Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you're enjoying some special family time, or spending it with close friends, or at the very least travelling to somewhere hot!

I made some cookies and chocolates. Come on over while there are still a few pieces around.

Monday, December 05, 2011

So relieved

In all my life, my head has probably never been so itchy as it's been in the last week. I was starting to really believe I had lice and it got to the point that this morning, instead of going to the gym before work, I went to the clinic to get my head checked out once and for all.

It's confirmed. I do NOT have lice. What I do have is an over active imagination and probably some dry winter scalp. Time to ultra-condition.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Panama - Day 3 recap

Sunday, 27 November 2011

This morning started off bright and sunny but it didn’t stay that way for long. Long enough though to give us a little bit of time by the pool and also just enough time, for me at least, to get a tiny bit of colour on my legs. The clouds soon moved in and we had scattered showers until late in the afternoon.

After a lazy morning at the hotel’s rooftop pool, we spent the afternoon in El Casco Antiguo, exploring the old neighbourhood and dodging raindrops. We visited the Canal museum and were also able to snap a few pictures in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace. They have some special white herons in the courtyard there. Apparently the herons (well, generations ago) were a gift dating back from the 1920’s, and they’ve been kept there ever since. We had to ask a few different guards where we could go in, then pass through security (Joan had security risk shoes, apparently!).

We saw some beautiful old buildings, wonderfully restored and others that have been left to crumble, in all that different kind of beauty. The old architecture of these buildings is incredible. And each building that has a balcony, the ironwork is different and original to each. The area just screams of character. However, as Shirla told us, some of that character will soon be gone. With the regentrification of the neighbourhood, the old (read: poor) residents are slowly being removed from the area. I think it’s a shame because for me that’s part of the charm of the place: the old men reading their newspapers on the front stoops, the kids playing street soccer, the little bodegas and hole in the wall restaurants – it wouldn’t feel the same without the atmosphere these people and places give it. Hmmm …

Back in Plaza Balboa, we enjoyed a late lazy lunch in the square. It felt very European, but the pace was distinctly Caribbean. Also had the best cup of coffee there!

After waiting for the heavier by the second rain to stop, which it didn’t, we walked as quickly as possible over a few blocks to visit the church Shirla told us about, with the solid gold altar. Wouldn’t you know – the place was closed! I thought the church was supposed to offer sanctuary.

The story, as Shirla told us, is this: This solid gold altar was in a church in Panama Viejo. The priest at the church heard that pirates were coming to attack, so got some black paint and covered the altar with it. Many years later, after people had pretty much forgotten about it and the paint started fading away, it was “discovered” and restored to its natural state. How cool is that?! So no picture of the golden altar, which would have been nice, instead I got Keith to take a picture of me knocking on the church door! Ha, ha! (Sorry, Mom …)

Finally we gave up on the weather and went exploring by car for a bit. This also gave us enough time to visit a Do-It Centre (memories! Oh, and I found a cute little bathroom soap set for $7.50) and drive across The Bridge of the Americas into North America and back again, into South America. I love that!

Last night for dinner and we returned to the Amador Causeway and tried the Columbian restaurant. I had another mixed ceviche but this one wasn’t quite as good as the one from Mi Ranchito.

Back at the hotel for one last swim in the rooftop pool – honestly, best pool view ever – and then time to pack up. Three days really flies by. It’s going to be tough going back to the winter weather. Hope it hasn’t snowed any more.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Panama - Day 2 recap

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Today was a fantastic day. We headed up to Sabanitas and a quick shop for some lunch foods and stuff before picking up the kids of a day at the water park.

Those plans got slightly delayed though when we arrived at the home and discovered a group of people from the local university doing a presentation to the kids. We missed the beginning part of it and arrived in time for games, songs and lunch for all!

The girls sang for them, the university group sang for the girls. They organized all sorts of fun games and even a real piñata (in the shape of a mermaid, no less!). There was a hot lunch (rice and chicken pieces) and a huge cake with ice cream. Besides some of the girls winning prizes at the games they played, there was also a gift for each girl. One of the youngest ones, I think it was Madalena, when she opened her gift and saw it was a Barbie type doll, her eyes nearly burst out of her head, she was so happy and she exclaimed, “Una Barbie!” It was priceless. Many of them came to show us what they’d received and were all so proud of what they had.

While eating lunch, my little friend Janilka from yesterday was sitting beside me. She told me she didn’t like her rice and would prefer to be eating the candy she collected from the piñata. I told her she had to at least finish her chicken before she ate anything else. So she started chewing on that like it was the last meal of her life. When she got down to the bones, she looked at me for somewhere to put it. I picked up a bowl from the table and brought it back to her, where she promptly SPAT it into the bowl. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that she’d spit it out. Classic.

Finally, about 90 minutes later than planned, we left for the water park. It started to rain on the way (typical) and by the time we arrived it was really coming down hard. Keith was worried that the place would be shut due to the weather but it wasn’t. It was open and we all traipsed in. Pretty soon it didn’t matter if it was raining or not because we were all wet anyway. The next 4 hours were so much fun. Joan and Marlene played with the littler ones for a bit in one of the paddling pools. I joined a few of the older girls for a few trips around the place in the “lazy river” and then we headed to the big slides. That seemed to be the biggest attraction for the older kids. Later I played with some of the younger ones in a shallow pool. Estrella (4, possibly 5 years old) wasn’t too sure about being in the water and was quite scared to be close to the heavy falling water. She got pretty comfortable clinging to me and being swung through the water. When we discovered a little slide, she was happy to try that out as long as I stood at the end to catch her! She’ll fit in a hockey bag, right?

