Friday, February 5, 2010

Back to Work

A sabbatical year sounds like only 12 months, but really it last much longer. In fact, it started months (years?) before as we started making plans for how to spend this precious time. And now here I am one week into my return to work and I still feel like it's part of that year.

So for all of you who are wondering what it's like to be back - well, it's good. Each morning this week I was excited to be at the office. And why not? The pace is ultra slow and I'm spending most of my time just catching up with everyone. Talking about my travels with interested persons and finding out what events/situations I missed while I was gone. Every single person I talk to is thrilled to have me back, and continues to say such nice things about working together with me. Things I only got to hear as I preparing to leave and now when I'm back, but never heard when I was just there. It's worth going away just to hear these positives!

I do feel like everything's changed for me, and nothing has changed for the people around me. This makes me feels sad and wonder how I can stay bright and shiny and not just settle in to passing time like it appears most of the rest of the world does.

The question that baffles me most is whether my family/staff resent me for taking time off, and if this makes it hard now that I'm back. I mean I know that I have the best family ever, because they truly were happy during the year to spend time intensely with me some times, and then also to let me be away with no contact at other times. I had such support from them to just do what I needed/wanted to do and that was that. In my mind, that's true love - giving freedom to your loved one to be happy, whether they're with you or not.

As for people at work, I think they were envious, but totally understood why I wanted to do this. Why not? And they understood that change is good for everyone, especially when it's time limited. I go away, I return.

I hope I inspire others to make their dreams come true and to spend time doing what's important. We never know the future, and need to spend the present well. Work is a piece of the constant in our lives, and I have peace with that. I like working. I'm also thrilled to get my first paycheque at 100% in 5 years. There's always tradeoffs - sometimes good, sometimes bad. You work, you get paid. Just be happy at what you do. I am.

I hope I can keep my centredness for as long as possible. I need to stay focused on what's important. Let go of petty ideas. Stay in the present. But one week in, I'm still smiling and feeling ok.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

One week to go

With only one week to go till I return to work, I ask myself the inevitable questions - Am I ready to return? Was this year worth it? How have things changed? In some ways I still feel too close to the year to really see it. As I prepare a slide show to document my year, I review in my head what I did. And I reflect again on my purposes for taking a sabbbatical.

The biggest observation is that I feel young again. Like somehow I was acting old before. Maybe old and tired. I'm ok with aging, but I like feeling energized and youthful. Right now, I feel young again. My Wii FIT tells my my age is somewhere between 30 and 40, and I consider it an authority. Not bad for a 45 year old. By feeling young, I feel unencumbered, energized, and hopeful. I also really feel grateful. Like the Black Eyed Peas say, I feel grateful to count on 2 hands the people that I love. Some have only 1, and some have none. Or something like that.

I feel grateful for the time to spend watching my little boy turn the corner from child to teenager. Even if it means he doesn't need or want me as much, I'm happy watching these moments and not just waking up to realize they're gone. I'm grateful for the time to spend with Richard. It takes time to make a relationship work, and we've lasted 15 years now, to everyone's surprise, not the least ours! We're ready for the empty-nest relationship that allows for time as a 2-some, instead of family time. As I watch friends love loved ones to cancer and separations, I feel grateful that we've been able to stick together, and actually happily, not just for convention-sake. I feel grateful for my role as step-mom, as it's more fun than anyone could ever imagine. Making food for them and having profound conversations is as good as it gets.

Have I got done all the projects I thought I'd do? No way. In fact my list is even longer. My mother-in-law told me in her dying days that if you don't worry any more, you die. That's how she defined herself as the one who worried about the family members. For me, I think I'd say if I don't have a list with projects, I die. So I guess I'm not dying any time soon. I seem to like those project lists. I like the way they organize my day, even when there's nothing else to organize it.

And with that, I'm going to sign off and get back to my project list. But I can cross one thing off - write another blog for today.

Mayan Riviera (Mexico)

How different can one trip be from another? Well, from the rugged guesthouses of Nepal to a 5 star all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I can say I have done it all. And really, I thoroughly enjoyed them both. As a final hurrah to my sabbatical year, we cashed in our free week in Mexico just days before it expired. The experience was ever so much nicer knowing it was a gift from the resort, and didn't cost of a cent.

So, on Jan. 12 at 4:00 am, Richard, Adrian, Jeremy (my 18 year old step-son), and I taxied to Pearson Airport, and thanked our travel agent who convinced us to fly to Cancun with Sunwing Airlines. This new, charter airline flies directly over the US and straight to Mexico, with no carry-on limitations or crazy security delays. By 9am, we had arrived! They even served champagn on the flight, complete with free, hot meals. (Sorry if this sounds like a commercial for them, but truly they were great and started the trip off well.) Jeremy sat at the window and marvelled at how low we flew, and how much he could see of the passing countryside down below.

