Feeling Certain of the Depth, Breadth and Intensity of my Love for my Family

Ramadan began on May 25, marking the beginning of a whirlwind five week adventure for me and Mister. We caught the red eye out of Riyadh to our connecting flight at London Heathrow, then on to Victoria via Vancouver. It took over thirty hours, crossing ten time zones. Despite exhaustion, the pristine beauty of Vancouver Island invigorated my soul and the lure of connecting and sharing stories with family had me tapping into a third or fourth wind.

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My mother, two daughters, son-in-law and grandson all live on Vancouver Island. I knew it was going to be a challenge to be with each of them in authentic communication within four and a half days, but I was committed. Inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s Ted Talk, Say Your Truths, which I referenced in a previous blog, I vowed to create space for deep time or sacred awe to manifest. And it did.

We engaged in the usual traditions of preparing and sharing food together while engaging in deep discussions.

Re-connecting with my grandson was a gift to be cherished, from that first moment I peeked into his room and he shyly regarded me for all of a minute before crying out in delight, “Grandma!” and that final heart-wrenching kiss goodbye.

We established our motto, “party every day,” belting it out in an off-key version of The Black Eyed Peas, repeating the chorus frequently throughout our visit.

Our first day Mister and I took Em with us into Victoria where we picked up my mom (nana) and drove to Willows Beach. All the adults were enamoured with Em and we traipsed after him as he navigated the playground equipment with confidence. We ate ice cream and drew pictures in the sand with old driftwood sticks. We ate crispy-gooey-greasy pizza and engaged our imaginations in play. Mister pushed my Mom on the swing and me and Em on the merry-go-round. We dizzy-walked and fake crashed into the soft green grass. I felt present to expansive possibilities and the innocence of his loving young heart.

Driving back home we sang songs and told stories, Mister sharing a smash-up impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn, a character from the Looney Tunes of our youth and me giving my Southern accent version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Em revealed with the frank honesty of young children that my story was horrible because it was too scary. He loved Mister’s Foghorn vignette and kept asking him to tell it again.

The next day Mister and I took Em on a walk down by Fisherman’s Wharf in scenic Cowichan Bay. We spotted fish and looked for sea lions, holding hands and seeing the beauty and wonder of the world through Em’s eyes. We had a pirate pool party in their backyard and I relished the freedom to be childish.

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Whether he was busy being a boy, playing and chattering non-stop or snuggled up to me while I read him his bedtime stories, Em’s soft spirit spoke to me. My time with Em brought me back to my purpose, which as Mister identified, is simply to love.

I didn’t create as many opportunities to connect deeply with my Mom as I would have liked. However, it was a gift to witness her youthful, spirited energy as she interacted with Em. During one of our family dinners Mom shared a little of her Ancestry Circle. I felt honoured that she expressed her vulnerability. The day before we left she invited us to lunch at her place and while  I was in a bit of a muddle that day I gave her a big hug goodbye, managing to stay fully present, if only for a few moments.

Scarlet was at a workshop when I first arrived. When she got back early Sunday afternoon I was thrilled and ran to the door to wrap my arms around her. Tamara supported us in our desire to create one-on-one connection, looking after Em. Scarlet drove us to Mill Bay, to a part of the ocean we used to walk together when I lived nearby. We walked along the waters edge sipping our coffees and releasing all of our heaviness, baggage and updates.

When we reached a craggy boulder overlooking the ocean we spread out her yoga mat and settled into the space, holding hands and sitting in spiritual silence. Scarlet led us into deep and sacred communion. We were in deep time and the hours melted into moments where watches don’t exist and our heartbeats marked the passage of time. I felt like I was glowing, acknowledging the grace and gift from God that is my angel daughter.

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My time with Tamara was not as plentiful as I would have liked. I felt grateful for the time we shared together in Goa. We did manage to engage in a few open and honest conversations. I was able to hold and behold her.

On our last evening, after Em was all tucked into bed and the dinner dishes were tidied away, me, Scarlet and Tamara participated in a spiritual bonding ceremony, sharing our vulnerable hearts in deep connection with one another. I experienced some stickiness, but both my girls responded in their own individual ways to support me. My heart was filled with fiery hot pride of the strong women that my girls have become. At the same time, I was present to the approaching end of my visit and my heart was drenched in the tears of goodbyes.

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So yeah, I left Vancouver Island feeling a lot of things, but certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family.

Feeling Hopeful; Digging for Light in the Darkness with my Daughter in Goa, India

A few weeks ago I received a message from my daughter, asking me if I would consider coming to spend time with her in Goa, to hold and behold her. She had been living at an ashram and had decided to leave earlier than intended due to difficult experiences with her teacher. That is her story to tell. My story is about how my heart called me to be with her. I said yes.

