The word of the day is foss

We wake without sleep, the snoring around us disturbing our slumber. I nudge John repeatedly throughout the night only to discover in the morning, the snoring was not him. My white noise works without respite. I eagerly pack to leave this place certain that the next place will be better.

We begin the familiar queuing for the bathroom then pack our belongings. I remember to keep my charging cord available. We board a new bus, our bus taken in the night for another group. This one lacks both the latte button and the USB ports, my cord rendered useless and my phone desperately needing a charge from last nights white noise serenade. I take a deep breath determined to have a great day.

Eric tells us the word of the day is foss and it means waterfall. We traverse the path covered just a few days before. We find a couple with a standard car trapped in the water and sinking with each spin of the tires. We implore Eric to stop and help. He does though there is nothing he can do. The car destroyed and the young couple face thousands of dollars in costs for abusing their rental car and the hubris of youth. We are thankful for our transport.

We stop at a familiar waterfall we visited with our friends just a few days prior. We cooled our heels waiting for them, then listened to what we missed in detail. We are thankful for a chance to see what was missed. It’s a good trek though we speed walk through, then take the photos one after another until satiated, then speed walk back.

We arrive back at the vehicle late the last to arrive, sheepishly we make our way to our seat and apologize for making everyone wait. We are determined to set our watches going forward though now understand why we waited the first time around. Our new found perspective provides compassion albeit late. We set off for the next fall as I scan the pictures taken.


Temper your Enthusiasm

We arrive at our lodging for the night, a motel type affair in the highlands. We are advised that we will be two to a room. We are fine with this as we always share a room.   We secure our key, find our room and take a deep breath. John opens the door to a dormitory type affair, two single beds and not much else.  Still, it will only be us tonight.  I’m giddy with the thought of finally getting some sleep.

Single showers and bathrooms are just down the hall though privacy is possible.  We have brought a pack towel, a washcloth sized affair which makes drying ourselves a lengthy venture. Perhaps if we were the size of a small cat this would be more effective?  John speaks to the front desk and learns that we can have towels, bedding and slippers for $50.00 USD each.  We ask if it is possible to get just the towels for a reduced rate.  We are told that this is not possible, it is all or nothing.  It seems extravagant and I tell John my thoughts.  He is adamant and draws his line in the sand, dying on the hill that includes a towel. I relent and we pay the fleecing rate of $100.00 for two thin towels, housecoats, scratchy duvets and nail salon slippers.  The slippers we are told are ours to keep. How exciting, I cattily whisper to John. Still, I decide I will take them home. Normally, I wouldn’t give slippers such as these a second thought, but they are likely the most expensive slippers I’ve ever owned and will serve as a reminder to this extravagance.

We treat ourselves to a hollywood shower and luxuriate in the hot spray.  It is a treat I decide. It is not worth the cost we paid, though at this moment while I dry off and slip into the robe and don the slippers, the experience is a bargain at twice the price. My frugal self tries to justify by deciding it will be our souvenir of Iceland and imagine peppering future conversations with this firm example of the expense of Iceland. The true gift is a reminder of how we take simple things such as these for granted at home and a reminder to be thankful. Money well spent I conclude.

We enter the dining room and discover that a special dinner has been prepared for our group tonight.  It is a sit down meal  and features wine and a variety of courses. The entree is lamb and I quietly advise the waitress that I will be happy with the soup, salad and bread.  She asks if I like fish, I state that I do and shortly a beautiful salmon dinner arrives for me.  This was so unexpected, though such a wonderful treat.

Kommi tells us that tomorrow we will be going deep into South Iceland to a very special place.  He advises us to lower our expectations. He tells us that Icelandic children are taught to have low expectations and are fed a diet of folklore stories passed from generation to generation. The stories reflect the harsh natural environment that Icelanders face and serve to teach their children how to live in an unforgiving wilderness. The children learn through the stories to respect both the spirits of the land, and the natural environment, where earthquakes, volcanos, and extreme weather conditions constantly pose a very real and tangible threat. 

This is so different from my childhood experience, where around every corner something wonderful was about to happen.  I still live like this, well most days, the eternal optimist.

I wonder about the accommodations tomorrow that would have Kommi telling us this tonight.  I decide that we will be surprised with something truly amazing and surely he must be kidding with his grim talk.

Kommi tells us a bedtime story to drive home his point of low expectations. Everyone dies, there is no Disney Prince swooping in at the last moment but rather the last bit of hope by the hero ends with him killing anyone left. Makes me wonder how the story could be told with no one left standing. Reminiscent of Grimms fairy tale we are left unsettled.

John and I enjoy our glass of wine and retire to our room.  It is nice to have privacy as we chat about our amazing day.  No sleeping bags for us tonight as we snuggle down deep. We decide sheets are a welcome change and we don’t miss the added exercise of getting into and out of the bag. Settled we listen to the quiet, though a few moments later, John begins to snore, making up for lost time when he was kept awake from everyone else snoring. My silence shattered, I sigh and turn on the white noise.


We are now 15 months into the pandemic, the world totals for infected people and deaths continue to rise. In some parts of the world at an alarming rate, in other parts, slowing to a trickle. The news includes vaccinated persons, ticking upwards, each shot in the arm we move closer to reopening and resuming lives that have been paused.

The vaccinated numbers are encouraging, greater than 60% in our province. The second doses for many are scheduled and a plan in place for the remainder. I’ve been vaccinated since January waiting to resume my life until the masses are vaccinated. Hope is coming and I can see the light where once there was only dark.

Folks who spent the pandemic flouting restrictions, marching for freedom from masks, and against anything and everything have recently lost their soap box and with this their funding for clicks. It’s encouraging to see the rules do apply as fines and jail time have been imposed. We are thankfully leaving this behind.

The three stage plan from the government hinges on enough people being vaccinated. Each outlined step, detailing increasing freedoms and a return to normalcy. My eye is focused on the final step where masks are no longer required, lines are not necessary, gatherings are not restricted and finally we can open our home to vaccinated family and friends and hug and hold each other. What an epic gathering this will be, as we begin the process of healing and talk long into the night about all we have done to get to this day.

Our hospitals have just finished battling the third wave. I worry about the staff, morale and whether many will decide that there are easier ways to make a living when this is over. It has been such a long road. In hospitals now, the vast majority of patients have never been vaccinated. These patients, now are grappling with the consequences of their choices.

As I think of my daily tasks, the minor list seems daunting. We have adjusted to this new way of life and now the end to the pandemic that we have waited so long is overwhelming. We wonder how we ever did so much in a day? Will we ever be comfortable with a crammed schedule, endless errands and just getting dressed? We will adjust, the resiliency of the human race has proven this over millennia, of this I am certain.

There will be much time for reflection. How did this happen? What could we have done differently? Why did some people try to do all they could to help, while others’ used the time to protest? There will be books and movies on the subject. There will be much finger pointing. We will learn as we approach the days after tentatively knowing this could all happen again if we choose to ignore our own history. Having lived through this time I will be content to take a break from the news for awhile.

My husband and I have a bottle of champagne waiting until he is fully vaccinated. It has been chilling in the fridge since New Years Eve. It seems fitting that we celebrate this milestone together. John, my pandemic partner. We have relied so much on each other, reading the news together, listening to the daily updates, going to work, nervous we would bring the virus home to the person we care about so very much. We have propped each other when needed, and have hugged, danced, laughed and cried together. We are stronger as a couple and choose to be thankful for this gift we have received. The champagne will taste so sweet.


We are now at 135 million cases and nearly 3 million deaths worldwide. The numbers may not be accurate, as in some parts of the world cases are under reported. Perhaps, in some cases over reported? Still the numbers are staggering. If we take into consideration, and we were able to see the world without covid and with covid simultaneously, the death numbers would be much higher with covid, as healthcare worldwide is slammed and many treatable illness in better times are not treated adding to the tally.

Mental illness is at an all time high. The isolation of the last year adds to the death toll. These are facts.

Mask debates, freedom, rights are constantly in the news as folks change the narrative to suit their own personal agenda. Provocative posts have us responding whether we use words to try to educate or not. Many times we scroll by though are upset as we muddle through our day. Do people really know the damage they cause or do they even care? When did we stop caring about each other?

Vaccine rollouts are in a race against covid, the variants taking hold and winning making all of us more vulnerable. How protected are we? Hopefully, we will be spared from more severe outcomes, hopefully we will not die.

Nursing homes are more protected now as the majority of seniors have been inoculated. We no longer have widespread outbreaks. It’s working. At the beginning of the pandemic, the residents not allowed or able to go anywhere were sitting ducks, while staff made excuses for their trips or gathering with friends bringing covid into the Senior’s home. The Residents with no escape were vessels for their selfish choices.

Our province has locked us down again, though the numbers soar and soon will overwhelm our hospitals. People will die, people will become infected, people will be long haulers. Still people make their case for their choices. It’s a conspiracy, it’s not real, masks don’t work. I wonder about those naysayers and what happens when they get sick, or someone they love. Do they apologize, change their tune, or just carry on as planned?

Money has been given from both the federal and provincial government. The amounts staggering. I wonder how many nay sayers refuse the money, take a stand on social media? I’ve never heard of one. It does appear as though their line in the sand is fluid. Their firm stance, not so firm at all.

We have learned that masks help. The last time I had a respiratory issue was December 2019. There was no seasonal flu last year. People washed their hands and for the majority their cough was covered. They stayed home when ill and didn’t spread their illness to others.’ Who knew we did not have to get sick every year?

We should all be wearing n95 masks and goggles for best protection, but there is not enough. Some folks get on that bandwagon and blame the government, though the reality is most can’t don and doff or wear a surgical mask appropriately. I do not have faith we could move people to the next level, given an unlimited supply of n95 and goggles.

Some folks say that they can’t isolate at home as they can’t afford to be off work. This has my head shaking. It’s okay to infect someone, have them die? How much is a human life worth? For some it would seem not much. I wonder when they look at themselves in the mirror do they like who they see?

There are many countries in the world where masks are not mandatory, where everything is open. There is no universal healthcare, where care is bought with cash. Where there is no financial net. Perhaps naysayers, freedom fighters would be better served in those countries, as those countries rules or lack thereof are more in line with their way of thinking? Yet, there is no mass exodus. The plan instead to bend the will of a developed country and to alter the rules to suit their own agenda.

Some of us have made hard choices this past year, given up things, though we are tired and losing hope. Will this ever end? What does the end look like. Many now have whittled their friend list, as it’s exhausting to have a daily dose of vitriol. When this is over we will need to recover both financially and emotionally as a country, as a people, as a world.

I wish that when folks spewed off their thoughts that they first qualified it with how they come to know what they do? For instance if they prefaced their words with their qualifications, “I have minimal education, no science background, but here is what I know.” Perhaps the weight of their words would flutter away?

I’m fortunate, I work with educated people , Respiratory Therapists, Respirologists, physicians, Nurses, folks with science degrees. I work in a hospital, physician offices and have a daily dose of what is true. I have my own education as a Respiratory Therapist and know how to read data, stats, peer reviewed papers. I see people with Covid, suffering from the long term effects of covid and counsel people separated from their family members who are in hospital. My information is real, this is real. Wake up people.

For some folks covid is only real when it is them. Some will extend to folks they know. If one person changes their mind to the reality, there is a ripple effect and maybe just maybe the life you save might be your own or if you care someone you love?

Since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve carried with me family, friends and patients who likely would have a worse outcome. They have been in my prayers, my thoughts. I’ve said goodbye to some of them. I have been there for the people they have left behind. The vaccine is rolling out and one by one I’ve been able to set them down as their turn arrived and they thankfully, gladly took the shot. They may still get covid though they are likely protected from the worse outcomes. My load is lighter.

Vaccines offer our only hope. Our one chance to end our current reality and go back to our lives before, changed for certain. A chance to travel, stop wearing masks, to hug one another. I look forward to that day. In my minds eye I see the party we will host for our friends and family, our home open, our arms open as we envelope them and rejoice that we made it. Each knowing individually and collectively we did what was necessary to get to this day.

