Feeling Connected, Celebrating Life and Sharing Stories with Family and Friends

The Grand Ramadan Adventure Mister and I began on May 25 turned out to be such an incredibly epic experience, I’ve decided I need to continue the saga divided into two more blogs. As I sifted through the scrawling notes of my journal and realized I had written 55 pages about our cruise alone, I knew I had some serious paring down to do.

 

In part one I wrote about feeling certain of the depth, breadth and intensity of my love for my family, and that theme continued to the very end of our five- week journey from Vancouver Island back to Riyadh in steps across Canada and including a stop-over in Rome.

 

We flew out of Victoria airport on May 31, our destination Calgary. We were staying at my brother and sister-in-law’s home and I was looking forward to catching up. Doug and Laura had to work and Matthew had school but we still managed to make time in the evenings for deep discussions as well as some family fun, playing games and watching one of the Pirate movies. We had planned a dinner party that included my sister but her boyfriend gifted her with surprise tickets to the Faith Hill concert. We met up with a dear friend of mine from the days when I lived in Calgary and it was wonderful to hear her sounding full of positivity. Then on Saturday morning it was time to go with big bear hugs and traditional nose kisses goodbye.

 

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Calgary Peeps

 

Winnipeg was our next stop, home to Mister’s Mom and Dad. One of Mister’s brother’s lives just outside the city and another brother in Brandon made the drive with his large family to join in the fun. The highlight of our trip was a family backyard barbeque and pool party. It was a treat to witness how much the kids had grown and changed since our last visit and to catch up. My Aunt Linda and Uncle Ned hosted a family dinner too, and it was a wonderful opportunity to connect with my dad’s side of the family. We engaged in a variety of activities with Mom and Dad: pickle ball, lawn bowling, cribbage, and a scenic city walk. We exchanged stories of our lives in Saudi Arabia and our families lives in Winnipeg and of the good ole days as the long Canadian prairie summer days stretched into the night.

 

 

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Pool fun at the Family Party

 

 

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Connection with Ned, Linda & Ryan

 

 

While in Winnipeg a powerful opportunity for appreciation was gifted to me in the unlikeliest of situations. I had booked an appointment with an Aesthetician who turned out to be a native of Brazil. I couldn’t help but wonder how someone from Rio de Janeiro ended up Winnipeg. She shared with me that there is a high level of corruption, crime, materialism and pollution in her country so she and her husband researched for a safe place to live and determined that Canada was the place to go. They chose Winnipeg because they didn’t want to live in a big city, as well as for the affordable standard of living. When I asked her how she managed the cold winters, she replied it was only weather, you just had to dress for it and get involved in winter activities. It was a gratifying experience to hear such a positive perspective on my home and native land.

Our next, and final destination in Canada, was Toronto, where our youngest daughter lives, as well as our very close friend, Anne Marie. Kara greeted us with a huge welcome at the airport and after big hugs hello we climbed into a taxi and talked all the way to our Airbnb rental in the heart of the city. Over the next five days we got into deep philosophical discussions on the nature of being human and shared stories of our challenges and successes. We celebrated her 22nd birthday with her boyfriend Stu, a quiet affair of home-cooked Thai red curry followed by a spirited game of Catan.

For Anne Marie’s birthday celebration, we did it up in style, taking in a musical production and indulging in a five-course meal including wine pairing. I’ll write more about our culinary and cultural adventures in my next blog. We were fortunate to squeeze in a very brief catch-up with our good friends Lyne and Eric over lunch, feeling grateful for the effort they put forth into creating and keeping up connections.

We managed to balance out the excessive eating and drinking with a couple of work-outs at the condo’s gym, as well as a breath-taking 2- hour city walk that challenged our bodies and cleared our minds. It was beyond rewarding to bask in the positive energy of our peeps. I took pride in my daughter, who is rocking it, using a variety of skills and techniques she has learned, creating a life that makes her feel happier and taking steps toward discovering her purpose.

