imageI didn’t realize that I was singing so loudly as I walked along the beach this morning until the people 50 metres ahead of me turned around to see what the noise was all about. I had my earphones in and was singing ” If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” I had thought that the light wind and the sound of the waves would overwhelm my voice but I guess I was wrong. I hoped that they didn’t think I was referring to them.

It reminded me of an incident that happened to me in 1987 in  Toronto. I know the date because the Skydome was just starting construction. My wife, Barb, and I had taken disco dancing lessons when we lived in Kincardine and with friends, Nick and Jackie Harvey, we had gone to Toronto to check out the discos. We went to a disco at the top of the CN Tower -flashing lights, dry ice smoke and all.

On the way out I was happily singing one of the songs that we had been dancing to. It was Donna Summer’s version of “She works hard for the money”. I was well into the chorus as we walked past a young couple kissing in the corridor on the way to the elevator down. But I guess he had heard me and thought that I was referring to his girlfriend.

When we got to the ground floor and where heading back out to get a taxi I heard someone behind me yelling “Hey f<%*head”. Not thinking he was referring to me – this is not my usual name – I continued along toward the exit. Eventually I turned around. Imagine my surprise to see that this muscular 6 foot 3  20-year-old was yelling at me. He came up to me and grabbed me by the lapels of my new gray ultrasuede jacket and lifted me partway off the ground. Nick seemed ready to take them on but I was worried about getting blood (mine) on my new jacket.

Luckily his girlfriend came to my rescue with “Oh, leave him alone. He’s just a wimp.”  I quickly ascertained that my  choice was between being called “F<%*head” or a wimp. I nodded agreement with the girlfriend and chose wimp.

I have never walk past the CN Tower or heard that song without thinking of this Toronto evening.  The ultrasuede jacket still hangs in my closet waiting to come back into style.


As sit in the airport in Syracuse waiting for the flight that will take me to Florida for New Years I realize that it is a good thing that I like airports. In fact, I LOVE airports. In addition to holiday destinations, in the past 15 years, my work has taken me to Europe and Africa and I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles in planes of all sizes. I have spent more time in airports than Edward Snowden.

imageAlthough I can not get off a ladder onto a garage roof without feeling dizzy or panicked, I am a totally relaxed flyer. Once my bags are checked and I have my boarding pass, I love to sit and watch those little golf carts push planes out onto the tarmac or stroll through duty free shops or electronics shops. I have shopped more in airports than anywhere else. This trip, I don’t even have a boarding pass. All my information is on one if those little boxes of dots on my phone.

In the last 15 years I have spent time in airports in London, Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich, Glasgow, Manchester, Shannon, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Split, Dubrovnik, Ljubljana, Venice, Barcelona, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Brussels, Nairobi, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Kisumu, Minneapolis, Boston, Atlanta, Syracuse, Sarasota, Raleigh, New York, Tampa, St Petersburg, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, Montreal, Thunder Bay, Halifax and Kingston.

Most of this travel has been by myself. But in airports you are never alone. I have slept overnight on a bench in YYZ with no one else around but the cleaners, been bitten by bedbugs in the Yotel in AMS and drunk champagne in the lounge in LHR. I can’t imagine how many times I have shown my passport, taken off my belt and shoes or how many hours I have stood in line. I have had flights delayed, cancelled and rebooked. I have ended up bumped to another flight because of a pilot strike and then found myself in the connecting airport in Munich without an onward ticket. I have waited on standby and have run through Heathrow with my bags and an Air Canada employee to get to a flight that was leaving immediately. I have stood with my nose against the glass at the departure area and watched as my flight pulled away from the gate. Last year in Barcelona I got a free night in the city and 500 euros when I gave up my seat in an overbooked flight. I have physically bumped into Pavarotti at a Duty Free shop. My baggage has been lost about half a dozen times but always shows up eventually. I have stopped trying to overcome jet lag. I just endure it. I have collected a lot of air miles. In fact, I paid for this trip to Florida with Skymiles and $10.40 in fees.

I am addicted to travel. I consider myself a global citizen. Before I get home from one trip I am already planning the next. I realize how lucky I have been to experience the world in this way and am also a little embarrassed about my carbon footprint. I rationalize that the work I did in Bosnia and continue to do in Africa is helpful to others.

My flight is being announced.  On to the huge Atlanta airport and then to warm, friendly, Sarasota.


Several thousand words …

A picture can be worth 1000 words, apparently.  This week the combination of freezing rain followed by minus 15 degree temperatures coated the trees with ice that has stayed for a few days, even in the bright sunshine.  The result was a spectacular glitter. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Ice and Berries F

Ellie Snow

Leaves and ice F

Icy Branches

Ice on fence BW F

Ice and berries2

Ice and Sun F

Merry Christmas.

