke it to her that it was awful.  By then she had become a good cook though, or as her son would say:  Mom’s a good cooker now, eh Dad?

Hedgeman

The later years that Mom and Dad went to Florida saw us being taken care of by my second oldest brother, Mark.  It got a little scarier then because Mark had some sketchy friends like Byron Hedgeman and Minty.  Minty seemed fine, if a little dopey, but, Hedgeman just plain scared me.  I think he was continuously high or, in the pursuit of being high.

One time, when I was about eight years old or so, Hedgeman and I were playing a friendly game of checkers in the living room.  Hedgeman was getting very upset because I kept using my kings to jump all his checkers.

He began to ask me about my knowledge of Woodstock.  He had me there.  I had not one idea of what he spoke, and innocently told him that.

woodstock

Hedgeman was irate.

How could I not know about Woodstock?

He then proceeded to educate me about it. I was eight. He told me of mass crowds of hippies who traveled for miles and miles to this place called Woodstock for the concert and drugged-out weekend-long bash of history.  He told me of people being so stoned on acid, L.S.D. and mushrooms that they had no idea what they were doing.  He told me of scores of hippies wondering around in the nude with caked-on mud as their only clothes – the farmer’s field had turned to pure mud.

Then he and Mark started to recount all the stories they had ever heard about it.  Mark talked about the bad acid and how there was an announcement made that the brown acid was bad and no one should do it, Man.  I was more than just a little scared after being party to this conversation which Mark and Hedgeman were reveling in the telling of.  I was eight.  I may have mentioned that.

One time Hedgeman actually passed-out underneath Amy’s bed, down the basement.  Mom and Dad were in Cancun but returned a day earlier than planned in order to surprise us.  Matt and June, then married and June pregnant, were asleep in my parents’ bed.  Dad walked in and looked through the house for all of us.  He told Mom that he could smell burning rope coming from downstairs.

He walked into Amy’s basement room.  She was fast asleep.  However, he quickly noticed that there was a pair of Kodiak work boots sticking out from under her bed.  He pulled on them and out slid Hedgeman.  It wasn’t a pretty scene. Hedgeman somehow took off out of the house and down Pearl hill.  Dad called the police and told them, “There’s a hoodlum running down Pearl Street and he’s so stoned he’s stunned!”

One time, Mark and Job had a very rowdy party and when they started doing hot knives (smoking hash off of hot knives heated on the stove elements) I called Olive Quinn, one of my Mom’s best friends, and begged her to come and get Luke and I.  It was after midnight but Van Halen’s Running with the Devil was still pounding, at top volume, throughout the house.  The bass on the stereo was turned up to the maximum.

Olive came to fetch us and take us to her house where we stayed in the basement because her husband was a very scary individual and a known bully, even though he was this prominent Catholicand a professional.  The next day, Olive delivered us back to Pearl Street.  I marveled that our six-foot fence that usually surrounded our back yard was now lying fully down of the grass.

At those times I wished very badly that Mom and Dad had not gone to Florida for Christmas or Spring Break.  At those times I also learned to truly appreciate our normally safe, religious and ordered home.  I don’t think my parents ever had a clue about the types of activities that went down while they were away. Chock it up to the 70s.

Decades later, while telling these stories to my best friend and husband, Dean, he looked me in the eye, took my hand and told me that I had been neglected as a child.

I’ll never forget the dawning realization that yes, that was exactly why some tales of my childhood made me feel so uneasy. Dean and I would NEVER have left our son in situations like that.  Anything could have happened with those weird wired young men who were Mark’s pals back then and who roamed freely through our home while Mom and Dad were away.  Luke and I were lucky to escape with just the psychological scars of being neglected as young children.

To be clear, there were a lot of psychological scars in my family.  It may be one of the main reasons we are all so close as siblings.  We counted on each other to get through tough times.  We cried, we sang and we laughed.  We laughed a lot.

Anyway, Luke and I were sworn to secrecy by Mark and Job lest we die by some tortuous death if we told on them.  Years later we would learn, disturbingly, that Hedgeman had died at Walden’s Royal Victoria Hospital, of AIDS.

 

(Photos and courtesy of Eva Player and google images)

 

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My Mil Col Experience (age 20) ~ Army Part 2 💂🏻‍♂️

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

The word came down that after Basic Training, I would be going to Royal Roads Military College outside of Victoria, 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 a gross understatement: Recruit Term was hell on earth. I cried myself to sleep every night.

RRMCA typical day of Recruit Term began with pounding rock music at 5:30 am. The 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 the panic started for the drills of 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 prepared to specific, exacting 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 leather 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 and hanging exactly two inches apart with all sleeves perfectly positioned. 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 screamed 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 millimeters 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.  Due to my past with anorexia, this would normally feel fine.  But, running with your pants falling off and senior cadets screaming at you, well, this was not so fine.

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 stripped 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, trunks, cupboards, sink, desks and dresser had to be completely perfect, inside and out, 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 parade 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 and salt-stained, shirt tails hanging out, pants drooping, laces untied, baret atilt on our heads, 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, into the beautiful mess hall with white linen, silver, crystal and table service.  Now, try to eat while being examined and corrected by the Senior Cadets.  Not likely.

After lunch, we would be taken, you guessed it, running, sometimes with rifles (called a rifle-run), for an hour or so in the woods of the College grounds. The woods were absolutely peaceful and beautiful.  A temperate rain forest.  But sweat was dripping down my face and fear was in my heart.   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 three more weeks that had to be endured and a tear escaped, rolling down my cheek. 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.

rainforest

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 incredible Japanese Gardens, or of the boat shed, or of Hatley Castle and then there were mini lectures like: etiquette in mess hall.  This 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 setting.

One time, they hauled us all out of bed at first light. 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, the captured, all got up and removed the blind folds. We started wandering around. I hooked up with a couple of friends and we began to walk through the rainforest. We had no idea which way to go and it was a large area, acres and acres of woodland. After walking through the forest 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. The berries 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.

blackberries

After supper, we were given two-hours of 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 former 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 when I came along 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.  Mr. Maylor was a behemoth: well over six feet tall with huge shoulders and muscles.  This guy would strap the largest weights possible to his body then with veins bulging in biceps and face of stone, pump off chin-ups.  Many chin-ups.  I just had to be on his good side, I figured.

