Friday, 22 April 2016

It’s a strange time to be a Canadian when our Prime Minister is spending his time boxing for the cameras in New York. Not that we should be surprised, I guess. Trudeau Senior spent a lot of time showing off his athletic prowess to an admiring world. But in his case it was, as I recall, diving,

canoe paddling and the occasional pirouette that he displayed for his eager fans. Nothing that would addle his bulging brain. Boxing seems to be in a different category and Trudeau Junior was not, in the photos, wearing a headpiece. Maybe it would have interfered with the pretty pictures.

I find myself wishing that Himself would stay home now and again and do some work instead of flitting around the globe getting himself photographed. Who is minding the store, one asks oneself, while the PM is getting himself onto the cover of yet another magazine. 

Who is smacking the Senate into some kind of order. Who is preventing novice Cabinet members from making fools of themselves at fundraisers and other festivities. Who is making Dion make up his multi-layered mind. What are they even calling that department now? Global Affairs or something. I cannot keep up with even the cosmetic changes while hoping that the legislation the Liberals promised in so many areas will turn out to be better that the sad mess they are making of the assisted suicide bill. Better not get started on that topic.

Meanwhile I do not even want to hear about what the Provincial Liberal (just typed Liberass by mistake as I am breaking in a new keyboard) government is doing today. Much as I admire Wynne as one tough woman. For my American friends, she is the Premier of Ontario (all the provinces have their own legislatures, and a premier is the equivalent of a state governor), an open lesbian and the winner of a majority in the last provincial election, winning in spite of the mess her party and the former leader of it had made in the previous mandate. Talk about deficits. No, another topic you do not want me to pursue.

Back to Monsieur Photo-Op. I guess at least if he is boxing he will have a mouthpiece in his mouth and not his foot.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Hair Today

I am  almost three quarters of a century old and I am, as we all are, a product of my generation and family’s taste and expectations. I have lived through hoop skirts, Mrs. Kennedy, minis and maxis, big shoulder pads and Ugg boots. I am a conservative dresser and I keep my hair shorter than many men wear theirs so that it will be out of my way. I love dangly earrings, but abandoned them for both my daughters’ infancy and my granddaughter’s, after one experience with a dimpled starfish hand ripping the hook out of my ear. I wear a lot of jeans and today am decked out in an old cotton sweater with bleach stains on the front. Almost all my ‘smart’ clothes are hand-me-downs. I am the farthest thing from a fashion maven that you could find if you searched the seven corners of the world.

And I am about to rant. The subject? The style and tastes that Sophie Tr Grégoire Trudeau and Michelle Obama chose to exhibit at the State Dinner at the White House on Thursday evening.

First, Grégoire Trudeau. The dress looked to me like a particularly cheap neoprene sleeveless wetsuit top in the garish colours to be found at Dollar Stores in the Florida Keys. And I wish she had combed her hair; we will return to this.

Obama. I loved the dress, but why she chose to wear a particularly demented octopus on her head is beyond me.

I think the Duchess of Cornwall has good dress sense, but the way she lets her hair fly and dangle and flop all over the place is equally a puzzle to me.

I grew up in a world where women combed and tidied their hair when they dressed for the day and so the loose, flopping hair always looks like bed head to me. And how does one keep such hair out of the soup, other people’s faces and the sticky hands of small children? I have no idea. Sensible women braid or pull back long hair or have it cut to a reasonable length. So I was taught. Loose hair attracts the attention of men in a personal way and that is not what a sensible woman wants. Also I like the look of sleek ‘up-do’ hair as it allows the woman’s face, posture and bone structure to dominate. The bust of Nefretiti was an icon of my adolescence.

Michelle Obama has classic mobile features and a beautifully shaped head and when she has her hair tight or short she looks absolutely perfect, in my opinion.

I have to keep telling myself that Gregoire-Trudeau is Québécoise and that the style and taste and expectations of French Canadians are different and sometimes beautiful. And I have to keep hoping that the next time she hits the front pages she will be in a pose or a costume that an elderly English Canadian can at least look at without wincing.

