The Long and the Short of it.

My recent trip to my work office, the actual bricks and mortar building, held a few surprises for me.  I hadn’t been into an IBM office since the day before we left Kenya, last July 10.  I hadn’t been into IBM Canada office since the day I had a short meeting to meet my Canadian manager during our whirlwind trip back in April 2014.  Naturally, there have been a few changes. Much of the main floor was the same, though the marketing and (self) promotional material left me feeling that I had stepped onto a university campus as the photos included men and women from a broad spectrum of apparent ethnicity yet a narrow spectrum of age,  given the youthful appearance (at least to me). Thirty five years with the company and no matter how young I was when I joined, I can only be on the other end of the age scale. The next surprise was finding that my manager, and in fact my whole team, had moved modules.  I found my old name tag on my previous cubicle, but that was the only remnant of my former team. When I finally tracked them down, I found a newly configured work space, sparsely populated (well, it was the first week of the summer, following a four-day weekend) by mostly complete strangers.  Even the names on empty cubicles and offices were strange to me.  Eventually, I met my manager (who didn’t recognize me) and briefly reconnected to my former team mates.  It was only as I was departing the floor that a completely different surprise,  like a eureka, well, perhaps more like an a-ha moment, occurred to me.

If internet information is not always infallible, Facebook information might be considered highly suspect.  Nevertheless, living without any television (technical challenges and laziness)  and limited radio contact (a long-standing habit of personal choice)for the past year,  I confess to having often received world news (mostly tragedies, though I don’t consider our federal election to be a tragedy- yet) through my FB connections.  I have a raised awareness of more local issues and seem to be fairly up to date on personal matters, to the extent that my FB friends share. So in one way, I am up to date and in other ways, out of touch.

It wasn’t until a work acquaintance, upon hearing my unmistakable laugh, tracked me down to give me a warm, welcoming hug.  She greeted me enthusiastically and wanted to know how I was, how I was doing, what was happening etc  It seems she had been following my journey on the blog.  She isn’t a FB friend and so not only was she missing our African adventures (me too) but she felt she was missing staying in touch. A couple of other colleagues, oddly enough from Africa, had made similar comments to me.  I realized that my blog entries might have been entertaining for some, travel advice or perspective for others and a way for others to stay in some way connected.  My long absence from Ahoy Africa had some people wondering what had happened to me.

So for those readers who were enjoying and or following the blog, I apologize for the sudden disappearance. I am fine and all is well.  My last post was seven months ago. Despite the lack of new material, there have been 2,866 views in that time.  The most recent tally of views since I started was 28, 035.  I remain surprised that what started out as ‘letters home’ developed into a journal for me (an activity which helped me not only to process what I was experiencing but rekindled my love of the written word and writing) and a way for friends and strangers alike to travel vicariously both physically and emotionally, depending on their own personal needs and desires.

To those that have missed my ramblings, thank you for missing me. There have been several reasons for my negligence.  Primarily, life these past 12 months have been very hectic. Returning to Canada, getting our farm, the Balm, back in order, getting our Toronto house ready to sell, finding short-term storage for most of the 535 boxes from storage and our African shipment, moving into a wee Toronto apartment and finally, but most consuming, our extensive renovations at the farm, now entering the 6th month.  Secondly, I wasn’t sure what to write about, although there were certainly some hilarious (some at the time, some much later) incidents during all of the above.  But I couldn’t sort out a theme, something that connected all the apparent separate and very ordinary events.  A finally, and probably my biggest road block was the fact that there have been a couple of situations playing out that should not or at least could not be told well, until they have been fully played out. These should be wrapping up shortly and I look forward with great, excited anticipation in sharing them with anyone who is interested.

I suppose that is the segue to what I hope you will find is good news. I have another blog in the works.  The draft name, so far, is Balm Diaries.  There will be a few stories of my continued Canadian re-entry.  Renovations are always good fodder for self-doubt and self mocking, so I expect I can share a few mishaps and successes (thankfully less of the former and more of the latter).  Then stories will most likely take another direction, but I can’t say more just yet. I hope to keep you all entertained.

Thank you for sticking with me.  Thank you for following me. Your comments have touched me, encouraged me and helped me feel connected.

A blessing for Epiphany.

Thank you Nancy R for sharing this with me.

For Those Who Have Far to Travel

A Blessing for Epiphany

If you could see

the journey whole,

you might never

undertake it,

might never dare

the first step

that propels you

from the place

you have known

toward the place

you know not.

Call it

one of the mercies

of the road:

that we see it

only by stages

as it opens

before us,

as it comes into

our keeping,

step by

single step.

There is nothing

for it

but to go,

and by our going

take the vows

the pilgrim takes:

to be faithful to

the next step;

to rely on more

than the map;

to heed the signposts

of intuition and dream;

to follow the star

that only you

will recognize;

to keep an open eye

for the wonders that

attend the path;

to press on

beyond distractions,

beyond fatigue,

beyond what would

tempt you

from the way.

There are vows

that only you

will know:

the secret promises

for your particular path

and the new ones

you will need to make

when the road

is revealed

by turns

you could not

have foreseen.

Keep them, break them,

make them again;

each promise becomes

part of the path,

each choice creates

the road

that will take you

to the place

where at last

you will kneel

to offer the gift

most needed—

the gift that only you

can give—

before turning to go

home by

another way.

—Jan Richardson

from Circle of Grace

When Nancy sent this to me this week and I saw the title in the subject line, I thought, “Oh wow, this is for me.”  As I was reading it,  I immediately thought, “On no, the formatting has gone wonky and its only putting a couple of words on each line.  Should I spend the time reformatting it to make it easier to read?”  Lazy, anxious to get read it all, to get to the end,  I continued reading.  I loved the message, it resonated with me. Then it hit me. My first reaction to reading it was to change the format so I could see ahead.  I was almost skimming it to get to the end, to see what happens. YIKES.  “Physician, heal thyself!” I reread it, slowly. I let it sink in.

January 6th is Epiphany. According to Mirriam-Webster that means :

  • a Christian festival held on January 6 in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ

  • : a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way

It is also, perhaps not ironically, the day Alistair passed. It was five years ago we said good-bye.  There has been a lot of water under that bridge, but the bridge is still standing.

M&D's anniversary 025

My theme for 2016 is “an exciting, pivotal year of change, with new beginnings, to be closer to my authentic me and to be filled with joy.”  I shall do that one day at a time, one step at a time, one image at a time.  I am a pilgrim on this journey, I shall try to heed the signposts of intuition and dream; I shall try to follow the star that I hope I will recognize; I shall try to keep an open eye for the wonders that attend the path.


Alistair’s garden at the Balm

Thank you all for helping me on my journey. Wishing you enough…

2015-02-17- Mossei Bay and  Swellendam 007

Africa? Aren’t you afraid?

