May 30th:  A live music weekend!  On Thursday we enjoyed a four piece male a capella group called Cruisin' at the RTO AGM and luncheon.  On Friday evening we saw Carol King and James Taylor in concert at the Air Canada Centre, courtesy of our friends Pat and Clare, who often take us to Tafelmusik concerts, where they have the four best seats in the house: front row balcony, not even a hundred feet from the concert master.  On Saturday they took us to a performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt, performed by the Tafelmusik orchestra in the new Telus Centre Koerner Hall - a beautiful concert hall with spectacular acoustics.  We take them out for dinner before the concerts, so it is always a full night out.  On Sunday Deb and I went to see a sextet swing band.  These four concerts were quite a contrast of musical eras and styles, but each fun in their own way. 

    June 5th: The Ringing of the Bells. This week we attended our official TDSB retirement reception. There were several nice speeches by departing staff, culminating in the traditional closing ceremony: they give each retiring teacher a yard bell as a parting gift, and the retirees (over six hundred and forty of them, this year) stand and ring their bells all at once.  It is an unforgettably deafening, ear-splitting celebration, although the gift itself is a little anachronistic.  Who needs a recess yard bell after they've left the biz?

    On June 9th, we attended Deborah's teachers' union retirement dinner at the Old Mill.  It was a pleasant, low-key event with good food and more free booze than we could ever have imbibed in one evening.

    We're absorbing the concepts of the Slow Movement.  We've been oriented in that direction for some time, and even more so in retirement.  Topics like downshifting, seachange and treechange are now part of my reflective process.  We combine these concepts and stay within our geographic comfort zone.  We're downshifting in place, in our suburban bungalow.

    June 14th: Highland Yacht Club's
Sailpast and Salute to the Commodore took place on Saturday.  We had a lovely party and dinner, but the weather and lake conditions kept us confined to the clubhouse and the docks.  The Commodore cruised his sailboat up and down between the slips to receive his salute, standing on the bow of his boat looking like Mary Poppins in his yacht blue-and-whites, under his black umbrella.

    June 21st:  we spent the weekend in the Muskokas, in the stomping grounds of the G-8 but a few days before their arrival.  We toured the woods and the many falls in the area, and stayed in Pat and Clare's brand new house in Uffington.  It's a beautiful part of Canada.  Apart from that we're just continuing with our house-slimming, and spending hours on meetings and email exchanges in preparation for the Tall Ships weekend.

    July 7th: We are back home after a very long Canada Day weekend at the harbourfront, where we lived aboard Awelyn for five days while serving as Liaison Officers to the Unicorn and the Playfair during the Redpath Festival Tall Ships ChallengeThis was the first Tall Ships event held in Toronto since 1994, and it was a great success.  Our ships are both training vessels for young people; the Unicorn is strictly for young women, and has an all female crew, Sisters Under Sail.  You can view a slideshow of the photos I took from the deck of the Playfair during the July 4th Parade of Sail.  Click on the photo of the tall ship to the right to get to my gallery of tall ships, and then click on each photo to enlarge them.

    Last night we had a supper of fresh produce from our garden: romanesque zuchinni and a plateful of our first crop of beans and peas.  They taste wonderful when they are freshly picked.  We had strawberries and raspberries for dessert.  The squash is growing, and the tomatoes are large and abundant, but not red yet.

    July 24th: in mid-July we left our tiny bungalow in the care of our street of excellent neighbours.  They are mowing the lawns, trimming the hedge and maintaining the garden for us in return for whatever ripens in our garden while we are away.  We have a wonderful Neighbourhood Watch on our street, especially when they are motivated by the hundred large green tomatoes about to turn red as I drove away, not to mention raspberries, apple-sized strawberries, beans and other treats.  We drove across the northern U.S. to the Saskatchewan border and crossed at the town of Portal, which is a great name for a border crossing and for a band (my nephew's band)  We are now hanging out for a few weeks with family and western friends.  We'll probably drive down to the coast, to Vancouver and Salt Spring Island, in early August, and enjoy our traditional annual family camp-out in the mountains on our way back to Ontario. 

