Two Deaths & A Drip

Hi, it’s me. I’m alive.

I also have a bit more free time on my hands nowadays, so I can hopefully post more.

And I’ve returned to working on my family research – such as it is. To fill you in on how that’s going, I’ll start with a tangentially-related story about my mom.

It’s been a roller-coaster of a year for her. A huge part of that is because she’s lost two of her brothers in the past nine months.

Last November, my uncle Ucline passed away from cancer. And on the same day, she found out my other uncle Egton was diagnosed … with cancer. So she’s been to two funerals in Jamaica – one last December, the other this past May. Between that and moving, she was weary, to say the least.

She knows I’ve been picking away at the family research. (And, of course, I excitedly tell her every time I make some sort of discovery.) So before she left for funeral number two, I mentioned since she’d see relatives on her father’s side of the family (where I’ve found the majority of the family research), she might want to talk to them if she had questions she wanted to try to answer.

She saw her older sister (who lives in Jamaica part of the year), her younger sister (the only sibling I’ve never met), and her (melodramatic) younger brother who resides in Florida. She visited her second cousin, Mrs. Shearer (remember her?) who, as it turns out, is actually several years younger than my mother (and not older, as she originally thought).

She met the daughter of one of her favourite uncles, who died in England in the mid-1980s. She started to ask her questions, but never got very far, due to family interruptions.

They even paid a visit to Cascade, where they visited a relation who still lives there (he’s in his 80s) and knows about the Campbells. They tried to locate the old homestead and family burial plot, which is down in a valley and inaccessible due to (a) overgrowth and (b) a gigantic tree which fell during a previous hurricane and has blocked the way. My mom still remembered the approximate location, but that’s as far as they got.

A couple of weeks after returning from Jamaica, she called me one evening, as I was  making some writing revisions for a freelance gig.

She’d been talking to her half-sister (the one aunt I’ve never met) and wanted me to verify the name of one of her uncles, who had a mental illness and was long-since deceased. I told her who it most likely was, then found out the reason …

Apparently while at my late uncle’s house, she had come across part of a will, in which my great-grandmother Jane Ann had left a parcel of land to said uncle.

This caught my attention.

I could care less about the land. (Trying to own real estate is one country is complicated enough, never mind entertaining the prospect of owning real estate in two.) But the will represents documentation that I didn’t think existed for my family – or was lost to time and the garbage bin.

I don’t know what (or who) else is mentioned in the will. My aunt (who lives in New Jersey) told my mom she would look at it more closely when she has time. But I’m not holding my breath as to whether she’ll disclose anything else.

But that tiny drip of information got me thinking about family research. About Ellen. And about that massive brick wall separating us.


So occasionally throughout the summer, I started re-tracing my steps for the umpteenth time. I looked at the documents I knew about. Visited my usual genealogy sites, searching for the same names over and over again.

And wondering if I would ever get another break.

Purging a Little Bag-gage

Some of you might only know me from this blog, or perhaps my podcast.

But if you know me in real life (and some of you do), one thing you’d notice is that I rarely go anywhere without at least one bag on my shoulder or crossing my body.

How many I carry at once depends on what I’m doing. You might be seeing me right after work. Or going to a clothing swap. Or going to work out. Or lugging groceries … you get the picture.

Which leads me to today’s post.

My name is D, and I have a bag hoarding problem.

I have a number of fabric/reusable bags in various stages of use or disrepair. But my real problem lies with my collection of plastic bags.

But D, you ask, you do know you can recycle plastic bags, right?

Um, why yes, I do. But I hold on to plastic bags, because you never know when they’ll come in handy (and not just for disposing items).

I recently decided to do a bit of cleaning and discovered just how many bags I’ve saved for such occasions:

20180213_163216Um. Yeah.

Believe me when I say that this photo doesn’t fully show the scale of my “little” problem.

There were bags within bags, shoved into other bags, crammed under my desk, balled up in one of my closets.

I’d been putting this task off for months, simply because it’s so time-consuming. But about two weeks ago, I got tired of it.

So I pulled up my sleeves, pulled out all these bags, and got down to sorting.

I started with the obvious: recycling bags that have holes or have disintegrated over time.

(Something I learned: over time, biodegradable plastic bags pretty much become plastic confetti that gets everywhere.)