On the car ride back to the home, Joan thought to play “Eye Spy” in Spanish with the 5 kids in our row. They liked that and it made the ride go that much more quickly. A few of the older ones sang a little bit in the back row. It was a very nice and relaxed atmostphere.

Once home, we handed out the bags of school supplies and gave Marlene the Christmas gifts. The girls were quite excited to pen the bags but also quite tired after the long and busy day. While the girls were going through their presents, Rodelaida (13) was eating some pop-rocks candy and I could hear the sound of them popping on her tongue. I indicated that I could hear it. She offered me what was left from the package but I said no, that I didn’t like the feeling. She laughed and said it’s true, “duele” (it hurts) but she liked it anyway! Probably I would say the exact same thing if I was 13 again.

Keith had a nice surprise today with the visit of Ovidia. She lived at the home for a number of years and still stops by a few times a year to catch up with the girls and Marlene. She’s 20-something now and working. It’s encouraging to see that some of the girls still keep in contact with Marlene. I suppose she must be quite a mentor and mother figure to these girls. They’re lucky to have her.

Then it was time to say good bye. Quite said to think that I may never see some of them again. Rodelaida, Janilka and Estrella touched me quite a lot, in just one day.

Back in Panama, we went for dinner at Mi Ranchito on the Causeway and then for coffee/ice cream further down the road. A nice quiet evening after a long, loud, busy, fun, happy day.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Panama - Day 1 recap

Friday, 25 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Yvette! First things first, after all. It's my "bestest" friend's 43rd birthday today. Hope it's happy!

Yesterday's travel down to Panama was pretty uneventful. We even got all 5 of the hockey bags!

Downtown Panama City traffic is worse, and I do mean Worse with a capital W, than Montreal's. Same goes for Colon - and not even counting rush hour.

We picked up Major (retired) Shirla this morning in Paraiso, and brought her with us for an afternoon visit to the girls orphanage in Sabanitas, a tour of their school, and a short visit to the seniors home in Colon. Thank goodness we had Shirla with us today! She had Keith going left, right and avoiding traffic wherever and whenever possible. Without her, we'd probably still be sitting in a traffic jam somewhere between Panama and Colon.

Met Janilka, Anna, Melissa, Kimberly, Hiam, Nawal and ... I'm missing about 7 other names. Marlene is still in control at the orphanage and ready with a hug and smile for all. Us too! We arrived just as the girls were finishing lunch and I made friends with Janilka. She's 7 years old and is just the right size for a dress I got from somebody at work. While Joan and I were emptying the clothes and blankets from the van into the house, Janilka asked to help us and when she saw that dress, she held it up to her and said to me, "Oh, me gusta!" (Oh, I like it!). While many of the others were playing floor hockey with Joan and Keith, Janilka and I played on the swings and see-saw. My Spanish is pretty rusty but we somehow manage with our limited language skills and charades.

After a bit of a visit at the orphanage, we headed over to the school with Marlene to deliver some school supplies Joan collected from her own school in Montreal. We had over 1000 pencils to give out, plus red pens for the teachers and some other important things like erasers, tape and highlighters! We were warmly welcomed by the principal of the school and she let us go about our thing. She told us that the school runs in two shifts: mornings from 7:30am to 12:30pm, and afternoons from 12:30pm to 5:30pm. There are about 1300 students total, broken into those two shifts. Quite an operation. We arrived pretty much at the turnover hour, so it was slightly chaotic, as only a school can be. But we stopped in every classroom and gave pencils to each student. One of the funniest things I noticed while we were there was 2 little boys dripping glue straight from the bottle into a gutter, right in the middle of the school yard! Not shy at all, those two, and not worried about getting caught either! Boys will be boys, in Panama just the same as at home.

From there we headed to Colon for a visit to Hogar Jackson, the old folks home. We got stuck in traffic going there – this was about 2pm. Crazy. And it seems mostly it’s because of the Free Zone shopping. Apparently the toll highway will eventually come out to there but it’s not there now, so there’s traffic, traffic, traffic! Anyway, Hogar Jackson is looking good, all things considered. There are only 5 (or is it 7?) residents there now, all of whom are blind except one. Good old Mr. David Bennett is still kicking around there too. What a surprise that was! He’s still blind and down on his knees praying, but happy to talk to us and welcome us to Panama. Incredible.

On the way back into Panama, we had a quick stop to visit Shirla’s daughter at work and then to the shop where Shirla works (retired from the Army but now has to work 6 days a week to afford her retirement – no kidding). That woman is something. The shop is called Galeria de Arte Indegena, and is filled with the most wonderful indigenous baskets, carvings, molas, paintings and even a few of the usual tourist trap souvenirs. I went in saying I only needed two t-shirts for my niece and nephew. I came out with two t-shirts, 2 woven trivets, a pair of shoes, 2 rings, and a basket. Yeesh, there goes the budget! Everything in there was so lovely, I couldn’t help myself (and you wouldn’t have been able to either, Mom).