 

 

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My daughter, Tamara Dawn

 

Stepping for the first time onto an Air India vessel was like stepping backwards in time several decades. Thin, faded retro carpet. Stained, damaged, upholstery. I took comfort in the silver lining that I was seated at the front of economy (extra leg-room) and the plane wasn’t booked to capacity (extra two empty seats beside me). My smoky-screened personal entertainment system was dysfunctional; with no power what-so-ever, but the cheery attendant happily moved me to the vacant seat directly adjacent on the opposite window.

I watched the movie Arrival, an interesting feature based in the future. It addressed the current movement of fear-based policy and politics that have humankind cocooning into their separateness, building walls around their countries, making choices from fear, misunderstanding, mistrust, and ineffective communication. The message of the movie was that for the planet to survive it is imperative that people focus their energy on building a global community.

I peered out my window as I approached the massive, sprawling city of Mumbai; a combination of the usual city spires and domestic architecture, as well as a heart-wrenching number of horrific slums, the aluminum structures propped precariously against one another in row upon row of human degradation. Tears flowed down my cheeks at the inhumanity of it all.

I’d worn my abaya throughout the flight, taking some solace of comfort in it’s protection. I felt vulnerable, a woman travelling alone in a patriarchal social milieu. But the heat and humidity were radiating in the arrivals terminal and so I removed my abaya and slid it into my carry-on. I quickly realized that in Indian culture women generally dress more conservatively than Canadian women. Clad in colourful, gauzy saris, they would never show their shoulders in public as I was, although curiously, they weren’t averse to having their tummies or mid-backs revealed. Interesting to observe, the nuances of culture.

I had six hours to wait in the Mumbai airport before boarding an even sketchier plane to Goa. As I boarded I couldn’t help but think of Airplane Disaster episodes I’d watched with Mister, where the investigations led to discoveries of faulty old parts in old planes. I pushed the negative thoughts from my mind, settled into my shabby seat, cranky with lack of sleep and intense air conditioning blasting down on me, to doze in and out until landing just over an hour later.

I collected my bag from the luggage carousel in the tiny airport and found my way outside the terminal where I spotted my beautiful daughter waiting for me, looking like a contrasting vision of vulnerability and fire. The hot wind blew a welcoming kiss across my skin and I felt alive with the hum of India as I embraced my daughter tenderly, ready to shower her with all the force of my motherly love.

It was dark, so all I could discern of Goa was the coloured twinkly lights and the smell of curry and waste and the sound of horns beeping, dogs barking, and chickens squawking as our taxi driver navigated the narrow dusty roads to Tamara’s apartment. We each carried one of my cases up the narrow winding steps, through the creaky iron gates. It was past midnight and as we’d connected on the hour and half drive, we flopped into bed, the fan purring above us.

Suddenly, it stopped. The fan died. The heat fell on us like a heavy wool blanket, suffocating and thick. Sleepily, Tamara informed me, yes, the power goes out sometimes. What to do? I thought perhaps I couldn’t breathe. I managed somehow to stay calm and keep breathing and when the fan started up briefly I lit up with joyful enthusiasm, pulling the sifted air deeply into my lungs, only to have it stop again as suddenly as it began. I fell asleep, despite myself, and awoke much later to discover the fan back on and felt the kind of gratitude only absence can induce.

Waking to a new day, I was present to my mission of loving, supporting, and being there for my daughter. We went about the task of preparing food and talked easily together, as well as with her roommate. Then we gathered our bags and left with the intention of viewing retreat options in the vicinity. Tamara had rented a scooter, and while she drove quite skillfully, I was tense with the lack of helmets and the crowded narrow roads and the hazards of wild dogs and cows appearing out of nowhere to dart dangerously across our path.

Our first stop was a quaint little set-up of white canvas casitas situated right on the beach. In hindsight, I wish I would have just trusted Tamara and said yes, but I was still unfamiliar with India, still transitioning, and I wasn’t ready to make a commitment without checking out a few more options. We decided to walk along the quiet little stretch of beach that sparkled in the sun just steps from the resort. We plunked ourselves down in the hot sand to let the sun soak it’s healing magic into our skin. Worried about my possessions, I declined joining Tamara for a dip in the salty blue-gray waters of the Indian ocean, preferring instead to sit in peaceful solitude.

 

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Tamara enjoying the Indian ocean in Goa

 

 

We talked and walked to a café and ordered mint lemonade and talked some more. We processed together some of the darkness that she experienced at the Ashram, remembering even in that space to also dig for, and acknowledge the light.  I urged her to allow herself to heal from her experience before taking on the responsibility of holding the Guru accountable. It felt like flow and it felt like love and it felt like it was good enough.

Later, we found a restaurant on a different patch of beach where the ocean lapped lazily in ebb and flow along the silky shoreline. We ordered traditional vegetarian Indian cuisine; eggplant and spinach and paneer in flavourful curries with rice and naan. We held hands, then drove back to her apartment, having somehow forgotten in our ebb and flow of connection to look for a retreat. I also forgot my commitment to be supportive and leave behind my own agenda. I allowed myself to be distracted by discomfort and put that into her space. I’m sorry.