    August 14th:  We are back in Edmonton now after a great trip to the coast and back.  We had a visit with Kenton and Sarah, Lara in Vancouver, and Arnd, Stefanie, Silken and Una on Salt Spring Island.  We didn't get to meet Bryn but I'm pleased to say that I drank some of his excellent home made beer.

    We did "family" things the whole time rather than "tourist" activities, but that was fine with me because it was about our sixth visit to Salt Spring and I've been visiting and sometimes living and working in Vancouver so many times that I can't think of anything special I'd still want to see.  Mind you, I can't find my way around the city anymore.  I guess it would come back to me if I hung around long enough and looked at a map. These days Deborah watches the map while I drive.  We call her the "nag-ivator". 

    We took the southern route on the way back, overdosing on spectacular scenery.  We passed wineries and bought cherries and apricots at roadside fruit stands.  We stayed overnight at a campground in Osoyoos, which is pretty but the camping sucks.  We were packed in like sardines, and it was expensive, and too loud.  Lots of excited kids were allowed to stay up too late on summer evenings.  I like working with a classroom full of kids, but not camping next to that many. The locals claim the water in the lake is like "a warm bath", but I found it decidedly cool.  The tiny beach isn't up to Caribbean standards, and the swimmers competed with the Dads' powerboats.

    However, we were on the edge of Canada's only desert.  They call it a "pocket desert", and it has scorpions, praying mantis, rattlesnakes, prickly pear cactus, antelope brush - all the typical plants and animals you'd expect in a desert.  It's hot during the day but it was cool overnight.  The view of the town and lake in the valley was phenomenal as we drove up and over Anarchist Mountain, where many private homes sport celestial telescopes in their own observatory domes, looking upward rather than down.  The view must be "out-of-this-world" after dark.  There's even an Observatory B&B that you can stay at and learn a little about stargazing.  We had a very pleasant drive to Rock Creek, where we stopped at the Gold Pan Café for corn beef hash breakfast, made with good, real corn beef slices, fresh bell peppers and sour dough toast. 

    We stayed that night in Nelson, then bathed the following morning at Ainsworth Hot Springs, which was relaxing with a kick: spooky hot sauna caves to wander through and linger inside.  We visited the excellent Kettle Valley museum, then took the Galena ferry at the top of the Arrow Lakes.  We cruised up along the side of Kootenay Lake, stopping in Kaslo to tour the gorgeous S.S. Moyie stern wheeler and learn about Gunpowder Gertie, the lady pirate of the Kootenays - a true story and a fascinating bit of Canadian historical romance.

    Camping was great the whole way.  There was a smattering of rain during the days but none at night, and temperatures
were moderate.  We saw many deer, two elk, and a coyote who we startled away from a deer carcass (road kill).  We indulged in our usual silliness on the road, dreaming up clever ideas for cottages and businesses, and puns: we passed a pawn shop in Victoria and decided we'd open our own so that Deborah could call herself "Goldie Pawn".  We drove past Yoho mountain and speculated on the merry hooker who must live up there: the "Yoho ho".

    Our next event is a family group camp near Sundre: three days of chili, campfire singing and relaxing.  Then we'll be motoring home to Toronto, and starting to consider how to spend our winter.  We continue to speculate on how much longer Toronto will be our home.

    August 29th: a lovely morning wake-up at Cass Lake, near Bemidji, in Stony Point Resort, on our way home to Toronto after six weeks of great visits with family, culminating in the annual family camp-out.  We gathered at the Wild Horse campground,
close by the Ya-Ha-Tinda federal horse ranch, in the foothills near Sundre, an area filled with elk (we stumbled into one herd two kilometres from our campsite), deer, grizzlies and wild horses. 
    We hiked up a steep-walled canyon to a dramatic waterfall. 

    Back in Edmonton, we visited with Ian and Joyce, saw Lara once more, and racked Mom's ginger-apple cider, made from the apples on the tree in her back yard, before beginning our drive back to Toronto.  We made it out to Edmonton in three thirteen hour days, but we'll relax and take five days or possibly six to get home.  Gotta practice being retired, don'cha know. 
(By the way, I think this car is the same vintage as Deborah...and look, it's already pushing up daisies!)