After dinner with Shirla, we headed back to the hotel for a rooftop swim in the pool (heaven!) and then wrapped the Christmas presents for all the kids. The Panama skyline seems to grow while you’re watching. There are more skyscrapers than ever. Pretty soon there won’t be much of a view to Caribbean left.

Great, great day. Tomorrow – water park with the kids. Should be … wet :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#85: Buy Something at Auction

#85: Buy Something at Auction

Last night I attended the annual Youth Unlimited fundraising dinner. Before the dinner there was a silent auction. For the 3rd year in a row I put a few bids in, not really expecting to come away with anything. But I guess third time lucky really means something because although I didn't get the hockey tickets or the suitcase, I did buy a beautiful painting for $100 (instead of $400!). How cool is that?!

It was only when I got home that I remembered I had "buy something at auction" (it was #85, in case you're wondering) on my Life List and that I could now scratch one more item off it. So very pleased with myself.

Here's a picture of the painting.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Panama Updates Soon

Back from Panama, safe and sound. Took 415 pictures in 3 days; 189 of which are uploading to flickr now. Possibly have lice. Daily updates from the trip soon.

Update, 2:39pm:
Pictures are up here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

#39: Take a cruise

Oh yeah, so that last minute cruise I took in September? That was number 39 on my Life List. Only 89 left.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 5

Day 5: Miami

One last sunrise (still no sleeping in for me!) and vacation's over. Time to head home.

The trip home was uneventful. Caught the transfer bus from the port to the airport, dropped my bag (and paid another $25!) and wandered until it was time to board the plane. Arrived in Montreal on time and then, to my surprise was met with the biggest crowd ever in the customs area. So big that airport staff were holding passengers back at the top of the escalators/stairs so that the crowd could move a bit, before allowing us down. It was long. The plane landed at 4:15pm and I walked in my front door at 6:45pm. It was faster to take a bus, metro and bus home than it was to move through that queue. Crazy!

That's it. All caught up. I've been home for over 2 weeks now and with the way things are picking up at work, I hardly feel like I had a vacation. But I still have about 8 or 9 days left to take and will probably take a few days off towards the end of November. There's a little plan in the works for that, so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 4

Day 4: Key West, Florida

Another beautiful sunrise. I'll tell you, starting every day of this vacation with a beautiful sunrise was one of the highlights of the trip.

We arrived in Key West shortly after breakfast and without really planning to meet, I managed to meet up with a bunch from the group as we were getting ready to disembark for our day in Key West. I only had one thing I wanted to do and that was visit Ernest Hemingway's house. For the first time in the trip, I actually felt the heat. The first day in Miami and the other days in the Bahamas there was always a breeze, not so on this day. Our stop in Key West was hot and humid and we felt it. Anyway, enough about the weather (although, short aside, scattered thunderstorms were forecast and that never happened!)

After getting our bearings myself and a couple of friends headed over to Hemingway's house and did a little visit. It might have been a good idea to do the guided tour but I didn't feel like being pushed around from room to room, so we just wandered around and took our time viewing the place. It is really quite a beautiful home. Lovely high ceiling and huge floor to ceiling windows. Hemingway's studio was very interesting to see as well, even if we couldn't go right into the room. The gardens are also very well kept and the swimming pool looked all too inviting! The one thing that bothered me, even though the windows were all open, were the cats. Every time you turned around there was another cat or two or three, jumping off some piece of furniture or strolling past. And as you walked through the gardens they were just everywhere. It was a bit too much for my sensitive allergy and I pretty much spent close to an hour trying not to rub my eyes and breathe through my scarf.

After our visit there we walked over to the Southernmost Point in the USA. We were told it was a photo opportunity. Arriving there I wondered why people were lining up to take their picture against a big piece of concrete painted in a variety of colours but I guess ... well, I don't know. I just took a picture of the area and the ocean and moved on. I suppose the best thing about that was the price - free!

By this time we were about melting so found ourselves a little bistro on Duval Street and had an enjoyable lunch, complete with air-conditioning. One of the few instances that I have really appreciated a/c.

After lunch we walked back down Duval Street to visit a butterfly conservatory. That wasn't air conditioned as much, but it was still cooler than being outside in the heavy humidity. We had fun with the butterflies. There were just so many different kinds, of every size and colour imaginable. Really impressive.

It was probably about mid-afternoon at this time and we decided we would stroll back up Duval Street and head for the ship and a refreshing dip in the pool. On the way, we stopped for some Key Lime pie and ran into two of our friends so we all sat down and enjoyed our pie together.

Back on the boat, it was a relief to jump into the pool. A number of our group somehow managed to meet up again and two of our own guys were selected for the Sexiest Man competition. And what do you know, one of them even won!

A quick shower and change and we were back in the dining room for our final meal together. Once again the menu did not disappoint. I was impressed with the food. There was always a good selection and the portion size was just right. I could eat the appetizer, main and dessert and leave the table feeling well fed without feeling I'd need to order a second dish or without feeling I'd eaten too much.