When I told people that we were living in Kenya, the topic of security almost always arose and the eventual question was “Aren’t you afraid?”  During our time in Kenya, I thought about it a lot and then I wouldn’t think about if for ages.  Here’s what I have concluded:

I am not afraid of:

  • Getting malaria. It’s not an uncommon occurrence here and as a result, doctors test for it if you are unwell.  Treatment is well know, frequently prescribed and easy to follow.
  • Getting Ebola.  It is transmitted through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with or has died from Ebola and there haven’t been any cases of it in Kenya.  I was closer to London England than the epicentre of the outbreak.  Africa is huge!
  • Getting bitten by spiders, snakes or wild animals. We didn’t see many snakes or spiders (thank goodness).  Wild animals don’t go after people, you actually have to get in their way or really annoy them.
  • Terrorist attacks, though we are careful where and when we go to places.  I suspect the likelihood of me being a victim of terrorism is the same in Canada as it was in Kenya.
  • Getting off the beaten track.  This wasn’t usually difficult to do.  When we stepped out of our comfort zone, when we were in the unfamiliar, which was often, we almost always had a wonderful experience. On occasion, we really got off the beaten track, physically.  But William or Nelson were there and even if they didn’t know where we were (it happened a few times) we always came out right.
  • Life after IBM.  I am actually thinking more about it and am starting to look forward to it.
  • Taking full advantage of living in Kenya though it’s not always easy.

I am afraid of :

  • Liking gin and wine too much, at least for my liver’s sake.
  • Becoming accustomed to champagne, especially Veuve Cliquot (thank you Glenda, Carmen and Dominik)!
  • Running out of money and having to spend my retirement in a trailer park eating cat food.
  • Not figuring out my gifts.
  • Not using my gifts and fulfilling my potential.
  • Not loving enough.  I would love my epitaph to read “She loved wastefully.” but I catch myself being cautious or worse, miserly.
  • Not being a good enough parent, spouse. There is a fine line between being a people pleaser and considerate, between at peace with yourself and being selfish.
  • Not living fully.  I can be too cautious and careful, too worried about what others think. (Moving away and starting fresh was wonderfully refreshing in this respect.
  • No longer to learn and grow, of holding back for fear of making mistakes.

I am not afraid of death, for I am confident that the best really is yet to be….but I am afraid of dying, of either fading away into senility or dying in some tragic battle against disease. I am terrified of cancer and the horrible way it can eat away at one’s body, mind and soul.

No one wants to be afraid. I am not alone in that. I will try to be gentle with myself; knowing that my best is different each day but that most days, my best will most likely be good enough; knowing that I will make mistakes, just as others will and that I should forgive myself as I should forgive others; knowing that when I give up specific expectations, I will be delighted.  To date, my life has given me nothing to be afraid of, so why should it start now? I have been fortunate in such a myriad of ways that even in our tragedies and losses, I have been blessed with so much love and strength and help from family, friends, neighbours and even strangers,  that has enabled me to carry on, to continue to find love and joy.  So, no more being afraid.  I shall try to simply be cognizant of these fears and the opportunities that will certainly present themselves to help me learn to conquer them.

Perhaps too, I shall try not to take myself and life so seriously.  Maybe the best thoughts come from the uncomplicated.  After all, a bear named  Winnie the Pooh uttered the following:

On perspective
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
On slowing down 
“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
On self rewards
“Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘But don’t bother about the bread, please.’”On missed goals
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”On comfort zones
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”On mistakes
“My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.”

On Affection

“Some people care too much.  I think its called Love.”

On loss 
“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
On separation
“If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever.”
On not losing sight of what’s important
Piglet: “How do you spell love?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it, you feel it.”On attachment
“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”On closeness
“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams we can be together all the time.”On selflessness
“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more… to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”

On loss
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
A.A. Milne

So how did your move go?

How did our move go? GO?????  It’s more like going, going and apparently never gone.

Clearly I had been lulled into a false sense of how smoothly moves happen, given the previous three. In fairness, the previous three were ostensibly managed by the movers and paid for by IBM.  Prior to that, the most recent move that we managed ourselves, was 20 years ago.  in other words, a lifetime ago.  Gary was turning 50, I was 7 months pregnant with Alistair and Spencer was a busy almost three year old toddler.  Granted time may have softened (or perhaps eliminated some of) my memory, but it went well.  We were moving from our tiny post-war, East York bungalow.  Remember the houses you used to draw as a kid?  The ones with a square for the building, a triangle for a roof, one door and one window on the front?  That was the spitting image of our starter home. We had been married 7 years and lived in that house for almost 5 years.  During our tenure there, Gary built an amazing deck on the back, I planted colourful annual and perennial gardens and we had the kitchen redone. We did what we could with a small, plain house. It had a warm and cozy finished basement, with a lovely fireplace and the three of us, with our first orange cat Delphi, spent many a winter’s evening there.  In summer, we spent our time outside in the closed in back yard or walking the quiet streets. Almost all of our neighbours, with only a couple of exceptions, were the blue rinse set.  Most were original owners and I suspect that most had decided that the only way they were leaving their homes was in a pine box.

As our family was expanding, so too were our needs.  House hunting took on a new format, where I would go out with the agent one night, looking in my old neighbourhood while Gary stayed home with Spencer. Then Gary would go out the next night looking for houses in his old neighboorhood.  As it turned out, houses in my old neighbourhood, at least anything that I wanted to live in, were out of our snack bracket.  We eventually settled on a house near Gary’s old neighbourhood.  It didn’t meet some of my most important criteria (it had the garage in the front and no separate dining room) and it was certainly not, as Gary claimed it was, in ‘move-in’ condition, but there was something about the house itself that won me over, it just felt right. Welcome 29 Redwillow. While I don’t recall the details, we must have hired movers to actually hump furniture and haul boxes around on moving day.  We must have done the packing ourselves. I suspect we probably used empty cast off boxes from the liquor store and used newspaper for wrapping.  We were only moving a few miles away.  All I do remember is how empty our 4 bedroom house looked with our meager possessions.

As is my habit, I named the house. Nidulus. Latin for ‘little nest’. The years passed.  The house became filled with two boys, two orange cats, a turtle, eventually a dog, more furniture and ‘quelques choses’, friends and family.  It was a very happy house.  We painted, renovated inside in out, landscaped, renovated again, painted again, lived in and loved that house.  It was always our little nest, our place to come home to, at the end of the day or at the end of a trip.  It was our place to celebrate life’s milestones and events and even non-events.  We entertained, formally and informally, frequently and  hosted large family gatherings. The boys picked up on this, feeling comfortable bringing their friends home.  Feng shui or not, the house had great flow. Although blessedly not often, it was also our place to retreat, to lick our wounds and heal.  In short, we all loved that house.

Years later (now 7 years ago) we bought the Balm.  It was really more a bomb, but that’s another story.  But the point here is that when we purchased the big old house, we never really actually moved.  Granted when the local Zellers in Toronto was closing and having a massive sale, I picked up kitchenware and other essentials which we took to the farm.  Sears delivered two twins and a queen size bed and with some new sheets we were up and running.  For a whole year the four of us slept in a main floor parlour, living out of suitcases while we ripped up carpets, replaced windows and walls and put in bathrooms. The rest of the household goods began to slowly appear, arriving by car after successful exploratory missions around the never ending garage sale circuit and excursions to rummage sales and second hand stores.  I have snagged some great road side treasures saving items from the ignomious fate of the dumpster! In no time at all, the Balm felt more and more like its name.

