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A cheesy title I will admit, especially for the serious tale which follows. I was visiting my favourite nail salon, you must know the kind, where the impossibly tiny Vietnamese women minister to the hands and feet of much larger women with large labeled bags, who are constantly checking their cell phones and chewing on their blonde hair extensions. Well, at least that’s how I find it here in Oakville. So why do I frequent such a place? I view getting a manicure and pedicure as necessary evils in personal grooming, and I never developed the skills to give them to myself. I don’t have so much stress in my life (frankly, any stress) that requires checking in to a local spa for a day of “pampering in a relaxing and soothing atmosphere of cossetted comfort.” No, I just want to get in and get out, paying as little as possible for a professional level service. In the COVID era, the price has gone up to pay for all of the personal protective equipment required and I am appreciative of that. I tip extravagantly and happily pay a premium for the hand sanitizer, the checkin process, the mobile screens, and lastly, the subject of this blog, the disposable masks.
The owner of the salon, a busy and quiet man, was doing the prep required on my fingernails as my manicurist finished up with another client. So when the door swung open and a patron walked in, he waved him over to an empty chair in a row of pedicure stations. I glanced over (men are not that common in nail salons) and noticed a middle aged man, good looking in a rugged sort of way, deeply tanned from a summer of sailing or golf and dressed in the kind of althletic leisurewear which could be Value Village or Lululemon. I also noted that he was not wearing a mask. I thought about that and said to myself, give him a few moments: maybe he has one hidden in one of those casual yet oh so expensive looking pants. Or he will run to his car to retrieve the forgotten mask: I do that too. But no, when I turned to look at him again, still no mask. No movement. I returned to looking at the manicurist who was head down, focused on my hands, and I thought, well, this is a conundrum that I have never faced before. I am pretty sure that there is a big sign on the door to the salon which explicitly states that you must wear a mask on entry. As it does in every commercial establishment in Ontario. To add to that, this specific salon had just been inspected: I was there when I saw the inspector go through every drawer in the place like a mouse seeking cheese, looking for infractions of the COVID code. I decided that since I was the patron closest to the man, that if he still did not have one on, I would suggest he put on a mask. However, being me, I tossed around various approaches to the subject: would I be a supplicant, pleading with him to put a mask on for the sake of the other clients (there were about 5 other women in the room plus the staff, all of whom were wearing masks) , and oh who knows, his grandmother perhaps. No, I should not have to justify myself: it is the law, and the law should be obeyed. But I did not want to come across as all judgy and strident, so maybe a light hearted appeal to his better nature, as in “Hey buddy, you really should wear a mask in. Don’t want to infect the pretty ladies who work here!” But that kind of messaging works best when delivered with a smile, which of course, was not possible, since I had a mask on. And then I briefly considered turning on the charm and giving him a coquettish smile before I tossed my long blonde hair and said, “Hey fella, I bet a mask would look good on you.” But then, little charm, no long hair, and then there’s the mask. And I doubt he would be fooled by my feeble attempt to deliver a flirtatious message while pretending to be 20. Even with the mask.

No, I decided to just turn around and tell him that he should have a mask on. Direct, unsubtle, and not really friendly. (I had all ready wasted enough mind time on this situation) To which he said, in a challenging tone, “Do you work here?”, implying that I had no right to tell him to do anything. My back was up, but I kept my cool, and said slowly and deliberately “No, I am a client here.” He then got up, muttering no doubt something about my intelligence or parentage under his breath, rolled down his pants and prepared to walk out. The owner by this point was standing close by the fellow, a box of masks in his outstretched hand. But the man shook his head, and stomped off, saying to no one in particular, “Have a nice day”, and then even more strangely “Merry Christmas”. I think that he just could not come up with a snappy rejoinder when he was so obviously and clearly in the wrong.
The other women thanked me afterwards, and I had that momentary glow of bathing in the admiration of others for my “bravery.” But then the salon cleared out except for me and the ladies who worked there, and I started thinking about everything that could have gone wrong. The law of unintended consequences if you will. He could have flown into a rage, assaulted me or the owner, ran back to his car for a gun and gone “postal”, waited for me outside and confronted me, or followed my car home. There are endless opportunities for paranoia. I consciously locked the door behind me when I got home, something I never do during the day.

Of course it was the right thing to do. Ben questioned, rightly, why the owner did not do it himself: he had lots of opportunity to say something when he was filling up the basin for the fellow’s feet. But I can understand the owner’s reluctance: he has lost 4 months of revenue, and likely thought that he could not afford to lose any more. If his fiesty wife had been there, she would have set him straight. Or maybe not: they might be desperate to make the rent, or pay utilities, and they may perceive that their need for cash outweighs the risk of being noncompliant. Or being caught in noncompliance. It’s a tough choice for small independent business owners. I have been told that I could have reported the salon, for allowing him in without a mask and then letting him sit there, maskless, waiting to be served. I don’t have an easy answer of these kind of ethical dilemmas. Will the salon owner do it again? Maybe, and that saddens me. I may just have to vote with my wallet, and not go there again. Sigh.