September 3rd: back at home in Toronto, after six long weeks away.  The ivy has tried to eat the house in our absence.  The squash has wrestled my raspberry canes to the ground, invaded two neighbours' yards, and claimed squatter's rights all across my back lawn; and there's a strange new vine with pumpkin-orange ornamental gourds growing across my front lawn.  The red cana lillies and yellow sunflowers worked nicely against the blue siding of the house, but although the sunflowers were from a 2' dwarf plant, they grew to twice the size of their parent plant - how does that happen?  Doesn't genetics mean anything? 

    We're eating delicious beans that have made many a meal for over three months for our neighbours as well as ourselves, and they're still coming; also there are still some tomatoes, the September raspberries (our canes give two rounds of berries, one in July and one in September), lots of herbs for pesto and other cooking adventures, and even a late strawberry or two...and lots of squash.  Even a good-sized romanesque zuchinni.

     I bought this fancy looking painted electric guitar, which came with a little black amp.  It has orange flames and a lovely green dragon; I'm thinking of naming it "Puff".  Is it "me"?  Not sure...but the price was right, and I will spend some time learning more chords and songs each day to see if I enjoy this guitar, or if I should trade it in for a plain tan-coloured acoustic with nylon strings. This one has steel strings and a narrower neck than I'd wish, for the size of my hands, but it does look pretty cool, in a Motley Crue sort of way...the strings are easy to depress, and the stretch for a G chord isn't hard.  It might actually hang around for a while.

     We got adopted by a young red tomcat as soon as we returned - looked like a psycho cat from a cartoon, but had a very bold and friendly personality; but Deborah wisely delivered him to the animal shelter...only to return with four more cats.  She got talked into adopting a mother and three kittens who didn't have enough room in their cage - "only for three weeks!" - and they gave her all the food and paraphernalia she'd need to be a foster mom, so they didn't have to twist her arm, not even a little bit. 

Lots of gardening and some sailing days ahead.  We have concerts scheduled, lots of friends to get together with, I'll get back to my Thursday evening living room jam (which they often do now on a Sunday as well, turning it into a BBQ party), and we will join a Tuesday afternoon retired teachers' bridge club.

    September 12th: I traded "Puff" straight across for "Apollo" today (already named by the kid I swapped with, who was thrilled with his trade)...a steel string, spruce-top, made-in-China dreadnought acoustic guitar, "sunburst" colour style, considered a decent quality, easy to play, entry-level student guitar.  The sound is richer and fuller, and it feels a little better than the electric.  Barre chords are a problem for me (fat fingers, perhaps), but if my hands can't overcome that, I guess I'll just have to stick to the "cowboy frets".

    September 7th:  Woke up to three fluff-balls the size of chipmunks chasing each other up and down the hall, emptying kleenex from the wire basket and strewing it all over the bathroom floor...Deborah's current crop of "foster-kittens" from the Humane Society.

    This is the first day of school.  Deb and I marked the occasion by playing bridge all afternoon with retired teachers.

    This morning I attended the second of a multi-appointment process of seeing a endodontist specialist for my impending root canal, which my own dentist isn't comfortable doing himself because the root has a "double bend", although he has done all my previous root canals.

    "Frostbite league" tennis starts a week from today, and we're planning to join a club sailing cruise to Ashbridge's Bay over the Sept. 17th to 19th weekend.  That's good, because we haven't used our sailboat enough this summer.

