Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy 39 + 1 Birthday Sophie!!

So this was the big 39 + 1 birthday for Sophie and my goodness, does that make me feel old! But this is not about me.

So how do you throw a surprise party for someone when they know you are going to do it? Well, we were more clever than Sophie on this day. We planned a birthday party for her at Sharm's house last night and told her it was for family only - me and Robin, Sharm and her family and Mom. Darwin ordered Indian food and we went to Sharm's house for 5:30pm. Her friends were invited (but secret) she didn't know! So she arrived at 6 as planned while everyone was hiding out and there I was as casual as ever talking about something very trivial as she removed her coat. 

Then out sprung Hana and Breen who were hiding with the guests and as everyone came out one by one, Sophie got teary-eyed. She was indeed surprised. But the biggest surprise was to come later. She thought she was going to get a dobos torte for her birthday. That's a cake I have been making for the better part of 35 years and since I only make it on special occasions and for special people, you'd have to be a special person in my life. Over the years, I've made many of them - but like I said - only for special people celebrating special occasions. As with surprises, they are apt to go in any direction. In this case, there was no dobos torte when the cake box was opened. She said she wanted a lemon cake so that's what we got her. No dobos torte.

Her birthday is actually today and we had another surprise for her. We told her that we planned a girls day for her with the women in her family - Me, Mom and Sharm - and that she had to arrive at my home by 10am at the latest; just to make sure that she arrived on time, Sharm picked her up and brought her. She was told nothing else - just to arrive for 10am. She asked all kinds of questions be no information was forthcoming. When we arrive, I told her that she had to get into her outfit which was on my bed. It was the cutest polka dot bathrobe. Then we hired Sharm's massage therapist to give us all massages. In the meantime, I had freshly baked apple muffins, Bothwell cheddar cheese, as fresh fruit platter, coffee and a variety of teas. She had her muffin and tea and then went for her massage. We also had bath things for her to have a jacuzzi bath but she passed on that, preferring to sit by the fire I had going in the fireplace. And by the way, that's a real fire with real wood not those fake gas fireplaces.

By the time the massage was done, we laid out an assortment of tapas food - marinated spiced eggplant, stuffed artichokes, seafood salad, spicy antipasto, warmed brie, goat's cheese with cranberry, gouda, a variety of multi grain crackers and some pepper jelly that I made this summer. And of course fresh fruits - strawberries, blackberries, grapes and cherries. Can you say yummy? 

Then around 1:15pm, Sharm asked if the next visitor was going to arrive soon. That was code for the next surprise. I pretended to take the phone to make a phone call in the next room and I put the dobos torte - yes I did bake one for this auspicious occasion - on a cake pedestal and brought it to her. Man was she surprised! That was the best. We each had a good sized serving and there was still 3/4 of the cake left so I gave her some, Sharm took home some and I left some for when my grandbabies come over to visit next time.

So for all the years where Sophie didn't get a birthday party because everyone is busy with Christmas preparations or celebrations, we hope this made up for those times.
Sister Savi

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cancer Crossing

If you have been following my blog, you may have read in my last post that I attended a workshop on Self-Publishing. At that workshop, I met several people who are also interested in self-publishing. Three of those people are working on a book titled: Cancer Crossing. They asked me to participate by telling my story of my journey with Dad and his cancer but from a caregivers perspective. I also offered to help with the personal interviews as those are skills I have as part of the work I do. I'm not sure if they will need that kind of assistance but I will be glad to help in whatever way I can.

I can, however, help by passing on this message from Sherry who is one of the co-authors of the book. Here is her message:

Good day, everyone!

You know me, always working on a project! I am currently collaborating on a book 'Cancer Crossing’ with five others. 100% of the net proceeds from the book sales will be directed towards cancer patient support services.

We have entered our project in the Aviva Community Fund Competition and we need your vote! I have included a link to the site/our submission below for your ease in learning more. You can vote once a day from November 12-26. It is easy to log in via Facebook. If you don't have Facebook, it is simple to register on the Aviva site and support our cause. PLEASE HELP US BY VOTING EVERYDAY UNTIL NOVEMBER 26TH!!

Aviva Community Fund

I will be sending out reminder e-mails so please don't 'disown me!'. It's a great cause and if you or anyone you know has been touched by cancer, you know how needed this is. Please spread the word to your family and friends, too. Together we can make a difference for cancer patients while we all wait for a cure.