We were met at the airport and shuttled one hour down the road to our resort, Playacar Palace. We arrived bleary eyed from the early departure, but everyone was excited. Our room was not quite ready, so we left our suitcases and headed for the pool. While the sun shone, the temperature felt warm, but the pool was unheated and quite chilly. But the view was magnificent! The resort was located a few minute's walk from the town of Playa del Carmen, and right on the beautiful ocean with blue-green shimmers sparkling in the sunshine showing off the various water depths. The waves had been pounding at the beach for many years, and most of the beach itself was actually eroded and washed away, so a walk on the beach was really a walk in the waves. Further up the beach, there was construction to rebuild the beach again, and our resort was planning this for the futre. Thanks, climate change!

Our first meal was similar to most we would eat - an open buffet with international cuisine with lots of Mexican choices as well, and plenty to please both kids and adults. I especially enjoyed all the fresh seafood and tropical fruits. There was always food available, either in the 3 restaurants, at the pool, or with room service, which the kids utilized frequently, just for the fun of it. They made really good homemade nacho chips and quacamole, and the staff got to know our family well. In the room we had a fully loaded bar fridge with drinks, not to mention our own unlimited liquor bar. It's a wonder we ever left the room!

We quickly booked into the excursions provided free with the package. We spent one day visiting Tulum, the ancient archeological site down the road and right on the beach. The highlight, more than the ruins, was the many lizards that we saw sunning themselves on the rocks. We went snorkelling in a lagune and saw lots of fish. We revisited Adrian's favourite swim-up bar from last visit, and drank yet another strawberry daquieri together. We visted one of the other Palace resorts that caters more to teens, and spent the day playing water polo, enjoying a rocking game of doubles tennis, and hanging out in the games room with free access to riding motorcycles, driving cars, and shooting basketball games. I felt (and acted)like a teenager along with the kids!

Richard and I sat through the requested meeting to consider upgrading our membership, which we declined, of course, but the kids really appreciated the reward. We were already booked into a ziplining adventure, but they threw in an ATV ride as well. This day proved to be one of our favorite's, as it tested the spunk of us all. The ziplining adventure involved hanging from a harness a hundred feet in the air and zipping accross a river - 10 times! In the middle we did a "monkey walk" which required us to step on upturned logs and transverse an area about 20 feet long, with no support other than our harnesses. It's hard to describe, but was actually scarier than simply jumping into the air to launch the zipline, sometimes backwards! On our 6th zip, Jeremy and I chose the option of hanging upside down with no hands to cross the longest pass, and whooped and hollared my way across in extreme exhileration. Hard to imagine, but even Adrian, my generally cautious son, agreed to the zipline, although he didn't realize till he'd started that it was one way, and there was no stopping once you get started.

After the ziplining, we loaded onto ATV's and headed into the jungle. Jeremy rode ahead of me, and I had Adrian on mine as well. Every lurch and lunge is felt even more with 2 persons, and Adrian was hanging on for dear life as I tried to keep up with Jeremy and the rest of the group. Mastering the manual clutch took a bit of learning, but really it was nothing compared to trying to keep control of the machine as it flew over bumps, turned corners sharply to avoid hitting trees, and was air-born on the jumps. Adrian was initially bummed that they wouldn't let him drive because of his age, but clearly these are scary machines even for riders, and he had so much fun he forgot he had wanted to be a driver.

Our final adventure was taking the ferry across to Cozumel Island, a short 40 minute crossing. Cozumel is known for its fantastic reef close to shore, apparently second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. (Not sure what it's second in - number of people visiting, number of fish?) We cajoled the resort into loaning us snorkel gear, rented a scooter for Jeremy and a Mexican Ferrari (a convertible old VW bug with no bumpers), and drove to Corona Beach. After a brief Corona refresher, we hit the reef. While only waist-high, we saw hundreds of fish in all imaginable colours - bright yellow, black and white striped, brown with white speckles, long and skinny with pointed noses, royal blue, transparent with red around the edges. So beautiful!!! I have no idea what types they were, but they were stunning, and so prolific. We were enjoying our selves so much we missed our ferry and ended up wandering the town of Cozumel for an hour. Adrian was mesmerized by the street artists who make paintings using spray cans of paint, pieces of cardboard or metal, and then blowtorching the paintings to make them dry, and he brought one back with him.

Nights at the resort brought shows, including a wild Michael Jackson show that we caught twice at 2 different resorts. While I'm not a huge MJ fan, the Mexican MJ really had the dance moves down well and looked just like MJ. They also had a fun circus act (people only), complete with a clown, extremely athletic acrobats, and dancers climbing ropes. A great place to unwind at the end of the day.