The next morning, we hopped back onto her scooter to go investigate retreat options, as originally planned. We viewed the hotel Lalita, Goa’s apparent 5-star facility, but it was booked to capacity. We checked out a whimsical property called Dreamcatcher, but it didn’t have air conditioning. We ended up realizing the first place we’d looked at the day before, Blue Moon, was the perfect compromise and we recognized it was the sanctuary for healing we had been searching for all along.

Our healing journey expanded. Tamara knew of an establishment nearby that offered authentic Ayurvedic massage. I found myself drifting in and out of time and felt gratitude for the gift of deep pressure on my aching muscles. I hoped that Tamara’s body would receive the strength of our Indian masseuse’s talents too. Namascar.

We ate lunch together in an open-air café, drinking chai tea, which I would become slightly addicted to over the next few days. I savoured the crispy rice flour crepe stuffed with spicy mashed potatoes and a grated beet and carrot salad with peanut dressing. Then we gathered our belongings from her apartment and loaded them into a Tuk-tuk taxi to make the short journey to Blue Moon.

Situated at the edge of the forest, where the river and the ocean converge, sits a semi-circle of white canvas tent-style casitas each with a name of a planet, Neelchamp, or Blue Moon as I prefer to call it. With a bit of persistence in our negotiations with Sunil, a very friendly and accommodating member of the staff with excellent English, we booked the Venus, an air conditioned unit with a back-up fan powered by solar energy. The seven huts encircle the modest but attractive restaurant overlooking the ocean, where we consumed most of our meals over the next few days.

 

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Blue Moon, Goa

 

 

We deposited our bags inside our tent. Tamara left to spend some time meditating and practicing asanas by the beach while I indulged in a large glass of Italian red wine and a bottle of icy cold water on our porch, writing in my journal as the cool breeze from the ocean caressed me. Suddenly I felt a tiny pinprick of concern and I decided to go and look for her. I found Tamara sitting cross-legged on the beach, lightly dusted in sand; she was glowing and looked grounded in her centre. I looked in her eyes, smiled broadly, and said simply, Hello … welcome back.

 

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Me writing on our porch

 

 

 

We went for dinner at the restaurant, Earth. Sunil brought us the remainder of the bottle he had opened for me earlier; Tamara commenting leave it to you to find a good wine in India. I ordered Mariana Trench followed by bananas soaked in rum with ice-cream. The tastes and textures tantalized my tongue and I was finally at home in the vibrant, organic experience of India. In that moment, everything in my world felt exactly as it should be, or, rather, even more perfect than I could have hoped for or imagined.

We spent the next few days drenched in rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We moved in and out of easy flow and challenging stickiness as we processed emotions in the present that triggered memories from the ashes of the past. At one point, watching three crows and a crab, the mysteries of the Universe seemed so simple and my muse was inspired to write a poem; something I hadn’t done in awhile.

At my favourite time of day, the time in-between day and night when the sun and moon converge in the sky and the air embodies a surreal quality, we took our yoga mats to the place where the ocean sand is greeted by a wall of forest. We practiced yoga asanas together, Tamara leading us in a tantric series with a gentle invitation to honour our bodies and relax into each posture with intention. At times, I found myself distracted by the barking of approaching dogs or the scuttling of crabs in the sand or Indian women walking by with their children, their bangles dangling merrily. I felt playful and patient, grounded and light.

 

Tamara on the beach in Goa

Tamara Dawn; namaste

 

 

The sun set on the drama and emotion, offering new beginnings, our relationship as complicated and as simple as the Universe. I prayed, as my brief time with my daughter came to an end, that she would find a way to integrate the lessons while being gentle and loving and supportive to herself inside of her vulnerability. I prayed for the insights she gained to be manifested and multiplied by the multitudes of people faced with similar situations, where vast spiritual teaching is corrupted and misused by Gurus and other people in positions of power. I prayed for my own courage, to let my daughter find her own way, remembering my purpose is to love.

So yeah, I’m feeling hopeful; digging for light in the darkness with my daughter in Goa, India.

 

 

Feeling Reflective about the Year 2016

 

The end of the year that many are calling disastrous has arrived. True, there were natural, political and religious disasters of one kind or another. There were a lot of celebrity deaths. Life is an ebb and flow of contrasts, and Nature, left to her own devices, gravitates to balance. So, rather than focus on negativity, I feel optimistic.  What happens isn’t what matters, but how we, as a human collective, respond.

 

 

 

Looking back on my own little microcosm, there is a similar theme. I experienced many challenges this year. I blogged about my difficulties with my letting go journey. I hinted at some of my health problems. But I am proud of myself for behaving with integrity and character, for the most part. After all, it’s relatively easy to be a good person when life is proceeding smoothly and people are good to us. Suffering, on the other hand, forces us to find our inner strength.