I just read an article in the New York Times this morning about a doctor’s experience with being the only masked person at a large adult birthday party in Pennsylvania. His masked face was met with eye rolling, derision, skeptical eyebrows, and expressions like “whatever, we all know we’re all OK”. To which I can reply, and all of the good mask wearing folks out there can say, no, we don’t. So put it on.

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Most mornings, in the little town where I live in Ontario, I jog out on the leafy main avenue that runs along the Lake and then back through to downtown where we live. I do a few miles, very slowly, easily passed by determined men who are so lean they look like animated cadavers, and those confident young blondes, who seem to prance by, pert noses upright and silky ponytails swinging in the sunshine.

But I have to rest today, since yesterday morning, I stumbled off a curb and fell in front of a huge red MAC truck. Fortunately, the driver had stopped the vehicle just as I caught his eye. So no real harm done, except to my left knee and shin, both have which have suffered sudden encounters with the pavements of Oakville and San Miguel before. But I have an open hour to pass this morning, so I thought that I would spend it writing while I ice my leg. Why do I think that this incident is worth writing about? Well, it is the only significant event in my otherwise quiet life. Yes, given the 14 day quarantine and then self imposed lockdown, it has been so quiet here in the two months since we returned from Mexico, that finding myself like a squirrel flattened on the road is the only thing worth mentioning. Sigh.

I normally write about our travel adventures, Ben & me out in the world, exploring, discovering, eating, doing all of the things that are fun for us in our lives. I spend the better part of my year researching and planning our travel: for 2020, we were to spend five intense days of frenetic fun in New York City, a serene fall week in Vancouver just because we had never been there as a couple, and of course, winter weeks and months in our lovely home in the beautiful colonial mountain town of San Miguel in Mexico.

Now, I spend hours on the phone with the (surprisingly) friendly folks at the Air Canada contact centre, trying to undo all of the bookings we did so far in advance to save a few bucks. What is an evoucher vs an ecoupon? Change of itinerary or just change of plane? Who gets to cancel your flight, and what does it mean when the government does it vs. the airline? Conditions that require you to book within 2 years but travel whenever, or both book and travel whenever you like? What are those prepaid tickets worth in reward miles if you choose to convert them? Who knows? Those same friendly folks don’t and I am sure that they get sworn and yelled at regularly by irrate, red faced customers who are not nearly as organized, calm and polite as Ben & I. (He figures that in all situations when dealing by phone with unpleasant issues, assume that the person on the other end of the line is just trying to do their job, does not really want to piss you off by adhering to obviously irrational company policies over which they have no control, and that taking the extra time to engage them as a human being with some small talk and jokes is a good way to have them feel good about helping you out. What a novel approach. And what a long winded sentence.)

All of us are now moving carefully and slowly out of our country wide lockdown, and that feels very positive and hopeful. But my little accident made it quickly apparent that my behavior post-pandemic will have to change. It might be called a gift of evolution, that as humans we can adapt our behavior to new circumstances so quickly, especially when our survival is threatened: frequent handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing are, or should be, second nature by now. However, it seems that just as I got used to seeing more foxes and hearing more birdsong on my lonely morning runs, I now have to adapt to other, more menacing competition for my attention. Be well friends, and don’t forget to look both ways. I enclose some photos of lovely spring and early summer gardens.


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One of my favourite little indulgences when I travel to England is to read the “pink sheets”, aka, the venerable Financial Times. During our last weekend in London, I read a opinion piece which resonated with me.  The author was bemoaning the “last days of the middle-class world citizen”:   people like me and my husband and most of those we call family and friends would fall into that category.  Think about how many of your social circle have just returned from a summer sojourn in Italy, or your children grown friend’s were married in Iceland, or you went back to Scotland this fall for an “ancestry tour”. 

The article’s  author was writing about one of the implications of the positive changes for the planet (in terms of the pricing in of the actual costs of air travel) which will, frankly,  be net negative for us.  As he pointed out, a no-lose change is rare.   In my darker moments, I envision a future when long distance air travel has the moral equivalency and as such, potential for public shaming, as the wearing of real fur in downtown Toronto.  You may still value that coat in January in Canada, but you certainly don’t brag about it on Facebook! Cheap air fare (due to airline consolidation), package holidays (aka Thomas Cook) short term rentals (Air B&B and VRBO) are all being squeezed out of existence for different reasons, market driven or not, but it all comes down to the same result. The “democratization of travel” is done.   Enjoy it while you can.*
Edinburgh was our next stop on our journey:  it is considered by many global travelers to be one of the prettiest small cities on the planet.  The combination of stately 18th century architecture and the youthful energy of college students is very appealing.  Not to mention that some history’s most influential and enterprising people, from the fields of architecture (Robert Adam) exploration (Dr. David Livingston I presume? ), medicine  (Sir Alexander Fleming), philosophy (David Hume),  and economics (Adam Smith) are sons of Scotland.  Must be something in the haggis.

