Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Goodbye Winter....Hellooooo Sunshine!

Everyone is talking about it.  The weather.  More specifically - the unending snowstorms and cold weather that has hit Vancouver Island and the Pacific Northwest.

When we moved to the Island, I signed up and prepared for rain.  For the first two winters I smugly wore my raincoat while friends and family wore parkas in Alberta.  The joke was on me when the first huge snowfall hit in early December, and it took me five days to find a store that even had a shovel!

Whether it was a premonition of things to come or simply the desire to return to Belize and reconnect with old friends while soaking up the sun, we booked a winter holiday months before the first snowflake fell.

It has been 6 years since we were in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, and we saw how some things were just as we left it, but in other ways we saw that time did not stand still.

Flying into San Pedro with the reef in the distance

Roger walking along "The Cut" and looking at the toll bridge that connects the south part of the island with the newly developed north part of the island.

In 2003, there was a hand pulled ferry to take people across The Cut.
The north side of the island has seen the most development with large condos (but still no big chains and the highest building is 4 stories).  One of the newest places to grab a beer and bite to eat is the "Truck Stop".  With our rental golf cart, we stopped there a couple of times for delicious lunches.

We had 6 weeks of beautiful blue skies
Belize was hit by Hurricane Earl on August 4, 2016.  Every dock on the east side of the island where all the resorts are located were destroyed.  The majority of docks were rebuilt by the Christmas high season as a testament to the importance of tourism on the island.
Damaged dock

Another damaged dock
The best thing about Belize is the people we've met over the years.  Many we met in 2003 continue to be dear friends, and we reconnected this year like we had just seen each other.  They come from a wide range of backgrounds, interests and experiences.  They are like a mosaic, or a patchwork quilt and knowing them enriches our lives.

In 2003 we stayed at the Corona del Mar for about 5 months.  There, we met Frank, the hotel's handyman and all around great guy.  To say his life has not been easy would be an understatement, but he is one of the most positive people we've ever met.  He may not be able to read or write, but he can do anything that needs to be done. If you check out the hotel on Trip Advisor - you will read how much the guests appreciate him.  
Frank and Roger have always had a great bond and enjoy sharing a beer and playing horseshoes

Roger and Frank in 2006
On our first trip to Belize, we met Sara and Bob Morris from Chrisman, Illinois. They had come 30 years before with their 3 kids when they took a mystery trip with a travel club.  On the island they are known as Sarita and Dr. Bob (he is a retired vet)  and both have made a huge impact.  

The first time we saw them, they were 70 years old and walked by us in their wet suits as they jumped on a boat to go scuba diving.  Sara and Bob became role models to us.  They were the first people we met who had an adventurous spirit and it gave us the confidence to find our own path as we looked for adventure.  They are revered...they are respected....and they are loved.

We spent many hours chatting while we were in Belize this year

Sara and Bob love to dance - especially  to the music of the island's popular duo, Will and Dale who play at Ramon's.
Roger gave in and agreed to do his "one dance a year" quota.  Guess that's it for 2017.

Bob and Sara dancing in 2006
Bob and Sara used to own a charming cottage on the beach.  They sold it in 2007 but before that, their porch was "the" place to be.
Christmas Day 2003
Some of Sara and Bob's family were visiting, and Anette and Brad were there too
Sadly, their cottage has been bought and sold a couple of times, but has not been cared for.  
We were invited to Ken and Jenny Osterman's house one Sunday where we were joined with David and MaryAnn Wine.  There, we learned how to make shrimp fried rice from the daughter of the woman who used to own and cook at the Jade Garden restaurant.  I doubt if I can replicate it, but it was absolutely delicious and a lot of fun.

