Traveling with Brad and Angelina

Inclusion and diversity are two words that are defining my adult life.  My professional life and my personal life.  I think about them when I travel.  There are so many reasons people travel, but one of them is to “have a break”, or “leave it all behind”.  I suppose I don’t tend to do that and I haven’t wondered much about it until now.  Even before I had a family, I valued “seeing something different”.  Here’s a dose of different from these various, but totally typical scenes on Rajasthan’s highways.  Not side roads.  Toll highways.  Well, except for us in the tuk tuk…that’s a town or city thing.

What does travel give us?  Why do we do it?    Sometimes it’s forced on us, other times we seek connection with family and friends, but sometimes it’s to experience difference.  For me, difference in my life is obvious…I don’t need to travel to feel out of my comfort zone.  My youngest child, in all his beauty and perfection, has FOXG1 syndrome.  An incredibly rare genetic condition that he created…it wasn’t “passed down” by my husband and myself.  There are only a handful of cases in Canada and worldwide, perhaps a few hundred (more than two, much less than five).  And within that condition, that was first thought of like Rhett’s, my son’s is the only genetic permutation.  He brings new meaning to the word “special needs”.  So he’s different.  And it doesn’t take strangers more than a few seconds to figure it out.  I first noticed this on an extended trip to Europe six years ago and wrote about it elsewhere: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and…ive…children/article4549441/.

So when we travel, our life back home is never far from us.  My son still sees the world in his unique way, and the world reacts to him in its own unique way.  As a group of four, we don’t blend in anywhere…at a fancy resort full of north americans, or the backroads of a dusty, far-flung country.  And while different parts of the world react to him differently, it makes me wonder about whether, for all our politically correct talk in Canada and what our children learn in school about it, whether we truly value difference?  I don’t think we do.  My daughter is making me think about this right now.  She’s about to “launch” from home, graduate from her high school, and consider her options.  Hers is going to be the path less traveled.  She’s bright enough to go away to university, and most of the cohort she grew up with is choosing that.  She is choosing to be different.  Going to university will, I predict, be on her terms some point in the future.  But people’s reaction (admittedly also her mother’s at times) to her evolving and unusual choices is illuminating.  I remind myself that thinking the same, being the same, wanting to fit in, never changed the world and never created change.

And yet, we (humanity) don’t really value difference.  Think how quickly “different” can veer off into “weird” or “crazy”.   On the surface, we might talk a good game, but we don’t embrace it.  Why?  I think part of it is hard-wired into us humans…the world over.  Having children has partly been a lesson in how much of my experience is determined by biology.  I was talking recently with a friend who has a 15 month old daughter and I was explaining something about mothering an 18 year old.  She said “it just makes me feel physically ill to think about that”.  Her comment made me remember that visceral feeling of protection…I remember it exactly.  If we truly valued difference on a biological level, would our species have survived this long?  Personally my extreme near-nearsightedness would have done me in early in life without the invention of corrective eye-wear.  On a biological level, for our ancestors long long ago, “difference” could equate to “death”.  I think that hard wiring is still there.

My son is a somewhat glaring example.  Last spring break we were in Vietnam and Cambodia.  I have never been anywhere in the world where my son was embraced by strangers as he was there.  In retrospect I asked myself why.  In a country like Vietnam, disability is much more a part of the cultural fabric.  It’s not so “different”.  I have forgotten some of the statistics, but “thanks” to Agent Orange, in Vietnam’s unusually young population (most Vietnamese were born after the war in 1975), somewhere around 20% of people have a physical disability.  Strangers, instead of looking away, came up to him and tried to talk with him using his voice output program on his iPad.  They asked us questions about him and what his life is like in Canada with a level of curiosity that a handful of close friends demonstrate back home.  They really wanted to know him.  Between him and my tall, blonde, pale-skinned daughter, I joked it was like being part of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s crew.  Before they broke up, that is.  On a boat ride in underground limestone caves, passing boats could be heard to say “did you see how pale her skin is?”.  Daily, people asked to take their pictures with her.  Everywhere she went, she created ripples of awe and staring.  She found it unnerving but also kind of a compliment.  As it would be for any of our pale and pretty daughters.  My point is that difference is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s relative.  In Vietnam, my able-bodied daughter was more different than my son who, on a biological level, is completely unique in the world.  But to the Vietnamese he was more Brad Pitt-ish!

Here in India my daughter is different in ways she’s never dealt with before.  I don’t think she’s eager to replicate the experience.  Indian men follow her at attractions, surreptitiously snapping photos of her whenever she lets her guard down. Not at all like Vietnam…these men acted like they were “stealing” something from her.   Our guides have angrily chased off more than one camera-snapper at most public sites we’ve visited.  Our whole family was stared at in Old Delhi by every single person, almost every single minute we were there.  Man, woman, young, old.  Some men tried to touch her skin.  It was upsetting, actually.  At one point, we were standing on a street corner with our guide, waiting for our driver.  I turned and faced the packed crowds on the sidewalk and saw hundreds of faces flicking over my blonde hair, and settling on the pale skin on my daughter’s legs and arms.  It was quite aggressive.  Men looking over the tops of their wives’ heads openly gawking.  Women walking away, with their gazes back over the shoulders, toward us.  I started glaring back, putting my body between the crowds and my daughter…and yes…holding up my pink scarf between my daughter and the crowds.  I was ready to fight and I was taking my pink scarf with me!  Being different can feel very not-ok.