If you have any questions, please come my way. Warm regards and thank you for your support,

Sherry Heppner

All Sherry is asking is that if you or someone you know was/is touched by cancer, you will take the time in the next two weeks to cast your vote for this project. You can read on the Aviva site how much the winners will receive. So one vote per day for the next two weeks could help this team win. And if you can share the link with others, that would be much appreciated too. I've already cast my vote for today and intend to do so until Nov 26.  

Friday, November 09, 2012

The next interesting thing in my life...

It's now three weeks since we've been back from our Peru and Galapagos trip. I was watching a tv show tonight about the two places and they still seem surreal and transcendental. Work was extremely busy since I have been back so I am looking forward to this long weekend.

Last week Friday, I met with one of my colleagues Arlene - who I think I can now refer to as a friend - for lunch and while walking to the restaurant, I had what I can only call an epiphany. I was thinking for some time that I would like to publish one chapter of my dissertation as a stand-alone book and while going to the restaurant, I decided to ask her to do some editing for me. I have read and re-read the chapter and have had Robin review it and had it pass muster with an exam committee of 6 academics who said it was well written, but from everything I have read about getting a book published, it is very advisable to get someone to edit it. Arlene agreed to do it.

Last week I attended a two-afternoon workshop on self-publishing and it was quite useful. That, along with the lunch date with Arlene, may have served as the impetus to dip my feet into the world of publishing. I should correct myself. In fact, I am already a published author - a chapter in the book Standardization in TVET Teacher Education - in which I advocate for a transformative pedagogy for technical/vocational teachers.

I came home and went to the publisher's website and registered for an author's guide. Within a couple of days I was contacted by someone from the company and after getting a lot of information and asking way too many questions, I signed with them to get my book published. I have not yet decided on a title for the book or what the cover design will look like but in due time, I hope to have all that done. This is an exciting time for me because over many years, different people have said that they enjoy my writing and I should consider publishing some of my work.

I was not always confident about my skills, much as I was not always confident of my academic abilities but I have to trust my gut feeling that I have to attempt this even if it does not turn out to be successful. In the end I will be able to say that I tried but I will never have to tell myself that I regretted not even trying. I ask a lot of questions and I am very analytical about the things that I do - trying to anticipate every scenario. I then make up my mind and once I do that, I will commit all that I can to doing a good job. This is the next thing and I will make very effort to succeed.
I think the self-published book could fit into several genres, have good readability and appeal to a wide audience, including those who are interested in:
  • creative non-fiction
  • history
  • post-colonial critiques
  • the Guyanese experience
  • cultural studies
  • gender studies
  • critical pedagody
  • anti-racist education
  • social class
  • social justice
  • memoir writing
I hope that those of you who have been reading my blog will have some interest in reading the book and/or promoting it to anyone who you think might be interested in any/some of the above themes.

I will let you know how the publishing experience is progressing. Wish me luck.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Summing up our Peru/Galapagos experience

To describe the entire Peru/Galapagos trip as a vacation would be like describing a trip to the moon as a few days away. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that until a few months ago, I thought would never happen. People keep asking if this was on my bucket list. First of all, I do not have a bucket list. I have things I would like to do and places I would like to go but I don't go about crossing things off a list because I feel that it diminishes the experiences before, during and after they are done. This was so much more than making a check mark on a list and if that's how you experience something, then you are missing a whole lot.
It's like people who kept asking me when I'd be done my PhD and what I was planning to do after I was done. They really missed the whole point. It's not what you are going to do after, it's what your life is in the present. Don't stop living now because you're waiting for something better to come along. The present is all you have - good or bad so experience it. This year has  been incredible for my in many ways and this trip was one of those blessings I have to count.
From start to finish, it was good. My cousin Eddie asked me if I could pick out the one best moment. But if you were reading my blog, you'd see that there was no one best moment. All of it was special. I spent many, many hours planning and I mean many hours but as with anything, you can plan all you like but you can never account for all eventualities. With this trip, I anticipated that we might have some challenges along the way but truly, there were no bad days and the ease with which we got through each day made us think that the next day could not be as good but incredibly, it was. There were times when I could feel Dad's presence - as if he was looking out for me and making sure that everything worked out well. And it did.
I found the people in Peru and Ecuador extremely friendly and even with my less than adequate Spanish, they were gracious when I spoke to them in Spanish. I think they appreciated that I attempted to speak to them in their language. That respect goes a far way. I recall when I was in Botswana and each day I would walk to the training centre passing a woman selling food at a stand near one of the parks. The first morning I greeted her in Setswana, she greeted me back but by the next morning when I repeated the greeting, she had a smile for me and every morning after that. I learned a few words while I was there but it was their appreciation that I was trying that made me feel that it was worth the effort to treat them respectfully by at least trying. 
Now for Peru - that was an appreciation for an ancient culture that was not very old but made great contributions to civilization. The Galapagos trip was a back-to-nature experience - one which I have not ever had. I have gone on an African safari (see blog posts from 2006) where the animals are wild and living in their natural habitat but on Galapagos, they are not afraid of humans because they do not feel threatened by us. It must be one of the few places left on this earth that humans have not completely destroyed and with any luck, we'll be able to preserve such places for future generations.
After Peru and Galapagos, what else is there? I am still savouring all of it.
Mount Kilimanjaro is calling but am I listening? I need to catch my breath first.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ecuador: Quito City