Left to right:  Ken, Jenny, Roger, David and MaryAnn

Sara and Bob hosted a wonderful cocktail party so their friends could meet their son, Bobby, his two kids Matt and Jennifer, and Matt's girlfriend, Ally who were visiting for a few days.
Sara and MaryAnn sharing a laugh with Lucky the one eyed cat
Sadly, Lucky was hit by a vehicle just a couple of weeks after the party, and had to be euthanized.
Roger kept active working out at a gym several times a week, and I participated in aquasize classes at the same club.  When the pool turned a nasty green, a few of us decided to run our own class in the Yacht Club's pool.
Left to right:  Heather, MaryAnn, Sara and Vonni
Roger loves to fish, and went out a couple of times -- catching everything from an abundance of snapper to a shark!

Jenny and Burrell Wolsey from DeWinton, Alberta are long time friends

Burrell and Roger caught a huge number of snapper that the captain filleted for us.  Delicioso!
On another fishing expedition, Roger caught a 3-4 foot shark, and the first mate caught a 5 foot one.  The larger one was donated to the high school for their lunch program, and the captain and first mate shared the one Roger caught.  Catching a shark was definitely a first for Roger!

The first mate throwing out a net to catch bait
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the two main activities on Ambergris Caye.  This year we bought new full face snorkeling masks and loved how comfortable they are despite making us look like we are aliens.

In addition to snorkeling at the end of the Yacht Club's dock, we went to the popular Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Park.  There was a great variety of fish and we saw: moray eels, stingrays, parrot fish, lion fish, groupers, sharks, hard sided jacks, angel fish....and so much more.

It's always an adrenaline rush being close to sharks - even if they are relatively harmless nurse sharks.  The guide chummed the water, and while I was in the water they went into a feeding frenzy.  They were much larger than the last time I snorkeled there --- some were 10 ft long.  It was exciting and it felt good not to be scared.  

Sharks in a feeding frenzy.
I had to try not to bump into them as the guide warned getting close to their mouths might get us bitten.

Hanging out on the dock.  Life is good.

We tried to eat healthy meals so BBQ'd often.  This feast of lobster tails and grilled vegetables was a favorite.

My favorite time of the day was having a cup of coffee on our patio watching the sun rise.  
It was a glorious six weeks of not wondering if it was going to snow and if the roads were treacherous.  We reconnected with old friends and made a few new ones.  We experienced good and not so good changes in a place that served as our launch pad to adventure and it was like re-reading a favorite book to go back as we plan where to explore next.

As it turns out, we don't have long to wait for our next trip and our mantra,"Seize the Day" is repeated.  Brad and Anette asked if we'd like to join them and Magnus on Valve's annual employee trip to Hawaii in late March.  Hell yes, we'd love to go!  We are staying at the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island and plan on taking a helicopter ride to see an active volcano, snorkel with turtles and have fun as a family.

Just try to wipe the smile off my face.

"A good life is a series of happy moments."
                                                                      Denis Waitley

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Ringing out the old...and in with the new

I've come a long way.  Throughout September, I was asking Roger how he was feeling and what his heart rate was....well, let's just say I was asking him several times a day.  He was a good sport, and constantly reassured me he was feeling good -- in fact, better than August 27th - the day before the heart attack.

My family doctor took Roger on as a patient, and she was very surprised to meet such a healthy looking man who less than two weeks before had suffered a major heart attack.  She referred Roger to a cardiologist but a couple of weeks later, Roger experienced slight chest pains so I rushed him to Nanaimo General Hospital.

I went armed with his discharge papers from Idaho and they took excellent care of him while running a multitude of tests.  Fortunately it was determined he hadn't had another heart attack (the pain was residual pain from the heart attack around the heart's sac), and that the echo cardiogram showed that the heart was working well and another stent was not needed.  The cardiologist reviewed everything then told Roger to go live his life, and see him in a year.  It was like a "Get out of Jail Free" card.  We both started breathing easier.

The two of us made a conscious effort to eat better by loosely following the principles of the Mediterranean diet which focuses on fish, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, using herbs instead of salt, and getting lots of exercise.  Within 3 months Roger is down 30 pounds, and I am down 10.  The best part is it is a lifestyle change not a strict diet with lots of rules that are hard to maintain.  We still periodically splurge on some foods, but we're feeling so good that it is making it easier to stick with what's working.