After all these adventures, we generally ended each day in the family hottub in our room with lots of bubbles, and watched a bit of the Marathon "Lost" on TV to recover before dinner. Dinners were served late, around 8pm (that's late for us - we eat at 5pm) and were magnificant! There were 3 restaurants that served dinner - Mexican, Italian, and Japanese. We tried them all, and eventually found food that even Adrian, our picky eater would eat. Adrian tended to find one thing on the menu he liked, and then ordered that in quantity, like 8 orders of the appetizer Yakiniku (beef on a skewer) and ice cream (in quadruple size). Jeremy, on the other hand, has become our family foodie, and eats all kinds of seafood and enjoys experimenting with any food. He especially like the unlimited sushi, and I think we ate that 3 times, not to mention countless dishes of octopus, crab (real, not fake), shrimp, fish, and squid. Our final meal was a blowout (free, of course) of 2 massive grills of "sea and land" (beef, mahi mahi, shrimp, tuna steaks, and squid).

I expected the food to be good, but I hadn't expected it to be such an experience. My favourite part was my own private sommelier who came to me at each meal and helped me choose a wine to go with my meal. Once I chose the meal based on the wine I felt like drinking, but usually it the other way around, and always exquisitely matched. I chose a rare red wine in the Italian restaurant, and the sommelier had to climb, like a monkey, to the kids' enjoyment, up 50 feet to the top of the wine cellar amongst the top racks to find my choice. And then, every meal ended with decaf coffee and liquors (Baileys for me, Gran Marnier for Richard) and delicious, light desserts. Most meals took a minimum of 2 hours with all the courses, and were all stunningly prepared. Surprisingly, the food was really healthy and fresh, with few carbs and nothing fried, excepts the nacho chips and fries that the kids ate. I could eat like this forever, if only I had someone to cut my fruit and serve me as they do.

Travelling as a 4-some was wonderful, and we broke off into all permutations throughout the week. Adrian and Jeremy played ping pong while Richard and I drave G&T's at the bar. Jeremy and I tackled the adrenelin highs while Richard and Adrian were more cautious. Richard and Jeremy stayed wandering through Playa del Carmen while Adrian and I went to bed early. Richard and I went to Starbucks every morning to read while Adrian and Jeremy slept in. Jeremy and Adrian caught up on Facebook while Richard and I stared into each others' eyes.

All in all, it was a throughly relaxing and luxurious holiday. It's nice to be pampered, and when I returned I kept looking around for all those persons to take care of me and all my needs, but somehow they didn't follow me home. I love the Mexican attitude toward service. They are always friendly, helpful, and have senses of humour. They could teach the customer service business around the world a lot. It would have been nice to have slightly warmer weather, and the Mexican told us this was unusual for January (daytime temps around 22 degrees). The sunny days were warm, but the cloudy days made it less appealing to be in the water. But most of all I enjoyed being with my family again. It had been a while since we'd vacationed with Jeremy, and it was nice to spend time with him and get inside his world. I'm a lucky step-mom to have a such an open, accepting relationship with him. I would go back to Mexico in a flash, and Adrian tells me that despite all his travelling this year, his heart is still in Mexico and Mexico is his favourite place to vacation. So I think I'll probably be going back again some time soon.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010

Hard to believe that 2009 is over. What a year! I have been looking forward to this year for so long, and now it's almost over. And what have I learned??? Well, most of all I am remembering who Linda is. The Linda that is not just a manager, a counsellor, a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend. Not just the one that always talks and always has an opinion about everything. Not just the one who has to be on the move doing things constantly.

I've found the Linda that can be quiet. The Linda that can "waste time" harvesting crops on Farmville or yet one more game of Mario Kart on the Wii with Adrian. The Linda that enjoys walking daily through her neighborhood picking up groceries or just popping into the library. The Linda that can sometimes not plan and just wait until she feels like doing something in particular. The Linda that can just sit and think without feeling like she should be doing something else.

Both at home and on our travels I have spent the quality time with my family that I dreamed of. I have watched my little boy grow in a teenager and have his first crush on a girl. I have held hands with him one last time while hiking through Nepal where there were no friends to see him. I have spent countless hours watching him practice skateboarding, and sat in more hockey arenas through cold, lengthy practices.

I have learned to be a stay-at-home mom who cooks hot meals every night (well, almost every night). I enjoy letting Richard take charge of our finances and being the one to ask him for money all the time. I like giving up the role of "money-bags" in the family, and he takes on his role with pride. We can begin to imagine life as empty-nesters, as we spend more time together as a couple and enjoy each other's company more than ever, and never run out of things to talk about.

So as I look forward to 2010, I am ready to return to work. It's as exhausting to be home but not working as it was to work, as I will always simply find meaningful things to occupy my time with anyway. That is simply part of what I've learned about Linda. She's a doer. She likes to have people depend on her. She likes to be in the thick of things. She has more energy than anyone else she knows, and now she's ready to be more careful to enjoy that energy goes to what she wants it to go to. Work needs to get a smaller piece of her energy. There's plenty to go around and staying active is key to her happiness.

