Thursday, April 12, 2018


As I recline on the couch, Dr Phil or Ellen or local news droning on in the background, my anemic toes stare up at me. 10 white reminders that I am not myself, I am uprooted, I am in crisis. Tanned skin retreats from crisis. Pale is the colour required.
The mirror is not my friend. Two tired eyes stare back. They are gathering baggage. Heavy, dark bags and the strain of their weight is showing. Gone is the glow, the energy, the fire that has kept me fueled for all these years. In it’s place a gaping wound. A reminder of life’s fragility. A monthly parking pass to a hospital.
My mom - the fiercely independent fireball role model of my life - lies in a bed there, in that hospital. Defenseless, vulnerable and afraid. The regal swans whom she has loved, companions by the lake’s edge, swim by. They are looking for her. They gather and make terrible noise. They cannot believe she has left them. And neither can I.
All of us have been drowned. Whisked into a dark vast cavern by a force of nature. Unexpected, uncontrollable, a stroke takes lives and knocks them sideways. Like dominoes in a storm, we all fall down.
They say it’s the most common cause of long term disability in North America. They say it’s the leading cause of death. They say someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. Those are just statistics.

They don’t say you will lose sleep. There will be tears. You will lose your independence, your free will, your health, your happiness. Your life. They can’t possibly write down what this ‘common’ occurrence will do to us all. It’s too hideous. Too morbid. Too gritty. They will tell me this post is the same. Harsh, negative. Ugly. And they will be right.
Unthinkable decisions to be made, lawyers to be consulted, forms to fill, belongings to discard, depressing facilities to be toured like holiday spas. Social workers, wheelchairs, hospital food. The smell of that. The reality is overwhelming.
How do you put this one in a box? Get it all settled and move on?! How do you protect your heart and soul from something so engulfing. Where do you find yourself again? It doesn’t exist. Not for my mother, not for me. Nothing will be the same again for any of us. And all by a tiny build up of blood, coursing through a vein, up into a brain. A tiny biological malfunction that ripples outward like an atomic bomb.
The frivolity of our lives in the sun, the coarseness of sand between my toes fades in my mind. I feel guilty at even the thought of it. Instead I reflect the grey around me. The sky cries onto the windows and her tears hit the cold lake, mixing with the weary waters of a Canadian spring day.

There is only one thing that keeps us all going. Pushing through the sludge. It’s the hug from my nephew. Warm, soft, beautiful in it’s innocence. It’s the hand squeeze from JW at the end of a trying day.
The friends of my mom who bend and stretch and reach out, far beyond what I could have imagined. It’s a testament to the amazing character of Jan. My mother is so loved. And it is love that shines through. It has proven to be the only force stronger than tragedy.
It’s what allows my sister and I to find laughter somewhere in all of this. Just to know that we are here for each other, for our mother.
So for now it’s the currency I’m working with. It’s the boat in a hurricane. And I’m just trying to hold on.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Shiloh at 19 - A boy to a star

Many lifetimes ago, on a continent far far away on this day, I made my way through the clogged and humid streets, a melting Spider Man cake tucked up on the seat beside me…
I’m on my way home from the one bakery that makes these specialty cakes. It’s far and the traffic is crazy in the way only African streets can be. Stray goats, Police roadblocks, hawkers touting smoked fish and exercise equipment. But I had to do it. You love Spider Man. And Bob the Builder. Or maybe Bob the Builder was last year or the year before. I smile to myself imagining your beaming grin, the kind that lights your magical eyes from within when you see it. The pride in your eyes when you scan the crowd – your cousins, your friends, the kids from the compound. And then I chuckle, knowing you will be the least interested in eating a bite. My sweet sweet boy who needs no sweets. it’s your sixth birthday.  