While I had been considering the job in Kenya for a few months in early 2013, the decision to go was not made until Gary and I took our look see trip in May of 2013.  Six weeks later we left Canada.  There was lots to do to get us ready to go (see some of the earliest blog entries) and sorting and purging didn’t make the cut.  The moving company sent a local representative who estimated 4 days to pack up the house.  Their headquarters in the US planned on 3. Everything in Nidulus was packed.  It was either going to Nairobi with us or it was going into long term storage. Midway through the 3rd day, reinforcements were sent and my early evening, additional staff were sent to help with the wrapping and packing.  It was after 11:30 pm that everything was wrapped, packed and loaded into either a container or a truck. Most things went to the right place. The good crystal and 7 bookcases found their way to Kenya while a few  expected items didn’t show up.  We picked up some lovely African things and jettisoned two bedroom suites, one which I vowed on our wedding day we wouldn’t keep for long (it being the previous marital bed) but coats of paint and some refurbishing kept it going for 26 years!

Our 40 foot container left the Gem on July 9th with about the same amount or room to spare (could have picked up more African treasures! Rats!). We arrived home on July 15 and as you know, we were busy getting the Balm back in order.

Late August our air shipment arrived. In addition to important but non essential documents and paper work, Gary had been smart enough to pack more clothes.  By the time it came to packing the air shipment in Nairobi, my CPU was unplugged and I only thew in a few pair of shoes (typical).  It was getting cooler then the air shipment arrived and I could have done with some warmer clothes!

Our Nidulus tenants had asked to extend their moving date by a month, and given how long it took for our shipment to arrive in Kenya, it seemed reasonable to grant them additional month with Sept 30 being their final day.  Imagine my surprise when the moving company kept providing me with updates on the exceptionally quick progress of our container!  It had arrived and cleared customs by late Sept.  The clock started ticking.  We had 30 days to take possession of our belongings before incurring large storage charges.

Under normal circumstances, this should not be a concern.  However, circumstances had changed. Before we left for Nairobi, as much as we loved Nidulus, as much as we treasured the memories and stories that it held, in some way, it was holding us back.  Spencer realized this when he said the house was too big for the two of us.  I realized it too.  Eventually, in Kenya, Gary came to realize this too.  So when returned to Canada, we agreed that we would put the house on the market.  The Toronto real estate market has been smoking hot since we left and we were grateful for the substantial increase in market value of our home.  So while in some ways moving back into the house and preparing to sell it in the spring might be easier to unpack our storage and shipment, in didn’t make sense in the long run.  As soon as we had repossession of the house, we started preparing the house for sale.  We had already engaged our friend and real estate agent Sue Mills before we left Canada so we already had the house details as well as the recommendations from the stager (declutter, declutter, declutter, then stage!) First, all the floors.  The upstairs floors needed sanding and refinishing and hardwood floors installed in 2 closets.  The stairs and stair rails, from the basement to the second floor also needed sanding and finishing.  It only made sense, from an esthetics perspective, to refinish the main floor floors in the same dark antique oak colour.  That took over 2 weeks to complete.  The clock was ticking and the house needed painting too.   The outside was painted a single colour, a paler shade than what was there.  It was decided that the whole house (except the basement) should be painted white. I snapped a few shots of meaningful things from the boys’ rooms.


Spencer’s room prior to the ‘great white wash’, with great schmooshing job and custom quote


Alistair’s room prior to the ‘great white wash’ with clouds and bugs


Bumble bees and gossamer winged dragonflies that I painted

Kitchen cupboards were painted as well.  A handsome marble herringbone backsplash was installed. New hardware in the kitchen and family room.  Brass switch plates switched out. New garage door opener installed. A plumber was called in for minor repairs.  The front and back yards (so completely overgrown in 2 years) were trimmed, cut, raked, pulled and beds were tied with fresh mulch. With the exception of the floors, we would have done this all ourselves.  It would have taken us months of non stop work and complete disruption. With the help of professionals, almost all of this was done before our goods were delivered to the house.

In the mean time, I looked for a small flat in the city.  Our family and friends, doctors and services are all in the city.  My office, should I need to go in, is near home.  Our intention is to live at the farm, but I needed a safety net.  I was lazy and overwhelmed with all the moving pieces.  I looked at three apartments, all within a mile of our house. We settled on a very small two bedroom flat around the corner from Redwillow and next door to Jubilee United. It has a balcony, lots of windows and faces west.  Its on the third floor of a four story 50 year old building.  Nothing fancy, but it has all that I think we will need.

Our shipment deadline arrived. Then it was real fun and games.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  With all this work done, we needed to do the final staging properly.  This meant that only a fraction of our belongings should come to the house.  IBM had refused to deliver our storage to the farm so both storage and our overseas shipment had to be delivered to Redwillow.  On Tues Sept 22, a 26′ truck backed up to the house. Three guys started to unload the boxes as Gary and I directed traffic. Thankfully we had divested items in Kenya and most of our large pieces of furniture in our shipment was to be used.  But what of the other boxes.  We had 272 boxes (and a life size metal gnu, Kelly) in our overseas shipment.  It made no sense to unpack kitchen items as we wouldn’t be living there.  So boxes labelled Kitchen were left in the garage.  Several carpets and a few pieces of furniture went there too. This is when I discovered the curious labeling methodology of our Kenyan packers.  If it went on a wall, it was called a ‘painting’.  Whether it was a painting, a plaque a photo or a mural, it was called a painting.  The room it came from was not noted.  Likewise, anything that sat out was called a ‘decoration’ or ‘ornament’.  Candles, bowls, glass items, figurines, planters, carvings etc all fell under this designation.  Again, no notation of where it was in the Gem. Bedding, towels and table linen were similarly lumped together.  So while I needed bedding for the beds and a few towels I did not need tables clothes and place mats and napkins.  Even the collection of items didn’t always make sense as I found our master bedroom bedding packed with a garden bench. The original staging advise had started with decluttering.  With a near empty house decluttering was no longer required and only a few well selected items were needed.  But how to determine which of the dozens of boxes marked “ornaments’ should we open?   Thankfully, Ray and his two moving buddies were more than patient and understanding as boxes that were in the house on the first day, were resealed and moved to the garage. This went on for 2 days.


Boxes everywhere……In the family room


…in the kitchen…


…in the dining room…


…in the living room….

On the third day, the guys were going to bring our items for storage.  On the Wed, when they left for the day, they told me that it was about half as much as we had already unpacked.  It was a lot, but I geared myself up for it. Thursday morning came and they backed up the 26′ truck (for the third time).  I couldn’t believe when they opened up the back and there wasn’t room for a toothpick!  How could this be?  Seems they were just as ‘surprised’ as I was.


Another 273 boxes to unpack. WHOA. We had worked out a side deal with the guys and most if not all of it would go to the farm. So off it went to the farm.  Gary went to the farm as well, to direct the unloading of the boxes into the ground floor of the barn.  Friday morning, another 26′ truck back into the driveway.  This time it was empty.  We loaded all the previously unloaded boxes that we would not need in the apartment as well as paints and workshop items, ladders and bins of stuff stored in the workshop and garage while we were gone.  What was left got shifted to the now almost full double car garage. By the end of 4 days, about 60 boxes were in the garage, another 60 or 70 boxes had been unpacked and the remaining 400+ boxes were in the barn. Several days later, the For Sale sign went up on the house.

