Thursday, March 21, 2013

Too Good Not To Share: Canadian Dance Moves

I love this!

Thanks to Meaghan Dyer, clever little duckie.

My favourite lines?

"Step one, lose the gun. Step two, buy a canoe. Step three, live multiculturely. Step four, you're ready, there is no more!"

Habitat and Surfers, Redux

Someone (can't remember who) recently asked me about surfing, and I said we had a spot in Montreal where one could surf on a standing wave. For real.

This is Micah, flaked out on his owner's lap. It has nothing to do with surfing. But he lives in Montreal, so that makes it kind of relevant. Also, I couldn't find any of my surfing shots and I needed something to fill in the white space.
I remembered a post I did on the subject, and I dug through the archives until I found it.

I wrote that post after we attended a dinner party at Habitat, a very cool place in Montreal. As we sipped our cocktails out on the deck, I noticed there were surfers on the St. Lawrence, right below us. They used a giant rubber band to "snap" themselves into the rapids from shore. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Check it out HERE.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another Walkabout in Downtown Montreal

This is the view from the fort I wrote about a few months ago. You are looking straight down, well, Fort Street towards the St. Lawrence River.
Spot the Bud.

Canadian Centre for Architecture. Eldest's boyfriend is an architect. I bought him a book in the gift shop for a Christmas present. They took away my shopping cart right after entering the building, and the girl with short black bangs and an even shorter tight black skirt watched me closely, following me up the stairs and into the chi chi foo foo shop. I realized that with my cart, coupled with my usual flair for fashion - toque, yoga pants, baggy coat and sneakers - I did, in fact, look like a bag lady up to no good. When I sang the Swedish Chef song in an attempt to remember the name of the author (Herzberg - tell me you can't hear the Swedish Chef in your head?) I sealed my fate as the most terminally unhip person ever to darken their doors. Why couldn't he have asked for a new drill or a bottle of Scotch? I would have felt at home in those stores.

Big scary front door where haughty girls with short bangs cull the herd and ambush the weak.
The other side of the Centre for Architecture. I assume it's supposed to reflect Montreal with its modern buildings cosying up to ancient ones. Pretty cool mansion. I'd live there.

I would take my afternoon tea here, brought to me by my manservant Bartholomew. He had a tough upbringing, but he has the heart of a lion and the manners of a Victorian lady. Do not call him Bart as he will take offense.
This is my bedroom. My ladies maid would turn down my sheets every night. (I may have been watching too much Downton Abbey.) Also she would brush my hair and serve me a single malt from a silver tray. My dream, my rules.
This sits opposite the Centre. I think it's symbolic. Or ironic.

This Chair is Not for Sitting. It is ART.
Spot the Doug and the Bud.

This is the view from the photo above looking towards the remains of the fort.
I just liked this house. Typical of Montreal architecture.

To answer a couple of questions in the comments:

Picture #8 is the Esplanade Ernest-Cormier, or sculpture garden, not actual ruins. It's meant to mimic the centre across the street. 

Ernest Cormier designed a number of high profile buildings in Montreal, including Cormier House, which became Pierre Trudeau's home on Pine Avenue. I think his son still lives there. It's not that far from where I live and I have walked past it many times with the Budster. Not too long ago, I watched them cut down the only tree out front. Not sure which of us was more sad, me or Buddy. 

The mansion attached to the CCA is Shaughnessy House mansion. Read about that here:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ever wonder what it's like to descend on a wreck?

Or spy an eel under the sea? An eel so big it could take your entire arm in one bite?

Or hover, motionless, 60 feet down in warm Caribbean waters and listen to whales singing?

We just got back from a 10 day dive trip to St. Lucia and boy are my lungs tired.
No, seriously, it was the most fun and the most spiritual experience we've had, well, ever. 

We saw lots of tropical fish, lobsters big enough to feed a family of six, eels, regular and spotted morays, and also the aforementioned green one. I will post a photo when I get it from our friends Stephane and Monique. They were the only ones lucky enough to get a shot! Our dive master Rose grew up in these waters and he was freaked out, admitting he'd never seen one so big. Meanwhile, we all crowded in trying to get a closer look and a photo.

Doug and Pam, just hanging out

My "buddy" Terry, on the wreck dive. That's ET behind us to the right.

The bow of the wreck

Our dive boat, heading to the Pitons. We dove at the base of the mountains.


Together 30 years this year, married for 28!

Stephane and Monique, celebrating their 15th anniversaire. Three kids. Look at her! Aren't they cute? They took classes with Cirques du Soleil for fun and learned how to use a trapeze.