 

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In Toronto with Kara and Anne Marie

 

Mid-June we flew from Toronto to Rome where we were meeting up with my son, Kevin, and his girlfriend Susie. It was a spectacular setting for the four of us to get to know one another more intimately and there was a peaceful flow to our interactions. We found ourselves delving into deep discussions on many an occasion, sharing our views on topics like Brexit, Global communication, environmentalism, equality, and education, to name a few. After a day of touring around Rome we would settle into what we affectionately called the opium bed in our cozy apartment, pouring glasses of red wine and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what we had experienced. Evenings found us situated in one of the plethora of restaurants nestled in our little neighborhood, eating amazing Italian food, drinking gorgeous Italian wine, and telling more stories. We celebrated Susie’s graduation from Cambridge with toasts and sentimental expressions of gratitude. I noticed the many ways my son and I are the same, how we share common values, passions, and ideas and I felt full of bliss for the gift our deep communion over the four days of our Roman exploration.

 

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Me & Mister with Kevin and Susie at Eitch Hotel, Rome

 

Our Ramadan adventure concluded with grandeur as we boarded the Celebrity Reflection Cruise ship destined for an eleven day tour of the Western Mediterranean. After the abundant connection we shared with family and friends we were ready to immerse ourselves in reconnecting with one another. But before I share the magic of that experience, I want to share another unexpected opportunity that manifested.

I never imagined that I would be so impacted by one of the service providers on our cruise, but I was. Paulino, our stateroom attendant, was a constant beam of light and positivity every single day aboard the ship. He was always smiling, and his smile was huge, genuine, and contagious. The first day Paulino welcomed us, shaking our hands enthusiastically in greeting. He went above and beyond his duties, even attempting to repair Mister’s broken-down shaver. He spotted a butterfly on our balcony and informed us with delight that it was a sign of good luck. Paulino took attention to every detail for our comfort and kept our room meticulously clean. The day I dressed up in my red ball gown he saw us as we left our cabin and broke out in singing Lady in Red. He shared lovingly about his family back home without complaint of the hardship of being away, only gratitude for his opportunity to provide for them. On our last night we saw him and bid him farewell and told him how amazing our cruise experience had been and he said thank you but he was merely a cleaner. I assured him with frank honesty that he was so much more than that. I told him how much we appreciated his infectious, positive energy and the outstanding job he did of taking care of us. Tears formed in the corner of his eyes as he took both of our hands in his and thanked us.

 

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Elegant Chic @ Murano Restaurant on Celebrity Reflection

 

I said that my experience of the cruise ship with Mister was magical, and that was no exaggeration. I found myself time and time again feeling like Cinderella, over-joyed, over-the-top and over-the-moon. Every day we took time to express our thanks for the experience and our appreciation of one another. We fell into flow right away, engaging in deep, meaningful conversations, dreaming and imagining our lives together. We had the ability to share openly when we experienced sticky feelings and not take it personally or with judgment. We shifted gears calmly when things didn’t go according to plan. From holding hands as we walked along the decks to kissing as the sun set, we engaged in the art of intimacy, loving and accepting one another for who we are. One day as we sat contently on our balcony over-looking the beautiful blue sea Mister looked over at me and said, “Whether we are here on this ship, in Canada with family, in Rome or in Riyadh, it’s all beautiful because we are together.” I guess that pretty much sums it all up.

 

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Me & Mister in Monte Carlo

 

So yeah, I’m feeling connected, celebrating life and sharing stories with family and friends.

 

Feeling Blessed for the Gift of my Relationship with my Mister

It was bound to happen eventually. I think my last blog featuring my sentimental feelings for Lola opened the floodgates. That, and I’ve been having a hard time of it lately, and in such times, I tend to lean on my Mister, who is my rock. So, without further ado, I shall share my story of falling in love and perhaps a few words of wisdom along the way.