We had lots of company this fall that came to see how Roger was doing, but I was lax in getting everyone's picture.  We welcomed Laurel and John MacPhail and his parents visiting from PEI; Roger's mom and sister; and Dwayne Majcher from Calgary who spent several weeks renovating a condo he and Annette recently purchased in Victoria.  As well, Roger's brother Jack, and his wife Siu, from San Diego were in Vancouver for a convention so we went over by ferry to spend a few hours with them.

We spent a sunny day in Vancouver with Roger's brother Jack and his wife, Siu.
Left to right:  Roger, Siu, Jack and Heather
Finding ways to get 10,000 steps in is a cinch.  I still pinch myself when I explore the beautiful parks and beaches in the area.

Driftwood on the beach
I've met a wonderful group of ladies who join me for aquasize at our resort's pool.  We try to go 2-3 times a week and we not only exercise, but we never run out of things to say or laugh about.
Left to right:  Victoria, Bernadette, Michelle and me.
Our aquasize group is named "MOA" which stands for Michelle Obama Arms!
Brad, Anette and Magnus flew to Japan for a three week holiday in October.  We picked up Obi on our way through Seattle from Idaho where we went to pick up our trailer from the property and brought it back to the island where we sold it the next day.  We had Obi for around five weeks and she had daily walks down to the beach and a park where she could run and play frisbee.  She is such a great dog and to us it is the perfect way of having a dog --- one that visits!

Tired after playing frisbee, Obi plopped herself into a puddle to cool off
A mom worries about her child no matter the age, so it wasn't surprising when Roger's mom, Madalene and his sister, Rhonda came for the weekend to see how Roger was doing.  We had a great visit and enjoyed going to Chemainus, a beautiful seaside village that is famous for its murals and theatre.  We saw the play, Hilda's Yard and loved it.

Clockwise from bottom left:  Roger's sister Rhonda, their mom, Heather and Roger at Cuckoo's - one of our favourite restaurants in nearby Coombs.

A big question we had was "would Roger be able to get travel insurance so he can continue working"?  Roger decided to find out, so called Pacific Blue Cross who had covered us so well.  We were relieved to find out that they would continue to cover him for 30 days at a time with a rider on the current policy.  It is as simple as calling before each trip, answering a few questions on his medical status, and letting them know what country(s) he would be going to. (We've since found the same coverage through BCAA that allows for longer stretches out of the country and as long as we sign up before we turn 60, no medical questionnaire is required since Roger has been stable for more than 3 months).

It didn't take long until the phone rang with a consulting job for him.  This time it was Jack, his brother who works for a geotechnical company in the States who asked if Roger could go to Costa Rica to help on a project that was having some challenges.   I was anxious saying goodbye to him, but knew I had to let him go.  It helped knowing Jack's son, Chris, was also working on the project, and that he would keep an eye on him. He's spent a few weeks there are he is scheduled to return in February.

Roger on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica
While Roger was in Costa Rica, I brought Obi back to Brad, Anette and Magnus who had missed her.  I then flew to Kansas City to visit Roger's brother, Colin and his wife, Karen and their son, Cooper.  Roger had been looking forward to going too, but couldn't get away from the project.

Magnus did a fabulous job of introducing me to his teacher and classmates

Love this little boy to bits

I had a great weekend hanging out with Colin and Karen.  Cooper is attending University of Kansas but was able to spend part of the weekend at home.  He's come a long way from being a two year old who thought it was funny to silently hide behind curtains while I was babysitting him.  I was frantic that I had lost him and spent the longest 20 minutes of my life running through the house looking for him!  I've never let him forget it!
Left to right:  Cooper, Colin, Karen and me

Roger dodged Hurricane Otto and flew out of Costa Rica before it reached land.  While he was home we flew to Calgary for the Kinley Boomer --- a Christmas gathering that has happened for 131 years.

We rented a car through Hertz on points.  We couldn't believe it when the agent gave us the option of paying an additional $20 a day to have winter tires put on the 4X4 we rented.  Roger said, "It's Calgary and it's winter - and you charge for winter tires?"  In addition they charge $13.95 a day to add me as a second driver and then when we wanted to extend by one day, it was going to be $132!  We declined everything and have vowed not to use Hertz again.

