Sunday, 24 November 2013

At the Risk of Resentment - Barbados' Hidden Gems

Our Guide
As I left to vacation in Barbados this month, people have learned to tell me "have a great time, you deserve it".  I think this is so funny as I, in no way, feel I deserve this perk in my life. With Derek working a good part of each month in Barbados, I have the opportunity to leave our empty nest and spend some time there.  I feel blessed, however I do not feel guilty.  Guilt is a useless emotion.There is no good reason why I would  not embrace the opportunity to visit this island whenever possible.  I laughed with my friend, who has spent much time in Barbados in his life and is familiar with all the hidden gems which I have found over the past year.  I don't often share my plans for trips, as I feel the irrational need  to apologize, however, with Michael, I just decided to be honest.   "I am going to Barbados tomorrow".   I guess honesty breeds honesty.  He was blunt.  "I hate you".  I understood.

One of the hurdles of getting to Barbados is making my way through an airport without drawing undue attention to myself.  I have missed a flight in the past, so I relinquish all responsibility when I travel.  When I fly with Derek, with his Air Canada status as being in some way "special", I just follow along and try to keep up. He complains that there is nothing worse than travelling with an amateur.  I fake it.  I always have my passport turned to the picture page.  I stay out of the Nexus line.  I let him carry my boarding pass.  It is smooth.

A couple of weeks ago when my sister Terry and I set out on our journey back to Barbados, I tried to stay organized and keep up with the more "seasoned" travellers, like myself.

After many years travelling en masse, with the sticky little kids, I have come up with a fool proof system.  The beauty lies in the fact that it is not only efficient, it is also terribly fashionable. All seasoned air travellers, I feel, must wear a Fanny Pack.  Sorry, kids, but you know it is true.  I am not sure how anyone manages without this best kept secret.  All things in one spot with easy access and less chance of leaving something behind.  Passport is always but a zip away, not buried in my overflowing purse.  I thought I was the only person who had grasped the functionality of the Fanny Pack, but Terry is a convert.  We are now mistaken for twins or identical life partners with our matching Fanny Packs, functional AND fashionable!!

Almost Here
Terry and I didn't check in on line  the night before, as seasoned travelers might, so we could request 2 seats together.  Togetherness is very important in our family.  On checking in, we smiled sweetly and as Canadianly (now an adverb) as we always do.   We were offered 2 seats together, no problem, OR 2 separate "premium" seats.  We both promptly dropped each other like hot potatoes. I mean I love Terry, but was there really any decision to be made. Terry offered me the bulkhead due to my rather large ankles and I sat all comfy and cozy sipping complementary wine at 9am. Who is special now, Derek??

When the 3 sticky kidlets were little, we traveled to visit my parents in Florida, on my parents' dime, several
Kevin's BackPack
times. The flights were taxing with babies and toddlers.  We invested in a backpack for Kevin when he was 18 months old.  I explained to Terry how much easier this made our travels.  She was so confused.  "But really Jan, just how much can he really carry".  There were car seats and booster seats, bottles and sippy cups, travel games of Guess Who, lambie, Dimetapp, granola bars,decks of cards, rolling Franklin Turtle suitcases, Gravol and as they got older, the God-given gift of Game Boy. It took me an entire day just to pack.   The airline supplied crayons and the kids were totally WOWED and they jumped for joy.  Who knew? We flew with the kids early enough that they experienced trips to meet the pilots and to see the cockpit.  So much has changed.  Now they charge $5 for crayons (true).  I am not sure all the new inflight entertainment systems and state of the art baby paraphernalia is really that effective. Kids still cry and fuss.  The best improvement in air travel is actually noise-cancelling headphones.  When that kid starts to scream, there is no other way.  We sit pretty now, smile and nod as parents do the good old-fashioned walking and bouncing in the aisle, just like in 1992.