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 (8 minutes).  Consequently, 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 girl recruits 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.  They are still together three decades later).  Anyway, that guy was yelling at me, ‘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 knackered 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: ‘RECRUITS – STAY TOGETHER — YOU’RE ONLY AS STRONG AS YOU’RE WEAKEST LINK’, they would scream at us.  I recall thinking, when I got to the pond, this will be a piece of cake. This was 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 ended up passing Recruit Term at the top of my flight.  No idea how.

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.

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 and cadets get very close, due to it.  One weekend we lost four cadets.  We were shattered.

cowichanOne long weekend, a friend – Cindy and I, decided to get off campus and away from it all. We had been more or less locked up for 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 countryside hall nearby.  We gussied ourselves up and with blue jeans and jean jackets and big hair (this was 1986 after all), 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. 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 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, serendipity and remote location and laughter. We ended up meeting a couple of local fellows that night and took them back to our cabin.

Next Army Part 3

Please leave a comment…I LOVE ’em.

All photos are courtesy of google images.

The King of Korea 🇰🇷

For a couple of years in a row, we did this thing: we took in a boy from Korea for the month of January and the next year we took in he and his little brother.  Charlie and Joshua were something else (can you say, high maintenance?) and I have to say, when we finally said our goodbyes, I was wiping my brow.  Many parents asked us about our Korean visitors.  They could not believe that parents would send their young children half way around the world for a full month to stay with complete strangers (us).  We certainly could never do that with our son Leo.  The motivation, of course, was for them to learn to speak English.  Worth it to them.  Our motivation was to introduce Leo to other cultures and the idea of sharing his stuff (and us) with a temporary sibling or two.

At that time, Leo and Joshua were 7, Charlie was 8. From the get go, Charlie and Leo were pretty much opposites in most areas of life.  Charlie loved math and studying.  Leo loved to play, draw, run and build lego.  Charlie had a huge appetite, Leo not so much.  Charlie was a black belt at taekwondo, and at any given moment, he would run across the room and execute a seriously high kick which would miss someone’s face (mine included) by a fraction of an inch.  He was a maniac.  Leo was pretty chill, usually.

The morning Charlie arrived from Korea, we had some extra time before school after Charlie’s stare-down with his oatmeal – so I told Charlie he could play with Leo in Leo’s cubby.  Leo had this really cool tiny playroom off the kitchen that was actually the space over the stairs, and it was carpeted, with a light and door – almost fort-like. We painted it purple and added toys and called it his cubby.  I could see him while preparing food and it was ideal for that.  Anyway, Charlie said, ‘No, I must study.’  So, he sat with his University level math book and promptly fell asleep, exhausted from travel.  After a few repeat performances, I took Charlie aside and told him, ‘Charlie, look, you are here in Canada for a whole month.  Canadian kids play every chance they get.  Why not just go ahead and play while you are here?’  Charlie took my advice.  The following year though, I learned from Charlie that he had been ‘beaten’ by his mother because he had decided to play in his free time instead of studying.  So, let’s just look at that: your child is away from you for a whole month, on the other side of the world, gets home and you beat him because he decided to play with other children instead of study.  Oooookay.

Pond Skating 5

When the children would come in from outside, after skating, snow-ball fights or running around and tumbling in the snow, Charlie would ask excitedly, ‘I put inside clothes on now?’  Of course, we would always allow this, and of course this made him very happy.  He would then run and jump and almost kick someone in the face before running off to change.  I imagine back home in Korea, there must have been many more demands on his time…academies of all sorts that took place at various hours of the night.  Charlie had told us that he regularly got to sleep by midnight on school nights and then on Saturday and Sunday they would sleep until noon, then the fam would head out for a movie and supper and start the whole process over again Monday morning.  I was commenting to a friend that Charlie could play a gazillion instruments and was a math pro and my friend said, “When did he learn to play cello?  At 2 in the morning?”  Something like that.

Now, we live in a tiny little town of about 4000 residents and Charlie and Joshua came from Seoul (see picture above) with a cool 29 million souls.  Quite a big difference.  One evening, we were heading down the highway to the indoor soccer facility.  That road is dark in January and can be pretty sparse for traffic.  Charlie, in the back seat, says in wonder, “Where ARE we?”  He had never been on such a dark, fast road. My mind flicked back to our travels in Oz, when that was my daily litany.

dark highway

One day, I took the kids to a farm so they could see hens, goats, lamas, cows, sheep and pigs and so they could hold a warm egg, just laid (seeing as Charlie was eating three eggs every morning and a litre of goats milk).  Other outings were to indoor soccer, area hikes, sliding, skating, haircuts, music events and movies and restaurants but their favorite thing, by far, was bedtime when Dean would read aloud from one of Leo’s chapter books: A Single Shard,  by Linda Sue Park.  Three boys in pjs, teeth brushed and waiting for Dean to enter the room to read.  We had put a small cot for Leo in his room. Charlie and Joshua shared Leo’s big sleigh-bed that we had purchased from the Amish in Virginia when we lived there and when Leo was born.  I remember thinking that Leo was doing really well with all this sharing of his stuff.  I’m biased, of course, but Leo was always pretty sweet-natured about things like that, perhaps except when it came to Buzz.

Bedtime Story

Charlie really liked his food.  I would be making eggs in our large cast-iron pan at the stove in the morning and I would feel a presence by my side.  Suddenly a voice, ‘What are you making?’ After peeling myself off the ceiling, I would realize that it was Charlie.  He was inspecting.  He asked me to make his eggs a bit differently.  A quasi fried-scrambled kinda thing with ketchup.  We began to refer to Charlie as ‘The Inspector’.  He had high standards and he wanted to maintain them.  Initially, he would be eating his meal, with gusto, chopsticks flying, and he would moan, ‘more kimchi, more kimchi’.  We taught him to at least look up, meet our eyes and ask for more whatever with a ‘please’ on the end.  He cottoned on.  We weren’t his paid help, like he had at home.  He was a visitor in our home.  He got it.

