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Why five-year olds are smarter than I

Do you remember when we used to telephone a friend or a business colleague?

That’s if you had a phone. We were fortunate to have one – they were hard to obtain just after the World War II. But, as my Dad was involved with a number of activities such as being secretary of the chess league, secretary of the Lay Readers’ Association, substitute organist at our church, Image result for telephones of the fortiesbesides being a school teacher, he was able to get one. None of my friends’ parents had phones. Even my dear Beryl’s parents, whose father was a principal in a school, had no phone. This was 1946 and just after World War II in England. Beryl tells me that her parents did not get a phone until after she had gone to university. Wow! Doesn’t that seem unreal? My grandkids just cannot understand a world in which there were no telephones.

What it meant in reality for me was that if I wanted to go out and play with one of my friends, I had two options: get on my bike and go to see if he was home; or, stay at home and wait to see if he was going to come and visit me. So, we used to pre-plan and arrange when we were going to play, where we were going to play, at his house or mine, or whether we would get a group of us together to play soccer or cricket, depending on the season. Later, when we were teens, during summer, at almost any time, we could go to the church tennis courts and find someone to play.

And we used to write letters longhand, or cursive, as it is called today. Something which schools are now abandoning. I had a toy typewriterImage result for toy typewriters of the forties which had a rotating centrepiece, made of lead on which the letters of the alphabet were set; lower case on the upper row and upper case on the lower row. You rotated the wheel to the desired letter, then struck a key (note the two keys, one on each side of the wheel) which launched the wheel forward to strike the carbon ribbon. The letter was then imprinted on a sheet of paper you had inserted on a roller. The keys shown in the picture were fake and merely made it look like a typewriter. I got pretty speedy at whipping the wheel around to the correct place and wrote letters to aunts, grandparents – and my parents.

I first was introduced to the beginnings of modern communication technology in 1956 when Beryl and I immigrated to Moose Jaw, Canada. My first job immediately on arriving, found for me by a friend, was as newscaster from 6pm until midnight on “CHAB Moose Jaw, 800 on your dial.” In those days, as newscaster, you were also the news editor and I would have to review the teletype (TTY) or Telex machines

Early Telex Machine

to see what news Associate Press, Reuters or Canadian Press had sent out and, if any of significance, cut it out of the paper  roll and clip it together with other snippets, (the origins of cut and paste), which I would then go to the microphone every half hour and read. It was also my job to insert local news on the AP or CP machines, each having its own network requiring a different TTY.

It was not until several years later, after Beryl and I had moved to Winnipeg,  that I found myself writing editorial satirical verse for the Winnipeg Free Press, that I bought a typewriter for myself. I believe it cost twelve dollars.

After moving to Montreal in 1974, we bought one of the original Atari gaming computers. It had PacMan and other games, including one simulating star wars-type planes battling each other.  Our children loved it. I loved it.

In 1978, I parted ways from my employer: Beryl and I incorporated Melanber Inc. as an independent Risk Management consulting firm and we very soon realised we

Typeball

needed a good typewriter. So we bought a Royal. It really wasn’t so different from my toy typewriter: instead of a rotating wheel, it had a rotating and pivoting typeball. However, there were a number of different balls, quickly and easily exchangeable, allowing you to use different fonts within the same document. Another innovation, pioneered by the IBM Selectric, I believe, was that the paper stayed still and the ball moved across the paper. And, of course, the machine was powered by electricity, so it was really pretty fast at typing.

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Xerox 820-II with a printer in background

Two years later saw us spending an enormous sum, close to ten thousand dollars for a newly introduced Xerox 820-II computer and daisy wheel printer.  From the picture alongside, note that  beneath the monitor is a box with two slots: one for the Operating System, which was a brilliant one, far better than Windows, called CPM (Control Program/Monitors and later “Control Program for Microcomputers”), and the other slot for Wordstar, a word processing program, or Supercalc. a forerunner of programs like Excel. Many a night, Beryl stayed up printing a 50-page report. When I may have typed a word in, say, italics, a code would stop the printer, the daisy wheel would have to be changed and then changed back again after printing the one word to the original font.