After dinner we all went and got our packing done and then met up in one of the bars for a few cocktails and some laughs. Given that we were 16, while it was difficult to get everyone to meet up, when we were together we all really enjoyed the atmosphere as a group. It was a good mix of people and I think that's why I had so much fun. Shortly before midnight I headed to my cabin to finish my packing and hopefully get a good rest after the long day of walking.

We would arrive in Miami around breakfast time the next day and head for home.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 3

Day 3 - CocoCay, Bahamas

We went to the beach.

I could end the post there because really, that is all we did and it was amazing! But maybe I could give a few extra details.

Let's see ... once again I was up early. Think I managed to sleep until 6:15am (progress!), so I hit the gym for a bit of exercise before our beach day. The sky was cloudless and I got a few pictures of the amazing sunrise. The boat had dropped anchor (saying stuff like "dropped anchor" makes me want to throw in a pirate-y "Arrrr") just off the coast of a little island. This island is a private island for the cruise line, called CocoCay. They had all kinds of activities set up there: a snorkeling beach, a water sports beach, small market and hair braiding, bbq and picnic area, volleyball, Fisher Price Power Wheels track, water slide, kayaks, floating mats, parasail and glass bottom boat tours, corners with hammocks strung up between the palm trees and the best part - Barefoot Beach!

At breakfast I met up with only one of our group. Apparently most of the others were still sleeping and/or hungover from the previous night's festivities (it was the birthday for one of the guys). We decided that we weren't going to miss a single second of our eagerly anticipated beach day and headed out on the first tender over to CocoCay.

Getting there so early gave us the pick of beaches, lounge chairs, etc. We did a short walk around the various beaches and finally plunked ourselves down at Barefoot Beach. We choose a corner just off the beach but beside the walking path, with plenty of hammocks for our group and lots of lounge chairs. It wasn't even 10am but the call of the hammock was too much for us. We ended up having a nice little snooze for probably close to half an hour. The thing that woke us was this irritating golf cart that drove around the island selling bottles of water and beer. The guy's voice I could have ignored. The horn he honked sounded very much like this. And he would honk it about 3 or 4 times when he drove by.

Anyway ... by this time we were pretty sweaty, the sun having moved and our hammocks not being in the shade anymore, so time to get in the water. The water was heaven. There were really no waves (not like at Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island where you could sit in the water but only get knocked over by the waves) and it stayed shallow for ages. After swimming for a while, we finally saw that a few from our group were showing up. We directed them to our camp site and eventually everybody showed up.

Lunch was provided by the cruise and consisted of a buffet lunch set up at various stands in the picnic area. Lots of barbequed meat and stuff, some salads, and fruit for dessert.

After lunch it was back to the beach and we discovered that the tide had gone out. I went for a walk along the beach and discovered lots of exposed shells. I had never seen quite so many before. While a bunch from our group went to play beach volleyball, a couple of us stayed in the water and watched a storm approach. It was pretty cool to see it move closer. When it did start to rain a lot of people grabbed their stuff and headed back to the tenders. We just covered our stuff (that waterproof backpack cover was the best MEC investment ever) and jumped back in the water to wait it out. About 15-20 minutes later the rain had stopped and were almost the only people left on the beach. It felt very much like a private island. No noise from other people, no blaring music, no sellers passing with junk.

At 4pm we had to catch the tender back to the ship. With the last stragglers back on the boat, the ship set sail again at 4:30pm.

Another delicious meal (think I had a battered fish plate) and for once we managed to make it to the show. It was announced as a comedy and juggling show. What it was, was a juggling show with a few (terrible) one liners thrown in. I hate juggling so probably I'm not the best judge but really, I expected better. Following the show, some from the group did a bit of shopping after the show but I didn't get anything.

Thursday would be the last full day of the cruise and we would be in Key West, Florida, so off to bed for a good rest (after a day of doing nothing).

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 2

Guess I'm a little behind in my posts. Sorry!

Where was I? Day 2 - Nassau, Bahamas

Up before dawn (4:15am, in fact) just for kicks, you know. Had to wait until 6am before the gym even opened. The gym was right at the back of the ship so there was a great view. Not like you could see any of it at 6am but as the sun started coming up, bit by bit, you could see the line of the horizon a little more clearly each moment. By the time I finished my run/bike at 7am, the clouds were taking on some beautiful colours from the sunrise. I walked outside to stretch and cool down. Not like you could cool down much outside, it was about 30C already, not counting the humidity - but still.

The ship was just pulling into the port in Nassau and we had a good view of Paradise Island. It was very odd to see it and know that Club Med wasn't there anymore. Strangely, I felt a bit emotional seeing it all again.

Anyway, the sunrise was beautiful and it was interesting to see the crew prepare to dock the ship. At 8am our group met for breakfast and decided on the plan of the day. There was lots of discussion about renting a van or getting a few taxis to take us all over the place for the day. Far too complicated for my taste and really, all I wanted to do was jump on the water taxi over to Paradise Island and chill on the beach all day.

As the others were trying to negotiate prices, I bought my little water taxi ticket ($6 return now!), a few of my friends joined me and we waited for the boat to fill up. Funnily enough, every last one of the group ended up doing the same thing.

