A dinner I will always remember…

I now have thousands of digital photos. I have selected the “best” of them to post on my Flickr site or use as a screen saver but most of them remain poorly catalogued on my computer’s hard drive.

Every once in a while I get searching for one that I remember from years past and in the process end up scanning others that bring back memories.

I took this photo in 2001 in the kitchen of my ageing parents when I went for dinner one autumn evening not too long before they moved from their house into a senior’s apartment.  My mom was in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s disease and my Dad’s vision was failing badly.  They actually helped each other. Mom could read signs and labels and mail and Dad could then process information in a way that my Mom could not.  Symbiosis.after dinner drinks

Before dinner, Dad offered me a glass of wine.  He asked if I would like white or red and I responded that I would prefer red. He went over to the kitchen counter and fiddled for a few minutes with bottles and glasses, soon returning to me with an absolutely empty wine glass.  He looked at it and then said ” I guess I poured you white by mistake”.  Judging what you are pouring and into what are a challenge when you are visually handicapped.

Dad then headed out to the back yard with matches and some barbecue lighter fluid to start the barbecue. I offered to help but he discouraged me, saying he could do just fine himself. I crossed my fingers that the poof as the barbecue flamed up would not cause third degree burns.  Five minutes passed and no charred father returned so that, apparently, went OK. The meat did not fare as well.

About 20 minutes later Dad arrived back into the kitchen with three little black nuggets that were the remains of the M&M’s filet mignon he had “cooked”.  Mom, in the meantime, had burned some frozen peas and carrots onto the bottom of a saucepan on the kitchen stove and was, for the third time, reheating buns in the microwave.

The meal was … memorable.

Mom was disgusted with the quality of the meat and was convinced they should take the rest of the package back to the store for a refund.   I discouraged that, knowing that the flames shooting up from the barbecue with a visually impaired cook was more the problem.

After dinner – there would certainly be dessert and tea – Dad asked if I would like some Port. I declined but he got out a bottle and poured a glass for himself as Mom looked on. He had a bit of trouble knowing when the glass was full. Then there was the problem of picking this overflowing glass up with a hand that has a bit of tremor.  As you can see, he found a solution.

My parents both enjoyed a great sense of humour. We all ended up laughing, along with  Betty Boop and Jean Chretien who are looking back from the fridge door.

Mom has since passed away. Her Alzheimer’s disease gradually robbed her of all recollection and significant interaction. A sad decline for someone who was very social. Here is another blog page I wrote about Mom last fall. http://wp.me/p2wvIq-i7

Dad has become more handicapped with his vision but still goes strong at 93. Earlier this year he upgraded to a faster internet connection so he could join “the Facebook”.  This is proving to be a challenge, though, as he has problems seeing posts and navigating on his 25x expanded desktop screen where the mouse arrow is often nowhere to be found.

In August, he is heading to the East Coast with my daughter and two of his great-grandchildren for a beach holiday.  And likely a gin and tonic or two.  More memories in the making, no doubt.


When you are young, you think that the friendships that are so important to you then will last forever. In hate to be the bearer of bad news, The reality is that most of them don’t. People change. People move about. New partnerships, interests and friendships blossom.

You gradually lose touch. Christmas greetings stop. Phone calls become occasional. Family and work responsibilities intervene. Slowly the friendship dissolves into fond memories and promises to get together again soon.

So it is rare to have a friendship that has endured for over 55 years.

My grade 12 class in 1963. I am in the top right with the V-neck sweater.  Over the years, my head has grown into my ears.   At the far right in the first row is Lorna Harris . Lorna and I are still great friends after these 50 years, corresponding regularly by Facebook and email.  An enduring friendship. Could we ever imagine what the next 50 years would bring?

My grade 12 class in 1963. I am in the top right with the V-neck sweater. Over the years, my head has grown into my ears.
At the far right in the first row is Lorna Harris . Lorna and I are still great friends after these 50 years, corresponding regularly by Facebook and email. An enduring friendship. Could we ever imagine what the next 50 years would bring?