 

 

 

I have been blessed this past week with one of those rare epiphanies when apparent random and separate events collide to create deep understanding. I achieved success on my letting go journey when I wasn’t searching for answers. In fact, I had few expectations of my brief holiday in Bahrain, other than an opportunity for adventure, relaxation and rejuvenation.

 

 

 

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me take you with me to the beginning, when Mister and I embarked on our road trip to Bahrain.

 

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As road trips go, I can’t honestly classify the drive from Riyadh to Bahrain as epic. I was excitedly anticipating what was to be my first drive through the desert and enthusiastically tucked my journal and pen in a handy spot to chronicle my observations. Heading east on a paved three lane highway, barreling along at the posted speed of 120 km/h, I asked if we had left the city of Riyadh to which Mr. Vocabulary replied, “the city limit is rather nebulous.”  We continued past miles and miles of sandy landscape, broken only by the frequent spotting of camels and sheep and oil refineries. I felt like a rebel in the rubble.

 

 

 

Mid-way, the beige sand morphed to a warm burnt orange hue with tufts of green here and there, but soon enough it was back to the endless sea of beige. The monotony of the landscape reminded me of drives across the Canadian prairies. We passed the odd car carcass, a solitary Caterpillar tractor and, strangely, an abandoned Ferris wheel. It was all rather uninspiring.

 

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Three and half hours later, we arrived at the Persian Gulf. I could smell the salty air before it came into view, and I found my heart skipping around in my ribcage with delight as my body absorbed the timeless peacefulness of the open air on the sea. I had an intuition that Bahrain was going to be an impacting experience and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

 

After forty five minutes of waiting in lines and going through tolls and customs booths, driving over the causeway, we arrived in beautiful Bahrain. One of the officials asked David if I was his only wife. He replied yes, to which the official answered, looking over at me, “She has a pretty face, one will do. Me, I have three wives. I sleep well on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” I must admit it gave me pause to chuckle and I marveled at his cheekiness.

 

 

 

We got a little lost, but soon enough we were at our hotel, Le Meridian, with smiling, friendly porters offering to unload our luggage onto trolleys and park our car. I quickly stepped out of my abaya, tossing it with gleeful abandon onto the trolley and entered the hotel lobby with my Mister. The hotel was decked out in lavish Christmas decorations and the hotel receptionist, Martha, joyfully welcomed us. A feeling of freedom enveloped me and I couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude wash over me.

 

 

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Me & Mister by one of the Christmas Trees at Le Meridian

 

 

 

 

 

We made reservations for the hotel’s famous Friday brunch the next day. The experience impacted me on many levels. From the moment we entered the restaurant I felt like Cinderella, it was pure magic. The entryway served as the monument to all things sweet, baked and delicious. Chefs had prepared a sensational assortment of culinary decadence. There was Santa on his sleigh being pulled by cookie reindeer, cakes and puddings, gingerbread houses, an iced snowman and a Christmas tree with bon-bon ornaments. It was a chocolate lovers heaven with at least twenty different varieties of truffles, not to mention a chocolate fountain. My mouth was salivating already and our dining experience had not yet begun.

 

 

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Yes, the reindeer are cookies!

 

 

 

 

 

The smiling waiter with his elf hat perched merrily on his head led us past the live entertainment and seated us at our table with aplomb, plucking my napkin up and placing it politely across my lap. We were brought still water and ordered a glass of champagne.  As I clinked flutes with my Mister I felt more gratitude and tears filled me eyes. Composing myself, I ventured amongst the vast array of food stations, hand in hand with Mr. Charming.

 

 

 

For our first course, several delicious cheeses made their way to our shared plate, including a strong and savoury blue that packed a punch, made even more delectable with the addition of a tart cranberry jam. We also waxed eloquently over the piquant and buttery French cheese, of which variety I have now forgotten. My senses of sight, smell and taste were tantalized, but something much deeper occurred for me as I felt the gift of being in connection with my husband amid the Christmas spirit all around us, surrounded by people of all cultures and religions, gathered together. In that moment, my heart-felt light and a world where peace is king and people respect one another felt possible. I wasn’t the only one with such a vision, as the following video testifies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a short rest and engaging conversation we moved on from champagne to red wine and decided to serve up our second course. We started at the carving station where the chef sliced us thick slices of roast turkey and Wagyu beef. In the line we made eye contact and smiled in greeting to a lady ahead of us who ended up visiting our table later on, a delightful woman named Sophie originally from Germany. We dished up small portions of savoury zucchini, parsnips and potatoes that were spicy and crisp on the outside while an observant server kept discreetly filling up our wine glasses.

 

 

 

Before heading for dessert, Santa Claus arrived. It was quite a hoot, as his black hair peeked out from his thin white wig and obviously fake beard all askew. No one was bothered, least of all the children, who all clamoured about him excitedly and posed with their parents for photos to mark the occasion. Everyone was festive and it touched my heart when a Muslim woman I passed by on my way to the dessert station smiled broadly at me.

