How I Spent My — Sort Of — Summer Vacation: 2014 Version

The Short, Sharp Summary

From 1 to 15 August I was in Canada and used Watrous as a base. Then I did side-trips to meet up with various kith and kin.

It was a delightful time. While I survived Saskatchewan, the jury is out on whether it survived me.

I have now returned to working a mere 12 to 14 hours as the editor of the Khmer Times, and it seems like a holiday.

The Down in the Dumps update is attached at the end of the account, as are the happy snaps in random order.

Hope all goes well in everyone’s world.



The Long, Rambling Account With Photos

Friday 1 August

As soon as my suitcase appeared on the carousel, I tossed my luggage in a taxi and headed for my Aunt Lena’s house. As has become our tradition, we have a bit to eat, drink the single-malt Scotch she is very generously keeps in stock and talk until late.

Saturday 2 August

The following morning I hopped into Lena’s car and headed for Watrous about an hour and 10 away. At 78 my aunt doesn’t drive any more, but keeps the car for people like me to use.

As always there was vegetable soup and fresh buns waiting. I didn’t decide to write this blog until after the soup was finished, but here is a happy snap some of Mom’s buns. IMG_6271

That afternoon I went over to watch my niece, Shawna, stain her deck. IMG_6210We talked and drank beer, as one does when Saskatchewan is having a heat wave and the temperatures reaching 26 to 27. That was Saturday taken care of.



Sunday 3 August

Early Sunday morning I had a cross-cultural experience: I went out and picked raspberries with my mother. Her garden is prolific. One year there was nobody left to inflict with apples, so Mom – who doesn’t waste anything – baked 52 apple pies.








About 17:00 Shawna, nephew Curtis and his partner Trish – hung out in the niece’s back yard and admired the newly stained deck. Then some of their friends arrived. IMG_6212The 30-something invited me to go to the beach boogie with them, but I wimped out as crowds, loud music and such don’t do it for me.

Monday 4 August

It was a holiday. Canada is such a nanny-state and there has to be one long weekend each month, so Saskatchewan Day was declared. To celebrate the event I helped my mother clean her fruit and baking freezer.

That is not to be confused with the meat and vegetable freezer. There is enough food in the storage room to feed a tribe of 10 to 12 for a few years should there be a nuclear fallout.IMG_6215IMG_6216

Later Mom, Dad and I did the small town ritual of “going for coffee.” At the Peachwood we met up with John and Stella. A couple of years ago John – we graduated in the same class – became a full-time care-giver as his mother had a stroke.

Last year John asked if I would be his adopted sister as he never had one. My pleasure.

We started talking about the somewhat boring class of ’71 and John suggested we get together for lunch. Good plan. I was to check my diary and get back to him. I said Wednesday, August 13.

Tuesday 5 August

At 11:00 the annual shop-and-do-lunch with Carol started. On Broadway Ave.  I tinkled the ivories on a sidewalk piano, but I haven’t played my 30 minute repertoire of the Beethoven and the Beatles since I lived in Casablanca so it was a short performance. IMG_6228

We arrived at Cecile’s for the Gazebo Gathering – after we found everything on the shopping list – at about 18:10. Cecile reported that my mother had called, but not to be too concerned. My mother never rings unless there is a major reason so I immediately thought it might have something to do with my 91 year old father.

As it turns out John had only heard the Wednesday and the lunch for the class of ’71 lunch was set for the next day. He was concerned he would have to call the 17 of the 36 who graduated with our class to change the date. No problem as I could make it.

The Gazebo Gathering is a group of women I met in the 1970s and 80s. Cecile – since it is at her house – and I set the date. Then whoever is around shows for an evening of eating, drinking and sharing stories. The good-time-was-had by all was enhanced when Cecile mentioned that a neighbor – who moved recently– had left her the remnants of his liquor cabinet.


Cecile is a pack rat and anything that disappears into the bowels of her basement is unlikely to ever emerge. So we saved the remnants from evaporating over the next 25 years of so.

Wednesday 6 August

It is difficult to muster a crowd with a day’s notice, but John, Murray, Pat and I had a delightful time. John brought the yearbook of 1971 and we reviewed who is doing what. Next year we will arrange the date in advance to give more of the 17 a chance to plan. IMG_6241

At 15:00 I met up with the Bertrams – Bev – who was my high school English teacher – Bonnie – his second wife – and Brendan – who shares my vision and views of travel and non-profits.





Sharon – whom I’m known since we moved to Watrous in 1968 – and I met for our annual dinner and catch-up. We decided on the recently opened Waterview Restaurant – last year it was Sam’s Place – down at Manitou Beach, about five km away.  IMG_6249Sharon adopted her two grandchildren – now nine and 11 – whom we left with her mother. Earlier – over lunch – her name came up as someone we all admired. Hells bells, a day with curtain climbers would do me in.