 

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Me & Mister

 

In the beginning, I wasn’t looking, but there he was. In fact, when I met my Mister, I was enthusiastic about exploring the world as a single person. I was open to meeting new people and sharing experiences, but I certainly had no inkling of making a pledge, far less a commitment.

 

I had left Calgary after thirty years and my marriage of twenty- two years in October of 2011. My eldest daughter was ill at the time, and she and her husband were on a healing journey abroad. They were looking for someone to sublet their home in Cowichan Bay, BC, and I was the lucky candidate. I fell in love with the healing aura of the land, home to the first nations people, a place where nature unfolds in abundance. Little did I know, I was about to fall in love again.

 

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Me & Mister in Panama

 

My daughter’s good friend, an amazing and talented social worker like herself, as well as a cupid it would be revealed, took me under her wing when I arrived. In February of 2012 she called me to say that the father of one of her past clients was in town to support his daughter, on compassionate leave from Saudi Arabia. He didn’t know anyone and since I, not having found employment, had oodles of free time, she wondered if I might show him about a bit. I was more than happy to make a new acquaintance so she gave me his contact information and we set up a lunch for the three of us to meet.

 

Our lunch was rather hurried as they had an appointment following, but I enjoyed both of their company. Mister paid the bill, his treat. It was my first experience of Mr. Generous, and being of a similar generous minded heart, I suggested we meet again so that I could return the favour. We made plans to meet at a new restaurant in Duncan, just the two of us. From the moment I arrived to the moment we left together, I felt an ease and flow, like I’d known him forever. We talked nonstop in a fluid exchange of ideas on a wide range of topics. Time seemed to lose it’s hold and before we knew it three hours had passed. Our spirits recognized the connection between us, but it took a little longer for our hearts and minds to catch up.

 

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Me & Mister in our first rental in Victoria

 

 

We met up next for a dinner which included my mother who was visiting from Calgary. The three of us experienced a fluid, joyful connection, where once again, it felt like we were all old friends. At one point my mother started rubbing her arms, asking us did we find it a bit chilly? Mister excused himself politely, went out to his car, and returned carrying a sweater that he placed gently over her shoulders. I found out later he had only purchased said sweater that afternoon. Mister earned his first and most enduring nickname, Mr. Charming Pants.

 

We decided it was time for another date, just the two of us, as both of us recognized some feelings were budding. We met at a pub in the area. During our conversation, I casually asked him if he knew what values were most important to him in life. He thought about it for a few moments, as is his way, and then he replied, “Open, honest, integrity and character.” I almost fell out of my chair. I had just spent considerable time reflecting on my values and had created an authenticity outline. The first two, and most important values I identified were open and honest! I could feel the electricity of synchronicity in the air. It was so palpable, that as he went on to explain how he felt open and honest communication was vital to building trust, I interrupted him to ask him to kiss me. Rather than be offended at my rude behaviour, he knew it was my heart impatiently opening to him and he obliged.

 

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Me & Mister in our garden in Riyadh

 

Recently I was looking over old emails and I discovered it wasn’t long before we knew we were in love. At one point, we both were suffering from horrendous colds, but still couldn’t be kept apart. Mr. Charming Pants arrived at my door with the classic chocolate and wine, along with the not so classic tissue and Tylenol. We snuggled on the couch and watched a movie, our sea-lion coughs erupting every time we laughed. My good friend Virginia noted my high praise and accolades, along with the serious amount of time we were spending together, and referred to Mister as “your Saudi Prince” and “Super Dave.”

 

When Mister had to return to Saudi Arabia for three weeks at the beginning of March we started using the love word with one another in our email communication. I still hesitated on offering a commitment, preferring somehow a pledge. I admitted my feelings rather candidly to the cashier at the grocery store, when I was rushing to pay for my purchases before closing. I apologized for my tardiness, explaining that I was too busy falling in love to get my chores done and she swooned right along with me.