A short 10 minute ride later and we were arriving on Paradise Island. On the way over we went right past the old Club Med buildings. I'd forgotten about the old shack used in the James Bond Thunderball movie, the Harbourside building that housed the restaurant of the same name and also was where the Chef de Village lived. Then past the theatre and bar area. The old dock is still there but everything is fenced off. And finally past the dining room. You could there was all kinds of furniture piled up close to some windows in there.

Now the hard part, to find the beach. Paradise Island was unrecognizable. In the 12 or so years since I left, hotels, shops and time share condos have popped up everywhere. I honestly had no idea how to get to the beach anymore. A few questions to a security guard and about 20 minutes I was running down the beach to be the first one with my feet in the water!

We managed to find a tiny bit of shade and dropped our stuff off there. Some of the group stayed there to snooze while others jumped into the water and some others started negotiating with the ever present jet-ski, banana boat drivers for deals.

The water was heavenly. The beach wasn't terribly crowded but there were lots of people selling things: hair braiding, water/beer, recorders (you know, those irritating wooden recorders elementary kids "play" as a musical instrument), lounge chair & umbrella rentals, jet skis, banana boat rides, snorkeling tours, parasail rides ... I just stayed at the beach all day. Luckily I had thought to bring a bit of food and water with me, so I didn't have go hunting for food or leave the beach.

On a day that forecast scattered thunderstorms, it rained for about 5 minutes, max. A lot of the tourists left to go back to their hotels or wherever at that time but it didn't bother us. I knew it wouldn't last long and it didn't.

In the end we spent a little too long at the beach and only had a few short minutes to hurry through the straw market for a bit of shopping before having to rush back to the ship and be ready for our 6pm dinner seating.

After dinner some of the group took taxis or scooters back to Paradise Island so they could have a look at the aquarium and then went out to celebrate one of our friend's birthday. I stayed on the ship with some of the others and just relaxed outside on the top of the ship. We watched the lights, did some people watching and somehow, I forced myself to stay awake until our departure at 11:30pm. Hopefully I would sleep in tomorrow ...

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Cruise recap: Day 1

Sorry for the delay in details about the cruise. I've been ... not busy actually, just still on vacation and taking a few days to sort out laundry, groceries and some fun stuff like reading until noon and seeing movies.

Day 1, Monday:

Had to set my alarm for the hideous hour of 3:15am. I'm still asking myself why. I should've just been better prepared the night before is all. Except that I was well prepared. It's those ridiculous last minute things before you go away that have to be taken care of. Anyway, the taxi I had pre-booked, picked me up right on time (4:15am) and I arrived at the airport shortly after 4:30am. My check-in had already been done online, so all I had to do was drop off my bag (and pay American Airlines $25 for the privilege ...) Going through security was long, even at that time. Thankfully the customs officer was chatty and had even been on the same cruise before so he just told me to enjoy myself.

The flight was uneventful and I arrived in Miami spot on time. The cruise representative met me at the luggage carousel and sent me on to the bus to transfer to the port. A short bus ride later and we were at the Port of Miami. Checking in for the cruise was also a breeze because I'd done that online too (how did we live before?!) No sooner had I lined up to pass security, did I bump into nearly all my friends that were coming on the cruise. Boy, was I glad to see them (had started panicking that I'd be spending 4 days on a cruise all by myself.)

After a buffet lunch on the ship, we all wandered off to our staterooms and some exploring. The buffet was ... a buffet. I'm not the best judge anymore thanks to nearly 4 years of buffet meals (3 times a day, 7 days a week) back in the Club Med days, but there was certainly plenty of variety.

My room, located on the 5th floor, was small but not any smaller than I really expected. I took an inside cabin and can honestly say that I didn't miss having a window. I'm not really sure I would ever have had the time to look out of it anyway.

At 3:30pm we had the obligatory muster drill. Fine, whatever - it was hot out, it wasn't raining (yet) and I was on vacation! Then somehow most of us managed to meet up in one of the bars for a round of departure drinks. Just in time too because the rain came down - and hard! Time flies when you're having fun and we had to break up the party to get ready for our 6pm dinner time.

Dinner was fun, if long, and somehow we missed the opening show and the sunset (in fact, missed every single sunset). After a bit more exploring on the ship with the others, I headed to bed around 10pm. It had been quite a long day for me.

Tomorrow ... Nassau!

Pictures, if you're interested are up here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

End of the Season Recap

This summer I had 2 goals. The first was to get my shoulder better enough to paddle again. The second was to paddle with my mixed team again in competition.

After six long months of physio, acupuncture and osteopathy, as well as three months of paddling to get back to competition level, I managed to finish off the season meeting both those goals.

At the Montreal Festival in July I paddled with a women's team and that was good. The intensity wasn't quite as, well, intense. I raced only once each day with the women and didn't have any pain. My shoulder was stable!

August and September meant long months of paddling practice with my mixed team and there were a few sessions that did hurt. But I took care of my shoulder right away. I kept on with my exercises, strengthening and stretching, strengthening and stretching and finally it came time for our last competition of the season, Quebec Cup and I was allowed to race with the team. Not every race because I do understand we all wanted the best result possible. But that's OK. The races that I did do with the team were races that we won!