Okay, so that wasn’t so bad.  Was it?  Ah, but that’s not the end. Of course.  Not nearly. Those 400 boxes piled somewhat indiscriminately in the barn.  We had 90 days from Oct 21 to make any claims.  From the unpacking already done, there were 2 broken side tables, a water stained silk lampshade and some damage to a wool carpet.  I was worried about other, more fragile items.

For the next month, every morning Gary would rev up the garden tractor, load up the trailer with boxes and bring them over to the house.  We would unpack the box, then sort contents into keep, or delete, try to find a home for the ‘keep’ items, determine what  to do with delete items (someone in the family? thrift shop? recycling? e-waste or, last resort, garbage), dispose of said delete items accordingly, and then put all the packing materials and boxes into the trailer and take it back to the barn, where it piled up, waiting for a calm day so that we could have a huge burn.


Items to keep had to meet at least one of three criteria; it had to be useful, beautiful or significantly meaningful, (not just as in ‘it came from so and so’ or’ so and so’ made it. After two weeks of daily thrift shop drop offs, I am not sure if they were happy to see us or wanting to tell us to stop coming! The boxes in the barn never seemed to decrease and I became discouraged whenever I went there. There was so much old ‘crap’; boxes of boxes, for gift giving and wrapping, old ski gear that hadn’t been used in years and was no longer usable nor quaint enough to be pinterest-able.  Where to put 72 photo albums of ours and half again as many from my parents (after Mom’s last move)? Most of Spencer’s treasures from his boyhood room went into boxes for him to sort through on a subsequent visit.  Old car and game magazines were pitched. But National Geographic maps would make great wrapping paper. Trunks of fabric and patterns sorted and pitched.  Amongst all the stuff of our lives, now more like flotsam and jetsom, were wonderful treasures and memories, photo albums, our family travel journals, crafts and even a few good art projects of the boys’.  I couldn’t help myself, despite the ticking clock, like a stalking crocodile, I had to slow down, to recall, to remember, to savour the memories. It was coming back. And then there were boxes of Alistair’s things. Christa had already gracefully taken most of his clothes, but there was hockey gear (donated to the local hockey league) and favorite books (added to the children’s books collection at the Balm) as well as note books, cameras and the clutter of a boy’s desk and dresser. As I came across these items, I would oscillate between smiling and laughing and crying. Sometimes I was transported to a happy event or occasion, but I always ended up at the hole that is in our lives now.  As hard as it was to go through his things, knowing that it will be hard seeing them again, there were still some items that I was not ready to part with, just yet. So homes, temporary or permanent, were found.

To complicate matters further, the barn roof was missing large sheets of metal and as a result was leaking. The roof was being repaired by a two man team and it was slow work, weather dependent and requiring large sections of old tin to be removed before the new metal could be replaced. The days were getting shorter, the gentle summer winds had picked up and the rains had started.  We were constantly rearranging tarps over the ever shifting piles of boxes.  Garden furniture and outdoor items were moved to the back, waiting for the spring for complete unpacking, or so we thought.  But when we discovered our master bedroom sheets and bedding with an outdoor garden bench, we had to rethink the unpacking strategy again.  We were dirty, discouraged and mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day.

By mid December, we had rearranged, opened and unpacked and all the boxes in the barn.  Gary had cleared a 40′ x 14′ path through the barn and there was only a small section at the far end of outdoor/garden items.  We got possession of the apartment (still as yet unnamed, though Nidulus may be more appropriate than ever, it doesn’t quite seem to fit) on Dec 15. A consultation with master decorator, sister Suzanne, and paint colours were chosen and applied. The earliest we could get the same moving guys was Sat Dec 19.   That morning, we packed up all the remaining boxes and beds and moved into the apartment.  It took over 4 hours to do the apartment.  Then back to the house to pack up whatever wouldn’t fit into the apartment for the final trip to the farm. The guys arrived at 8 am and left the farm at 7 pm.  It was the coldest day we had experienced in years (literally) but at least we didn’t have snow to deal with!

On Sunday, we played musical beds as we moved our Kenyan king size into our bed room, then our old queen size into a guest room and the 3/4 bed into……you get the picture.  Then back to the city to finalize the house closing and start unpacking in the apartment.  I was thrilled when a new neighbour asked if we were getting rid of the boxes and as she is moving in a month, could she have them as they are so expensive and she is expecting her 3rd child?  Merry Christmas I told her, they are all yours.

I know people who have moved lots, I know people who like to move often, and those that like to buy and sell houses. People do this all the time and they do it with large families and pets. I don’t know how they do it! They must be very good at minimizing their stuff and purge on a regular basis or simply do not acquire so much stuff.  maybe they don’t get sentimental about stuff.  Perhaps they are more driven, focused or energetic than I am. Maybe being younger would help too. Maybe they have a better perspective or balance.  I love organizing.  When I am feeling stressed out, reorganizing cupboards or closets or sheds can be very rewarding and calming for me (though hardly relaxing).  The converse of that is that I find chaos and disorder very stressful. I know I should go with the flow and let it go. Some days I can do that, but when it becomes a chronic state, as in months of chaos, it gets to me.  Poor Gary can attest that this has ‘gotten’ to me.

But it’s almost all behind us now. Slightly more than five months after returning to Canada we have, with the exception of two remaining boxes at the apartment, unpacked. The apartment has started to feel a bit like home and once the walls are covered with art and other ‘treasures’, and new old light fixtures installed it will be our ‘city crib’.   The other exciting part of all of this turmoil is that with the sale of Redwillow, we can now proceed with the long anticipated, dreamed of renovations at the Balm.  Of course, this will require more shifting and packing, but I am not going to think about that today!  For now, we look forward, with excitement and anticipation to a new kitchen and dining room and sunroom and if we are lucky even a new porch.

Now that I am on the tail end of the move, I can finally say, “It went well.”  The crib is ready for guests! The Balm door is always open. We look forward to a new year having moved across the world and across a province.

We keep going….




Sydney saved us.  She brought joy and love and laughter to Spencer, Gary and I when we most needed it.

Six weeks after Alistair died, while we were still reeling with our loss, Gary and I drove 5 hours west of Toronto.  We were going to visit a puppy we were hoping to bring home.  Contrary to my logical desire for a mid-sized, short-haired, blond puppy, the on-line photo showed a black puff-ball.  It was love at first sight for us.    She was only 3 1/2 months old and was considered a rescue puppy.  We were not told of her specific situation, but perhaps her situation had led her to be nervous.   Hence her foster family named her Nelly. Because of the distance we had traveled and our unusual circumstances, mandatory multiple pre-visits were waived and we took our new puppy home.   We went home with her that day.  She was clearly more comfortable in her crate as she tried to squeeze into the smallest nook or cranny whenever I tried to hold her on the drive home.  But what joy we all experienced as we placed her into Spencer’s arms.  I don’t think he had wanted to come on the drive with us, for fear that we wouldn’t actually get her.  He was so excited when that black bundle of fluff snuggled into him.