After dinner we went to Mike’s Beach Bar across the street. Even though he lit a propane heater, even the locals were cold. Sharon rang Myles – her brother – to bring some jackets for us. It was a close encounter with frost-bite.

Thursday 7 August

Sharon and I went to the lodge – as they call the seniors institution here – to visit her father, Vince. Following the photo op I happened to see Skip sitting in his wheel-chair and asked if he would like to join us so Sharon and I wouldn’t squabble about whose turn it was to push the chair.IMG_6262

Skip doesn’t remember me – but I only lived in town from grades nine to 12 – but he knew my parents. He is difficult to understand so he would talk and I’d say, “That is interesting, tell me more” without being sure of the topic.

Later I went to see Wendy at the Affinity Credit Union – she solves all my banking problems – and we sorted things out. I’ve taken a survey and the response is that she is too competent to retire. IMG_6267

I also renewed my driver’s license so that it is now valid for five years—one less thing my mother has to worry about. The mug-shot photo makes me look even frumpier than I think I am, but I will get over it as I only have to carry it for a few weeks a year.

At 14:00 I went to Grandma Jackie’s to visit my two grand-nieces, Abby – who is four – and Josie, who is two. After an hour I was exhausted. Cute to look at, but I’m glad I forgot to have kids.


Then at 17:00 I stopped by at Bill’s Garden Bar. Every day at about 16:00 on Bill puts down his gardening tools, sits in his lawn chair and announces the bar is open. Various people come and go. Tupper – Bill’s hyper dog – runs around and those assembled talk about the weather and gardening.


At 18:00 I screeched my mother’s bike to a halt– which is how I get around town – in front of Iris’s deck. We go back to 1992 when her daughter accidentally dented the bumper on my car. Iris stopped at my pointy-little-house when I happened to be outside to introduce herself.

A slight aside. When I was taking on the world to get Hamza – an orphan from Morocco – to university in Canada, Iris took out a personal loan and brought $7K to Casablanca to lend a kid she’d never met. Once in Canada Hamza supported himself with his Internet businesses and we never had to top up any money.

This year he graduated with a four-year degree in computer sciences and was on the dean’s list. He now has an up-market job. Heather – the American woman who adopted him – Iris and I are all very proud of how well he has done.

From time to time I remind Hamza that he has to become the next Bill Gates so he can support me when I’m old and decrepit – which is happening more quickly than I would like.

Iris was also the original donor for Down in the Dumps and is sponsoring Lina for Educate a Girl, Change the World. She quips, “God works in mysterious ways. There you are – the world’s staunchest atheist – spending my money to do good works.”

Back to the summer vacation account. Iris and I got so into talking and eating that I forgot to take a photo. About 22:30 Iris said “You are really tired and drooping. And if you spill that glass of red wine on my new sofa you are in trouble. Go to bed.” Which I meekly did.

So here is a selfie of us drinking coffee on the deck the next morning.IMG_6292

Friday 8 August

It was a sort of nondescript day. My parents and I met Sylvia for coffee.


About 17:00 my sister, Shelley and her husband landed and the full-on-family weekend started. We sat around drinking wine and talking. IMG_6311About 22:00 my niece, Stephanie, blew in from Calgary, literally as she had driven through a downpour. IMG_6340






Saturday 9 August

Happy 81st birthday to our mother. Tag-teaming a trip to Canada to coincide with her birthday is a bonus as 22 of the 32 of us showed up. For her 80th last year, there were all but two.



We had a massive lunch of corn chowder soup and sandwiches – and we are all big eaters. About 17:00 people started to mossy over to my youngest brother’s place. Chris and Cathy have a massive house, a large garage that doubles as a dining room when needed and a huge back yard.

Chris got up at 04:00 to start to slow-cook a brisket; Cathy made a massive pot of baked beans; Mom showed up with a roaster of cabbage rolls; Sarah baked corn bread muffins. We ate. IMG_6351

Then the parents escaped and some of us got into the Jack Daniels. Oh dear, oh dear I did over indulge, as seems to be my habit at these family gatherings. After almost taking myself out last year — — my siblings decided I had to wear a helmet to walk the four blocks to my parent’s house.

Fortunately by this time my camera was safely tucked away in my handbag. The cameras on phones were busy snapping away at me in the football helmet – I had refused to wear the full face motorcycle one – but I didn’t ask for copies.

The next day my sister asked, “Are you crazy letting Steph play bar-tender? She pours lethal drinks.” Fortunately I drank a lot of water when I got home, so I didn’t end up with the hangover I deserved.

Sunday 10 August

People were coming, going and heading out. My sister and brother-in-law went to visit his parents for the day and I was put in charge of walking her two Maltese fluff-balls that could be rented out as mops.

Another lesson learned: I am not responsible or patient enough to be a pet-owner.

Monday 11 August

Up early for the annual visit to Neudorf to see Jeannie, whom I’ve known since I was three. She retired from teaching about five years ago and went blind within a year. Optical nerve degeneration, and the Mayo Clinic said there is nothing that will help.