 

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Me & Mister @ Noowick

 

As time went along we became deeper in love and soon knew we were destined to be a couple. Mister earned new nicknames along the way, including Mr. Taking Care of Business, Mr. Five Hands, and Mr. One-ups. I’ll leave the circumstances of those titles to imagination. I had a few nicknames of my own, but the two most popular were Ms. Bossy Pants and Ms. Sensitive Pants. We often spotted two deer together when we were driving back and forth to Victoria. When I googled deer wisdom, I discovered that if a deer crosses your path they are helping you walk the path of love with full consciousness and awareness. Deer teach us gentleness, the ability to listen, the power of gratitude and giving, and the beauty of balance. How appropriate.

 

Two mule deer bucks with velvet antlers interact

I had the pleasure of meeting Mister’s mom and dad, as well as his brother, in Vancouver that May. His mom walked over to me, took my hand in hers, and with a beaming smile proclaimed, “It is a pleasure to finally meet the sun in my son’s life!” Her loving acceptance of me seemed to seal the deal, and that July we decided to move in together, along with his daughter, in Victoria. Many people warned us it was too early and we were jeopardizing our relationship, but it only strengthened our pledge to a commitment. At the same time, I fell in love with Kara. But that is another story for another blog.

 

Christmas of 2012 Mister’s mom and dad flew in from Winnipeg to join us in Whistler for a family Christmas. As we drove from the ferry, the boys up front and us girls in the back, Julie took my left hand and sang, “If he liked it then he shoulda put a ring on it.” I couldn’t help giggling at her precocious gesture. On Christmas day as the family was gathered around our tree opening gifts, I was passed a parcel from Mister in the shape of a ring box. All eyes were on me and the tension was thick. I opened it, my heart pounding, to discover a beautiful set of silver hoop earrings. Mister never once considered I might think we were about to get engaged. Two days later, when our company had departed and we were alone together, he produced a second ring box, this time with a ring inside, and proposed. I accepted without hesitation and we were married just a few weeks later.

 

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Me & Mister on our wedding day

 

It was and is a whirlwind love affair. We have been together now for almost five years and I still feel as over-the-moon in love as those early days. My Mister is my best friend. We enjoy one another’s company more than anyone else’s. We rarely argue. Me being be and him being him naturally suits us. We don’t have a desire to change anything about each other. Some of that is the wisdom of being older. Most of it is the blessing of a union that feels heavenly blessed and Divinely orchestrated.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling blessed for the gift of my relationship with my Mister. And by the way, it turns out the name David means beloved.

Feeling Warm-hearted for my Loyal, Furry Companion, Lola

Anyone who is a dog lover will likely relate to the sentiments expressed in this blog. I apologize in advance to those readers who don’t understand how some of us dog owners can become so attached. But for everyone who has met her, there can be no doubt that there is something special about Lola.

 

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Lola

 

Lola came into my life ten years ago. She was born into a litter of six pups at Pooch Palace, a dog breeding facility just outside of Calgary, Alberta. A friend who had purchased her sweet-natured dog from the Palace had recommended them. From a humanitarian perspective, I know the better choice would have been to check out the local animal shelter but I can’t in all honesty express even a drop of regret when it comes to the circumstances that led me to adopting this lovable creature.

 

We went to the Palace with open hearts and met so many adorable puppies, we thought at first it would be a difficult decision. Then we saw Lola. She was only five weeks old, not old enough to leave her mother, and no larger than a compact box of tissue. I picked her up, attracted by her caramel brown fur and white tuft at the forehead, and she snuggled into my chest like she belonged there. I fell in love with her in that moment, her tiny puppy heart beating next to mine.