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My daughter employs her own version of her pink scarf to cover up her white skin.

I guess to get back to my original point, watching how myself and my family sees difference when we travel, how we are accepted or not accepted because we are different to the people where we visit, makes me wish we could get to a place where difference is neutral.  It’s not filed away in our human brains in the “good” or the “bad” boxes.  It just is.  Oh, and world peace, everyone.  World peace.  😊

Addendum…after drafting this blog, I was accosted by a swarm of about grade 9 girls visiting Jaipur from their rural school.   As you can see below, a person from Canada was a novelty.  But this experience was like a compliment…they kindly asked to have their pictures taken with me…with this result!

 

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When Something is All Things to All People. Or at least 7 million per year.

One way Canada and India are different is that for millennials, a university degree from abroad means they stay abroad.  Most Canadian kids go to undergraduate school in Canada.  Even if they go away for school, they tend to come back.  Our guide’s only child, a son, studied in France.  Now he lives in Amsterdam and doesn’t want to come back home.

The younger generation in Agra, we are told, is angry.  Agra’s economy is based on the Taj Mahal (translation: “Crown Palace”).  7 million tourists per year flock to the city, but pollution from nearby industry was wreaking havoc on the monument.  So the government closed all industry.  Now these factory workers are jobless.  They don’t want to “go back” to what their parents do or did, and they’re not skilled enough for office work.  Traditional means of making a living are dying out, and the old ways are dying.  Here’s an example.  The Taj is constructed of white marble that has been carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones.  The intricacy of this work is stunning.  In the right light some of the translucent stones sparkle.  Many tiny pieces of stone can be required to craft one petal or one leaf.  This craft is still performed only in Agra in the same way as in the 1600’s.  No where else in India.  But the children of these artisans are not learning from their fathers, so the skill may die with them.DSC_0980

Things change, of course.  But a craft that’s existed for 350 years, that adorns one of the world’s most famous wonders…that knowledge and skill could just vanish?  It seems wrong to me.  DSC00403DSC_0969

We saw the Taj on a Tuesday.  The previous Saturday 100,000 people queued in lines that snaked for 2.5 hours to enter the complex.  Then another 2.5 hours to enter the Taj itself.  So there’s no question it holds a fascination for Indians and people the world over.DSC00352

The story we were told went something like this: Shah Jahan’s most favourite wife of 19 years, Mumtaz Mahal, was dying after giving birth to their 14th child.  When she realized the end was near, she called her husband to her side and asked for three things.  She thanked him for the love and devotion he had shown her, she asked him to look after their children, and she asked him to build her a memorial to her memory.  22 years of construction, funded off the hard work and tithes of the poor, voila.  I said to our guide, as beautiful and amazing at the Taj is…when I see things like this in the world, this is the only time I am truly interested in time travel.  To talk with the people who were working on the Taj.    Imagine if you could ask them what they thought of it?  How was the Shah received?  Did they resent the taxes on their hard work paying for the construction?  Or were they proud of it…did it inspire and lift them up as it does for us today?  Did they feel they were part of something bigger than themselves?

I am told by our guide in his 28 years of bringing people from all over the world to the Taj, that it inspires the entire range of human response.  People cry.  People come on their honeymoons.  They come on their wedding anniversaries.  This tomb for a loved wife is the ultimate expression of a husband’s love.  For me, besides being in awe of the structure itself…its symmetry, its grace, how it becomes more beautiful the closer you get to it…it gave me a feeling of peace.  Sometimes when famous things are turned into a tourist attraction, something is lost.  In being a tourist space, it isn’t what it was before.  I felt that way at the pyramids of Giza, perched at the outskirts of sprawling Cairo.  Not that they aren’t amazing.  They are.  But like a bad actor who can’t get beyond their own persona to really show us the character their story inhabits, I didn’t see the pyramids for what they were; I saw what they were trying to be and what I was told they were.  I saw them as the last suburb of Cairo with the smog, the traffic and the apartment buildings as their backdrop.

I think the reason 7 million people every year aren’t wrong is because the Taj still delivers.  Whether you weep, whether you linger in the gardens and just quietly take it in, or whether you think about it later.  Whether you marvel at the skill that created it and the human capacity to create beauty.  This wonder of the world gives you something.  It doesn’t take something from you.  It doesn’t try to sell you something or make you remember it.  Oh but I will remember it.  And I when I wrap my pink scarf around me another time, there is another special memory with it.  Watching the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, check.  Pink scarf making me more fashionable while doing so, check.DSC00418

 

 

 

 

 

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Was Ghandi’s pocket watch a useful tool or a rare favourite posession?