And, yes, I am waiting for scathing comments.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Bequia Trip

This is my nature photography day three and also, finally, the Bequia trip. It has only taken two months. Warning! This is a very long, probably boring, and somewhat repetitive post. You may just want to look at the photos and exit, unless of course you are sleepless and need a soporific.

From ice box to hot and humid in two planes. The YD and I left Ottawa on December 28th, and flew first to Barbados and then, in a small plane, to the island of Bequia, a former British colony now part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We had rented a small house on the east side of the island and were conveyed there by a Bequia taxi (a Toyota truck with bench seats in the back and a canopy, reason for the canopy described later) first to a grocery store and then to Park Beach House, where the concierge(!) had prepared a chicken supper for us. We were given a quick tour of the solar electricity system and the Wi-Fi, of which we took in almost nothing, our bags were unloaded and we were left to the sound of the surf and a pretty darn good meal, complete with sunset.

Park Bay House from the beach, with Sargasso weed
The weather was clear but breezy, very humid and about 25c.  There were many stars and the roll of the surf across the reef made a fine bedtime music.

Tuesday, December 29th
This was our day to get organised. Our car was delivered around 10:00 am, a somewhat battered Honda CRV (one of the bigger cars we see on the road) and Wendy drove the guy who had delivered it back into the  town so that she could check out both the road and the car. Park Bay House is on the east side of the island, facing south and the town is on the west side, about 3 kilometres away. Wendy said “ it is about a 15 minute drive to town since the maximum speed I went was no more than 20 – 30 km per hour, if indeed that.
The Main Road
The road is concrete, and about one and a half car widths wide.” It is also festooned with deep gutters, the odd goat or cow, dogs and derelict cars. And it goes up and down and around spurs of the lava of which Bequia is composed.

We crunched off to the town just before noon to get some food and reconnoitre. We drove along the main street and found a bakery across from a restaurant with a shaded balcony overlooking the harbour. Peaceful and beautiful with wonderful soup. Then we found the grocery stores, after some circling, and did our grocery shopping.  There are two stores - one obviously for tourists, with imported delicacies, and the other for locals.  Both quite small, and the local one reminded us of the grocery stores in  Zimbabwe - not a lot of choice, and lots of big bags of staples.  The veg are best at the roadside stands, but not a huge variety.  Frozen meat (and canned, of course!).  From the restaurant balcony we saw frigate birds swinging over a sheltered harbour full of sailing boats large and small.

Wednesday, December 28th
Five Master
We did a lot of walking today. After a quiet morning we headed back into town to do banking and such. Managed to get Wendy cash with her access card and saw some interesting crafts in the beach parks along with
a beautiful five-masted sailing ship in the harbour.

 Then we toured along the seawall walkway beside the main harbour. The harbour walkway is lined with bars and other tourist attractions, including two dive companies.  The walkway was a bit rough to travel along, but worth it.
The Walkway

We had intended to drive to a beach, but were not sure of the way. When we asked, we were told to turn at the big mango tree but since we were not sure what that looked like, we took the first likely road and it turned out to be a precipitous twist down clinging to the cliff. Wendy managed to find a decent place to turn around and got us back up, dodging all the speeding Toyota taxi trucks. She said it was a bit of a sweat. Understatement.

We had lunch beside the harbour and supper at Sugar Reef hotel and dining room, close to our house. It is charming. The dining room is one huge, high-ceilinged room painted white with folding doors all along one side that open out right onto the beach. They have a ‘fish of the day’ which on that day was an excellent grilled barracuda.

Thursday, Dec 31
We spent a quiet day at our house. Caught up on some sleep and just enjoyed the sun and wind. The balcony faces south, more or less, giving us sunrise to the left and sunset to the right, and it catches all the breezes.

Beach from the end of the driveway.
 In the morning I went clambering along the rocks below the house driveway and along the beach at the foot of the peninsula that our house is on.
It was fun to sit on the rocks and feel the tide lapping around my feet. I found a broken conch shell too. When the tide showed signs of lapping around all of me, I moved to the beach. The water is full of Sargasso weed because of the high winds bringing it in over the reef, but it was fun wading anyway as the surf is very warm.