My sister and I decided for this trip, that it would be done on a shoe-string.  What does Barbados have to offer that is
Terry and Derek - Stop and Stare at River Bay
free, or pretty darn close?  We were greeted by Derek with home-made rum punch, with rum that is cheaper than water.  It was not a pretty first night.  After recovering from the Mullins Beach flu, we decided to experience the National Trust Walk that takes place each Sunday at a different spot on the island.  It is a 3 hour walk starting at 6 am.  Our hesitance quickly showed as we all refered to it as "A 3 Hour Tour" with Gilligan singing in the background. Well off we went at 5:30am (4:30 Canada time).  With a few wrong turns we unfortunately missed our group called "Stop and Stare" and ended up out of our comfort zone in the "Grin and Bear it" group who set off marching up the hills.  We hung in for a good bit, but then decided to Stop and Stare on our own.  Off we trotted to River Bay, to show Terry one of the true hidden gems.  We then headed back to our place for bacon and eggs and an early morning nap.

Beach Chair Extraordinaire plus Fanny Pack
After Sunday we had very lovely beach days both near our home and across the island.  Terry and I established our routine quickly.  We have 2 very new-fangled beach chairs that go everywhere. These chairs can be worn as back packs, with a built in cooler, towel rack, pillow and it reclines with a drink holder and a spot for my Iphone.  It even has its own storage compartment, slightly bigger and even more useful than my fanny pack.  Of course I still wear my fanny pack.  Terry has many friends at our local beach who remember her from her last trip.  Ronny would still like her to move into his 2 bedroom house across the island so he can cook and clean for her.  Gussie wants to paint her a picture and Shakra is very interested in giving her a massage.  It is like sunning with a celebrity.  We discovered that in addition to the beauty of the sunsets on the west coast. swimming in the moonlight at dusk is very cool.
Sunset Swim

Derek and I continued to explore after Terry had sadly made her way back to Canada.  Derek has seemingly lost his appreciation for this island, as his role here is primarily work-related.  What would seem like a dream location to most, Barbados often means to Derek, that he is missing his gang at home. I understand this, as his seat has been empty at many a birthday and anniversary.  Our nest is really really empty now. His travel has always been a part of our lives so  I work to break him of the complacency he has developed.  We grabbed a map and set out to find the best kept secrets.  We started at the Hilton for breakfast.  It is rated #1 in Barbados.  It didn't really fit into our theme as I didn't feel it was a best kept secret.  I imagine the same lovely breakfast is served at every Hilton around the world.  So when we finished, off we went beach-hunting.  When you see a movie with a deserted, untouched beach and you wonder if it actually exists, well it does.

 We parked our car at Foul Bay, walked the beach and set up our  nifty chairs.  We were alone on
Snoozing with the Monkeys
the beach, so much so that I could make a clothing adjustment without fear of showing off my tan lines.  We were surrounded by roosters and monkeys.  I frolicked up to my knees while Derek napped.  As we were both lifeguards, we take teh "never swim alone" rule very seriously.  However, I thought that frolicking up to my knees was safe.  I sat as the waves lapped up. I left the beach with bathing suit bottoms full of sand.  I am still finding sand. When the rooster crowed we were on our way after a quick shower.

The rest of our road trip that day included a deserted lighthouse and a Fish and Chip stop where Swordfish was the fish of choice.  We headed to Bathsheba on the east side of the Island where there was an International Surfing competition.  There were so many young, fit, tanned bodies there that neither Derek nor I could even fathom getting out of the car.  We watched the surfers from afar  We reminisced about our surfing days.  Ok, there were no such days.

This is neither Derek nor me surfing.  I did. however, take the photo and it is awesome.

On the Sunday we made our way to a Farmers' Market on Holder's Hill. I love Farmers' markets so I was very excited about  going for our first time.
  There was music, fresh produce and various vendors selling original wares, including pottery, linen and jewellery.  Derek found an outdoor pub of sorts and made himself at home. I picked up trinkets and souvenirs.  I could have spent the day.  I was particularly impressed with a young entrepreneur, the same age as my own children, designing clothing and cards in a very unique style and with an altruistic message.  I expect Jessica Reynolds will be going somewhere fast.
A brave monkey near our house.  Kind of like Squirrels in Canada

I headed home toute seule a few days later.  It was time to go, as 1 beach buddy had left and the other had to get back to the work that he does which affords me the luxury of such visits. I suited up, with my fanny pack full and the passport picture page earmarked for easy access.  It was a full plane. So many young families.  So cute.  So sweet, but all I could think was "Forget Snakes!  It's Babies on a Plane".