This week I visited my friend Lorna at her summer home in PEI. We were good friends in secondary school, university and early marriage years. Our paths separated a bit and many life events intervened for both of us. But we did keep in touch.

In the past few years we have met occasionally for dinners or lunches and lots of chat and the Internet has kept us connected more regularly.

I thought this week as I spent time with her and her husband, Greg, what a treasure our friendship must be. Apart from my father and my brother, she is the only one in my life now who would have known me consistently since I was 14. And vice versa. She is one of the few people who knows, or has experienced, some of my youthful roots. We evolved as teenagers together and now continue to enjoy each other’s company as senior citizens. This gives us a special bond.

I enjoyed the visit with her and her husband this week and know that we will both work to keep this unique friendship alive as long as we can. It is, as they say at MasterCard, priceless.



Cottaging on Prince Edward Island

This week I am enjoying a cottage experience with my friends Lorna and Greg at their new “cottage” near Eglington, Prince Edward Island overlooking Fortune Bay.

The beach stretches to the horizon, the conversation is scintillating and often a bit eccentric and we are having a relaxing time. We are imagining how to turn Ty’n-y-maes (Lorna’s name for the cottage) into Bed and Breakfast experience, a drive-through Waffle House, a Spiritual counseling centre or one other less appealing vacation destination idea that combines stool collection and ancestry determination using scrapings from your buccal mucosa and a Neilson’s chocolate wall map of the world. The latter would be more difficult to market, we feel.

We have also learned how to properly apply a snood and misidentified Sandpipers as rare Piping Plovers.

Good times.







A pilgrimage of sorts…

My mother’s maiden surname was Vardon. She would sometimes tell us that her ancestors were likely from France. The name, she said, would be pronounced Var-doohn. She would make the “n” at the end almost silent, put emphasis on the last syllable and give it a bit of nasal tone. She also would tell us that her grandfather Vardon must have been a military man – he was a Major – and that her grandmother was thought to be …. a Jewess. This last bit of information was often whispered.

None of this was true.

Robert Vardon, the first Vardon in Canada was christened in a church in London, England. Maurice Vardon, my mom’s grandfather had a middle name Major, after his mother, Mary Jane Major, who was from a family that lived in … wait for it … Majorville, Ontario, just north of Pickering. Mum’s grandmother’s name was Rose Mary Wright, not a very Jewish-sounding surname but who cares, really.

I can’t really blame Mum for these inaccuracies. Her grandparents were both dead before she was born and she never knew anyone beyond her aunts and uncles…whom she remembered by a little rhyme that went “Etta, Eva, Gertie, Flo, Harold, Gladys, Mae and Joe.” There was another verse that went “All the Vardon’s have big feet, except for Flo and she’s real neat.” I think Mum made up that last part.

How surprising it was to me, then, to do some digging into the family history and be able to track the Vardon’s back to the 1600’s.

I spent the last couple of days tracing the early footsteps of the Vardon clan on the East Coast of North America.

Robert Vardon, who was christened on March 31,1754 in the Royal Hospital Chapel, Greenwich, Kent County, England, came to North America in the mid 1770’s with the British navy. He was initially based in Halifax but ended up on the frigate, Albany, one of the three famed war ships that held off the Revolutionaries at Penoboscot in 1779. This rout of the Americans is called the greatest American Naval disaster until Pearl Harbour. Because of this defeat, Paul Revere, who led the ground forces for the Revolutionaries, faced court-Marshall, his reputation from his earlier famed “The Redcoats are coming” ride being the only thing that led to his acquittal.

What's left of Fort George at Castine, Maine

What’s left of Fort George at Castine, Maine

This week I stood on the hill at Castine, Maine on the foundation of Fort George overlooking Penobscot Bay, trying to imagine what it was like in the summer of 1779 when this famous battle took place, and what part my ancestors had in it.