    We have registered as volunteer construction workers for the Habitat for Humanity Build from Sept. 20th to 25th.  It'll be a very big project: 29 homes, a thousand volunteers, across from my Dad's old church on Kingston Road. We'll be parking in the West Hill United parking lot all week. 
It's expected to look like this when it is finished:

    Sept 14th: got my root canal done today - sort of...the endodontist found a fracture in the tooth that extended down below the gum line, about halfway through her work, and closed it up.  It'll have to be extracted, and an implant and crown installed.  Today was the fourth appointment in this process, which looks like it'll stretch to ten appointments over more than six months before it is all resolved.  Sadly, even my very expensive Manulife insurance, which I had taken to calling my "Cadillac plan", won't cover implants, even when a bridge is impossible in that location; and even though they normally cover crowns, they won't cover a crown on an implant post.  They won't even pay what they would have paid for a cantilever bridge.  To add insult to injury, endodontists have very fancy and expensive offices, and charge through the nose, unlike my competent yet modest storefront dentist.

    Sept 27th: we have finished our six day Habitat for Humanity "retirees blitz build", followed immediately by Octoberfest at the yacht club - sauerkraut, schnitzel and beer Saturday evening, and then Deb worked the "morning-after" breakfast shift at the yacht club on Sunday morning from 8:30 until afternoon.  This week we're recovering, slowly emerging from our aches and stiffness.  I cleverly taught myself to hammer with both hands, to reach nails from every angle, with the result that now both hands are sore and tight

    Deborah is planning to continue building with Habitat a day or two a week, while I am more likely to search out a volunteer situation playing or teaching music as time allows - in seniors' homes, or maybe classrooms. 

    We took one day off in the middle of the week to attend a "champagne brunch" for retired teachers, and a Tafelmusik concert with Clare and Pat that featured the chalumeau (a baroque precursor to the clarinet) the evening of the same day.  On Friday evening we attended the elections meeting at the yacht club, where I finally got to turn over my job as Communications Director, after a two year stint, to someone else.  Now we'll get back to playing bridge and tennis, I'll get my molar extracted tomorrow.  We'll do house and yard chores, and maybe sail.  I'll play music once my hands limber up again, and we'll plan our escape from winter. 

    The foster kittens go back tomorrow - not a day too soon.  No more returning to a house strewn with the contents of every kleenex wastebasket, shoes dragged by their laces to random locations, papers flung from the dining room table all over the dining room floor; no more savage beasts chasing each other at full tilt the length and breadth of the house, including across our bed long before it is time to wake up, leaving me scarred and bloody from their little claws inconsiderately digging into my cheek and forehead as they flee from each other in constant fits of panic.  I was beginning to think I might have to start to sleep sitting up in my recliner to keep my face from being torn to ribbons, but on second thought, they sometimes run up the back of my chair, where they grab my head with both claws so that they can chew on my ears and the strap for my glasses.

    September 29th: Yikes!  We returned the three kittens and their mother to Toronto Animal Services this morning, and came back with five more kittens, and their mother.  Here goes: another month of mayhem.  For now, these ones are still tiny, tottering about with their eyes barely open like mouse-sized drunken Lilliputians, so they're no aggravation at all.  Yet.  

    The reason Deborah brings them home from Animal Services is this: mothers stuck in a small cage with their litters are stressed.  They growl at the kittens.  The kittens don't thrive as well, and are underweight by the time they should be spayed and put up for adoption.  In our house the mother can escape from the litter when she needs to, and visit us in the rest of the house.  The kittens, when they're old enough to leave the room we've blocked off as a nursery, have the run of the place and get tons of exercise, which in turn improves their appetite, overall health and size.  We handle them, get them used to humans, and prepare them for their new homes.  And they are an entertainment, to be sure.

    October 2nd: One of the kittens had malformed back legs and a strange widened trunk; instead of walking on the hardwood like her siblings, she pushed itself along with her back legs spread out like a frog.  We've nicknamed her "flipper kitty".  We put down a large rug, and she began to improve once she got a decent grip on the floor with her pads.  Now she walks with her belly off the ground - not as gracefully as the others, and her feet are still a little splayed; but she has, oddly enough, even more aggressive spirit, playfulness and determination.

    October 9th: after turkey dinner for eighty at HYC the day before, we had Sol and Marcy over for thanksgiving dinner at home yesterday.  I made a "harvest table" centre piece with a few squash and miniature pumpkins from our own garden, collected in a rustic basket that Deborah made years ago, that I usually use to collect produce from our garden.  Today is my birthday, so they gave me a nice card with a sailboat, seagull and starfish...and a bottle of Grand Marnier. 