We had a specific mission in Edinburgh, beyond a family dinner, and that was to take photos of a probable Oakville connection with one of Edinburgh’s old aristocratic families.  Ben’s good sailing buddy, Dave Dick, had traced his family tree back to the Dicks of Edinburgh and he asked us to do him the favor of visiting the ancestral pile, Prestonfield House, and take photos of potential family portraits on the wall.  At first, I was a little reluctant to get off our agenda of museums & the Castle tour (I do have a bit of a control issue) but when I saw the House, I was absolutely gobsmacked.  Prestonfield House is now an opulent, antique filled hotel which feels like the home of a very wealthy aristocratic uncle who has invited you down to the country for a weekend of shooting, sherry by the fire  and big British breakfasts.  Very posh indeed.
Ben’s says that once you have seen the Edinburgh Castle you don’t need to see another.  Spoken like a man with a bias, but truly, it is impressive.  As are the views  over the Firth of Forth, where Ben was born.

We travelled by first class train to London, and for once, it was as promised.  We had gotten accustomed to being disappointed in train travel.  No hot food, sorry kitchen was broken for one, in another, there were only  5 cars instead of 7, “so get your butt in a seat before they are all gone” was the advice of the only uniformed rail employee that I could find.  The rest hid until the train had left the station.  There were 2 young women who, like us, thought that they had reserved seating in a first class coach.  Instead, they ended up sitting on their luggage in the doorways of the train.

What can you say about London, except that it never disappoints.  We had rented a VRBO condo on the south east side of the Thames, near landmarks like the Shard and the Tate Modern.


London has plenty of huge, crowded mega museums, and we have visited many. This time, I wanted to focus on the smaller, more esoteric and therefore relatively unknown ones, like The Wallace Collection.  Housed in a huge 18th century townhome, it is the culmination of centuries of collecting by a family of refined tastes and seemingly unlimited resources.  Our visit coincided with a special retrospective  of the shoes of Manolo Blahnik.  In the show notes, he is said to have drawn inspiration for his beautiful and luxurious footwear from the 800 year old collection of treasures at the Wallace.  Indeed.  Frankly, I would have found the Collection wondrous without all of the shoes under glass, but that explains their presence in the photos.  It is one of the few places in the world  where you can get so close to an Old Master that you might mistakenly touch your nose to the painting’s surface, before you realize that there was no alarm or guard to stop you.  (OK, that was me, pulling away just in time! )


I have lots of photos of memorable meals but there are 2 highlights at 2 extremes, both perfectly executed and appropriate for their locations.  The first was the remarkably delicious lunch of bangers & mash with green peas which Ben enjoyed at the Earl of Lonsdale after our Saturday morning Portobello Market stroll.   (I lived on Lonsdale Road in Toronto for 15 years, so that is why I picked that tavern. A  “tasty” coincidence!)   For dessert,  there was an incredibly delicious sticky toffee pudding:   I now understand the British obsession with the “pud”.  I could give up chocolate for those flavours.  Perhaps. For a week.  Maybe.

The other outstanding meal that we had was a 5 course tasting and shared plates meal at the counter overlooking the kitchen in the tiny Evelyn’s Table.  We were so close to the action at the grill, that I could have reached over and grabbed the ties of the Chef’s apron!  Only 11 seats, this place is in Covent Garden London, and is named for Faye Dunaway’s character in the classic movie “Chinatown”:  like the character, the restaurant has a ballsy, bold and unexpected approach to food.  So delicious and entertaining too.

* As a followup to my little rant about the imminent demise of leisure travel for the rest of us, I also read an interview with a CEO of a major tech company, based in Silicon Valley, but with offices around the world.  He had just landed from a global office tour because he felt it was still important to “press the flesh” and make eye contact with employees and important clients.  However, he admitted that in the face of growing “eco-pressure”, he was exploring a promising new technology from Apple which may be able to create “a sense of real person to person engagement through the screen.”  Oh dear,  can “smellovision”  be far behind?

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“Fish & A Chip”

When I first thought about a title for this blog post,  “Fish & A Chip” seemed to be a bit of fun:  it was both a nod to the classic dish found everywhere during our 17 day journey through SW Ireland (Cobh and Limerick), Northern Ireland, Scotland and London, as well as a tongue in cheek reference to our determination to eat somewhat modestly.  Hence, “a chip”, not “chips”.  And given the UK reputation for soggy, fatty, over cooked comfort food, which I shudder to even think about, I thought that the goal was a reasonable one.

Well, as you might imagine from the set up, we were doomed to failure. I now realize that neither Ben or I have enough self restraint to go on a cruise where tempting foodstuffs are available 24/7.  I never eat pastries. Well, “never” now means “hardly ever”.   At our hip hotel in Dublin, the art deco extravaganza in Belfast,  and the multi table breakfast buffet at the stately Adare Manor, the breakfast pastries were over-the-top delicious.  Of course, I always think that my next breakfast could not be as nearly wonderful, so I might as well sample one pastry.  All right, two, because they were so little.  All right, even if they weren’t little.  And it wasn’t just the breakfasts which tempted me:  there is something about the texture and taste of the dark wheat bread in southern Ireland which naturally led me to the fresh rich butter and sweet tart marmalade.  Bread at every meal is such an extravagance and one that I indulged in.  A lot.