Late in 1779, shortly after the Penobscot rout, Robert Vardon became the captain of the Albany. He must have been on the crew during that battle which lasted for about a month in July and August of 1779. What followed was unclear but the Albany was later sunk in the Bay as the American Revolutionaries drove United Empire Loyalists out of the region. Robert returned to England, not yet 30 years old. With him he took a 16 year old girl, Phebe Milliken, who was likely pregnant at the time. Their first child was born in 1784 in England where Robert and Phebe were also married.

Vardon Point, New Brunswick

Vardon Point, New Brunswick

They returned to New Brunswick in 1786 to a piece of property that was just north of St. Andrews, a point of land that for years was called Vardon Point. It is now at the end of the Holt Point Road at Bocabec, New Brunswick. There is not much there now and no trace of the Vardon’s who sold the land and left for Ontario in the mid 1800, after Robert and Phebe died. The point is still mostly wilderness with a few houses scattered along the bay.. The markers in a cemetery near the road from earlier than the 1850’s are so worn as to be unreadable. I suspect that one of them is for my fourth-great grandfather.

This morning I stood on the rocks at low tide at Vardon Point. It was dead silent and there was no one else around.

I thought how the rocks and tides and geological features had likely not changed that much in 200 years. But there was nothing left there of Robert Vardon or his clan.

Except today. I was there. Standing on the same rocks on the beach where he likely also enjoyed some solitude two centuries ago.


Click here for an ancestry.com version of how this land was purchased and divided by the Vardons and the Millikens in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

Downhill all the way

I started out yesterday morning in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at 2800 feet altitude and was, at times above the low-lying clouds, other times enveloped by them. By noon I was at sea level, enjoying scallops for lunch at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

The misty morning gave me some great opportunity for moody photographs.

Today I will head north along the coastline to end up at Vardon Point in New Brunswick.

A day in the White Mountains

I sit in Lincoln New Hamshire this morning having a McBreakfast. The truth is that MacDonalds seems to be the only place open at 7 am in this little town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and they have coffee, a washroom and Wifi.

I am off on a trek to the East Coast to track down dead relatives who lived from Maine to New Brunswick in the 1700’s and to visit friends who are summering in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

I wakened this morning to the sound of birds but a grey sky and steady drizzling rain. So by 7, I was packed up and looking for a dry place to have some breakfast.

Lafayette Campground near Lincoln New Hampshire

Lafayette Campground near Lincoln New Hampshire

I have brought my tent and the Red Rider with me and yesterday camped at the Lafayette Campground in the White Mountain district of New Hampshire. After several hours in the car, we both enjoyed the bike path along the river and the trails to both The Basin and The Flume Gorge –good exercise and spectacular natural settings for photo ops.



Step right up, folks. I can double the value of your money instantly.

Last year the Sasamat Foundation, based in Vancouver, Canada, offered to donate to the CanAssist African Relief Trust to help with construction of a school in Mbita, Kenya. They offered $10,000 initially and another $5000 that they would give matching donations from other donors to CanAssist for this project. We ended up with $17,500 and this year the school building was successfully completed.

This year Sasamat has offered to do the same. They will match any donations made toward either of these CanAssist water projects in July. You can help us reach this goal. Read on.

The projects that CanAssist will support with this donation (and yours) are related to rainwater catchment in two communities in Kenya and Uganda.

Water is precious – we, in Canada, sometimes are not as aware of this since our access to fresh clean water is pretty much universal and taken for granted. But in Africa, people often have to walk several kilometers to get water and when they do, this is often from a pond or stream or river – not clean at all. Diarrheal diseases from consumption of unclean water is common and one of the largest causes of infant mortality. The work usually falls to the girls and women – costing several hours of productive time a day, absenteeism from school and risk of assault and even attacks by crocodiles. It is a daily chore which has significant impact on the well-being of the community and women in the community in particular.