In those days, we knew a lot about computers and programs. Things began to change.

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The shoe phone

The world started to change: computers became faster and able to manage data much more efficiently. And then came the mobile phone. While the TV series, Get Smart, popularised the shoe phone, the Germans produced mobile phones for the use of its rail and mail service and offered first class passengers mobile phone service in the mid-1920s. During WWII, the military used mobile phones and some American cars were installed with mobile phones in the 1940s, but these were bulky and the network could hold only three or so conversations simultaneously.

Motorola produced the first popular and more user-friendly mobile phone in 1973, but it weighed 1.1kg and was 23cms long. Hardly a truly mobile phone. But look where phones have come since then.

Today, the smartphone is a mini-computer and, while I have been able to master some of the apps which are on my phone, I have to call one of our grandchildren to find out how to work Twitter and how to use hashtags. I had no clue. Just watch how a 5-year old manages a small handheld video game. There is no way I can use one. I have absolutely no idea of how video games work. Mind you, I really have no interest in them since my Atari became dinosauric in technology criteria. It’s still in our basement, so maybe I should go and bring it up and see if I have progressed or regressed. I think I know which it would be!

And that 5-year old will still be smarter than I.

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Best of Times with Friends

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

“Life can be enjoyed at many times in many ways, but, to me, the best time in which to enjoy life is dining with friends.” – Me

My Beloved and I just held a lovely dinner party. We love to entertain, but there is also joy in the preparation: the planning of a dinner party; whom to invite; which days can all come; who doesn’t like or cannot eat what; choosing what nibblies for their arrival; what courses to offer; what wines to offer; what party favours to give them as they leave;  and yes, even joy in cleaning up afterwards with My Beloved.

The mixture of guests has to be planned with knowledge of each one’s personality. Consider the style of humour of each. One given to racy jokes cannot be mixed with another who is more conservative. If one is garrulous, will others be able to opine? Maybe one who becomes more and more verbose as more and more wine is consumed should not be invited. We didn’t have to disinvite anyone!

So, after changing the date and bringing it forward, all our chosen guests managed to be free on the same, but different Saturday from the one first chosen. How fortunate was that! We chose three couples, so we were eight in all, but My Beloved and I were the only ones who knew them all. No couple knew any of the other guests, yet it worked out as we had planned and hoped so very well. Everyone contributed to the evening’s conversations, which, while some of it may not have been sparkling, none  was jejune, yet nor was it esoteric and, to add to the entertainment value, there was much mirth.

My Beloved and I worked together on the menu, but she, and she alone rules her kitchen at such times, prepared the entire meal from nibblies to dessert; my sole contributions being mashing the potatoes and coming up with and preparing the party favours. Oh, and making of the wine. I suppose that counts a little toward the success. Although, with today’s safety consciousness, people do not drink as they used to when we were wild sixty years ago. I could make a really entertaining From time to time... on that subject.

One other small contribution I claim was to ensure that a roaring fire was going in the fireplace by the time the first couple arrived. If I say that one good lady hogged it warming her back to it for some minutes on arrival, despite the fact that the temperature was well above freezing, I say it only because I recognise a fellow hogger. I love to stand in front of a fire with my back to it – in fact, frequently, after getting up of a morning, I stand with my back to our en suite French windows letting the sun play warmth on me before getting into the shower. No, you don’t want even to imagine such a scene.

img_20161112_1809338Nibblies comprised an assortment of nuts, barbecued and others, a cheese ball and crackers, and peppery pâté on cucumber slices. Some drank white, some red wine, one chose a beer, and one chose not to drink any alcohol, just iced water from our well.. There was some ‘getting-to-know-you’ conversation and some surprise chuckles before we were called to the dinner table.

