Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mike!

My wonderful, sweet, kind, funny, nephew Michael has a birthday today.

He and my son have been close since they were babies. They both have two sisters and no brothers and are almost exactly one year apart, so they have become best friends and brothers in spirit.

They moved into an apartment together last month, along with their cousin Matt.

How did Chris and Mike go so quickly from this:

To this:


Happy Birthday Mike! Hope it's a good one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rolling in the Deep...Dust

I love this instrument, the traditional, nay ancient Chinese instrument called the Guzheng, or Chinese zither.

I find it calming. I need calm these days.

Big changes happening at home and big changes freak me out. I still haven't quite wrapped my brain around the fact that after 24 years in this house, after raising three kids and countless pets including dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, after Christmas dinners and Easter egg hunts and too many memories to count, my husband and I have decided to move downtown. He'd like to be closer to the office, and I miss the hubbub of downtown life.

(Does anyone use the word 'hubbub' anymore? What about hullabaloo? Or brouhaha? I digress. Again. Because I'll do ANYTHING to avoid going back into the garage to clean shelves that haven't been touched in 24 years...hence the random Chinese zither post.)

Trying to purge/store/pack up 24 years worth of one family's stuff and fit it into a 3 bedroom flat is like me trying to squeeze into a size 2 bodysuit. Which is one of the things I unearthed from a locker in the basement. White, cotton, Naf Naf jumpsuit circa early '80s that I vaguely remember wearing to a Boy George concert. That sucker is only good for rags now. The jumpsuit, not Boy George although...

I'm not sure why I like this, because logic dictates I shouldn't, but I really do.

Back to the mines...

* Update: a mere hours after putting up this post, I heard a CBC radio announcer use the word "hullabaloo" in regards to a new tax on pasties in the U.K.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Busy bee

I'm a pretty busy little bee these days.

So for the next wee while, I'm going to dig into my files and post some flower shots, or a recipe or maybe the odd inspirational poster.

Well, the poster won't be odd.

Unless by poster, you mean me.

Oh, never mind.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hungry for Change

Here's the official trailer for the documentary HUNGRY FOR CHANGE.

Does it inspire you the way it does me?

I think I'm becoming more of a food warrior as I get older. I also think that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

We're moving!

My presence has been a tad spotty because my husband and I (along with Youngest) have decided to move downtown! We've been talking about it for the past couple of years, but suddenly, within the space of a week, it's a done deal.

And so, after 24 years in this house, after raising three babies, several dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, after Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving feasts and Easter brunches and birthday parties, after play dates in the basement rec. room, baking countless cookies and wontons for soup and rolling out dough for pizza and stirring Jello*, after creating impromptu art projects on the kitchen table, after sick days feeding my kids chicken noodle soup on the green couch in front of a fire, after trimming hedges and mowing lawns and shoveling driveways, well, it's time to pack up and move downtown and let our lives take a new direction.

One that means white wine on the terraces of Montreal and listening to the hum of traffic instead of beer on the porch listening to the hum of our neighbour's lawn mower.

Downtown is where our story began. My husband and I first lived in Westmount when I moved here from Toronto back in the early 80s. After we had our first child and I was pregnant with our second, we decided to raise our burgeoning family in the suburbs, the "West Island" of Montreal. Another year or so later, a third child was born.

The kids went to preschool there, and took swimming lessons in the local pool, joined Cub Scouts and Girl Guides. They played soccer and hockey and learned to ski with the Rod Roy school. I did all the mom stuff. I volunteered at all of the schools, joined the Quilter's Guild, the Camera Club and other organizations.

We had a great life here.

But now it's time for Doug and I to move closer to his office and to where our grown kids are settling in. Well, two of them so far. One is still away at Uni but she wants to be downtown too.