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Charlie kept us on our toes. Joshua was just easy, a quiet shadow of his older brother. One time, I arrived at the school yard to pick up Leo and Charlie.  Charlie was nowhere to be seen.  I ran around like a madwoman looking for him, my mind whirling with how I would explain this to his mom over in Korea.  Suddenly, there he was.  He had been in the car of the Korean man he had met at the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  Geez. Thanks a pant-load, Buddy.

Charlie would head into the bathroom on any given afternoon and after a bit, we would hear the toilet flushing about five times.  This always made Leo laugh.  Having a chauffeur at home, Charlie and Joshua hated the walk to school.  Granted, it was about a mile in snowpants and boots and we did it almost every school day, there and back.  One day, we got half way and he threw himself on the snowbank and would not get up.  When he didn’t get what he wanted he would say, ‘It feels me bad’.  We wrote a song about him called, ‘It Feels Me Bad, Baby‘.

To say goodbye to Charlie and Joshua, we hosted a bowling party at the area bowling alley and invited some friends.  It was a lot of fun.  We never saw Charlie and Joshua again, nor have we ever heard from them again.  From time to time, Dean and I will wonder aloud about what the boys must be doing these days.  We always imagine Charlie as the King of Korea.  Maybe he is?king-sejong

Incredible, Exotic India 🕉

We sat on the ancient stone steps in the early morning and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters of the Ganges.

We arrived at the holy river of Hinduism, the Ganges, in Varanasi, India at 4 in the morning.  We had been on an all-night converted school bus from Nepal. (see post Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏)  We sat on the ancient stone steps and watched in fascination as the pilgrims bathed in the holy black waters.  Some of the pilgrims wore long lengths of fabric wound around their sinewy bodies.  They methodically performed the rituals and prayers, their lips moving silently as they cupped water in their palms, raised them and poured it over their heads.  To my husband Dean and I, at dawn in the incredibly exotic country of India, on the steps of the Ganges, it was out of this world to witness.  I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or not.pilgrim

From there, we hefted our packs onto our backs and walked up into the crushing crowds of Varanasi to find a place to stay.  We had our guide book (remember, there were no cell phones or TripAdvisor back then; this was March 1996) and after about five tries and many exhausting steps, we managed to find a very inexpensive hostel that looked clean and suitable.  Once there, we immediately purified some tap water in our Nalgene water bottles using our trusty iodine drops that took thirty minutes to kill off any major critters in the water.  This chore would be repeated several times each day, as it was all through Nepal.  Before that, in Australia (see post: We’re Not in Canada Anymore…this is Oz (age 28)) we had drank tap water and a fair bit of beer, with no issues.varanasi

I should mention here that, although unsavoury to write about, Dean and I had picked up some kind of bowel parasite in Nepal.  Likely during the trek when dousing our heads in mountain run-off streams.  On a few occasions, I let a bit of water into my mouth.  I’m sure Dean had too.  Said parasite was doing a serious number on us physically.  We werenalgene nearly emaciated.  I grabbed Dean’s upper arm one day to find my fingers almost wrapping all the way round.  Scary. I wasn’t sure how much longer we could backpack – that is how weak we both were getting and with bad stomach cramps.  There was also the obvious need to use the toilet a lot and with considerable urgency at times.

Anyhoo, we enjoyed the city, walking around and seeing the sights.  We visited markets and bought fruit and nuts from vendors.

Scan10164 (2)We drank many a fine lassi (yogurt and fruit smoothie-type drink).  Indians do yogurt incredibly well.

 

 

Next, it was time to go visit the majestic Taj Mahal.  So, onto a bus we climbed for the eleven hour ride from Varanasi to Agra.  It was on this ride that we met an Indian-American family who were visiting India as tourists.  They told us many wonderful tips and tricks.  One of them was to order ‘the thali’ to eat, and always to eat it with yogurt, as yogurt would cool the palette in case of too much heat or spice.

THALI

I just have to say, there was nothing more delicious and satisfying to us than this incredible meal on a stainless-steel tray.  Dean and I were overjoyed every meal time to get another chance to eat another thali.  We indulged in a thali each at the lunch stop enroute to the Taj.  Our Indian-American family joined our table and our education of India continued. It was fascinating.  Again, it dawned on me that one of the best things about world travel were the folks we met along the way.

Finally, we reached the outskirts of Agra, where we could now see the Taj in the distance.

taj from distance

But this is what it looked like up close:

Taj Mahal Sunrise

This incredible piece of architecture was built between 1632 and 1647 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The Taj Mahal was dedicated to Jahan’s favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  It is shrouded in mystery, optical illusions, inset gems and the deaths of its many builders. It is a fascinating place and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

After Agra, we spent a week in New Delhi.  We took the train and it was also other-worldly.  There are a myriad of ticket classes you can buy, the worst being third class. We were on second class and it was dusty and dirty, but okay.  The Indian train system is a marvel of efficiency and engineering.  There is a network of over 65,000 km and 7,000 stations.  At one point on our ride, the train came into a station where as soon as the train stopped there were scores of vendors selling their wares at the window, all yelling to announce their wares.  Everything from safety pins to hankies to tea which is called ‘chai’.

“CHAI! CHAI! CHAI! cried the Chai-wallah, approaching with a large steel bucket of chai and a tray of little clay cups.  We each took a cup of the sweet, spicy, milky tea through our window. It was only lukewarm, and went down fast. When we passed the cup back the chai-wallah, he smashed them on the tracks.  A split second later, a lower cast man scrambled onto the tracks to collect the pieces. It was explained to us that the collector would sell those pieces back to the potter who would turn them back into little clay cups, and in turn, sell them back to the Chai-wallah.