Soft and thin.  Airy.  Yet warm.  A shield when needed.  Shade sometimes.  It changes my mood.  And it’s traveled the world.  It can make a t shirt and pants feel more special.  Occasionally it’s a pillow or a blanket.  It’s one of my favourite things.DSC00233

What’s yours?  It could be a sweater or a t shirt that has seen better days.  It’s not perfect anymore.  But that makes it more endearing.  It has been places with you.  There are memories attached.  It’s comfort.  That thing of yours that will eventually wear out and when you have to part with it, it will be sad.

My pink scarf was a gift.  I don’t know where it came from, except from the hands of a friend.  So that makes it special from the start.  Looking at it I know it wasn’t made in Canada.  But it’s having an interesting life…for a scarf.  Where is it from?  Have I brought it “home” without knowing it?  In countries where my gender is covered head to toe in a burka, it was a shield for my pale skin and blonde hair.  It’s been a temple scarf and head covering in  Egypt.  In Cambodia it tried to be shade in the 40 degree heat of Angor Wat.  It was a beach cover-up in Thailand.  It’s been crumpled up on long plane rides.  Despite the abuse heaped on it in aircraft cabins, it’s a lucky scarf…Vietnam, Mexico…Peru.  In the spirit of friendship it’s been loaned to other friends for their exotic travels.

Now it’s been to India.  I thought about my scarf in the Ghandi Museum in New Delhi.  The “new” is an important distinction.  “New” means broad leafy boulevards, gracious architecture, parks and not much foot traffic.  “Old” Delhi is medieval in structure…narrow streets, mayhem on the roads, smells, street hawkers, entrepreneurs, shoppers, noises…a cacophony of human experience.  DSC00049A place where “everything is possible” and it seems, everything is for sale.

But the Ghandi Museum is quiet.  A display of an extraordinary life in photos, quotes and news clippings.  I see photos of him later in life.  His was a life of simplicity, few belongings, nothing that wasn’t necessary.  Clad in his dhoti, and leather sandals.  His possessions?  A walking stick and a pocket watch.  Was his pocket watch a holdover from his barrister days?  Or was it his “pink scarf”?  Was it his favourite thing, his travelling companion?  Apparently the last words he said before he was fatally shot January 30, 1948 was something to the effect of not wanting to be a minute late for prayers.DSC_0914

This is hugely ironic in this country.  NOTHING is on time.  Or rather time has a different meaning.  International flights are “on time”, but everything else seems to operate in a window of a couple of hours.  Gervase had bought sim cards for Shannon’s and my phones that weren’t working.  So he wanted to return them.  It’s been two days of trying, but there are no “airtel” company offices open.  A store can say it will be open at 10am, but it can still be shuttered at noon.  Buses and trains can be an hour off their advertised schedule, but that is still considered “on time”.

That does not mean this country is not productive.  By no means.  It’s a very complex place and I will not come close to doing it justice here.  Here are a few things to think about though.  The growth of the economy overall is outpacing that of China’s.  And yet inflation is somewhere between 5 and 6 percent.  We were told that the unemployment rate is 30%.  India’s total population?  1.3 billion people….so more than Canada’s entire population have no jobs!  70% of the population live in rural areas.  Where village homes can have no running water or septic system.

Yet those with an education can do well.  Companies operating on a global scale compete with reputations of offering good service at a good price.  My husband’s website developer is Indian and was hired over the internet.  According to our guide, Indian companies are number two in rocketing satellites into orbit (after the US).

But my scarf cares about none of this.  It is very busy sightseeing….no time for jet lag.  Thank you Marji.

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Kettle Creek Provincial Park: A Requiem

This was our last stop with the RV and it had been my good intention to write about this fabulous campground and to recommend you stop there if you were driving Highway 33 through the Kettle Valley between Highway 3 and up through to Kelowna. DSC00521

But our holiday memories became memories in a final sense of the word starting yesterday.

British Columbia’s forest fire situation has become personal, and that campground is burning. Depending on which newsfeed you read, between 750 and 1300 hectares of forest is “aggressively” burning and 270 homes in the Rock Creek area have been evacuated. It’s hard to estimate accurately because of billowing, thick smoke. How very scary for those people.

It was a beautiful campground…one of the best I’ve been to in BC.

Campsite #108

Campsite #108

Stands of ponderosa pine with bunchgrass along the banks of the Kettle River, with the abandoned right-of-way of the historic Kettle Valley Railway running through it for walks and bike rides.
A swimming hole near the trestle bridge within the campground

A swimming hole near the trestle bridge within the campground

Swimmers could jump off the old trestle bridge into the river. Recreation opportunities for canoeing and inner tubing…it was fabulous.

The campground was lovingly maintained. Pristine and peaceful. The bathrooms were brand new, and cleaner than clean. A playground for kids. Lots of great things for families.