Ignoring New Year’s Eve, we went early to bed but I woke up at midnight and went out onto the porch. All the lights that we can usually see from the porches had gone dark and white floating lights and shooting stars were lofting up over the crest of the hill across the bay. I watched a beautiful tiny display of coloured fireworks on the shore of Mustique Island. At the same time there were many red rockets and showers of sparkling lights in the direction of the harbour where we had been told there would be a big party and fireworks display at midnight. The red lights floated for quite a while before they died. There was also a sky full of stars. A perfect celebration.

Friday, Jan 1st
Wendy had signed up with a local guide ( a very talkative 55ish year old transplanted Irishman) and went for a hike - apparently a combined total of 1600 ft elevation gain, which involved climbing up and down more than a few large hills. They were in the bush much of the time - interesting vegetation, but few flowers or colour. Warnings were issued about a noxious vine to be avoided, due to poison ivy like complications. There were great views from the top of the multiple hills. The hike went from 0830 to 12, and was followed by a shower and nap.”

Meanwhile, Mary persuaded a tiny lizard to pose for her on the porch by bribing it with toast crumbs.
Mr Crumb

The beach at Sugar Reef
 In mid afternoon after Wendy recovered a bit from her very hot hike, we  went to the Sugar Reef hotel for a swim and drinks. Very civilized.
We went back to Sugar Reef for a celebratory dinner with excellent food. The evening was enlivened by several sudden downpours. The restaurant is a big room with shutters all across the front that open right onto the ocean bay. When the downpour started the wait staff had to run like rabbits to close all these shutters to keep the dinners and diners dry. Opened them again. Closed them again. Same thing when we got back here. We certainly do not have to worry about the water cistern. But no rain dump seems to last for more than a few minutes and then it clears again.There is a lot of wind that accompanies these downpours. In fact, there has been a lot of wind ever since we got here, from a stiff breeze to half a gale.

Saturday, January 2nd

There was a beautiful sun rise with another rain squall far to the east of us tearing across the water. And the trade wind sang through the house as it was even more breezy and humid enough that there is a fine film of 'sea sweat' on surfaces.   The car windows are foggy with salt!

Lunch at the Harbour
We made another expedition to town to buy more groceries (strange how the food vanishes even when we are eating one meal out), to arrange to pick up Mary V at the airstrip tomorrow and to have a leisurely lunch by the harbour followed by a shopping walk and 'good' coffee at a hole in the wall we have discovered. It was hot in town and wonderful to be home again and rejoicing in the cool wind. It is humid on the lee side of the island. It amazes me how friendly the residents are - they smile as they go by and wish you a Happy New Year. Wendy ventured into the vegetable market and says she was swarmed by vendors.

Our concierge says that it is windier and the water is rougher than usual, due to something. The accent here is a strange clipped one. Sort of a mixture of Jamaica and South Africa. I suspect that they find our slow speech just as hard to follow.

This is the kitchen and dining area of our house, with Wendy preparing fahitas as I watch (and will clean up later). No sour cream on the island, but there are fresh avocados!

Sunday, January 3rd

We still have lots of wind and lots of sun with the occasional drum of rain just to keep us alert on the window closing sprint. 

A quiet morning, then we went down to the harbour for a soup and fresh bread lunch and I went out to the airport to pick up Mary, conveyed by, I think, the oldest man on the island, the father of the house’s maintenance man and  taxi driver (who had an appointment to make music so sent his father). It was great as I got the history of the island as we crawled from one end of the road, where the house is, to the other where the air strip is. 'Doc' has been a sailor, taxi driver and is now retired and his accent is dense, but I really got to see the place. The roads are very narrow and at one point we had to get past a truck that had broken down at a very tight point and whose driver and a lot of his friends had crawled under it. One guy's feet and another man's arm were on the bit of road that was left. Doc chased them out of that and I wish I knew what he said to them as we inched by.

Wendy dropped me off at the taxi and then wandered about and went back to open up the house.     Mary V and I arrived with the driver around 3:00 pm, and we have been living the relaxed life on the porch for the rest of the afternoon.
On the deck at sunset
Very hot and humid today - I would guess almost 30 degrees, and while the trade winds are up, they feel warmer today. But I guess we shouldn't complain, as I understand it is finally going down to seasonal temperatures on the Ottawa end tonight! 

Mary brought Wendy the Saturday papers and Wendy is happy.