In fact, you might say that indulgence was the theme of our whirlwind tour.  Ben’s son, Scott and his beautiful wife Tricia, were our agreeable travel companions for the first 14 days of our UK journey.  We stayed in a combination of home exchange, boutique hotels, a VRBO condo and more corporate hotel type accommodation.  We also spent the weekend in a fabulous Irish country manor:  with all of the money we saved from the exchange of our house in Mexico, we justified the expense of Adare Manor, called by some, “the best country house in Ireland, if you have the coin”.  Truly, I can rationalize just about anything.    Just like I can not say which country or city I enjoyed more, I would have a hard time stating a firm preference for accommodation.  We tried always to get good value for money, at every price point,  and I think we were successful.  Certainly, every place was a different experience.

Of course, I think that the Adare Manor was the standout.  A big part of what drew me to that particular property was the opportunity to experience Falconry.  Since I read the book “H is for Hawk”, by British writer Helen MacDonald, I have been fascinated by the idea of working with predatory birds.  When I was searching for a “castle” to stay in (my daughter-in-law and I had decided that staying in an Irish castle was a fine plan and there are a lot available.  Many ancestral family homes of, for example, the “8th Earl of WeWereWealthy Before Grandad Gambled, Drank or Whored it all Away”,  have been opened up for guests, a necessary evil when your leaking roof dates back to the 17th century.  After a brief misunderstanding (that’s a polite way of saying that this usually fine Hotel screwed up), the Manor staff recovered nicely and Ben and I were upgraded to a suite.  With a tray of chocolates and mini macaroons to say how very sorry they were.  Indeed.

We were eager to experience something of upperclass country life at the turn of the century, when aristocratic English families had lots of money and lots of leisure time. Accordingly, we had signed up for clay pigeon shooting, gun dog trials and falconry.   So after spending an entertaining hour with Willy, owner & trainer of prize winning Labrador and spaniels,  we moved on to Charles and his group of birds.  Notice that I don’t say “flock”:  birds of prey do not flock.  Or stay around after mating.  Only one of the type is the least bit social and when it was “mantling”, (protecting its food by spreading its wings around his dinner), I wouldn’t describe it as friendly.  We learned so much:  that owls are actually the dumbest of the group, that all birds weigh much less than they appear to because their bones are hollow, that they are superbly aerodynamic and possess extraordinary hearing in order to sense movement of their prey.  It was thrilling to have such a creature land on my arm, and to stare into their unblinking raptor gaze, even for a moment.  Actually, likely just a moment was a good thing, before they had time to size me up as an appetizer.

What else?  There is a noticeable bar culture in the UK cities:  everyone under the age of 35 seems to congregate at bars every night of the week.  In Dublin, there are cocktail specials for college students on Mondays, and they roam up and down the streets in packs, the boys noisy and jostling each other, the girls teetering on stilettos or strutting in boots, dresses in short skirts and “bar tops”.  (A new phrase to me:  “bar tops”, refers to a presumably provocative article of clothing that you can wear out with regular clothes on the bottom.  Think glittery or low cut or both).

On a related note, about 2 years ago, when I had to quit drinking alcohol for medical reasons,  I came across a woman’s only online community  called “Soberistas”.   It had lots of confessional postings from young women who had been alcohol free for a period of time, but had recently gotten plastered in a bar, forgotten most of the evening, and were equal parts ashamed and regretful, looking for absolution and encouragement.  This support group was based in Britain, and I could really see why it found an ready audience, especially for the under 35’s.    “Pubbing” is so engrained in the UK culture.

The spectre of Brexit hangs over the Irish cities of  Belfast, Dublin and London:  among ordinary folk like cab drivers and servers, there is worry,  concern and general unhappiness.  Dublin itself is very friendly and walkable but the Irish still feel the Diaspora of more than 150 years ago. There is no forgetting the harm that England did:  food was piled high on ships destined for English or French tables, while the Irish starved on country roads.

Recent memories of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland are even more acute and our tour guide thought that it would take a generation or more to calm those troubled waters.  I saw black & white billboards of with images of tortured and murdered people that were so graphic and bloody, it brought back my memories of the infamous killing fields in Cambodia.  And when all of the convicted political prisoners were freed from prison as part of the 2000 Good Friday Agreement, murderers on both sides were walking amongst those who were their victims’ families, only  2 months or even 2 days before.  The bitterness is tangible and the walls that separate the 2 factions still exist.

The Titanic Experience in Belfast is a absolute treat and a must do when you visit Belfast.  You must, if only to visit a bar called the Harp:  so much fun!  There was a young singer/guitarist playing who managed to sound like a 4 piece band:  he was doing enthusiastic covers of songs we recognized easily, and then he rocked the house with his version of “She’s a Belter”.  And what is a “Belter” you ask?  Well, it’s Scottish slang, implying that someone is stupid or uncool.  Or, in the case of this song, it means that she is one hot babe, “diamonds on her fingers, and she always looks her best”.  The song had the crowd yelling and screaming out the chorus:   apparently, being called a “Belter” when in Belfast is a high compliment

We had a grand time in Ireland, and then flew the next morning to Ben’s birthplace in Scotland and then onwards to London.