 

It was quite the procedure to bring Lola home. We had to be approved, and to do so required filling in an extensive application that outlined our commitment to owning a dog and making the time required in our schedules to train her properly. She wasn’t ready to be weaned until she was ten weeks old, so every weekend for five weeks I made the hour drive, often with one or two of the kids in tow, to go and visit with her. While we were waiting there were purchases to be made of dog food, grooming supplies, and stuffed toys. Choosing a name was another ordeal that involved a computer spreadsheet of possibilities generated by each family member and a democratic vote.

 

Finally, the day arrived and the whole family drove with excited anticipation to pick her up. It was a chilly November day in Calgary and we bundled her up in cozy blankets.

 

When we got her home we immediately took her outside in our backyard to begin the process of training her. I never anticipated how fast those short little legs could go, nor did I judge how large the opening between our fence and the culvert was. In mere minutes Lola, had escaped into the neighbour’s yard. I heroically jumped the fence, a stunt I’m sure I would have difficulty replicating, scooped her up and brought her home amid a flurry of kisses and admonishments. Immediately I found an old piece of lumber to wedge into place, blocking the escape route. It wasn’t long before Lola picked up on the procedure. It has been a perk to have a dog who not only knows to do her business outside, but prefers to make her deposits in locations outside of her own yard’s boundaries.

 

Lola developed a variety of skills over the years. At puppy school, she was extremely motivated to perform any trick that involved receiving a treat. She learned how to sit, lay down, leave it, and her most impressive, give a kiss. She has an uncanny knack of discerning the sound of a cheese package being opened. When I attempted to teach her how to use her nose to ring a bell on the wall to indicate she wanted to go outside, it was a colossal fail as she only saw it as an opportunity to gobble down the chicken strip that was the treat given for ringing it and proceeded to ring the bell all day, regardless of her need to go outside. Even after we took the bell down she would go over to the place on the wall where it had been hanging and bump the wall with her muzzle in hopes of chicken treats. Silly dog!

 

Lola accompanied our family on numerous camping trips across Canada over the years. She didn’t like to join the other dogs frolicking in the lakes or ocean tides for sticks, having an aversion to being cold and wet. But she did and does love to roll around in anything stinky, including dried up old fish corpses on the beach or bird poo littering the grass. Not one of her more endearing qualities, I admit. Despite not liking her bath, her frequent rolling tendencies require that she have one often and her good nature has her accepting her fate with a somewhat sad look of resignation.

 

Lola was my loyal companion when I suffered a deep episode of depression. She never questioned my mood swings or abandoned me when I was irrational. She loved me unconditionally, her tail wagging enthusiastically in greeting when I returned from the hospital. She would lay in bed with me when I had no energy to face the world and alternatively accompany me on my long brooding walks through the ravine.

 

When I left my ex-husband and my comfortable suburban life in Calgary, moving with what I could fit in my sporty red Mazda 3 to start over on Vancouver Island, Lola was with me. Driving through the mountains with the explosion of fall foliage all around us, the sun-roof open and Michael Buble crooning “It’s a new life,” Lola sat on my lap and took all the changes in stride. When I arrived in the Cowichan Valley, alone and on my own for the first time in thirty years, Lola was again my faithful friend, accompanying me on walks through the orchards and down to the pebbled beaches and curling up on the end of my bed at the end of each day.

 

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Me and my faithful companion

 

Not long after we moved to Longwood we met Tom and Virginia and their dog Bobbi Jo, who became dear friends of ours. They invited us over for Halloween festivities. The adults visited one another, comfortably seated on lawn furniture around a roaring fire, drinking wine or hot rum while children came and trick or treated. A local was giving me a hard time for having Lola on a leash and said maybe in the city such things were necessary, but in the valley, she ought to be let free. I should have known better, but let myself be influenced and wouldn’t you know it, shortly after being set free Lola ditched the party. I was a mess of tears and heart-racing anxiety, scouring the dark streets with a flashlight and praying she wouldn’t be found hit by a car. Luckily a member of the search team found her. She had followed a couple of trick or treaters home, upgrading to a warm and cozy house and in fact was found cuddled up on their couch with the kids, likely thinking herself a clever dog.