Puppy Sydney


first spring at the farm, on the prowl

First up was a name.  Nelly she might have been but she needed her Hoy family name. I suggested Houston (as in “Houston, we have a problem.” since when you have a dog, mostly likely, there will be a problem).  But Spencer didn’t think it was a girl’s name.  He did however, want to keep with our pet naming tradition of naming them after a place we have been (Delphi, Brewster and Tracadie).  He said, “Alistair always wanted to go to Australia, so I think we should name her Sydney.” Well, that was that, Syndey she was.

In no time at all, Syndey felt at home with us.  She seemed to sense our need for her.  She loved us unconditionally.   She made us happy.  She helped us to mourn and grieve and love and laugh.  She helped us to look forward again.  She helped us heal.  She got us out of the house for walks, to engage in the world again, with nature and people and other dogs.  She got us thinking about something other than ourselves and our loss.  Even on the blackest days she brought sunshine.  Several times, when Spencer returned from school, at his lowest, within minutes she could bring him back to life.  Her asymmetrical ears, one perked up the other flopped over, listening to his troubles and woes, her thick coat absorbing his tears, her warmth comforting him, her wagging tail a promise of better things to come.   Needless to say, we loved her unconditionally.

The armful of black fluff grew and grew.  We were beginning to see the signs of her parentage, shepherd and collie.  She went everywhere with us.  She seemed to enjoy the car rides back and forth to the farm.  In the rear view mirror, Gary could see her looking out the windows, one ear up, the other flopped over.  If the back vents were open, her nose would be out, sniffing and sorting all of the delicious smells.


She loved the farm.  Here she could run without limit. At first she would run into the fields surrounding us, but eventually she learned to stay on the cleared land.  She sniffed and rooted like the best truffle pig.  She barked and chased birds and felt it was her personal responsibility to keep the turkey vultures off the barn and away from the house.  She was an avid collector of sticks.  Why have one when you can get at least 3 or 4 into your mouth?  Morning walks along the laneway were always fun.  Untelegraphed, she would leap into the air, as if on springs, to pounce on something unsuspecting, possibly a rustling leaf and moving bug, or on the best mornings, a mouse or mole.  I tried endlessly to snap a shot of her with all four legs, tucked under her, high into the air, but she moved like lightning and there was never an indication of the forthcoming ‘four paw jump’.  But I always laughed out loud when she did it.  Her face would be buried in the grass, her fluffy tail wagging furiously.   When she wasn’t flying and pouncing, she was prancing.  There was something reminiscent of a fine dressage performance when Syndey moved.  I can’t even say she walked as she literally bounced along, picking up her knees and toes so delicately.  And then there were her ‘pantaloons’, the silvery black plumage that billowed from her back legs!   The white cross on her bib literally flowed proudly from her chest.

Spencer and Sydney on her first birthday.

Spencer and Sydney on her first birthday.

She was prone to ear infections.  But we could not deny her the total joy she felt when she was in the water.  Of course it was impossible to keep her out of the creek at the farm.  It spring it would be freezing and by late summer it would be a green slimy trickle but neither seemed to bother her at all.  But the best was taking her to Little Bluff Park. There, the terraced river stone shoreline made for easy (and clean) entry.


On the lookout at Little Bluff

We literally spent hours throwing sticks into the water for her to retrieve.

Why settle for one stick when more is better?

Why settle for one stick when more is better?


At the beach.  "Come on, throw me a stick."

At the beach. “Come on, throw me a stick.”

When we ran out of sticks, tossing a small stone into the water would send her out in search at the splash zone and sometimes even diving down to bring us back another stone.  It was during one of these ‘beach visits’ that we noted her webbed feet and begin to suspect that there was also some Newfoundland dog in her background.  After spending hours in the water, she would climb into the van, happy and exhausted, soon falling fast asleep.

If it can't be water, then ice will do!

If it can’t be water, then ice will do!

In summer, her thick black coat had her finding shade and or dirt whenever she could,

Sydney in the dirt

but when the weather turned cooler, as it had the past few weeks, she was truly in her element.  She was content to be outside all day long. As she foraged, she would become almost encrusted with burrs and she would spend ages grooming and ridding herself of the dreaded things.  The first winter at the farm, the creek spilled over its banks and created a small pond on the front lawn which subsequently froze. It was not unusual to find her with a stick, but we were amazed to see her on the ice, with a stick in her mouth, pushing a ball around.  It was like she was Alistair playing hockey, waiting for Spencer to come and join her.


Sydney loved the snow.


Exploring the edge of the ice flow at Sandbanks.


A winter walk at Sandbanks

I didn’t love the huge black tumbleweeds of fur that collected all over the house, but she was a constant and faithful companion.  I always felt safe when I was alone at the farm for her size and the deep sound of her bark kept the coyotes at a distance.  As a family (okay, me) we are fond of nicknames (and naming inanimate objects) and I endearingly called her my little bear.  She certainly resembled a bear with her velvet face and wide head, the white cross on her chest and her sheer size.  She sometimes scared or startled visitors, but she was eager to greet people, although sometimes too energetically for some people.  She actually knocked my mother down in her enthusiasm once and I don’t think she ever understood her error.  She would often greet visitors by putting her paws up on the car door so give a friendly and personal hello.  It was a habit we were making some progress in breaking.

Her love of bees was certainly bear like.  Having bees on our property, I learned that Winnie the Pooh has lead us all astray as bears are actually more fond of bees than they are of honey.  When they attack hives, they often leave the honey behind and focus only on eating bees. Which is why beekeepers where white and bees go after large black animals.  Thankfully, Sydney did not go after the bees in their hives, but if any bee or wasp or yellow jacket or other flying insect was around the house or near us wherever we were, they were fair game and often ended up in her stomach. We were always worried about this behaviour, but it seemed she only got stung once or twice and clearly it was not enough to dissuade her of this habit.

Going to Africa posed a challenge for us.  We needed to go, for Gary and I to move forward, but what about our Little Bear.  We were ignorant and unknowing.  I was worried about the heat (which never really materialized) but I was more concerned about space for her.  Apartment living would have been punishment for her.  On our look see trip based on what I thought my living allowance was, we were looking at apartments. I could not see her being happy there and while she was no longer Nervous Nelly, despite all her bird and mouse bravado, she was really a wimp.  What would two 7 hour flights and potentially 20 hours of travel do to her?  It almost broke my heart, but I began frantically looking for a home for her.  Several dear friends offered to take her, but one said that they would keep her, knowing that they would not be able to give her up 2 years later. That wouldn’t have been fair to Spencer, and we wanted her back. Another had to reconsider, given that she would probably be too much for her elderly mother to handle when she came daily for meals.  The clock was ticking and days were flying by.  And then an angel appeared.  Shan and Steve said that if Sydney got along with their two dogs, they would take her.  The other condition was that we take her back when we returned. And so Sydney spent 2 years with her foster family who loved her and spoiled her and cared for her like no one else could have.  She was in heaven with other dogs, one young enough to play energetically with.  There was a dog flap for endlessly running in and out.  There was even, eventually, a chair that she was allowed up on, with a great view of the comings and goings in their huge, corner lot, enclosed back yard.