No nonsense about where to sit around our dinner table: you sit where you find your nameplate, having been carefully chosen by your host and hostess. And, hey! they all got along with no food fights. No throwing of the soup or the bowls. But what was the soup? Butternut squash and apple soup. Mmmm! Rather tasty.

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They’re not smiling as they wanted to get back to their main course – or was it their discourse?

The main course followed, consisting of pork tenderloin with pear and cranberry sauce, carrots, peas and mashed potatoes. I must admit that in enjoying the food and conversation so much, I almost let the fire go out. Ah, but the Boy Scout in me returned in time to save the fire.

Nobody seemed to complain about the dessert, a luscious dark chocolate mousse. Oh, I have a sister-in-law who cannot stand chocolate, but she is the only person in the whole world I know who does not like chocolate. Her loss!

Coffees and teas and more water all round before one couple had to leave. Usually, that is the sign for others to leave, but not that evening. We sat around discussing the planet’s problems, from ecological to political to social. I cannot be sure we solved any of them, but we had a good time and laughs trying to do so.

Eventually, all good things must come to an end and, after giving the departing guests their individual favours of spicy hermit bars in neat little party bags, My Beloved and I cleared the table, save for some cups which would not fit into the dishwasher, and packed the mashed potatoes and tenderloin left overs away, set the dishwasher going and sat down with a glass of wine each. And, I let the fire dwindle to a nice glow.

Our friends are all so nice; we love them all. They are such gracious and loving people. As I said at the beginning of this essay, the best way to enjoy life is dining with friends. We thank God for them.

Then, feeling very satisfied, we went to bed the next day – yes, after midnight.

I can tell you, I did not get up a few hours later and stand with my back to the sun, as it was a foggy morning, so you don’t have to imagine anything unappealing.

 

 

 

 

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Remembrance Day – Why I am proud to be Canadian

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The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month is reserved in 52 nations of the Commonwealth, mostly territories of the former British Empire, as Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.

And here in Canada, all Government offices, most businesses, all the large stores, virtually all enterprises except some restaurants and pharmacies are closed today. This is what makes me so proud to be Canadian, that much of the country shuts down to honour the Canadians who died in, and the veterans of, the Great War 1914-1918, Second World War 1939-1945, Korean War 1950-1953, Persian Gulf War 1990-1991, Afghanistan War 2001-2014 and the many UN Peacekeeping missions. And honour them we do.

Thousands turn out for services at the local cenotaph or legion and, in Ottawa, tens of thousands attended the National War Memorial service where dignitaries laid wreaths, followed by other organisations and, of course, the Silver Cross Mother. The Silver Cross Mother is chosen by the Canadian Legion from the ranks of grieving women who lost a child serving in the Canadian Forces.  This year she is Colleen Fitzpatrick of Prince George, BC. Her son was wounded badly in Afghanistan when stepping on a roadside IED. He died back home in Edmonton, Alberta, two weeks later.

Commentators are saying this year that, as they have been watching the Ottawa ceremony over the past two decades, the interest and crowds are getting larger and younger, with many of the millennials attending. If this is so, then Canada has much of which to be proud.

Were I a cynic, I would say that all the businesses shut down just to make a long weekend: that is false, however, for in other years when Remembrance Day does not fall on a Friday or Monday, the same stepping back from day-to-day business in order to revere and honour those who sacrificed themselves and the veterans who served their country is shown.

Which is why I am so proud to be a Canadian.

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I like dining……more gourmet than gourmand

I like dining in. I like dining out. I like dining.

The word I have used above is “dining”. It doesn’t say food; it doesn’t say snacking. While I like food, I am not much of a snacker and my food has to be delivered in relatively civilised and refined places. I am not one who will buy a hamburger at a food truck and eat it standing on the street. I am one who might buy a hamburger in a well-known chain of restaurants and sit down and eat it there. My preference, however, is to enter a restaurant with or without a reservation and be seated by the maitre d’ in order that I can then “dine” well.