Then, my floor covered in plastic, I made piles according to size and shape.


Another thing I learned:

I’ve spent a lot of time at Popeye’s Chicken — and I do mean a LOT. It’s a dangerous habit and I need to watch myself.

After arranging the sea of plastic into something a bit more orderly, I went from pile to pile, counting how many of each I had in total, and then cutting down those piles by at least half, but usually much more. So if I had, say 30 bags, I tried to limit the pile to between 10 and 12.

The only exceptions to my arbitrary rule were shopping bags big enough to line my garbage cans, and clear produce bags I could use for organic food scraps.

I also had some big sheets of plastic (former dry-cleaning garment “bags”), which I stored in case I need to paint or re-pot something. (You never know!)

I’m sure there’s a faster way of doing this.  But to make any headway, I chose to do it this way, because seeing what I was doing as I was doing it helped make the task a little less overwhelming.

I spent maybe an hour and a half, two hours at most, but I think I made a decent-sized dent.

The shopping bags meant for garbage cans were stuffed in a small cardboard box that will act as a dispenser. (This was something my mom did in her previous home.)

And after a few trips to the recycling bins in the basement, I felt a small sense of accomplishment.

That is … until I went to store a couple chairs in one of my closets and found this:


See? I told you I had a problem.

Having run out of steam, I shoved it in a corner out of mild frustration, but I did tackle it last week.

We’ll see how long this period of reduced-bag living lasts.

What “problems” or tasks have you put off, and are going to tackle this year?

It could be on your spring cleaning to-do list, or perhaps it’s something that’s been hanging over your head for months, and you’re finally going to do something about it.

Let me know in the comments, if you have time!


As I may have previously mentioned, I joined a number of Jamaican genealogy groups on Facebook in hopes it might help me with my family research.

Just over a week ago, the administrator of one of those groups posted an entry inviting members to share their “brick walls” – those ancestors whose research trails seem to have hit a dead end.

I decided to add my brick walls – my paternal grandfather, my maternal great-grandfather, and my “favourite”, great-aunt Ellen – to the list. Couldn’t hurt, I thought to myself.

The next day, the administrator posted my brick walls first and asked me for some information. I gave what I could – making sure to clarify/correct some details in the process.

She started with my paternal grandfather, posting some birth and marriage record information she thought could be leads. She even listed a ship manifest, in which a guy with my grandfather’s name and his wife apparently went to New York.

Considering that I know that my grandfather died in a railway accident in the early 1950s, I’m not sure that what she’s found are records for him. But I’m not sure they’re not, either.  In order to try and verify this, I’d have to find a family member who actually had some sort of contact with my grandfather and ask them things I can cross-reference against the administrator’s findings. That could prove quite difficult.

Next, she mentioned that she’d found some possible sources on information for my maternal great-grandfather, but she was still digging for more information. Given what she’d turned up on my grandfather, I suspected she might have found some of the same documents (birth certificates for children) that I’ve stumbled across. I’m cynical, but waiting patiently.

Then, she moved onto my third brick wall — the ever-mysterious Ellen.

The administrator first responded with initial information about Ellen’s employer. I wrote back explained the work I’d already done in this regard. She asked about whether I’d contacted any descendants (I did – one phone call to a great-grandson), whether I contacted any descendants of Ellen’s siblings (it’s complicated), and then suggested possible theories that perhaps Ellen married (unlikely) or went to join other siblings in Canada (nope, she was the only one in Canada).

She found a burial date and a lot number for an Ellen Campbell in Montreal in 1944. I quickly found the woman’s marriage certificate and told the administrator it was the wrong one.

She suggested that since she arrived in Montreal, that she might have been listed in documents as Helen or HélèneI conceded it might be possible, since for years folks originally thought her name was Helen.

You’re rambling – get to the point, you’re probably saying by now.

Wait for it …

Three days ago, she posts a link to a passenger manifest for a ship travelling from the Panama Canal Zone to New York in June, 1938.

Guess who may have gotten on in Kingston, Jamaica?

At first, I misread it and grumbled. Based on Ellen’s first trip to Montreal in 1929, I had already crafted this narrative in my mind, and I saw this document as an attempt to unstitch what little I knew.

But then I stopped, and read it again.

This time, she was on to something.

