Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Return of the Parrotheads

How does it take me so long to get around to updating the blog? I am not really getting much visibily accomplished these 'days off' so it must be the relaxation I'm enjoying. Dog walks, naps, trolling FaceBook, a bit of baking, very small amounts of housework and visiting. Ah, such is the life of the semi retired. 

For starters, my parrot head travel partner and I had a wonderful trip last weekend to Boston / tailgate party and Jimmy Buffett concert. It began with an early morning meeting and drive to the airport, storing of cell phones in the car, a wait and then quick flight to Boston. Through Logan airport and out to the Silverline bus and in South Station before 10 am. We ask a Jehovah Witness with a display in the station for suggestions….? Chinatown…we quickly agreed. We first scoped out and purchased the commuter rail tickets to Mansfield "yes this will take you to Raynham-Taunton", noted the time for the train making plans to return by 3 pm, did a bit of shopping and headed off to find Chinatown. We wandered through an Asian
Asian grocery store
grocery store amazed by the veggies and very unusual parts of critters eaten, strolled the streets in perfect sunshine with a gentle breeze, marvelled at the offerings hanging in the windows, had a wonderful lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, shopped at various pawn shops for estate jewelry, were astounded at armed security in the McDonald's, heard very little English spoken and generally enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. We made our way back for the train, enjoying South Station's wonderful food court - yes we'll have Pinkberry frozen yogurt - and people watched. The gate for the train was announced so we surged forward with the other commuters in a human stream down the platform to board. Free wi-fi on board, the south end of Boston merging into a passing panorama of suburban leafy green, comfortable seats and a smooth ride as we made our way to Mansfield. Off at the fairly remote station and a glance around for a cab. Hmmm, only a dial-a-bus. We ask the driver about a taxi to Raynham-Taunton and he exhibits an alarmed countenance and says "oh that's miles from here, you need to get back on the train and get off at Attleboro" so we head back towards the conductor at the train door who says "you have to get on there" indicating a platform a ways down the track which as we turn towards it…. the train pulls out from the station and disappears. We use the walkway to cross the freeway towards a strip mall - while strolling across the parking lot we are approached by the dial-a-bus - the driver and his passenger have worked out a (complex) solution to our dilemma. "I'll call my driver buddy and he'll pick you up right here and take you to Norton". We wait briefly and the dial-a-bus appears as promised, we insert our $1 bills and ride to Wheaton College (a small liberal arts school) where we are dropped off and told to walk through a lane in back of the post office and wait for the #18 bus. A very short, senior man is riding the bus and he tells the driver "I'm going that way Frank, I'll show them" so as we walk along he chats about the college, where we're from, our plans and as he indicates where to wait says "oh you're going to a Jimmy Buffett concert to smoke weed - do you have any on you?" My travel partner stares at him speechless and I say "we're going to get ours at the concert" which he accepts and moves on. We wait for a while as the end of day traffic makes it way past us with a few curious glances cast in our direction. As my travel partner says "what else were we going to do this afternoon anyway?" The #18 bus arrives, we insert another $1 bill and are ultimately delivered to the Taunton terminal. We bother a transit driver eating his fried chicken, he confers with two other drivers who arrive shortly about which route the Hampton Inn is on (one suggests we can walk down the highway from WalMart and he is scandalized at the suggestion) "no, that's the Holiday Inn, it's on Rte 44" then I finally offer that the hotel has a shuttle within a five mile radius. The consensus is the terminal is within the catchment area of the shuttle and the driver finds his cell, calling for the pickup. We thank our rescuers and head out front to wait as the shuttle can't enter the bus parking lot. Two of the drivers make a pass by the terminal entrance to wave at us and after about 20 min. (which the hotel had stated would be the time for pickup) a young fellow wearing a transit uniform and blue nitrile gloves comes out to check on us. He's obviously been sent by the drivers to use his cell phone for us as he isn't completely clear on the mission but states "I'm a helpful kind of guy". He phones for the shuttle again and indeed it arrives a few minutes later. We make it to the hotel by 7:30 pm which means this leg of our journey from Boston took us about four hours. As we pull into the parking lot the driver (retired corrections officer so he can obviously handle two trouble making Nova Scotians) informs us that the shuttle can drop us at Lakeville station and we can catch the commuter train directly in to South Station and on to Logan on Sunday - should take about 45 min from hotel to airport - almost as quick as driving. Kind of anticlimactic after the outbound trip. The hotel is full - sports teams, families and concert goers - and conveniently located next to a mall. They provide some phone numbers for taxis and we arrange to call one in the morning. We purchase party supplies for the tailgate party, have a sub at d'Angelos and head back to rest up. 