Deborah collected three carcasses and stayed up until the wee hours making turkey soup.  Click on her soup photo to see it up close - see if it makes you hungry.

    October 13th: the kittens have been released from the "nursery" bedroom, and have begun their reign of terror in our house, which will last for another month.  They're learning to race down the hallway, climb the furniture, and attack bare ankles in pack formation.  They are now - after two weeks - as old as the first batch we brought home, which was actually already the second batch if you count Deborah's mid-wife experience with the feral cat who still lives in our backyard, and who brought her kittens up in our furnace room.

    I've just attended my last meeting as Communications Director on the Committee of Management of my yacht club, but I'll continue to produce their newsletters.  The latest one is here.  I've agreed to be reinstated on the executive in the role of house league convenor at my tennis club - something Deb and I used to do together in years past.  Beyond attending meetings, my role is to create balanced teams and schedules for the season: eight teams on four courts, sixteen games each week; provide balls for matches, organize round robins, snacks and socials, and other details. 

    We've joined another choir - called a "jazz" choir, but it is more pop than jazz so far, and certainly no improvisational or "off-the-chart" singing, although some of the written arrangements we're doing have some tasty moments of sound.  We've been attending bridge school one afternoon a week, and playing in a retired teachers' bridge club another afternoon.  I'm still playing in John's "parlour band" one evening a week.  The AMSF investment portfolio has taken up a lot of my time recently, with some major changes to holdings to be analyzed and decided on, and an influx of money to be invested.  These are the ways we stay so busy in retirement.

    We're in the process of setting up a series of trips to distract us from the cold in the coming months, punctuated by my dental implant and crown appointments.

    October 14th: the madness mounts.  As I settle into my easy-chair with my early morning coffee, the Indy 500 begins in the living room in front of me...five cars in the running.  One of my shoes has been wrestled across the living room floor, while its mate, less popular for some odd reason, got left behind.  We have blocked off our bedroom for sanity, but when I step across the barricade, my bare ankle is instantly embraced by the nerdy "flipper kitty" (the wide-eyed, big boned one who couldn't walk on the hardwood when she first arrived), with a purr so loud I can hear it from my tremendous altitude.  She fastens her embrace with the claws of both fore paws, of course.  She'd rather play with me and hug me than eat.  The three little jet black triplets are hopping and side-stepping in fury at each other, with their backs arched like raised eyebrows and their tails straight up in the air, perfect Hallowe'en kitties. 

    Every so often Mommy cat has just had "just about enough" of the five of them, and squats somewhere with her tail twitching in fatigued frustration, but of course, her twitching tail becomes an object of intense fascination and it gets pounced on by a tag team of tiny terrors.  It reminds me of the saying "I'm down to my last nerve, and you're stepping on it!"  They've learned how to climb up my pant leg - or my bare legs, if I'm in my dressing gown - and occupy my lap and chair with me, like radical protestors doing a sit-in at a university office, but they can't just sit in.  They have to show off their moxie by trashing the place a bit.  Having tested their new teeth on the shoelaces and stereo wiring, they now proceed to exercise a wider bite by chewing on my knuckles and piercing my thumb pads with their sharpest new teeth.  They occasionally draw blood.  The taste of blood will probably make them more dangerous predators. I will be their sole caregiver next week, while Deborah is in Montreal.  I can hardly wait.  I wonder if she has any kitten recipes in her vast selection of cookbooks?

    October 18th: Deborah has left to spend a week with her mother and sisters in Montreal, and I sit here with a lap full of kittens, fighting for exclusive use of my keyboard, and back-spacing a lot when I lose the latest battle.
    We've had an interesting last four days, including a trip to see a third of the AGO, where our friend Luanne Pucci manages the membership program.  We actually went to see all of it, but although we gave ourselves a full afternoon, our time was sadly under-budgeted.  It's a much larger, more fascinating place than I'd imagined.  We saw lots of cool stuff, including Shary Boyle's often disturbing porcelains and a room full of model ships.  We'll go back in a few weeks to see some of what we missed; I suspect that a solid three days will be required, in total. 