The woman was listed as a Helen Campbell (the name we all thought was hers). The age was off by one year, but all the other particulars lined up – a domestic, born in Cascade, whose father was a J. Campbell.

She had paid for her own ticket, and was travelling to Canada, via New York. She carried about $15.00 in cash (which is worth about $243 CAD today).

But a couple of things on the manifest stood out.

First, it listed her last permanent residence as a place called Rollington Pen. As best I can guess – with the assistance of Google – it’s Rollington Town in Kingston, Jamaica.

Secondly – and this is what’s currently burrowed in the folds of my brain – she had previously passed through the U.S. on her way to Canada. In 1937.

When would Ellen have gone back to Jamaica, and why? I’ve been wondering how long Ellen had stayed with her employers in Montreal. But I never truly considered that she could have gone home, whether for a visit, or as a temporary arrangement. The administrator mused aloud about her status. But weren’t Jamaicans (and other West Indians from British colonies) considered British citizens (on paper) before independence? This is something I’d need clarified.

Why was Ellen living in Kingston? Was it a matter of convenience for travel purposes? Was she waiting to be called up to her next job? Did anyone know Ellen was living in Kingston?

Was THIS when the family rift ACTUALLY occurred?

And, of course: Where in Canada was Ellen going? Did she go back to Montreal? Did she end up in Toronto?


My kingdom for a temporary census records leak … Sigh.

Where’s Aunt Milda?

On Sunday afternoon, my mom tries calling her sister in Jamaica. She doesn’t get through; she gets a strange automated message, saying that calls are somehow “banned” at that number.

A little weirded out, she calls her niece. Same thing.

Now she’s getting a tad concerned. She calls her other niece in the States (the one who recently visited Jamaica) and explains what happened. So her niece calls home and gets through, no problem.

In the phone conversation Mom and I have on Sunday evening, she recalls her American niece calling her back, assuring her that her sister is fine, and explaining that she (Mom’s sister) did try to go visit my great-aunt Milda at the nursing home.

Here’s where things get even weirder.

According to what my cousin says, my aunt arrives at the nursing home, only to be told by staff that Aunt Milda is no longer at the nursing home.

She’s been moved.

We don’t know where she’s been moved to, or when this happened.

So, doesn’t she have any kids? you’re asking. Why don’t you just ask them? And herein lies the beauty (translation: frustration) with extended family. Either you’re close-knit, or you’re not. In this case, it seems to be the latter.

At least one of Milda’s kids lives in Florida. Once upon a time, my uncle used to be fairly close with them, when they first moved to the States and were – legally, physically and figuratively – trying to get settled. But it seems they’ve drifted apart and lost contact with my uncle.

The other daughter we know of, my mom has never met.

But never fear: one of my uncles in Jamaica is on the case. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.

One current hunch is that perhaps she was taken back to the town she was living in previously, before her kids moved her to Montego Bay, and is in a different nursing home. But it’s all theory.

For now, we all have to sit and wait as this (accidental?) game of “keep-away with Aunt Milda” plays out.

Wherever she is, I hope she’s still alive and kicking (or quietly reading her Bible) because, for the amount of effort it’s taken to try and see her, never mind find her, I now reeeally want to meet her.

All The Names

IMAG0665Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet, looking for something specific, only to have a bunch of objects come tumbling out (and occasionally hitting you in the face)?

I think, figuratively (or is that metaphorically?) speaking, that’s just what happened to me.

When I recently found my great-aunt Ellen’s birth date on a genealogy Web site, I ended up uncovering some things I didn’t intend to.

According to my mother, her father (the maternal grandfather I know about) was one of six children.

Weeeell … the internet showed me another story … one that included the names of two other siblings – sisters – that I’d never heard of.

Turns out my mom had never heard of them, either.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake. But the parents’ names were exactly the same. I mean, what would actually be the chances of having two families in the same village, with two sets of parents with the exact same names? It didn’t make any sense.

Not to mention, there were three other names that looked suspect. Like they could also be siblings.

Before I go further, a bit of a rewind:

A lot of the records on the Web site had scanned images of various records, such as birth certificates. The catch is, while one can search to one’s heart’s content, in order to see said scanned images to confirm hunches and suspicions, one has to create an account.

Until this point, I didn’t create an account. The terms and conditions I had to agree to, if I started creating a family tree on this site, left me uneasy.