100 million

We are now 10 months into the pandemic and the numbers continue to rise worldwide. In August we had 19 million cases, today we have over 100 million cases and just over 2 million deaths. The numbers are staggering and difficult to wrap our heads around. In perspective, the number of cases represent nearly three times the population of Canada. The death number, the entire population of both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The vaccine has arrived though the roll out is slow. There is not enough to go around. The scarcity has each province prioritizing who gets the vaccine. There are two doses needed so more people are vaccinated leaving a shortage for the second dose which may not arrive in time. This is stressful for many and adds to anxiety that is at an all time high worldwide.

I’m fortunate having received both doses though feel guilty for the gift and wish everyone who wanted had the same opportunity. I have made myself available as a Respiratory Therapist to be useful, to give back for the gift I received.

I have been deployed and in a full circle moment find myself working in a hospital where I received my education over 30 years ago. Never did I imagine I would return to hospital work. I hope I can be helpful, not get in the way, be a burden. My new coworkers are a mix of people I’ve known forever and people I helped train. We share stories of back in the day. The first few shifts completed I am encouraged that perhaps I can be useful?

At the beginning of the pandemic our borders were closed. Canadians tried to find their way home and many waited for Canada to save them to bring them safely home. The borders have never fully opened and yet folks continue to travel for a variety of excuses. This is not the time for a holiday as many unwittingly bring the mutated strains of the virus home with them. We are not certain if the current vaccines will be able to cover the new strains. It is a full circle moment where the first cases were linked to air travel though soon became community spread. Have we learned nothing?

Our politicians enjoyed their warm destinations though they were not alone as the flights were full of Canadians who fled the winter and enjoyed sunning themselves on a beach. As we packed up our Christmas tree and decorations that only we enjoyed and that were up for over a month to bring some light into the dark, we became angry at the selfishness of people. Although we did not need the government to tell us the right thing to do, it appears as though many, including the government needed the government to tell them what is the right thing to do in a pandemic. The irony is not lost on us.

Christmas has come and gone. The weather has turned colder and we stare out the windows at the bleakness of winter. We have sacrificed so much, though it appears as though some people have sacrificed nothing as the numbers continue to rise. Our next family holiday, Easter though we have no joy in our hearts as nothing has changed and the cheerful events we have enjoyed in years past will likely be cancelled for the second year in a row.

The conspiracy theories continue though most are ignored. This approach is best as we scroll on by. It appears as though they have joined a cult as they tote out the same words and lines. My compassionate self feels sad for them and hope that they gain clarity and understanding someday. I hope that more are not dragged into their vortex causing more damage. Time will tell.

Our government may impose more stringent rules regarding air travel and perhaps people need the government to dictate their lives and tell them what to do. It will be predictable as this opens the opportunity for people to protest and march and vent their anger as they adjust to the rules that the majority of us have been following since the beginning. The simple truth remains, all we can do, is all we have been able to do since the beginning, do our part, help where we can, not be a burden, wash our hands, wear our masks and limit our contact with people. For the love of God, do your part, hold the line.

Silver linings

There are many ways to approach the pandemic. The news bombards us daily with divisive headlines, mask debate, school debate, political debate, riots and protests. It seems as though the world has lost its moral compass as everyone struggles to find center ground again. People blame the government, their neighbours, strangers, finger pointing is rampant and yet none of this changes the very simple fact. COVID-19 has hunkered down and will be with us for awhile. Of course there are debates on how long that will be, the headlines today suggest the “cure” is just around the corner, or that it is all a hoax, somewhere therein lies the truth, though the water is muddied by the volume of “news”, the message lost.

We watch the headlines as the numbers of people infected nears 19 million, the death toll remains high, people queue to be tested, still others are off on a holiday and a chance to feel normal again, though soon find that COVID-19 is everywhere and reminds us that the holiday we yearn for is not the same, the masks a constant reminder that we have changed nothing, just the locale.

People struggle with masks, some say that they cannot wear them for health reasons, though this seems at odds with the reality. Some wear them beneath their nose, under their chin, on top of their head and we shake our heads. I learned how to properly don and doff PPE over 30 years ago. I remember back to the beginning of my education and how many errors I made while learning. Compassion and education is needed, gentle reminders, perhaps even videos while we queue in line? There are so many opportunities beyond laughing and shaming. We laugh at folks who wear them in their cars and yet perhaps they have many errands to run and wearing the same mask helps to conserve? We must not judge especially when we do not have all the facts. The lesson is compassion for our fellow man if we choose to listen.

We have hunkered down at home and life has returned to my youth, a slower pace. We have less desire to keep up with the Jones’s and more need to find joy in simpler things. We finally get to the list of projects around the house. We build and develop our own yard to create our in house holiday destination. No masks, no social distancing needed and no reminders that the world is in turmoil. We have not distanced ourselves from the news, though spend less time reading the political spin. Our days consist of going to work and then coming home, no stops required. We buy what we need and no more. We no longer browse and buy for the sake of buying and are happier and richer for the change.

We have backyard BBQ’s though the guest list is limited to a couple at a time, the night rich with laughter, talking and listening and really spending time with each other. How different from previous parties where we scarcely had time to say hello to our guests before we were saying good-bye. The mountain of dishes waiting to remind ourselves that we had a good time.

We see facebook updates where people have chosen as their holiday destination remote areas where they hike, bike and swim. How different from previous where a drink on the beach was the preferred photo post. How amazing to see our own Alberta backyard and appreciate all we have without constantly striving for what we believe must be greener grass on the other side.

We read labels and try to buy local when we can. We no longer strive for exotic goods instead are content to support businesses who struggle under the mounting cost of PPE, cleaning supplies, reduced staff and reduced hours. We want them to remain viable and are loyal. We shop at farmers markets, the taste reminding us of our youth, when a raspberry tasted like a raspberry. We planted our garden and now enjoy pea pods, kale and spinach The sweet taste of a warm tomato just off the vine says summer to us. We sit on the porch with our popsicles and savor the simple pleasure of this iced treat.

We grow our own mint and perfect the mojito, the price much less than the cost at a restaurant without the risk.

We talk more with each other, our relationships key. We have learned to live in the moment and then the next. We look for the silver linings that this virus has forced us to learn and although we wish for the world we once had, we are cautiously optimistic for the future. The silver lining is always there if we choose to look and on this subject we still have choice.

7.8 Billion stories

At the beginning of the pandemic, glued to the news reports, stunned silent by the changing world.  We watched with horror as the number of cases and dead ticked upwards.  There was no time for the political spin, the data raw, truth, while the words not spoken shouted, “what next?”  Our answer, we don’t know and our anxiety notched up.

Stores shuttered, the world’s population on lock down, shaking our heads as we wrapped  around the reality that this was the entire world, the entire world.  We stand in lines yawning into oblivion, patiently learning the new way of the world, apart, though together in our quest for hand sanitizer, food, toilet paper, human contact.

As essential workers, we dressed, showered and went to our places of work constantly aware of touch surfaces. Was it yesterday that we touched seemingly everything without a care?  Our hands raw from sanitizer though wondering is it really enough to ward off our unseen foe?  We worried at ever turn that we were exposed, exposed someone else.  The virus, invisible, though lurking at every corner.  We longed to be home.  Outside my office window, the world had stopped.  The normally busy avenue reduced to a couple of cars.

We imagined the non essential workers at home, safe, though with more time to spend looking at the news, paralyzing themselves with fear. Every day the fear of the marketplace stronger, worried if they would have a job again one day and then trying to live on the government money offered and wondering when that money would end.

We watched with horror as our Prime Minister gave away daily our children’s children’s money and wondered how the future would look?  How we would pay it back?  How many generations would bear the burden?  We think about people in developing countries with no money from the government, their income stopped, how would they survive?

The news our lifeline, “What is happening in Italy?”  “USA?” “Europe?”  Blindsided as we were by the beginning, we didn’t want to be caught unaware and so devoured everything on the pandemic.  Would we ever travel again? We watched with terror our hard earned investments tumble, making us poorer, the future uncertain and the thought of any travel unlikely.  Our borders closed, our thoughts turned to Canadians trying to make it home without success, stranded on cruise ships bobbing along in the ocean without a safe port.

The stores we used to frequent not available, restaurants offering groceries for sale, we sometimes took the risk though were left with the fear that in our quest for normalcy we exposed ourselves, exposed others.

With every sneeze, cough, sore throat we wondered if we had the disease, if our affairs were in order.  We wondered if we did get the virus, would our life be spared, would the people we loved be spared?  How many of us would be alive at the end?  When was the end?

We baked and cooked more, bread, cookies, sweet treats and indulgent dinners laden with cheese, fat, and carbs, while our waistlines expanded.  Exercise videos and new gym equipment had us thinking we would emerge better, healthier people, then quickly tossed aside as our thoughts were crowded about whether we would ever have our lives back as they were, then wondering if we really wanted all the parts of our former lives, then eating more bread and comforting ourselves again.

Our hair grew, our roots exposed, we took to cutting and colouring our own hair sometimes with disastrous results.  Our best results we shared on social media.  The worst hidden for now in the cocoon of our homes.

We communicated online with photos of us in happier times, family photos, vacation photos, graduation photos from before and memes where we would find the humour in the situation.  Most days it was a reminder of what we had lost.

We imagined harried parents of school aged children, setting up zoom meetings for their kids, teaching without training and trying in the face of fear to shield their children from a world of no touch, uncertainty,  while wondering if they could pay their bills, would they lose their homes?

We thought about the young adults that would graduate this year without celebration.  Their friends so important at this time of their lives, reduced to face time and facebook updates while they sheltered with their parents, their planned summer jobs on hold, the future uncertain.  This was likely not how they imagined this milestone year.

We thought about couples who planned for a wedding in 2020 and how those dreams ended overnight, postponed until next year without a certainty that next year will be any different.  We think about couples that married anyway in small ceremonies without their grandparents, friends and families to witness.

We wondered about people who are homeless throughout the world and how sheltering in place is not an option.  People whose homes are abusive and staying home means more time for abuse without end.  We thought of marriages that were barely hanging by a thread unravel completely, the first order of business, divorce.

We imagined life in nursing homes, with no checks and balances, their occupants wondering if they truly had been forgotten. The disease ravaged through, the death toll ticked upwards.  People who had forgotten many things, and soon would forget the people that they loved, the window closing.  We brought flowers and chocolates and glimpsed them through a window, our heart full, our fears allayed, for a brief moment, though wanting more and leaving sadder wondering if we would ever hug them again? Would they know us if we did?

We thought about people admitted to hospitals alone, then dying alone all across the globe though especially where the disease had a stronghold, their final breaths not witnessed, their last moments fearful as they left this world unlike they came into it, alone.

We thought of the funerals, the loved ones left without comfort while they grieved, standing at the grave site and then going back home to be alone in their grief.

We thought of the many developing countries we had visited and with growing understanding realized their fate much worse than ours, bodies stacked in the street, healthcare non existent, dignity gone, while the disease devastated.

We watched movies and recoiled as we saw on the screen, groups of people and were fearful for them until we chided ourselves, its just a movie from before the virus, social distancing was not needed.  How quickly we had changed.

We hear, “the new normal,” though know that this is not normal.  We are unwilling to accept this as our way of life.  Normal will only be when this is over we decide, though we are unable to see through the labyrinth of possibilities as to how this will end or when.

We hear about how a vaccine is just around the corner and though we wish we had the naivety to believe just for a moment, we know that this is not the case.  The narrative created to provide us with false hope, though hope all the same.

We watch people using masks incorrectly, wear them in their cars, stores, and hate the masks and what they represent. The gloves drive us crazy as they and their mask counterparts are littered in parking lots. The rules in the stores change, the plexiglas screens go up, the arrows tell us which way to walk.  We forget something, try to back up, but its no use, we walk to the end of the aisle, then to the next aisle, then back again, where we again forget the item and abandon the idea completely.  The store shelves bare and we panic wondering if we too should be buying up the place, our rational selves take over and we walk on, though hesitate and wonder if we should walk back.

The lock down is lifting. I travel to work, my commute longer, the parking lot crowded.   I travel in the elevator with another passenger, the first in many weeks, we avoid conversation.  I expertly use my knuckle to press the button, avoid touching my face and then use hand sanitizer once I leave the elevator.  Outside my office window,  traffic accidents, sirens and the cacophony of sounds from a bustling world are heard.  Traffic snakes and slows through road construction, tempers flare.   The silence is missed.  My coworkers and I discuss our plans for the evening, the week-end, our options greater, something to look forward, to not take for granted. The myriad of choices yawn though we choose the safety of home.  The virus remains, our present normalcy could end abruptly just as it began, or it could change into something worse. Still,  I shall hang onto the words of a good friend who said at the beginning of the pandemic, “happy days will return.”  We can still hope.