This year, CanAssist will support rainwater catchment and storage at the Nyandema Secondary School in Migori District of Kenya. When it rains in Africa, the rain is often torrential, so having guttering on any existing building to catch rainwater into 10,000 litre storage tanks provides access to relatively clean water for the weeks to come.

Students at the Nyanema Secondary School have to walk about 5km every day to get water... and then it is from this muddy river.  CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

Students at the Nyanema Secondary School have to walk about 5km every day to get water… and then it is from this muddy river. CanAssist will fund four rainwater catchment tanks at the school to provide a clean accessible water supply.

A second rainwater catchment and storage project will be at the Olimai Health Centre in Eastern Uganda. CanAssist has had an ongoing association with this small hospital facility and last year provided funding to complete a new maternity building for the clinic – one with a big new roof that will be excellent to catch rainwater!

Last year CanAssist funded the installation of this roof on a new maternity ward at the Olimai Clinic in Uganda. This year we would like to provide guttering and rainwater storage tanks to provide water for the clinic.

Last year CanAssist funded the installation of this roof on a new maternity ward at the Olimai Clinic in Uganda. This year we would like to provide guttering and rainwater storage tanks to provide water for the clinic.

The cost for both of these projects will total approximately $15,000 Can

Our second Canada Day Challenge to our supporters is to donate before the end of July to CanAssist to support these projects. Any donations we receive to help with this access to clean water for these two communities in July will be matched with an equal donation by Sasamat.

Will you help us to achieve this goal? Your donation will be doubled if you make it in July and specify the Olimai Health Centre or the 2013 Sasamat Double Your Money campaign with your donation.

Donations by cheque can be made to the CanAssist African Relief Trust , 562 Sycamore Street, Kingston Ontario. K7M7L8 Or by using the secure Canada Helps link found on our web site or right now using the link below.


At a loss…

I was stunned this morning when I logged onto my Facebook page and started a chat with one of my friends in Mbita, Kenya. As we talked he received news that CanAssist’s dear friend and associate, Mama Benter Odihambo, had just died at the Mbita Hospital. Kennedy lives across the street from the hospital. I was getting the news before most of her community knew.

This is indeed sad news for everyone who knew her.

Benter was a cheerful, gentle, nurturing leader in her community on Rusinga Island, Kenya. A widow with a large extended family, she was the epitomy of the strong African grandmother who is wise and caring, not only to her family but to her entire community. I will cherish the memory of the afternoon she and I spent together in February, chatting as parents, grandparents and dear friends.

She founded the Little Stars Academy – an elementary school for vulnerable children that is on the edge of Mbita town.The school has grown from a few tin buildings with about three classes to a larger school that graduated students last year who will now go on to secondary school. Their school had top marks in the region and both the top boy and girl won scholarships to continue their schooling.

Benta banner 2

Benter was a dear friend and an adopted mother to many Canadians as well. She was always cheerful and helpful to students from the McGill Canadian Studies in Africa Program, some of whom came to know her well after their studies. She worked with the CanAssist African Relief Trust to improve her school and established the prototype school garden near her home which provides nourishing food for the children and income for the school. She worked with the women of St Mark’s Church in Barriefield Ontario to help establish a program to supply sanitary pads for the older girls at the school so they would not miss school during their monthly cycles. She, along with other members of her family, even had a part in the upcoming movie “Nightrunners”, shot on Rusinga Island in February of this year.

The sadness I feel at her passing is like losing a family member. I know that many people in Rusinga, Mbita and Canada will mourn her loss. At the same time we must resolve to continue in her spirit to help people who are vulnerable.

I will append some photos and videos of Benter that will remind us of her grace.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

Mama Benter Odihambo.

In 2013, CanAssist will continue the good work started by Mama Benter by helping to renovate classrooms at the Kanyala Little Stars School.  Friends who would like to donate to this project in her memory can do so at : http://www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d95557