 

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Our third and final course was dessert. I did over-indulge (yes, Carol, your Oink was appropriate!) tasting at least six varieties of creamy, velvety, smooth and luscious truffles. Three hours later, stuffed, (not quite like a pig) our experience was complete and we left to explore the shops in the attached City Centre mall.

 

 

 

Skipping ahead, my next impactful experience was our tour of the Al-Fateh Grand Mosque. My good friend Carol, and her husband Raimo, had invited us to join them. Neither Mister nor I had ever stepped foot in a mosque before, and we weren’t certain what to expect. I pulled my scarf discreetly over my blonde hair and lifted my long abaya as we ascended the steps to the entrance. We were ushered into a reception area and asked our nationalities and then asked to wait for our guide outside the shoe cubicle area.

 

 

 

Within minutes our guide, an Imam born in Kenya before settling in Bahrain, joined us. He was a gentle man, the kind of spiritual person for whom all of Life’s questions and answers are simple, for they are placed at the foot of God. For him, his faith was easy and pure and the path to salvation was available to everyone, including us. We merely had to make an oath that there is only one God and that Mohammed was the true and final prophet. Carol and I peppered him with questions about the role of women, about the five daily prayers, and about fasting over Ramadan. He urged us to set our minds and accept the way to a prosperous and happy life. He tried his best to convert us to Islam, but there was no judgement or condemnation expressed, only a sincere desire to provide us with an opportunity for salvation.

 

 

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Me & Carol in the mosque

 

 

 

 

 

The mosque itself was a beautiful structure, designed in an intricate geometric configuration of shapes that exuded a peaceful quality. The walls were covered in a special local stone tile that kept them cool in the hot weather. The ceilings were so high they seemed to stretch to the very heavens themselves. The door to the main prayer area for men, which we were not permitted to enter, was a tall, ornate structure, the handle at the height of my head and almost the same circumference.

 

 

 

Our guide led us up the winding staircase to the gallery viewing area and place where women can pray. We engaged in further discussion about the origins of Islam and Christianity and he shared how both religions had as their common ancestor Abraham, from Israel. Somehow the story had me feeling the unity of humanity, not the division, and I was moved.

 

 

 

We walked around the balcony ledge, carved of ornate dark wood, and peered above at the stained glass windows and elaborate chandelier of imported lamps. The call to prayer began and we took it as our time to depart. We thanked the Imam for his time, David taking his hand in his as a sign of appreciation, and I motioned to do the same before realizing with embarrassment the inappropriateness of my action. I felt flustered and perhaps even a little angry for the first time since arriving in Bahrain with the restrictions of being a woman in patriarchal Muslim society. 

 

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My journey continued when we chose to go and see the movie Passengers. I was excited by the opportunity as there are no movie theatres in Riyadh. Even the message of the movie, which was about letting go of how we expect our lives to unfold to accept what manifests, seemed so appropriate. I could almost feel God whispering me to make the most of each and every moment.

 

 

 

Last, but not least, was our romantic Christmas Eve Dinner at the Cut restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Mister and I walked into an elegantly decorated hostess station and were shown to the elevator before being led to our intimate booth. Our seats boasted spectacular views of the bay through floor to ceiling windows and the red and white lights of Bahrain’s National Day twinkled in the moonlight. A duo of talented musicians provided us with the atmosphere, the young woman’s sultry voice reminding me of Dido, the man strumming proficiently on his guitar.

 

 

 

The waiter brought us two menus, one a la carte, the other the chef’s prix fixe with wine pairings. The four-course set menu was tantalizing, but I wasn’t sure if my food allergies could be accommodated. To my delight, our smiling server returned and assured me the chef was more than happy to make whatever revisions necessary for me to enjoy his creations.

 

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Mister & Me @ Cut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The presentation did not disappoint. The first course was prosecco with smoked salmon. Crispy on the outside, buttery and flaky inside, it was melt in your mouth delicious. Pasta was served next, and the chef wowed me with a serving of gluten-free spinach fettucine in butter with fresh parmesan, paired with a luscious glass of Chateau de Neuf. The main was the feature and the filet mignon was a perfect cut, perfectly cooked and infused with complex but complementary flavours of earthy mushrooms, savoury mustard sauce and crispy onions. The pairing was a peppery shiraz blend that was our favourite wine selection of the evening. The finale was as impressive, with the chef preparing me from scratch a gluten free yule log of cake and cream that looked equally divine to David’s traditional fare. In addition, was an apple poached tart with two quenelles, one vanilla bean ice cream and one mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with a silky port that was not too sweet, pleasing even our picky palates. Yes, it was over the top and we both felt full of food and gratitude when we climbed into our taxi three hours later.

 

That night we were treated to a FaceTime conversation with our daughter and grandson. We were thrilled especially because our FaceTime has not been working since arriving back in Riyadh after Haj. It was so touching to see his cute little face, full of excitement with the magic that Santa Claus was coming to town. In the morning, we enjoyed more connection with my Mom and brother and then with our youngest daughter. I realized how far I’d come on my letting go journey, from last year when my heart was grieving our separation from family so heavily. I still missed them, but I was grateful that I had a family I loved so much to miss. I was grateful for all the Christmas celebrations I shared with them in the past. And I was present to the gift of this Christmas with my Mister in Bahrain.