The Golden Circle, Iceland

We reluctantly leave paradise discovered for our return trek to Reykjavik.  John and I decide we would have liked several days in Landmannalauger to further explore this unique landscape. Sadly the decision is not ours and we reluctantly board the vehicle.

We bump along the lava highway and gradually return to civilization.  Today we will see the Golden circle.  It is what most people see when they layover in Iceland for a day or two.  It is easy to find and follows a predictable route. The roads are tame, though glutted with tourists.

Each stop is surrounded by gift shops selling their wares for prices that are not fathomable.  We browse, not to buy but to win the game of finding the most expensive/least valued item. The quality is excellent though the stickers leaves us shocked.

We stand in a circle around a large geyser then snap pictures along with the rest of the crowd.   Predictable oohs and awes surround.  We quickly bore of this and try to get away from the throngs in search of something unique, though everywhere we go, more people follow.  We see beautiful waterfalls, though the crowds make pictures difficult.



We decide there isn’t much to see though we have a generous amount of time to kill.  We peruse the menu of offerings each more expensive than the other.  We decide to have a coffee and a cup of soup and pay $45.00 for this luxury.  The soup is good, the coffee good, though we shake our heads at the cost, savouring every bite and every sip.

We have signed up for a caving experience through a lava tube and have the opportunity to walk the way the lava once flowed.  Others in our group have opted for a snorkelling experience and still others decide to explore on their own.

We don our hard hats and turn our lights on, careful to not look directly at one another with our blinding beams. Kommi leads the way. I stay close behind to hear all the highlights. The footing is tricky and twisting an ankle is a real possibility.

We arrive at a spot and wait for the group to catch up. Kommi notices a boulder perched precariously and encourages quick movement through. The stragglers, oblivious to the danger continue their leisurely pace, taking photos and enjoying the experience without the knowledge.  At this moment it occurs to me that walking through a lava tube is quite dangerous and perhaps a foolish risk. I’m reminded that Iceland is an active volcano and begin to assess the danger,  a little late.  I conclude safety would have me on terra firma above.   There is only one way out and I don’t know the way.   I decide to put one foot in front of the other, and not think.  My feet are on their own as I cannot see them, though feel the uneven ground with the soles of my feet. Each step has careful consideration before its execution.  Kommi asks which way we should go, as we stand at a fork.  I point one way, though am wrong. I think of how terrifying it would be if I were alone searching for a way out.  Panic would reign supreme I decide. My main goal is to shadow Kommi for safety, slow my breathing and not make a spectacle of myself.

We stop and wait for the rest of our group. Kommi has us find a spot to sit. I look over at John and smile, he looks stressed and grimaces in response. I’m puzzled then it occurs to me I’m seeing fear in John for the first time. If John is scared then I’m panicked.   Kommi then has us shut off our lights and we plunge into darkness. I close my eyes slow my breathing and settle myself reminding myself that soon we will leave the earth and the feeling of being buried alive for light.

The exit eventually arrives and we crawl out of the earth and stand on solid ground. John is rattled. We discuss the experience and decide this lava tube is both our first and last and we mentally tick off the experience from our virtual list.

We arrive back in Reykjavik. Predictably, the place looks like different, though I know it is the same.  We have changed for the richness of our experience

Downtown Reykjavik

We wake early and collectively clean the Airbnb rental, our many hands make the work light.  The property looks better than found and we are pleased to leave this representation of who we are as people.

We venture to downtown Reykjavik, its a small area, though in comparison to the suburbs where we have been staying, its a busy, happening place.

Chaos reigns at the Foss hotel as we arrive en-mass with our too large luggage and too  many questions.  The hotel staff are patient and kind, calmly addressing our concerns and answering our questions.

We opt out of the city tour, culling ourselves from the herd and opt in for time together.  We are giddy with the knowledge that we can explore the city, lingering as desired or speed through the boring bits in favour of what is around the next bend.

We are drawn to the water and happen on the Reykjavik version of, “sealed.”  This is where lovers seal their love with a lock.  The scarcity of locks have it looking like twelve people lost access in stark contrast to Amsterdam where masses  of locks declare love abounds.


We find a beautiful, octagonal building and join the crowd taking photos of this artistic building, from every angle.  We browse the high priced, tchotkes and the prices decide we are not in a buying mood.


We amble in and out of shops, browsing.   I choose a too pricey Icelandic pony Christmas  ornament and hand  it quickly over to John to pay before I change my mind.  John is fascinated with the Christmas story of the Elves and we buy a copy for our grandchildren.  It is always fascinating how different cultures celebrate Christmas.  There does seem to exist a commonality in that the traditions all seem to be designed to keep children in line.

We decide to visit the Mariner Museum, John is excited to see ships and artifacts from long ago. We pay our fee, the self directed tour begins in the gift store, odd as it usually ends thus.  We set off.


Quickly we learn the museum is dedicated to the fishing industry, interesting, though not interested we glance at the items in glass cases and try to get into the tour by listening to the audio.  We both put on a brave face, moving through the museum quickly.  We eye the fish skin shoes and boots, perhaps they have gone too far, I decide.


The tour ends and we spill out into a restaurant.  We quickly  try to find another way out, we are trapped, the only way out is through. We decide the cost will  break our budget, though wait,   I hear only Icelandic voices and spy a buffet of fish, vegetables–a complete meal. We inquire as to the cost and are surprised by the reasonable price.  The food is excellent, made in small batches and features an array of fish cooked perfectly tender.  We high five our good fortune and pronounce the Mariner’s Museum a highlight of our self directed tour as we sit back and eat like locals.

South Iceland

We wake early with a plan. Our group of eight is a well oiled machine, eating, showering and tidying in shifts. I save time by not coaxing the finicky fancy coffee maker for a beverage. It mocks me, I avoid eye contact and drink out of the community carafe and enjoy my morning skyr.

We venture to a waterfall where we have the opportunity to walk behind the falls. The ground slick with rocks and mud, every step is calculated. It’s a busy, happening place where  long lines snake the route. We stop for photos, jumping out of line then continue nose to tail through the predetermined route.

We finish then patiently wait for our friends as we sip a $10 coffee. We troll the gift store, a kings ransom for nearly nothing. Our new game is to find the most overpriced item. A hat wins, $90.00, it’s nice though not worth the amount.

After a delay our friends arrive. They have ventured to two other falls while we cooled our heels. We are annoyed and I voice our displeasure. We decide on future time limits to keep us all on track.

We set off for the ocean and black sand beach with its amazing cliffs and caves flanking the sides. We have read about sneaker waves and John and I take photos solo while the other is charged with vigilantly watching . The ocean is powerful though some people didn’t get the memo as they climb the rock structures away from land. Its always interesting how people foolishly think there is always a net for them.

We listen to the pounding of the waves, mesmerized. The timing of the waves becomes predictable as we set up our next photo learning to watch the water and soon learning to notice the build of waves before they crash on land.

I look for seaglass though am not rewarded. I suspect it’s there though closer to where the waves break.  I would need to risk life and limb for pretty garbage and decide its not worth the risk, though I spend some time wondering if its possible.

We leave after our predetermined time to our next destination where our car navigates a twisty road. It has no shoulders and barely enough room for two complete with steep drops off on either side. At times we shift forward in our seats urging our little car that it can.

The view is worth the effort as we happily snap photos before beginning the journey down

We arrive in Vik, a small quaint town surrounded by jaw dropping landscapes and spy the sea just beyond. The restaurant, Sudur Vik is predicatably expensive like all food in Iceland. We have had several days to get used to the money we will spend on this lunch.

I open the menu and as always have sticker shock. I have the money, though can’t spend $45.00 for chicken opting instead for a couple appetizers a bargain when compared. John asks if I want wine. I point to the price, he orders me a glass anyway, perhaps I need it I decide. The food is fantastic, though I suspect the high price influences our taste buds.

We leave, tour the town and find a gift store where the prices shock us anew. I buy a small book on Icelandic horses telling myself I deserve this luxury due to my frugality at lunch

We begin the journey back to Reykjavík. Gilles keeps an eye out for Icelandic ponies and I’m touched. We pass many ponies, not enough, too far away. I’m disappointed though not destroyed as I scroll through the beautiful pics I already have on my phone and leaf through my beautiful pony book.

We round a bend and a field of ponies awaits complete with a rainbow, there is something for everyone. Our small group is patient while I snap pictures, pet and shake my head in disbelief as the light intensifies, the ponies appearing golden.  I feed them grass for their efforts.

We leave a crowd behind us who have stopped to spend time with the ponies and return to Reykjavík satiated with all we have seen.

Leaving Amsterdam, hello Iceland

We wake early and begin the process of packing.  I’m always surprised that eventually it all gets into the bags though at the outset it seems like a tall order.  I look over and see John sweating as he forces his kit bag shut, then point to my hiking boots and asks him if he has room.  He looks at me incredulous, smartly says nothing and begins the process anew.

Marieke and Nelda have prepared coffee and breakfast for our last morning and will drive us to the airport.  We are thankful for all that they have done to create a perfect trip to the Netherlands.  We hope that one day we will be able to create a memorable time for them in our country.  It was a leap of faith for them to open their home to us, not knowing much about us save for our wedding photo circulated through the family and a few anecdotal stories about John along with memories of his last visit 20 years previous.  From the first night our fears and hopefully theirs were put to rest as we were talking and laughing as if we had known one another forever.

We haul our too large bags to the elevator and then into their car.  An elderly gentleman rides the elevator with us, then hops on his bike and zips out of the parking lot.  John and I look at each other and shake our heads at a sight that we will likely not see for some time.

We arrive at the airport expecting to be dropped at the entrance, instead we are escorted to the correct airline.  We are touched at this extra effort to ensure that we will not waste time twirling around.  It is time to say good-bye.  Thank you at moments like this always seem inadequate, good-byes sad.  We will miss them a great deal.


My bag is overweight, though the lovely girl says she does not notice as she slaps a heavy sticker on its side.  Security has me standing on a podium as I am searched for nothing.  John says its because I look shifty as he clears security without a second look.

Our next stop is Iceland and we are excited about this next experience. We will enjoy the first few days with 6 of our friends.  We sit back, relax and smile at the faux northern lights display on Icelandair.

Family Amsterdam

We leave the Van Gogh museum and are shocked to discover that we have spent nearly six hours. Our plans for a return to the Rijksmuseum dashed, we venture to the boats where we can enjoy a canal tour.

The tour is relaxing, we sit back to listen to a history of Amsterdam through our head phones.  The homes are stately, the ground shifting beneath them has my carpenter husband constantly tilting his head to make them square.



We complete the tour, find the metro station, and wait for the wrong train.  We have learned as John questions our choice, asks a helpful young lady and soon we are on the right train zipping to Nelda and Marieke’s home.

We have been invited for dinner at Aunt Emmy’s home in Zaandam, just north of Amsterdam.  It is a perfect ending to our trip to the Netherlands.  Aunt Emmy visited us in Canada a few years previous and sparked our desire to visit the Netherlands, it is a full circle moment.  Marieke and Nelda have bought sunflowers as a hostess gift, fitting after our day at the Van Gogh museum.

We arrive to Emmy’s bright, cheerful home and are treated to a tour of her cozy home.  She has prepared a wonderful dinner for us.  We begin with avocado and tuna as a mousse and enjoy with lettuce.  The main course, “gourmetten”  has us interactively cooking our own fish and vegetables in small pans at the dinner table.  It is a sociable, relaxed experience.  The food is to our taste as we cook it ourselves adding condiments and spices as desired. This method of cooking is popular at Christmas in the Netherlands, a cozy, family experience  and we are touched that Aunt Emmy has gone to all this trouble for us.

