‘Old School Rodeo’ – Go Steers Go!


or – 95th Inter-Tribal Ceremonial – Day 2

Oops – turns out that Saturday night is the end of the Ceremonial – everyone except the Cowboys have packed up and gone home. So there’s nothing to watch but an ‘Old School’ Rodeo. Which – given that we came to Gallop to see Cowboys and Indians (sorry – so not PC) – isn’t really such a bad thing. So we find our shade sharing friends (whew) and settle in to watch day 2 of the Rodeo.

Actually – this is really day 5 – but we didn’t know that. So most of the top performers have gone home with the Indians. We are left with kids, clowns, and some teams that just won’t quit. But given our knowledge of Rodeo, and given that we were cheering for the Bulls yesterday – this will still work for us!

First up – kids riding wild sheep. Ok – I know you are thinking – really? But it’s true. The little kids (we’re talking top age of maybe 8) get to ‘wild ride’ a sheep. And trust me, the sheep are really not much more interested in having a rider than the broncos – but the broncos buck – sheep just stop and stare at the crowd. Never mind – the kids are a delight to watch – they hold up their free hand in an adorable replica of the way their Dads did yesterday – and one very brave kid tries to ‘spur’ the sheep on. To which insult the sheep reacts by immediately throwing him.

Then there’s the ‘Rescue’. One member of the team stands on a barrel while the other member of the team rides across the ring, hoists them onto the horse, and then gallops madly back to the ‘finish’ line. The top team was a father/daughter combo – the kid was maybe 8 – and small – and the dad just hoisted her up, swung her over the back of his saddle and then rode madly across the finish line with one arm wrapped around her for safety. Sophie was wild about this event, and wanted to know if Grandpa would try it with her.

Sadly – no.

Another super fun to watch event challenged teams of 3 cowboys to saddle and ride a wild horse around a barrel at the far end of the ring. This is a LOT harder than you can imagine. The horses want nothing to do with someone putting a saddle on their backs, so the cowboys have to start by getting the horses to lie down. There’s not a lot of time for being nice either – this is a drag out contest between 3 cowboys and a very mad horse! Only two teams manage to get the saddle on their assigned horse – and of those, one horse managed to throw the rider. So 1 winner, 4 losers – and life goes on!

Highlight you ask? The one-armed bandit. This is a cowboy with – tada – one arm – who has trained his long horn steers to – on command – run up onto the top of a trailer truck! Seriously – how do you think he managed to do that? His horse was also fabulously trained – he not only jumped to the top of the trailer – he allowed the ‘bandit’ to stand up on the saddle and fire his gun! With the steers mildly looking on as if to say – happens every day! He was so good that Victor had to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance when we ran into later that evening.

Other events included trying to ride a Bison, Cowgirl barrel racing, and team steer roping. More often than not – the winners were the Bison, the barrels and the steers! But a good time was had by almost everyone – I’m not sure that the cowboy that got thrown off the Bison – hard – had the best day ever.

We ended the day trying – once again – to eat dinner in Gallop. Turns out that all the Mexican restaurants close on Sunday night – leaving us with limited choices. So we checked out the El Rancho Hotel and Restaurant. It’s rated #5 in Gallop – which gives you a really good idea of how inspiring the food in this town has turned out to be. The El Rancho is old – seriously old – it’s been sitting on Route 66, living on it’s oh so famous history from 50 years ago for – well 50 years. I think some of the trip advisor reviews might date from back then. But it was open – and willing to feed us – and there weren’t that many options.

I spent some time looking around the hotel – which would profit greatly from a visit from the crew of Hotel Impossible, and then ate dinner in the restaurant. Too much food, served fairly quickly by an impatient wait staff pretty much sums it up. I can’t really recommend the food – except to say it solved the dinner problem, and I didn’t get sick.