 

When I met my Mr., he was of the non-dog loving crowd. Being of an open and honest nature, he never tried to conceal his dislike, but I knew right away by the way he quickly went to wash his hands after she licked them enthusiastically in greeting. As mentioned above, Lola was used to sleeping with me at the end of my bed, so on the occasion of our first sleepover it was all a bit awkward. I attempted to have Lola sleep on her bed in the office, but confused, she kept coming in and whining to get up. I snuck her in on my side, feigning surprise in the morning, but soon confessed and her spot on the bed was accepted. I wondered if it was going to be a deal breaker, but the more we fell in love, the more Lola’s magic transformed him. Mr. has not only developed a fondness for her, I tease him that he is the dog whisperer as he has become so attuned. He often predicts accurately when a sniff means a roll or business and when a bark means someone is at the door or let’s play and he takes very good care of her. Air heart!

 

Therapy dogs are a new phenomenon that is having great success in a variety of settings, and Lola most surely would be a fantastic candidate. As mentioned previously, her unconditional love was a special part of my recovery. She also formed an immediate and inseparable bond with my daughter Kara, allowing her to tote her around and scoop her up for cuddles whenever it was required.

 

When I made the decision to move to Riyadh, there was no question that Lola would be accompanying me. The stack of legal documents that I needed to procure for her entry into Saudi Arabia was almost as thick as my own, and included documents from our local veterinarian certifying her health, documents from the provincial veterinarian society supporting the validity of our veterinarian and documents from a notary certifying all the documents enclosed in the application.

 

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Lola & Me

 

The day of our departure arrived. We were taking off from Toronto Pearson airport, where, for a small fee, I could store Lola in her carry-on bag under the seat in front of me. It was a nine-hour flight to Frankfurt and I was anxious that she might have an accident, so I lined her carrier with absorbent pads. Surprisingly she made it, but then at the airport in Frankfurt she refused to use the pad to relieve herself in the washroom, despite my efforts to demonstrate the procedure for her. After a five hour lay-over it was time to board our plane to Riyadh for another seven-hour flight. Miraculously, that dog held her bladder for the entire duration, including the long line-up through customs. In total, she went over 21 hours and earned her new nickname, Ms. Iron Bladder.

 

I’ll admit, neither one of us was impressed with the desert relocation at first. In May in Riyadh the temperature often reaches forty-five degrees Celsius, and neither one of us appreciated the feeling that we were being roasted in a convection oven each time we ventured outside. The first time I tried to walk her mid-day and she started lifting her paws I tossed aside my flip-flop and discovered the fry-an-egg-on-it heat of the sidewalk, then had to carry her the rest of the way home. It took some adjustment for her to transition from a dog walk that skirted along the ocean and through the rainforest of Vancouver Island to the sand and rubble of the desert. Fortunately, our compound is a virtual sanctuary and the gardeners have created beautiful patches of grass for her to roll around in, not to mention outings to the Diplomatic Quarters and into the desert camping out with her Holiday Mum.

 

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Mr., Lola and me at the Diplomatic Quarters in Riyadh

 

Most days Lola is a low maintenance, low key and mellow addition to the family. She isn’t fussed if we miss a dog walk here and there, especially during the hot months. She likes to gobble down treats as frequently as they are offered, completely oblivious to her expanding waistline. Often it is a simply a matter of moving from laying on one piece of furniture to another. Lately she’s taken to laying around on my meditation pillow while I’m writing in the office, even when her own puppy bed is sitting vacant right beside it. Oh, Guru dog, if only you could talk and share with me the secrets of the universe!

 

It would seem that dogs, like people, can adjust to their surroundings and new situations and, in fact, Lola did so with far less drama than me.

 

So yeah, I’m feeling warm-hearted and grateful for my loyal, furry companion, Lola.