So bring on 2010! I'm ready for a peaceful, prosperous, generous, and joyful year. Rested and rejuvenated with my travels and experiences. Happy, happy, happy. And feeling grateful to everyone who allowed me to live this dream year.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Mozambique is a country of contrasts. It's also the only African country I've ever spent much time in. We begged to see "the real Mozambique", so my sister Cheryl booked us first on a tourist bus from Maputo, the capital, to a little fishing village in the Bazaruto Archipelago called Vilanculos. We rose at 2:30 am in time to pick up our bus tickets and get us on bus for 4am. We spent 11 hours eating our small breakfasts and chatting with the other NGO volunteers who were also on the bus. The contant ring of cell phones reminded us that we were amongst many of Moz's movers and shakers.

In Vilanculos, we met up with Cheryl and became a 4-some. Interestingly, no one ever immediately thought we were sisters, despite our common looks. It didn't help that 2 of the 4 of us spoke fluent portuguese, the local language. Cheryl has been living in Moz for 3 1/2 years with her family, while Kathy has spent lots of time travelling throughout and studying in Brazil, where she uses portuguese extensively. Our primary reason to be in Vilanculos was to soak up the beach vibe. While not exactly touristy, Vilanculos is located right on a beautiful while sand beach and has sufficient amenities to keep adventurous tourists happy.

We indulged in a full day snorkeling trip by dhow (old-fashioned sailboat) to Bazaruto National Park, just off the coast. The snorkelling provided plenty of fish viewing in the corals just off the shore, and was sufficient for our snorkelling abilities. Lots of yellow, blue, white, and striped fish of all sizes, not to mention eels and corals of all colours. The 3 local guys cooked a hearty fish bar-b-q for us and seemed to enjoy the reveral of usual roles. Of course, they were shocked that we were travelling alone as women, and did ask us where our husbands and children were, and even offered to find/be new husbands if we were looking for any!

After a couple of days relaxing and eating great seafood, we woke up early again to meet the 3:30 am bus to Beira. This time we took the local bus, and it proved highly entertaining. There weren't enough seats for everybody, so the tourists got the real seats, while the locals piled into the aisles. There were bags stuffed under all the seats full of produce and goods, so no one had any leg room. After about an hour of driving, we had to stop for another hour while we waited for the bus driver's brother to bring him his wallet. (It seems he needed the money to ensure he could bribe his way through any potential roadblockages, or this is what the locals told us.) At one point, a person with a live rooster sat down next to me for a while. The rooster was quiet and mostly just sat in the basket. While most of Moz played little music, we did get to listen to some local pop music on the bus at top volume, so loud all you could hear really was the beat pounding away. We endured, just barely, and were exceedingly grateful to see my brother-in-law Steve pick us up and deliver us safely to their lovely compounded house in Beira.

While working for MCC, a Mennonite NGO, my sister's family nonetheless has a full time cook/cleaner and night guard. Each day they have their clothing laundered and ironed (including their underwear, to kill pinworms) and have a hot lunch prepared for their family. Everyone comes home for lunch each day. In fact, the kids attend school from 7:30am-12:30pm. Other kids attend in the afternoon, with different teachers, so more kids can share the same building.

We slept one night with my sister's family before heading out. This time we had our own large SUV which Cheryl drove with ease, despite the MANY potholes. Moz has only a few roads throughout the country, but even those are mostly reduced to one lane with lots of on-going construction and branches on the road to designate this. I've never really liked SUV's and find them generally silly in Canada, but they certainly were necessary in Moz! We drove about 6 hours to the Zimbabwe border, from the dry, sandy beach to the lush, green mountains. We arrived at Quinta de Fronteria, an old Portuguese estate that had fallen into ruin since independence in 1976, and was only recently being renovated and turned into vacation lodges for weathy Zimbabweins. We rented one cabana (for my "princess sisters" - Kathy and Lois) with a bed and indoor bathroom, and my outdoor sister, Cheryl, and I slept in a tent. We also had an outdoor kitchen at our disposal, which was a fire pit, complete with a firestarter. Our firestarter got up at 5 am each morning, cut wood for us, made a cooking fire, and put the kettle on for coffee. The first morning Kathy even woke up listening to them work and then delivered us coffee in bed (i.e. tent). Who says this isn't luxury living!

The rest of the weekend, we cooked our own food that we had brought, and spent lots of time relaxing together. One day we trekked down to the village through gorgeous, lush fields of large, dense palm trees and watched the villagers working in the fields using rudimentary hoes and shovels. There was not a tractor or horse to be seen anywhere throughout Moz, and people really worked hard in their fields. It poured rain on us, and we were fortunate not to slip in the red, shiny mud. The last morning we visited the old plantation house, which was really just a shell in ruins. The previous owner's son bought the old grounds several years ago, but it appears that more progress is being made on the landscaping and flowers around the property than the buildings themselves. It will be interesting to see how the property looks when it's all restored, but I wouldn't expect it to me for another 10-20 years, judging from the progress so far.