I might have lost my patience in the busy streets. I might be silently cursing Spider Man or worried that his melting face will be unrecognizable by the time I reach home. I have no idea how much I will cherish this day. How I will physically ache for one more chance to light your birthday candles. To witness your outstanding beauty. To hear you whine or laugh or even cry. Just to be near your life force one more time.
I am oblivious to the cruel future, I am limited, human in my lack of understanding of this world. It is your last birthday on this earth.
Gramma H, Quinci, Wesley, Shiloh, Auntie Jaqui

Grampa and Shi

My precious boy

Flying planes!

Think i had more fun than him!

The Vespa girl and her cool crew

brotherly love

Shiloh the ladies man

Still the ladies man

My little ham

Shiloh and his favourite dog Bob

Kristyn and Shi

That unmatched smile!!!!!!!

Hamming it up

Mother and son

Today I cannot imagine the 19th birthday you will never celebrate. There were no more cakes, no more parties, no bicycles or scooters. There was crushing pain. Emptiness where there had been laughter. Just void.
And now, so many lifetimes away, in a place under the stars, I celebrate only your ageless spirit. I can only walk the beaches and feel the sensory celebration of you. The roar of the ocean waves against the unyielding rocks at shore – that is your roar. The tiniest of delicate seashells that cushion my feet as I walk – these hold the whispers of your ancient soul. 

You were here with us as a child. You live forever in our memories, but you are so much more. Beyond the limits of our clumsy human form, you soar above in the shooting stars and today that is what I have to celebrate.
Shiloh Devon Nii Kpakpo Mingle January 9, 1999 – June 21, 2005

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December Blues

It’s 6:23am, the obstinate deep honking of our anchor drag alarm has awoken us abruptly. John slides over me, bleary eyed, and trips up the stairs to check out the situation. And though the wind has been howling all night, we are not dragging. The anchor is holding well, buried deep in the sand no doubt. Just a 6am false alarm to remind us we are not in Kansas. Or anywhere in a secure land home for that matter. We are on a boat. And I’m up now…

Up in the galley/salon, my feeble efforts at Christmas decorations have been thwarted in the night. The beaded white anchor ornament that serves as our ‘tree’ which I hung with care on our mast has fallen, along with the little Christmassy animals… adhesives are no match for salty sea air. Ah well. I open the hatch for some breeze and the silver and white ‘Christmas flowers’ I had stuffed strategically into my bowl of seashells are blown out and around the floor. This is a boat. And it just doesn’t feel like December anyway.

The water all around us turquoise blue. 

However, it’s colder than I remember. We’ve never been in the Bahamas in November or December before. We have been welcomed back by disturbed skies and intermittent squalls. And chilly waters.

Three weeks ago we arrived back on the boat after a three month road trip. She was tucked into a safe hurricane hole but she was all closed up and the heat and humidity took their toll. As I cursed and scrubbed stubborn black mold from the ceilings, I was worried. Would the weather hold up for my boy’s visit? Would the water be warm enough? Would it all be perfect for him and his girlfriend?

And as usual I had to learn a life lesson the only way possible. By discovering for myself that it’s not the water temperature or consistency of the sand on the beach that makes a great family reunion/holiday. It’s the people. It’s the overwhelming, heart crushing love a mama feels for her baby. Her ‘all-growed-up’ focused, talented, gorgeous, charming, mature, well adjusted boy. The boy she sees no more than once a year if she’s lucky.

And it’s the bittersweet satisfaction of witnessing that he has made it out there on his own and has found love. True, honest, beautiful young love.

We had some amazing days together. Barbecues on the beach with the other boats in the bay. Walks on the beach, collecting shells, marveling at the power of the ocean. They swam with sharks, fed the sting rays, got more than their fair share of mosquito and no-see-um bites. Bahamas wildlife couldn’t get enough of them. Neither could I. And yet 10 days was over nearly before it began. Another dinghy ride with luggage in tow. The reality of the cruising lifestyle. Family is far away and the visits are too short.

Seems like five minutes ago I was a 27 year old idealist, headed from suburbia to West Africa; a single mom with her three year old boy headed into the unknown. Hoping the world would stretch out and embrace them both. Off to learn and live and love him as best she could. 