After dinner we enjoy coffee and look at photo albums.  The photo albums have been lovingly created and are shared with all family members by a rotation schedule.  John enjoys seeing photos from the times that he visited the Netherlands as a child and young man and seeing photos of his Dad as a young man. We hear stories about John’s late father and learn more about him.  John finds it interesting to hear a different perspective  about the father he knew and loved and the people who loved him.

emmy home

The hours zip by, night has fallen as we begin the journey back to Amsterdam. We speak about the amazing trip that we have enjoyed, all the things that we did, our desire to come back, our hope that many family members will visit us in Canada.  We have been here for only 8 days, though it seems like months as each day filled with family, experiences and love.  We are truly blessed.

Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam

Too soon it is our last full day in Amsterdam.  We have created a large agenda and set out  early.  We have booked a time slot at the Van Gogh museum, a trip back  to the Rijksmuseum, a canal tour and will finish as dinner guests at Aunt Emmy’s home.

We take the tram to the museum square, arrive early and use the time to chill.  There is no need to queue as we will all be gained entry at the same time.

The museum is dedicated to the work of  Vincent Van Gogh and his contemporaries.  We embark on a journey through his career, his unravelling and untimely death.

Van Gogh’s early work is quite dark and at odds with what is typically known as his style. “The Potato Eaters,” a darkly coloured painting depicts its subjects as caricatures.  Van Gogh received harsh criticism for this work, listened and changed his style dramatically.  His paintings became cheerful, colourful with sunny yellow prominent.  I can’t help but wonder if the darker pieces are what he truly felt, though was forced to give the world its cheery preference.

potato eaters


Vincent was not a wealthy man and could not afford models, so he used himself to work on techniques.  Each self portrait depicts a sad man, lacking in confidence, telling in how he saw himself and at odds with the cheerful colour palette.


Van Gogh dreamed in his later years of an artist colony at the yellow house in the south of France.  He was excited for Gaughin and other artists of the time to create their art together, a Utopia. Gaughin did come  to the yellow house and stayed for nine weeks. Initially all went according to Van Gogh’s plan, though it ended badly with an argument, Gaughin leaving and Van Gogh cutting off his own ear.

yellow house 2

It is unclear of Van Gogh’s malady, some speculate bipolar disease, others have thought epilepsy or poisoning.  In any case, his actions were not the workings of a sane man.


He admitted himself to a mental institution after the “ear incident” where on good days he painted prolifically, on bad days he barely moved.  His paintings were bright, colourful, seemingly at odds with his state of mind.  One of his famous paintings, “Starry nights,” currently located at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was painted from the view he saw outside of the asylum window.

starry nights

Van Gogh’ breakdowns became more frequent and he died several days after  a self inflicted gun shot wound.  I feel sad at the completion of the tour.  At the beginning of the tour, I knew his outcome, though his cheery paintings had me naively hoping for a different, better end.  I wished that somehow his dreams would be fulfilled and perhaps his hopeful paintings are telling,  Van Gogh did as well.

Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

We venture to the Rijksmuseum.  I’m excited to see the actual paintings that I studied in University, as opposed to photos in books.

We arrive to a stately building, with at odds architecture, Neo Gothic meets Renaissance that somehow works together to create a cohesive building.


The most charming feature is a bike tube through the museum, the only one of its kind in the world.  Bicyclists can travel through the museum, there is no art on the walls of the tube, the bikes are the art and quintessential Netherlands. During the last major renovation, the architect wanted to change the space to a courtyard, the tube nearly lost.  Thankfully, there was much protest and the bike tube remained.


The majority of the museum is dedicated to 17th century Dutch masters.  Notable paintings are, Vermeer’s “Milkmaid,” Rembrandt’s “Nightwatch” and Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait.”

John and I decide on a “highlights” tour where the major works will be seen.  We use the Rijksmuseum app that we downloaded at home and set off.  There is so much beauty everywhere that it is difficult to remain focused.  The building, stained glass, even the floor compete for my attention.  I focus, John is distracted and not moving through as quick.


We decide to part ways as our museum strategy differs. This is John’s second trip to the Rijksmuseum, he wants to absorb. My approach is quantity over quality, wanting to see as much as possible. We both agree we would need months rather than the day allotted to do the place justice.  Our strategy, divide and conquer.

It is freeing to explore on my own at my own pace, I suspect that John too feels free without me breathing heavy and pacing. I miss him at times when I want to look at his expression or ask him what he thinks of a particular painting.

I smile when I see Vermeer’s, “The Milkmaid,” more vibrant than imagined.  The Threatened Swan by Jan Asselijn grabs my attention, such an odd perspective and the first acquisition by the museum, purchased for 100 guilders. The newly married couple and their relaxed stance and grins has me grinning back.  Van Gogh with two ears looks so very sad and of course this sadness is part of his story.

A queue is noticeable at the end of the hallway.  I know that it is the main event, “The Nightwatch.”  I can wait and enjoy all the paintings, some famous and some my new favourites as I amble along.

The Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s masterpiece is in a room of its own.  The painting is massive.  Its current size is 143” x 172,” though at one time it was larger, the original size 156” x 192.”  The painting was trimmed to fit a hall where it hung before moving to its present destination,   Its unimaginable to think that Rembrandt’s masterpiece would be trimmed, though this was the practice at the time.  I wonder what Rembrandt would think, I don’t think that he would be pleased. There is a trap door in the room to remove the painting in case of fire.  This was used during WWII to save the painting.  The Nightwatch was removed from its frame and rolled up where along with other major works was hidden until after the war.  I think about the brave souls who during such a dark time, saved the beauty.  They were successful as only a few minor works were lost. I cannot imagine if it was all lost.


I find a room of doll houses.  These were not created for children but rather were a rich woman’s hobby.  The cost of the dollhouse was the same as a canal home at the same time. The attention to detail is extraordinary and I wonder about this woman and how little she had in her life that she spent such time and expense on this folly.  I think about my craft room and the thousands of dollars invested in supplies and decide to keep my thoughts to myself.


John and I meet again and he is excited to show me the ship room where he has spent the majority of his time, his eyes are lit with enthusiasm. We see Michiel de Ruyter’s portrait and a beautiful model of a ship.  John says he could spend all day in this one room.


img_1970We are meeting Nelda and Marieke for dinner and have to leave.  We vow to return one day.  Music catches our ear and we see a band in the bicycle tube with a growing audience forming.  The instruments are unusual, the music unique.  We enjoy the ambience as the bicyclists cycle by.


We walk out of the tube, the garden catches our attention.  Everywhere we look we see beauty and art.  I wonder what it would have been like to grow up here with all this, would I have taken it for granted?  I think of our own museum with its dusty dinasours and our art gallery with its impressive architecture trying to make up for its lack of content.  I wonder if someday our museums in our relatively new country will be like this? Perhaps someday art currently hanging in our gallery will garner the crowds that surround the Swan and perhaps hundreds of years ago someone wondered if the Swan was worthy of a gallery and the cost?  We have to start somewhere I think.


Anne Frank House

I am excited today.  We have purchased the 48 hour Amsterdam pass which allows us entry to museums, metro and a canal tour.  There are many museums to choose from, though with limited time we focus on the main events, Anne Frank house, Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum.

We have booked our time slot at Anne Frank house.  For the first time in Amsterdam we have a deadline.  We have allowed for an extra 30 minutes for getting lost and found and are prepared with a map, map app, and a rudimentary knowledge of the city.

We arrive at the train station, get on the correct train and soon are zipping towards downtown.  We are impressed with ourselves and marvel that just the other day we were  twirling around trying to figure out the right train, right platform and failing at this task.

We arrive at the main station and begin walking to our destination.  I am fascinated with doorways and burn through our time happily snapping one photo after another.  John, ever patient waits until I’m satiated.

We arrive with minimal effort and on time, a small queue has assembled.  It matters little as we hand over our time slot, we will all gain entry at the same time.  As we stand in line, the West church chimes the quarter hour.  During Anne Frank’s 25 months hiding in the attic she heard these same bells every 15 minutes signifying freedom gained.

I read the book as a young girl and related to her struggles as a young girl, her sister was bossy like mine, her parents didn’t understand. It is curious that I do not remember the war part, though likely it is because I had no frame of reference.  I read the book again as a young adult and was horrified for the injustice, the need to hide, though was happy that there were  people that helped to keep them hidden and provided necessities at great personal risk.  My faith was restored in humanity in the second read. I read it again as a young Mother, this time with a knowledge of that dark history and cried that they were so close to surviving and wondering who betrayed them.  I felt deep sadness for her father as the sole survivor, though awe at the resilience that had him create this place as a museum.  I hope that he found peace.  When reading WWII accounts, the sheer number of people murdered gets lost, though the story of this one girl provides an opportunity to understand the immense loss and extrapolate to all the lives that were lost.

The tour is difficult.  It is very emotional for both John and I.  We are not alone in our sadness.  We look around , many tears are shed.

There are no photos that are allowed for much of the tour and for this I am thankful.  This is a time for thought, absorption, and reflection.  This is not a time for distraction.  This happened, it is real and we must all be vigilant to make certain history does not repeat itself.

We complete the tour silent and stumble outside to sun and freedom.  The bells chime.  We feel heavy hearted as we walk around the neighbourhood and imagine the time, with the Nazi’s in power, not so very long ago. We talk  about the daily fear in the attic, the need to keep quiet.  We speak of how terrifying it would have been when they were found.  We think of how close they came to surviving.  We wonder how they were betrayed.  We talk about Anne’s hope during this dark time, the impact she might have made and the impact that she made.  Despite all her hardships, she still believed in the goodness in people and perhaps this is her greatest legacy.

Walking Amsterdam

We finish our beer and Nelda asks if we would like to walk back to her home. This seems like a tall order as we have been walking for hours and the prospect of walking to her home instead of riding the metro seems daunting. The plan is for Marieke to take the metro, arrive home to retrieve her bike, then shop and return home. It’s decided we will all arrive home at the same time. I stare longingly after Marieke wondering if she needs help with the shop then begin the walk home with John and Nelda.

Nelda is very familiar with Amsterdam as she has lived in this beautiful city for many years. She begins to expertly navigate us through a series of rabbit warrens, pointing out landmarks, historical homes and telling us the history of the area. We learn to watch for bikes, cars and move quickly across streets. We stop at beautiful canals the buildings reflected, their beauty doubles. Quickly the city falls away and communities take over

We walk through an area that was owned by a manufacturer of diamonds, a large building dominates surrounded by large and small buildings depending on the role in the company. We walk past a central bath house for the community. Nelda explains it was used until the 1980’s. I try to imagine this life, then say a silent prayer for my private bath.

The windows of the homes are large and brighten the spaces inside, even the smallest building appears spacious. Large courtyards provide a place for children to gather and play, creating a community.

We learn about building styles, Amsterdam school style of architecture where creative techniques are utilized to create beautiful homes. We learn about Dutch golden age architecture that flanks the majority of canals. I decide I could live in one, though shudder at the upkeep. The ground shifts and many are considerably less than square. My carpenter husband angles his head repeatedly trying to make it right.

In no time we arrive back at Nelda and Marieke’s the distance short from downtown and our expert guide, Nelda ensured our travels were not convoluted. I realize I had over estimated the distance initially as we had seen so much in a short span of time that the miles seemed great.

Marieke has beat us home but only just. We enjoy a glass of wine together and continue our conversation, laughter soon takes over. Dinner follows a delicious curry engages all our senses . We chat well into the early hours. Sleep takes time as my mind remains active for a time with all I have seen and experienced.

First look Amsterdam

We wake ready to tackle our first full day in Amsterdam.

Our breakfast is excellent bread, an amazing selection of cheese and cups of strong coffee. We indulge and both agree we could get used to this type of morning start.

Nelda and Marieke suggest a tour of Amsterdam and we happily agree. We walk to the train station and receive an in service on how to buy tickets and read the schedules. We are fortunate as we have 3 lines available to take us downtown. Within minutes a train arrives, spacious, bright and clean we settle ourselves for the short trip downtown

We arrive and expertly Marieke and Nelda lead us to the correct exit, good thing as my instinct was to go in the opposite direction. We see cheese wheels in a shop dedicated to this pursuit, flowers for sale and the smell of baked goods encourage us to stop, though we continue moving.