Looking from the campground across the Kettle River

Looking from the campground across the Kettle River

It was the trees that I really remember.

Stands of Ponderosa Pines at the Kettle River Provincial Campground

Stands of Ponderosa Pines at the Kettle River Provincial Campground

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Note for the future: My daughter is never allowed near a microphone when the subject might be “me”…

I was just sharing with my 15 year old daughter that several of my friends had enjoyed the humour in “The Universe Has a Plan” blog post from earlier this month (thank you).

“Really?”  she says.  “I should read it.”  So she plops down at my computer to read my witty repartee.  I watch her…she’s not laughing or smiling at the parts I thought she would smile (at least) at.

And there it begins.  I should have just left it all alone.  But I can’t.  Because that’s who I am.

“Why aren’t you laughing?” I query at the part where I’m in my van almost 20 km from our house when I’m supposed to be in my husband’s car with the van in my husband’s possession and en route to the garage.

“That’s what happens,” she says.

“What?”  “You don’t think I’m organized?”

“Well, stuff like that goes on all the time with you.  Your friends think you’re this perfect, organized, calm and kind person (she now mimics perfect tearoom posture and facial expression), and they have no idea” she proclaims, while laughing at her own humour.

I pretend to be greatly offended and surprised by this and with this encouragement she continues.

“Yes” she proclaims loudly, stomping about my office and waving her arms above her head…

“Shannon!” she continues loudly, grabbing my cell phone and begins poking it aggressively while laughing at how incredibly entertaining this is for her…”Shannon!  My cell phone isn’t working, why won’t my texts send?…what’s wrong?” in a “demanding” voice I, ahem, might recognize.

Emboldened, she froths around my office some more, grabbing my scissors that are on the table and plonking them even more in plain view…”Shannon!  Where are my scissors??? What have you done with my scissors?!”  Again, in that tone of voice she seems to have picked up from somewhere…I have NO IDEA where…

With no regard for her own safety, and with both of us laughing, she approaches my computer and pokes the keyboard multiple times…”Shannon!!  It’s not working!!! Can you fix this?  And where are my gosh darned scissors?”

We had a great laugh…at me.  And I enjoyed it differently, but I like to think, just as much as she did.  One has to take these moments of connection with one’s teenager with as much grace as possible…and whenever one can get them.  🙂

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Nelson: “Big City” in a Scenic Small Town Atmosphere

And for those who don't get enough "swaying" in the RV, there is whitewater rafting in Nelson!!

And for those who don’t get enough “swaying” in the RV, there is whitewater rafting in Nelson!!

The room is swaying.  It’s a pleasant room, and I have to say, for a campground ladies’ shower area, it passes the test.  But it won’t stop moving…but that’s not its fault.  It’s the 17 year old motor home shocks that make us “float” around highway corners, rather than “grip” the asphalt.  And that shower, with all the nice water pressure, felt so good.  So I can ignore the ship-deck feeling the last day of driving in the RV along BC highway 3A has induced.  If I try really hard.

this view is only PART WAY back the 33' length of our RV interior...

this view is only PART WAY back the 33′ length of our RV interior…

We are in Nelson (population 10,532), which fans up from the banks of the West Arm of Kootenay lake along the mountainsides in the heart of the Selkirk mountains.  The streets are literally carved along the hillsides, and the 100+ year old homes have substantial foundational work to keep them upright.  The street side of the house might be one story, but the backside down the hill is most likely three stories.  I have to say there is a certain “creative” flair to Nelson’s building code.  Very charming, character, turn-of-the-century homes have rusted bicycles attached to rooflines, with vines growing over them.  Or verandas have up to three ancient upholstered couches on them, spilling over to the lawn area where some table/chair combos from a fast food chain may be plonked.

But they are somehow artfully displayed, with well-tended landscaping that is pleasing to the eye.  If not chaotic to the psyche.  One has to appreciate the creativity that made this happen.  Every alternative therapy one can think of seems to be housed in many of the homes that share the periphery of the historic “Baker Street” downtown corridor.  And more than one medical doctor has his/her practice linked with at least half a dozen of these therapy professionals, presumably to offer clients a “one stop” experience.

...urban AND pastoral view from our "downtown" campsite

…urban AND pastoral view from our “downtown” campsite

Nelson was founded on the discovery of silver at nearby Toad Mountain, which lead to the city’s incorporation in 1897.  It became a transportation hub with the construction of two railways which supplied the local mining activity and developed the city as a transportation and distribution hub for the new province of British Columbia.

Downtown’s  chateau-style civic buildings of granite were designed by Francis Rattenbury, who is more famously known as the architect of Victoria’s provincial Legislature, and the Hotel Vancouver and the Provincial Courthouse in Vancouver.   Many of Nelson’s prominent buildings, which proclaim their date of construction on their cornerstones date to the early 1900’s, by which time Nelson boasted several fine hotels, a Hudson’s Bay store and an electric streetcar system.