For our final weekend in Moz, we chose to spend it with my sister's family at their favourite vacation spot - a rustic vacation home on the beach about an hour outside of Beira. The house we had reserved had burned down a week earlier and they hadn't notified us, but since Cheryl knew the owner from her kids' school, he agreed to give us a larger, more modern house instead. This one was more like an Ontario cottage, and roomy enough for us, except for the kids sleeping outside in a tent. We lay in our beds listening to the waves lapping the shore, just steps away.

We talked, we ate, and we enjoyed the beautiful nature around us. Each morning we bobbed in the waves and laughed at the antics of the silly crabs scarmbing around the beach. I taught my 8 year old niece Katie how to make friendship bracelets, and I watched my 10 year old nephew Peter fly his remote control helecopter (a gift from me) around the cottage. Each night we wandered up the beach to the resort restauant and feasted on local seafood specialties. I enjoyed a curried crab dish (tasty, but hard work to get the meat out) and grilled octopus. As everywhere in Moz, it was early to bed and early to rise, with the sun and the moon.

Sadly we packed up one last time, made one final stop at the market for Lois to complete her souvenir shopping, and headed to the Beira airport. We had a long uneventful flight back to Toronto, stretched out over close to 2 days. We did make a put stop in Jo-burg once more for a few hours to meet friends of Cheryl's who picked us up, served dinner to us at their house, and delivered us back to the airport. It was a pleasant delay and chance to stretch our legs. By now, all of were thinking of home and ready to be in our own beds again.

Travelling as a 4-some with sisters who I really had never ever spent so much time with was easier than I thought it would be. Everyone had thought we were crazy to commit so much time together with family, but we enjoyed telling childhood stories from various perspectives and catching each other up on our real lives in the last 2 decades since we'd each left home. We have an astounding commonality amongst us all, yet very different personalities. In many ways I am most like my older sister Kathy in personality than I'd realized, who chose to be a professor, travel lots for work, and skip the mother thing. But then again, I like the human interactions of managing staff and family life like my sister Lois, and have a frugal, adventurous commonality with my sister Cheryl. They seem like mirrors to me, showing me parts of myself, and gently showing me the origins of that part of myself that I can't see so clearly on my own. I guess you could say it was a good sign that early on we started talking about our next trip. Clearly influenced by the Mama Mia movie we watched on the plane ride over, we want to try to get to Greece for our next sister trip in a couple of years. Again no husbands or children. It's a country we'd all love to see, but none of us have ever been there. Says a lot for a travelling crowd like us!

Monday, November 23, 2009

South Africa

My first visit to the African continent (not counting a week in the Sinai 25 years ago) was completed with the accompanyment of my 3 sisters. For those of you without sisters, you don't know what you're missing! My sister Lois flew to Toronto from Columbus, Ohio, and met up with myself and my older sister Kathy. We repacked together and got us all down to one carry-on bag each. No small feat for a 19 day journey!

After a 30 hour trip with a layover in the Amsterdam airport, we arrived safely in Johannesburg, or Jo'burg as it's affectionately called. We were greeted by our hotel taxi and safely escorted back to the hotel at midnight on a Saturday night. We were led through the gated community that surrounds the hotel compound, and past the high, barbed wire fences. Persons clearly are afraid for their personal security in this highly urbanized and affluent neighbourhood.

Despite our sleeping challenges, we awoke early and spent a jam-packed day on a tour of Soweto. We became immersed in the history and the stories of this township as we accompanied our guide to the Hector Pearson Museum to commemorate the student protest, Nelson Mandella's matchbox house his family was given post-apartheid, Winnie Mandella's house, and eventually the Apartheid Museum. The whole tour focused mostly on the work of Nelson Mandella and his role in bringing down the apartheid laws. We learned that many of these laws were really in effect only for a couple of decades, but were set up to give British and Africaans a leg up in the tight financial times post World World I.

The last thing we did was tour a Soweto shantytown. The one we visited was quite clean, organized, and safe, and had a volunteer guide show us around and inside one family's house. Donations given to him were handed over to the group's education and health fund. Basically, it was a community of shacks for persons waiting for the ANC to come through on their promise to give every black family in South Africa their own small house. They have already given 700,000, but many of the families we met have been waiting for up to 8 years for theirs. And there are even more illegal immigrants from Mozambique and Zimbabwe coming over every year hoping to also get houses, so the wait is endless. In the meantime, the children are going to school and the community is trying to keep the drugs and violence out, but it's tough. It's hard to imagine all shantytowns disappearing.

Early the next day, we were picked up by charter bus and delivered to Marc's Treehouse, a rustic safari experience for adventurers. We stayed just outside of the famous Kruger National Park in a private Big 3 (no cats) game reserve. Our first afternoon, we met our game drive guide, an engaging and experienced South Africa guy, who drove us around close to home and showed us lots of impala and interesting trees and plants. We socialized with the other adventurers over a family-style South Africa chicken "poike" (meat stew) and ended the evening around a campfire drinking cider. We reflected that the persons on the charter bus that we really liked all came to the treehouse, whereas the annoying tourists all went to the 5 star hotels. Like a self-selecting process of finding like-mided folks. We got the youngest, crowd mostly from Europe.

