Six Bars in the Gulf of Mexico

Not all heroes wear capes. It’s TRUE. Sometimes their names are Allehandra and they wear red T-shirts and black skirts. I’m writing this from a sun lounger on a beach in Cancun. Never in a million years did I think I’d put those words together in a sentence.

About six months ago I decided to be proactive and try to avoid the seasonal depression that whacked me last year. We needed a holiday in sunshine to fuel us through the winter. I decided on Cancun and booked ‘an all inclusive holiday’.

It sounded fantastic! Flights, accommodation, food, drinks… all paid for. Child care! Four restaurants to choose from! Six bars! They had me at child care and six (6) bars. I already knew how I’d spend my days. I could just about taste the margaritas with good tequila!

It began with a 7 am flight, which meant a 3 am wake up. That’s not even a legal hour. By the time we managed to board as Zone 3 priority (HOW? WE’RE ZONE 3! We’re not anyone’s priority!), Eli was half asleep on the airport floor where the bacteria of a million filthy shoes lurched onto his tiny body. Holly was dead on her feet, in tears of exhaustion.

We boarded the plane, found our seats, and discovered there were no screens to entertain the kids FOR FIVE HOURS! I definitely didn’t pack enough snacks (or medication) to mitigate that disaster.

I’ll skip through customs; we all know that story. At least no one asked me if I was pregnant this time. As we left the airport to find our shuttle, we were greeted by an outside bar, next to the car rentals. They’re obviously familiar with parents travelling with kids. We were soon to learn that in Mexico, safety comes fourth!

Our ride to our hotel made me nostalgic for the deadly driving also enjoyed by the majority of South African road users. I’m not being sarcastic at all. There were lots of similarities between Cancun and South Africa.

Our hotel was perfect. Or thereabouts. It wasn’t a Holiday Inn. It wasn’t a US or Canadian hotel transplanted into Mexico. It was well-used, but clean, and our room was on the beach.

The six (6) bars. Four of us spent quite some time trying to account for that number. If we counted the two sides of the pool bar as two bars (one in the pool and one out of the pool), the pop-up restaurant in the water-park across the street, and the bar at the private marina that wasn’t part of the hotel, that was still only four.

But the beer was free and so was the horrible tequila. We spent our days lying on sun loungers, occasionally rolling ourselves into the sea to cool off, and stockpiling vitamin D. We would soon be back in the Great White North with limited sun sightings.

Remember how I said they had me at six (6) bars and child care? Well, the child care wasn’t so much child care as it was a hot little room where you could sit with your annoying child and draw. We did manage to procure the services of Allehandra, who spoke very limited English, for an evening of babysitting. While much drinking and laughter ensued with the child-free adults, a magic show kept the kids from breaking the spirit of our young Allehandra.

The sunshine and warm water was a glorious respite from the layers and layers of snow clothes, but it was just magic getting back home to Canada.

A moment of reflection

I have the house to myself for a few moments before the chaos and madness and noise of the weekend begins. As I sat scrolling through my photos on Instagram, I was hit with a moment of, I dont know, reflection? Can one be hit by a reflective moment? Well, I wasnt expecting it.

Today, Roger and I are going to Canada’s Wonderland (a huge amusement park nearby our house) with our media passes from I am so honoured and privileged that I have been given the opportunity to write about my experiences and the things I enjoy, and have my writing published in a public forum. It got me thinking. These are the things I am so grateful for:

👉🏻 We have the opportunity to explore a new country and enjoy a new life in Canada

👉🏻 We have made some wonderful friends here, and will hopefully still be making more

👉🏻 The beautiful house we live in, that has everything we need to live comfortably

👉🏻 My new job, working for a company with values that I could have written myself, and for the lovely people I’m meeting through work

👉🏻 My incredibly patient and kind and loving husband who, through the roughest of rough times, has supported me and carried me and told me it will be ok

👉🏻 My beautiful and forgiving and trusting children who are experiencing a life that I dreamed they would have