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As I write these words, summer in the leafy town of Oakville on the Lake is quickly winding down.  This weekend is Labour Day, a national holiday started to acknowledge the achievements of workers:  ergo most regular working folks will resume their daily grind this coming Tuesday.  Ironically, this weekend is also the last hurrah of the “cottage country” crowd here, those families who are fortunate enough to enjoy second homes on the pristine blue waters of lakes a few hours north of Toronto.  What passes for a “cottage” in Ontario can range from a simple wood frame 2 bedroom uninsulated bungalow, decorated with lumpy mattress and castoffs plucked from the “soon to be recycled” pile, all the way up to multi-million dollar Cape Cod style mansions (with fully outfitted guest house/boathouse of course) that are regularly featured in the pages of design magazines.  Simpers the owner, “I wanted to keep it simple:  only 6 bedrooms, and no maid’s quarters”.  But I digress.

The level of traffic on the major highways going into and around Toronto will go overnight from being mildly annoying to stress inducing, fingers on the wheel clenching, swearing like a drunken sailor horrendous.  What took 20 minutes on a sunny July morning will now take a mind numbing 100 or more.  (And then the children of privilege go back to private schools the following week and then the traffic horrors intensify.  BMW drivers can be so aggressive!)

For me, the event that signals that the wind is coming out of the hot air balloon that is summer in Ontario is the arrival of the Canadian National Exhibition.  The “Ex” is a dizzingly chaotic and crowded mashup of amusement park, concert venue, circus, hucksterism, greasy disgusting and somehow irresistible  foodstuffs (deep fried Mars bars anyone?) an irresistibly cute dog show, and something called Horse Capades!  Everyone I know has been there at least once.  Over a hundred years ago,  there were real agricultural competitions at the EX, a holdover from the glory days of Ontario farmlands when capturing the 4H prize for growing a gigantic pumpkin or raising the finest looking doe eyed heifer was a real coup for a budding farmer.  Awh shucks and pats on the back all round.   There are still gardening awards, but most of the true celebrations of the rural farming life were replaced earlier this century by an elaborate petting zoo (140 animals!) and an urban gardening wall.

My personal highlight of the Ex is overhead right now:   The Toronto International Airshow.  Our Oakville home is almost right on the flight path of those glorious silver birds like the World War II Allied heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster which flies into Toronto from the Warplane Museum in Hamilton.  There are only seventeen remaining of these worthy Leviathans of the sky in the world, only two are still flying and that Museum has one. It’s a sight to behold, and our good neighbour and aviator, Brock Mason, holds a neighbourhood tailgate party and arranges a “fly by” every summer in honor of the plane.  A crowd stands out in the middle of the street, waving madly as the plane goes by,  briefly wagging one wing in regal acknowledgement. It’s a perfect summer moment in a summer that was pretty darn perfect.

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So what pray tell is “glamping” ?  It must have an element of camping in it, and camping lost its appeal for me decades ago.  I am a product of Northern Ontario,  and my parents, who were passionate about fishing, took me out in a 12’ aluminum boat at 6 months of age.  My memories of lakes, rocks and pine trees are consistent over my early childhood and into my teenage years, and you know, those rocks and trees don’t change much over time.  Same green pine, same black water, same grey rock. 

But glamor? Well that is my passion. In accommodation of course. I have a Master’s degree in luxury, courtesy of an executive position with the platinum coated global company that is American Express.  My handsome husband thinks that I am spoiled in lodging specifically, and he is so right.  So how did my first adventure in “glamping” turn out?

Our first night at El Nidal evoked a strong, unexpected emotional response in me.  The smell of a campfire, listening to the crackle, watching the flames do their hypnotic dance, brought back memories of our family weekends at various lakes around my small home town of Atikokan (“cariboo bones” in Ojibwa) in northeastern Ontario. Half a century later, a whiff of smoke and I am instantly back in the Pre-Cambrian shield, roasting marshmallows, jostling with my cousins for space at the fire and comparing marshmallow readiness.   But no singalongs in my childhood, which is strange because my Dad had a beautiful voice. Before they put radios in cars, he would sing songs from the Kingston Trio as our car bumped along on the way to the Floodwaters, or whatever lake we were fishing in that weekend.  When we made camp, the first task that my brother and I would set ourselves to was finding long green branches to skewer hot dogs and most importantly, marshmallows. My dad would take his ever-present pocket knife and sharpen them to a fine point. I remember marshmallows:  a sweet sticky treat, perfect when golden brown, but never made inedible by burning black. You just gingerly removed the burnt skin, and started again.  

Glamping is an interesting concept, which could only be dreamed up in an age where adults are so divorced from the outdoors yet so committed to their comforts and novelty, that they would pay serious coin to sit in a clothing optional yurt, or safari like tent, or a restored Airstream for the very cool, all to watch the sun come up and go down.  Your choices at glampinghub.com range from a tiny treehouse to rustic reconstructions of five star hotel rooms complete with hot tubs.