There are also cows by the gate today.

 Mary V and Wendy traded DFAIT stories. It was fascinating.
There were some strange cloud formations at sunrise too. Really neat.

Monday, Jan 4th
We had a young woman come in this morning to give us a manicure and pedicure and then we all headed to town for lunch and a look about. We found a lovely breezy and shaded veranda at the Beachcomber Bar  and followed this by some looking in shops. It was a high enough surf today that Mary and I elected not to swim.
Across the reef to Mustique

We went to Sugar Reef for supper and Wendy had lobstertail soup that she pronounced excellent.

Tuesday, January 5th
Wendy is off on another hike to a viewpoint on, I think, the north end of the island. These are two of the photos she took.
Just before she left we had one of the sudden, sneak over the hill behind us cloudbursts. We raced to close up, but I forgot the door to the utility shed was open. The power to Mary's part of the house had shut down overnight and I had just gone out and reset the converter which was buzzing and flashing. Repowered Mary's floor and then tried to phone the maintenance guy to see if there was anything else I was supposed to do. (his quick lecture on how to run the system, delivered when we first arrived and my brain was fried more than usual, did not stick too well). As I started to explain to him, the phone system went down, probably because of the cloudburst and it had hardly cleared when his truck came tearing up the drive. He approved what I had done, but was somewhat cross that I had allowed the utility shed to get wet. I have done some sweeping and drying and hope to return to his good graces.

Wendy has finally been informed that her Visa replacement card has arrived. The courier guy informed her that she could find him in, I think, the Cocoa Bar if she wanted to get it this evening. Wendy decided that we will track him down tomorrow. We may take the water taxi later as well to a lee side beach. If this set of clouds moves on. No weather lasts very long here.

Wednesday January 6th
A cloudy morning and lots of rain hitting the ocean and islands to the south of us. I suspect there is a lot more to the north east but I can't check unless I want to climb the headland behind the house. Mary V was proposing to do that this morning early while it is cool, before she has her coffee. I don't picture me doing anything strenuous before morning coffee so I will await her report.

We had a beach day today - started off with a tour of the main harbour by water taxi (a dilapidated 12' boat with wooden seats and an elderly woman driving), and then we installed ourselves at a restaurant/bar overlooking Princess Margaret beach.  We had lunch and Wendy had many fruit cocktails while Mary and I played about in the water at Princess Margaret beach. It amazed me that I saw so many different kinds of fish in water that shallow and over sand. I think I counted seven or eight different types, one very small one hiding in a conch shell. For a rainy day, there was a lot of sun in that bay. We toured around for quite a while, looking at all of the sail boats and getting a quick summary of where the fishing boats hang out and who the deep water sailors are.”

 Saw two lizards today, one that looked like a very small crocodile, if crocodiles were vivid green. The other was the length of my thumb joint and almost transparent. It was a bold little guy though and stared right at me before slipping over the porch rail and peeking back with one sceptical eye.”

Thursday January 8th
We are booked to go snorkelling today and I must put one more and thicker sunblock than I did yesterday, as the boat trip around the harbour was very high intensity sun and my arms got a bit over cooked.

We are eating one meal out each day and I am eating a lot of fish; there is a local fish cuisine that is interesting. Wendy had a conch dish last night that she really liked, but it may be difficult to come up with fresh coconut and conch meat in eastern Ontario.

Talking Shop
Mary and Wendy are still talking shop at meals and it is great fun to listen to them. I think they are getting along well. I am enjoying her company too, although it is a bit daunting that she is up and out by 5:30 am climbing the headland to get good sunrise photos.”

The snorkelling was wonderful. We went just outside the harbour with a dive boat that had three novices aboard for their first real dive and the cove beside the harbour is perfect for first dives, starting at about 30’ at the south end and getting to about 45’ at the north end. The floor of the cove is very rough lava with lots of crevices and open spots filled with sand. Beautiful live coral and lots and lots of small fish, with different types in the various mini-climates. The high point for me was the parrot fish that swam within 3’ of my mask and examined me just as carefully as I was examining him.