The town’s immigrant history is still evident…English immigrants planted lakeside orchards, and Doukhobors from Russia tilled the valley bench lands. During the Vietnam War, many American draft dodgers settled around Nelson. This influx of liberal, mostly educated young people had a lasting impact on the area’s cultural and political demographics.

It all works.  And I like it.  There’s not a chain store to be seen…barely a neon sign.  There are at least ten independent, good coffee shops and nary a Starbuck’s to be seen (yay).

Independent breweries galore and my husband pronounced the Nelson Brewing Company’s “Wild Honey Organic Ale” flashback-inducing  “10 out of 10” to his tavern-dwelling youth in Quebec.  We will go home with a case.  🙂

Perhaps there were one or two along the highway, but in Nelson I didn’t see one restaurant that qualified as “fast food”.  I have never been in a small city that was so oriented to quality food.  Each food shop had really interesting, good food, and none of them competed with the other.  The range of good ingredients to cook with in Nelson for the home chef is absolutely amazing.

Yay...I found good coffee!

Yay…I found good coffee!

Nelson is very “chill”.  I am a self-confessed foodie, and one of my current favourite cookbook authors hails from the kitchens of Nelson’s local ski hill, Whitewater.  I had held off buying her (Shelley Adams) latest cookbook, because I wanted to buy it in Nelson. I was expecting a bit of a Shelley Adams mecca…maybe even a bit of the local grocery store having a “Shelley Adams” corner where I could buy her newly mass-produced salad dressings.  Oh no…her presence in Nelson is very unassuming and I think she’s a bigger deal in my ‘hood in a large Canadian urban centre than she is in her home town.  I kind of had to hunt for her book.  And I like that too.

And that makes me appreciate Nelson even more.  To me, that’s what part of being Canadian is.  We know who we are.  We’re comfortable with how we’re awesome.  We don’t need to broadcast it, and if you choose to discover it for yourself, well, that’s great.  And if you choose to think otherwise, we don’t really care, and we don’t hang our national identity on being top dog or you appreciating what we know is good.  But all the same, we are awesome….but you have to go looking for it.  You have to bring a bit of yourself to the table.  Because we don’t expect to be “the best”, to be the “most beautiful”, and so we don’t force it.

Slocan River Morning "Float"

Slocan River Morning “Float”

But parts of Canada are “the best” and “the most beautiful”…just like other nations have parts of them that are the best and beautiful.  We don’t ask you to notice the natural beauty of Nelson’s  lake and the mountains.

cruisin' in the morning...

cruisin’ in the morning…

You have to hunt for a company that will take you on an awesome ride down the Slocan River…they’re not advertising in your face in the tourist areas.

We had three days in Nelson, so that isn’t enough to do it justice.  But it was long enough to appreciate that if you cruised through it quickly you could put it in a box and label it.  There are ways in which you could describe Nelson has “hippie-dippie”…too alternative, too granola.  But that does the city such a disservice.  I think the people of Nelson have a unique BC city…in many ways it has the best of two worlds…a LOT of amenities and services of a large urban centre with the outdoor recreation and natural setting of a beautiful interior small town.  And neither has spoiled the other.  They coexist in wonderful harmony.

Just like our campground…it’s the only place in my research for this trip where a City operated a very decent campground right in the heart of a urban place where we could walk to absolutely everything we wanted to see, eat or do.  No navigating a 33 foot motor home on curvy, narrow streets to cause more fingernails to be chewed, breath to be sucked in involuntarily, or eyes closed because I just couldn’t stand to see what was around that corner…phew.  I might be in love with Nelson just because of that.P1660936P1660948

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RVing to Okanagan Wineries

So here’s my best solution to feeling stressed riding shotgun.

She is oblivious to all potentialities and trusts her owner’s driving explicitly. Such is the peace of the zen existence of the family pet.DSC00374

I’m working on finding my groove. I’m getting there…

Visiting some wineries helped. Road 13, as I mentioned, was our first stop. The current owners have been producing wine since 2003 and renamed it (for its location, it’s on “Road 13”) from its previous incarnation as Golden Mile Cellars. In all four of our stops, we were particularly interested in what wouldn’t be readily available in our local liquor store, and found a couple of interest there. It’s been a good decade or more since I’ve visited any Okanagan wineries and I’ve noticed they have really “upped” their game in terms of marketing and packaging the “winery” experience. Road 13 had built this castle-looking building for their tasting room.

Then it was on to Burrowing Owl who boasted a guest lodge with a swimming pool, again perched high on a hillside, overlooking their vineyards. This time we got smart and left the RV in turn-around area near the truck loading zone at the back of the cluster of buildings. It was hot and sunny and the tasting room would be boring for the kids, so we wandered into the winery restaurant to see if the kids could sit and have a cold drink while we shopped. Gervase was VERY unimpressed with the reception or lack thereof and not happy to be told the kids couldn’t sit there unless we were going to order lunch. We love their wines and bought some bottles, but left feeling a bit disappointed with the whole experience. Burrowing Owl seems a bit full of themselves…the winery has been producing wine since 1998 and is still lead by founder Jim Wyse.