Or, I do not have to ‘dine’ in a restaurant, as it could equally be in a home, could be ours, could be someone else’s, and dine on well-prepared food. Food that has been chosen by someone and prepared by someone for the relaxation and refreshment of others.

I like to think of myself as a gourmet rather than a gourmand. Perhaps a number of decades ago I might not have minded the moniker of gourmand, but not in recent decades. The difference is that I no longer eat when I am full, see food and continue to eat, as is the habit of a gourmand. Gourmet, epicure, gastronome, bon vivant might more appropriately be applied to me, although bon vivant sometimes includes one who enjoys parties. That’s not really me, although once I am there at a party, I seem to enjoy myself. It’s the getting there that is ofttimes a challenge.

Let me provide an example of fine dining I recently enjoyed very much.

It has been a few years since we last dined at Gio, in Halifax, so we thought it was about time that we returned there. A daughter and her 11-year old son were staying with us, My Beloved and I were all going to the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and Gio, being a short walk from the BNS Centre, was a good choice.

IMG_20150702_170201Christy, who took our phoned reservation, was at the reception desk when we arrived. She very cheerfully greeted us and proved to be a delight throughout the entire two hours of dining. She was very knowledgeable about the menu items and the wines.

After preliminary drinks of Kir Royale for our daughter, Pinot Grigio for My Beloved, a sort of Virgin Singapore Sling concocted by the barman for our grandson and a bottle of 2012 Cotes du Roussillon VillagesIMG_20150702_170219_hdr – a Grenache, Syrah, Carignan blend – by Carmel & Joseph for me, although I, of course, shared it with the ladies after they finished their preliminary drinks, we looked around. Everything impressed. The ambiance was attractive and totally different from that which we remembered several years ago. And now splendid! Bright, cheerful and well-spaced tables, although we were seated at a booth at a large window. And beautiful lights.

IMG_20150702_173412_hdrWhile we were waiting for the drinks, Christy brought us an amuse bouche, cucumber tomato gazpacho with arugula pesto in IMG_20150702_174747_hdra bowl.

As appetisers, our daughter chose the poutine with polenta fries. She found the poutine gravy and cheese tasty, but the polenta fries disappointed: nice and crisp on the outside, but as soon as they were touched by fork or mouth, they crumbled under the crust. She assigned an A for trying, but a C for result. We all sampled the fries and agreed with her summation.

IMG_20150702_174718_hdrOur grandson and My Beloved chose the seafood chowder and declared it was full of different seafood, including several mussels. And was deliciously creamy. It was definitely not a stand-up-your-spoon-in-it sort of chowder.IMG_20150702_174656_hdr

I elected to sample the catfish tostada, which was pan-fried catfish on toast with refried beans, guacamole, jalapeno crema, and a grilled lime on the side. I thought I had made the best choice, but that’s only my opinion.

15 - 16Christy was at all times attentive to our needs and brought us some focaccia bread for dipping with some olive oil and Balsamic vinegar. The bread was excellent and obviously homemade.15 - 24 (1)

Following the plates being cleared, Christy appeared with yet more complimentary items, three for the adults and one for our grandson. They comprised a very tasty little shotglass of sorbet to clear the palate and the grandson downed his as if it were a shot!

15 - 26The menu is very extensive, the Chef being innovative and adventurous, and it had taken us all a little while to decide on our mains courses. However, our daughter chose the Beef, seared tenderloin  and tempura cheek, with pancetta-stuffed roesti potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and sauce chasseur. Although it was all very tasty, she said she just couldn’t get enough of the potatoes.The tenderloin was tender, and just cooked and rare – just as requested! Our daughter prefers her Brussels sautéed: however, these were steamed.