👉🏻 The opportunities we have here to explore this beautiful province, in safety

👉🏻 A stable provincial government that, for some of the time, looks like it might be doing something … erm … For a stable federal government that for the most part seems to know what’s cooking. Not quite so sure what our premier is doing though

👉🏻 For the police who are mostly good, kind and honest people whom the public can trust and rely on for help and protection

👉🏻 An infrastructure that affords us such privileges as cleaned and washed streets, electricity, water, and public servants who respond to complaints

👉🏻 That I have a body that is strong and capable and is getting stronger and fitter every day

👉🏻 The open spaces, trails, forests, and rivers that are safe for me to walk through and beside

👉🏻 Beautiful big skies that show off the colours of sunrise and sunset like it’s nobody’s business

I am so incredibly grateful for what we have and get to experience every damn day.

That one time I lost the train

A few weeks ago I lost the subway train in downtown Toronto. I wasn’t actually in charge of it so it wasn’t really mine to lose. I didn’t lose the people, or the station, I just lost the train. A full-sized subway train. I’ll start at the beginning; it will be easier to understand what I mean.

I suppose it all began a couple of months ago when I did a writing course through Vaughan Public Libraries. It was at this course that I met a lovely Australian lady called Stephanie who had recently moved to Canada. When I heard her speaking in her unmistakable Ozzie accent, my heart filled with southern hemisphere love.  After the class (during which I’d sat grinning like a fool and trying not to smile too weirdly at her) I mustered all my courage and introduced myself to her. I think we were both excited to meet another person from lands down south and we promised to meet up the following week to chat.

Our writing course came to an end but our friendship was only just beginning (cheese alert). We met for coffee and enjoyed our time together again, discovering we had quite a lot in common. We continued chatting and sharing online and our next date was at a paint night Downtown. That’s the night I lost the subway train.

On my way out, trusty compass in hand.

My orienteering skills are lacking in the most phenomenal way. It’s actually spectacular that I find my way home any time I leave the house (to be fair though, I do rely heavily on Google Maps to guide me EVERYWHERE). My lovely Mister knows this well (having directed me from some dodgy areas in downtown Johannesburg before we left South Africa) and he prepared a graphic guide for me so I’d be more likely to find my way. Despite his best intentions, I still managed to lose my way. The road to Dundas Square is paved with good intentions. Edited to add: My lovely Friend Leslie (who is so famous she has her face on a billboard and even played a role in Short Circuit) bought me an outdoor survival kit for my birthday. It includes a compass, a torch, a flint, and various other MacGuyver-like tools so I’ll never get lost walking though urban forests again and I’ll always be able to keep warm no matter what!

I followed his photo guide all the to the Chelsea Hotel, like a bewildered tourist. I suppose I was somewhat of a country bumpkin visiting the big city, seeing that I was coming all the way from the ‘boondocks of Vaughan’. What neither of us took into consideration is that on the way back, having had a glass or three of wine, I might have needed more assistance than my entirely sober self needed on the way there.

I left the hotel clutching my newly painted masterpiece thinking how proud I was of myself for being open to making friends with strangers (I’m exceptionally shy and usually bolt in the opposite direction at the merest threat of having to speak to a stranger). It was only as I came to my first corner that I realised we’d neglected to plot my route back to the station. I summoned all my directional Angels, smiled and thanked the toothless homeless gentleman who told me I was beautiful, and marched on with a confidence bolstered by my second and third glasses of Kim Crawford Savignon Blanc.