Sydney in 'her' chair

Better still was the pool, which was originally off-limits to dogs, but somehow Sydney, showing her sheer delight of the water,  wormed her way into their hearts and the pool.

Sydney waiting for the pool to open

Seems that she liked sports, those with sticks and those with balls, so hockey in winter and croquet in summer.

Sydney playing croquet.

Sydney playing croquet.


While we probably could have had her in Kenya, her size would have terrified most Kenyans (afraid of all dogs) and I am not sure she would have survived the flights.  I suspect she wouldn’t have been the same after them.  And so, divine providence resolved that she stay behind, as happy and as loved as she had ever been.  Shan even set up a Facebook page ( with photos and updates so that we (and her other friends) could stay in touch.

When we returned to Canada for 2 weeks in April 2014, for Alistair’s blood donor clinic and my mother’s 90th birthday, we made the trip out to Cambridge with Spencer to visit her.  It was clear to us that she was completely happy and at home. It was also clear to us that she had not forgotten us.  How wonderful that felt.


Sydney in a field Sydney overseeing lumber Sydney squirreling

As I have already written, upon our return to Canada, after the best surprise of Spencer and Ashley meeting us at the airport, we drove directly to Cambridge to pick up our little bear.  No sooner had I sqealled “Skidney” she literally wiggled for joy.  We gathered her belongings and once again, made a 5 hour journey to our home with her.  Once at the Balm, she charged around, checking out her old favorite spots as if only a couple of weeks not years had passed.  She was home again.  Large and in charge and happy.  It was obvious that she missed her foster family.  No one can entertain and play with another dog like a dog can, but she quickly settled into her new, old familiar routine.  She bounced with anticipation and the pleasure of her off leash morning walks down the laneway to the road and back.

When Tusker arrived at the Balm, a mere 3 days after we arrived, she greeted him warmly. Once it was established and understood that she was the boss, (clearly no threat for this sucky boy) their friendship was established.  In the 3 1/2 months they have been together, they have become almost inseparable, except when it comes to the bees, water and the cold.  Tusker is quite happy to steer clear of the former and keep his feet on the bottom with water and stay inside with the latter.  They snuggled, tugged, chased and rolled around together.  They shared each other’s baskets and on at least one occasion shared one basket together.   Even the grandsons had fallen in love with both of them.  While two dogs definitely required more logistics than one, it was evident that it was all going to work out.

Sydney and Tusker Sydney teasing Tusker with a ball

Branch Manager and Assistant Branch Manager

Branch Manager and Assistant Branch Manager


Sydney saved us, but today, I could not save her.  This morning the dogs and I were walking down our 1/2 mile laneway.



Often Gary takes them, sometimes I do.  This morning it was me.  It was a daily competition who could get out the back door fast enough.  Syndey’s objective was the check out the drive shed for possible squirrels and other entertaining and annoying rodents.  Tusker’s objective was to play and stay beside Sydney.  This was always followed with a quick romp around the back yard.  Tusker would then do his business near the corn and Sydney was off along the laneway.  As she did every morning, she would head into the rows of dried up corn.  Despite their dried up brittleness, she would be in stealth mode, completely silent as she ran along the rows. It was always a surprise to me to see her pop back onto the laneway a hundred or so yards ahead.  While the laneway crossed over the creek, Sydney sometimes chose to swim across.  But this morning, the two of them were nose down checking out the smells on the road.  We reached the road and then turned to go back to the house.  About 50 yards along, Sydney stopped, her ears pricked up.  She heard something.  I assured her that the whistling she heard was just a car speeding along our road.  But she turned and bolted towards the road at top speed. Despite my commands, my yelling and eventually shrieking, she kept going, gather speed as she went.  The tall corn goes almost to the road.  She ran right out onto the road, the white car probably didn’t see her coming.  He was speeding.  I could her the impact and saw her body flying.  The car sped on.  I screamed a sound I didn’t know I was capable of making.  I found her  5 feet off the road, 50 feet away.  I think she died as I stroked her broken body.

I can’t tell the rest of the story. But she is being cremated. We get her back on November 11th.  Its Remembrance Day and would have been her 5th birthday. She saved us and filled our lives with smiles and joy and laughter and hair and happiness.  I can’t believe she is gone.

I only have this photo which I took on my phone. The rest are on hard drives back at the house.  I will add some photos of our beautiful Little Bear at a later date.  Right now, I shall pull the covers over my head as I feel this is the last straw.  I am tired of being strong.

Sydney looking up


Good bye my dear Sydney.  May you rest in peace.  Alistair, you have your dog at last.



Home Alone

Or Missing my Peeps

Two and a half months have passed since we arrived home. It is safe to say that we are  enjoying being back in Ontario and are getting settled in. We got repossession of Nidulus, our house in the city today and are trying to make arrangements to get the floors refinished (some of which need to be done before we left) as well as painting inside and out and a massive garden clean up.  I was trying to expect the worst, thinking that I despite that I could still be in for a surprise.  Well, I was.  A very pleasant surprise. The renovations in the basement that were done in our absence were done well.  Other than a dirty oven and stove and en suite shower, there was very little evidence that tenants had even been in the house for the picture hooks we left had never been removed!  For two whole years. Thankfully, our wonderful friend and real estate agent Sue Mills,met us as the house and jumped into action with quick calls to a garden/landscape company, painters and the ‘stager’ to get things lined up.  Sister Suzanne had already connected me to the best floor guy in town and we are now off to the races with another set of dominoes in play as we would like all the work on the house to be done prior to taking possession of our storage items (which IBM has refused to deliver to the farm) and our sea shipment, which must be no later than Oct 20.  Did I mention that next weekend is Thanksgiving (with 9 at the Balm) and we are away the following weekend? This is when I wish it wasn’t a 2 hour drive from the Balm to Nidulus.  But its like pulling off a band-aid, best done quickly.

I often think back to our time in Africa and recently I have caught myself not only smiling, but laughing out loud, wondering what would Jane and Nelson and Samson think if they could see me now, as I do all of the things myself that they were doing for me, on top of my 8 hour day!  Like Jane, I have a wash machine for the laundry and I peg out the laundry on the clothes line.  Unlike Jane, I don’t do laundry every day or every other day.  My wash machine in Canada is larger than the Barbie doll one we had in Kenya.  As well, our electricity rates vary throughout the day with peak periods (meaning usage and price) are from 9am to 5pm, shoulder period from 7am to 9am and 5pm to 7pm and the low period from 7pm to 5am. Its low period all weekend long. Prices almost double from low to high.  We didn’t have a dryer in Kenya.  Even though I am not using dryer (which is an energy guzzler) I try to work laundry outside of peak periods.  Since I start work at 5 or 6 am, it leaves evenings and for some reason, I am not keen on leaving laundry on the line overnight.  This might be a fallout from Jane who wouldn’t either.  So it has evolved that I do about 4 loads on the weekend. Which is a lot of pegging!  I won’t even mention ironing suffice it to say that its has only been done on the two occasions that Gary needed a dress shirt.  Unless I stay at a hotel, I will never experience ironed sheets (and everything else) again!