We CAN be good…

I have been curiously surprised that every time I watch the rescue video of that crane operator stuck out on the boom above a raging fire in Kingston I choke up.

Maybe I am just getting soft in my old age. But there is something very gripping and touching about one human being rescuing another from probable death. It is all the more remarkable that the rescuers were helping a total stranger. (Although the fellow dangling below the helicopter seems to have gotten most of the attention! there was a virtual squadron of Emergency and rescue people involved in making this happen.)  I know it is their “job” but they seem to have done their “job” without questioning the risk to themselves. We owe these people a huge thank you for keeping us safe.

What touches me most is the reassurance that we humans can respond without question when we see one of our own in mortal danger or in need. We are constantly bombarded with news reports about mankind fighting and cheating, manipulating and hurting each other . With this incident, we are reminded that at the core we can be good. I am grateful for that reminder this week. It is an unexpected gift to be reassured that we can and will look after each other.

Anyone using the internet has seen the touching photos and videos of animals braving danger to rescue one of their own. The African Buffalo that save one of their young from lions and a crocodile are dramatic and heart-warming. For me, the heroic aerial rescue that happened right here in my home town is as spectacular.

imagesPhotos from Kingston Whig Standard, CKWS TV and YouTube.

Balls…Christmas ones.

Some stories get told over and over again at Christmas. Frosty the Snowman, Night Before Christmas,  The Wise Men and Shepherds. This is one I like to remember and particularly this year.

One of the Christmas traditions for Canadian families involves putting up the tree.

Flashback to 1957.

Our family has recently moved into a new house on Victoria Street in London, Ontario. It is time to put up the Christmas tree. My Dad is delegated to get a tree and bring it home for the family to adorn on a wintry Saturday afternoon.

Dad drags the tree into the living room, leaving a trail of sticky pine needles through the kitchen and over the dining room carpet. The tree, of course, is much bigger inside than it appeared on the lot. The top spire is bent up against the ceiling. Dad heads back out to the garage to cut it shorter. Unfortunately cutting off the lower 18 inches also removes many of the fine spreading branches that made the tree look so “full”.

imageBack inside the next chore is to screw on the little red and green metal stand so the tree will stand up straight. But how can a tree with such a crook in the stem ever stand straight? Mom is not impressed with his choice of tree and keeps making disparaging comments while dad is lying on the floor trying to screw on the stand so the tree doesn’t fall forward every time it is stood up. My brother and I, about age 5 and 10 at the time, are meanwhile sorting through the Christmas ornaments, piling them into ones we like best and ones we don’t. One or two of them shatter when we drop them, emitting a most satisfying “pop” as they do and exploding little red and silver shards into the carpet. It was always disappointing to break one of those ornaments but there was also something quite intriguing about the shiny bits that resulted. And that funny little spring plug thing in the top of the ball suddenly was exposed and less mysterious.

Dad, in the meantime, is trying to figure out how to tie the tree to the curtain rod to keep it from falling over. Mom is busy cleaning up needles and sap and broken glass and asking why Dad got that tree in the first place. Tippy the cat is curiously watching and is soon choking on a tinsel ribbon until she throws up.

We start to put the lights on the tree. Back then the lights were little screw-in bulbs, the paint on many if them chipped off and some burned out. This made positioning them aesthetically a problem. There were also a couple of special bulbs that had to be prominently displayed. imageThey had a little reservoir of fluid that was somehow heated by the bulb and sent bubbles up a pencil-like tube. Next the balls, the handmade ornaments from school and lastly the tinsel. There was always a debate about how much tinsel looked best. Throwing the light silver strands toward the tree to see where they will land was always something I enjoyed.

As the last touches are made, Mom, clearly not happy with the crooked stem, the piece of twine holding the tree up or those “bare spots”, comments how the tie-up to the curtain rod spoils the whole thing. It looks, to her, that the tree, as flawed as it is, will stand on its own. Dad, becoming ever more exasperated by the editorial comments coming from the rest of us, takes some scissors and says “Well, let’s see.” He cuts the twine. The whole tree falls forward in a heap. Mom, hands on her hips sighs and says what a poor choice this tree was.

Dad picks up the tree, carries it decorations and all to the front door, goes out onto the front porch and pitches it onto the front lawn. I rarely heard my dad curse but as he throws the tree he blurts out “Balls!” Then he adds “Christmas ones!”

Bob and I are standing in the doorway crying. Mom is fussing about what the neighbours will think. The cat is hiding in the corner. Dad is red-faced and likely now wondering how he will get out of this antic and save face. A picture of this taken from the street would have made the perfect Christmas card.