We begin to exit the station oblivious to a commotion behind us. The train station is being evacuated. Nelda is concerned as she has heard the announcement. John and I have no idea until we are safely outside and Nelda explains. We later learn a Belgium citizen in retaliation to a controversy involving a Politician’s statements randomly stabbed several people as he exited the train. He was later shot by Police. This would be a main news story for several days. John and I comfortable in tourist mode with only a few words of Dutch between us continued to ooh and awe at the sites.

We marvel at the bikes, bikes, bikes everywhere. People of all ages ride, owning the road, pedestrians beware. We watch for cars, though are focused looking for bikes as they weave in and out. We wonder how anyone finds their bike at the end of the day. There are huge garages dedicated to storing the bikes, bike theft is a problem which seems bizarre when there are so many. Still it is the best way to get around and the people are fit. I think about home where we bike until we get a car and then most Canadians never bike again. Nelda tells us that abandoned bikes are a problem and at times they are marked and picked up. We also learn 13,000 bikes are removed from the canals annually.

We take the ferry for a short trip to arrive on a small island with a large building. We ride to the top and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city. This allows us to really gain an understanding of the city. We point out landmarks of places we would like to see, Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House, and Marieke points out their home. There is a chance for swinging from the edge of the building though we decline and opt for gawking instead.

We find a great spot for lunch before continuing our tour of the city. We take pictures of the canals with the beautiful homes on either side, the quintessential picture of Amsterdam and I learn there is more than one street with a canal. In fact at every turn beautiful architecture exists. There are hooks at the top of these narrow homes to haul furniture through the windows as this is the only method that would work. These homes were built during the Golden Age when Holland was enjoying a boom. No expense spared though narrow and tall to avoid tax which was based on the width of the building.

We stop at the Rembrandtplein to admire the 3D model of the Nightwatch, Rembrandt’s famous painting. Our feet tired and demand respite we sit at a nearby open cafe. I smile as there is no pretence, all chairs are facing towards the sidewalk for maximal people watching. When in Amsterdam we think as we sip our Amstel radlers and join in this popular pastime.



I have known since I was in my twenties that life is fleeting.  Working in hospitals, having the honour to be at a person’s last breaths with their family surrounding them or in some cases just hospital staff bear witness to those last breaths.   All the trappings of life fall away to just that moment.

There is a peace in that moment.  There is  the realization that things that we think are important, money, power and climbing the ladder to success, fall away.  There is bargaining for more time, or a prayer to end the suffering.  We hope to see the people who mattered to us in life and hope that we mattered to them too.

This knowledge has changed me.  My parents both died young and still years later I think of all they missed.  Sixteen great grandchildren and counting, family dinners, weddings, lazy days and busy ones too.  They are always with me and in this manner, live still.

We have no guarantee as to the number of days that we have left.  We live far into the future, though the ground shifts like teutonic plates. We plan for years, though in a blink of an eye, time is whittled down to seconds, days or months.  Our plans shift to this new reality, and life is stripped to its basic.

We hold each other a little closer, the sky bluer, the sun brighter.  We take a breath and  then another because we can.  Our bucket list shifts, we remove items that  aren’t possible anymore and look at the list closely.  Is any of it really necessary?

We hope we have made a difference, that one person breathed easier just because we existed.  That we left our mark, were good people, someone to count on in a pinch.  We say sorry to the people that we have wronged, accept an apology from those who wronged us and live with a clean slate.

I’ve lived this life since my twenties.  I know that life is fleeting–really know.  Somedays I’m better at this, somedays I fall short of the mark. Still,  it is a gift to know.

Lake Arenal Costa Rica

We venture to Lake Arenal. Google maps tells us it will take 2 hours for this 187 km journey. We laugh at both the optimism and naivety of the map app. We plan on a more realistic 4 hours to allow for the certain twists and turns.

The road is well paved, the twists and turns relentless. Our host has told us that the road will flatten out at the end. We look forward to the reprieve. There are steep drop offs with no shoulders or guard rails. We are doing this free form. All manner of vehicles pass us on blind crests, we focus on the task at hand. John is focused on keeping our vehicle shiny side up, my task more mundane announcing the meters until the next turn. At times I look at the beauty all around, waterfalls, rainbows and every colour of green is represented. The road improves, never flattening though less curves allow our necks a rest

We pass small towns, fruit stands and interesting sights. We forego the journey and focus on the destination. Despite our focus, we near the five hour mark. The road deteriorates quickly like a bad joke, we jerk along. Dirt bikes pass as we are forced up and over a mountain. This can’t be right I lament. John doesn’t engage in this fruitless conversation as there is no room to change direction.

We near our destination a few kilometres away, when the map app throws up her hands and has us twirling in circles as we listen intently to her directions. After a few turns, we realize we are on our own and engage our tired brains to figure out the puzzle.  We remember pictures of the resort with its view of the lake and move closer to the water. John spies a forgotten sign with a close approximation of the name of our resort and distance of 5km. We decide to give it a whirl. Tucked around a forgotten corner John spies an equally tucked resort sign. His voice shrill he asks if this is the name and logo. I check and excited announce that we have arrived. He shakes his head with the impossibility of finding this needle in a haystack. The entrance is very narrow at an acute angle seemingly too tight for the SUV. John expertly enters and we begin the steep, vertical climb to reception. John shoe horns the vehicle into the last remaining spot and we climb the remainder of the incline. A lovely zen couple and their children greet us, show us to our room with the view of the lake. We are still twitching from the drive.

We snap off a few pictures just as the light fades and commiserate about the trip as we wait for dinner. Our mouth waters as our Chef host tells us what we will enjoy for dinner. We have stopped for nothing, our last meal 15 hours past.

Our dinner fantastic, roasted pumpkin, potato, pork tenderloin, squash soup and cheesecake for dessert. We share a bottle of wine, relax and plan tomorrow’s adventure. We decide to stop, look and see as we learned in kindergarten. Our over arching plan to enjoy the journey, the destination will come soon enough.

Not my Circus, not my monkeys!

The other day I was talking with my daughter about my latest ensnared drama.  She politely listened, and then wise beyond her years, said, “Mom, not your circus, not your monkeys.”  I chuckled at the time at this Polish proverb.  She then reminded me that I have my own circus and my own monkeys.

I thought about my circus with a sigh.  Despite being the ringleader, I felt a failure at dealing with my monkeys.  The lure of another circus where the solutions seem so obvious, fixable and tidy draws me close.

Still, if I were to be honest, nothing is ever so tidy, it just seems thus without the facts, history and complexities that make each situation unique.  While my solution may have tangible results, rarely would it be sustainable.  Immersed, I feel important, critical to the show.

In a quest to help, I walk away from my own circus where the monkeys are now running amok.  I rob the ability for others to learn how to deal with their own monkeys,  to create their own unique solutions, where they are aware of all the angles.  Its nice to help, though when we become the central ringleader as opposed to a mere bit player and in effect care more, we take away their ability to learn, to grow.  Too soon, the monkeys act up and we find ourselves the ringleader of several circuses in town. Large portions of our day are consumed.


We all like to be included and part of the circus, though I’m now content to sit in the bleachers, enjoy my popcorn and learn a novel approach to tackle a situation as I watch the situation unfold.

When the lights dim,  I’ll go back to my own circus, whose monkeys I’ve known so very long with a new skill.  The show must go on!


Sheta Boca


We travel to Sheta Boca for a walk on the wild side.  Sheta Boca means seven inlets, each carved out of limestone and different from the other. The trek is about 10km with views of the coastline for the entire venture. We arrive early at 0900  and are surprised that we have the entire nature reserve to ourselves.  A sleepy man takes our money and is not able to make change, so we tip him reluctantly.

The sea beckons and we spy a bench in the distance. We begin our journey.  Within minutes the sky opens up, and we quickly look for shelter in a cave.  How fortunate to wait out the storm.  Nearly as soon as the rain begins it stops and we start again with the added bonus of mud and slick trails for a level of difficulty.


We are mesmarized by the power of the ocean, watching it gain momentum to a peak and then crash into the shore.  Its timed and in my mind I hear Leonard Cohen’s,  Hallelujah.

There is a hodgepodge of stairs,  some rock, some wood, some stone and a curious plank with small sticks to keep it from being a slide.  We adjust our gait and are mindful of falling.  We are more careful for the potential risk.  How different from home where our every step has the expectation of safety and if we do get hurt, then another structure is erected quickly to make certain it never happens again.


We find a sandy beach littered with cairns.  It is always curious to see these structures, a proof that someone was there, when really it only matters to them that they were.  On closer inspection we discover that this beach is where the turtles lay their eggs, a sign asks us not to put stones on the beach as this would make it more difficult for the sea turtles.  Curacao is a surprising place with relatively few rules.  There are no posted speed signs, no smoking signs or any of a dozen like signs that exist in Canada and become invisible with their frequency.  This sign stands out and yet has been ignored.  I’m annoyed.  We decide that we will remove rocks and at least do our part for the sea turtles. We attack the homage to Sheila and feel better for our efforts.


We have saved the best for last as we journey to our final destination, Boca Pistol.  Here water builds in a cavern, then like a sealed pot, blows, spewing water up to 30 feet in the air.  We watch this for a long while getting excited when we know that the water will shoot high.  We are not alone and like fireworks the oohs and awes surround us.  We take photos and videos and finally are sated, leaving our choice spots for new arrivals.


We walk away from the water opting for a loop that has not been defined.  We can see Mount Christoff in the distance.  Our shoes fill with mud as we trudge along.  I think about the view of water that we gave up in favour of the backcountry.  It is beautiful with its many cacti, small lizards and large hills.  We find our way back to the beginning surprised that several hours have passed since our start.  Like the best excursions, it seems like days have passed for the experience that we now carry, though minutes as we gathered that experience.


Face the fear


Our plan is to kayak to a beach where we will dock, adorn our snorkel gear and swim to the site of a sunken tugboat where there is an opportunity to see an abundance of fish.

Mentally I prepare myself. I’m not concerned about kayaking though somewhat concerned with the snorkelling. I experienced a significant near drowning episodes and have worked hard to overcome, to arrive at this moment.  I like to know all before venturing out. I can swim, there is no current and the buoyancy of the salt water will keep me afloat though panic is the wild card and it could all go sideways quickly.

The area is rather industrial looking with a homely ship docked.  The nearby beaches are covered with garbage, the sand pummelled down and grey. Beach glass abounds as does broken bottles. There is much clean up work to be done and I wonder if there is a plan.

John and I will need to share a kayak,  a dicey prospect. We are used to our own craft, so will need to exercise both patience and tact. We set out. The water is beautiful and we can see to the bottom of the sea. Soon we leave the sheltered bay for the open water. Wind is a factor, though we both hunker down and get it done.

We arrive at the beach and I begin my search for beach glass, I am soon rewarded. The Guide talks about the history of the area.  I give John a look which he correctly interprets to share the information with me later and I’m liberated from the history lesson  to search for beach glass. There is much black glass on this beach. It isn’t really black but rather looks thus until held to the light where the green is visible. I share my bounty with our Guide, a young girl from Massachusetts who is a beach glass kindred spirit

We don our snorkel gear and set off for the sunken tugboat. It will be a distance and I prepare myself for the journey without having a shore in sight. John and the Guide lead the way and I follow behind. It seems a long way, there is nothing to see and I begin to panic. I settle myself down, slow my breathing and set out again. We arrive at the tugboat. The fish have created a very colourful home. We see fish varieties we have not seen. It’s so cool how the boat is so close to the surface. We see divers and now I realize the draw of this pursuit. Divers see stuff like this all the time.  Snorkelers see only beneath the surface and close to shore.

Our Guide suggests a snorkel out to the drop off. I remember this didn’t go well for Nemo though I’m up for the experience. There are no fish to see on our way out and as such I begin to panic again. I relax myself as I know if I don’t, we will return to shore without the experience.  We arrive, it’s a clear demarcation between the light and dark blue. In the dark,  silhouettes of fish float.

I think about how far I’ve come to let go of my fear of water.  Clearly I remember the day that I nearly died. I had swimming lessons stretching back to my youth and earned all my badges.  The day in question, I made a series of unfortunate mistakes.  I had shoes on my feet and was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  I swam out to a log, thinking I could touch when I arrived. I swam against a current and arrived at the log tired.  I stood up and there was no bottom beneath my feet.  I panicked sealing my fate.  I went down several times and like the nightmare where I scream for help, my voice was barely a whisper.  No one heard.  The last time I went down I saw my young daughter, who interpreted my panic for the situation at hand and began to swim to me.  Instinctively, I swam away, knowing with the last clear thought that I would overpower her if she reached me.  I went down for the final time and felt a peace and a realization that this is how I would die. Suddenly,  I was plucked from my watery depth and brought to the surface.  I gulped for air, flipped over on my back and floated, the panic gone.  This has stayed with me all these years.