Friday, January 9th
Today we flew out as far as Barbados and stayed overnight at a hotel/resort on the beach. It was very opulent and we had fun jumping through the surf to swim beyond it, but not so much fun getting ourselves back in, just to see them putting up the red dangerous-swimming flags. Moral, find out what the tide is doing before launching off on an unfamiliar beach.

We introduced Mary V to our brand of cut-throat Scrabble and she did just fine.

And we arrived in Ottawa on schedule, even though the flight from Barbados to Montreal was a bit delayed and we had to do a broken field run through the Montreal airport, led by a young and agile Air Canada employee in three inch heels. Phew.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Not Disposable

I dragged out a sweater this morning that I bought about twenty years ago. It has bleach stains on it and the colour is almost faded entirely, but it is still serviceable and since this morning's job was to sanitize the toilets at our community hall, it seemed to be the appropriate garment.
I save things. I learned this from my mother, who bought the best quality of everything and used it until it was worn to nothing.
What brought this to mind was looking at a towel that I washed and folded yesterday, ready for the YD to come and pick up her animals. She uses this towel to pad the seat the cat is attached to for the trip from here to the city.
I looked at this frayed and worn (but still useful) towel and laughed, because the YD inherited this thing from my mother.

Fifty years ago my mother used it to pad a card table to make a changing table for her grandkids when we visited the grandparents. In June of 2016, this photo will be fifty years old.
And, no, not the YD. Her sister, whom I hope will never see this. Yes, she was hard to persuade to keep still while the diaper went on. Outside the frame of this shot, I am holding on firmly to both her feet.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmas 2015

 I guess we are all running madly about getting ready for the big day(s). I am having an unusually easy time this year since the ED and family are cooking dinner and JG’s and my gift from the family is two nights, Christmas Eve and Christmas day, in a fine hotel in Ottawa where no cooking, cleaning or other holiday-spoiling activity will be expected of me. Then on the 28th the YD and I and a friend of mine are taking off to the Caribbean, the island of Bequia, for ten days. JG will be left behind to tend Wendy’s animals and keep the home fires burning. This is his choice I hasten to add. 

The YD and I did this last January as well, flying off to Hawaii for our time in the sun.  That was somewhat of a guilt trip since, as Ontario denizens may recall, the temperature went way way down and an icy time was had by all but us. We roamed around Big Island in glorious sun and sat on our patio watching the sea and the sun. There was a bit of guilt, but not more than could survive the first cup of Kona coffee. The only sad thing was that Wendy was not able to bike around a live volcano. There was too much sulphur and they closed the trail. Ah well.

After that we had a quiet year. We bought a new car with a fancy on-board computer that I hit with the side of my hand when I am trying to pick up my coffee, causing weird things to happen. Well, I suppose a horse and buggy had drawbacks too.
When an early spring brought everything into bloom at once, I realized that my spring flower bed was massively overgrown. So this fall I dug the whole mess up, with some help from JG, ending up with many hundreds of spare bulbs. Then the grandkid’s school had a bulb sale to fund a year end trip and I ended up with even more. It will be interesting to see what happens in April. And how long it will take my hip joints and knees to recover.

We do enjoy the (sort of) untamed countryside. In May a young bear turned up in the back field and I got a photo. A few days later two of the same size were wandering around just behind the house. We get lots of deer, as we have a feeding station set up (it is the rock outcropping we use that the bear is posing on) and lots of day and night birds.

The YD organized a party to paddle down the Nahanni last summer. They had a good time in spite of having to be airlifted by helicopter past one of the big wildfires. Miss G turned twelve in the spring, got her ears pierced for her birthday and can do a handspring full twist on vault. She created her own Hallowe’en costume, raiding Grama’s sewing stuff to add a few touches, and is in the gifted programme in Grade 7. En français.

I am doing a lot of work at our local community hall, having now been pushed, screaming and kicking, into the job of treasurer as well as secretary. Plus being in charge of getting the mould out of the toilets, making soup from turkey carcasses and baking runny pies. As you know, arithmetic was never something I enjoyed so you can imagine me struggling with a trial balance every month and laugh. 

The other thing I am into is the local town’s initiative to settle three refugee families from Syria by way of the camps. Part of the 25,000 I guess. We have the first family funded and will get them soon and are a good way toward being ready for the second group. I am doing posters and stuff for the fundraising committee.