    When the art museum closed we slipped up to the C-5 Compass restaurant at the top of the ROM.  That was a taste adventure - each item was quite delicious, and the portions, although tiny, were impressively presented by one of the city's top chefs.  Unfortunately, although the architect apparently tried hard to dress the room up, it was still a fairly institutional looking venue.  My view was out the window, half city skyline and the other half unpainted roof-top ventilation machinery and an unexciting roof-top patch of grass called, "Liza's Garden". 
One might have assumed that the chef would make use of that space to grow fresh herbs, maybe some decorative bushes, and different colours and levels of plants to make it visually interesting and give the guests something to comment on, but there were none to be seen - unlike my own garden, which is still full of greenery.

    The seating arrangement contributed to the "institutional" feeling.  They seated all of the first-sitting guests along that bank of windows, maybe to afford us a view of the sunset, but no-one seemed impressed with the view.  They could have turned the sides of the tables parallel to the windows so that couples could each see, share and comment on the view, but instead they had every table placed perpendicular so that one of each couple had their back to the windows.  It made you feel as though you were eating in a hospital cafeteria.  Not much thought went into that.  It places you side-by-side with strangers, reducing your sense of privacy.  That's a big turn-off if you're there for a romantic evening with someone.  There were lots of tables and few guests while we were there, but they packed us all into one section.  It's a big room, they could afford the space; and at those prices, they really need to consider the gestalt. They needed to realize that they're selling a dining experience, not just showing how cleverly they can present food.  We enjoyed the meals we ordered, but we were glad we had a voucher to cover part of the cost.  Without that, three courses with a modest wine and you wouldn't escape for under two hundred dollars, guaranteed. There was something in the Dorset lamb dish - maybe the confit - that caused me severe gastronomic distress at five a.m. the following morning, like I haven't had for years. 

    There was no music. 

    We were glad we had the adventure, and our taste buds were impressed, but it's unlikely that we'd ever make a repeat appearance. 
[ed. Compass shut down that restaurant in 2013.]

    October 31st: I survived my week of bachelorhood.  The worst part was having the kittens decide that my chair was their favourite piece of furniture in the entire house - whether I am in it first, or not.  They love to play "king of the hill" on my lap, and wrestle each other off.  And they have a new trick: they have suddenly acquired the size and agility to leap to the top of the barricade across our bedroom door, dig their claws into the top edge, and haul themselves up and over.  This does not bode well.

    This past week has included our usual diversions, plus prepping our cradle and our sailboat for haul-out.  We've been up at six a.m. for two mornings in a row.  Yesterday I worked on the sling crew on the docks for six hours, placing the slings on each boat for the crane to haul out and set on the cradles in the yacht club parking lot for the winter.  This morning we returned to the club to have our own boat hauled.  Flying sailboats look like flying whales in slings; it never fails to impress. 

    One boat approached the lift dock with an elderly sailor on the bow, and the owner at the helm.  It had motor problems, and had to be towed.  One of our crew yelled out to encourage the owner to correct his aim, "Engage your bow thruster, Bill!"  The elderly sailor on the bow called back, without missing a beat, "No can do, my thrusting days are long over, I'm afraid!"

    We attended a Hallowe'en party last night where creative adults had amusing costumes of their own, in addition to dressing up their progeny.  Kevin the guitar player was a human breathalyzer machine with a strategically placed white tube.  The text above the tube said "blow here".  There was an eyeball piñata and apples on strings bobbing from a clothesline, for the kids, and a chocolate cake with worms and five gory fingers rising out of it.  Tonight, of course, we'll be dropping bags of chips into pillow-cases as the little trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood make the rounds from house to house.

    Nov 10th: The kittens will go back this morning to get spayed and put up for adoption.  As I sit here with my morning coffee, five half-sized cats and one playful full-sized mommy cat are racing and wrestling like monkeys all over the house, leaping straight up stiff-legged in the air in mock panic when they encounter each other, and caroming from room to room like billiard balls. The living and dining room look like the movie Jumanji.