Years after this event, I was with a patient who had a tracheostomy tube and g-tube.  We were in Hawaii.  Her tube was plugged during the day, allowing her the opportunity to wade in the ocean.   She signed to me to join her in the ocean. I signed back, “I’m scared.”  She looked at me, put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes and signed back, “Look at me,  I have a tracheostomy tube, a g-tube and I’m going in, are you coming?” My sign language did not afford the words to explain further, and I realized in that moment that it would make no difference. I had a choice to stay in fear or to take the first dip.  Sheepishly, I went with her and we waded in the ocean.  This was the beginning.  Gradually, I would go further, learn to snorkel and venture still further, learning to relax to keep my panic at bay.  How amazing that first time when I donned snorkelling gear and saw the fish  Panic melted away as I watched the fish and saw a world I would not have known had I remained on the shore, wearing the cloak of fear to keep safe.

We snorkel back to the beach and I’m proud of myself, richer for the experience.  I think of  the little girl who led me to this moment and send a silent thank you to heaven where she now resides.

“Face the fear and do it anyway,” has been my mantra since that pivotal day. How much do we miss when we wrap ourselves in the itchy, uncomfortable garb of fear.  When we shed our fear, we are free and only then can we begin to embrace the authentic life just beyond, closer to our best selves.  I know this for certain as I look at the photos of what lies just beneath the surface.



Beach Glass everywhere


I picked up my first piece of beach glass in Prince Edward Island several years ago and instantly was hooked. For the remainder of that trip I scoured the beaches, enlisting my husband for a team effort, maximum glass and  never tiring. Happily, I could do this all day long, stark contrast to my usual self of flitting from one activity to another. Beach glass collecting is my zen. The feel of the glass is soft, its sharp edges tumbled by the power of the ocean.

Prince Edward Island is not a mecca for beach glass, still we collected a handful, during our stay, travelling to many beaches to add to our collection.  I would close my eyes at night and see the glass, all the colours available.

In Curacao,  John bent down to pick up a piece of glass to throw away and save someone certain pain. In his hand he discovered it was beach glass. He beckoned me over and my face broke into a grin as I immediately began to look for more. How interesting to see it literally everywhere once we looked. How much do we miss when we look and don’t see?  In PEI we picked up a piece about once per hour. In Curacao one per second.

Curacao beaches have an abundance of green and brown, likely from  Heineken and Amstel bottles, though we find white, yellow, blue, black and even the elusive red.  Each beach has a predominant colour.  We  get picky as we ignore the green to search for the rarer finds. We are rewarded at every turn.

I amass a collection, our bounty covering the dining table in our townhouse and I wonder what it is about beach glass that I love. I decide it’s the story that I create in my mind about its origin, transformation and eventual arrival on the shore.  It is stranded before I reach down and pick it up. I think about how we covet rare gems and make them such by the value we place. The glass I hold in my hand has a harsher journey, a most uncertain future and yet to most its garbage until transformed.  Beach glass does not warrant a second look for most people who eye me suspiciously as I put another piece in my pocket.

Here in Curacao there is no formal recycling. We struggle with this as it feels wrong to throw away bottles. We have spent a good portion of our lives recycling bottles and receiving a small amount for our effort. It feels wrong to throw them away. Likely the bottles will eventually find their way from the garbage to a beach where it will be transformed into something beautiful. Someday someone will walk a beach, reach down and pick up a small part of that bottle, love the feel of it in their hand and touch the  power of the ocean, if only for a moment

Lost in Translation

via Daily Prompt: Translate




We just returned from Curacao and though English is spoken, two other languages are also spoken, Dutch and Papiamento, the latter,  a creole language based on Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and several African dialects. It is not difficult to find someone who speaks English and our ease of the English language has people asking if we are American.  They are pleased to discover we are Canadian. I mention to one person how lucky to be able to converse in a variety of languages. They respond with a smile, “But you speak English and as such there is no need.” Still, I fantasize about being able to speak the primary language of the country.

During the first few days we tour the island. Seemingly everywhere are signs that say, bushalte. I wonder what this could mean. An alternate route in the bush?  It makes no sense as no discernible route is visible. Perhaps it means to halt,  though if it does we would be stopping every few moments and clearly as we travel at highway speeds we are breaking the law.  I ask my husband if he can hazard a guess, he responds quick, “bus stop.” I look at him in a new light. As a child he travelled to Holland, his father was Dutch and in him lies a wealth of knowledge I didn’t know he possessed, my personal translator.

Wherever we go, I read the words, ignoring the English words, if they exist and then try to figure out what they might mean, before I check my understanding by reading the translation or asking my translator. In our two weeks I manage to pick up a few words, not bold enough to say them out loud, but gathering understanding by at least being able to read.  My husband, speaks a few words and to my ear with perfect pronunciation. My friend taught me a few words many years previous, useful words like zout, important if you don’t like your candy to be salty. I jump on this whenever I see it, excited to read with understanding. Vis means fish,  makes sense if you say it really fast. Rundvlees means beef which sounds like flesh, easy to remember  Kip means chicken but makes no sense as I think about kippers when I hear the word. It catches me unaware each time.

We go to the grocery store where the words are in Dutch. We are still jet lagged and the prospect of figuring out what the items might be behind their packaging is daunting. We buy fruit, vegetables, coffee, beer and non salty candy, the rest we save for another day.

We have learned a great deal as several days later we arrive at the grocery store with a dinner plan. We read the packaging, it seems clear compared to a few short days ago. Still, we are stumped when we find a prepared salad that looks like potato though has the word, rundvlees on its package. We can’t see any beef through the clear top. We search other packaging, perhaps it’s a typo?  We ask another customer who tries to explain, though something critical is lost in translation. My husband hopefully decides it’s bacon. Still, we opt for the single serving size as opposed to the jumbo family size, playing it safe.

Our favourite Dutch restaurant De buurfrauw has Dutch as its first language. They readily speak English to us though on our last visit the hostess mistakes me for Dutch and speaks to us in that tongue. She asks in Dutch if I have reservations, I respond, “Yes.”  She continues in Dutch asking for our name.  “Smit,” I respond moving me to the next level of conversation with my Dutch surname.  We are we now in uncharted territory having moved beyond social niceties. She says something, my look of confusion is mirrored on her face, as she quickly switches to English stumbling on the words, the conversation now formal, the magic of the moment lost.  I ponder how much I have just missed, how great the conversation could be if only I could speak the language.

I read the signs listing the specials. I notice Koffee en Smakje. This makes me wonder if it’s coffee with liquor, thinking to smack the coffee with liquor. Quickly I notice another sign with coffee and various liquor options, and conclude that this must be something different. I ask my husband who quickly responds that it’s coffee with a little taste. We order and I’m pleased to see a little treat on the plate next to the coffee. I take a bite, smack my lips. The word perfect, no translation required.



Christoff mountain Curacao

We decide to climb to the highest point on Curacao, Christoff Mountain. We are clearly in vacation mode and arrive at noon ready to climb. We are turned away as there is no climbing after 1100 am. We plan to try again tomorrow and content ourselves with information on the area.

We arrive early for us at 0900, pay the nominal fee to enter the park, peruse the map and drive to the base of the mountain. It is an interesting looking mountain with its pointy part at the top. We are informed it should take two hours to complete the climb one hour up and one hour down. This makes no sense to me as climbing down generally takes less time.  Still we are not on a schedule and we begin.

The trail starts gentle, clearly marked with sweet little rocks flanking the sides, it’s obvious. Too soon the sweet little rocks are absent replaced by large boulders that we step and sidestep on our ascent. Unseasonably, it has rained a great deal in the last few days and the trail is washed out in places, slippery in other places. Every few minutes we stop to determine our route. There are no gentle switchbacks just a relentless up. We walk out of the shade and clearly understand in this moment why no hiking is permitted after eleven. The sun beats down, taxing our sunscreen and sucking the moisture from our skin. I taste salt on my lips. We continue and stop frequently to catch our breath, take photos, check the time. Despite our vacation mode, our pride is at stake,  it’s important to complete the trek in the time suggested.SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCimg_5430

The trail takes a turn for worse as we near the top. We meet others heading down who advise us the worst is yet to come. We are told to take the gentler left path at the top as the right is more challenging  I look around as I crawl on the boulders trying to find a safe ascent and think they must be exaggerating as it really couldn’t get much worse.  I do like the idea of a gentle path and push onward and upward, thinking of the moment when it becomes gentle.

I catch myself at times, as I reach out to hang on, luckily noticing at the last moment that I am reaching for a cactus.  I withdraw my hand quickly, saving certain pain.

SONY DSCWe arrive at the fork close to the top. The gentle path promised is really not a path but rather a series of boulders with sharp drop offs into oblivion. Perhaps this is where we make up the time lost by falling down the mountain to the bottom?  The other “path” seems a bit of a stretch to call it thus, is a collection of boulders with no navigational route, save for the fast route to the bottom of the mountain. We stand for seemingly forever, collecting our breath, thoughts, and courage before scrambling the last 50 feet to the top.

We arrive and are treated to a birds eye view of the island.  The Caribbean sea beckons in the far distance. There are few places to rest so we perch and rotate to take in the beauty. We are not alone. Young girls have brought music adding to the festivities. A man makes a phone call, speaking rapidly in foreign tongue, though his excitement transcends barriers. Another man sits quietly, serene and seemingly contemplates life. We take selfies, then proper photos, then just chill, taking in the moment and recording it in our minds. I think about Kilimanjaro just a few years ago and compare. This trek just a few hours, Kilimanjaro was days. This time altitude is not an issue as we are just 1220 feet above sea level,  not 19, 340 feet.  Kilimanjaro was cold, this is hot.  The path to Kili was gentler overall, this trek is much like the boulder area just before Gilmans. I decide that they really can’t be compared except for two commonalities, the view and sense of accomplishment. I think of this as I marvel at what we have just accomplished, snapping off more pictures in my mind to keep and reminisce when I’m too old to climb.



We begin the trek down, barely stopping though mindful of every step. We arrive at our car and look back at the mountain. It looks different to me from just a few short hours ago. I shield my eyes from the sun and look to the top marvelling that we stood there just a short hour ago. No, the mountain is the same, it is me that has changed.


Klein Curacao

We set our alarm and wake in the dark for our long journey to the other side of the island. We leave ourselves extra time for getting lost and found. Soon we are in a snarl of traffic,inch  worming our way as locals dart in and out jumping the queue aggressively jockeying for position. The clock tocks, our extra time bitten away as we stand still. We worry we will miss our sailing time, though there is nothing to do but inch along. 

We arrive at the dock, frazzled and late, though have forgotten to factor in “island time,” as we chill waiting for our departure. Our boat is a catamaran, the crew personable. We see flying fish, they are startled by the boat as it jumps the waves and they fly several meters before crashing into the waves 
Klein Curacao or little Curacao, an island some 30 nautical miles from Curacao. It is uninhabited though a few structures exist for fisherman and day trippers from Curacao. The water is calm where we dock though the other side of the island the water beats aggressively against the rocks, its shores littered with boats who lost the battle against the sea. There are locals, Joe the turtle who swims around the catamaran, his daily work and a dog named bikini who unties string bikinis adding an aerobic factor for tourists. 

The Island, historically was part of the slave trade, where sick slaves were quarantined before coming to Curacao proper. I think of this time and imagine the horror of their travel to arrive at this 1.7 km island. What must they have thought? There are many that are buried on the island, their final stop. It is a dark history. 

We have a choice of snorkelling to the beach or arriving in style in a boat. We opt for the latter.  The boat ride is quick We disembark into the sea and cross the coral to arrive, our feet sinking into the thick sand. The water is beautiful, every colour of blue represented. We snorkel lazily in our search for fish, our efforts rewarded immediately. 