Our grandson and I both ordered the Elk, which came having just been seared, leaving it IMG_20150702_181907_hdrtrue blue on the inside and double-wrapped on the outside with bacon. It was exquisitely tender, tasty and not at all gamy. The accompaniments were beet and Beemster (a cheese) pierogi, lemon and caraway crème fraiche, cabbage, elk sausage (small pieces in addition to the tenderloin), oyster mushrooms and sauce soubise (a sort of onion sauce based on Bechemel). Everrything made my mouth water for more.

15 - 30My Beloved chose another appetiser as her main, the Wild Boar, cornmeal crusted tenderloin, with corn relish, blue cheese egg yolk and apple walnut butter. She declared it to be very good.

Christy again appeared with some complimentary extras comprising a pineapple-orange soda soufflé for each of us. Wonderful server and wonderful service.15 - 31

IMG_20150702_185146_hdrThe grandson had to have some dessert, of course, and selected an ice cream concoction with wafers and seven or eight miniatures of the soufflé.

It was a superb dinner, made all the better an experience, as our daughter treated us to this feast fit for a Gourmet.
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It’s almost a year now, but love of her stays in my heart

How we grow attached to our cars! They are inanimate objects made up of thousands of pieces of metal and plastic or, if you are lucky, wood, too. Yet they are sexy. We caress the steering wheel, we stroke the hood, we don’t let anyone smoke in them and, yes, we even talk to them, gently, sometimes angrily. And we love them.

Thousands of pieces of metal and plastic were brought together in a Chrysler plant some time in 1997 and  the sum of all those pieces was delivered to a dealer near our home.

I fell in love with her one summer day.

There she was, in all her silvery glory in the dealer’s yard, her lovely eyes appealing to me. Yes, we knew at once that we were meant for each other. She had a sliding roof and all sorts of electronics. I weIMG_20140513_132252ll remember the salesman taking My Beloved and me out to her and pressing the key to unlock her. “Oh,” he said, “there must be something wrong with the alarm, for it should have sounded when I pressed the key.” “Not at all, ” responded My Beloved, “He’s already found out how to silence that while you were putting the papers together.” If there’s one thing I cannot stand with alarms, it is that they make rude noises when you approach or leave the car doors. I consider such noises impolite and a lady, such as she I had just purchased, should never have to utter such rude sounds.

This 1997 Chrysler LHS (then Chrysler’s top of the line auto) had no name and we could not come up with one which seemed to suit her. Until, a few days later, we drove across the continent from Nova Scotia, to pick up My Beloved’s sister and husband at Seattle airport and immediately on to Victoria, British Columbia, for our son’s wedding. We had crossed into Maine, passed through Hartford, Connecticut, the Adirondacks, by-passed Chicago, and entered Montana, all at sort of around the legal speed limits. However, Montana had no speed limits, so….

……yes, you guessed it. I had to discover what this LHS would do. So, foot pressing on the accelerator, she moved up quickly from a sedate 130kph, through the 150s, then through the 160s and 170s to 180. She was flying along, so she and we agreed on the name Fly.

But, again, as she got to 180 kliks,….

…..Oh no! The engine cut back and she slacked off to 170kph. I depressed the accelerator again. And again, like the beautiful woman she was, clockwise went the needle until, once again it registered 180kph. Oh, no! The engine cut back and I realised she had a governor preventing her from showing me the full extent of what the lovely 4.2 litre heart under her hood could do.

Despite having a governor, Fly was fast enough for us generally. She did Trojan work for us and we enjoyed the wondrous ability she had of traversing the continent seamlessly from Nova Scotia to Palm Springs, California, with a fully loaded trunk and back seat, a round trip of 17,000 kliks, including detours to visit family in Atlanta or Denver or Vacaville, six times, including one memorable trip along the real Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Fly flew other long trips to Montreal and often to the neighbouring province of Prince Edward Island and served us magnificently, whether we were travelling near to or far from home.