We slept that night in thatched huts (similar to the cabanas in Mexico), but off the ground to protect us from the wild beasts that like to wander around the reserve. The next morning we rose early and headed out in a large, open 4x4, with 6 other guests. By noon, we had already seen all 5 of the big 5 animals (lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, rhino). Our guide, Toullie, told us this doesn't even happen once a year, so it was an extremely lucky morning for us. We got to watch 3 adolescent lion brothers relax in the sun not far away from us. We almost got to see a leopard take down an impala lunch, except that some noise tourists scared it back into the dense woods for the few minutes it took to kill it. Fortunately, he then dragged the slain impala out into the opening for us to watch him eat it, just feet ahead of us. The elephants and buffalo, and rhinos all schlumped around us, totally oblivious of us.

We also really enjoyed viewing the many smaller animals, like the giraffes, zebras, wildebeasts, kudoos, wart hogs, and many other birds and deer-like creatures that abounded everywhere. I imagined a barren wasteland, and was surprised to see so many animals in such a lush, treed setting, as well as the highly vegetated grasslands. I really appreciated the excellent telephoto lens on my camera, and was able to take some fantastic photos, which made it look like I was feeling the breath of these animals on me! I also really enjoyed taking the rear views of many animals that have exceptional hind markings, and am contemplating making some kind of "Asses of Africa" compilation.

We spent an entire day in the park, driving around from one recommendating citing spot to another. There's lots of comradary amongst the various guides and everyone tries to help each other get good spottings. It's surprising how low key touristy the park feels, given how well known it is and and the number of tourists travelling through. Another evening of poike, this time beef, and more campfire, and we all headed off early to bed. Searching for animals is hard work and exhausting!

The next morning, we woke up early for a 6am game walk. This time, we only joined Toullie and another couple, to keep it small and safe. We planned to drive for 10 minutes to a more populated area, but within 100 feet of the lodge, we had to stop, as there were 3 rhinos walking down the path towards our vehicle. We got out and walked slowly towards them. They were clearly interested in us, but didn't seem to be interested in attacking anything. We got within about 50 of them, and got good photos. Of course, we felt better knowing that not only was Toullie with us, but he had also brought his rifle with him and was prepared to shoot it, if necessary. Not sooner had the rhinos passed by when a herd of 8 cape buffalo strolled past us. The were almost close enough to touch, but again were determined to stay on the path, and so they just walked merrily by us.

In hind sight, we wished we had booked an extra couple of days at Kruger, as there was so much to see. The one animal we hadn't seen was hippos, and I could have watched zebras and giraffes all day. The feeling of wildness was so pervasive, and yet the natural order was in place and humans were just part of it.

With reluctance and joy combined, we boarded another charter bus and rode off. They attempted to show us the Blyde River Canyon, a deep canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon, but it was raining and all we could see was white clouds. As we drove out of the district, the sky started to clear and we could imagine what was behind the clouds. The layers of rock in the landscape were almost visible and the canyon walls rose up high on the horizon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Months in TO

After 7 months of being on the road, I was ready to come home. Home to my bed and my own routine. Not to sit home and do nothing, but to settle into my home routine as stay-at-home mom/wife. A role I've never played before.

It's been rather fun. I wake up early with Adrian and spent time with him every morning getting him ready for school. He mostly grunts this early in the day, but still it's precious time. I'm back to making lunch for him every day. He likes this easy way again, and especially likes the little treats I pack in for him.

Once he's gone, I dive into my prostrations (I like to describe them as Buddhist burpees for cleansing the body and mind). I'm up to 600 per day, which takes close to 2 hours. I'm in the best shape I've been in decades, even better than when I was training for Black Belt in Tae Kwan Do last year.

Then my day is free. I thought I would fill it with going to the coffee shop and reading the newspaper every day, but really by 10 am I just want to get started with something. I've tackled lots of projects already in these last 2 months. The first one was playing travel agent for my 3 sisters as we planned our trip to Africa. I booked the hotels, planes, busses, and hotels. I wrestled a hotel payment to a South Africa hotel that wouldn't take credit card payment, and insisted on a wired bank payment ($30) instead. Now all there is to do is board the plane out of Toronto later today.

My next project involved a major writing project. I took on the documentation of "The Garden Cooperative Childcare Model", the little childcare centre we helped set up for Adrian when he was 2 years old. My friend Tonya found a little funding, and a place to put it on a website for all to see when it's finished. I've written 35 pages and it's at the editing stage now, to be followed up with consultation with other parents before it goes live. Stay tuned.

I also agreed to put my writing and organizing skills to use trying to get grants for Clear Sky. While working with an international group of persons who had been writing grants for the last few years, I managed to create a spreadsheet to organize all our efforts and also write some best practices for actually getting grants approved. It's begining to feel a little bit like work, but after all this time off I'm ready for a little work. It's a whole new area to explore, this social venture field, so it's exciting. I also submitted 2 grant proposals, and already found out that one was successful. Yippee! They're paying my way to go to a Social Enterprise conference in Toronto the week I return from Africa. I plan to schmooze up a storm, just for old time sake.