We set out to explore the island. We walk to an abandoned lighthouse and marvel that the dilapidated structure can be explored further. There are no signs, no fences, though we are sharper for the lack. We cross on a narrow board suspended between two sections, and carefully make our way. The drop wouldn’t kill us, though it would hurt a great deal. We climb to the top of the lighthouse and view the island, spying shipwrecks in the distance. 

We walk to the nearby shipwrecks and wonder of the day when they docked here permanently. There is much garbage strewn, likely from the wrecks, though the volume added by tourists. It is a shame.

We return,the remainder of the day has a routine. Snorkel,dry off and repeat.

Our trip back is under sail, the ride gentle rocking us to rest.  As we near Curacao, the sky opens up and we are soaked arriving on the dock like drowned sewer rats. Shivering we get back in our car, turn the heat on and begin our long crawl back. Rush hour traffic has waited for our return. 

Beach hopping in Curacao

We walk a few steps from our resort to a secluded lagoon. The approach is steep, marred with potholes though it matters little. We did not come to Curaçao or this place for paved roads. The lagoon is flanked by steep cliffs on either side with a jewel of water in between. The beach is sandy though at waters entrance there is coral hard on our tender feet. We are forced down to stop the pain and float into the sea. We lazily snorkel,  the sun on our back and search for fish. Our efforts are rewarded as colourful fish swim into our view.  We are reluctant to leave the lagoon, dreading the pain from the coral. We scan the beach, find a sandy approach and walk erect out of the lagoon.

We are informed of a beach where it is possible to see turtles. The roads are a haphazard affair, the signage arrives at nearly the last minute.  The beach inviting, the sea beckons.  We stand on the pier and everywhere we see turtles large and small.  A burly man next to me shouts excitedly to his friend, “look baby turtles,” then catches himself and tries to play it cool. A young family shows the turtles for the first time to their son and immediately I think of our grandsons at home and imagine their excitement. There is no playing it cool for me as I climb into the sea for a chance to swim with them. The water is silty, the after effects of a storm many miles away. We see no turtles through our snorkel masks. It matters little, we are swimming with the turtles sight unseen. 

We travel further and discover another beach complete with thick white sand. The waves gently touch the shore and then retreat to gain power for the next. It is mesmerizing and soothing. There is no particular place to be, just this experience and then the next to enjoy. 

Lazy day in Zanzibar



The long lazy days stretch out before us, yawning into eternity.

We drag our bodies out of bed and make the arduous journey of a few steps for breakfast.  The menu is limited when compared to North American standard, though the choices are less taxing for lack of choice.  The Indian Ocean is our view, every colour of blue represented. The beach has ashtray sand, though covered in seaweed.  The  bugs are drawn to the kelp and as such we are not.  Humans do not  lounge on the beach, though cows enjoy the sun and soak up the rays.  There is however much activity walking back and forth,  this is our grand plan for the day.


We discover Dhow boats being constructed during our trek.  My Carpenter husband is enthralled with this ancient craft.  There are entire families that camp while the work is completed on the boats.  I think about my husband who travels to work and is gone for weeks at a time.  Here it is a family affair and while not everyone is working directly on the boats, having family close, eliminates the sacrifice.  How clever to have priorities clear like crystal.


The boats are beautiful, joints seemingly invisible, no caulking required.  The work is done with hand tools, the craft passed down through the generations.  My husband recognizes the medieval tools that he has only seen in a book, here they are transferred into the 21st century.


The boards are bent in a curious way, forced around nearby trees to achieve the desired shape, then placed in the fire to dry the inside while the outside is kept wet thus achieving the desired shape and curve required. It is amazing how the craftsmen know exactly the bend that they are trying to achieve without tools to guide the process.


We walk slightly off the compound to peruse shops.  The items are different from what we have seen, haggling is part of the process.  We find a painting of a lion that we are told was painted by the Uncle of our shopkeeper.  It reminds us of the safari and seems a good choice.  It is taken from the frame and rolled for our long journey home.  Its interesting that there are several identical paintings of the same lion and I wonder if the Uncle is churning them out, or if a factory is doing the work.

We plan to rent kayaks.  Our friend speaks the language and we order boats for later in the day.  We arrive, western time at the predetermined hour and wait.  The men arrive with one kayak for 8 of us.  They begin the process of scrounging up more boats and life jackets. Like the Titanic there are too few of both.  They scurry up and down the beach in a haphazard way, their efforts do not increase our fleet.  A few of our group decline the adventure to free up resources.  My normally placid husband snaps and voices his displeasure, it changes nothing.


We embark on the water with a portion of our group, some opting for no life jackets to free up the resources for those who are not good swimmers.  We paddle around and the delay has allowed us to witness the most glorious sunset on the Indian Ocean.  I’m glad at this moment we were detained. I sit back in my kayak and marvel at the beauty of the world.  There is a lesson–good things come to those who wait, or  perhaps its go with the flow? Or when in Africa, shake off the timetables, calendars and clocks of the Western world and just be…





Be it ever so humble…


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Home Turf.”

Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, there is no place like home. The word is warm, cozy and inviting. It welcomes us at the end of the day, enveloping us and keeps us safe. Our most authentic selves are revealed though our secrets are safe.

A house is merely building materials, it becomes a home by what we keep inside, what we treasure, what is true in our hearts. It is authentic and reflects our self in how we feel in the world.

Describe your space and how you feel in this space conjures up something different for each person who honestly answers this question

For me, there is a lightness, beauty, love and warmth in my home. This is the home I created.

Twenty windows frame stunning views that inspire and provide a daily dose of awe.  My husband, friend, confidante and love provides safety with a daily dose of humor and my cup overflows with love and respect.  Our menagerie of pets include two cats and two dogs, their antics rival the most popular you tube video.  Our library in the corner of our home with its comfy chair invites us to kick off our shoes and curl up with one of its many good books. We can choose between four decks or our three season porch where we can be more intimate with nature and marvel at the many animals that call our house their home too.

It has been a journey to get to this place in my life, at last, at long last, I am home.

Who does this?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Choose Your Adventure.”  Finish this story


Who does this?  Who leaves a lucrative career and takes a flying leap into the abyss?  Okay so maybe it’s not the abyss but rather a following of the heart.  The voice whispers, “Me.”  I’m sorry I missed that, say again,  “Me,”  the voice louder but shaky. Doubts creep in, a wedge created where words rush in quickly with lists of cons. She is a list maker, this tactic appeals to her logical side. She listens, each point pondered, each discarded after consideration and another list forms of pros. This side winning, her heart lightens then swells with the possibilities. Freedom, time, chances.  After many years of following the rules she decides to follow her heart. Who does this?  “Me”, the word solid, there is no wavering. She closes her eyes and imagines the possibilities, reconnecting with her younger self. She begins to dream again, to write and wonder as she sets foot into this new life, certain.

A year later she recalls the moment of decision and knows with certainty that this choice was…

Half a world away


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Moved to Tears.


He was born while we were half a world away. We were sitting on the steps of the hotel in Moshi,Tanzania waiting for our certificates to prove we climbed Kilimanjaro and refusing to board the bus to begin our safari until we had the signed certificates.

I sat with my phone clutched reading text messages from our daughter describing her contractions and shouting out the information to our Kilimanjaro friends and responding back to her that we were all excited and wishing her well. The labor progressing our chief worry was whether we would need to board the bus before the birth. If this baby did not hurry up, we would have to wait another week.

I wait for her response, nothing. I text again asking if she’s okay, nothing. Then a text arrives, “its a boy!” I shout, our group cheers.  I wait for…

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Turn, Turn, Turn.”


I love spring with its re-birth after a long winter.  We stumble out of our dens, bleary eyed and marvel at the blue sky, first shoots and listen to the sounds of birds, awake after a long winter nap.  Later, we whine about the mud, relentless rain, weeds and mosquitos that munch on our flesh.  We look forward to the lazy days of summer.


I love summer with trips to lakes, backyard BBQ’s, the casual dressed down affair of plastic cups, cut off shorts and bare feet.  Too soon, we moan about yard work, the oppressive heat, and still more bugs that buzz around our heads as we retreat to our air conditioned homes.  We look forward to the cooler days of fall.


I love fall with changing colours, breath taking scenery that never fails to awaken the photographer in me.  The cooler weather has chased away the bugs. The shadows long, the air akin to clean and new beginnings.  We preserve summer’s offerings and enjoy crisp apples.  We bargain for fall to stay, though winter creeps ever closer.  We look forward to winter for a chance to relax, read and plan.


I love winter as we hunker down into our homes, the summer and fall work complete.  We curl up like cats in front of the fireplace and ride out the storm, snug.  We enjoy Christmas preparations, the lights of the season and kindness wraps us all as one.  The snow falls with chunky flakes that land on our lashes and we marvel at the individuality of each snow flake, perfect.  Later, we wonder if it will ever end and bemoan the icy roads, square tires and too much snow to shovel.  We long for the days of spring to begin anew.

NYC Marathon Memories

I am training to run the New York Marathon  this year.  I needed some motivation today and  read the words I wrote after running the NYC marathon, my first race ever in 2006.  I found my motivation and thought I would share.

My roommate took two hours to choose her outfit for the marathon.  I would learn that marathon runners are a very superstitious group with a good dose of OCD.  I was becoming like them as I adjusted my special rock for the eighth time!

I barely slept the night before the marathon.  I got out of bed at 2:30a.m., and started my day.  I went outside to enjoy the relative calm in the city that never sleeps.  Already the photographers were making their way to Staten Island via taxis.  There were 70 official photographers for the marathon.  Many runners were hailing taxis to get to the start line.  The vast majority would take chartered buses, or the Staten Island ferry.

The bus lines were enormous, but then no one moves people quite like New York City.  Very efficient!  So many different languages I heard while waiting.  People talked about their injuries, doubting themselves.  Others, their words in languages I could not understand, but smiles and laughter are universal, we were all part of a large family on this day.

I boarded the bus.  My seat mate was from the United Kingdom.  We had a lively discussion.  She asked if I had ever run a marathon.  I admitted that I had never run a race.  She said that I was lucky to be running this race first.  She asked if I thought I would only do one marathon.  I told her likely I would just do one.  She laughed and said, “that is what I said, but now I’ve run more than ten!”  “You will too, and you too will have lucky pants or a lucky charm to take you to the next race.  You will be a different person when you finish,” she said knowingly.  I gained some great tips from her, but mostly remembered her message to have fun, enjoy and be in the moment.

There was so much energy in the air at Staten Island.  There were 13,000 runners at each of 3 stations.  We were told to bring throw away clothing to Staten Island as our bags would be checked an hour before the race.  Our job was to keep warm without exhausting ourselves.  The clothing that we would throw away would be donated to the homeless.  We were such a rag tag group.  There were people in painting clothes, ripped clothes, one guy had on a lovely pair of reindeer pyjamas that I think were making their second showing, the first being the Christmas he received this treasure.  We were all wearing our running gear underneath our lovely attire.

The start time drew closer and people began to shed their clothing.  Some people folded them neatly, others’ just dropped them on the road.  It was amazing how many clothes were left behind.  Some stuff was really nice and there was the temptation to do some last minute shopping.  I resisted the temptation as I would need to carry the stuff 26.2 miles.

The canons boomed, signalling the start of the race and a fighter jet flew real low and then dipped its wing.  There  were NYPD helicopters in the air and the cheering from the runners was deafening.  Nearly 40,000 runners started the race.  We were off!

The first 3 miles was over the Verazzano-Narrows bridge.  This was a huge hill and during my training I read about the steepness of this bridge.  I wondered whether my hill training was enough?  The adrenaline pushed me.  I could not see the curvature of the bridge due to the sheer masses of people in front of me.  Psychologically, it was not a hill.  The challenge would be dodging the strewn clothing and trying to find room to run.

We ran about 11 miles through the streets of Brooklyn, a working class neighbourhood with massive enthusiasm.  It was like a huge block party.  People were holding up signs, there were bands playing, noise makers and cheering.  The runners were cheering for the spectators, high fives all around, and the spectators were cheering for the runners.  I could not stop smiling.

At about mile 10, we entered Williiamsburg, one of the world’s largest Hasidic Jewish enclaves.  Many men were wearing black coats and fur hats.  It was like stepping into another world.  I wondered what their lives were like?