We headed out towards Route 264 – which is pretty much a straight shot thru Navajo and Hopi Territory – ending at Tuba City. Our goal was the oh so beautiful Moenkopi Legacy Hotel. Why? It had a pool – and Sophie had been promised a pool morning. We knew we’d be arriving late – but our plan was just to hang the next morning – and then head on out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We’d be changing time zones madly. New Mexico does Day Light Savings – so we left Gallop at 7:00 PM. A few minutes later, we crossed into Arizona, which does not do Day Light Savings – it became 6:15 PM. Then we hit Navajo territory – it’s 7:30 PM. About an hour later, we hit Hopi Territory – and it was also 7:30 PM. Finally we arrived at our hotel – and we were back in Navajo territory – and back in Day Light savings time.

Other than time zone changes – there’s nothing exciting to report on this part of our trip. The road was beautifully maintained, the sky was filled with an almost full moon – and we simply drove in tandam thru miles and miles and miles of barely inhabited country. One of my friends had given me several books and tape – and they made the drive pass by quickly. Soon enough we were at the Moenkopi – bedded down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Gallop, New Mexico – a Train runs thru it!


Why are we in Gallop. Excellent question. High on my Must-Do list was Mesa Verde – and so we routed ourselves thru there. Read all about it in another blog. High on my hubby’s Must-Do list were cowboys and Indians – and on the weekend just after our visit to Mesa Verde – in Gallop – is the 95th Inter-Tribe Cerimonial, a gathering of all the tribes in the Four Corners area. And on the activities list were daily Rodeos! Clearly this was a Must-Visit opportunity.

All of which found us heading south past 4 Corners (yes I lay down on the 4 corners with my hands in 2 states and my legs in 2 states and my butt on the center – shoot me), past Shiprock – which is a huge weather blasted mountain that looks like – a ship on a rock – and is also a town that has an OK restaurant – we tried it out) on our way to Gallop. If there’s a city that is less appealing, but with more beautiful surroundings than Gallop – I’ve never been there.

First the scenery. We opted to stay in Red Rock State Park. Our assigned (apparently by random draw) site overlooked the dump station – but the oh-so-friendly campground hostess said that if we didn’t like the site she had picked for us, we were welcome to move to any other vacant site. So after meeting our extremely pleasant neighbors (Brits Alex and Thersa – here to teach High School English and Wood Shop for a year – and living in a campground) – and setting up our shade canopy – I toured the campground.

Score – a perfect site. Electricity and water – And a magnificant view. Honey – can we move? After a bit of negociation – afterall – we’d met the neighbors, and we’d set up the canopy – my desire for a view won out and we carefully moved. Now – our view is of the magnificant red rocks for which the campground is named. Bonus – there’s a huge family of Prairie Dogs that also call this home – they are such a hoot to hear and to watch!

A bit about the georgraphy – because it is truly cool. When the water erroded the weaker stone – it left behind what the folks here call fins. Tall (over 500 feet), thin red rocks that from the air must look like fingers reaching out towards the rail road that runs East West straight thru Gallop parral to oh so famous Route 66. We are camped looking at one side of the huge rock. On the other side of the rock – and completely invisible to us – is a huge amphitheater where they are performing the rodeos! Around another fin is the giant tent housing the dancing competitions that are part of the Inter-Tribal Ceremonial.

I admit that we then blew it. Instead of walking to the Ceremonial – we shopped and did Laundry. Now I must admit that we were pretty desperate for a laundry stop. And “The Laundry Basket” has to be one of the nicest laundrymats I’ve ever been in – but still. We missed out on the Friday night Ceremonial to wash clothes. Really?

Anyway – after the grocery store and the laundry – we tried – and I’m not joking – this was a try – to eat dinner at a Sonic. Why a Sonic? The large signs appealed to Sophie, and I didn’t have the smarts to say – nope. And besides, everything else in Gallop closes at 9:00 PM. Seriously. This town apparently rolls up the sidewalks at 8:30PM – sunset – we’re done. Note for future visitors – on Sunday there are no liquor sales – and the grocery stores baricade those aisles so you won’t make the horrid error of picking up a bottle and going to the cash.