Don’t even get me started on meals.  When Gary was retired, much of the Tuesday to Friday cooking was done by him.  I enjoy dinner parties, the planning and organizing. Setting the table is my favorite part.  I would even get into the cooking, though I would run out of ideas, interest and energy by dessert.  I would often do a roast on Sunday which would at least have Monday dinner covered as well. But when Spencer left for college, I just couldn’t get the whole cooking for two thing. It seemed like such a waste of time.  I got very lazy about cooking.  Presto chango – Jane!  Voila, cooking for two resolved,  although Jane never figured out, intentionally or unintentionally, how to actually cooked for two either.  But at least it wasn’t really my problem.  Although we tried several times to get Jane to meal plan and grocery plan, this was left up to us and by us I mean predominantly Gary. I know it sounds spoiled, we did grow weary of planning meals, but certainly appreciated the execution left in Jane’s very capable hands. I would arrive home after work around 7 or 8pm to find dinner ready (since 5pm, but ready nevertheless.) Coming back home was a bit of a shock.  It seems like so much effort to cook a well-balanced, appetizing meal.  Opening a box of crackers and a wedge of cheese is so much easier and every bit as tasty and satisfying, isn’t it?  With all the work we were doing around the house, we didn’t even think of eating while the sun was still high in the sky and by the time the sun set, it was close to 9pm and way too late to start cooking dinner. We started a re-training program and we are finally getting into a better and healthier routine.  Oh Jane, how I miss you.

I have also done a lot of washing dishes by hand.  We didn’t have a dishwasher at the Gem.  As it was, Jane wasn’t that busy, so we decided not to purchase one. Besides, with just the two of us, and me gone for lunch and both of us out for dinner often, it wasn’t an onerous task to do our few dishes.  For social and logistical reasons, Saturdays were better for dinner parties and as Jane didn’t come in on Sundays and I could not bear to see dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen all Sunday, I often did all the dishes myself, so it was only on these occasions that I missed it at all. We do have a dishwasher in Canada.  It broke only a few weeks before we left for Kenya and according to the error message, it required a licensed technician.  We didn’t have the time to get it done before we left and I hoped that anyone who was going to stay at the Balm for holidays while we were gone could handle life without a dishwasher.  So it waited for our return to be repaired.  A week or so after our arrival home I called the 1-800 number to initiate the repair.  Clearly the machine was no longer under warranty, would we like to pay a flat fee of $200 which would include all parts and labour (which could be between $40 and $70 an hour) or pay as you go?  I didn’t have to think long to choose the flat rate.  The company that services the area sends technicians to the county only one day a week, so it was going to be almost 2 weeks before he could come.  No problem, I could carry on doing the few dishes the two of us were using.  The designated day arrived and the technician arrived on time. We had almost forgotten how that worked!  He pulled out the machine and began to putter and tinker.  He made the repairs based on the error code, but that didn’t resolve the problem.  Upon closer inspection, he found another problem.  Mice had chewed the wires.  He wasn’t sure this sort of damage would be covered by the flat fee but he proceeded to order the parts. Two weeks later, he showed up with the additional parts and spent another hour or so fussing with the machine.  He left us with the machine running a rinse cycle to clean it out before we used it.  Yeah!  Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.  While the machine was working, it wasn’t doing its job actually cleaning dishes.  Before I called to have the technician come back I actually pulled out the manual and reviewed the ‘troubleshooting’ section.  I took out the spray arms and took them apart the cleaned them out as there had been some gunk lodged in them.  I ran another load.  No luck. So I called for a technician again.  When I told the operator that I had cleaned out the spray arms she asked about the hardness of our water, could it be that?  No, we had a water softener and it was working.  It was going to be another 10 days for the technician.  During that time, it became spottily apparent, that it was indeed the water softener that was causing the problem.  More salt, that should do it.  But it didn’t and every time a load came out spotty and filmy, I would have to clean every dish and glass with vinegar, then rinse in hot water. While it sounds simple enough, the logistics were not.  I took to hand washing all the dishes, but eventually even that wasn’t getting the dishes clean.  I went on strike, refusing to waste my time washing any more dishes until the problem was solved. The dishes piled up for 3 days. After trying every other troubleshooting solutions, as a last resort we decided to empty out the brine tank.  We scooped out about 80+ pounds of salt by hand.  Once all the pebbles of salt had been removed, we discovered a salty muddy muck at the bottom.  Gary was able to completely disconnect the tank and haul it outside where we dumped it out.  We hosed and washed it down then he hooked it up again, poured in 40 kg of fresh salt and ran the regenerator.  I held my breath as we put a few items in the dishwasher (I was not going to wash in vinegar a full load of dishes if it didn’t work) and practically cheered when they all came out sparkling clean with nary a hard water spot in sight!  YEAH. Two and a half months later.  So yes Jane, I miss you.

I haven’t shared the long story of getting our cars back on the road. The short story goes like this.  Upon our return, we get back the batteries which brother-in-law James has kept from freezing and put them into the cars which are still in the barn.  In order to get them towed to the service centre, they need to be licensed.  In order to be licensed, they need insurance.  Once done, the cars both go in for servicing and for less than $700 are both back on the road, with a caution that we need to remain vigilant, especially with my 17-year-old Sunfire.  I of course, forget this warning and am off and running.  Several weeks later, without incident, I am notified that our air shipment has arrived and I need to go to the customs office to sign the requisite paper work in order for it to be released and delivered. Their offices are on the ‘other’ side of Toronto and will require a two and a half hour drive. I hadn’t even driven in the city since our return so I planned my drive to avoid rush hour traffic coming and going across the top of the city and head off after being up early and working for a few hours.  The day was unexceptional with the customs paperwork being signed off easily.  I had a quick catch up with Caryl (of African visit fame) who lives not so far away from said Customs office and then headed back.  I was home 8 hours later.  While I can’t drive endless like Gary can, I rather enjoy driving, but spending 6 hours behind the wheel, by myself was a long and tiring day indeed.  Oh how I missed Nelson.

About a month later, as I pulled into the grocery store, (having to actually park myself and not be let out at the entrance) the brakes seemed soft.  Sure enough, on my way home I discovered that the brakes were gone.  Our mechanic told us that the brake lines were gone, the gas tank was leaking and the gas lines would probably go too.  Time to stop putting good money after bad.  We went to two used car lots, looked at two cars and two days later, I bought a 2006 Ford Escape in electric blue.  I love it.  It actually has power windows and a sunroof and room for 2 dogs.  It has all the other stuff too, engine, tires etc.  But if I can’t have Nelson with me, at least I can sign at the top of my lungs (he never liked the music loud) and my hair blowing in the wind!  The day after I got my ‘new’ car, I drive back to customs to sign the paperwork for our sea shipment.  It was an even longer drive as a result of a horrific vehicular accident on the highway, but I could put on the cruise control and enjoy the ride.  Nevertheless, I still miss Nelson.