Saturday, 23 November 2013


Facebook has me feeling very popular.  I had many wonderful birthday wishes from a wide range of "friends" yesterday. I do realize that wishing someone "Happy Birthday" has been made very straight forward by Facebook and much more efficient through our new technologies.  I know its not a brown paper package all tied up with string, but it feels nice.  I feel like yesterday was one big cyber hug.

I have not, until now, caught on to the Facebook birthday system.  I fancy myself a "card person".  I have a dear Aunt with a unique ability to touch someone with a card beyond compare. I strive to emulate her. I spend  hours in card stores finding funny and touching cards specific to each person. I jump on them and store them away for that special person on their special day.  About 1 or 2 days too late, I start to search for that perfect card in my "card storage system", which looks like a fancy file cabinet. Sometimes I find the card and sometimes I even sign it.  Rarely does it actually get mailed and to tell you the truth, I am sure no one even knows that I fancy myself a card person, as they have never actually received a card from me.  My nieces and nephews know that "belated" to Auntie Jan(et) has no actual time frame.  The road to hell is paved with thoughtful, poignant, unsigned birthday cards.

My Facebook messages saw me reflecting on the number of different types of relationships we each have.
  We all wear so many name tags.  Yesterday, however, when looking at texts, emails and Facebook messages, it seems that over the course of 50 some years the number of hats has grown.  Though I tend to define myself as a wife and mother, I am reminded that I am a wife and mother but also a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, an aunt, a great aunt, a Godmother, a niece, a cousin, an old friend, a new friend, a family friend, my kids' friends (Mama O), a colleague, a fellow blogger and even a Canadian mother to my 2 Japanese "daughters".  From now on, all my peeps will get a very touching, sentimental message from me on Facebook, but probably 1 day too late.

Birthday Girl, November 22, 1963
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It was also the 50th anniversary of my 2nd birthday.  While the "shot heard around the world" had my pregnant mother in tears, she was also trying to teach me how not to blow out candles.  The end of innocence experienced by so many was just the start of mine.

I have never been one to announce my birthday prior to its arrival.  I like to think I have low expectations. Of course, I like to have my cake and eat it too.  I also never balk at some chocolate or a warm pair of socks. I don't really like to be the centre of attention, but any rendition of Happy Birthday to You, even if I resemble a monkey, is always appreciated.  My mother used to call it "our 15 minutes".  I think Andy Warhol heard that and then went to town and took all the credit.

I am yet to find someone who feels as strongly as I do that a person's birthday is really all about the mother. I don't remember the day I was born, thank God.  However, my mother does.  She remembers my temporarily crippled, somewhat elderly grandfather taking her to the hospital and being mistaken for her husband.  I remember the days of each of my 3 children's births.  When their birthdays come, I am back
there again, in living colour.  I am again waiting for my turn in the operating room to have Kate plucked out. I am listening to the resolution of the Gulf War as we drive to the hospital to have Kevin.  I am hearing over the phone that  "you are probably not in labour so you might just settle in with a cup of tea".  Bridget was born 2 hours later.  All mothers have their stories and given a chance, we will tell them over and over again.  I remember how sweet they looked on the day they were born, no matter what their newborn photo looks like.  I truly believe that Katelyn was the most beautiful baby in the nursery.  I know everyone feels like this, but she really was.  Really.  She was.  

Now it does not really follow any sense of logic, that the one person who worked so hard to bring these children into this world (yes Derek, the one person)  should be the one in charge of the birthday celebration each year.  Isn't that day supposed to be about me???  I maintain that I would rather give birth than give a birthday party.  Why am I hanging up the f-$%#@-ing pinata?  Where is MY Loot Bag?