As I was cleaning out boxes in the basement in preparation for our move, I came across the letter Doug's predecessor Dr. Dundass sent out to introduce Doug to his patients when he took over the practice:

"Dr. Douglas E. Hamilton, a native Montrealer, is a graduate of McGill University...I am quite confident that you will find Dr. Hamilton a very congenial and capable person...I wish to thank all my patients for the many kindnesses they have shown me over these many years. I think back to 1946 when I took over the practice of the late Dr. E---- who told his patients: 'try the young fellow, you'll like him'. My wife adds 'he's good looking too!'"

The most remarkable thing about the letter?

It is dated July 1st, 1982.

That is thirty years to the day that we move into our new place.

* I'm still surprised by how excited my entire family gets when anyone finds Jello in the fridge. Seriously. It's like they found gold nuggets.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Under The Sea

My underwater camera broke on my first dive, but a fellow diver - Ian, from Manitoba - kindly forwarded a few of his shots and allowed me to post them here. Ian is like a floating encyclopedia when it comes to fish. (And music.) I'd surface from a dive and say, "hey, I saw this fat little brown fish that was round and fluttering its fins like they were wings" and he'd say "oh, that would be the Jamaican Burblydoodie fish also known as..."

I made that name up. I can't remember the name of that fish. I can, however, remember the barracudas which were curious and very identifiable, lobsters and remoras. Those, also known as suckerfish, kept swimming up my shirt the day I dove without a wetsuit. It's the fish you see in documentaries of sharks, where they are hanging on by their mouths and fluttering alongside like tiny flags. It freaked me out at first because I couldn't shoo them away. I don't like anything coming at me in the water, benign or not, and I definitely don't want making itself at home under my shirt. But I got used to them after the first dive. Mostly because I had on a wetsuit so they could only hitch a ride on my arms or legs.

Anyway, thanks Ian. Great photos.

This photo sets the scene with a lovely coral garden. Every dive location has an evocative name, like The English Garden, Chubb, Cottage Reef, Coral Garden and even Peter Tosh Reef. If you don't know who Peter Tosh is, watch this. (You can thank me later.)

Now you know who Peter Tosh is. Or rather, was. But as the saying goes, his music lives on.

Sea snake. Yes, the sea has snakes. I saw a couple of moray eels, too. They're pretty cool.

Eagle rays with their lovely spots.

And this is a lionfish. Don't be fooled by its beauty. It is a deadly and invasive species with toxic spines and it has become the scourge of the Caribbean. One sting can result in nausea, difficulty breathing, paralysis, convulsions, even death. And they can sting right through a diving glove. Our dive masters admitted they'd all been stung and had now developed an immunity. I'm not willing to test that theory.

So how did these fish end up in Jamaica if they're from the Indo-Pacific? Apparently some doofus released a handful of them out of an aquarium and into the water off the Florida coast after Hurricane Andrew. They then migrated to the Caribbean seas, where they are flourishing and gobbling up all the fish, crabs and other creatures lured over by its fluttering fins. They are threatening the health of the reefs as they can eat dozens of smaller fish per hour. One lionfish caught by our divemaster had 50 fish in its belly when caught.

There are now organized lionfish hunts and fish fries (apparently, lionfish are quite tasty once the poisonous spines are removed) and the rule is, if you see one, you kill it.

Me, I'll stick to chicken of the sea. I'll leave you with this:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From the archives - Smooth Sailing

Here's an essay on scuba diving that was published just after my husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.

My husband and I just celebrated 25 years of marriage, and like all relationships, it’s had its ups and downs, mostly ups I’m happy to say. Now that we’re entering this new stage of our lives, we’re redefining who we are and what we want, shifting from backstage to centre stage, where the spotlight shines on just the two of us. Sure, I get weepy about my offspring moving on with their lives, but in the dark recesses of my brain, I hear the faint rallying cry of Braveheart’s “Freedom!”

Thanks to our efforts, these new citizens of the world are educated in matters intellectual and domestic, and it’s time to pry them out of the nest. I stayed home full-time to raise them, and my husband has been equally devoted to his career, but now it’s time for us to reconnect as a couple or the next twenty-five years are going to feel like we’re sitting in God’s waiting room reading magazines from 1986. I suggested we find a mutual hobby, maybe wine tasting, theatre, book clubs, Italian cooking classes, preferably at the source in Tuscany.