This was the last day of our vacation so we spent it doing a tour of Old Town Quito as well as the equatorial line - that is - Latitude 0. That was interesting but more about that later.

We started our last day with breakfast but instead of the courtyard, we had it in the restaurant on the premises that I think was once a jail of sorts. Anyway, it's quite lovely with beautiful brick archways.

Breakfast can be quite nice when you are in a beautiful space - even if it's the same breakfast 19 days in a row (except for the one breakfast in Aguas Calientes when we had cheese).

We booked a tour with a company just one block over from the hotel; there were 4 of us - 2 Floridians and the 2 of us. Nelson who is one of the owners of the company was our guide. We started out by visiting some of the churches in Old Town which is the old part of Quito. Many people do not live in this area but commute to work so in the evenings, the streets are pretty deserted. The architecture of the churches is astonishing. Even if you are not into historical buildings, you gain an appreciation for the beauty and talent of engineers, architects, sculptors, painters and planners.

The whole city of Quito was declared a UNESCO heritage city because of the history and incredibly beautiful buildings and from the pictures, you can see why. Many building have the "Juliet" balconies which are large windows framed at the bottom with an enclosed railing - in these cases - made of ornate wrought iron. Some of the designs are quite detailed and intricate while others are simple. The details on some of the carvings on churches and other historical buildings makes you appreciate how some of the buildings took over 100 years to complete. The insides of the buildings are even more stunning but we couldn't take pictures in some of them because church services were being conducted while we were walking through.
Then we headed out of town to the Equator line. Apparently someone had calculated the line using some kind of mathematical calculations and the spot was marked as the point at the centre of the earth but several years ago with more recent and precise technology, it was proven that the initial point was about 250 metres off from the centre. So a new centre was determined. That's the one we went to. There were two clocks - sort of sun dials and as you can see clearly from the second picture, it was almost 2pm when we were looking at it (I checked my watch and it was 1:55pm).

Then we had our picture taken side by side but with me in one hemisphere and Robin in the other. Then it was Robin's turn the straddle the line with a foot in each hemisphere. Pretty funny actually.

We had a chance to watch some little science experiments and then the guide asked us to do one - stand with your eyes closed and hands extended and try to walk on the red line without falling over. The centrifugal force from each hemisphere pulls you in that direction so it is almost impossible to walk the line.
That was a fun part of the day. We stopped in a little cafe on the site and had empanada verde - mini ones made with plantains and stuffed with cheese. Those were really yummy!!
Then it was off to the airport for our flight to Lima at 6:35pm, then leaving Lima for Toronto at 1:40am then from Toronto to Winnipeg at 2:50pm on Saturday.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: North Seymour Island

Saving the best for last!!!