I was so happy to end the season on a high note; with a podium finish, surrounded by my team mates and a medal (bronze is beautiful) around my neck.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


How does a 4-day cruise in the Bahamas sound? Sounds like fun to me. Bit on the expensive side once you include flights, etc. But you know what? I'm worth it!

To be continued ...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Update: 8:57pm

I'm going on a cruise! Now that I've gone and booked it, have a departure date, time, etc. it feels real and exciting.

Glad I'm doing this.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Definitely not

At last, this morning there was an email from the school I applied to and unfortunately there is no place for me next term but I'm welcome to apply again later.

What next?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Guess not

September 1. I've been waiting all summer to make a big announcement and now it's September and I still have no news so no big announcement.

I had hoped to be able to tell you, my small little audience, that I would spending a few months in India next winter. At first I thought I would know by June, then I was told to be patient until August, and now August is officially over and done with. September is here and I have officially given up hope that I'll be anywhere other than this bitterly cold country next winter.

Maybe it wasn't meant to be. Maybe I'll go some other time. That will be great when I do. But right now I'm kinda bummed out. *Sigh*

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vitreous Floater

At my annual eye exam yesterday I discovered that the pinpoint shadow in my left eye doesn't mean I'm going blind (phew!) just that I have a vitreous floater.

The doctor explained that in the eye there's this gel and sometimes it detaches from the retina. When it does this, you get a "floater." As long as it's not pulling on the retina it's not a big deal (it's not). If however, it changes (gets bigger, becomes a cobweb) or I wake up one morning with a whole bunch, or I suddenly see flashing light or a curtain type shadow, then I am to get myself to the Vic immediately, as they have an eye specialist on call there, who would be able to do urgent laser surgery or something gross. But only if it changes. For now everything is fine with my eyes.

It doesn't hurt, it's more of a nuisance than anything else, particularly when I'm reading. I'm glad it's not a big deal, just something to watch.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Jean Paul Gaultier

Last Thursday night I visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition.

If you're in any way interested in fashion, this is an extraordinary exhibit. All but about 3 outfits on display were close enough that you could see the feathers move when you breathed on them, you could see the fabrics move as they glided around the automated catwalk. Unless you're rich/famous enough to go to an haute couturier for your clothing or you're a top runway model, you will never be this close to these kinds of works of art - not even if your attending a fashion show in the front row.

To hear Jean Paul Gaultier's history and learn how he got into fashion was interesting. But to see clothing from, I believe, all of his collections was such a treat! I took the guided tour (free with admission!) and it was worth the time. The museum guide had obviously done a lot of research on the subject and was able to provide a few funny anecdotes. The tour took about an hour and then I went back through the exhibit and spent another entire hour just losing myself in each piece. Granted, they weren't all to my taste but honestly, there were some clothes there that I would give a limb for. So beautiful, so elegant, just soooo wonderful.

At the end of the guided tour, one of the little old ladies in our group mentioned to the guide (and rest of the group) that she'd actually met Jean Paul Gaultier, nearly 30 years ago, just as he was starting at one of the French designers atelier. She remembered that he (JPG) had a great sense of humour and was one of these people that are really passionate about every aspect of fashion and clothes design, even back then when he was just starting.

Admission to the museum is $15, and considering I spent 2 hours there, I'd say it was well worth the money. Definitely better than going to see a movie.

Updates from Bill & Gigi

My Dad is able to post updates on his blog himself this time around, so check out Will Bill In India for their news.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Safe & Sound

My parents sent an email telling us that they've arrived in India:

"We left Montreal at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday and arrived at school at 7:45 a.m Friday morning. We haven't been to bed since we got up Wednesday morning.

The flights were good and long! The taxi ride was almost 7 hours from Bangalore to school. We had a nap and are getting adjusted.

We saw deer, elephants, peacocks, bison, and a wild boar as we drove through the game reserve."

So, safe and sound. Phew!

Monday, August 01, 2011

See you later ... much later!

In a strange twist of fate, my parents this time are the ones saying goodbye and see you later. They'll be leaving this week to spend 5 months in India. (Lucky so-and-so's ...)

They're going to the same school my Dad volunteered at four years ago. My Dad had such a good experience that he wanted to do it again, and there was no way my Mom was going to let him go alone. Well, they're off!

Last night we managed to squeeze in a little goodbye dinner with the whole family. Here's a picture. Nick, Sue & the kids were on their way back from their vacation in PEI, so we were able to have an extended family dinner, with Sue's parents (Hi Barry & Renée) joining us too.

I'm excited for my parents and can't wait to hear, read and see all about their adventure - together this time. (Hint - Mom & Dad: take more pictures than you think necessary.)

Have fun! We'll miss you!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

SOS Richelieu

For those of you living outside of Quebec, you may not be aware of some flooding that happened this spring in the region of St-Jean sur Richelieu. St-Jean is only about 30 minutes from Montreal. This spring there was heavy rain in the region and flooding resulted. Here's a link to a news article about it. And here are some pictures I found online of the flooding. This all happened about 6 weeks ago.

Yesterday I went with a small group of about 20 people from work, as well as several other groups of volunteers from other companies, and we spent the day in this community to help the victims of this flooding get a little order back in their lives.