But as I continued to revisit the site, the curiosity increasingly ate away at me like a dirty penny immersed in a glass of pop.

I had to bite the bullet. So I created an account, for the purpose of being able to fully conduct searches, and returned to those records.

One by one, I checked out the birth certificates for the kids I knew about for sure.

And then I checked the others.

Holy shit.

My grandfather was one of ELEVEN.

So what happened to the other five names? I searched the site, and couldn’t find any other information. My best guess is those unlucky souls didn’t make it out of childhood.

Perhaps they died as babies or young kids, of crib death, illness or unfortunate accidents. But that’s how secretive families (mine included) can be.

Then, things took another weird turn.

A recent Google search for the village my mom’s paternal relatives are from, coughed up a result for a reverend with a last name far removed from my own.

Seems that – with the help of his grandson – he’d done some genealogical digging on a scale much grander than my own. I’d landed on a detailed document detailing six generations of one descendant of his family.

Some of those descendants are my mother’s relatives.

A number of them have long since passed. But the ones my mom recognizes, she and her sister knew them, or were cared for by them, perhaps in the summers between school.

So. I’m having a bit of trouble fully processing the information.

I suppose this type of thing happens is unavoidable when digging into one’s family history.

But so many names at once?!

For now, I’m putting these discoveries aside and will try focusing on two searches:

(1) What happened to my great-aunt

and, if I’m successful

(2) Trying to find out about my long-dead paternal grandfather, a rolling-stone railway worker, about whom tiny specks of information were divulged to me while preparing for my father’s funeral in February.

If my mother’s family was secretive, my dad’s people sounded like Fort Knox.

I hope that vise-like grip will loosen when I go to visit some cousins and uncles for several days, later this week. One of them is throwing a 21st birthday party for his step-daughter. And, from the sounds of the equipment, planning and logistics required, and the party itself, it’s going to be a Big Deal. (If someone doesn’t fire off fireworks, I’ll be surprised.)

Wish me luck.


Finding Ellen

As the child of immigrants, I was always of the firm belief that my mother was the first of our family to step on Canadian soil, setting in motion this chapter of my family history.

I suppose that’s still true. But as I recently found out, it’s not entirely accurate.

Years before, one of her aunts arrived here from Jamaica.

Growing up, she’d asked her dad about his sister, named Helen. He scolded her, telling her not to mention his sister’s name. No explanation was given.

She and her older sister knew what this aunt looked like, by way of a single photo – she was, by then, approaching middle age – and kept it for years. (It has since disappeared.)

After she arrived here in 1968 (after seven years of training, then working, as a nurse in the United Kingdom), my mother tried to look for Aunt Helen, under the impression that perhaps she’d come to Toronto. She called all the women in the phone book with the same name, only to come up empty.

And, for years, the story behind Aunt Helen remained a cold case of sorts, shrouded in mystery.

On last fall’s trip to Italy, Mom had spoken about her side of the family and mentioned this aunt with no story nor reason behind her abrupt departure to Canada, or the rift it apparently caused within her dad’s family.

I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned this mystery relative. But for whatever reason, this time, it stuck, and has been lodged in a corner of my mind, like a dog-eared cue card wedged in a dusty book, for months.

My father’s sudden death this past winter – aside from leaving me with a lingering melancholy – has gotten me thinking about the importance of family. Or, at least, the importance of trying to know about one’s family.

I started thinking recently, wouldn’t it be nice if I could find something out about Mom’s Aunt Helen … to give her the gift of some closure, to stop wondering?

Two and a half weeks ago, out of sheer boredom with my life – and my work – I decided to start scratching away.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Mom didn’t know when this aunt was born, or even when she would have left Jamaica (other than that it was before she was born, perhaps even before her sister’s birth three years earlier).

A lot of my Google searches were dead ends. I even tried looking for any proof of Helen’s existence, through the free resources offered by the Library and Archives Canada Web site – combing through immigration records, scouring for any record of her voyage on ship passenger lists. Nothing.

Late one night, I tried Google for the upteenth time, and stumbled upon a genealogy site run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Yes, Mormons run a genealogy Web site. They also have many, many birth, death, marriage, baptism and other church records from around the world – including Jamaica. I only learned this recently.)

So I tried to input what I knew, using different combinations, parents’ names (as I knew them), with no dice.