On the map, North Seymour is situated just above Santa Cruz (red circle). South Seymour is where the Baltra airport is situated (the one we arrived at).  
This morning we had an early start. I was up at 5:30am again but there was no sunrise to see because it was cloudy. We left the yacht at 6:30 for North Seymour Island but before we left, I went to the back of the yacht where the panga is stored and I was just enjoying the cool morning air when I saw a grey shadow in the water. Not being sure what it was, I stared at the water for some time and there in front of my eyes was a shark! Yes a real shark! They are called white-tipped reef sharks and they are around in these waters but I have not been fortunate to see one until today. Omar said that you can go snorkeling in the water and they won’t bother you. The thought of swimming close to a shark and not have it bother me is a bit science fiction-like.
I was so excited to see it. One mind said to run back to the cabin for my camera and the other said to stay and watch because as soon as I leave, so will the shark. After watching for a good 10 minutes and it was still following the yacht, I decided to get my camera and as soon as I tried to step away, I saw another grey shadow move in the water. It was another shark!! This was my lucky day. For a full week, I had seen none and now there were two of them. I really did run to my cabin and got my camera and tried to take a picture of both of them at the same time but I could only manage to get one in the shot. They look so graceful gliding just below the surface of the water. And they just kept up with the yacht for almost half an hour. It was quite a spectacle to see.
We landed on North Seymour shortly after 6:30am. We had not yet had breakfast so the early morning excursion was a bit different than our routine for the last week. Omar said there would be lots of birds to see but the place looked like it was deserted of even sea lions and that was a rare feat.  The vegetation was quite stark – looking like every tree had died and there were only trunks and branches left.
We walked for a bit and could not really see anything. I thought to myself that this was going to be one shore excursion that was going to be a dud. But we rounded a corner and there was a blue-footed boobie with one of her young. The youngster looks quite different than a fully-grown one. They are the purest white downy colour with black beaks. No other colour. Then we saw other boobie chicks in various stages of growth, from just hatched to a couple of weeks old. 

By now we had seen a number of the blue-footed boobies but had not seen any young ones so this was different. Nevertheless, they are still stunning.

What we were really hoping to see were frigate birds but they are hard to find and sometimes only on specific islands. I wasn’t sure this was one of the islands but Omar said that if we were lucky, we’d spot some.

And then I spotted one in a tree! Male frigate birds have a red sack – sort of like an airbag - just under their bill and when they want to court a female, they will inflate the sack. This can take as long as 30 minutes to do. Once it’s inflated, they then call to the females and the females come and check them out. If she likes what she sees – a big sack that is very red – she’ll let the mail know that he’s the one. If not, she flies off to check out other males and he sits there calling other females in the hope that one of them will find him attractive. The one I spotted had only a partially inflated sack but I reckoned that if that was the only one I’d see, I’d be satisfied with the picture.

Then we walked a bit further into the island and we saw some female ones.

There are two types – great and magnificent. Those are really the names and they really do look great and magnificent. One of the females had a very young chick, most likely just hatched a day or two before.

Then the most marvelous sight – a male perched in a practically leafless tree in all his glory - with wings spread wide apart and his sack completely inflated – calling to any female to tell him that he was the one. You should have seen it. The pose was utterly impressive

Then we saw two males with their inflated sacks and a female sitting right next to them trying to decide which one she found more handsome and he would be her partner. She picked one and the other sat there looking so crestfallen. Imagine you are a suitor competing with another male for the affection of one girl. Think of how you would feel if you pictured yourself to be so handsome and irresistible – only to have the girl look at you then pick the other guy. Talk about rejection. And talk about pretending to continue to look cool even in the face of rejection! Hard but it’s survival of the fittest as Darwin said.

A couple of last pictures of the bell flower, a Darwin finch and a female frigate bird with the most enchanting blue bill and blue rings on its eyes.

This was a great morning. What a way to start the day – to see some rare birds and so many of them on one place. Back to the yacht for breakfast and then off to the Baltra airport for our flight back to Quito.
I had so much to think about in the plane that my mind could hardly settle on one image that I liked better than the next. I have so many great pictures in my head that I wish that I could have captured all of them on my camera but some things are best left in my head for me to enjoy in moments of solitude.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: Bartolome Island & Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

As you can see from the map above, Bartolome Island is a small island off the coast of Santiago Island (North West of Santa Cruz island which is in the middle of the map).  That was our first stop today.

This morning I got up at about 5:30 and watched the sunrise. This time, the colours in the sky looked quite breathtaking. My camera doesn't quite capture the shades of pink and grey but suffice to say, it was lovely. If you look at the top of the hill, as the sun was rising, you might be able to make out what looks like a stick at the top (on the right side of the point of the top hill). I thought that must make for a good lookout point but it sure was high. Little did I know that it was the same place we were headed later that morning. Had I known, I may have said that I already had a picture, thank you - and I would sit this one out. But after Cusco and Machu PIcchu, this might seem like a cake walk.

There was also an amazing rock formation, seemingly emerging in the middle of the water. It is not accessible to people, making it a good nesting place for many birds.