In between all this writing and computer stuff, whenever it wasn't raining, I worked on my backyard renovation project. This started with my digging up of the remaining grass growing in the back yard, and involved a major moving of soil to relevel the backyard. We were having drainage problems, as the old paths slowly sunk down lower and the garden soil slowly grew with annual compost deliveries. Now there's a lovely winding path of paving stones between the cedar deck and the garage at a raised level, and the everexpanding garden soil is back down where it belongs. I'm experimenting with 4 season garden harvests, and have peas, lettuce, and spinach growing beneath row covers and tomato hoop/plastic mini-greenhouses. I have straw spread around on all the soil as mulch, and Adrian commented that it smells like a farm!

I've enjoyed the family time this fall and have been taking Adrian to most of his (many!!!) hockey practices. He's been playing PeeWee AAA hockey with a new team, the Jr. Canadians, so now he's on the ice 6 times a week, often for several hours at a time, plus his dryland training. But he's doing really well and continues to love it, and still thinks he wants to look for a hockey scholarship for university some time in his future. We started renting to Josh (my 21 yo step-son) and 3 of his friends this summer, and he has become a regular at our house, particularly around meal times. I enjoy his company and am glad to have him around to share my love of travel stories. (He's been to Egypt, Israel, and California recently and planning for a big trip to South America next July.) The latest news says Jeremy (my 18 yo step-son) will be moving into the same house on the weekend, so we may finally have our whole family together for a while. It's perfect - they have their own space, but just a 5 minute bike ride away. And I think Richard really likes having a stay-at-home wife, as it means I cook more and better, and he has a bit more time to relax. It makes our overall stress level way down to have this time, and makes us wonder how we ever got along with me working! I have heard rumblings that he has some more house projects for me to work on when I get back from Africa, but I'll be ready for that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Extra Time at Clear Sky

I was having so much fun at Clear Sky and they were having such a fun time learning from me that my teacher begged me to stay on. He said my post-meditation, post-travelling mentality combined with my can-do farming/gardening/building skills was just what we needed around there and he suggested I stay till the end of the summer.

Without much thought, I sent Richard and Adrian home on their own for the final road trip back. They later reported that not only did Richard successfully do the drive alone, but they even camped every night as we'd planned and drove 14 hour days. They didn't stop much or see much besides the view out the window, but it was a good bonding experience for them nonetheless. They also arrived home one day earlier than planned and surprised Josh and his friends, who'd been house sitting for 2 months, necessitating a quickly orchestrated clean up of the place.

But as for me, I moved into the main house and just worked harder, without my family around for distraction. I found more time for meditation, I sold more jams and jellies, and passed off the saskatoon berry product making to the next generation of learners - a true sign of letting go and making myself redundant. I got into tool organizing, and whipped the not-so-organized guys into shape.

And most of all, I just enjoyed being on my own. I hadn't realized how much I missed thinking of myself as a single person. Not necessarily single, but not first thinking of myself as a mother or a wife, or even as a manager. Everything implies "other". I like just being Linda. It reminds me that I truly feel satiated as a wife and mother, and the missing part is the Linda part. So I introspected, I slept alone, and I enjoyed this final month on my own again.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Summer at Clear Sky

We arrived at the Clear Sky Meditation and Study Centre to hugs from Richard and the rest of the gang. The members there have become my second family after my 2 month meditation retreat in the spring. Without further ado, we got to work and started helping out. Unlike my quiet solitary experience in February, this summer was spent with non-stop work. Much of July was spent in the kitchen cooking meals for upwards of 25 people, with Adrian as my primary assistant cook. Richard kicked into building mode and organized a 2 day building course to teach totally inexperienced men and women how to build a garden shed. They then applied this learning to building a 2 story root cellar. Everyone appreciated how talented and patient Richard was with all the new learners, and he enjoyed plaing boss and educator for a change.

Within a few weeks, the saskatoon berries began to ripen, and I became animated Saskatoon Girl! From never having seen this berry before to being its biggest advocate and marketer in a week flat. I started surfing the web and found countless saskatoon berry recipes, particularly jams and jellies. I spent a couple of weeks fighting public health beaurocracy and eventually got permission to sell these "value-added products" at the local farmer's markets. The picking season lasted barely 3 weeks, but we were out every day picking and then processing. All in all, we sold over $2000 worth of jams, jellies, juices, pies, and a quickly-famous chutney with this glorious wild berry. I even made a lovely cordial from this berry, and put in a gallon of wine for sipping next summer, just to test out its alcoholic properties.

Richard, Adrian, and I rented a lovely 3-room cabin just 10 minutes down the road, and were able to have a little family time at the end of each day. Sometimes we played guitar, sometimes we built campfires and ate marshmallows, and sometimes we just collapsed into bed, tired and happy.