But, there always comes the day when, as she grew older, much like us humans, she had aches and pains, some of which cost a lot of money in the auto hospital. And there is no national health program for distraught cars, so we had to pay for the fixing. Then came the day, the very sad day when it was just not worth the money to fix Fly, who seemed to have died overnight, peacefully in her sleep. We phoned the car funeral home; the hearse came, loaded her beautiful silver body on to the back of it and…..

……we teared up as we saw her depart down the driveway, through the trees, and off to car heaven.

Our sadness is ameliorated by knowing that all her parts are donatable to other cars and will live on.

RIP Fly – 1997-2014

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What do you say in an elevator?

I had a friend, Barry, who would stand, while waiting for an elevator, as close to the door as possible without touching it. When the doors opened, the individuals would be greeted by this face staring at them and saying “Good morning, all!”

Of course, he didn’t always get a laugh or a reciprocal greeting, but he never got punched in the face.

So what do you say when riding in an elevator? Do you say , “Good morning,” or “What a great day it is,” or do you just turn around and stare at the floor numbers as you ride up or down? The point is, we should all be taught from childhood that small talk is acceptable, useful, courteous and, often, fun. Yesterday, I was in the Dollar store buying a box of Beef broth My Beloved needed for a sweet potato salad. I chose the line in which just a couple of young woman were buying a stick each of chewing gum. So, I should be out quickly. However, it developed that they were in the line-up really to buy three gold balloons and three other balloons, all of which had to have the helium injected by the cashier. Oh, my! This is going to take a while, I thought. I turned around and faced the man, a Spanish American, and said to him, “I always seem to choose the slowest line!” He responded by saying he did, too. And we started a little conversation. Then a voice from the next cash desk said, “I can take the next person.” As a result of that little friendship we had struck up, the gentleman backed up out of our line, smiled at me, and asked me to go over to the new line, holding back others behind him, before he himself followed me.

It was gracious of the man. But would it have been the same reaction had I not introduced some small talk? I think it may well have been different.

Back to the elevator, so many people are afraid to offer even the smallest bit of small talk. Or, they might feel embarrassed; or they could be in a bad mood. What is small talk? A dictionary definition misses the point, I believe, when it defines it as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.” [Emphasis added]  In my opinion, while it is useful on social occasions, it is more necessary in day to day contact with people whom we do not know or those whom we may know from work, but who are not our friends. More than one article has been written about the necessity of small talk in business, particularly in two situations: in interviews for a job; and in negotiations. The person who is able to open up with commenting on a current news event, the traffic hassle getting here, how the Leafs actually won a game, or even the traditional standby, the weather, is going to be more interesting for the interviewer or other party in a negotiation. The interviewer can get a better feel for the person inside the body sitting in front of him or her. The atmosphere will more likely become more friendly and, in the case of a negotiation, who doesn’t prefer to do business with a person you like, a friend, rather than someone other.

Small talk is not a waste of time: it establishes a good first impression and imbues a person with confidence. When you talk about movies, travel or the concert you attended last night, it shows you are a friendly person, one who is easy to talk to or converse with.

So, next time you negotiate a ten million dollar deal, make sure you look the person right in the eye (eye-contact is important) and say you murdered your grandmother last night. It is reported that President Franklin Roosevelt occasionally greeted a guest by saying that and the response was usually a polite nod of the head, until one person actually replied, “She probably had it coming to her!”

So, next time you are in an elevator, look around at all other passengers, speak up and say a big “Hello and good morning!”

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Becoming parents again at age 81

The title of my blog, From Time to Time, has really been overextended, since I see the last time I wrote one was over a year ago – way back in September 2013.

So, what’s on my mind today and why has the spirit suddenly urged me to say something – well, it , my blog, was no longer evitable.

What’s more is that we, My Beloved and I, have been away for three weeks becoming parents of little children again. Oh, dear, we had forgotten how busy a parent’s schedule can be. And after two weeks, we were….well, let’s just say, we honour all parents for what they do.