I actually don’t remember what happened next. When you are ten years old you don’t pay much attention to how these little family squabbles resolve. As long as they do. And somehow the tree ended up back in the living room and in the dark, with the lights twinkling and tinsel shimmering, the twine was not obvious, nor was the crook in the stem. The bare spots were filled with little packages and garland.

This, too, would have made a perfect Christmas card.

imageWell, at least until Santa decided that Tippy deserved a Christmas treat as well and tucked a wrapped catnip mouse on the tree for Christmas morning.

I will let you imagine the rest.

Grandma Vardon’s Shortbread

Grandma Vardon was born in 1902.  She was so much fun.

My grandparents Vardon as I remember them on the porch of their house at 504 Grosvenor St.  1958

My grandparents Vardon as I remember them on the porch of their house in London at              504 Grosvenor St.  1958

When she was younger she played the piano in silent movies.  There is a story about the movie house catching fire during a showing and Grandma played the piano as patrons filed out until she gradually was overcome by smoke and fell off the piano stool.  In her later years she took up the accordion which she would tote to family gatherings and serenade us with Tennessee Waltz or any number of polkas.

I always waited at Christmas for her shortbread and have a recipe that I scribbled down as she told it to me in about 1970.  I am happy to share it with you and you can share it too. But if you do, please call it Grandma Vardon’s Shortbread.

It is so simple, but so good. And even better after it has aged a few days. I am going to make some this weekend and take them this Christmas to give to her great-great grandchildren!

Grandma Vardon’s Shortbread.Grandma Vardon's Shortbread

1 cup Brown Sugar

1 lb softened Butter

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp Vanilla extract

Cream well with a wooden spoon.

Add 1/2 tsp Baking Powder

and 4 cups of flour (not more)

Keep mixing until you have a soft ball. Turn out on a board and knead. Roll out flat and cut out cookies.

Cook at 325 degrees for 18-20 minutes, watching closely as they brown quickly and it is easy to burn them.

We used to make these in circles and bells and Christmas trees and decorate them with sugar sprinkles or one of those little silver sugar balls.

This is a great way to remember my long-gone Grandma Vardon (1902-1973) at Christmas. It seems like yesterday.



Graduation Day photos from Kenya

My day was brightened considerably yesterday morning when I received a sheaf of photos from Kenya showing the children at the SP Geddes Early Childhood Development Centre celebrating graduation of some of their students. I am not sure who is more proud, the kids or their parents. In the past month I have had greetings and announcements from a few of our CanAssist-supported schools in Kenya as they celebrate the end of their school year both with standard exams and graduation gatherings.

The  Canadian Flag flies proudly in the SP Geddes School compound.

The Canadian Flag flies along side the Kenyan one in the SP Geddes School compound.

The photos remind me of 64 years ago when I graduated from the nursery class at the New St James Church in London, Ontario. Always the organizer, I was the first one through the little white gate at the front of the choir loft and held it for the other “graduates”.

In the past two years, this little school has had many improvements funded by the CanAssist African Relief Trust and particularly by my father whose name is now both in the school and a little fellow in the community who, I see from the photos, is growing.

imageThis community has felt very isolated in terms of “development”. They are proud that their young kids are now able to get some early education which will make them more ready to enter the public school system when they are old enough to walk the several kilometers to the government school. Marking their graduation allows the children to feel pride and accomplishment as well and encourages them to continue.

I thank Meshack Andiwo for sending these delightful photos and send the congratulations of Stewart Geddes, CanAssist and all our Canadian supporters to the beaming graduates, not only of this school but also from Hope School in Mbita and Kanyala Little Stars on Rusinga Island who have held similar celebrations in the pars few weeks.

Little Stewart Geddes is growing.

Little Stewart Geddes is growing.

Improving access to Health Care in East Africa

Sometimes in East Africa, health care is not readily available due to the distance to a Clinic or Hospital.  People lack means of transport Ambulances are few or non-existent. Very few people have cars and “roads” are often bumpy overgrown pathways.  This results in people waiting until they are very ill before they look for competent care and by that time it is even more difficult to transport the sick person to a clinic. Many die en route to finding a qualified health care provider.

CanAssist has helped with construction of clinic buildings and provision of hospital equipment, sanitation and water for clinics in

  • Olimai, Uganda,
  • Mbita, Kenya,
  • Gembe East, Kenya
  • and Nyatike District, Kenya.

One of CanAssist’s first projects in 2008 was to complete a laundry facility for a hospital in Tanzania.

In 2012/2013, CanAssist has helped the Kared Fod Women’s Group in Nyatike District of Kenya to build a clinic/dispensary.  A nurse and two community health workers have been supported by grants from the Stephen Lewis Foundation but they had no building from which to work.  CanAssist constructed a clinic building with examining rooms, a small lab and pharmacy in 2012. In 2013 CanAssist put rainwater catchment and latrines in the clinic which opened to serve the public late in October.