Suddenly, Dean jumped up and said, “I’ll be right back”.  He jumped off the train and, looking out the little window, I saw him over at a take-out window, buying two white boxes of food for us. He ran back and sat down.  It was then that I realized I had been holding my breath.  If the train had started to leave while Dean was getting the food, we may have never seen each other in India again.  Such is the vast and convoluted system of Indian trains.  Add that to the magnitude of a population at that time of nearly 1 billion people, and it would have been a needle in a haystack kinda situation. Remembering that we couldn’t just Facebook message each other or text, snapchat or Instagram or what have you.  I’m not really sure what we would have done, had we been separated on that train.

In New Delhi, we found a lovely hostel with an internal garden where we rested up and did some reading but also our daily walks around the city streets to see the sights. leper One day, we walked into a luxury hotel.  I shall preface this with the fact that we had just seen several lepers begging on the streets.  They were also known as The Untouchables.  The jewelry store in the hotel lobby was selling star rubies for thousands of dollars.  The patrons of the hotel were wearing gold-threaded saris. The dichotomy of wealth was hard to comprehend.

It was getting to be time to head home to Canada, since our wee parasites were becoming more and more of an issue.

When we got back to our mother land, we had no idea what we would do for employment.  And, we couldn’t wait too long because living in Canada is a heck of a lot more expensive than India and funds were dwindling.  After some deliberation, we decided to head North again. This time to the bigger centre of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada.  We had spent a year in the Arctic prior to traveling (see post North of 66 ~ A Trying Year in Polar River (age 27) ❄️)  We organized ourselves and made the cross-Canada trek in our tiny little car, the three-cylinder Chevrolet Sprint (nicknamed “Puny”) that I had bought in Comox, BC, upon acceptance into training for Army Logistics (see post I’m In the Army Now … 🔫).

INUVIKUpon arrival in Inuvik, some good friends of ours put us up for a few weeks in their house, which was very generous of them.  We started looking for work immediately. Within ten days, and some good luck, I had a full-time position as a Receptionist at the most northerly medical clinic in Canada, but then soon thereafter as the general manager. Dean found a job at Aurora College as the Director of Extension Programs. So, really good jobs in very short order.

The funniest thing would happen due to the parasite I still had.  As the receptionist in the medical clinic, I would routinely have to lead patients to their examination room.  What was happening, in this evolution of the parasite problem, was it was causing me to toot upon movement of my body of any kind.  So, I’d be politely speaking to the patients as I walked them to the room and in the ‘back’ground was: toot, toot, toot like a little motor with each step I took. After being truly mortified when it first started, I later just mentally threw up my hands and gave in to the hilarity of it.  There was really nothing I could do.  I don’t think anyone really noticed anyway.  Right?

After our first paycheck, we found an apartment.

INUVIK 2

Living in the tiny town of Inuvik (7,000 people) after travelling in India (~1 billion people) was like night and day.  Dean and I were so blessed to have each other and our friendship, which was strong and had seen many adventures, hardships and blessings already.  We stayed in Inuvik for two years until it was time to go South, and we found ourselves Exiting the Arctic ☃️enroute to Toronto, Canada for another chapter.

(almost all photos are courtesy of google images)

~Remember to leave a comment below…~

 

 

 

Boquete, Panama – a place of firsts 🇵🇦

By the time we reached Boquete, we were done.  There had been many legs to this journey from Costa Rica, but at least now we had arrived into the eternal springtime that is Boquete. It was February 2004, our third month of overland travel as we rolled into Boquete in Panama’s Green Mountain Highlands, the nearest city being David.Panama-physical-mapAfter a few tries, we found a wonderful hostel.  We had our own room and bathroom and it was just down the hall from a large, organized, cook-your-own-food kinda set up. There was also a dining room with square tables and brightly-coloured red and green checked oil cloths.  The whole place was, clean, organized and well run and the owners were diminutive.  They weren’t in our faces, but they made it all happen from behind the scenes.

Across the street there was a large dusty open field where several children would play pick-up soccer matches.  Leo, who was four years old, was in heaven.  He just wanted to run around and play with the children.  We went to the field and played frisbee, a game they had never seen before. My husband Dean and I enjoyed teaching the local children about frisbee.  They caught on quickly – very coordinated and fit but, not a word of English. Ricardo and Eddie proudly showed us two tarantulas.  They poked at these shy creatures with a piece of hay until their hairy mandibles grasped the hay.  Then the children would swing the spider side to side showing us how the tarantula would hold on.  Next the boys showed us the spiders’ casas, pointing and saying to us, ‘Casa! Casa!’, which was a hole in the dry ground.tarantula  The play continued with Leo getting soaked by the water “pistoles”, kicking the soccer ball and throwing the frisbee.

A few easy days passed which saw us walk lazily all over the town of Boquete and explore its various parks and markets.  I bought a huge bag of fruit and vegetables, plus pasta, butter, milk, cheese and eggs, all for less than $20.

One day we stopped into a small place to have some supper.  It was a couple of hours after eating there that Leo began to vomit.  He could keep nothing down, not even little sips of water.  The night hours passed in somewhat of a blurr because we were up with him for hours and hours and praying and worrying for him to improve. At one point he was hot to the touch and he began to moan loudly and said’ please help my belly.’ He also screamed with the cramps, burped, vomited and then fell back to sleep. Then he would begin to vomit or wretch again.  I began to get pretty worried.  In the morning he became listless and I screamed at Dean to get a taxi…NOW!  Destination, the medical clinic.

We walked into the clinic, Dean carrying a listless Leo, and within about five minutes, Leo was hooked up to an IV for re-hydration.  The local doctor spoke perfect English because he had been away to the States for a work term.  He answered all of our questions and re-assured us that Leo would be fine once he was re-hydrated.  The nurse came into the room and tucked a hand-stitched quilt tenderly around Leo.  I was left wondering if we would have received this level of care in Halifax.  Wait, first we would have had to shovel the driveway, drive the 20 minutes to the children’s hospital and then find parking.  Then we’d wait in emerg.  It would have likely been hours, depending on the triaging at the time of our arrival. Here, it was minutes and we were the only folks in the clinic and they were totally and completely sweet to us.  The fee was so small it was negligible.  Leo rested and slept with the IV in his arm.  When he was awake, we read to him and told him stories.  Later that day, we all walked out of there.