Much to my delighted surprise I found myself back at Dundas Square (Winners on the left; H&M on the right – Boom!) and the subway station. I knew this to be true because I saw a sign telling me ‘Subway Station’ and pointing at a door. With a smile on my glowing face I pushed hard on the door that said pull, changed tack and pulled on the stubborn door,  giggling at my silliness. I knew in my heart that the right direction to go would be down the escalator. Everyone knows that the subway is down! Even a country bumpkin like me. At the bottom of the escalator I looked around for something akin to a below-ground coach, or at the very least a familiar landmark. Nyet. No. Nothing. Nada. Mmm. I retraced my steps to see if I had perhaps missed an alternative route to a secret subway platform. Nope. Once again I went down the escalator, my previous confidence flagging. I found a quiet corner and phoned Roger. The conversation went something like this:
Roger: Hello?
Me *whispering*: I can’t find the train.
R: What do you mean, you can’t find the train?
Me *still whispering*: I mean, it’s not where it’s supposed to be.
R: I’m confused…
Me: Me too!
R: Where are you?
Me *trying not to sound like I’m three glasses of wine in*: Downtown Toronto.
R: Yes, poephol (Afrikaans for “asshole’ but for some reason not as harsh), but where?
Me *indignant*: At Dundas Square subway station. And I lost the train. I see a door that says PATH and Subway. But not the actual subway. The takeaway place.
R *patient as ever*: Can you see a bunch of people walking in a direction?
Me *super excited*: Yes! How did you know!?
R: Follow them.
Me *following strangers*: I see it! I see the train.
R: Ok, good. Don’t fall asleep on the train. I’ll see you later.

I did not fall asleep on the train. But I watched other people falling asleep and wondered if I was supposed to wake them up. Knowing how grumpy I am when I get woken up, I decided to mind my own business and sing loudly in my head to my Killers and Kings of Leon playlist. I arrived back at the subway station in the sticks, with some newly earned street smarts and a beautiful painting of a lady with a red umbrella. Not bad for a night out in the big city.

On my way home, having lost and then found an entire subway train.

Too cool for school

Today I was schooled. This is not a bad thing. Those who know me, know that I love to learn new things and better ways of doing things I already know. I get bored with repetition, and monotony literally makes me weep. Doing the same thing day in and day out brings on a gray, depressed mood that is difficult to lift. So, when I say I was schooled, regardless of how I was schooled, it is a good thing.

Today’s schooling was almost not a good thing. We’ve had snow on and off for the past month or so. It has been glorious! I love the snow. So much so that if I wake up in the wee hours, as I very often do, and it is snowing, I will stand for ages at the window watching the magnificent flakes spiraling softly to the ground. I revel in the silence, the almost-frozen-in-time stillness that is broken only by the obnoxiously noisy clattering and rumbling of the bright, roaring snow plows. These monster machines wouldn’t be out of place in Mad Max Fury Road. I love them! They fill me with such childish glee and excitement! I want to shout with them! I often wonder about the people who operate them: what are they thinking all alone in the roaring darkness?

Back to today’s lesson. Snow, and then warm weather and rain. Followed by freezing temperatures, equals ice. Not the friendly fill a glass with ice and pour a gin and tonic kind of ice. This ice is different. This ice plays a sadistic game of ‘Let’s shatter some bones and bruise some egos’. I knew there was ice today. We are kept well-informed with news reports on the weather with ‘Extreme weather’ warnings. And Canada’s favourite past time is discussing the weather (that’s how I know we are really and truly home – we talk about the weather all the time, too!). So, I knew. But I chose to use this as a learning and teaching moment for me and Holly.

I walk Holly to and from school most days of the week. It’s a wonderful privilege I have, afforded to me because I work from home, and I am grateful every day that I can do it. -15 degrees C? No problem! Pull your scarf up around your face, Buddy, and wear an extra layer of clothes. Snowing? Perfect! Let’s catch snowflakes on our tongues. But ice is different. So I have learned. The thing I should have paid heed to was that no other kids were walking to school (except our neighbour and her children, but she is from the former USSR so this kind of weather is basically summer for her). When the neighbour returned and immediately went outside to salt the sidewalk, that should have been clue number three. Yet, again, I thought I knew better, and Holly must learn to walk on icy sidewalks. We live in Canada for goodness sake! There is snow and ice; toughen up! But, the ice is different.

Holly pretty much ice-skated to school on the sidewalk, fearless as she usually is (being the bravest girl I know). The threat of a fall softened for her by the three layers of pants she was wearing including puffy snow pants. I do not have puffy snow pants and I am somewhat less bendy than Holly. I fall with a greater impact than children do. So, I walked the distance to the school in fear of breaking a leg. I walked in the crunchy snow where it is less slippery but more labour intensive. I felt like an intrepid explorer making my way through yet uncharted land in the frozen depths of Antarctica. Somewhat dramatic, I concede, since her school is 300 meters  from our house.