Frustrated with the lack of results, I tried another approach, by using my grandfather’s name to see if that prompted any results.

Mere seconds later, I was swearing and staring, wide-eyed, at what looked like a listing for my grandfather’s date of birth (which I would have to verify with my mother the next day), and … based on the information … the listing for the birthdate of my long-lost aunt.

As it turns out, she wasn’t Helen – as I was led to believe – but Ellen. (I also stumbled across other family records, but more on that later.)

The following day at work, I called my mom and verified my grandfather’s birth date, and then told her about Ellen’s birth record – which, understandably, threw my mom for a bit of a loop. After about 20 minutes of excitedly sharing my findings, I hung up the phone, and decided to take another crack at Library and Archives Canada.

It led me to a photocopy of the passenger list, which included the record of her travels to this country.

I could hardly believe it. All I could do was gaze at my computer screen in sheer disbelief. I kept that on-screen window open for at least a good couple of hours.

In the span of about 15 hours, I had gone from having almost no information, to two solid pieces. The blurry shape had acquired a bit of focus.

Further digging helped me to understand what I now know (so far):

Almost 85 years ago, Ellen left her well-to-do family, boarded a ship – the “Lady Rodney” – from Kingston, Jamaica, and arrived in Montreal some 11 days later.

She was all of 20 years old, and alone. She came to work as a domestic, at a time when Canada was doing everything in its power to remain as white as it possibly could, discouraging all but handfuls of requests for “coloureds” (African-Americans and British West Indians) to be let into the country.

The timing of her arrival was also interesting, as it was roughly four months before the big stock market crash of 1929, and the start of the Great Depression.

But why Canada? Why not Great Britain? And how on earth did she find her employer? Those are things I’m not sure I’ll ever find out.

Further online surfing and visits to the library have given me a bit of context about the time Ellen would have come to Canada. But no other concrete bits to go on.

Did Ellen stay in Montreal? Did she, in fact, move to Toronto at some point? And when did she die?

These are the things I hope I’ll get to discover, to help flesh out a story with already extraordinary beginnings.




Just Full of TIFF-prises!

1378828137484I had no idea that TIFF was going to slap me in the face with so much goodness on Tuesday!

I started the day with a screening of  The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her, starring Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy, directed by Ned Benson.

The film chronicles the trajectory of a couple’s fractured marriage (for reasons that make themselves known early on).

But what made the viewing experience different from other films in this genre – and at this festival, at least – was that it’s not actually one, but TWO films – each filmed from the man’s and woman’s perspective.

Also, the order of the films are interchangeable. When the film premiered on Monday, the film was shown first from the man’s perspective, then from the woman’s. At the showing I attended, they reversed the order – which, in my opinion, made perfect sense. But would I have formed the same observations, had they started with the man’s perspective? Who knows?

IMAG0368 At three hours long, it’s a production for which you need a bit of stamina, but I certainly thought it was well done, and if you paid attention, you’d pick up on the differences (subtle and otherwise) between each. The performances by Chastain and McAvoy were solid, and the supporting cast – which includes Viola Davis, Bill Hader, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler and Ciarán Hinds – helped round out the production.

(I’d also be curious to see what my brother – a director of photography – would think of the cinematography and such. He went to see another film, Siddarth, and said while the story was amazing, he thought the cinematography was awful. *winces*)

Following the film(s), there was a Q & A with Benson, Chastain (who was also an executive producer on the movie), and co-stars Weixler and Hinds. The discussion was engaging and bit gushy, but it was great to be at a screening where some cast members were present (and I’m a bit of a Jessica Chastain fan, so I was doubly pleased.)

Got this ticket - for free!
Got this ticket – for free!

After a very late lunch, it was on to the next film, and the first attempted rush of the day. Renée and I wanted to see an Irish comedy called The Stag, starring Andrew Scott (known in the UK for his film, TV and theatre chops, but recently the most visible to people elsewhere as Moriarty from the first two series of BBC’s “Sherlock”).

The premise (basically self-described in the title): a bunch of men who decide to throw a stag for their (very metrosexual) friend who’s getting married, and hilarity ensues.

Given our previous (lack of) luck with Half of a Yellow Sun, I was determined to ensure we were as close to the front of the line as possible, so I parked my derrière in the rush line at 5:30 p.m., with Renée joining me a bit after 6 p.m.