I am looking out at most unseasonable fog and damp, but looking forward to and wishing you

Merry Christmas
Happy New Year
just the same.

And may someone else deal with your turkey bones!

Monday, 17 August 2015

Water babies

Hot out there and getting hotter. I am appreciating the air conditioning and thinking back to the time fifty years and more gone when there was none, at least where I lived. There was the odd air conditioned store in the late fifties in my home town, but most offices and private homes were at ambient temperature. And in Windsor (Ontario) in August, the ambient temperature was usually in the (pre metric) 90’s. Or more. 

My parents’ two storey brick house would be coolish in the morning, but the heat would increase through the day and by evening the place would be a large brick oven. There was an attic above the bedroom floor with a hatch in the middle of the upstairs hall. My parents had a large fan installed in the hatch and as soon as it started to cool off outside, this fan would be turned on to pull cool air up into the bedrooms. And by 1:00 or 2:00 am, cool air would indeed start to arrive. I recall lying in bed with the bed pulled as close to the window as I could get it, both the bed linens and my body sticky with sweat, waiting for that cool air.

As a young woman I was out in the heat, working as a lifeguard in a pool in suburban Windsor. In weather like today’s we did a half hour rotation, from guard stand (a high seat over the concrete at pool edge), to walking the deck and then, praise be, to half an hour in the much cooler office, checking  swimmers in and out. By 9:00 pm we would be exhausted from the heat and noise and the concentration required to watch for any problems in the mass of heaving children filling the pool. Our only relief was that we (quite illegally) dived off the guard stand into the deep end at the end of the half hour there and got wet enough to survive half an hour walking on the super-heated concrete of the deck. I used to look forward to my days on ‘split shift’ when I worked 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm, missing the worst of the afternoon frying pan effect.

I loved life guarding, however, and it was good money for a student as a summer job. We ran swimming lessons in the morning for children from three to twelve. Afternoons there was the open swim and evenings was ‘family swim’ in theory but mostly drew teenagers in fact. They were hell on wheels to supervise and because I could handle them I drew evening duty a lot. I was the biggest of the female staff and cultivated a reputation as really tough, right up to frog-marching one of the worst offenders out of the pool enclosure in his swim suit and tossing his clothes after him.  (No charges of assault ensued, lucky for me.)

What was the most fun, though, was the little kid lessons. The pool was new and had a very shallow section where most 3 to 5 year olds could stand up and we ran classes every morning in this section for that age group. The women got to teach these classes, mostly, because the littles responded better to women than to most of the men. I had two classes, 9:00 to 9:30 and 9:30 to 10:00 am, mostly of three and four year olds. We didn’t do the pool clean until after these classes so as to keep the water warm and to allow for a lot of pee getting into the water. And mostly what we taught them was pretty simple. How to stand up if they fell, how to put their little faces in the water and, once they were comfortable with that, a face down kick at increasing distances. Some of them were desperately water-shy. I remember carrying one kidlet on my back for most of the week until he finally got enough confidence to step onto my knee and then into the pool.

This is a photograph that the local paper took to go with a story about how little kids could now have lessons if they were more than 36" tall. It is staged, of course, and shows me measuring some of my class with a yardstick. I think I was 19 at the time.

I have a fond memory of introducing my own daughters to swimming. The ED was 2+, the YD 13 months old. ED spent most of the session with her back pressed against the fence around the pool, shivering. I took YD into the pool, lowered her into the water on her stomach with my hand under her chest, and she dog paddled off my hand toward a friend who had her kids in the water as well. I walked along with her, hands poised to grab if she went under, and she got quite a way before she got tired enough to stop. However, both girls had mandatory swimming lessons as soon as they were old enough to qualify, around age four and five. I leaned on the ED to keep going until she had at least an intermediate certificate and drown proofing. The YD became, in her turn, a lifeguard and instructor and has loved boats and water all her life so far. I have always understood why the ED did not enjoy swimming. She was a slim ectomorph with low body fat and always freezing cold in even temperate water. But I note with amusement that Miss G, her equally chronically cold daughter, has had regular swimming lessons from an early age.

I suspect that even Miss G would take to the water today.