Our kids' birthdays seemed to stretch for more than the constitutionally
guaranteed 15 minutes.  The birthday party itself lasts 2 hours (and not one second more). It starts off lovely, with crafts and games.  They are colouring their loot bags and there is boppie music on the tape player and we are walking around chairs.  Kids are dressed up and look so sweet.  Balloons and streamers are hanging.  There is some sort of a meal that includes hot dogs sliced in half and licorice used as straws in chocolate milk.  Cake comes, everyone sings and things begin  to slide.  Someone is allergic to "blue food".  Someone "only wants icing".  Party dresses are no longer
recognizable.  Some kid slaps Derek on the butt (true story).  When present time comes, it all goes to Hell in a Handbasket. Birthday child and the whole lot turn into loud-mouth, self-absorbed little pukes.   "But Mommy I hate Barbie.  I like Skipper".  "Why would someone give me a Pink Power Ranger when I am a boy?"."Which present do you really like the best?"  By 90 minutes we start to pace.  The fake voice was slipping.  Mommy Dearest is emerging. I no longer care how much spit was on the cake, I am scarfing it down and chasing it with wine. who cares if it is not yet noon.   At 2 hours, good parents arrive on the
dot.  Some lollygag and show up late.  Their kids are in the driveway holding their loot bags and their boots.

We had neighbours who had 6 children.  I think a few of the babies were conceived while we waited for mom and dad to pick up their kids.
Kevin's 15 Minutes
So in keeping with my "birthdays should be about the mother" I invited my mother to take me out for dinner
Pierrette and me
last night.  It was a lovely evening at a small restaurant just a short freezing 10 minute walk up Yonge Street.  We shared salad and ate like the carnivores we are.  I told my mother I was going to take our picture. I told her I can take a "selfie" (as Bridget calls it) on my iphone. I told her that it didn't matter that her face was still puffy from her dental work.  I told her I had a new philosophy about picture taking.  I read a blog post that transformed the way I feel about having my photo taken.  The link is here, but just to sum it up, we need to allow ourselves to be photographed no matter what.

I had breakfast with the 3 sticky kids today downtown on Saturday morning.  They were all bright eyed and bushy tailed.  They took turns sharing the stories of their weeks.  Ok, they did not take turns.  They filled me in just as they have for the past 20 years.  With lots of  loud chatter and laughing and eye-rolling.  That's what families do. So now, in order to have a record of this event for history (and to send it to Derek in Barbados}, I have decided to turn the camera around. Apparently no one cares if we have gained weight.  They don't want us to "wait until next year, when I look better".  We have to stop jumping at the chance to be the photographer.  We need to just feel blessed that we are still in the family photo.

Kevin, Kate, Bridget and "Birth Giver"
How do you feel about being photographed??  Let me know.

I absolutely love this and I suggest you take a moment and read it!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

TORONTO - Where Good Dogs Don't Smoke Crack

What can I say about a city with a Crackhead mayor who fancies himself a philosopher, saying  "It is what it is".  Oh please.  I think that it is pretty fair to just say, as we did back in the day, "Liar Liar Pants on Fire".. I have not lived in Toronto for many years.  I miss the city, but not this week.   You have to laugh or you will cry. Any late night TV show will make you do both.  It is so embarrassing, yet in some way comical.  Toronto is having its 15 minutes.

Ya I am!
In addition to the Big Fat Liar shenanigans, Toronto has changed dramatically in so many ways, since I was living the life in the 1980's.  I had big hair and shoulder pads.  Mom jeans were in style and I rocked them. I listened to the Talking Heads.  My recent trip to Toronto made me realize just how old and "small town" I have become. I like to think of myself as a young hipster with my finger on the beat of the here and now.  I like to know what is happening.  I am a cool mom.  I want the 411.   I am a big city girl, living in small town Canada.

Ok, I am 50ish and I accept that..  I left Toronto and raised 3 kids in Orangeville.  We  have a dog and a cat as well that we acquired "for the kids".  I have been seen driving around in a minivan for the better part of 20 years.  Now the 3 small town bumpkins high- tailed it to the big city as soon as they could.  They have entrusted us with their pets.  How touching We visit the 3 of them  often,  moving from east to west. Bridget lives with 2 other students in an exorbitantly priced apartment. It has a dishwasher.  Her rent is less as she lives in a closet. Kevin lives right at Dundas Square and his place is more simple. He doesn't need a dishwasher as he only has 1 fork (true, sadly). His rent is fair as the building caters to students.  Kate has
Dinner out on our Credit Card.
moved up in the world now being on the west side of Yonge. She just moved to a "studio" apartment where her bed is her main piece of living room furniture.  She is just like Mary Tyler Moore.  Kate's cat is confused and keeps searching for her bedroom.  These kids could throw a baseball to each other, but they' don't .  They do however , get together on occasion for a meal and they know that if they send me a photo, I will pay for their dinner.  Does this sound sad?