It's party day - we enjoy our included breakfast, ready ourselves and wait for the cab. We prepay the driver and he agrees to pick us up at 11:30 pm (noise ordinance means the music will be wrapped up by 10:30pm) near the service station at the end of the entrance to the Xfinity Centre. It's about a 25 minute drive from the hotel and costs only $30 each way - certainly would be more than that in rural NS! It's a perfect day weather wise with some sun and cloud, a slight breeze, low humidity and comfortable temperatures. We arrive at 11am and check out the parking lots starting to fill with vehicles loaded with inflatable sharks, surf boards, lumber, swimming pools, sand, coolers, and smiling costumed parrot heads. The VIP parking has limos, tour buses, motor homes and snazzy vehicles. We ask security where to start and he makes some suggestions, takes our photo and chats easily with my buddy 
Pre concert tailgating 
who apparently charmed him completely as she walked away with his unopened bottle of water and drank from it - he waves us on with a grin. We spend the next seven hours having a fantastic time! Very difficult to explain the pre concert party - even the YouTubes don't do it justice. We're surprised to find that at least 1/4 of those attending would be under 30 yrs - not the demographic we'd expected. We visit, sample wonderful food - shrimp, burgers, kebabs, fruit, snacks - and every kind of beverage imaginable, are delighted by the costumes and 
 antics, dance to the music being broadcast, enjoy Chicks with Sticks (a female steel drum band) my friend gets two temporary tattoos, and tries some of the parking lot games. We laugh constantly and the time flies by. By 7 pm we are in line to get in to the concert and are glad to sit down in what appears to be a sold out crowd. A double rainbow forms over the venue as the sky darkens and the stars come out. We rock out to the favourites, enjoying the energy and by the expected hour the magic is over and we make our way out through the gates to meet the taxi. My partner finds a pair of sunglasses on the path (they turn out to be spiffy new RayBans) and the cab arrives as promised. We are back at the hotel, showered and in bed by 1 am. A good sleep in, breakfast and we check out the flea market next door until it is time to catch the shuttle. An uneventful trip in to South Station on the commuter train, lunch at the food court, the T back to the airport as we collected scientists from Paris who had presented at a conference (what is bioinformatics anyway - had to Google it) and a family who had just left a wedding reception and were delivered to the bus stop, still in their glamorous outfits by the groom. Check in, security, snack and wait for the flight while we people watched. A quick return flight, customs, retrieval of car and uneventful drive home. Ahhhh what a weekend! 

Our grand puppy Pete came to stay with us on Wednesday as our daughter and son-in-law are out west for a wedding. He is a 14 wk old golden lab and has been settling in to our
Pete at 14 wks
routine here, or rather we have been settling in to his. He is usually up by 6:30 am and is a going concern for the day where he plays hard. He is learning that our elderly, deaf resident dog does not like her ears chewed on, our cats don't enjoy being chased, has had playdates with a couple of dogs, gets walked, taken to the water (not a fan) and has conquered his separation anxiety and will remain outside with Keely for a few hours without 'losing it' now. He is of course easily distracted, but tries to behave and in fact is a good baby. Every day he is growing - gonna be a big boy! He sleeps well (as does Keely) from all the activities. 

The social calendar keeps full with catching up with all those I've missed. Had a nice BBQ on Friday with friends, good food and conversation. This week, a nice visit, a cup of tea and a ginger cookie with my two summer neighbours while the puppy played with her dog. Then I was off to a friend's house for lunch with a third friend - the three of us lived 'on the corner' growing up (and her husband) and a nice visit. Home in time to have the life partner make lobster rolls while I did a salad. Ahh life is good. 