El Nidal is the vision of new age, eco-entrepreneur, Marcello Castro Vera:  it is situated on over 50 hectares of  land that has been in the family for 50 years.  In addition to the compound of 8 “accommodation containers”, he has a farm with pigs, sheep, goats and chickens, a micro brewery, a mescaleria, a winery which uses technologies that the ancient Romans would recognize appreciate, and a vineyard which looks like it may take a decade to produce a single grape.  There were 8 couples booked in for 2 days and the container reminded me of an upmarket version of the camper my parents had in the 70’s except with a stylish decor, hot water, satellite TV, and comfy duvets. The event was described by organizer and the best food writer in San Miguel, Glenn Griffin (aka “Don Day”) as an adventure in eating, drinking, then eating drinking followed by more eating and drinking.  As he promised, the typical Mexican food was all cooked over open flames and it was robust, filling and delicious.  There was a smoker too, and the smoked charred beef ribs that came out of that contraption of rusted oil cans are the best BBQ that I have ever tasted.  Really.  

We did sing songs on our first night, led by Bob’s funky guitar playing and charming voice.  There were 8 couples there and I speculated about the possible bickering or blowouts that seem to happen whenever you get couples together out of their natural element and apply copious amounts of alcohol.  But the open air seems to have calmed whatever marital beasts there might be lurking within and conjeniality reigned.  It was a lovely group of people. On the last night, I was alone in the container and could not figure out how to use the “church key” (bottle opener for brown stubbies and now, cool micro brews):  apparently,  I have been out of the North for too long. 

How did I like glamping?  Well, honestly, I missed some of the fun:  I decided that I was going to taste a bit of everything on offer, mescals, gin, grappa, and just a thimbleful each mind you.  But after 2 years of taking only an occasional sip of a special wine from my husband’s glass, I got a little tipsy and needed to retreat to my bed.  Never even made the visit to the ale house. So I missed the competitive bocci ball, and something called “corn in the hole”, and the ride up the mountain to see the sunset.  Ben & I did get to meet some interesting new folks and we had some quiet fireside chats that would not have happened back in San Miguel, with its frenetic socializing. We had intermittent wifi, but no CNN or phone, so the world went on without us for a few days.  The chill on our bones from being 8,000 above sea level gave us plenty to talk about in the morning, comparing strategies for keeping warm and for finding coffee making implements.  The experience was relaxed and friendly, it was certainly a change of pace, and an unexpected benefit:   in one inhale of smoke, I was transported to a favourite time and place that had been on the fringes of my subconscious, but no longer.


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maybe we ain’t that young anymore”..*

The Day after my 60th Birthday.  (11\11\1958)

I  am writing this posting as I wait for Alicia to come and work her masseuse magic on my back, neck and legs.  Yes, while at our home in Mexico, we indulge ourselves in an almost weekly massage, in front of the living room fireplace, while listening to soothing spa instrumentals. It is a Sunday, so no daily housekeeper:  Ben has told me that he will tackle the dirty dishes in the sink from last night and this morning and not to touch them.  I wouldn’t dream of it:  it’s my birthday week and I am in full “princess” mode.

Later, we will sit in our living room, watching the birds flitting in and out of the cedars by the pool.  It is a little cliched to say how grateful I am for all of the good things, experiences, and of course, the good people in my life.  (My handsome husband is of course the top of that list.)

But its true.  If being truly grateful makes you happy, as current research says, then I am joyful.

Never mind that I have a 14” zipper scar on the top of my head, and a head which, post 7 weeks of radiation, bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Maggoo. Then there are all of the other annoyances of aging that you were warned about but blithely think won’t happen to you:    hair that behaves like a weed which grows where you don’t want it (facial), and thins out where you do (scalp), the skin under your upper arms has a life of its own,  enlarged pores and diminished sight.  To my surprise, my bedside table suddenly looks like my mother’s, crowded with skin cream, reading lamp, tissues, used & new tissues, lip gloss, and alarm clock.

Ben comes into the bedroom to find me crying:  as I do every year on my birthday, I read family stories of loss from the Great War and World War II.  And at 11am, no matter where I am in the world, I stand straight backed, arms at my sides, to observe the silence at 11:00am on Remembrance Day (Veterans Day for my American friends) , the 11th of November.  This little gesture is made in honour of the fallen, for whom the wind blows between their graves in Flanders Field.  (Canadians will understand the reference). I think about the freedoms that I enjoy, and give thanks that there were young men willing to die for God, the Queen and Country.  I will not sanitize that statement, even though it’s not very current or politically correct.   That would be a betrayal and a dishonour to their memory.  I am here, enjoying the personal liberties of a liberal democracy because they are not.

We have arranged a birthday party this evening at a San Miguel Karaoke bar.  I had this idea that Karaoke would be a great way to have our groups of friends mix and mingle, have a few alcohol induced laughs and possibly embrace the microphone as the evening progressed. We are starting off the fun with a romantic, upbeat duet from the 50’s called “Come Go with Me”.  We are Karaoke neophytes, and our single rehearsal was a performance on the stage of a grungy bar/restaurant/betting shop in an Oakville strip mall.  (If you drop something on the carpet, you pick it up gingerly, and with a napkin).    It wasn’t the sort of place where the WASPy tennis ladies from The Oakville Club would soon be having afternoon tea. But the small crowd of truly idiosyncratic regulars was enthusiastic, accepting and I really appreciated that the DJ cranked up the canned applause as we left the stage.  A Star was not Born….but she didn’t fall on her butt either.

“Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night…you ain’t a beauty but hey you’re allright”*


*lyrics from The Boss of course. 