Back in the Day
I recently visited Toronto with my sister Karen to go to a play with our mother Pierrette.  We went to see I Love Lucy. As frugal Theatre-goers, we jumped on the subway to make our way downtown.  I would need to do a "whole lot of splaining" to my kids to let them know just how much the TTC has changed.  They are sleek and there is no longer any faux leather. There is established etiquette.  There are indicators informing about the time until the next train.  The subway map lights up and I can't even start describe the new arms.  You can see easily which subway station is next.  I was looking for a Purell dispenser to make the trip perfect.  No longer do you wait on the platform with only the knowledge of the direction you wish to travel and this included only north, south, east and west. If you didn't know where Finch was, you were lost.   The arrival time of the next train was a complete mystery.  Without the whistles how does everyone know that the doors are closing?

McLevin the Ice Breaker
Now the big change I saw twice that night is the new flirting technique.  Pets on the subway.  On our way downtown, a fellow walked on with a cat with, what looked like, a service uniform.  A seeing-eye cat.  On closer inspection, it appeared to be, instead, a hoodie.  The brilliant owner was chatting up a young girl using the ultimate ice breaking cat.  On our way home, on strolls a lovely but huge dog.  Again, I checked for a service harness of some sort, but nope.  Just a dog on its way somewhere really important.  Again the ice breaking is happening among the passengers.  I think it is really brilliant and much easier and more acceptable than borrowing someone's  baby.

Non-Service Dogs ride free too

Now as mentioned, we have a cat and a dog.  Our cat has made her way to Toronto with Bridget last year when Bridget was concerned that she might be lonely while Derek and I were away.  Mai was whisked to Toronto by planes, trains and automobiles in a knock off Louis Vuitton cat carry case.  It was very stressful, for both of them and upon arrival in Bridget's dorm, Mai  lost it.  Her visit lasted a little over a week, with Kevin stepping up to care for the cat as things were not too pretty in residence.  Bridget is still beholden to her brother and I expect always will be.

Mai, just prior to her launch on to Myles head.
Kate's cat is named Myles Davis.  He is a large grey cat with a pleasant demeanor.  He lives a simple life in a studio apartment with my daughter, the spinster cat lady.  Myles paid us a visit this weekend.  He arrived in what looked like a Coach Cat Carrier for a Pajama Party.  He was bullied and terrorized by our cat, Mai, for the entire weekend.  I now know the true meaning behind the expression, Cat Fight.  This was nothing compared to 4 sisters at 314 Mill St, but it was some serious nastiness on the host cat's part.  I think Myles was happy to get back to his Deluxe Penthouse in the Sky.

This business of travelling pets is new to me.  We didn't have pets growing up, so I was unaware that pets had anywhere they really had to go.  Our dear friend needed to transport a rabbit by train from Brockville.  I expect there are some sort of "no rodent" restrictions on Via Rail and if not, having the Easter Bunny hopping a pooping all over the railcar may make the trip stressful for Mary.  With amazing ingenuity, this rabbit was bundled up in a travel box and then wrapped up as a large birthday gift.  You have to love that idea.

Kate, Cat Carrier and Casey on their way to the Big City
Now our dog Casey has her snout out of joint.  She has never been on the subway.  She has never been on a train.  She hasn't even been on a bus.  This week that all might change.  She has gone to Toronto for her downtown adventure with Bridget.  We dropped her off and she has taken the change well so far.  Bridget plans to take her on a streetcar, just so Casey can tell the smug cat that she has experienced true Toronto life.  I hope that Bridget uses this pup to break the ice and snag herself a man.  God forbid she ends up like Spinster Kate.

I have enjoyed several trips to Toronto this year.  I love the updates to the TTC.  I embrace the animals roaming the street.  I treasure the visits with our children.  I used to worry about them in the big city, but now that Mayor Ford has agreed that Drunken Stupors will not longer take place on the Danforth, I can sleep easy.