At the halfway point, we arrived at the Pulaski Bridge and crossed into Queens where we would spend our time in Long Island City.  This area is a mix of warehouses interspersed with expensive residential dwellings.

We crossed the Queensboro bridge.  All the bridges that we crossed were hills, though they did not feel like hills, except to my burning quads which would not be fooled by the lack of perspective.  I spent my time running and looking to my left and checking out the Manhattan skyline.  How many movies had I watched where I had seen this skyline, a pinch me kind of moment.  We ran off the bridge we were greeted with about a million spectators cheering,  The noise was deafening.  Incredible energy all packed into one place and I took some of that with me.  I kept turning around and looking side to side as I heard my name being shouted, “Go Cheryl,” “Looking good Cheryl.”  I wondered who they were cheering for?  It was me!  Wow!

We crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge and left Manhattan behind for now to enter the Bronx and the dreaded mile 20.  Many books have been written about mile 20–the wall.  The point where runners simply cannot go any further, where the grace and style of running is replaced by a slow shuffle or nothing at all.  I waited for it, nothing came, so I kept running.  Our time in the Bronx was spent passing gas stations, housing projects, views of the Harlem River and Yankee Stadium.

We entered Central Harlem, the cheering continued.  Children were handing out sweets, others’ had bananas and oranges to share.  We continued and Central Park our final destination was close.  I stopped and took some pictures of this incredible day. At the beginning of the day, I remembered feeling envious for the photographers and wished that I could do something I knew.  At this moment, I would not have traded places with anyone.

The wall–never really felt like I hit the wall.  I waited for it at mile 20, then mile 21, 22, and 23.  At about mile 24, I could not feel my feet anymore.  I never thought about quitting, though it felt like I had come a long way.  Mentally, I was trying to calculate how many miles in a kilometre and failing miserably at this complex math test.  I stopped and stretched and then the song on my IPOD began playing, What  Wonderful World.  I heard that song for the first time he day that my Dad died.  I asked my Dad to run with me and together we crossed the finish line in Central Park.

I had many emotional moments during the race as I ran each mile for someone special in my life.  I thought about each of them as I took them in my mind on a tour of New York City that few people experience.

I felt changed by the experience as though a calm had washed over me.  My life would be different from this moment, of that I was certain.  We were ushered through a variety of stations to receive our medals, our heat sheets, our food and to pick up our luggage and have our photos taken.  I had the opportunity to speak to many people.  One elderly gentleman, about 70 years old chatted about how he wished he had trained harder, how his wife thinks that he is crazy for running marathons at his age.  I think he was amazing and hope that I can do the same.  Many people spoke of how they wished their times were faster, that they pushed further.  As for me,  I was happy.  I had accomplished all but one of my personal goals and surpassed my fundraising goal.  The final goal would be saved for another day and another race.

Many marathoners were still wearing their medals days after the race.  Even without the medal, we could recognize another runner by the way they walked or the wince when they stepped off a curb.  There were family as we shared our individual experiences and found commonality. As I ran the race in under 5 hours, my name was in the New York Times.  It would take much effort to read the tiny font, when I found my name it seemed instantly enlarged to 20 font.

It was an incredible journey and one that I wish for everyone to experience in their lifetime.  I do know that all things are possible and the biggest limitations that we face are the ones that we impose on ourselves.  Though society, family and friends may tell us that we are not capable of something, it is the individual that ultimately decides.  Dream big, your life is waiting.



Hello is anyone out there?

Hello, is anyone out there?

I have signed up for a course in blogging and following is my first assignment.  I hope that I will find myself a year from now looking at the first blogs written and marvelling at the growth I have attained.  I want to become the best that I can be and to this end will seek  all the help that I can find or is offered.

I started a blog last year before embarking on a trip to Africa   I wanted to share this trip with others and at the same time have a written record of the experience for myself.  I kept notes to remind myself of the main points.  I also want the experience to be real and I do not shy away from my less than stellar moments.  I will write about travel.  I will also write about the positive in the world as the news media seems to have the negative covered.

Writing and photography are my first and second loves and thanks to technology I have the ability to share with a larger audience, including family and friends.  Gone are the days of lugging around photo albums after a trip and of keeping a written journal of the experience that only I would view.

The days of the handwritten letters are gone, but blogging provides a chance to share ideas, thoughts and photographs with a few mouse clicks and to receive instant feedback from around the world. It provides an opportunity to research a new place and to see that place through the eyes of a multitude of people each with their own unique way of viewing and experiencing the world. It opens the world wide and allows us a front row seat.

Blogging connects us and creates  a family of support.  It provides an outlet and a chance to perfect the craft of writing and story telling. When I sit in my living room drinking my coffee  and see that someone from another part of the world has read my words, and then I read theirs, the world is much smaller and more attainable.  We are more alike than different as we share uniquely human experiences.

Once I had a dream of becoming a Journalist, but somehow life got in the way.  I currently have a  fantastic career in healthcare and know that I have made a difference so I have no regrets.  Still, I wonder if there is time to explore the road less travelled?

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Destination Kilimanjaro.  It was a year ago that I read that email.

Preparing for this great adventure has been a lesson in delaying gratification.  The entire year has been devoted to working, training and planning for a trip that will commence in just three short days.  I had been looking for something to challenge me, to take me out of the comfortable cocoon that had become my life–I knew at first read that this was the opportunity.  The search was over!

I remember the first time I decided on a minus 30 degree day to climb the stairs in my home.  I did this without hiking boots and pack, just in socks.  I went up and down the stairs for 20 minutes.  I was crippled for days after this challenge.  Who knew that months later I would climb 1600 stairs in 30 minutes on my lunch break and that some weeks I would do this 3 times in a week without any pain during or after.

I recall hiking in the winter and how sore I was after just a few short hours.  I was so pleased  with the level of fitness attained since, when just a few weeks ago I hiked for nearly 9 hours and was disappointed that we had to finish the hike as it was getting dark.

I had many illnesses and injuries, but I do know that I did all that I could to achieve this great goal.  I worked hard and at times three different jobs were juggled to make it all fit to pay for this trip.  I worked hard at our home, staining and painting the house, maintaining the garden, doing yard work, dealing with the dogs, cats, house and all that is required for Summertime at the acreage.

I cycled, biked, hiked, ran, stair climbed, hill climbed and mountain climbed. I woke up at 0300 and drove to hike in Nordegg, then drove home to care for the dogs.  I hiked with lung infections, sore knees, sore hips, sore feet and when exhausted to prepare for Kilimanjaro tough.  I read books about this great mountain, visualized the route, practiced breathing,  meditated and did yoga.  I prayed that we will finish the climb together, that our group will all make the journey to the top,  and asked anyone I met to pray for us.  I kept a journal, a calendar to keep track of my training and another to keep track of my jobs.  Preparing to climb Kilimanjaro was a priority for my life this past year.  When I could not make group workouts, I did more at home to make up for the fact that I did not attend. When walking was difficult due to one of the many injuries, I did core exercises twice per day to strengthen–it worked.  I went to my doctor more than I have in any recent year.   To determine the nature of my pain, I had a bone scan, x-ray and consult with a Sports physician. Convinced I was likely too fat for my body,  I lost over 30 pounds and many inches and that is what made all the difference.  I’ve met many great new friends and learned some of the stories of their lives as we hiked together.  I hope that we will remain friends after we have shared this amazing experience together

I know that the mountain will change me. I am hoping to leave some of my less admiral traits on the roof of Africa.  I will take people with me in spirit–my grandparents, parents, patients that have passed and patients that I currently care and have the honor of being a part of their lives at present.  I will think of my daughters, my grandson and new grandchild and hope that their lives will always be full of adventure, that they will never allow their live to be limited and that they will always aim high.

I will use this as a launch to the next chapter of my life.

I have no idea what the future brings–how many more years that I have left to live, but I do know that I will continue to live every day with intent and purpose.  I will continue to challenge myself physically, mentally and spiritually.  I will not sleep walk through life, nor take the days for granted.  I will continue to learn, grow and develop to become the best that I can be in this life.

I do know that I have done all that I can to achieve this great feat and I’m ready.  To the Top!

Remembering Robin Williams

What is Right in the World Today is that Robin Williams lived. 

I was so sad to hear of the ending of Robin Williams’ life.  Then I smiled as I remembered his smile, his laugh, both contagious, both full of mischief.  He would have wanted us to remember the good.

Like the vast majority of people mourning his passing, I knew him on stage, in film and the voice of many Disney films. I loved his humor, his quick wit and his acting.  I did know that he struggled with mental illness and addiction.  I did not know him, but I wish that I did.

I thought of the movie, Aladdin and how I once heard an interview where Disney had a script that was nothing like the end result.  Robin Williams started to read the script, and then he began to improvise.  Disney tried to rein him in; alas they could not–they let him continue.  The result was rapid fire genius.

I watched him in more serious movies and admired his versatility and talent.  He poured into each a piece of himself and the results were real and raw.  I wonder if he could ever fathom how many people he touched in his life.  Interviews that I saw were always of a humble man.  I wonder if he knows how many people laughed, how many cried and the legacy that he would leave behind.

He continues to reach out to us, sharing an intimate portrait of his struggle, putting a face to mental illness and allowing it into the light.  The stigma is lifting, but it still exists.  Perhaps because of this tragedy someone struggling today will reach out for help, saying, “Me too.”

Unfortunately we lost him too soon, but a quote from him reaches from beyond and offers hope. “You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”

Rest easy Mr Williams.




What is right in the world?  The Roomba.

For those of you that do not know what this is–its a robotic vacuum.  Its been around for awhile and I suspect that the reason that everyone does not own one or three of these gems is because its difficult to believe that this could actually live up to one’s expectations.

Now if you spend some time with my daughters’ and ask what vacuuming around our house was like, they would regale you with stories, some true, others likely have been embellished with time.  At some point in the telling, they would inform you that they were afraid of the vacuum because I was never happy when I used the device.  This last point is true.  I always felt that I was being taken advantage

I have two hairy dogs and two equally hairy cats and it seems as though they spend the better part of every waking moment shedding.  I own a Dyson and while it works well, it requires my input.  I hired a cleaning lady, and initially she did a good job, though this  required my husband and I spending the better part of an evening prior to her arrival tackling the hair in the house.  Later her work was less than stellar so we let her go.  Her parting comments, “there is too much hair.”  She couldn’t keep up either!

I was at Costco and there was the Roomba, the price was reasonable so I loaded it into my cart.  I thought that it was likely a mistake.  On the contrary it has been one of my best decisions.  My daughter’s each own one now and I’ve been busy spreading the word.

The Roomba exceeded my expectations.  It knows not to fall down the stairs, it untangles itself from cords and returns to its mother ship to be charged.  It goes under furniture, moves from hardwood to carpet and then to tile with ease and is on a cleaning schedule that only initially required my input.

Thanks to the Roomba I have the commodity of time on my hands.  Time to read, plan and do anything other than vacuum.  Roomba– it is what is right in the world today.

How many of you knew about this gem?  What else has saved you time?  Please share.



What is Right in the World Today


There is much that is negative in the world.  It seems as though it is always the bad that gets press and the good is just not newsworthy.  I’ve noticed though on Christmas day the good is finally reported, but for the other 364 days we fill our minds, our souls and our hearts with sadness.  Each day it wears us down, each day it takes something from each of us.

We need more positive in the world.  I’m not suggesting that we look at the world through “rose colored glasses,” but rather look to find the good in the world every day.  This is a challenge some days for certain and other days it will seem as though its difficult to pick only one thing.  Here is the best news of all, we do not need to limit ourselves, but rather write down or think on the all that is right in the world.

We are so very fortunate.  Most of us have enough to eat, enough clean water to drink and a roof over our heads.  We have the ability to speak up and out and are not censored or persecuted for our beliefs.  We have laws that protect us, healthcare that is affordable and safe structures.  Generally, we can go to a grocery store and have choice. Most of us  can fly across the province, country, or world safely and easily.

We have choice and free will.  We can change ourselves, our circumstances, our surroundings as we deem necessary.  We have access to courses, careers.  We can learn a second language or a third or more.  We can choose to try harder or to adjust our sails and try again.

Draw inspiration from others’ around you.  If we take the time to really listen and understand we are humbled.

Take the time today to look for what is right in the world today!