Health Update:  after the bitch, aka,  the tumour, reared its ugly head in the spring, I had 7 weeks of radiotherapy.  Based on my recent MRI, the doctor thinks it has been halted in its evil tracks.  Begone and good riddance!**

**from Shakespeare, 1609, for those of you whom like me, find that sort of etymology fascinating.  


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Those Mel Brooks fans among you will recognize the voice of young Dr. Victor Frankenstein (played by comic genius Gene Wilder) commanding his servant, the hunchback Igor, (another comic genius, Marty Feldman)  to bring him the brain of a prominent & brilliant dead scientist, a brain which will complete his creation and redeem his family name. (Igor famously brings him another brain, from a specimen jar labelled “Abby…normal”. Yuk yuk) 

Now following 19 days of radiation therapy to my skull, I cannot decide if I look more like Igor with my cute head wraps or perhaps, with the scar tissue, it’s The Monster (Peter Boyle), that is my doppelgänger.  

No, I think that one have to conclude that the movie star most likely to play me, being me right now,  is Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff in the Rocky Horror Picture Show (Of course, I would have preferred Susan Sarandon:  I read somewhere that she has the best rack in Hollywood.  Really.)  Richard wrote all of the music for the RHPS, and the signature song “Time Warp”, was actually an afterthought because they were running short and needed filler. Really.   

It is an odd feeling, waking up one morning and literally, not recognizing yourself in the mirror:  huge chunks of hair fell out overnight, leaving me with wispy bits around the crown and long straggly bits to the shoulders.  It exposed my 14” of scar tissue in all of its pink and ropey glory.  I was really hoping to have that evidence hidden for a long time.  I have big issues around personal privacy (as in, I need a lot) and having to wear a head scarf that screams cancer patient makes me cringe.  I see young girls and women in the treatment room who proudly show off their shaved bald heads:  but for me, I never want to be defined by my condition.  

And so, well you might ask, why was I not mentally prepared for the hair loss?  The radiologist told me it was coming and so did the genuinely sweet young technicians in Treatment Room 16, my daily destination for 5 minutes, 35 days in June and July.  You can see in the photo the huge machine that they roll me into:  first, they put me in my personalized mask, affix the mask to the table, start the tunes (I have heard everything from Louis Armstrong to Guns n Roses) and then quickly scoot out.  The machine starts moving around me, delivering green radiation beams from 3 directions, and before the chorus to “Sweet Child of Mine” is finished, they are back to release you.  The custom mask is made of a plastic mesh material, and it is snapped down and in so tightly that I sometimes have mesh tracks on my forehead and nose.  Nice. 

So again, why was I not prepared? Well, I do believe that the good Dr. underestimated the area required to ensure complete treatment.  The regrowth is only 6 cm long and 1 cm wide. The thickness of a piece of paper.   And because it is growing flat on the top left side, they need to target the beams from an angle that skims the skull all around the area.  Picture shooting beams at the top of an orange to target just the surface peel, and that is pretty close.  

So much larger than the regrowth area is perfectly reasonable, but I am stunned to have lost more than half of the hair on my scalp. Not to mention that there is hair everywhere, in the toothpaste, in the hand cream, in the mascara, and for awhile there,  it was reminiscent of being up north in mosquito season, except that instead of bugs, I was breathing in strands of fine hair through my nose and mouth!

In the interests of making lemonade from life’s lemons, last week I visited Lora, the lovely and compassionate owner of the medical wig store here on Oakville.  I bought a variety of pretty head coverings:   a few of them are definitely channelling the whole Woodstock ‘70’s thing, which is cool, since I missed being a flower child the first time through.  (Ironically, we just watched the opening sequence of the brilliant 70’s movie, American Hustle, in which Christian Bale carefully pastes down his combover and hairpiece.  Too close to home!)  I  will likely order a stylish hairpiece through her as well:  the only downside of the easy care synthetic variety, is that you cannot BBQ or even open a hot oven with it on! Melt Down Madness!

Will my hair ever grow back?  The answers range from maybe to not completely to not likely.  We will give it a good 6 months before I order an expensive piece of natural hair.  Chemo patients have a better history of regrowth:  radiation is so hard on the skin.  

So again, why so unprepared? And why so upset? I was and still am.  Getting past it, but of course, it is well known that women have a fundamental attachment to their hair.  Crowning glory.  Defines and expresses one’s feminity.  A tool of seduction when tossed in the right direction.  Why else so many products, salons and appointments? You may have gained a few pounds, but your hair can always look good.  You may need a morale boost, so get a new cut or colour. Only compliments will ensue.   Do you remember the old song, “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair”.  A bit before my time actually, but I always appreciated the sentiment. And of course, nothing says “still young” like a full head of bouncy, shiny hair.  Pale blond wispy bits floating across a pink scarred scalp says “frankly darling, its a head only Ben could love”.  And that is a darn good thing too.

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Most of you will allready know about this development, but since this morning is the first day of my radiation treatment, I thought that I would update you all. Here is the email that I sent out shortly after I knew about the regrowth.