Tomorrow is lunch for our school of nursing class - 1976 sounds so long along when you tell whippersnappers the graduation date. There are usually 8 - 10 of us locally who manage to make it. Gets easier every year to schedule with more retiring. It's not about the meal, it is the visiting and catching up. 

Plans are in the works for a winery tour in a couple of weeks:

Will include an overnight stay as what fun would it be to NOT sample the wine? The beach clean up at Bon Portage is rescheduled (originally the day Arthur struck the area) for August 16th so hopefully the weather cooperates this time. Have wanted to visit that island since I read We Keep a Light and other books Evelyn Richardson wrote. Have planned a birthday party BBQ for my sister on the 17th (her girls are not working that weekend) so will host a crowd of family and friends. 

Less than a month before the life partner and I head off to Europe. I was discussing with him that the friends at lunch (who are going to UK about the same time) had purchased a GPS to use with the rental car. He pronounced "it's a lot more fun getting lost" so we shall see just how hysterical that is when it happens in Portugal. At least I won't be accused of not reading the signs correctly will I if they're in Portugese?

My co-classmate for the LSTMH (tropical nursing diploma) and I booked our return flights to UK for Nov 27 - Dec 20th. It was the 'close to the holidays' December date that caused the most hassle with the blackout for using flight miles and no direct return flight so we opted for a stop in St Johns Nfld (feeling it's just wrong to fly over NS to Toronto or Montreal and then back from Europe). Surprisingly Air Canada was the lowest price (although that is a matter of opinion when you're spending $1100) and at least we'll collect Aeroplan miles. We will have the first weekend in Cambridge, second in Oxford and third in Leeds - my travel partner has connections having lived in UK. We booked the coach (National Express) for the Liverpool to Heathrow journey on Dec 20th as well - likely to fill up with the holiday travel. For some reason I thought Liverpool was closer to London than it is. Hmmm. Now I just have to dust my resolution off to do some pre-course study. The latest news about the Ebola outbreak in western Africa is disheartening - I made an online donation to MSF, it's the least we can do. 

And to end on a practical note, I offer the following 'life hack' for removing those sticky labels off jars:

Disclaimer - I haven't tried it myself. As well as a link to open courseware (free) from MIT for photojournalism:

So, it's off to bed as that little canine alarm clock is set for early am.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys

Now that I'm home in the 'not working' groove and most thoroughly enjoying being temporarily retired….it is time for an update. Well, actually there has been a need for an update for a while but as it often does… got in the way. I have however, unpacked my duffle bag, reorganized my action packers / stacked them in the spare room and stored my kamiks for their off season in the freezer. No need to be thinking about paid work if you're not planning on doing any for about 12 weeks. And if you are employed, here is a helpful quote on the left for dealing with all the politics. It's listed online as a Polish proverb hmmm

At last update I was throwing my stuff into tote pans, giving away anything that didn't fit in, looking forward to visiting with my daughter on the Edmonton stopover and hoping to make my connections home ahead of Hurricane Arthur which was predicted to head up the eastern seaboard just after my arrival. The trip home went (considering the above plan) pretty smoothly. I was out of the apartment in good time and over to the airport to check in and wait for departure. No need to do a second version of the difficult farewells, one set of tears is enough. Some distractions by local people and a final heartfelt goodbye and thank you from one of the elders who always expresses his appreciation for "these nurses who come to help us here" on the local radio station, as he was awaiting a departure 20 minutes later with another airline. Beautiful day for flying as we lifted off over the community and towards Yellowknife. A quick trip through security, bathroom stop and then into the lineup for boarding. I find another CHN from NS getting on the flight so she comes to sit next to me and fill me in on all the news (gossip) of the Government of Nunavut casual CHN world. She is a good source of all that is hilarious, tragic and downright scary with GN - with her Cape Breton roots she is as good as any live theatre. In to Edmonton and the electrician daughter awaits at the bottom of the escalator with a cup of tea. "Isn't she beautiful?" I say to my co-worker? She agrees and then says "OMG I'm waving to your daughter as if I know her I've been north too long!" A real nice touch to not have to wait on the shuttle and have a good strong daughter to heave three large pieces of baggage onto a cart and in to her truck for you. Over to the hotel to check in, store the duffle in the freezer (char fillets) for the night and head down to the sports bar for a snack and some beverages. Nice chance to catch up on the news. Daughter # 1 is returning to college for her final set of classes this fall and will shortly be a journeyman/woman/person - whatever the term - she will be more independent in her work. Soft bed and good sleep then up to go and source some breakfast at Cora's before the flight. All that fresh fruit is such a treat! Never long enough for the visits but I have to remind myself that most folks in eastern Canada don't get to see their western residing offspring six times per year. 