So, here I sit. Undamaged, bones intact, ego free of lacerations. But schooled in the ways of Canadian ice. There are so many things for us still to learn! It’s excruciatingly exciting. We’ve spent almost our entire lives in almost perpetual summer, snow and ice in nature a notion that was familiar only at the most superficial level. I can’t wait for my next lesson. Let’s hope it’s as painless as this one was.

Following the light

Instagram gives me severe fomo. With each scroll down, I add new destinations, activities and experiences to my ever-growing list of things to see and do. Every so often, I’ll invite Roger to share in my panic as it threatens to bubble over. But, as ever, he calmly assures me that we have lots of time to explore. Why doesn’t he understand?!

Each time I open Instagram my list grows exponentially! We’ll never be able to keep up. There’s Aurora Borealis-chasing in Iceland; reindeer sledding in Finland; roughing it in a log cabin in upstate New York; an island holiday in the Caribbean; experiencing arguably the world’s most breathtaking views in Banff, Emerald Lake, Peyto Lake, Jasper National Park, Nova Scotia, British Columbia. And, closer to home, there’s learning to ski, ice skate and snowboard, tubing downhill in winter, stand up paddle boarding and tubing down the river in summer, and camping in every beautiful National park within a few hours of our home. And we haven’t even started on the maritimes or the territories!

We haven’t been sitting idle though. We take every opportunity to experience as much of Canada as we can. It may not be ice fishing on Crystal Lake, or dog sledding in the Yukon, but we have been getting out there. Just last weekend we packed the kids into the car and drove over an hour north. There’d been reports of strong electromagnetic activity that would make the Aurora Borealis visible from areas in Southern Ontario. Although we were just slightly south of the visible band, I thought we had to try. We will never see the Northern Lights from our couch! And, worst case scenario, we would get to see some pretty magnificent stars. I couldn’t sit still at the thought of being able to try out our new DSLR camera. I’ve been playing around with it and doing some online tutorials, but I really needed something out of this world to photograph.

We checked our emergency survival kit to make sure we had enough blankets, water, snacks, extra gloves, hats and scarves. Then we bundled the kids into the car and … set off to the car wash. That’s right – at 8:15 on a Friday night we were sitting in a line of about 6 cars waiting our turn to get under the sprays. For those who aren’t familiar with driving in snow and on salted roads, they create a lot of mush. The melted snow and ice and dirt creates a brownish gray clay-like substance that sprays up from the roads and coats your car – all over. If you don’t take good care of your car and wash this gunk off regularly, your car begins to rust. It’s such a thing here in winter, that you get car-wash season passes.

With with twinkling stars reflecting off the car, we hit the streets and headed north, our spirits as high as the kids’ voices as they sang and yelped in the backseat, beyond excited for their adventure. As I slipped my earphones in my weary ears, I noticed, with a sinking heart, that the clouds were blowing in. Never mind, I thought. It may still be clear in Elmvale. So we continued our drive, me enjoying another My Favorite Murder podcast, Roger ‘enjoying’ the kids’ singing as they shared the songs of their people.

As the kilometers sped by, the children quieted down and eventually passed out. Roger and I, noticing the desire to slam our heads against the dashboard had abated, realized the kids had fallen asleep. Aurora Borealis or not, sleeping kids is a win in itself! We arrived in Elmvale to find a completely overcast sky. Not a single star could be seen, never mind the Auroras. We drove to a nearby park, away from the bright lights, just to make sure. Then we turned around and headed back home.

Scary Dog and The Snowman: A tail of Canadian acceptance

He joined our family on an autumn afternoon. Skinny, bony and with deep sad looking eyes that were older than his years. How long had this doggo sat waiting in the shop window for his new family? It must have felt like forever. It certainly looked like he’d been there forever. I closely inspected each hound, looking for signs of weakness and imperfections. I didnt want a doggo that was going to fall apart a few minutes after he got home! There weren’t many left to choose from. He must have been the runt of the litter. Well, everyone deserves a chance. Even a scrawny, bony little puppet with big black eyes.