Jeff and Linda, married 14 years, from Portland. They have been diving here for 7 years. Remarkable when you think Jeff is in a wheelchair. He uses finned gloves. He also teaches full time, coaches wrestling and plays murder ball (a form of wheelchair rugby, and is exactly what it sounds like.) Linda is a sweetheart, gentle and interesting, great to have along on any dive trip. We hope to dive with them again.

Brian the pilot paddled by while we were getting off the boat.There wasn't a single person in the entire resort who didn't know Brian by the end of the week. Even the guys on the beach selling their wares got pizza and drinks from Brian on a daily basis, and his wife Susan brought bandaids and refreshments. Nicest. People. Ever.

View from the lobby.

The old wreck. Sometimes Doug calls me that. Not really.
Where we had dinner on our second to last night.

Oooh, spooky. Not. It was exciting! I put this one in to creep out my sister Yutha.

The Gang. Brian took the photo and kept making wisecracks.

My bestest dive buddies, Phil and Terry from New Mexico.

Off I go, into the deep.
We got up at dawn every morning, lathered ourselves in sunscreen, wolfed down a quick breakfast and ran to catch the dive boat at 8 a.m. Sometimes the day's dive site was a 10 minute drop, but most days it took 45 minutes to an hour to get where we needed to be. This meant we could trade stories about other dives and equipment, or joke around with the crew. The people of St. Lucia are special, truly special. They are warm and open-hearted and made all of us feel like honoured guests of the family. Plus, they have this sly, witty humour that catches you off guard. They tease and it's unexpected and it never failed to make me double over laughing. There were days when my stomach muscles ached from laughing. St. Rose, my lovely instructor, said he thought it would be fun to visit Calgary. He said this as he relaxed in the sun on the bow of the boat, the temperature of the air and the water hovering at around 82F. I told him, tongue firmly in cheek, that January was the best time to visit Calgary. 

Was he prepared for air so cold his nostrils might stick together? 

"I'll wear a hat," he said. Just thinking about it makes me laugh again. I'd post a photo of him, but I forgot my camera at the beach. Luckily he found it and is going to mail it back to me.

We went to a special site, just six of us, where he promised us something special, something "magic" he said. Hyperbole? Well, we would see. And he couldn't promise, but Rose said we should prepare ourselves to be blown away. Now when someone builds an event up like this, inevitably there's a letdown, but let me tell you, this dive met and exceeded all of our expectations.

We were dropped off in the Atlantic side of the island, and told to leap off the boat and descend immediately as the current there was quite a force of nature. We dropped to the bottom quickly, and had to crawl along the sand, using our hands to scoop, in order to make headway. When we rounded the point, we were met with calmer waters. Rose signaled to us to watch and, most importantly, listen.

We realized that we were surrounded by large, spotted eagle rays. These are fairly reclusive, very hard to find and you're lucky if you ever spot one or two. We were surrounded by about two dozen, moving in a slow circle around us. As we hovered, one would occasionally break free and swim directly towards us and over us, then go back to join his buddies. As this miracle of nature unfolded before us, we were joined by a pod of humpback whales. They were just out of viewing range, as the visibility was limited, but we knew they were right there beside us. They sang to each other, in high squeals and low rumbles, so strong that we felt them in our chests. This went on for 30 minutes, and if I'd died in that moment, I would have died happy.

I'd post a photo of this blessed event, but our camera failed the day before, as did the other couple we were with. However, I think it was better to fully experience the moment, without fiddling with buttons or being one step removed behind a camera. If you want to see what an spotted eagle ray looks like, go HERE.

If you want to know what it feels like to scuba dive, check out a couple of these videos I took in the Caribbean Sea. 

"Under the sea, under the sea, darling it's better, down where it's wetter, take it from meee"

To get a taste of what we heard, this video is close.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fast Food for the Soul

When people
undermine your dreams,
predict your doom,
or criticize you,
they're telling you
their story,
not yours.
cynthia occelli

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WestJet Airlines, I love you more than my dog.

And make no mistake, WestJet, I love my dog. But I believe that when a company messes up, they should hear about it. And when a company provides outstanding service, they should hear about that, too.

My sister has always made a big deal about flying WestJet. She said once you travel WestJet, you'll never go back to any other airline.

Phhht, said I. There's no difference between airlines. You is crazy.  It's all awful these days, like being shoved on a bus.

I have flown WestJet before, here and there, and I don't remember anything exceptional. We got on the plane, we flew, we arrived, meh.

Where WestJet shone, though, was this year, when a mega snow storm hit right before our big trip from Montreal to St. Lucia via Toronto last February 28th. They say you get to know someone really well when there's a crisis? Some truth to that, we discovered.