Unfortunately, the vomiting continued shortly after we got back to our hostel, so we had a repeat performance at the clinic.  Then we took Leo out to a restaurant and ordered him a bowl of soup.  He promptly threw up into the soup bowl.  After that, we were ‘soup-er‘ careful.  He directed what his tummy could handle.  It was in Boquete that Leo had his first ever can of pop. Canada Dry Ginger Ale, of course.  And, it stayed down. Boquete was also the place where Leo learned to tie his shoes.  Add  playing with the tarantula and having an IV re-hydration and it was the place of firsts.  We will fondly remember Boquete, even though we had a bit of a scare there.

boquete (1)

From Panama we made our way back to Costa Rica to catch our fight home to Canada.  There were several over-land legs to the journey back and it was bitter sweet as we knew our big four-month adventure had come to an end.

We landed in Toronto and made our way west to visit everyone in Leeford…Eva and family, Amy and family, Mark and family who threw a very large and fun 35th birthday for moi, with tons of balloons and with a big cake, singing and story-telling.  We laughed and laughed.  At one point I reached into my jeans and pulled out the grey, worn waist band of my underwear to illustrate the struggle of over-land, back-packer-style travel.  Everyone smiled and nodded.  Now they GOT it!  Some had assumed we were resorting the whole time or something (NOT!).

From there we went to Scarborough to stay with Paulie for several days.  Leo just LOVED being with his big cousins who indulged him so much.  Paulie and I worked on clearing out unneeded stuff so that Paulie and Seth could sell up and move to Leeford.  The nearby vertical slum was pushing them out and Dean and I wanted to help them get going.

Then it was on to Halifax and the launching of our quest for A Simple East Coast Life.

Namaste, Nepal (age 30) 🙏

We trekked for about thirty days in the Himalayas doing the Annapurna Circuit, in an unconventional manner, which will come to light as the story unfolds.  To get to the starting point of the trek, we bought a ticket for the bus.  Not lucky enough to grab a seat each on the inside of the bus, Dean and I, with our hired guide, Naba, were seated on the roof of the bus.  This trek was sure to be interesting, if we could get there in one piece. That bus, that we were on top of, was not driving a straight, smooth roadway. Picture the opposite: a twisty-turny, gravel, crumbling donkey track along the side of a mountain with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet if the bus driver was to make a wrong turn, or get too close to the eroding edge.  Not to worry — the horn worked well and seemed to be the sole means of defensive driving techniques employed.

Nepal bus
(statis panoramio)  Those are people on top of the bus, just like we were.

We had flown into Kathmandu late and were immediately wooed by several touts wanting us to take his taxi.  We picked one, told him our destination: the Kathmandu Guesthouse and agreed on a price.  We fell asleep and in the morning made our way to their breakfast room and ordered our first lassi of the trip which is a blend of yogurt, water, spices and fruit.  The server was a sweet and most attentive Nepali man who put his palms together and bowed his head at us, ‘Namaste’. Dean said to me afterward that he was an example of ‘service without servitude’.  When we returned to the Guest House after a walk all over Kathmandu and through the fascinating market, the sight we saw was like something out of an old fashioned orphanage.  All of the staff of the Guesthouse were in the main lobby.  They were fast asleep, lying on straw mats and wrapped in wool blankets like toasty sausage rolls on a baking sheet.  If one rolled over, so would they all.

The next evening, we attended a slide show for a river rafting expedition that we thought was too expensive for our budget. This cool group of Westerners with several Nepalese had started a river rafting group which charged $200 US for a five-day expedition on the Kali Gandaki River.  After eating several bowls of incredibly delicious, tallow-popped pop-corn and drinking a few of their complimentary rum drinks each, it seemed that we suddenly had enough money to go on this expedition.  It was a great decision as we had a blast.  We met several other fun and adventurous travelers on the trip too.

kali gondaki
The Kali Gandaki from above.  Translation: Black River. (google images)
rafting
An example of the white water we encountered.  There was lots of calm, drifting too. (google images)

Scan10031

This is a group of children we met on the beach who were running and tumbling together.  Suddenly, there was a whistle from their mom and off they ran, full tilt UP the mountain.  So fit.

Next we went trekking: the Annapurna Circuit hike.  Here I am on top of the bus enroute to the starting point of the big trek.  From on top of the bus, I asked hubby to buy me a pop (Canadian speak for soda) from a place advertising GOOD FOODING AND LODGING. I liked that sign, although I was feeling rather queasy by that time.Scan10053

The trek was, of course, amazing.  We did about 20 k per day, depending on weather and best stopping places and Tea Houses, which were known to our guide, Naba.  We saw incredible beauty all around us.

Scan10064 The trail was often quite rough and sometimes included donkey trains — which were tricky because you had to be sure to get to the inside of the donkey train.  They could easily bump you off the trail.  That would be bad.

Scan10055
Our guide, Naba, on the inside track of a passing donkey train.

We would see tiny women carrying huge loads of wood on their backs.  We even saw a porter carrying an injured person in a chair strapped to his back.  Heading to the hospital many tens of kilometers away.

Scan10061

After a week or so, we got into the snow at elevation.  This came with the obvious challenges due to the cold and wet and the need to be very careful about stepping properly so as not to slip off the trail or anything.  Being Canadian, we are naturally pretty good about understanding the slipperiness of snow, but we were meeting other travelers from non-snow countries, particularly Ozzies and South Americans who were having trouble with it.