Eli took one look at Scary Dog and fell in love instantly! Every child needs a dog to love and Eli had found his. They are inseparable! Eli carries Scary Dog everywhere. He even joined us on a night away at a hotel on Thanksgiving weekend. He had a blast on the beach (when he’d dealt with the business of the stones) and enjoyed the car ride. What dog wouldn’t, though? Fortunately we don’t have to worry about him getting car sick.

Scary Dog has become an integral member of our family and a real hoot on our family adventures. He often joins us when we go hiking on the trails in conservation areas. He prefers to be carried as he finds the walk too much for his bony little legs. But we don’t mind humouring him!

Recently Scary Dog, somewhat reluctantly, acquired a new friend, The Snowman. Unlike Scary Dog, The Snowman is just a Christmas decoration. Despite his lack of animation, Eli finds this whimsical inflatable little man a real treat and he spends a great portion of his afternoons and evenings clinging tightly to the green gloved inflatable hand. Fortunately, we’ve not yet been asked to have The Snowman accompany us on our outings. That would just be weird!

Some might be concerned about their children’s obsessions deep interest in holiday decorations. And their fabulously imaginative naming of said decorations (Eli has an ongoing obsession with pumpkins. So, when the Halloween decorations were taken in, he replaced that interest with Christmas balls, now and forever to be called Christmas Pumpkins). But, Roger and I being the laid back and open minded folks that we are, are pleased our children have no prejudices and are making friends. We encourage them to be accepting of all people, and animals. It’s the Canadian way.

We come from a land down south

I’m trying to pick one event that stands out as that ‘defining moment’ that perfectly and neatly captures our time here in Canada. That moment when we knew this felt right, that this was home. And I’ve got to say, I’m not sure if there is one. There may be many. But there may also be none. Let’s review.

We’ve been in Canada for 8 months now. Two thirds of a year. We’ve been through winter, spring, summer, and autumn, and that was just today! We’ve also had a few tornados today but that’s probably a different story. We’ve bought the t-shirt and worn it. Then we shrank it in the tumble dryer and had to buy a new one. But that’s ok, because there are so many more t-shirts to see and we’re super excited to wear them all (I think that metaphor lost me somewhere).

When we landed, I don’t think we were completely prepared for how different our lives were going to be here. Obviously we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that it snowed in Canada, and that we would drive on the right hand side of the road. We knew the obvious things, the stuff you read on the interwebs and that you can learn through research. We’re not totally useless and I like to believe we have the street smarts! But there are tons of less superficial, more implicit things you learn as you begin to acculturate. And that process involves making the conscious decision to identify with the culture of your new home. It doesn’t happen automatically and many people choose not to become part of their adoptive country’s culture. Some people choose to go only part of the way and hold onto their old cultures and cultural identities.

We have gone out of our way to absorb the Canadian-ness around us. We want to belong. We want to fully and totally be a part of this incredible country. That’s not to say we will forget where we came from, it just means that now, Canada is home. And we will throw ourselves into it completely by doing the following:

  • Drink coffee. All. The. Time.
  • Send our kids to learn how to ice skate and play hockey.
  • Enjoy the weather when it’s a pleasant 5 degrees C in winter.
  • Talk about the weather at every opportunity.
  • Barbecue in the garage.
  • Spend many many hours outdoors.
  • Park our car just outside the garage in the driveway or on the road by our house.
  • Walk late at night around the quiet neighborhood.
  • Call the bathroom the ‘washroom’.
  • Turn the basement into a playground for the kids to enjoy on the days when it’s too cold to stay outside for too long.
  • Take a train to work.
  • Use the library, parks and conservation areas.
  • Clean our own home, do our own washing and look after the garden ourselves (although, to be totally honest, we have engaged the services of a cleaning company that comes twice a month).
  • Decorate our porch and the outside of our house with the appropriate decorations every season. This month it’ll be pumpkins and such.
  • And ALWAYS have maple syrup in our pantry.