Back to our visit – clothes clean, minimum amount of food in tummies – and shopping done – we head back to our RV and crash. Tomorrow is another day – and what a day it turns out to be.

Morning comes fast in the High Southwest. And we are splendidly located to get the full effect. Prairie Dogs run here, there and everywhere – yipping madly at each other at any signs of danger – which includes my lifting my mug to drink my coffee and the dog next door stretching! I try to take a picture – but they are too far away and too small for my iphone camera to take anything decent. Ah well – I shall just have to store the memory in my on-board system.

Breakfast – we’re pretty upscale campers. So French Press Coffee and foamy milk to create a delightful Cafe Aux Lait are de-rigeur. The rest of our breakfast is not so fancy – some fresh fruit (thanks Albertson’s of Gallop) and cereal.

The festivities next door aren’t scheduled to start until noon – so we spend the morning doing math and reading – then head over to check out the Indian events. There’s ‘gourd’ dancing – which is mostly ceremonial and reminds me strongly of religious groups all over the world – the men in the center bouncing on their toes as they chant – the women wearing ‘prayer shawls’ on the outer ring – joining in only after the men have gotten seriously into the grove. We watch for a while, intrigued by the clearly religious nature of the experience, Sophie gets a feather painted on her cheek, and then we head up to the Rodeo area.

The natural amphitheater has been improved with seating – both benches with backs, and ones without. The benches without backs are for folks that brought their own camp chairs – something that all the natives knew to do – and of course we didn’t. Something else the natives knew – there is no shade. And it’s hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. We’re super lucky though – some natives (broad term for both First Americans and folks who are local to Gallop) have set up a huge rectangular shade – too large for their needs – and they invite us to join them under the canopy. Whew – sun stroke averted!

The Rodeo is a fairly low key event, but then what do we know. The annoucer tries hard to get the folks watching to cheer on their favorites – but Sophie and I decide to route for the underdogs – the calves, the bulls, and the bucking broncos. We’re on the right side too – they win more often than the cowboys! We all agree that these are fun events to watch – particularly the barrel racing cowgirls and the bull riding. One bull even does a victory lap after throwing his rider in seconds. Too funny.

I get a lesson on making frybread (the oil has to be hot but not too hot – and you put a hole in the center to make sure that the entire bread turns a golden shade of brown), buy some kettle corn (too yummy – and too much – so I donate 1/2 to my shade sharing new friends), and check out the other offerings. The locals are selling all kinds of trinkets – Sophie scores earings for her sister – but I’m content to just look and see.

When the rodeo ends – we head back to the camper for a quick dinner of fresh boiled corn on the cob – and Sophie and I decide to go back to the Ceremonial. Victor opts to stay at the camper – a mistake! The Indians have finished up the religious portion of their dances – and are now totally decked out with feathers, fancy clothes, bells and chimes! The competition for best dancers has begun – and not only are the dancers in competition – so are the drummers and singers. We watch in amazement as group after group demonstrates their particular dance style. I text Victor to join us – and he arrives in time for the highlight – the teen boys doing freestyle dancing that is a combination of gymnastics and posturing to frighten the spirts. Works for me.

The drummers pound so hard and so loud that the speakers are overwhelmed. It’s incredible. I’m so glad we came to see this. Between groups of competitive dancers – there are free style group dances when everyone – from tiny tots to respected elders get up and join in. These free style dances are a whirl of color and costume – wonderful.

I’m intrigued by the use of feathers – particularly in head dresses and on as tail feathers. A vendor of feathers walks by – a small white feather is $50 – I can’t even begin to imagine the value of some of the costumes I’m seeing. This is living history on a grand scale.

After the dancing – there is the main ceremonial – which features ‘White Buffalo’. We’d assumed that this was a musical group – how wrong we were!