He heard golf.

It’ll be fun, he said. After a few private lessons, we can join a club, reduce stress by hitting buckets of balls, and share quality time every weekend. I reminded him that I took golf lessons in school, worked on a golf course, dated a golf pro, and unless this pro’s name was Curtis Stone and he offered wine-tastings while demonstrating how to make spaghetti Alla Carbonara in between cookbook signings, I had absolutely zero interest. I did not want to wake up a dark o’clock on a Saturday, drag clubs around on dew-drenched grass slapping at mosquitoes or look for lost balls in the woods. I didn’t want to wear plaid shorts, sun visors, or thin leather gloves with detachable ball markers. The only thing remotely appealing was the 19th hole because that meant one less meal to cook.

We compromised. By compromised, I mean we booked a week in an all-inclusive, couples only resort in the Bahamas. This was a huge step for us because we rarely traveled and it was always with the kids.

I envisioned lazy days on a lounger with a stack of books and a steady supply of tropical drinks like the Bahama Mama or Papa (I am an equal opportunity imbiber.) However, upon arrival my beloved went straight to the dive shack for a chat with Wendell the Dive Master, and immediately signed us up for scuba lessons. Hey, it’s not golf, he said. That's like saying hey, it’s not open heart surgery! Hey, it’s not bull fighting!

Oh, and never you mind about that pesky fear of drowning thing. I’ll be there for you, he promised.

First they take you snorkeling, which is really scuba foreplay. I paddled around a coral reef and cavorted with tropical fish including some large barracudas. Luckily we missed each other, as I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses or shiny jewelry, and they weren’t feeling peckish that day. But snorkeling compared to scuba is like going to a party then having to watch it through a window, so we began basic scuba training, about 2 hours worth, in a pool.

I worried about the fitness required but my instructor said all movements are “slow and lazy.”

Ah, the hook.

“You’re not really swimming, you don’t use your arms, you just gently flutter through the water.”

Tell me more.

“You need to tread water or float for 10 minutes.”

Float? Honey, toss me in the water and I will bob like a dumpling in chicken soup.

“And there’s a 300 meter continuous swim.”

Oh, oh.



“And you can do it on your back.”


Halfway through his continuous swim, a tall drink of water we nicknamed “Texas” took a break at the poolside bar, and he ended up passing the test. Any sport where the motto is “slow and steady wins the race” and you get to pause for a cocktail, well, that is the sport for me. The most strenuous part was squeezing into a soggy wetsuit. So we passed this first lesson and sailed to a wreck in the ocean to test our new skills.

Like the classic song, at first I was a afraid, I was petrified. As in full-on panicked. But I leaped into the unknown, and my husband stayed right by my side, just as he did when our children were born, and just as he has every day, for better for worse, for twenty-five years. We dropped to the bottom of the ocean together, and held hands as we moved through this new, brilliant, sunlit world before us. It was magical, I felt reborn, and I had to force myself to stop grinning because it let water in my mask. We reboarded the boat, and the waves got rougher. A nurse hurled her breakfast over the stern. Texas hurt his ankle climbing back into the boat, by my husband and I looked deep into each other’s eyes and murmured, “Isn’t this romantic?”

And it was. Silver may be the traditional gift, but black neoprene and a tank of oxygen is our pick to celebrate 25 years of marriage.

Monday, March 12, 2012

10 days in Jamaica

And it wasn't enough...

We have just returned from Whitehouse, Jamaica, a resort set on several hundred private acres so it was quiet and lush and just what the doctor ordered.

There was the small matter of a 90 minute bus ride from Montego Bay airport, one that I can confidently say knocked off several years off my life. "Stormin' Norman" was in the driver's seat, and while he seemed fairly relaxed, he warned us it was going to be not only bumpy and twisty, but there would be a lot of what would appear to be near-misses with other cars and trucks. When we witnessed a truly close call, he vowed someone on the bus would change his name from Norman to "Holy Shit!" Guess who renamed Norman?