    Winter is closing in. We haven't seen any snow yet, but I mowed the lawns yesterday for perhaps the last time this season, and ate the last of my cherry tomatoes and green onions.  The jalapeño crop is bottled in vinegar.  We've chainsawed and split a cord of wood for the fireplace, cleaned the eaves of leaves, and put up the Christmas lights.  I've played my last scheduled tennis game, and helped the rest of the executive take down the wind screens and nets for the winter.  We've attended our end-of-year Commodore's Ball at Highland Yacht Club.  Our bridge game is becoming more intense as we gradually absorb the intricacies of bidding conventions week by week.  I have a little more time to read, but inevitably, our thoughts drift southward as we dig out the snorkeling gear and swim suits, and mentally pack our suitcases.

    Nov 16th: we've just returned from a very pleasant five days in Edmonton, connecting with family and celebrating Mom and Dad's 60th wedding anniversary.  Dad's chemo program had to be changed, and he was fatigued through the weekend but showed remarkable stamina for his party.

    There's an interesting story about one of the drugs he takes: a friend and colleague of my grandfather in Angola, Dr. Alan Knight, was asked to provide some "thorny leaves" from an Angolan plant to a pharmaceutical research company in the U.S.  My uncle Ian, who was 10 or 12 years of age at the time (he later became a doctor himself and worked in the Congo, Sierra Leone, and finally the North West Territories), went out into the forest and collected the plants for him.  The compound derived from the plant was used to create dexamethazone, which gives my Dad appetite and a boost of energy once a week.  It is amusing to note that this is also a popular drug among prostitutes in Bangladesh, who take it because it boosts appetite and makes them plump and attractive to their clients.
    The trip home was interesting: on the way there I'd had to open every part of my data projector and explain it to the security people, but this time Deborah's purse came under intense scrutiny.  They must have had a test going on and thought someone was going to slip through with secret contraband.  They spent ages inspecting every tiny item in her purse, dozens of items, and running the purse back through the x-ray machine.  They finally blamed it all on a plain-looking pen that looked to them like it might have been a pen-knife in the scanner.  They said it might have been the angle of the pen in the x-ray image.  She also had a "full body massage", including boot squeezing and bun squeezing.  They were obviously looking for explosive underwear.  I had one too, but a little less intense.  I guess she was more appetizing.  I enjoyed mine, of course.

    Our departure was delayed ninety minutes because there was a fuel pump that wouldn't shut off.  We had to disembark, move to another gate, and were flown out on a back-up plane.  Now we are back at home, which seems empty now, devoid of kittens; but quiet and comfortable, as we fall back into our little routines. I made a fire right away, we had turkey soup and watched the Big Bang Theory. We're waiting for a big rainstorm to hit this evening with 40 millimetres of rain and 60 kilometre winds.  Three days of rain are forecast.  On the bright side, it was minus eight in Edmonton, with many centimetres of snow forecast in Calgary and southern Alberta for today, but it was ten degrees above when we landed here.  I was back in my shirtsleeves all the way home.

    Dec 9th: still catching up on everything at home after returning from our two weeks in Varadero.  We flew back on the red eye on Tuesday, climbed into our own bed at 6 a.m. and slept until noon before even beginning to look at snail mail and email. 

    We stayed in a genuinely two star Cuban hotel called Mar Del Sur near the centre of town, and we had a gas.  There were shortages of essentials, maintenance issues, meal buffets that made you shake your head, and a list as long as your arm of things one could criticize, but there was no shortage of sunshine.  We really enjoyed the town and vicinity, the terrific beach and warm blue water, and the Cuban people who were for the most part friendly, polite, hard-working and professional.  They seem a bit confused about what tourists would or should expect, none of them from the managers on down having experienced vacation resorts outside of their own borders.  I'd love to list the things we found silly or ridiculous, but that would just be taking cheap shots without considering the history and experience (or naiveté?) of the people, the continuing shortage of resources, etc.  The dual money system throws tourists for a loop, and they resent paying such a high multiple of what locals pay for goods and services, but it makes perfect sense economically, given the subsidies in place for Cuban nationals to allay the effect of their severely restricted salaries.  I soon realized how unfair it would be for foreigners to enjoy goods and services prices afforded by such drastically low labour inputs.  Theirs is a tightly managed economy, and if we drove a financial wedge into it by being allowed to pay local prices, we would drive up those prices and create inflation that would bury the average Cuban national.  Our vacation was still very reasonable in cost compared to anywhere else we could have chosen to go, and we got to hobnob with Cuban tourists, Russians, Mexicans and a huge family of Miami Cubans visiting the old homeland. 