I think Samson would have the biggest shock seeing me here in Canada.  I suspect my hands may now be rougher than his from all the yardwork I have done.  Mowing the lawn on the ride on mower is fun.  Cleaning up Alistair’s garden took over 2 months in 2 – 4 hour increments of work, but was very rewarding. We got a new Stihl machine with line for trimming and a blade for cutting down thicker brush.  I went mad with it one day until the vibration had my whole arm numb and my back sort with the unergonomic way I was holding it.  I was much better the next day.  Call me the blade runner!  Cutting down trees made us feel like we were making progress, but hauling off brush to the now ginormous burn file seemed like a never-ending job.  I have sweated like a pig and worn through two sets of work gloves.  Oh the times I have called for Samson, knowing that he would never question nor complain, but simply put his back into the work and get it down.  Though the yard work at the Gem couldn’t put a candle to what needs to be done here.  Oh Samson, how I miss you.

And just in case you might think that Gary is sitting with his feet up eating bonbons, he has been equally as busy too.  All of the aforementioned machines needed to be tuned up before using.  Tires needed replacing.  While I help with tree cutting and despite Gary’s offer, I leave the chainsawing to him. His current project is the vestibule.  He has taken down the plaster and the lathing on the walls and ceiling.  We discovered that not  only was there no insulation, but holes to the outside (a freeway for the critters to get into the house).  So he has patched the holes.  Put in insulation and a vapour barrier and installed dry wall.  Now the fun part.  Mudding and sanding.  I am hoping that it gets done and can be painted before our 7 guests arrive for Thanksgiving this Friday.

In addition to the house work, Gary’s father, who was quite well for his advanced years (almost 98) took a turn and starting failing quite drastically. It was a two and a half hour drive to Port Perry.  As it became evident that Jack’s condition was not going to improve, Gary went to Port Perry several times to be with his father and help his sisters out.  I am sure that Gary would have loved Nelson beside him on his solitary runs back and forth to see his father.  I am sure they would have had great conversations about fathers and fatherhood. On October 19th, Gary’s father passed away.

This past week, the weather has turned too.  It can no longer be considered summer.  Fall has arrived.  think I have become a little Kenyan.  My friends call it chilly, but I am finding it freezing.  I have been looking forward to the change of seasons as much as I am looking forward to getting our sea shipment to unpack and wear my warmer clothes so that I can really enjoy the autumn weather.  The weather prognosticators are calling for an unseasonably warm fall with above average temperatures throughout October and into November. I say ‘bring it on’.

Well, without my peeps, unlike my Kenyan Saturdays of yore, I have work to do and had better get at it.

wishing you enough.


What do YOU do when it rains?

Despite my return to Canada, I am still in the same role with the same ID and I therefore remain on the East Africa distribution list. Here’s a note I recently received from the Head of Security at IBM Kenya.

Subject : Safety tips;
As you may be aware, an alert has been issued on the possibility of El nino rains soon . The rains usually lead to flooding of roads and homes leading to havoc .

We share some of the tips you can use as mitigation .

Here is what to do when driving on a flooded road or when a residential area is affected.
1. For drivers, avoid flooded roads if you can and if impossible check the depth of the water before driving through. You can stop to observe cars driving through the water or check the depth using a stick. If you occasion a flooded road, just park your car and wait untill the floods recede.
2. Drive slowly and steadily through the water (if ascertained that the depth of water is not extreme) and do not attempt to exit with speed as it can push water to the engine bay. The first gear is often advised while driving on a flooded road and care should be taken to avoid the water from getting to the exhaust pipe.
3. If the car stops, leave the bonnet closed to prevent water from getting in then get out of the vehicle and go to a dry area until floods recede.

4. If a residential area floods, switch off all electric appliances from the main switches.

5. Do not touch any electric appliance or switch with wet hands or while standing in water. Electric current flows in water and can lead to electrocution.
6. Move all essential items to an upper floor and evacuate children to a dry area.
7. Stay away from the affected area till the water level goes down. In case power installations have been brought down by the floods keep away until the power company repairs them.
8. Do not walk through moving water and use a stick to measure the depth of still water and the firmness of the ground before wading through.
9. Do not enter your house immediately after the floods as the area could still be prone to flash floods.
10. Clean and disinfect all appliances, utensils and furniture after the floods as sewages often burst during floods.
Identify areas prone to flooding in your house. Ensure all drainage’s are cleaned with no obstruction to flow of water. Ensure all water paths are clear . Ensure all electrical appliances are kept dry and protected from water.
Due to windy conditions , its advisable to secure all loose garden items. Any tree branches which pose as a hazard to be pruned. If using a generator for power back , ensure it is fuelled and spare fuel secured from water and used sparingly during long power outages.
Rains usually lead to power outages , ensure you have emergency lights, spotlights , flash lights etc.
If possible , a couple of sand bags could come in handy to hold water or divert flow of water .In addition, emergency flood bags that fill up immediately upon contact with water can be used and are available in Kenya.
Key advise is Do not drive through floods or when misty – Just stop .
Before setting off:
Consider whether your journey is essential. If not, can it be delayed until after the rain has subsided?
Plan your journey in advance, taking care to avoid areas which are prone to flooding, and factoring in extra time to allow for slower speeds and potential congestion
Let relatives and friends know your intended route and expected time of arrival and where possible, travel with others
Check that your windscreen wiper blades are fully functional. If both front and back blades are not up to scratch, get them replaced
Make sure you fill up. Using your lights and heaters and being caught in traffic use more fuel than driving in normal conditions
Carry a mobile phone in case you encounter any difficulties during your journey

On the road:
Use dipped headlights so that other drivers can see you more easily
Don’t use rear fog lights. They can mask your brake lights and dazzle drivers behind you
Reduce your speed and leave more space between you and the vehicle in front to account for greater stopping distances – remember the two-second rule
Look out for large or fast-moving vehicles creating spray which reduces visibility
Listen out for local news bulletins to keep up-to-date with road closures, flooding and forecasts
If you break down in torrential rain keep the bonnet closed while waiting for help to arrive, to avoid the electrical system getting soaked
Driving too fast through standing water could lead to tyres losing contact with the road.  If your steering suddenly feels light you could be aquaplaning. To regain grip, ease off the accelerator, do not brake and allow your speed to reduce until you gain full control of the steering again
Driving fast through deep water can cause serious and expensive damage
Be considerate to other road users and try not to spray pedestrians and cyclists as you drive through water
In addition as we go for the weekend , let us continue to take precautions as per our earlier advises, avoid crowded areas and be aware of our surroundings .



As I read it, memories of another life, a life time ago, in a parallel universe, came flooding back.  Certain roads and intersections immediately came to mind, including the Southern Bypass, awash with rain, fast flowing newborn rivers racing across the submerged road. Miraculously, on the return trip at the end of the day, red dust was rising from the cement hard dirt. Living in Kenya, we experienced a ceaseless wondrous unfolding of nature.

As I sit at my desk in front of a window, overlooking the apple tree fluttering with blue jays, woodpeckers, chickadees and kingfish birds, and beyond that our massive weeping willow, framing the corn fields, now rustling their straw coloured dried leaves, the air outside is fresh.  The mornings are cool (okay, they seem very cool to us now), the afternoons are warm and the sun goes down more than two hours earlier than it did in July.  The geese are falling into their familiar V formation as small groups start heading south. Fall is coming and while I do miss Kenya, achingly sometimes, I look forward with excitement to the first real season change we will experience in 28 months.