It was a White Buffalo. Huge, Somber, and Greatly Respected – he is welcomed to the arena by an elder who recites an ancient hymn to invite him, and his spirits into the lives of all attending. It’s a highly emotional moment – the folks in the stands are quiet – the sun is setting behind the red rocks – and the fires of the Ceremonial have been lit.

We watch as several groups demonstrate their tradtional dances – a Stomp dance from one Pueblo group, a butterfly dance from another. But it’s been a long day for us – and tomorrow promises to be even longer. So we walk back thru the red rocks to our campsite – admiring the sky, the rocks, and the quiet.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Arches National Park – August 2016


Several LONG years ago I made a bucket list of all the things that I’d like to do before I die – or become so old and out of shape that I could no longer do stuff. One of my top items was visit all the US National Parks. In a motor Home. Camping. Taking my time to see them if not thoughly, at least as well as I could.

I know – so many problems with this as a bucket list item. First – time! These trips can’t be short – in and out – visits. By definition, if you have a motor home – you are a snail. And lots of the parks make it hard to drive around them in a house on wheels.

2nd – while many of the parks are located quite close together – they aren’t that close. So it not only takes time to see one park – it takes time to get from one park to the next.

And there were problems I hadn’t counted on. The first time we made an attempt to do this – we failed pretty badly. Which really is the subject of a blog all on its own. But this time – we did a lot better.

First – we allocated 3 weeks to just 5 parks. Already – this is a good move. 21 days, 5 parks – 4 days per park. Discount the travelling time – still 3 days per park. Should work, right. Well – here I am on day 7 – having done 3 parks – and I can tell you – you need more time. You need time to STOP. Don’t underestimate the need to stop. I’m wiped out – and as gross as this sounds – I’m really glad I’m in a non-primative campground with water, electricity, shade – and time to just write and think.

2nd – and this is huge – we not only rented a motor home – we rented a car! Yes it means that we are driving 2 vehicles between the parks – but that’s why they have books on tape, right. The advantages are huge. You want to go out for dinner – take the car. You want to drive the rim roads – narrow and winding as they always are in a National Park – leave the motor home safely parked at the visitors center – take the car! Huge advantage.

3rd – we knew that organization was key. You can’t do this and leave stuff here one minute and there the next. You will never, ever find it. Things need to have assigned places – and that’s where they will live for 3 weeks. Trust me – misplace your glasses – and you’ll be sorry for days!

So – on to Arches.

Important things to note – it’s August, it’s hot. And it rains. Don’t let them fool you – 100 degrees is hot. Hot, Hot, Hot. And you are going to need to drink water before you need to drink water. That’s the real challenge with walking Arches. You don’t feel thirsty – so you think – later. Then when you do feel thirsty – it’s a bit late.

As one guide quipped – the first sign of dehydration is grumpiness – Some people have been dehydrated most of their lives…

Another note – in August, in Arches – it’s crowded. Really mobbed. So avoid the major hikes, the major views, the major ‘highlights’. They are no fun shared with 500 of your best friends. The memorable moments here have been the ones we’ve done in our small group.

Best unknown hike – Brokern Arch and Tapesty Arch. Easy walks from the Devils Garden Campground – lots of parking – and no people! And no rules. You can climb up under the arch, take photos without limits – and probably not see another person. The begining of the hike is easy – if you don’t mind deep sand. You follow cairns (rock piles) from bend to bend until suddenly the arch appears out of nowhere. There are options for the return – you can retrace your steps – or you can opt for the more difficult and longer hike back thru the arch. We didn’t realize that the 2nd part would be longer and harder – but it was well worth doing – we scrambled thru fins of tall rock walls, climbed up stone steps, and generally were alone with the lizards. Such fun.

Best known hike – Fiery Furnace. You have to either sign up for the ranger led version months earlier – or pay a fortune to be guided thru the ‘Furnace’ by a commercial (but much more private) guide. It’s not a hike for the casual hiker – but it is fun! We learned to duck walk – one foot on either side of a carvass – to use both hands and feet to naviagate narrow passes – and had the option of doing a crawl thru. It was a hoot. And glorious beyond belief. If you have the time, have no fear of heights, and are in good shape – take a chance – take this hike. Oh – one more caution – you’ll need to be relatively thin. There are two narrow sections that just won’t work for wider folks – and you absolutely need good hiking shoes with grippy soles. And a hat, water, and suntan lotion.