One of the three sisters, Shae, 9 years old has had a recurrence of a brain tumour and she and her mother, Tara, had to spend over a week in a hospital two hours distance from their home. Dad, Mike, was working, so we stepped in to look after the other two girls, Falin, 10, and Catlyn, 8.

We started the day by being told by their mother to wake the girls at 6.30. In the morning, of course. In the dark morning, before any sun has shown any light. Well, that meant I had to get up at 6.15 to shave and do the usual ablutions one does after trying to get your eyes open. We, My Beloved and I, are notorious for not getting up early, so this was the first challenge. I mean, why would any sane soul get out of a comfy warm bed when you can’t even see where the bathroom is?

That aside, the challenge was met. The first morning, I rose and dutifully awakened the sleeping pair, moved on into the kitchen, went to put the kettle on, only to be obstructed by the guardian of the home, Samson, the big, strong black cat. He kept so close to my legs that until I got him his portion of a can of cat food, I could not safely move. So, having got the kettle going and two tea bags in the tea pot, I then started on lunch for Falin. And asked her and Catlyn what they would like for breakfast. Catlyn chose a corn dog with maple syrup: Falin, a piece of toast with some of that special strawberry-maple preserve we had sent in a Christmas CARE package to them from Nova Scotia ere we had left those foggy shores back in November. I put the jar back in the fridge, only to see Falin go into it and move the jar. On enquiring why she was moving it, she showed me that she had put it further back and some larger jars of marmalade in front of it. “Just to hide it from others,” she said guilefully with a grin on her lovely little face.

So, while Cat was maple syrup dipping and munching on her corn dog (a hot dog wrapped in pancake on a stick) and Fal was enjoying her toast, I had spread some paper towel on the counter, put two slices of bread on it, buttered them well (Fal likes butter as much as I), slavered them in Nutrella before folding them together and wrapping the sandwich up in the paper towel and, finally, slid it into a zip-lock plastic bag. This was her lunch, along with some apple fries, apple cut into french fries shapes, if you can find them in the stores, otherwise apple or pear slices and some  cheesey things in a cayenne-hot powder, a a bottle of cold iced water. Cat gets lunch provided by the school, so no lunch had to be made for her, but Fal likes to sit with her friends and exchange foods. Still, an iced water bottle had to be filled for Cat, too.

Then, “Both of you, go and get your teeth cleaned – and, Falin, are your swimming things ready in your other backpack?” For, after school finishes at 2.30pm….well I am getting ahead of myself.

Next, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. We had over half an hour to wait before i had to drive them to school. Well, might as well get some homework done, kids. So they did. Then, at 7.50 precisely, we drove to school – just a three or four minute drive. There we got out and I talked to Miss Heather. Miss Heather is the 75 or so crossing guard. She rules the intersection with a steel whistle and a stop sign. She gives one sharp blow on the whistle and off she marches, defying all the vehicles wanting to preceed down or up the road. And woe betide you should you place a foot off the sidewalk before she blows the double whistle once she is established like the rock of Gibraltar in the middle of the road.

After a couple of days, Miss Heather and I had something going. She came up to the car window and Falin rolled it down, and told the girls Poppa, the name by which she called me, and I, she said, have a romance going. However, she told the girls, she was much too old to try to get Poppa away from their lovely Gramma. She, I am convinced, is a saint. Over her lifetime, she has looked after 58 foster children and adopted three of them, all three mentally challenged. She empathises with Shae and her family, as her husband died a few years ago of brain cancer.

So, I walked Fal and Cat across the road and into the school yard, where, after a few minutes, they all line up in their respective classes, pledge allegiance, and, some mornings, do ten minutes of physical exercises or dancing.

Then i went home, where My Beloved was preparing our breakfasts. Now, after a couple of days, My Beloved decided to get up at the same time as I did and that led to an expansion of the breakfast menu for the girls. While I was feeding Samson and making the tea, she would be frying an egg and putting it on toast for Fal, who thought this was a great idea, instead of just a piece of toast and jam. Perhaps to mother Tara’s chagrin, as that means she will have to compete with Gramma and fried eggs for Falin, once she is back to running the house.