Time is a gift. Time is a gift and it’s slipping away. 

Swim in the chilly water. Hug your boy. Call your mom. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s just stuff. Let the ocean carry you. Let life be the adventure it’s meant to be.

Miss people. Then smile for having known them. Kiss the sky.

Happy December.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Biscuits and mutton, snow and sand, old friends and new - a trip across America

This morning I lie in bed in the dark, with the wind howling through our hatches and a gently wave rolling us to and fro. I couldn’t sleep as I struggled to remember his name. Was it Cornbread? Dinky Donut? Snickerdoodle?

We’ve been back on Shiloh from our US road trip for just over a week. And the memories are fading. The states blur along a path of my mind, further and further back and sadly I know that most of it will disappear forever. But there were some places, some people, some experiences you just can’t forget. Things you couldn’t make up if you tried…

Mr. Muffin was a State Park Camp Host who took his job seriously. Tucked up under Hot Springs Mountain in Arkansas, the campground was beautiful, framed by a clear river on one side, and in the distance a highway of some sort. Pumpkin Toes protected the premises, circling constantly on his golf cart. And his curiosity led him to slide his two stubby legs, under two gargantuan bum cheeks, down off his perch, and he’d waddle into each campsite bright eyed, to meet the visitors. He was all grins as he slid out his pudgy pink hand to shake. “Welcome! I’m Fudge Ball!” (or something like that). He explained in his syrupy southern drawl, that he and his wife had been camp hosts for a few years at this site. He gave us the camp rules, then asked us what it was we had there on the table?

“Smoked oysters. Great with crackers and cheese.”

He crinkled up his childlike nose but his eyes remained excited and alert. “Can I try? Never heard a nuthin’ like that!”

So we fixed him one and watched, amused, as he stuffed the fishy little package in his mouth. And the reaction was priceless. He barely managed to swallow and quickly asked for some Coke or anything sweet. We rolled around laughing but found him a drink.

And with that, we had a new friend. He stayed for quite a while, completely enthralled by these foreigners from so far away. He’d never left America. Figured they all ate weird stuff like what we’d just fed him! His accent kept us a captive audience as well.
Marita & Biscuit

The next morning Cream Puff pulled up in the golf cart with his wife Love Dumpling to meet us and we all laughed and stood for photos. He gave us his business card. And there it was written in black ink. ‘Biscuit’. It was Biscuit! He explained that it was a nickname that stuck hard and he’d accepted it and embraced it long ago. Biscuit sold Dutch ovens and ran Dutch oven cooking classes. And Biscuit became a dungaree wearin’, twinkie lovin’ memory…

And he and the bath houses and gorgeous town we found there in Hot Springs would not have been discovered if we had done the road trip we’d imagined. Road trips should be fluid in their planning. So that when Harvey and hurricanes like him try to thwart your fun, you simply re-route. Arkansas and Oklahoma were not on our agenda. Never imagined discovering the suburban bliss and gentrified downtown of Tulsa. Couldn’t have known the remote beauty of Beaver Lake and a log cabin complete with true southern hospitality and a lot of massive spiders to welcome us! And it was through cruising we met the friends who welcomed us to these places.
Bath House in Hot Springs, Arkansas

Our friend Dale's lake house, Beaver Lake Arkansas

And then there was Texas. Americans joke that Texas is a country in itself. It definitely has a personality. In Texas the endless fields are dotted with head bobbing machines that suck oil up from the deep endlessly. In Texas we tasted other-worldly brisket. In Texas you can also get a 72 ounce steak. Free if you can eat it all. It is advertised everywhere. It’s all about BIG in Texas. And there are rodeos. 