After my trips to Panama (2005, 2007) and Belize (2009) I remember feeling that it didn't really matter what we did to help, what was more important to these people was that we took the time to be there. The work we did yesterday was no exception. Yes, we did work. We emptied some cabanas of furniture, cleared debris from grass, moved rotted wood and things to the side of the road and hauled what seemed like a million bags of sand curbside for pick-up. I found out what sludge really is. It's smelly. It's slimy. It's gross.

This was, I believe, the third weekend where volunteers came from Montreal (or wherever) to help out the people of St-Jean sur Richelieu. The last couple of weekends were so successful that this weekend they only needed volunteers for Saturday, and actually had to cancel the work plans for the Sunday (today) because there just wasn't enough outside work. Apparently the volunteers have been working hard. Good to hear!

At the end of the day, my work colleagues and I were sitting down to a BBQ when the woman who we'd helped out that morning came to say a few words of thanks. She has a little restaurant on the edge of the river, with a pool, lawn, beach volleyball court, all set right at the end of the road, in a really lovely, quiet and probably normally a beautiful location. Six weeks after the flooding, the river is still 4 feet above it's usual level, her restaurant has basically been gutted from hip level down. Anyway, she came to thank us. She said that we'd probably put her ahead by about 10 days to 2 weeks. She has kids and knows how busy they are, so realised how busy our own lives were and was so thankful that we'd actually taken the time to come and help a complete stranger. We didn't know her, her business, the area, nothing. And that's when I remembered Panama and Belize. Every time we did anything, either at Hogar Dr. Eno, the Seniors Home, at the school and now, here in St-Jean sur Richelieu people really are thankful and happy that you're there.

So here's a challenge I issue to anybody who has never done any kind of volunteering before. You can do it. Do not be intimidated by what you can't do. If you can serve a bowl of soup, you can volunteer. If you can give somebody a blanket, you can volunteer. If you can drag a rake, hold a paintbrush, lift a sandbag, talk to somebody, etc., you CAN volunteer. Now go and do it. Fill up your pot of good karma, or reserve your place in heaven - whatever religion you believe or don't believe, you'll see that giving back for an hour or a day or a week will make you feel good in a new way and it will change you forever. I promise.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Scratch that

Just finished reading Into Thin Air and have pretty much decided to scratch "Everest Base Camp" off my Life List.

Many reasons, some probably a little silly but in all honesty, I just don't think it's really for me. I'm quite sure I can think of something else extraordinary to do or someplace wonderful to explore or ... whatever.

Base Camp not for me. End of story.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Tough Read

As you can see from the sidebar on the right, I'm currently I just finished reading The Postmistress. This is a harder read than I was expecting. Not hard because it's not interesting but rather because the story centers around World War II and what a woman reporter sees and experiences as she journey's through Europe by train in 1941.

As much as I want to keep reading to find out what happens next, I have to put the book down often because what happens, as we all know, is not good. The lump at the back of my throat gets bigger and heavier every time I pick up the book.

Still, you should read it. And keep some kleenex near by (not saying that to be funny, just be prepared.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Better not to think?

It seems to me that sometimes it's better not to think. I'm not talking about big issue stuff, I'm talking about keeping track of my schedule and all the things that are going on.

Monday: wake up 5:15am, shower and get ready for work, catch bus at 6:15am, 7am osteopath appointment, 8:30am - 12:00pm work, 12:00-2:00pm meeting, 2:00 - 6:15pm work, 6:15 - 6:45pm travel to Olympic Basin, 7:00-8:00pm dragon boat training, 8:00 - 9:00pm travel home, 9:00-9:10pm vote, 9:10-10:00pm eat dinner, make tomorrow's lunch, decide on clothes for work, 10:00pm - 10:30pm read a little and lights out.

Tuesday: wake up 4:45am, shower and get ready for work, catch bus at 5:35am, 6am arrive at work, do quick check of emails and voicemail, 6:15 - 8:45am hostess at work breakfast event,8:45am - 12:00pm work, 12:00-2:00pm meeting, 2:00 - 5:00pm work, 5:00pm pick up dry cleaning, 5:45 - 7:00pm hair cut, 7:00 - 8:00pm travel home, 8:00pm eat dinner, make tomorrow's lunch, decide on clothes for work, sometime after that, probably before 10:00pm - drop into bed.

Wednesday ... well, I think you get the idea. Imagine if I had kids to take care of? Imagine if I had more than a 30 minute commute? So I suppose I'm lucky that I only have trouble taking care of myself sometimes. At any rate, I'm going to try and not think about all the stuff I have to do, appointments I need to keep, etc. because really, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


#81 on my 100 Things to Do Before I Go was Learn to drive stick shift. Well, thanks to my youngest brother, now I can check that off my list. I understand the basic concepts and can: start the car, get into first gear, change gears and reverse. Not smoothly. Not well. And not without stalling. A lot. But I can!

Obviously I will have to practice (and buy Marc a neck brace ...) before I can feel comfortable and at ease driving for real, not just in a parking lot, but that'll come.

Thanks, Marc!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

India 2012?

February 2012 still feels a long way off right now but it's coming. This morning I emailed my application to the school in India where I hope to volunteer next winter.

If things go according to plan, I will be spending February - May 2012 as an international guest at a school up in the Tamil Nadu hills of India (south west region).