Then My Beloved and I would go and do some shopping, she having decided what she will cook for dinner. And, of course, she was also doing laundry. And you should see how many clothes the girls dump in the laundry basket. Our five children never produced as much laundry as these two could and did.

On Mondays, a snack for Falin of half a dozen little pizza puffs or a corn dog from the yellow box with a small container of ketchup would be prepared by me or My Beloved, another bottle of iced water drawn and then I drove back to school around 2.20pm  complete with swim gear, chatted with Miss Heather, went into the school yard and waited for the girls. Then, we drove to the open air pool, the temperature being not hot, varying daily around 12C to 20C, dropped Fal off and returned home with Catlyn. She would have had lunch at school, but she probably wanted a snack, too. Then, help was given to her with her homework, which might be math or writing a few sentences on a book she would read to me. When we arrived, she was struggling with her reading, being able to sound out the syllables, but not able to string them together. However, after a lot of reading and coaching by myself, by the time we left, a couple of days ago, she was reading much better. Her mother, Tara, says there was a vast improvement. And I believe there was.

Falin had to be picked up from swimming at five, having been training for an hour and a half. She does that every week day and has achieved Junior Olympic standards in breast, fly and free style. Between Shae’s first operation, almost two years ago, and until just before this second one, she, too, was swimming well. It is her favourite sport and thing to do. Catlyn, has improved tremendously since we last saw her swimming almost a year ago and so all three will be challenging for the Olympic team in the future, we hope.

On returning with Falin from the pool, Gramma, My Beloved, had dinner ready, grace is always said by this family, whether at home or in a restaurant, and after which the kids clear up the table and settle down for more homework, with which they almost invariably need help and at least another half hour of reading with Catlyn. She did very well with a series of books my Dad bought for our children way back in the 1960s and which served our children well.

After the girls went to bed, it was time for Gramma and Grampa to relax with a glass of wine and retire themselves very shortly after.

Tuesday was different – WOW – in that Catlyn went swimming after school, as well as Falin, so snacks had to be prepared prior to picking them up. Sometimes, I would stop and watch Falin for her ninety minutes, after which Catlyn was in the pool for an hour, so we would drive home after 6 pm.

Wednesday was different again – another WOW -, as school finished early at 1.30pm, so they came home, did some homework, before I took Falin back for her lessons at 3.30pm. Catlyn would go also, but only to play in the play area with friends from the swim team.

Thursday was like Tuesday.

And Friday was like Monday.

That’s how the week went. A huge WOW on Saturday, for Grampa, Gamma and the kids did not have to get up early. Mike did go to work, however.

The first Sunday we were alone with the girls, Gramma and Grampa overslept, so we did not get to church.

However, on Tara and Shae coming back from the operation to remove the regrown tumour on a Thursday, we all went to church on the Sunday.

Gramma was still preparing the meals and some laundry, and Grampa still insisted on continuing his duties of school and swimming runs and helping out with homework as well as a big project Falin has to get in before near mid-February. She had chosen to make her project, the River Nile. So we researched its history, animals, people, culture, and geophysics, all of which was of great interest to Grampa.

As for Shae, when we arrived just over three weeks ago, she was obviously having trouble with her right side arm which had become powerless and leg, which was dragging. However, since the tumour was removed, she has been making truly remarkable strides, being able to walk without support. All due, we contend, to the syncretic beliefs and support from hundreds around the world.

And Gramma and Grampa came back to the warmth and sun of Palm Springs and slept really late until after 10 am Friday, which, because we had neither eggs nor bacon, we went to Pinocchio in the Desert for brunch.

And if you want to see what we ate there, go to http://www.tripadvisor.com/members/MelvilleP_13#CITY_TILES in a couple of days and search for it under Palm Springs.