Alas, Linda – who has been in chronic pain for about the same amount of time Jeannie has been blind – had to go to Regina to mind her grandson.

Jeannie and I went to Dorothy’s for lunch. She has been in a wheelchair since an accident at 16 and her passion is cooking. She set up the Eat and Shut Up Restaurant for family and friends. Our tradition is that she makes up cabbage rolls, perogies and borsht.


I will whine about the two kg I have gained later.

After over-eating Jeannie and I returned to Neudorf as Pat was coming to visit. Their family move in when ours moved out so we’ve been friends since we were 14. IMG_6379-001It was a lovely evening of gossiping about who is doing what and how things have changed in spite of staying the same.

Tuesday 12 August

It was three hours back to Watrous. The only time I drive in when I’m in Canada so I find it tiring and not nearly as much fun as riding my bike around Phnom Penh.

I pottered around for the afternoon and did really exciting things like phone about my income tax return ad change my flight from 06:00 to 15:35. Then I met up with Murray – one year ahead of me in school – for a beer about 17:00. Somehow he managed to escape my camera.

The next stop was Shawna’s as she had invited a number of 20 and 30 something people over to sit around the fire. I lasted until about 21:30 and went home to answer email.

Wednesday 13 August

Time was ticking away so a social day was required. I had lunch with Joan and Margaret at the beach and then went to see Clara.IMG_6386

At 83 Clara is slowing down and doesn’t like going out in public as she has to use her walker. Our ritual used to be that we would go to Mike’s Bar – she doesn’t drink – and talk with whoever happened to be around. This year we visited in her gazebo in her back-yard instead.

Next was a stop at The Watrous Manitou (TWM) newspaper to exchange copies with Danielle – the editor –of the local paper.



I had a haircut booked with Shawna. Our arrangement is that I bring her something from where ever I happen to be living and she cuts.

At 19:00 I drove out to the beach to have dinner with Charlene – we were in grade nine together – and her husband, Brad. Great BBQ and salads.



Thursday 14 August

Mackenna – my 13 year old niece – slept in a tent in the backyard the night before night with Max, the family dog who is one of the stupidest canines on the face of the earth. A loveable golden lab, but dumb as a stick.

I called her on her mobile as we do an annual bike ride every year. After the ride and breakfast at Grandma Jeans we checked out the three meter sunflower in the garden.


It was time to bid adieu and head for Saskatoon. Now the head of the Native Studies Department at the University of Saskatchewan, Priscilla and I go back to some time in the mid 1970s.


At the time I was working on a fly-in reserve in northern Canada – no road, no radio, no telephone and we got mail once a week – and she was also in the north.

Priscilla hadn’t been able to make the Gazebo Gathering, so we’d decided to do lunch instead.

The final social gathering was the Wagner-Women-Wrap-Up. The aunts, great-aunts and cousins on the maternal side of the family meet up at a restaurant in Saskatoon for a meal.



One thing I better understand from this trip is that I’m the excuse to get together. The eccentric red-head who parachutes in, creates chaos and then swans off. And to cram it all in I have to organize the events before I get there.

While I’ve often said I’m y mother’s daughter in that I will always work, I’ve truly figured it out. She has her garden, baking and knitting – 42 pair of mitts and two shawls for people in the lodge in wheel chairs so far this year. And I have my writing, outings & exercise and wine. Same OCD focuses; different ingredients.

Friday 15 August

Changing the time of the flight was worth it. Until I got to the airport and found out they weren’t using the 24 hour clock and I had misread the time.

It cost a fortune and about doubled the travel hours to get back, but I survived, as one does.

Update on Down in the Dumps

Thanks to Canadian donations from Bonnie, Bev, Brandon, Sharon, Neil & Emma, Jamie, Pat and Priscilla, the Down in the Dumps fund now sits at $1711. Akun.

Boh – the 27-year old third year law student who cleans for me had two small cysts in her breasts. She went to a local hospital and they said it would be $500 — money she doesn’t  have —  for the operation and then they would do the biopsy.

She was terrified that she had breast cancer. The test results were in Vietnamese and we couldn’t get it translated. So we sent her off to Khema Clinic – where The Nurse is the medical manager – where they ran all the tests. They told her they were 90 percent positive that nothing was wrong and to use cream and medications for three months and come back. The bill? $57 well spent DITDs dollars.

Another update

The Nurse, Bopaha and Celina did a clinic at the dump  on Saturday 30 August — stay tuned to the link that will be coming out from the Khmer Times on Friday. The result was sending five babies and two mothers to the Khema clinic the following day.

On Tuesday five adults were supposed to go for tests and treatment, but seven dived in, which required two tuk-tuks. The total bill for everything came at $922 — even with the discount and a fraction of what it would have cost in Canada – which leaves a balance of $789.

One of these days I am going to get a life and start doing more regular blogs.