I decided to use one of my guest passes for the Maple Leaf Lounge at the airport and was wowed by all the 'free' snacks, liquor and quiet there. On to the flight and seated next to a HUGE Newfoundlander who was going home for a family reunion. He'd 'forgotten' he had a flight in the morning so had to catch the one after lunch. He smelled strongly of ETOH, snored loudly, burped and farted frequently, took up all of his seat and the aisle plus half of mine and had no boundaries ex. leaned over me and put the window shade up as I napped - clearly did not have the Flight Etiquette 101 course. Other than that…I enjoyed the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel - worth watching. As we landed a drama unfolded in the row behind us where a couple was clearly not making their connection to Munich and yelling at each other over who booked the short connection "just pull your skirt down" missy says to her boyfriend, "do you want a xanax? we only have enough for one a day remember" as they push their way to the front of the plane to exit with 20 minutes to make it to the next flight. Sure, that's going to happen. Another stop in the Maple Leaf Lounge in Pearson - it was a 10 minute walk from the gate to the domestic lounge so I was determined. The stroll was worth it as it was much larger and more completely provisioned. Couscous salad, two soups of the day, hummus and pita crackers, multiple choices for wine, fresh fruit , chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies - yes please. Enjoyed in the comfort of large soft leather armchairs, and good conversation of a three year old from Truro who when I asked if she and her mother were travelling on flight # 624, replied "no, we're going on a plane". Ah, a tired old nurse could get used to this respite in the frantic of plane/terminal travel. 

The usual delays on the tarmac in Toronto so behind about thirty minutes. An uneventful flight, a foggy homecoming and then the lag as the Captain says "just waiting for the ground crew to get into position here". Now, I'm pretty sure it occurred to most of us on the completely full plane that with an extra half hour to get ready, we might've expected a more efficient welcome. As we all stretched and stood blearily, my cell rang and someone with heavily accented English asked for me and where I was. It was the prearranged taxi driver  (who turned out to be a Masters in Computer Science student helping out the owner - think Raj on Big Bang Theory and you'd be close) wondering about the delay (turns out he had gotten stood up last weekend with the same gig). I gratefully retrieve the luggage and head towards the ground transportation booth to have them page my cab. As I head outside to look for the large sedan which usually awaits me, I am unable to locate it. My phone rings again and much like an episode of Mission Impossible I find myself following the instructions "I'm in the green Honda Accord, I had trouble with the thing on my car, just walk forward, more forward and across, near the stop sign" in the pea soup fog until I realize my student cabbie is searching for the term crosswalk. Aha there he is, although he appears a bit flustered as he has his head down and is clearly planning a quick exit. As he figures out how to fit two large action packers and a rolling duffle into his compact vehicle, he requests that I "sit in the front here" and I reach for the door handle. I then notice the reason for his discomfort. A large, loud middle aged male is sitting on the back of a red, crew cab, jacked up 4 wheel drive truck and he is having lots to say "you can't park there, you'll have to move that car, what if someone with a handicapped sticker comes?" and such various other opinions at top volume. Now, I am a strong proponent of only those so designated parking in disabled spots but at 1 am, there's not likely to be any competition for this space. I look at the red neck and say loudly to my cabbie "who is that the parking police?" which causes him even greater consternation as he puts his head down and quickly jams my baggage into the car silently. I take a step towards the loud mouth - clearly he's not as stupid as he appears as he immediately ceases his running commentary - then step back and into the Honda. I search for (and don't locate) a disabled sticker on the schmuck's truck - not surprised. My non confrontational cabbie is freaked out by the driving in the fog so I suggest he uses the low beams, he clutches the wheel and peers out through the windshield as we do a zippy 60 km over to Middle Sackville. I suggest that I will be doing the speed limit (or a tad more) on the 103 as it would take days to get home otherwise and if I hit a critter…so be it. He is amazed at my bravery. I am dropped at my car and start my homeward trek. 