    In short, I'd recommend it.  We ran all over the peninsula taking in simple local attractions, visited Matanzas city and the Bellamar Cave system, went snorkeling, swam on the beach, studied Spanish, drank beer, cheap rum and Cuban coffee at the bar, and carefully selected the freshest and most appealing items from the buffet offerings to make out our meals.
  It was an eventful trip in other ways, too - I spent my first full evening in Cuba in a clinic ward, passing a kidney stone.  I had a few days of water in my ear from snorkeling, and broke a tooth on a rabbit all happens in threes, they say.

    I began to learn Spanish.  A slight background in French helped.  I spent an hour or so about every second morning sitting at the poolside bar, filling my little black travel diary with verbs and vocabulary from Deborah and the two "animators" Gleibys and Rainier, and Pablo the lifeguard, who had little else to do all day beyond challenging me to games of ping-pong. Rainier was convinced that I'd be fluent in eight weeks.  In a couple of months in Vienna one winter I picked up enough German to read text and carry on a conversation in German on the streetcar on my way to the airport, so I believe he is correct [ed. 2021, eleven years later and several winters in other latin-American countries, I'm still unable to carry on a two-way conversation!) With their help, during the final two days I capped my efforts with a letter to my parents.  I assumed that my Dad, with his Portuguese background, might be able to decipher this. Everyone else is welcome to give it a crack, too:

Madre y Padre

    Aquí estamos en Cuba. Estamos en el Hotel Mar del Sur en Varadero. Al principio hemos encontrado algunas cosas un poco extraño, pero pronto nos empezamos a conocer la cultura cubana y nos empezamosa gustar. Los cubanos son similares a los canadienses en algunos aspectos. Son puntuales todos los días, y ellos trabajamos duro. Al igual que los canadienses, que quieren mejorar sus situaciónes económicas, y mantener todo limpio y recién pintado, dentro de los límites de sus capacidades financieras. Tienen un sentido de dignidad. Están orgullosos de su educación y de lo que han logrado en su sociedad.

    Deborah y yo hemos hecho nuevos amigos dentro y fuera del hotel. Nuestros profesores de español son Gleibys, Rainiero, y Pablo, un salvavidas. Fueron pacientes y amigable.

disfrutado de la playa. Nos fuimos a nadar y bucear. Vimos las escuelas corales y de peces, incluyendo una escuela de Blue Tang. Había cientos de especies. Viajamos en el "autobús" en torno a la península y también fue a Matanzas, donde nos descendiamos  aproximadamente un kilómetro dentro de la Cueva de Bellamar. Admiramos los colores y la configuración de la arquitectura de las casas y edificios en el estado, y comimos comida local. Comimos arroz Congris, Maranga y conejos para el almuerzo.

    En Varadero nos exploramos la península, incluyendo el museo y la "Mansión Xanadú", la antigua mansión de Irene Dupont. En el hotel jugabamos ping-pong, dardos y bingo. También visitabamos a Santa Marta, un pueblo cerca de Varadero. Me alegro de haber pasado dos semanas en lugar de uno. Nuestras primeras impresiones no fueron buenas, pero ahora que hemos llegado a conocer a la gente, la comida y lugares de interés cercanos, nos entristece a regresar a Toronto.

    En estas dos semanas he tenido la oportunidad de aprender algunas palabras en español, como se puede ver.



    Nota: Rainiero dijo que si yo continuo el estudio durante dos meses, voy a ser capaz de hablar español!


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