Then down near Osoyoos, practically at the Canada/US border we stopped at a small winery, Young and Wyse Collection. This place was very interesting to us…note the name connection with Burrowing Owl! After 10 years of working at Burrowing Owl, the family winery, longtime winemaker Stephen Wyse and his partner Michelle Young decided to start their own winery and this year is their 17th vintage. They only sell from the winery, restaurants, and select retail outlets… none of their product is available in liquor stores. We thought most of what we tasted was fantastic and the small, homey atmosphere in the tasting room was a lot of fun. Now the RV is heavier with the purchases you see Gervase happily toting…

Gorgeous Osoyoos!

Gorgeous Osoyoos!

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Carrying his case of wine back to the RV...

Carrying his case of wine back to the RV…

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Then Nk’Mip (pronounced Ink Meep) was a whole other experience. We had headed there with the intent to go horseback riding, but it was mercilessly hot and Shannon decided against it. The Osoyoos First Nation has taken marketing their winery experience to a whole other level…it’s a resort with campground, horseback riding, resort accommodations, restaurant, tasting room and cultural centre. Some marketing genius has turned that whole thing into a huge money-maker. It was hopping!

One of the great things about this RV, I’m learning, is the flexibility it affords. Everything is with us. A conversation with the fellow behind the tasting bar at Nk’Mip lead us to a cute little beach in Osoyoos to cool off. No going home to get the swimsuit and towel because we just decided to do this…it’s all here with us. Very nice!

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Note to Gordon Lightfoot: “Carefree Highway” is not so care-free in a 33 foot Motor Home

Our decision to rent an rv for this trip was not made a long time ago. Eager Europeans (for the most part) long ago reserved their “normal” sized motor homes for their rocky mountain Canadiana.

When we started looking, the only one my husband could find was a 17 year old, 33 foot, “land barge” with separate queen sized bedroom, living room and bathtub. It’s not that I disparage folks who regularly “rv” around North America…it’s just that I am laughing at myself for doing this. It’s fairly out of character. This motor home is the size of a bus. It costs $400 to fill up the gas tank. It just seems so “indulgent”… so “much” …such a giant monument to consumerism and excessiveness.

The Land Barge

The Land Barge

But here we are…

I like to camp. While I’m not what anyone would call “hard core”, I do believe in camping in a tent, in staying in provincial or national parks and being outside and in nature. I do believe in being comfortable in my tent… but the core purpose is to be somewhat removed from all the suburban comforts of electricity, running water on demand and certainly air conditioning!

Our neighbor’s “living room”

As I was planning this trip, I was dismayed to find out that our rv is too big for most provincial parks. So I had to adjust my expectations and look for “RV resorts”. Essentially these are gravel and/or grass parking lots for rv’s and 5th wheels that park side by side and hook up to electricity, sewage and water services. So far, they also feature a swimming pool, communal laundry facilities and tonight’s version also has mini golf. And people who clearly “live” here for the season.

So that’s the general scene. We drove to Kelowna to collect our rv. The “briefing” for how to operate and drive this thing was a good hour and a half. I wasn’t freaked out about us driving this until now that it’s real and I see it. I can feel my anxiety like a low grade humming in my brain…which I’m trying to hide.

We hop in, me riding shotgun, to go to a grocery store before we leave Kelowna. I quickly realize I’d rather be one of my suitcases packed away in a cupboard and NOT seeing anything that’s going on. Every muscle in my body is tensed…we take up the entire lane and it feels like my husband is going to shear off every street sign, pedestrian, or –gasp-cyclist that goes by on my side of the vehicle.

It feels like we are riding a box rail car balanced on an ice skate. The old shocks are rocking the RV back and forth with creaks and groans that make me feel like we’re going to roll over every time we turn a corner. I lean into the middle of the vehicle…my husband just confided he is doing the same…like THAT’s going to do anything to rebalance us in the free roll around each corner that my overactive imagination is generating. But I can’t help it. I am trying not to jump and suck in my breath every time we come close to another large vehicle coming the other way or second guess how far my husband is swinging out around each corner so our back end doesn’t bounce over the curb.

Co-pilot in position?

Co-pilot in position?

Our mission is to get to Oliver before dinner. We do. But I slither to the ground once we pull in and I am so grateful …even if it turns out we did take out a post in the campground by taking a corner too tight. A kind neighbour guided our first backing up experience, like an experienced ground crew, nestling a jet up to the terminal gate.

The next day is winery tour day. Our first stop is “Road 13” Vineyard which is up a windy narrow hill road and into a dead end parking lot that is too small for a 33 foot motor home to do a three point turn in. On two sides of it are cement walls and on the third is the winery building. Omgomgomg…both of us are freaking out. The only option seems to be to back down the windy road and that’s not much of an option. The reality of driving this excessively-large vehicle is sinking in. I go into the winery building to ask if he can turn around in part of the vineyard. Meanwhile, my husband has parked beside the cement wall and figures a solution will present itself after we taste wine.