Adrian had a wonderful summer alternating between hanging out with the adults, spending time alone in nature, and helping out with tasks like cooking and jam making. When nothing else was happening, he'd escape to the linen closet on the 3rd floor under the eves and play computer games on the internet or watch Corner Gas episodes. He calls it his best summer ever for seeing animals. While out on walks by himself and the dog he got to see 2 wolves track down a deer, a mother grizzley bear and 3 babies, and a daddy grizzley, not to mention countless deer, elk, mountain goats, mountain longhorned sheep, and some beautiful birds which he meticulously looked up in books and learned to identify. While not the most social time for him, he did get into the Cranbrook Skatepark weekly and hung out with the local kids a bit. And he learned that it's rude to wear his hat at the dining room table, something he had never quite learned at our house.

All in all, we enjoyed good family time, and despite the hard work, we were all relaxed and happy and had plenty of time outdoors. So it was a good summer.

US National Parks

The next leg of our 12 day trip took us through breath-taking scenery and into some of the real jewels of the American landscape. Not that the midwest was boring, but it's more familiar to me and therefore less interesting and beautiful. We carried on south till we came to the Grand Canyon, a place that loomed high in Adrian's imagination, he says, without a real vision. He just knew it was important, but didn't really know why. As we drove in from the east, we stopped in for our first views, just before sunset. The views took our words away, and we just stood there hugging each other and saying nothing. It was awesome, inspiring, and just plain beautiful. The next 2 hours were less than awesome as we looked for a campground with availabilities, one day before the July 4th weekend. All of the closest campgrounds are first-come-first-served, with no reservations. We got sent away by 2 campgrounds, and eventually got sent back to the farthest one, close to where we'd seen such lovely sites 2 hours before, feeling less than gratuitous, but at least fortunate. The next day we woke up early and trekked down the infamous Angel Trail following mule treks and countless other hikers. We took plenty of water and laughed at all the signs warning illprepared hikers about the dangers of acting tough by trying to hike in desert conditions without sufficient water. We made it half way down (4.5 miles) and back in under 4 hours. Adrian left me behind in his dust on the way back up, as it was getting hot by then mid-day, and I was holding him back with my adult sluggishness. (That little boy has so much trekking energy, he just races up mountains like a mountain goat!) A few more hours of canyon gazing, a couple more sunrises and sunsets, and Adrian was ready to be back in the car again. One of his high lights was seeing all the wildlife along the canyon, including tons of yellow-bellied marmots and even several male deer with racks larger than 4 feet tall!

Our next stop was the Great Salt Lake, otherwise known to Adrian as the stinkiest lake on the planet. The dead fish and salt smells were noxious, but didn't stop me from sinking my body into the salt water for my tourist photo op. Adrian obliged to be photographer, but wouldn't even touch his toes in the stinky water. I remember swimming there as a child with my family and enjoying the salty feel on my skin, but don't remember the smell quite so much. Maybe it's changed a bit, or maybe I just have a kid with a hyper-sensitive nose.

Our final park, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, had the most impressive wild animals of the entire trip, as well as photographic bubling mud displays. The spontaneous bubbling mud baths of various colours and sizes bubbling up throughout the park were more impressive than the predictable Old Geiser, which was smaller in size and all in one place. Adrian took lots of photos with the changing sunlight and walked around dazelike. But then the animals. Within minutes of entering the park, we saw our first bison, also known as the great American buffalo. They are big, hairy monsters that look like something from your nightmare when you meet them on the road. We were close enough to touch one, but fortunately were in our car, and could choose not to touch him, and just take his photo instead. One of Adrian's highlights was a horse trek through the park one morning. He got the ornery horse and had to ride in the front, because his horse kept trying to wander off to eat. We rode through a herd of over 200 elk and deer, including lots of babies and their mothers. Have you ever heard the sound that distressed elk make? It's something like a cross between a coo and a groan. We also saw mule deer with droopy ears, a coyote, 5 more bison, and an American bald eagle on its nest. Stunning wild life everywhere!

One more night spent camping at a KOA in Missoula, Montana, a few hours from where I was born back in 1964, and we arrived in Cranbrook, BC. We'd covered 6000 km in 12 days, and averaged 500 km per day, and spent not a cent on car repairs. Not bad for a mother-son team and a 12 year old car. We also listened to Adrian's iPod for 4 complete cycles of all his tunes. I can sing along with all his Billy Talent alternative rock songs, and sound vaguely cool with the teenagers. Adrian and I really grooved together, except for that 24 hour period around his 12th birthday when he got mad at me for some silly reason and cried himself to sleep that night and wouldn't talk to me for the next whole day. Welcome to the land of teenagers, even though he's only 12. An offer of an extra large chocolate chip cookie dough blizzard at Dairy Queen seemed to break the ice and restore normalacy. Looks like I might be visiting there again in the near future.