While in line, we chatted with the lady in front of us who was also lined up for tickets. But the heat and humidity took a toll on her, and she left.

This must’ve been the day when TIFF fatigue began to set in. Several times while we were in line, people walked past, trying to unload tickets for various films. One man came by the rush line THREE times to offload his ticket for El Mudo. In a couple of instances, we witnessed people just GIVING away their tickets – they weren’t even asking for money anymore.

A few people in the line received tickets for their desired movies, or caught word they were selling them at the box office, so we moved even closer to the front.

We were just behind a group of several university students sitting at the front of line, waiting for tickets for the same movie, and we sort of made small talk with them.

We ended up getting into a conversation with one of the students – named Haley – who was hoping to score tickets for herself and her dad, who was stuck on the highway. She was a recent “Sherlock” convert, but also a fan of some of the other actors in the film, and this movie might be the only TIFF film she’d be able to see because of school.

While chatting, it occurred to me that, given my experience from just a few hours before, perhaps someone from the movie – maybe the director, at the least – would show up. I mean, Jessica Chastain and a couple of her cast-mates were at that previous screening. But who knew, right? Renée wasn’t completely sure of that.

But MAN, would we get more than we’d bargained for.

I didn’t see the shiny, black SUV pull up in front of the theatre. But when I turned around, I saw the passenger it dropped off.

Straight up: despite my age, deep down, I’m perpetually 16 years old. So when I laid eyes on Andrew Scott walking up the sidewalk, the decorum filter came off and I blurted, “LOOK! That’s Andrew Scott! HE’s HERE!”

IMAG0370(1)Well, if that didn’t cause about a dozen Sherlock fans (almost all of them women) to snap their heads in his direction and go scurrying toward him.

No doubt a bit jet-lagged and his hair reacting wildly to the Toronto humidity, he graciously started signing autographs and taking pictures with the small mob circling around him.

I wasn’t one of them. My sheepishness over the prospect of joining the crowd in this display of adoration, gave me quite some hesitation. I mean, I’m a grown-ass woman.

I just looked at Renée, and she said, “Go! GO! Get him to sign something!”

“I don’t have anything to SIGN.”

In the end, Renée had to literally give me a little push to go and get a picture.

IMAG0373Considering all the in-your-face attention he was getting, Scott was definitely taking the moment in stride. And when it was my turn, I very calmly welcomed him to Toronto, congratulated him, and said I really liked him as Moriarty.

(And NO, I did not ask him about the cliffhanger from Sherlock Series 2. Dude just got into town! Sheesh.)

So now you know the story behind THAT photo. Hoooooly shit-snacks!

And, in what seemed like another stroke of luck, we ended up with tickets that were reserved for people who didn’t show up, so we didn’t even have to use our vouchers. How do you like THEM apples?

The film itself was fun, and very cute. The theatre was packed, and people were in stitches pretty much the whole time we were there. I hope it gets some kind of distribution in North America!

After the screening, there was a very lively Q & A with director John Butler and IMAG0385the cast. I threw out an “icebreaker” question to actor Peter McDonald, whose answer warmed up the crowd and got the ball rolling.

But it was a very long but successful day at the movies, about which I can NEVER complain. Let me try not to cuss out this festival from here on in.

(**Note: Pictures taken are mine. Please don’t re-use without asking me first.**)

That One Time at the Yacht Club

Over the last few months or so, I’ve posted stories from my previous travels abroad.

But every once in a while, I’m reminded that within my own city, there are opportunities to feel like a tourist without even setting foot onto an airplane.

Over a month ago, my colleague (and direct supervisor) says I need to replace a work-mate on a weekend work assignment.

Admittedly, I grumble at the prospect.

When I’m told what the assignment is, my grumbling’s replaced with a slightly raised eyebrow and some cautious side-eye.

It requires a trip to a yacht club. The Royal Canadian Yacht Club.

Cut to that Saturday morning.

Two of my work colleagues and I enter the small terminal for a private passenger ferry (also referred to as a launch) that’ll take us over to the island clubhouse. It – and the adjoining marina – inhabit a small island separate from the other Toronto Islands..

A few people are sitting in the terminal lounge, chatting amongst themselves, and casting glances our way (presumably because [1] of the equipment my colleagues are carrying and [2] we are obviously not members).