Smart man. It does! A small tour bus has shown up while we’re sampling, and the driver kindly directs Gervase in how to back into the vineyard without taking out the vines. We are so grateful for the kindness of strangers and are realizing that this is going to be our theme while moving in this monstrosity…it’s not just driving, it’s anticipating how to get it out of whatever you’re planning.

“Can we buy groceries?” becomes “Can we find a grocery store with a very large parking lot and at least four empty car spots that we can fill?” Listening to GPS lady turn us around after making a wrong turn is a less trusting experience because she takes you down roads for cars, not roads for Kleenex-box shaped camping monoliths. One “U turn” route took us down a one lane back road that had the driver and co-pilot both praying for no oncoming traffic.

While my husband now considers himself Bernie the bus driver, riding in the RV is not a relaxing experience by any stretch of the imagination and I am absolutely dreading being asked to help with the driving! Leaving Osoyoos today for Christina Lake along highway 3A had us climbing a series of switchbacks.

Bernie the Bus Driver

Bernie the Bus Driver

Again, I am leaning into the middle of the vehicle because I’m on the “downhill” side and it feels like there’s no ground beneath us (and my leaning into the rv will help us not roll down the mountain as the tires leave the highway…NOT). Normally I knit during car trips. Gervase noticed a lack of knitting today. “Oh,” he said to my reply, “you’re still driving with your eyes.”

Yah, actually I’m still driving with my eyes…and every muscle in my body.

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The Universe Has a Plan

And I shouldn’t mess with it. As events of this morning unfolded, I realized my wickedness from the night before has caught up with me. 🙂

I can tell I’m about to go on holidays…I know this mental space. I micromanage things I shouldn’t, I race around trying to fix-at-the-last-minute all the things I should have dealt with earlier (getting the van serviced, getting the dog groomed so she won’t be too hot in our unusually hot and dry rain coast summer…), and I forget where I put my “to-do” lists (yes, plural…I keep rewriting them because I keep misplacing them).

It’s not pretty in my head today. I realize this as I am on hold via Bluetooth, trying to register my son for a swimming lesson we were waitlisted for….while driving on the TransCanada Highway to take him and his best friend to sailing camp which is 20 km from our house, and for which there’s a chance we’re going to be late. Being late makes me “mental” and even though I’ve learned all the outward behaviour of being “chill” about schedules, what goes on inside me is very far from chill.

Anyway…the swimming lesson. The 24 hours I was given to claim the lesson spot is going to expire within minutes and while the muzak is playing and I’m feeling stressed because my cell phone always drops calls in this part of the world, my husband is beeping in with his call. “But if I leave my spot in the phone queue maybe my son will lose his chance for this lesson which he loves?” And there aren’t a lot of things he loves besides his computer time, nintendo ds or tv…all of which I hate. So I stay with the queue.

“But why is my husband calling me?” Then it dawns on me. The van is supposed to be at the garage at 9am. He had said he’d take it. The clock on the dashboard reads 8:51. I’m supposed to be in his car.

I’m in my van.

And the nice fellows at the garage, who squeezed in their crazy customer who pleaded with them to try to fit in the van today had been very clear: They needed the van by 9…the 9:30 I had suggested was not going to work for them.

This is only ONE event from this morning and as I write this, it’s still what any of us would call “mid morning”.

Those of you who know me personally are likely having trouble concentrating on the description of my morning because “wicked” is not a descriptor you’d use of me. I have heard things like “Martha Stewart’s illegitimate daughter”, “kind”, “thoughtful”…not wicked.

I don’t think my friends in the ‘hood can even begin to visualize the mischievous part of my personality. But it’s there. Oh, and it was having fun last night.

My husband had been up on the roof after dinner, trying to sort out something in the house that required my paying attention to it and then calling out through the open window to him whether there was any difference. So I suppose that got me thinking about the roof. And it’s been hot. And when he was done, he left the ladder there where it was easy to access.

“I’m going on the roof!” I call out.

I’ve never been on our roof, and we’ve lived in this house 11 years. So this announcement intrigued my husband, who I invited up with me. As we were surveying our street we noticed a man and a woman walking around the corner onto our street. They were noticeable because they were wearing matching colours and were carrying something. They would confer at the end of a driveway and then go up to the front door, or not, depending on what their clipboards told them.

“Canvassers” said my husband.

The blue was an unusual shade…a recognizable shade of blue. In Canadian politics, there are currently three national parties of any significance and each is associated with a colour. The orange of the New Democratic Party, the fire-engine red of the Liberal Party of Canada, and this particular blue…it’s the Conservative Party, which is also the party in power.

But a federal election is looming…by October 19th…and I’m not supporting the “blue” party. Not a snowball’s chance in hell. I don’t know if it was the novelty of the roof, but after the clipboard people decided they would come up our driveway, I figured they were fair game.