 

 

 

The myriad of experiences I had in Bahrain combined to create feelings of such deep love, peace and joy. I left feeling full of hope for the future, enthusiastic to discover what new adventures were in store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling reflective about 2016 and wishing everyone a Happy New Year

 

Feeling jazzed about my trip to Panama, Summer of 2016

My last blog dealt with some deep spiritual content, so I decided to switch gears and write about something completely fun and frivolous; my recent trip to Panama, with a focus on food.

 

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view from our balcony

Flying into Panama City is quite a spectacular site. The modern city line reaches majestically into the blue sky. Built along the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, the view is reminiscent of a miniature Miami and in fact has been described as such. The architectural grandeur was pleasantly surprising and I felt excited as I peered out of my Air Canada Rouge window.

Our arrival this year corresponded with the opening ceremony of the new locks and the police cars and motorcycles were out in full force. It added some extra time to the typical 45 -minute drive from the city to our destination of Coronado Bay. Our driver talked animatedly about the opportunities in Panama while I held my husband’s hand and took in the lush green countryside and the peaceful hills, a faded blue-gray in the distance.

We’d been to Coronado Bay the year before, on our first visit to Panama, and had such a fabulous experience we decided to return. Unfortunately, the suite we had rented previously wasn’t available. The unit we were shown to this time was spacious, colourfully painted with seaside blue walls and decorated with bright paintings. It had some wear and tear and lacked an oven or dishwasher. The balcony overlooking the pool and ocean was in similar lacklustre condition but made up for it with the spectacular view.

We decided to walk the short five minutes to our favourite local restaurant, Luna Rossa, for dinner. We were greeted by the owner, a delightful woman originally from Italy. The atmosphere was cozy, the service excellent and the menu featured both Italian fare and local specialties. The wine list was limited compared to what you might find in the more cosmopolitan city, but the selection was suitable to our tastes and the prices were reasonable. The barbequed lobster I indulged in was perhaps a little bit over-done, but tasty and decadent nonetheless.  Over the course of our 7 day stay in Coronado we dined here several times. I ate tangy tomato and seafood risotto, imported from Italy melt-in-your-mouth cheeses, thin strips of medium rare beef tenderloin and a rich dark chocolate torte. But my hands-down favourite was the smooth and creamy cappuccino, the best I’ve ever had anywhere in the world.

The possibility of purchasing an investment property was on our agenda and we’d contacted a realtor before our arrival. The first day out we viewed several properties, including two condos at Playa Blanca in Founders, three units in an older building in Playa Serena and one in Coronado Bay where we were staying. There was one unit in Playa Serena that was basically turn key and listed for the incredibly low price of $215,000 USD that we felt was a contender.

A few days later our realtor showed us some stunning condos that were under construction in a brand new community called Casamar. With ocean and mountain views and everything you needed on site, including a gym and a restaurant, they were enticing. There weren’t many already built that were for sale and even the ones that were ready didn’t include air-conditioning or appliances. Listed at $290,000 USD without the aforementioned items, the cost, effort and challenge of trying to oversee construction and furnishings in a foreign country from out of country seemed too daunting a task for us to consider.

We saw a few more units and talked with a Property Manager. Hearing his stories about short-term renters trashing the place and his opinion that we should consider long-term rentals was off-putting because I wanted to be able to use the property as a vacation rental for ourselves and our family. When he went on to describe dishonest property managers who claimed the rental was vacant when actually occupied in order to pocket the money for themselves it had us feeling even more deflated and discouraged.

Before throwing in the towel on the whole property investment idea we decided to go and view a house in a gated community near Coronado that we had looked at the year before. As we walked up the cobbled pathway to the pale yellow stuccoed and white-trimmed show home we recalled instantly why we had loved it so much. The magnificence of every detail was even greater than I’d remembered and it blew everything we’d seen out of the water. The skill and craftsmanship of the builder was apparent in every detail. The show home was selling with all of the high-end furnishings, appliances and a pool in the back yard for $360,000 USD and we both felt certain we had found our space.

After the emotional reaction settled, we realized that we loved that property as a space to make our home, not as a property to rent out to strangers. We started looking honestly at all of the decisions we would have to make, including financing and lawyers, not to mention finding renters we could trust, and concluded that it just wasn’t the right time.

With that decision made we were able to focus on relaxing and rejuvenating. We managed to exercise regularly at the rooftop gym of our building, which had the extra bonus of spectacular views. We spent a few hours dreaming and sunbathing by the pool but unfortunately the weather was frequently overcast with occasional thunderstorms and we didn’t get to lounge around as often as we would have liked.