We’re not even there five minutes before we’re joined by a young lady, who – as it turns out – does public relations for the yacht club, and is accompanying us to the island today.

The launch itself is a tiny vessel, with seating for maybe a couple dozen people – operated by a compact, snowy-haired, stone-faced older man.

This is going to be interesting, I think to myself.wpid-IMAG0005.jpg The launch ride from the mainland to Snug Harbour Island is about 15 minutes long; it’s not long before the tall masts of sailboats parked in the marina come into focus.

As the launch docks and we come onto land, one of the club members turns to my colleague and asks her if we’re coming to film the wedding taking place later in the day. Interesting, indeed.

The yacht club was founded in the mid-1800s (primarily as a sailing club), but over time, has expanded to offer other athletic activities to its members, both on the island and in the city, as well as organized social events.

As our small group walks along the pathway past the clubhouse, I spot members in tennis whites playing on the partially-obscured courts to my right. In the distance, close to the clubhouse, members are lawn bowling on a perfectly manicured green. The scene before me brings to mind the image of “the country club” that I’ve only seen in movies. It is truly another world.

Today, though, we’ve come to interview two members who happen to be competitive sailors. The first interview takes place inside the hangar-like tent where they keep their gear.

As I wait for the second part of the interview – which is on the side of the tent facing the marina – I take a moment to gaze out at all the docked boats of all sizes. A hare hops by. It’s strangely idyllic.

A bit later, the public relations rep takes me on a brief walk around part of the island. We pass the clubhouse, which has been rebuilt twice (it burned down in 1904 and 1918). Around the side, on the huge “veranda”, people are seated for lunch.

Around the back of the clubhouse facility, there’s a garden, where various vegetables and herbs are grown and used in the meals served in the clubhouse dining room.IMAG0013And on the other side, away from the house, is a beautiful view of Toronto’s skyline which rivals any you can get from any of the other nearby islands. Not too far away, staff are setting up a small number of tables and white linens – likely for that aforementioned wedding taking place.

We join the others, who are waiting for the sailing crew to set up their boat and get it into the water. When they finally do, we board a motorboat to accompany them as they practice.

IMAG0014These guys sail a type of catamaran that is lightweight, and – as a result – really fast. In fact, it only needs a bit of wind to get it moving.

As it picks up speed, the sailors maneouvre the boat sideways onto one of its hulls, just gliding and turning. I know absolutely nothing about sailing, but watching the boat in action is just a little bit mesmerizing.

I can only imagine the rush a trained sailor must get operating one of these vessels.

The sailors continue their practice, but for my work colleagues and me, our time on the water – and at the yacht club – is over. We have to get back to the mainland, as we’ve got some work to finish.

I’m not sure if this will be my one and only time at the yacht club. (Membership fees are several thousand dollars which – despite what the PR person says about being “decent” – is a bit too dear for my bank account.)

But if the club ever comes up with a special occasion to allow non-members such as myself to check out the yacht club, I might be on one of the first Kwasind rides over there.

Crouching Scorpion, Missing Camera

Friday, February 17.

It’s early. I’m sitting on my bed, bleary-eyed, waiting for Jenn to finish showering.

We’ve all got to be dressed and filled with food by 7:30 a.m., so we can high-tail it back across the lake to La Fortuna, jump in our vehicle and motor west to the coast.

I hear Jenn make yelping noises. I sleepily smile to myself, assuming that it’s probably due to cold – instead of hot – water streaming from the shower head.

That’s so NOT the case.

Prior to our trip, we were advised to check our shoes in the mornings, for frogs and scorpions. Turns out they forgot to warn us to check our shower stalls, too.

Jenn manages to trap her barb-tailed shower buddy under her soap dish until after breakfast, so she can tell the hotel owner about it.

I decide not to shower in anything except a proper hotel bathroom, until we reach Playa Hermosa.

We gulp down our tasty breakfasts, coffee and tea, grab our things and then do our final room check …

But not before Jenn yanks her soap dish off the tile floor and snaps a picture of The Scorpion She Saw That One Time While Showering in Costa Rica.

I peer over her shoulder to take a look. Yuck! I’m out of the bathroom within seconds.

We load our things into the awaiting taxi and begin our long, winding descent down to the boat pick-up at Lake Arenal.