Scan10100

We finally made it to Thorung Phedi which sits at a cool 4,538 meters above sea level.  This was the jumping off point for the Thorong La Pass with an elevation of 5,416 meters. There was a large group waiting for a clearing in the weather so as to safely set out for the pass.  This was February  – so, lots of snow.  As a group gathered in the smokey dining hall with large tin cans full of smoking coals to warm us under the tables, we decided to leave at 4 a.m. after a breakfast at 3 a.m.  There were about a dozen of us: a couple of Swedes, an American, a Japanese girl, a couple of Ozzies, a couple of New Zealanders and a Chinese guy, plus us two Canadians.

With headlamps blazing on some heads, we started up the mountain.  Step, breath, step, breath.  It was slow and steady.  Would we ever get there?  After a couple of hours, my hands were frozen. Our guide gave me his mittens which were toasty warm.  He just smiled at me gently.  He had done this pass many, many times.

We finally made it to a little shack which was at 5,000 meters.  The weather worsened. The wind blew colder and stronger.  Then ice-pellet snow began to pelt us like tiny sharp knives.  We could tell that our attempt at the pass was not going to work today.  Even if we could make it over, there was no way we were going to drag these other folks with us, and besides, that, there was six more hours down the other side, before the next village. The American woman with her state-of-the-art Arctic hiking gear and porter went on into the storm, but we turned back and headed down.  A week later we met up with some of the folks from the snowy pass attempt.  They told us they were waiting on us to decide about whether they would attempt the pass that day or not.  ‘Why us?’ we asked. ‘Because you’re Canadian.’ they said.  ‘You know snow and weather.  If you weren’t going, neither were we.’

So we trekked down to the bottom, re-grouped in Pokhara for a couple of days and then went back up the other side for another ten days.  I celebrated my thirtieth birthday in Tatopani.  Dean arranged for the baking of a cake for me.  I was very surprised and pleased.

thorong-la-pass-trekking-map

After trekking, we decided to head to the Royal Chitwan National Park for a week at sea level and with warmth and sunshine, plus the odd elephant or two.

Scan10151

We met this hilarious traveler who behaved just like Jerry Seinfeld and knew all the funny lines too.  So, of course we spent time with him, walking about and telling stories, laughing and being silly.

A comment on the people of Nepal. We have yet to meet a nicer culture, although Cuban would be close.  The Nepalese are cheerful, gentle, kind, strong and thoughtful.  It was an honour to spend time in their exceptionally beautiful country.

Next up….India.

Just a little Stroll…🌲

Yesterday I asked my friend Victoria if she wanted to get out for a mid-afternoon walk in a nearby Watershed Nature Preserve, just a few minutes from our Nova Scotian town. She had never been there she said as I explained where it is located.  She asked if it would be a tough walk because she still had a sore leg from taking a tumble over a root while walking Cape Split the weekend before.  My response:

‘No, it’s just a little stroll’….

Into the woods we wandered, after taking a big swig of water.  ‘Are you bringing water?’ Victoria asked.  My response:

‘No, I never carry water for a short walk.  I just top up now.’…

Our first stop was to look at the old Reservoir Lake, walk over the new small log bridge and then along the shore of the lake for a little bit.  Then, a hard right into the woods again and it was there that I thought it would be a good idea to go on the Ravine Trail for a few minutes.  There was not a soul around and the trail was quite nicely marked with bright orange tape on trees the whole way.  The problem being that my phone rang and so I was not really watching as we got further and further along the trail that I had previously thought we would just be on for 5 minutes or so. I had been distracted and wasn’t really watching the way and thus missed any chance of getting off the trail and heading back to the car.

Victoria asked me if I knew this trail?  My response:

‘Nope, but I can’t image it will be too hard to figure out.  This park can’t be THAT big. Right?

We saw startlingly green ferns bathed in a beam of sunlight and stopped for a moment to admire them.  Little creeks and small waterfalls.  I was tempted to take a drink from the rushing water, but, thought better of it lest I give Victoria a heart attack.  She is from a medical background.  Enough said.  I informed Victoria of the cool item I had seen on TED talk called the LifeStraw. That you can just use the straw to drink from even stagnant water and it is totally safe.  In fact our friend Daisy and her boys had used one in Australia on a hike there.  I had two LifeStraws at home.  Oh well.  It takes days to die of dehydration, right?

We forded a few boggy areas, stirring up many a biting bug: black flies and mosquitoes. Victoria then showed me an angry red bump on her forearm and explained that she gets a bad reaction from black fly bites.  Oh wait, let me dig out my emergency bug dope for you. I thought as I reached over my shoulder for my small day pack.  Nothing.  Didn’t bring anything on this ‘stroll’ except my phone and a tissue…we were now approaching two hours in the woods.  Victoria’s face was getting pink.

I started to imagine what we would need to do if we couldn’t find our way out of this pretty place.  We would have to hunker down and try to stay warm until morning and then just walk until we would come to a road.  I was loathe to get hubby Dean to come look for us, should we then all be lost in the woods.  My imagination was getting the better of me.  We had hours of daylight yet.  For sure we would find civilization before dark.  Right?

I said to Victoria: ‘It could be worse, we could have a fifty-pound pack on our backs.’

‘And an army radio,’ chimed in Victoria, ever the good sport.  We both had army experience, mine Reg force, hers Reserve.  An army radio is an army radio, is an army radio.  We both knew that to be true.

Over another log bridge, a glimpse of a ruins of an ancient moss-covered stone bridge then squealing like school girls when a brown stick wriggled furiously away from our falling feet.  Next, up a soft pine-needle trail where the path split.  One way went slightly down through a nicely cut trail into a sunny meadow, the other went slightly up and into a dim tangle of woods.  The upward tending trail was marked with orange tape and upon inspection of the map just now, the very map we didn’t have yesterday, it would have taken us on a incline back up to the parking lot in about 2 clicks.  We chose the downward sloping pathway and walked for about another forty minutes coming out at a country road.

vinyard

Looking right we saw L’Acadie Vinyards.  I smiled with relief.  I knew exactly where we were.  I may or may not have been here before, sampling their wares…  I said, ‘Okay, now we have to follow this road left and then left again on the next road and the next.’  It would have been 5 clicks more.