One of the most impacting experiences during our stay in Coronado was the one day we made it down to the stretch of ocean just outside the gates of our building. We were the only people in sight as we went about laying out our towels on a beige patch of sand overlooking the craggy rocks where the ocean waves were crashing. I lit a candle and sat in silent meditation, letting the ebb and flow of the waves soothe my soul as my breath united in tandem with the oceans’ rhythm. Peacefulness enveloped me, feeling in flow with the universe and full of gratitude. I smiled when I opened my eyes, marvelling at the shift in my perception, where the black volcanic sand that had appeared to me as a dirty canopy of the earth’s crust now appeared like a sheet of midnight sky, the sand sparkling like a multitude of stars. 

When our beach vacation came to an end it was off to spend five days enjoying the culture and food of the city. We rented a casita in the district of Casco Viejo from Patty, the friendly and delightful owner. It was a very small studio, decorated artfully with attention to every detail and was impeccably clean. After dropping off our luggage and taking a quick peek around we left in search of a restaurant in the area that Patty had recommended.

Nazca was just a few blocks away, nestled in amongst a row of shops and eateries. We were treated with the attention of a skillful waiter which added to the experience. We ordered a bottle of Catena Malbec and a bottle of still water. I savoured the chef’s specialty, a local grouper in champagne sauce with crisp steamed vegetables that was absolutely delicious. Feeling particularly decadent, we decided to finish by sharing a caramel pudding the waiter suggested that was crazy sweet and likely not the best choice for a diabetic but so creamy-smooth and delicious the extra insulin requirement seemed worthwhile.

 

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Nazca

 

We walked through bustling markets with artisans selling their wares and music blaring from speakers in the alley. We took selfies with cityscape, ocean views, and local attractions in the background. We walked along the immaculately clean city-designed walking pathway that stretched along the ocean, through the bustling fish market, complete with gardens, tennis courts and fountains. We even took in a live jazz show at Danilo’s Jazz Club in the American Trade Hotel.

A highlight was the day our tour guide Rudy picked us up for a day of sightseeing. We began in the oldest section of the city, Panama Viejo, constructed in the 1500’s. It was the first European colony to be established in the area until the pirate Henry Morgan came along and ransacked it. We drove through various other neighborhoods while Rudy spoke with pride and enthusiasm about the history of his native country.

The tour culminated with a trip to the Miraflores Locks. We were directed into a theatre and shown a brief movie that explained the history of the canal. We toured the museum before beating the crowds to stand along the viewing area and await the arrival of two ships making the passage down the narrow, intricately designed canal. The spectacle as the massive ships were towed and lowered while the water drained and rose again in the containers was amazing and definitely a site worth seeing.

 

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Miraflores Locks

We shared many delightful culinary experiences in Casco Viejo, but our absolute favourite was the Veggie Moon restaurant. The designer of the space created a unique dining experience by featuring individually decorated tables and settings. It was whimsical and cozy and inviting. The waiter spoke little English and we spoke little Spanish but with a few eyebrow wags and hand gestures we were able to procure a Malbec that was bold and peppery on the palate. It was luscious, swirling and sipping the deeply purple-tinged red liquid.

Then there was the food. The chef prepared for us an appetizer that featured a sushi roll of delicately mashed sweet potato combined with quinoa, rolled in nori and served over a smear of avocado mousse, sprinkled with sparkling citrus mango salsa and garnished with fresh, crisp pea shoots. Slices of aromatic freshly baked bread were being served in a miniature doll-sized steel shopping cart. For our mains, my Mr. chose the pepper crusted tuna over garlic mashed potatoes. I picked the lentil risotto with beans. Listed as gluten free, I wasn’t expecting the explosion of flavours. It was without a doubt the most incredible vegetarian dish I have ever tasted, and Mr.  agreed upon tasting that it contended for the best dish ever, including those featuring meat!

 

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Veggie Moon

Feeling jazzed – and suddenly quite hungry – remembering our fabulous trip to Panama.

Feeling Nostalgic About the Glory Days of Travel

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Drinking wine at the Frankfurt International Airport 🙂

Since moving to Saudi Arabia in May of 2015 I have had the opportunity to travel more than I ever have. Before making that first long and arduous 20+ hour journey from Canada to Saudi Arabia I had a wide-eyed, romantic and somewhat naive vision. It has since been tempered by some hard doses of reality.

I don’t want anyone to think I don’t appreciate the gift of being able to go back to Canada three times a year to connect with all of my family and friends. Especially my children and grandson. I am truly grateful. Still, there is a dark side.

Air travel isn’t like it used to be. Back in my glory days, the airlines treated you like valued customers. You weren’t crammed in like sardines. Beverages and meals were a complimentary part of the service. There was more of everything enjoyable and less of everything uncomfortable.

Let’s face it, in the anti-terrorism age, the headaches of travel begin at the airport. Going through security can be a nightmare of travel sized liquids in plastic bags, laptops, belts and jewelry removal. My husband was once chastised for not removing an old tissue from his trouser pockets. I have been repeatedly hassled for my various medications, including extra insulin and ice packs to keep it chilled. And then of course there are the random pat-downs.