We passed orange groves and sugar cane fields and rows of shacks about the size of bus shelters, in soft pastel colours with corrugated tin roofs. It was hot and humid and green, just what a summer-starved Canadian girl needed.

Any thoughts of a relaxing holiday by the pool were dashed as my darling husband signed us up for diving instruction. If we got open water certification, it would be good for life he argued, and it meant we could dive to 60 feet any time we wanted. I thought I might be able to get him so liquored up on rum punch so he'd forget the whole thing. But he's Scottish and stubborn.

We spent every day diving, usually two dives - one at 9 a.m. to 60 feet and one at 11 a.m. to 35 feet. Then we studied our dive books in the afternoon and wrote the exam at the end of the week. We both passed. With a perfect score, actually. This was because a) Doug didn't want us to die, and b) I didn't want Doug to get a higher marks. And I didn't want to die either. Definitely why I was motivated to study hard.

Our instructor, Roderick, was a hoot. At first he was a tad cranky, and I realized that we'd been foisted on him by our first instructor who took over the lessons for a more advanced couple. He could barely look at me at first, he'd just give me an instruction, look away, but if I did something wrong, he'd pull me close to him using my jacket strap and say, slowly, "Pamelaaaa, Paaaamelaaaaa, what did I just tell you?" He scared the bejabbers out of me, to be honest, as did the diving. But Roderick underestimated how stubborn and determined I am, especially when something scares me. I don't like to be defeated.

The worst part was having to take off my mask under water, breathe with the regulator for one minute, then put the mask on again and empty the water using my nostrils. The first couple of times I tried it in the pool, I came up coughing to the point of almost puking. And I knew I would have to do it again in the ocean at 30 feet down. Roderick finally said, "Okay, you can't do it. We'll try again tomorrow."

Knowing I'd have nightmares about it all night, I insisted I was going to take one more stab at it. He said no. I said oh yes I am, and went under. And did it. Apparently, I found out from Doug later that Roderick turned to Doug and with a big grin said, "now I know how to get her to do something. Just tell her she can't." From that moment on, I had his respect and we ended up great buddies. I called him Papa Bear, which cracked up the "chickens" (what Roderick called all the young boys in training, all long skinny legs and broad white smiles with names like Orlando and Desmond and Garth.) Anyway, when we wrote the exam, Roderick grinned like a proud papa and said, "Pamela, when you came to my class, I shook my head and thought 'oh oh, this is going to be bad, this woman is trouble.' But I had the most fun I've had in a long time." We even did a night dive, using flashlights! Pretty cool.

We saw turtles, barracuda, crabs the size of hubcaps, moray eels, rays and all matter of tropical fish. I loved it, especially winding through canyons of coral one afternoon. Magic.

Air Canada canceled our flight home on Saturday so we had to stay an extra day. Poor us. Luckily the flight from Montreal to Jamaica was also delayed so we got to stay in those rooms. The hotel was 100% booked at that point so we were lucky we didn't have to spend the night on the chairs by the pool.

So how did you spend your spring break?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ya mon, I'm Back

I've been away for 10 days. I set up some posts before I left, but now I'm back and can tell you I've been on vacation in... Jamaica!

I'd share some of my shots with you, but I broke my camera on the first day. It's the chance you take when you use an underwater camera, well, underwater. However we met some awesome people while we were there and they have some photos that I'll share with you when I get them.

Like Doug and I at a depth of 35' in wetsuits and scuba gear. Yeah, baby.

More later.

I have to recover and rest from my "holiday" first.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday is Sloth Day

Literally, not metaphorically.

Because nothing says "hey, it's the weekend" like a video of a baby sloth having a bath.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Blisters and Bliss, a Philosopher's Notes

Or how to put on your socks properly and why it's so important.