It was a whirlwind five days in Calgary, and while we couldn't see everyone we wanted to, we were  glad to be able to have visits with:  Paul and Paula Williams, John and Laurel MacPhail, Colleen and Ed Walsh, Peggy and Bob Campbell, Kathy and Randy Cardon, my brother Russ and his wife Margaret, and two of my Auntie Elaine's best friends who I met for lunch along with Margaret.  

We stayed at Dwayne and Annette Majcher's home and had a blast.  We made plans to have them spend Christmas night with us, and for us to go to Victoria for New Years Eve.  Love having them spending more time on the island.

That weekend, we were reminded what Alberta winters are like when we drove home from the Boomer.  Luckily we left Calgary before the temperatures plummeted to the minus 20C range for two weeks.

The day after I got home from Calgary, winter came to Vancouver Island and it stayed for a couple of weeks which locals swear is unheard of.  It was hard finding a shovel to buy -- it is my third winter on the island and the first time I've needed to buy winter supplies.

The heavy, wet snow broke my beautiful magnolia tree -- I'm hoping it recovers in the spring.
This year I put my first Christmas tree in 9 years.  It was wonderful hanging ornaments that had been my parents, those we've collected on our travels, and ones we've given each other over the years.
Ready for Christmas!

Brad, Anette and Magnus spent Christmas in Calgary with the Wickenheisers, and we welcomed Annette, Dwayne and their daughter Nicole for the night.  We decided to do something very "un-Albertan-like" and take a backpack full of martini fixings down to the beach.  So fun to do and made for a memorable Christmas afternoon walking along the shoreline after having a cocktail looking out to the ocean.  Back at our cottage we had a traditional Christmas feast and then had a riotous evening playing "Mad Gab" which had all five of us in stitches.

Left to right:  Nicole, Heather, Roger, Annette, Dwayne

Toasting each other and so damn glad to be together

A first:  martinis on the beach on Christmas Day with good friends!
The following week we went to Victoria to spend a couple of days at the Majcher's newly renovated condo.  Dwayne did a superb job after gutting the place and truly made his mark on it.  Their location is fantastic --- within walking distance of the harbour, restaurants and shops and we had a great time.

We started off visiting Craigdarroch Castle built in 1890's for coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir.  The architecture is incredible and there are 32 of the original 47 stained glass windows in place.  It was well worth the visit.
Photo of Craigdarroch Castle
Courtesy: Craigdarroch Castle website

The castle was beautifully decorated for Christmas 
After a feast of oysters back at the condo, we headed down to the Harbour for the New Years Eve celebration.  There were lots of people but it was a great vibe and the lights were spectacular.  It makes us look forward to bringing our boat back to the Harbour when the weather warms up.
Victoria Harbour with the parliament buildings lit up in the background

Good friends Annette and Dwayne Majcher

We found a great outdoor patio with heaters, blankets and Spanish Coffees --- plus a ring side seat to the fireworks
To coordinate with the Canada-wide fireworks, Victoria's NYE fireworks were scheduled to go off at 9 p.m.  We were grateful we weren't in Halifax as they had to wait until 1 a.m.!

Back at the condo, we had more seafood and "warmed up" by the fire.  It was a great end to our holiday season with friends who are like family to us.

We are excited to head to Bothell on January 11th to celebrate Christmas again with Brad, Anette and Magnus.  A few days later we are flying out of Seattle to Belize to reconnect with friends, soak up some sunshine and do some snorkeling.  Hopefully Roger will get a good break before returning to work in Costa Rica.

While there was definitely a few rough patches and stresses in 2016, we are so very lucky to be well and happy as we usher in 2017.  The friends and family that shared the tough times with us are also there to share the good, and we count our lucky stars for that.

We're a bit older, a whole lot stronger and ready.  Bring it on.

"Life is like a camera.  Focus on what's important.  Capture the good times.  Develop from the negative, and if things don't turn out right - take another shot."