In the interests of not having you look at me strangely when next we meet, and of course,  because I consider you to be a friend, I wanted to let you know that my menginioma has resurfaced, and that i will have to go in for targetted radiation treatment this summer. The treatments are quick and painless:  15 minutes a day,  M to F, in Toronto, for 7 weeks.  
The most painful part will be getting there and back, but traffic does slow down during the summer.  
There is a high probability  that I will experience fatigue as well, so forgive me if I am not my usual bouncy bubbly self.  (I have no idea how “fatigue” differs from just just needing a nap in the afternoon, which I do so enjoy) 
The strange looking part is that the hair on my head in the radiated area will fall out about 3 or 4 weeks into it. Regrowth may take a year or more, or if ever.  So if anynone has any good ideas or sources for weaves, partial wigs, even comb overs, bring it on! I left my wig from post- surgery in SMA, but a wig can get hot in the summer. 
Other than hair loss and fatigue, the doctor expects no other side effects and the progonsis is good. Our hope is that this treatment will finally stop the little bitch from creeping further across my poor knobby scarred skull.  
So the Update:
Since we have been considering replacing Ben’s almost 10 year old car for a few years now, we decided to accelerate the decision (an almost pun):  last night we bought a low mileage grey Lexus 350 RX to make the drive into Toronto easier.  I am not really a car person,  but this is one sweet ride (custom interior, best sound system, shiny sparkly wheels, oh my.)    I will spend the drive into Toronto with my head in the manual, trying to figure out how the audio system works.
I have already had a consultation with Lora, the warm and friendly owner of Medical Wigs here in Oakville.  I saw Lora almost 2 years ago when I bought a wig* to cover my head which had been completely shaved off before my tumor surgery. (See my blog from the summer of 2016 for the photos. I have a happy but strange smile.  The photo below, taken at my brother’s wedding, is with about 2 months growth).
She is still dispensing wig wisdom, and has assured me that I can have a hair piece made to cover the roughly 12x10cm blank spot and that it will enhance my overall look by adding height, readimade curls, and beautiful bouncy shine.  There you go, we have made lemonade.
The Road Travelled Well” blog
* The “Miley Cyrus” model at the height of her twerking nonsense – women with greater sensibilities than mine refused to buy it based on the name. I thought it was mildly amusing.

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Well,  of course it is!  Ben and I left our “5 star bubble” late last week to return to “TreeTown”.  Gasp, I have to learn how to make my own bed again. Horrors!

So at dinner last night, (I know, how can I possibly eat again? Ask Ben:  I can always sleep and always eat. Charming in its own way, I have always thought.) I was asked what country I preferred:  Japan or Vietnam. So let me frame the answer in this way:   When I was in the marketing  business, one of the ways in which we measured customer loyalty, was by asking clients these three questions:  “ how likely are you to repurchase, how likely are you to buy more, and lastly, and most telling, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?”.

So, with respect to the first two questions, I only turn 60 once, and so my next big travel trip will be somewhere new.   On the second question,  neither my wallet or my waistline can afford to buy more! Question three is an interesting one:  all other factors being equal, such as age and stage and means, where would I send friends to, Japan or Vietnam?

For me, the answer is Japan.

We were chatting to a well travelled older man over breakfast in Saigon, who firmly disagreed with that preference.  He said, with some vehemence actually, that “Japan was sterile, fixed in place, no future.” He may have something there:   the birthrate in Japan is one of the lowest in the world, and the population is aging quickly.  I read a novel last year by famous author Haruki Murakami: one of the themes has precocious  girls  growing into successful women who no longer needed or even wanted men in their lives, except for, delicately put, “their equipment”, and even that was optional. In a very over simplfied equation:  no men + no marriage, equals no babies. This is how a culture dies.

So yes. Vietnam is a country with a huge future. (Conditional on the formula of “Communist Capitalism” and Globalism meets huge personal ambition and desire for progress is not derailed by some other external force).  And since I cannot foretell the future, I cannot predict how it will turn out.  However, it may involve lots of cars.

Our guide in Hanoi said that only students use bicycles, because they cannot afford scooters.  And people only use scooters because they cannot afford cars. You can see where this is going.  Saigon is constructing its first subway, so I can predict fewer scooters. Which will be replaced by cars. Cars remain aspirational here, the ultimate mobile symbol of personal and family progress. However, subway says communal good:  car says individual wealth.  We will see how the one Party rules.

Japan is a living museum.  Many of its traditions are dying.  And not being replaced or renewed.  So get there literally before its gone.

So we return to the streets of Saigon:  we had the obligatory (and sad) tour of the “AmericanWar” museum, a culinary evening via vintage Vespas, and a wilder daytime tour of the many street markets. The last two were highlights of our time in Vietnam.  Funny how you can quickly learn to trust a teenager with kind eyes when she says “let me help you”, when she clicks your helmet  into place and says “ready” before she plunges her bike again into the mayhem of Saigon traffic, whispering are  you ready for “The Wild Ride”? *


* Actually, that’s a lie.  “Wild Ride” is an infectious mid-nineties honky tonk song by country singer, Dwight Yokum.  It is highly improbable that a teenager born a minute ago, half way around the world, would know that song.  But I liked how it fit with the rhythm of the paragraph as a closing sentence.  And you know, she could have known it, possibly might have heard it, you know, if pigs were purple.  And that my friends, is how “fake news” starts. End transmission.

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