Ding Dong.

I hang over the roof, staring down at their “C” insignias on their blue shirts. “Hi” I smile at them charmingly, even though I am struck by the incredible irony of them, on my doorstep, announcing they are with Andrew Saxton’s “campaign” (their words, not mine) on the very same day Canada Post delivered “Andrew Saxton, MP: Your Guide to More Tax Cuts and Benefits” which was produced and distributed from his office with MY money. Yours too if you live in Canada.

I get that politics is a game-especially the campaigning part of politics…and I’m sure “my” party did the same things when they were in power. And I highly respect anyone who is willing to stand for public office. But I am emboldened by them showing up like this…today of all days. All bets are off people…if you’re going to do stuff like that, then I’m going to waste your time. We have a nice chat and I don’t tell them what I really think. I may have even stretched the truth when they asked if Andrew could count on my support.

I can hear the sharp intake of breath from my friends as they grapple with their disillusionment. How can this be the person they know? 🙂

The canvassers are going to send Andrew by sometime so I can waste his time too.

And despite my morning, I am not contrite. But I did take a lovely box of scones to the fellows at the garage before I sat down at the computer…because that’s what Martha would do.

Well, she would have baked them, and if I weren’t busy being crazy-person, I would have too. Although sitting and writing has calmed me…maybe I can get back to preparing for our upcoming RV trip.

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Boston: It Could Still be a Great Canadian City

DSC00125Boston. It should be part of Canada. I don’t think Bostonians would really mind. They like hockey. They have snow. They use “sorry” like we do. They’d assimilate quickly.

Have you ever noticed that? To me, “sorry” should be reserved for when an apology is required. A real apology…one that conveys sincere regret, an intention to do better, and an acknowledgement of what was “wrong”. But in addition to apologies, Canadians use “sorry” to get attention and to avert a problem. So do Bostonians!

A stranger bumps into us on the street. “Sorry”. A stranger asks us for the time, “Sorry [for disturbing you], could you tell me the time?” At a busy attraction, the kids adjust their positions such that it looks like we’re going to leave…a Bostonian moves in to see if the spot is available then apologized when she learned we weren’t leaving. In the middle of an in depth “family” discussion on the street where we were in someone’s way…”Sorry…can you move please?”[when we were in the wrong, but trying to avoid a potential conflict with us]

DSC00131I think we’d become even more polite if Boston were part of Canada. We’d learn to say thank you for everything…a door held open, a space made open in a busy venue. I think we’d be less aggressive drivers, too. And if we saw anyone standing on our city’s streets staring quizzically at an open map, we’d learn to always ask them if we could help them figure out where they were going. And if a child was arguing loudly in public for more gum we’d offer him some of ours. And we’d always tell each other “Have a good one!!”

And really, if events had unfolded a little more positively, we wouldn’t have let Boston get away. Actually Boston could be responsible for the beginnings of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Yes, really. Back in the late 1600’s, the French had a monopoly on the Canadian fur trade. But there were a couple of entrepreneurial voyageurs, Radisson and Groseilliers who for some reason, really, really wanted to trade furs in Hudson’s Bay.

I don’t know why, but they went to a well-heeled group of business types in Boston who agreed with them that the future was in Hudson’s Bay furs. Go figure. In 1663, the expedition set out with the backing of Boston money. Unfortunately the speculative venture ran into ice pack in Hudson Strait. So that all ended, but it caught the attention of the Boston-based English Commissioner George Cartwright, who brought the two to England for more financing…which eventually led to King Charles granting the Hudson’s Bay Charter in 1670 and lots more exploring.

DSC00152So, we Canadians and Bostonians have shared history and if they could just work a little HBC history into their own fabulous “Freedom Trail”, our historical ties would be set. Boston has this great red brick trail through the downtown core that we’d all like. With the audio guide downloaded into your mobile device you can join the throngs of other tourists who tramp along the 2.4 mile trail from Boston Common, learning about the events leading up to and following the War for Independence.

Plus, with annexation, we’d have access to Boston Cream Pie. I know, we’d get Parker House rolls and Clam Chowder as well but it’s dessert that really matters in life. We need a national dessert and I think this is it. It isn’t really pie…it’s white sponge cake with vanilla custard between the layers and chocolate glaze over top. I dragged the family to the origins of “The Pie” , so you can see its current-day incarnation. DSC00164The hotel has a colourful history…take the story of how the Parker House roll was invented…there are a few variations, but they all involve an angry pastry cook throwing unfinished rolls into the oven, which created their dented appearance.

Famous and infamous guests have included John Wilkes Booth (assassinated Abraham Lincoln ten days after his Parker House stay), Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Homes Sr., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens lived there for two years. DSC00109JFK announced his candidacy for Congress there and his friends threw his bachelor party there. Ho Chi Minh was a baker and Malcolm X was a busboy. If those walls could talk!!!

Boston. We could use another nice city on the East Coast. I think we should annex it.

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