I arrive home at 4 am just as the wind and rain are beginning and crawl into my OWN bed. A few minutes after I have slipped off to sleep at 5 am I hear muttering and cussing from the other side of the bed as the shore captain climbed out to begin dealing with generators as the power was out. The next time we flicked a switch without gas powered generated electricity was 3 pm on Monday. In what has become an epic fail by Nova Scotia Power, many areas of the province were powerless for almost a week. Imagine if it really was a hurricane and not just a tropical storm as it petered out. The internet was down until Wed afternoon in a classic 'it was the other guys fault' Eastlink vs NSP match. In the hurry up and wait for power the only winners were the gas stations as generators hummed. We managed to keep our storage freezer as well as fridge contents intact and were able to have running water and lights with the noisy generator. Our friends from out west arrived just an hour after the electricity was restored and so the Plan B of them being housed at a mutual friend was modified to include a joint supper on two evenings. Lots of catching up and it was just like the old days. ahhhh

Spent some time with my soon to be parrot head travel buddy as we sorted out the online course she is doing for CCA (continuing care assistant) and let me just say that if it were me taking the course they would get an earful for the crappy setup. The website looks like someone's child in grade 8 did it for a project - it is very difficult to use - we accidentally located some areas and apparently missed several other sections as her 'navigator' asked where those were when she submitted for the section. Better her than me.  A busy week with a lovely sunny weekend where we made plans to do many things - go watch a movie for example but….haven't made it there yet. The three daughters spent the weekend at the Craven Country Music Festival outside of Regina and by accounts a good time was had by all. The two oldest are now off camping near the Montana border for a couple of days while the youngest headed back north. 

And of course the planning for the Jimmy Buffett concert is ramping up as there are only three more sleeps remaining until I cross another entry off the bucket list. Friday is up early to drive to the airport, flight to Boston, across to Mansfield (outside of Boston) for the weekend. Saturday the tailgate parties begin by 10 am and the concert starts at 8pm so we'll be doing a more than 12 hr. shift - which both of us have training for. Sunday will be recovery day and retracing our steps with a 6 pm flight back. It's all about making the memories. 

Speaking of the logistics of travel….yesterday was a hateful marathon of planning with the life partner. I have been gently reminding (nagging) him on a regular basis that we should complete the plans as only the flights across the pond, the vacation week in the Algarve, Portugal and the Adriatic cruise were confirmed. What began as a simple exercise "you book the hotel for Venice after the cruise" which in my estimation should have taken a couple of minutes, stretched into three hours and four calls to the call centre for support by himself. Can you say PAINFUL?  So, nothing to do but push on and with some encouragement, mister managed to book a rental car and a hotel for our final night in Lisbon before we return to Canada, while I booked a hotel for our first night in Portugal (a castle/convent) 

and return flight from Lisbon to Venice. Mind you, if the worst thing you can think of to complain about is flying Air France through Paris vs flying non stop Portugal to Italy, all is well. And it is an ambitious crusade. The travel partner did allow today that "we should start planning earlier for such adventures". We have decided that the aspect of travel which I find most positive is the anticipation and research and for him, it's turning off the cell phone as his adult ADD does not lend itself to sitting and planning. He does however enjoy playing with Google Map and checking out the scenic fishing villages so is beginning to get ramped up with six weeks remaining. 

So to close….50 life hacks - my fav is #12:

Notes for creative writing - note to self to get in gear with the writing:

Although this isn't New Years, I've made myself a resolution to read / watch or listen to a topic daily on tropical health. I will have to be ready before I arrive in Liverpool as my classmate / social convener already has plans for a visit to Cambridge, a stay at Oxford and dinner at high table, a weekend in Dublin via ferry and more…I started off well today with a webinar from Johns Hopkins University on paediatric diarrhea. Have some open course wear bookmarked and some lectures downloaded on iTunes. Let the learning begin…..except for this weekend of course and that will be learning of a different kind. Fins up!