To illustrate, I shall regale you with the details from my husband’s and my most recent trip.  As we stood at our gate waiting to board our flight from Florence to Rome the screen suddenly changed to show a delay from a 12:10 departure to 1:00, making our connection in Rome tight but doable. Moments later it was revised once again, due to thunderstorms in the area, to 3:00, making our departure in Rome at 4:00 impossible.

We had to switch gears and accept our fate. We walked over to the Food Court where we thrilled to discover that in Italy even food courts serve wine. Sipping wine and munching on Caprese salad while engaging in interesting conversation with one another seemed a civilized way to pass the time.

Back at our gate, there were further delays. We got chatting with a lovely couple from Virginia. Somehow the conversation turned to politics and Donald Trump. Some Trump supporters in the line behind us overheard and it all got a bit heated. But that’s a whole other long, controversial and emotionally elevated story.

Back to our travel woes. They finally boarded us. I conked out immediately. David dozed off for a few minutes and informed me later that he woke up to discover our plane still parked on the ramp with the stairs leading up to the open cabin door. We never did get an explanation, or perhaps we just slept through it.

We arrived in Rome around 5:30 and upon deplaning and entering the terminal we were greeted by the sight of a massive throng of people in the same unfortunate circumstances as us, lined up at the Alitalia transfer counter. It took five and a half hours, standing in line with impatient and occasionally hostile passengers only to be told that all flights out the next day bound for Riyadh from all transfer cities were fully booked.

We were given instructions to board a shuttle bus to the Ergife Palace Hotel, which was most definitely non-palatial. A half hour bumpy ride later we arrived. Our adventures in Rome is another story for another day, but just let me remind you that I hadn’t packed my insulin in my carry-on and my checked luggage was still at the airport. Apparently in Italy, as a non-Italian, you cannot purchase insulin at either a pharmacy or the hospital. So I had to cross my fingers and hope I had enough. We spent two days in our palace in Rome and then it was back to the airport to start over again.

We had been advised to arrive at the airport three hours earlier so we arrived with three and a half, just to be safe. Of course, the Aegean ticket counter, our new airline, wasn’t open until two hours before the flights departure. But my quick-thinking husband suggested we use the self-check-in machines. Tickets in hand, we went through security (where David’s study notes binder caused the traditional open your suitcase for a search routine). We used our handy Lounge Key App and located a lounge to wile away the time until boarding.

Upon arrival at our posted gate,D3, we found the gate had been changed to D7. We walked to D7 where the plane was then announced delayed for half an hour. Really? Another delay? Then the gate was changed again, to D2. I tried not to feel frustrated and impatient. I tried not to worry. Secretly I felt that if I had to spend a night at a hotel in Athens I might lose it.

Finally, we boarded our flight. I was disappointed to find the configuration of seating even tighter than usual. And no TV screens. I buckled into my cramped quarters and peered out the window at the pouring rain and felt despondent as I noticed we were in a long line of planes awaiting take-off. My ears were accosted by the loud, obnoxious and constant laughing and shouting of a group of overly-enthusiastic young Greeks. Eventually we started down the run-way and lifted off into a dark and ominous-looking sky.

We arrived in Athens and our plane to Riyadh was already being boarded. An Airport Ambassador corralled the group of us destined for Riyadh and guided us through the fast track at Customs, but then abandoned us at security where they still felt compelled to rummage through our luggage. Frustrated, I wondered, not for the first time, how we could possibly have procured an inappropriate item since going through security last in Rome. Grr….

We made it! We boarded our plane and despite the same cramped quarters as always I was thrilled to finally be on the last leg towards home. I was given the extra bonus of an airline meal I could actually consume, that did not consist of wheat products. Did I mention I have a wheat allergy? Well, I hadn’t eaten anything for twelve hours, since lunch, other than a few bites of chocolate. It was midnight and I was starving and exhausted, so the otherwise mediocre rice and chicken tasted heavenly.

The fasten your seat belt light came on. It was time to descend so David retrieved my Abaya from my carry-on bag and I draped it over me. We deplaned and turned the corner and beheld the spectacle of a next to non-existent line-up at customs! Hooray! I almost clicked my weary heels! It felt like a silver lining, but alas, it quickly turned to grey. All of the luggage from our plane was dispensed and the belt stopped moving and there was no luggage belonging to us.

Off we traipsed to the Baggage Claims counter where a porter led us to a different terminal where apparently our luggage awaited, having arrived ahead of us from Jeddah the day before. Mine was there, and I almost hugged it, but thought better of it seeing as how David’s was still missing in action. It’s been three days and it is still missing.

Suffice to say, the ordeal was draining. Even I, who scored 23/24 on a Test Your Optimism quiz sound like a Negative Nancy. It’s like I said, I’m feeling nostalgic about the glory days of travel.