If things don't go according to plan then maybe Plan B will come into place.

Now I wait to find out if I'm accepted. Hope to know by June. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Still with the shoulder, I know. Boring, isn't it?

Let's see, where was I? From September to December I maxed out my insurance with physio, athletic therapy, acupuncture and osteopathy, all in the hope that my shoulder would get better. It didn't. At the beginning of December I finally saw the "specialist." This specialist spent maybe 10 minutes with me and promptly gave me a cortisone shot. This was supposed to help with the inflammation in my shoulder for "7-10 days." He told me to come back for a follow-up if I still had pain. Naturally, I called, only to discover that my follow-up appointment would take place in APRIL. Well really. What is the point of that?

Frustrated at this point, I called a private clinic to find out about costs, etc. Cost was expensive! But I could get an appointment within a week. Next call was to my insurance to find out if they would cover a private clinic. Of course, the answer was no. Too easy. Back to my doctor for another physio prescription and a referral to another specialist.

This time physio is through a clinic the doctor referred. So far I am pleased. It is further for me to get there and back, but appointments are for a full hour, not just 30 minutes, and are the same price as I was getting at the fancy gym downtown. So, if nothing else, at least I feel I'm getting my money's worth. I do think the physio is helping though, if only in small doses. Maybe my shoulder is messed up enough that it really will take a lot of time and exercise to heal.

Next, the new specialist is a doctor at the McGill Sports Medicine Clinic, and I only had to wait about 2 weeks to get an appointment. The specialist has a number of what I suppose are interns working for her. The intern spent a good 15-20 minutes going over my history and putting me through a series of "tests" to see what I could do/couldn't do. Lucky for me, I'm pretty fluent in the injury language now and I am able to clearly identify what hurts and how, so the doctor was able to get a good idea of what's wrong. Following that, the intern and the specialist chatted with me about next steps.

First of all, the specialist was rather surprised that nobody had thought about having an MRI on my shoulder. She explained that no amount of cortisone is ever going to help at 5 month intervals. And then she said something that scared me a little. She said that if I do have a tear (probably I have a series of micro-tears), that tears don't heal. I'm not entirely sure what that means. She further went on to explain that an MRI will at least determine what the problem is and from there she'll be able to treat the problem with physio or whatever it needs. Until she gets the results of the MRI, it's really anybody's guess and I could be getting physio for nothing. Super. Don't you love to hear that you may have wasted over $1,000 for NO. GOOD. REASON?

Anyway, this specialist was able to get me on a waiting list for an MRI. After filling out 3 separate forms, I was told it would be about a month before the hospital called me for the appointment. Fine. I'd waited so long already, another month wasn't about to change anything. That was on a Tuesday. That same week, on Friday evening, the hospital called to schedule the MRI for the following Saturday, that being yesterday. So basically less than 2 weeks after seeing the specialist, I had my MRI.

Can I just stop for a minute and say,"Wow!" After all the appointments, waits, etc. I honestly was not expecting to have it that fast. Finally, I feel like something good is happening.

So yesterday afternoon I showed up at the hospital, found the right wing, floor and room. Of course, I was 45 minutes early but you know me ... I was a bit nervous before hand, got a bit more nervous when I discovered I had to get completely changed and wear one of those silly hospital gowns, and then I will admit to being a little bit scared when I finally saw that MRI machine. Nothing would have prepared me for that.

It was big. It was loud. The technicians were very nice and explained everything that would happen. Got up on the table, I was given some earplugs (whaaaaa??? not what I was expecting), they wrapped my shoulder in some type of hard plastic scanner-thing (sorry, I was too scared to ask pertinent questions by that point), they propped me up on one side, strapped me down to the table and gave me a rubber ball thing to squeeze so I could let them know if something was wrong. The whole process would take about 20 minutes and I was to remain completely still. Ummm, OK. But what if I had to sneeze or cough or something? (Yes, this is what starts going through my mind.) Then I was told to close my eyes as the table moved back into the machine so the lasers wouldn't go in my eyes. And the next thing I knew I was inside a frigging huge machine, something like a tanning bed, I guess, except the roof of the machine was only a couple of inches away from the top of my head. Suddenly I thought it might be a good idea if I kept my eyes closed for the whole thing. Then the machine started making all kinds of whirring, clicking, clacking, grinding and jackhammer-type noises. There was a good flow of air and for that I'm thankful because although I'm not typically a claustrophobic type of person, I was a little stressed about being in such an enclosed space without being able to move, and I started feeling like I was having trouble breathing.

I started doing some breathing exercises and tried to remember as much as I could to clear my mind and think of relaxing things. Lying on the beach, feeling the sand between my toes, hearing the palm leaves rustle in the sea breeze. I didn't sneeze. I didn't cough. I didn't even get an itch. The 20 minutes went by quicker than I thought and suddenly the table/bed was moving out of the machine and the technicians were beside me, unstrapping and unwrapping me. I made it!

Half an hour after my scheduled appointment, I was jumping on the bus back down to the metro and on my way home.

Next - wait about 10 days for the results and then make a follow-up appointment with the specialist. In the meantime, I will continue with physio and hope I'm not wasting any more money.