Victoria’s response:

‘Can’t we just go in and have some wine?  Couldn’t Leo come get us?’

My response: ‘Um, YES!  What a fabulous idea!’  My son Leo had his licence now.  He could come get us.’

champagne
This was our favourite!

 

Much like that old much-loved but very corny tv show we all watched as kids in which a group heads out for a ‘three-hour cruise‘ and ends up on a deserted island for years and years…we had headed out for a wee twenty minute stroll and ended up in the woods for about three hours.  It all ended well.  Our worst fears were not realized and we even had wine and then a cutie come pick us up and pay the bill.  Gotta like that.

We had zigged when we should have zagged.  Ever done that?  How did it end up for you?

~Leave a comment below.~

 

(Thank you google and those who took them for the pictures!)

TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥

My son, Leo’s favourite toy of all time was Buzz Lightyear, the action figure who emerged from the 1995 block buster movie Toy Story.  He wanted the action figure very badly.  We would make special trips to the toy store just to look at them and imagine owning one.  The weird thing was that we had more than enough money to buy one but, at the time, I just didn’t think it would be good for Leo to have everything he wanted. The Buzz Lightyear action figures were retailing for about $75 plus tax, at the time.  I thought that it would be too much to just go ahead and buy him one.  Don’t worry, Leo didn’t want for much.  He had a lot of toys and his own room with a double bed, a hand-made quilt with a space theme from two of his Aunts in Newfoundland, and, he had me all to himself as I was a full-time stay-home mom for his first five years.  He was much loved.  I just didn’t want to spoil him.  There’s a fine line.

BuzzOne day, Auntie Bonnie came to visit and we decided to head to Kitchener for the day and go thrift shopping at Value Village and then have lunch.  Thrift shopping is so much fun.  The thrill of the hunt for something of great value at a low, low price.

We were wheeling our way around the store.  Leo was getting a ride in the cart and as I say, we were just getting warmed up when…low and behold, on a shelf with many other toys…there was…

NONE OTHER THAN…

CAN YOU GUESS???

YES!

BUZZ LIGHTYEAR!!!  The one and only.  And the exact size of the ones he had seen at the toy store.

Suddenly, everything slowed waaaaaay down.  There were a few other people in the same aisle. If you can believe it, there was a boy closing in on the same area where we were.  The boy was looking at Buzz.  My hand was reaching.  His hand was reaching.  I didn’t want to muscle a toy away from someone much, much smaller than I, but then…

the boy reached for the frisbee instead. Whew!

My hand grasped the cool hard plastic of the toy’s mid-section.  I held him up.  He was perfect, except that someone else had loved him quite well before. It was obvious. Because he was missing a boot.

Leo didn’t care.  He grasped Buzz and hugged him tight.  ‘My own Buzz, Mommy?’ he asked.  ‘Yes, sweetheart, your own Buzz.’  He was one happy little gaffer that day.

Buzz did not leave Leo’s chubby fingers for days.  It was as if he was glued there. If someone asked about the missing boot, he simply explained that Buzz had lost a boot on a dangerous space mission and then he would hold Buzz tight and sail him over his head with a sonic whooshing sound, ‘To infinity and beyond!’

One day, Leo was running in our house on the ceramic tile and took a spill.  There went Buzz, flying across the room and smashing on the tile.  When Leo retrieved him, he was missing an arm.

I did a bit of research and found out that the Disney Thinkway Toy Company had an office located in Markham, Ontario which was just around the corner form Dean’s office at IBM.  I called the company and explained that we needed some repairs done on a very much loved Buzz Lightyear toy. They said to simply bring it in and leave it with them for about ten days.  They would see what they could do.  We explained to Leo that Buzz had to go in for repairs.  After awhile, Leo understood and said goodbye to Buzz.

The next day, just before they closed, Dean walked into the Disney Thinkway office with the old Buzz.  The man behind the counter said, ‘You must be the people who called about repairs to an older Buzz Lightyear.’  Dean nodded and held up Leo’s Buzz.  The man nodded knowingly, seeing the missing boot and missing arm.  He then said, ‘I told my boss about your wife’s call and how your son loves Buzz so much,’…the man then reached under the counter and handed a shiny brand new Buzz to Dean.  No charge, as long as they could have the old toy to study.  Dean gladly surrendered old Buzz.

Leo awoke in the morning with the shiny new Buzz beside him. You never saw such a happy youngster. Not wanting to run with Buzz anymore, he shuffled into our room and sang out, ‘it’s morning time Mom and guess what?  Buzz is all fixed up!’

buzz2
Leo’s drawing of Buzz Lightyear.  Age 5.

Taking Summer Seriously (age 50) ☀️

Last summer an idea struck.  How about I take summer seriously?  How about I make a concerted effort to get out on our beautiful Nova Scotia beaches on as many nice days as possible.  I own my own business and can work flexible hours, so in keeping with the tides, I could arrange my work to allow for beach walks on nice days.  Why in keeping with the tides?  Well, in this part of Nova Scotia, at high tide, there is often no beach to walk on.  Also, there is a danger of being trapped down the beach should the tide be coming back in.  It happens to unsuspecting folks every year.  Best to walk the beach knowing what the tides are doing.  Rainy days would be for catching up on office work. So, no waiting for weekends. I would take summer seriously.  I just wanted to eat those beaches up.  The second half of this was that I wanted a friend or two or a family member or two to accompany me on each said beach walk.  I started asking around and several of my friends sounded interested.

Nova Scotia (23)First up was Blomidon Beach at low tide, once with my friend Lisa, then Jessie (and dogs) and then again with Victoria. Victoria was home for the summer holiday and as eager to walk the beaches as I.  That worked!  Blomidon Beach is a red, flat beach with red sheer cliffs hemming it in.   There are often tiny little avalanches of red stones coming down off those cliffs.  All along the top of the cliffs there are nesting holes for the swifts that make their homes there.