It’s extremely misty this morning. The clouds and fog seem to come out of nowhere, literally engulfing everything that appears to our naked eyes.

About 20 minutes into this visually fascinating drive, Jenn searches her handbag to pull out her camera. She can’t find it. Anywhere.

It takes another moment to realize that she’s left it at the hotel.

We surmise that she left it on the ledge of the porch, just outside our cabin, while we were carrying our things out of the room.

The best thing to do is to ask the folks at the hotel back in La Fortuna for help, when we return to La Fortuna.

It rains on the boat ride back across Lake Arenal. It’s the only rain we’ll see during the entire trip.

We reach La Fortuna sometime after noon. At the hotel, Jenn sees Menrique at the front desk and explains the situation with her camera.

The first difficulty is trying to find an phone number and an address for the hotel, since – from trying to find online maps of Santa Elena – it appears to sit in the middle of nowhere. It takes a few minutes, but we locate a number, and Menrique calls the hotel.

The next obstacle is trying to figure out how Jenn will get her camera back. She considers getting the hotel owner to send the camera back to Canada by courier. But the obvious question arises: how long will it take to get from Costa Rica to Barrie? That’s no good.

Then she wonders aloud if perhaps she should attempt to drive back to Santa Elena and back to the hotel. Or drive to Santa Elena, leave us in town, and and hire a taxi to drive up there.

Trying to do the math of how long this round-trip will take, Zoe voices her reservations with this option. SIX HOURS?! NO. WAY.

In the end, Menrique uses his personal resources to locate a friend of his, who owns a hotel in Santa Elena proper, and arrange to have him meet us at a gas station on the outskirts of Tilaran. It’s a two-hour drive away, en route to Playa Hermosa, and the detour is minimal.

We all agree to this option.

Zoe and I grab some pastries from the nearby bakery (for the drive), while Jenn firms up the arrangements.

We leave La Fortuna just after 1 p.m. And by 3 p.m., our meeting with Menrique’s friend is a success.

With all our belongings now in our possession, we continue on, towards the sun and pebble beaches in our near future.

Photo of El Scorpion, courtesy of Jenn Hadfield.

My Brush with a Brony

Ah, freedom.

And what better way to celebrate my first weekend off work in more than two years than … moving really slowly?

Oh, I had things to do. But whether they were getting done when I decided I was going to do them was another matter.

So there I was at home, padding around, when I heard someone knocking.

I looked through the peephole. I really shouldn’t have opened the door. But I did anyway.

A young guy – maybe 15 or 16, tops – was selling a newspaper subscription as part of a program that would earn him some money to go to school. And as I listened to his spiel, really, how could I refuse.

So I gave him the subscription payment, and as he double-checked to make sure all the fields were filled out, he arrived at “method of delivery”.

As he wrote in “to door”, he mentioned that one of his previous subscribers actually requested a little rainbow symbol to be drawn on the top of his newspaper … because he was a fan of My Little Pony.

As in, the cartoon I used to watch when I was 8 years old, and one of the toys that I used to own (complete with comb to maintain its lavender mane).

As in, the cartoon that was recently rebooted in 2010 as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

As in, the cartoon that my young newspaper salesman asked if I had heard of it, to which I replied, “Yes, I used to watch it years ago”, to which he responded, “Yeah, but it’s way better now,” as his face lit up like a Noma Christmas tree.

Even as I shut the door, I could hear him talking to his little friend about how awesome My Little Pony was.

Yep. I just had my first encounter … with a Brony.

What the hell are you talking about, you ask?

I’ve only just recently heard about this myself … but apparently there is a legion of males (and females, who call themselves Pegasisters) over the age of 10 who LOVE these pretend cartoon ponies with a passion. And unlike other fanboys and girls, these folks are in a league of their own.

If you don’t believe me, read this or even this. I mean, they even have their own lingo, and their own CONVENTION. I’m not kidding.

Now, to be fair, I looked up an episode online to see what the big fuss was about. I attempted to watch … for about six minutes. But like the quinoa I tried to cook this evening, I couldn’t get into it. I had to give up.

I mean, I know why the eight-year-old me liked the show. But the 34-year-old me is slightly bemused as to why teenagers and grown adults (without children) are so fixated on the show.

Call me a parasprite, but this one (of probably many) I will never understand. Sorry.