We found ourselves a real, genuine rodeo. And now I can say I know all about mutton bustin’! In most states it would be considered child abuse but in Texas it’s a lively sport. Toddlers and little’uns hang on for dear life to a fluffy sheep who is let out of the pen and dashes at full speed across the muddy arena. The fans go wild in the stands, music blares from the speakers and the MC urges them on. Meanwhile down in the arena, a tiny child has slipped down under the animal with the speed and agitation and has fallen hard onto the dirt and most likely been stepped on by the panicky animal. Mothers and fathers run out and scoop up the bawling kid while the fans cheer. Texas. 

New Mexico was enchanting. All terra cotta homes and Native jewelry and art galleries, and small towns and Pueblos up in the mountains that are a catch all for hippies and cowboys and Mexicans. And more cruising friends welcomed us into their beautiful home. I fell in love with their green hatch chili peppers.

There was Durango in Colorado, which led to Silverton – a place lost in time. A cowboy town nestled between two mountains where you can imagine the stand-off in the street just like in the old Westerns. Where the old steam train pulls in twice a day, chugging black smoke and hooting to announce it’s arrival.

And the knuckle biting mountain edge, no railings drive up into the mountain town of Ouray, the Switzerland of America. Places you didn’t know existed but now will never forget.

And then there are the places that you planned for, imagined in advance and held the highest expectations for. The four corners where New Mexico meets Arizona, meets Utah, meets Colorado. The actual Four Corners Monument is a Native run gathering of ramshackle curio stands and abandoned food trucks surrounding a stone plaque. The $5 entry fee covers the salary and bus fare for the grumpy lady who has come from a reservation far from here. A bit of a let down really.

However, all around is beauty. Places where atheists believe that gods have been here. Where a natural world unfolds like a fantasyland of rock in epic proportions. Shapes, caverns, colours. It is all one could imagine and so much more. And the hikes down into the depths of the caverns are humbling. Mesa Verde, Bryce Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, Zion, Valley of Fire. Wow.

From the swamplands of Florida, we found ourselves in forests and then deserts. Such diversity!

But there was also routine. Technically, a road trip that lasts longer than a month is a lifestyle. It begins to take on it’s habitual schedules and rituals. Even if it involves driving somewhere further, somewhere new nearly every day.

Daily, after a three hour drive or so, armed with carts and a humble shopping list, we found ourselves in a Walmart in Sulphur Oklahoma or Tucumcari New Mexico or New Iberia Louisiana, we would buy a bag of charcoal, a bag of ice, some meat, some salad, some sweet potatoes, some six dollar wine. And then we’d set off in our travelling beds, to find a campsite for the night.

Campsites in southern Texas where mosquitoes descended in thick black clouds of doom and banished us to our vans for the evening. Swatting, swearing…

Campsites in the mountains of New Mexico where elk in heat screamed in the distance and frost collected on our wine glasses.

Campsites in remote reservations where we refused to pay $15 for a bundle of firewood, found ourselves completely alone with nature, and ran around gathering in the wilderness instead.

So many campsites. 

A couple Airbnbs, a few nasty motels. One so nasty it belongs on an episode of crime scene investigation instead of my blog post.

And in between, Route 66! Graceland! Las Vegas strip. Hoover Dam. A corner in Winslow Arizona. New Orleans! We even visited Chip and Joanne’s Magnolia in Waco Texas on my Mom’s leg of the trip. We got around.

We covered some miles. 6100 to be exact.  Not all miles are the same though. And they definitely can’t be measured in number.

We can only measure by Biscuits and mutton busters, Hello Kitty glasses at the Mexican border in El Paso, the Tabasco Factory, beignets at Café du Monde, random grazing bison on the side of the road, and priceless moments with Mom. 

Unfortunately I had to share these beignets
Good times with Mom!!!
And then there are friends. It ties us back to the magical world of cruising and I marvel at how far and wide the ties take us. 
We had three massive cruiser reunions as our trip finale. St Pete, Punta Gorda, Fort Pierce. Taken in by friends, we shared sailing memories, shared our trip stories and confirmed for ourselves how special this life we live, truly is.