Next up was Scott’s Bay with Victoria. It was perfect. As we rolled along on the highway above Scott’s Bay, we each gasped at the beauty of the scene that emerged on approach to the big hill leading down into the village.  The Big Blue, I like to call it.  And, I can not visit Scott’s Bay without recalling fondly a novel I thoroughly enjoyed which is set in historic Scott’s Bay by local best-selling author Ami McKay.  The Birth House is about the age-old struggle of women to be in control of their own bodies. Imagine.  I would look at the houses and flapping colourful clotheslines and imagine the characters from that novel.  Their tough but incredibly rich lives…all of it happening right there.

The tide was way out.  Victoria parked the car and walked over the small bridge onto the pebbles of Scott’s Bay beach on the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world. We walked out and off to the left, stopping to remove our footwear and talking and relating while we stepped into the cool grey mud of Scott’s Bay at low tide.  The floor of the ocean. Part of the time the grey mud was quite soft and deep. The temperature was perfect.  The sun was high.  It was warm but not hot and it was ideal. We walked and walked, the only two souls on the vast, shimmering beach:

Shiny Happy People Laughing.

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Afterward we had lunch on the patio of ‘The Haze’ Diner which is located close to the beach, on the highway approaching Scott’s Bay.  It was a good day. Homeward bound we stopped at Stirlings Farm Market for something to cook up for supper. Feeling refreshed, kissed by the sun, salt, wind and sand, we had taken summer seriously.

The next trip out was with my friends Mary and Victoria and over to Penny Beach at Avonport. Another perfect weather day and off we went, walking way down the beach, marveling and exclaiming at the beauty all around us.  There was so much to see, to examine, to show each other and to talk about.  I told them about the time, years prior, that Daisy and I had been on this beach, eating a picnic lunch with our three boys when we saw a group approaching us.  They hadn’t even seen us, they were looking at the rock, the shale, the pebbles, the eagles, the shore birds.  I told them that I was curious about what they were doing. Turns out it was a famous scientist and his students and they had come a great long way to see this beach.  He said it was world famous to geologists.  That it was once an inland sea and would have had a plethora of very large creatures and dinosaurs on it.  The boys were quite impressed.  I was just so thankful to have had the opportunity to glimpse them in action.

Anyway, within no time we realized that three hours had slipped by.  On Mary’s suggestion, which surprised me because I think of her as quite fastidious, we walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, knowing that the trip back would be through sticky mud.  In Nova Scotia, when one says they walked way out to the edge of the receding tide, that can be a LOOOOONG way — like a mile sometimes.  No kidding.

Another benefit of walking on beaches with friends is that sometimes surprising qualities and details about them (and me) emerge. In my experience it has always been a positive and our friendship grows deeper as we admire the beauty, sometimes sharing stories and anecdotes and sometimes just walking silently bathing in the salty breeze, sometimes bending to help the other wash the tenacious mud from their feet or the troubles from their hearts.

IMG_4710At the water’s edge, it was astoundingly beautiful, the patterns in the rock, the ripple of the waves, the call of the gulls and before that, the emerald green moss on the tiny, perpetually trickling runoff waterfall.  We savoured it all and it was magical.  Returning to the parking lot, we sat at the hexagonal picnic table and each ate a Valley apple and drank fresh water from our water bottles.  So simple.  So good.  The day had been perfect. We had taken summer seriously.

IMG_4730Next it was Blue Beach with Rachel and Simon.  I picked them up and off we drove on another very pretty day.  Blue Beach is located between Avonport and Hantsport on the Minas Basin. It wasn’t a far ride for us.  We parked and started the wee jaunt down the dirt road to the beach.  Every time I walk down that dirt track, my mind is aflutter with memories of the previous walks on that beach.  The time my step-sister was visiting with her family and her palpable anticipation of this fossil-riddled beach.  She normally walks with a cane.  Not that day.  She was just too excited and the adrenaline was rampant.  She was almost skipping. Then, while she and hubby examined fossils, I spent time with their two children and Leo.  Skipping stones and doing handstands, running and tumbling, chasing and being chased and getting wet with furry, joyful Lady.  A great memory.  Leo idolized his big cousins and it was sweet to watch.

So, as it emerged, we could see the distinctly blue tinge of the rock and sand which forms this incredible beach.  We all walked slowly and methodically, heads bowed to the rocky beach surface to notice its treasures, to bend and point and remark, three heads came together peering at marvels on the ocean floor.  It was magical.  At some point, hunger called us back to the car and away we swept to a close-by coffee shop for a snack and a drink.

betty 2Betty and I did Medford Beach together, parking in the cul-de-sac and walking down the grassy slope, across the tiny bridge and carefully stepping down the eroded small cliff, onto the red sand, beside the fresh run-off stream. The dogs were with us and into it full tilt.  The chance to run free, smelling all the smells and swimming willy-nilly made their tails wag furiously happily.  Following their lead, we kicked off our footwear, sinking our feet into the cool red sand.  Then we walked and walked and talked and talked solving all of the problems of the world.

Betty on beach

Later that summer, Leo and Dean and I went down to the Kejimkujik Seaside Adjunct for a hike on one gorgeous day.  It was about a ten-km hike, partially over the windswept hills and then down along a boardwalk and onto a rocky beach.  As we approached the beach, we could see what looked like structures sticking up all over it.  Turned out, to be many many inukshuks. They were everywhere and they lent a surreal quality to the remarkably pretty beach. Leo immediately began to take photos of them and then to build one himself.

inukshuks

From the rocky beach, we walked on a windy woodland trail and then out onto an incredible white-sand beach where we spent some time contemplating a swim.  Make no bones about it, the water was, as always, freezing.  Dean managed to submerge for a split second then rushed out to the warmth of the sand.  It had been a lovely day and finished on a spectacular beach.

keji 2

In was a fantastic summer mission which also included Evangeline, Hirtles, Avonport, Crescent, Margartsville, Aylesford, Kingsport beaches, all with their various qualities ranging from fine white sand to pebble to rocky, red sand, blue sand, golden sand. Near, far, remote, popular, unheard of, it was a grand summer full of wonder, family and friendship.  No better kind.