On the way over to Bartolome Island, Alfredo the panga operator saw a penguin (not seen much at this time of year as the water is a bit too warm for them). He was the lone one standing on a rock so Alfredo took us over in the panga just so we could take a picture.
We then headed off to another part of the island for a dry landing today but it's not really that dry. We were not jumping out of the panga on to a beach but the pier which is supposed to be a dry landing is usually wet and extremely slippery from the algae and the rising tides, so it can be very dangerous to step out the wrong way. Omar always tells us to be careful and we are not allowed to leave the panga unless he or a crew member is already out and we have to grab and hold their forearm to get in or out.

Today I witnessed why they said it could be extremely dangerous to step in or out without care. Another group of people were just leaving the island when we arrived and their guide was telling them to be careful but one woman disregarded what the guide was saying and she moved quite quickly from the dry area to the wet, slippery area to attempt to board their panga without assistance. I was watching this from about 20 feet above her and I suddenly heard a crash and saw her disappear from my sight. She had slipped and fallen into the water but fortunately, it was not where the tide was crashing into the pier but on the other side which was somewhat sheltered. I almost felt bad for her but only almost. It was so totally preventable. If she had listened when the guide was telling the group to be extremely careful, it may not have happened. We were quite lucky that not one single person on our tour had an accident.
Now for Bartolome island: yes we had to climb 365 stairs to the top of the hill where I had taken the sunrise picture. Someone had taken the time to mark the stairs by the days of each month (for a total of 365). We got up to the end of February and stopped at a platformed lookout point; I think whomever built it was taking pity on people like us who are not really capable of doing the entire 365 at one time so they call it a lookout point but it's really a resting station! Omar took just enough time to explain the scenery and vegetation - or in this case, a lack of vegetation - and then we climbed another two months (60 stairs) to the next lookout point (aka resting place so we could catch our breath without looking too embarrassed). We did see some candlestick cactus but there must have been about three sets of these in the entire landscape that we saw (although my pictures are the same cactus photographed 3 times).

We finally made it to the top and I have to say that even the young(er) people were huffing and puffing when they got to the top so I didn't feel bad that we all rested along the way. The view from the top was impressive so we decided that a group picture was in order. Omar took the picture. You can see in the second (smaller of the two yachts) and third picture that the Darwin yacht is anchored off shore. That's usually as close to the islands that it will get and then we have to go the rest of the way by panga.  

We were relieved to be going downhill after the 265 stair climb but if you think down hill is easy, then you have not done too many stairs. Yes you don't exert as much energy as climbing uphill but it takes more skill not to do it too quickly or else you can go head first down many stairs.
Sullivan Bay, Santiago Island

Sullivan Bay was where we were supposed to see the lava formations and I was prepared not to be impressed but was I in for a surprise!. Some of these lava formations were referred to as "ropes" because they looked like someone had braided ropes and formed them into rugs with interesting patterns. See for yourself.

During a volcano, the lava flows hot and red with temperatures exceeding 2000 degrees F. As the lava cools, it forms these patterns. They look like they should be crumbly but they are hard as rocks because that's what they are! The same stuff you have at the bottom of your gas barbeque that lasts for years and years. except that this is not porous but smooth and hard and almost entirely non-porous.

Then there was the intestinal lava or brain lava - whichever image suits your imagination. It must have been my years of plucking chickens when I was a kid that made me think that it looked more like intestines than brains but a couple people thought it looked like brains. You decide. I'll stick to intestines.

Then we saw some lava bubbles where the lava dried and left a hole in the middle - like this one.

 Then there was the lava sinkhole that Robin decided to climb into.

Then there was the vegetation. Hard to find but this is what grows here - a very small plant that anyone would be hard pressed to explain its survival in intolerable conditions.

Then there were patterns that any artist would appreciate. I swear some of it looks like modern or abstract art. Again, see for yourself.

I have to say that I my expectations for this afternoon were not high but at the end of the afternoon, I had completely eaten my words. You have to appreciate Pache Mama (Earth Mother) in all her glory.

I went back to the boat feeling very satisfied that if the trip ended, I would have seen everything I wanted to see - and so much more. That evening, the crew served us cocktails since it was our last night. They said we were to have a par-tay but most of us went to bed quite early. It turned out to be a rough night on the high seas so no one was in the mood for partying. I now see why some  intoxicated people are referred to as drunken sailors. Without alcohol you can move on the yacht as if you were drunk, staggering from one side to the other just to walk 10 feet and you'd be lucky if you didn't crash into something or someone.

Tomorrow is our last day so we have an early morning activity before breakfast and then breakfast and then we leave for our flight back to Quito.