We were due to fly out at 7 a.m. on the 28th, first to Toronto where we'd get our connecting flight to St. Lucia at 9:30 a.m. A storm hit Toronto on the 27th. Hundreds of flights were cancelled and we grew nervous. If we were delayed, or missed our flight to Toronto, we would miss our connection to St. Lucia and have to wait another three days for the next flight. And we understood that flight was fully booked, so the entire vacation would have to be forfeited. A very expensive, long awaited holiday.

Then the snow hit Montreal and my anxiety grew.

We decided to jump in a cab and get to the airport to try and get an evening flight to Toronto, increasing our chances of making the morning flight. I had an hour to pack and shower. We didn't want to book anything over the phone until we knew for sure we could get out in the storm that night, because once we changed our reservation, it meant giving up our 7 a.m. flight to Toronto the next day and we couldn't risk that.

There were three evening flights to Toronto - 6:30, 7:30 and the last one at 8:30.

We arrived at Dorval airport after a harrowing cab ride through a howling snowstorm around 6 p.m.

The 6:30 flight was fully booked.

And this is where WestJet really stepped up. The airport was packed with people. The airport in Ottawa was shut down by the storm, and hundreds of people were stuck in the airport trying to get home after spring break. But the ticket agents were relaxed, helpful, courteous, unruffled, friendly and seemed genuinely concerned about helping everyone out.


We waited in line then asked about getting on the 7:30 flight. Yes, she said, there were seats available, but would we mind if they gave those seats to folks who had been waiting hours to get home? Well, not when she put it that way. Of course we would do that, because that meant if we were ever in a similar predicament, they'd do that for us. So perfectly reasonable! We were all in this together now!

We got seats on the last flight of the night, the 8:30 p.m. flight. Our 7 a.m. seats were now forfeited, so we watched anxiously as the snowstorm continued unabated, hoping we'd make it out.

The same agent who arranged our tickets worked the gate and announced we'd be late, but the plane was on its way, and we'd probably be on our way by 9:15. Well, 9:15 came and went with no sign of the aircraft. Only more snow, now blowing sideways. Then 10 p.m. Eventually, it did show up and we were off at 10:45 but not before de-icing. Sweet relief. And we got out the next morning, no problem.

The flight crews to and from St. Lucia were a delight. They slipped in sly comments about reading along on the emergency pamphlet "we coloured in the drawings ourselves!" and on the way home, when she sensed no one was listening to the lecture about the oxygen masks, she said "pull on the masks and fifty dollars will drop into your lap.... (silence then huge laughter) just seeing if you're paying attention" and so of course, then we were.  A little bit of humour goes such a long way towards relaxing people.

We met and vacationed with a WestJet pilot in St. Lucia, there to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary. A more delightful ambassador for WestJet can't possibly exist. Brian was warm, funny, friendly, helpful and kind to every single person he met - the hotel staff, the guys selling wares on the beach, everyone. I doubt there is a single person at Sandals Le Grande St. Lucian who did not know who Brian was at the end of the week! He spoke in glowing terms of WestJet, and after our experience and listening to Brian, we understood why there is such customer loyalty.

Would that every company be run in this way. It seems so simple, yet why are there not more companies doing it?! Be respectful, put customers first, do your's not rocket science.

We were not surprised to see Brian, an off-duty pilot but also a passenger like the rest of us, get up and pitch in by donning gloves and collecting garbage from passengers on the flight home. As a former manager, I know the best employees are the ones who see that something needs to be done, and they just do it. There's no ego. You don't say or think "that's not my job" or try to fob something off onto someone else. You simply take ownership of a problem and you deal with it. Most of the passengers had no clue their empty glasses and wrappers were collected by a pilot who could have been snoozing in his seat.

Near the end, the flight crew announced one of the attendants, a young man, had only been on the job for 2 days, and we all applauded as he blushed. I noticed on the way into the airport, the two female attendants put their arms around him and told him what a good job he'd done. As a mother, that made my heart swell. This is the way you raise good kids, and that is the best way to manage people.

You don't criticize, you encourage.

At every step, from the agents to the flight crew, we were greeted with smiles and even hugs. HUGS! When I said I'd never fly another airline again if I could help it, they hugged me.

WestJet, you have my loyalty for life. And you also have my heart.


Just, wow.

PS  Before I even posted this, I got an email from WestJet apologizing for the delay to Toronto and giving both of us a 50% discount on our next flight in the corridor.

Really, WestJet?! You don't have to kiss me all over. I'm already yours!

Buddy thinking hard for an answer to a difficult question

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Small acts

Small acts, 
when multiplied 
by millions 
of people, 
can transform
 the world.