Best ranger talk – We went to 2 of the ranger talks – and the best one was a total surprise. Called the Voices of Arches – it was a history of the 4 guys that did the most to protect and perserve Arches as a National Park that could be visited by thousands of folks in a single day. Well presented, and so interesting. Loved it.

Where to stay? We spent 3 nights in the National Park Campground right in the Park – 45 minutes driving distance from the Visitor Center. It was a relatively primitive campsite – no electricity or water hook-up, but it did have lovely flush toilets a short walk away, a picnic table, and magnificant views. One evening – the only clear one we’ve had so far – my 9 year old grand daughter and I just sat outside and admired the sky. The Milky Way arched over our heads, we could easily spot the jet liners criss-crossing out section of the world on their way to somewhere else – and we even saw several falling stars. This evening was well worth the price of admission. The red rocks were behind us, around us – and so close that you could reach out and touch them from the picnic table. That’s breakfast deluxe in my world. Sophie climbed and explored, and watched the lizard family next door go about their business of raising the kids. Rabbit sightings and Mule deer sighting were other highlights. Well worth the lack of showers, although the lack of AC was a challenge. It’s hot hot hot until the sun goes down, and it doesn’t really cool off till after midnight. And then of course it gets cold. But still – it was awesome.

So – one down – so many more to go!

Signing off to visit another National Park – The Soup Lady

Miami in a Nutshell – Spring 2016


I’m not a fan of Miami – what is my problem?

In theory – it would seem that I’d really like Miami – at least the Miami Beach part of Miami. And I’ve had some good times there.

We just spent one of the best days ever – just hanging at the beach under an umbrella, reading a good book and ignoring the world. There were even Beach Boys if I’d wanted to order something silly in a plastic cup – say with Rum in it. And certainly the water was beautiful, and the beach was deep rich sand – and the sun was warm, the breezes soft, the feelings mellow.

What possibly could be my problem?

I can’t fault the hotel – we stayed in the Grand Beach Hotel in Surfside. It’s an up and coming area of Miami – north of the ‘strip’, but sharing most of the amenities – white sand, warm water, and very fancy hotels. The Grand Beach was very cool, very modern, very contempory. Nothing says money like people pulling up to valet parking driving Lamberginis, Porches, and Audis. The lobby was stunning in it’s starkness – although the faux library really turned me off. An entire section of the lobby area – over 3 floors high – was fashioned like a library – except the books were all spray-painted beige to go with the mellow color pallet – and were clearly not meant to be books – they were ‘art’.

The hotel offered two pool areas – the main pool area that ‘overlooked’ the beach, although you couldn’t actually see the beach because inbetween the double pools and double hot tubs was an area of landscaped palms and sand paths, leading to the ‘Surfside’ walking/biking/jogging path. This was at the lowest point – it was ‘uphill’ from there to get to the beach itself. The other pool was on the roof – and was surrounded by tall glass panels to keep out the breezes – which I’m guessing might be cool most of high season. Since we were here in May – they were warm and pleasant, but still it was nice to have some protection since we were up over 12 stories high.

My favorite part – aside from our room – was the restaurant. Simply called “The Restaurant” it offered – for Miami Beach – reasonably priced meal options. The reason for my clear enjoyment of this location – the split nature of the restaurant. About 2/3 of the seating was inside – and 1/3 was outside – either on a covered patio, or nestled among the palm trees on sand. Winner – a clear winner. And the staff was wonderfully pleasant as well.

Our room was a corner room – and featured windows (that didn’t open) on 2 sides. Our view was the next building from most of the windows, but our view from the wrap around balcony was actually really nice. To the West (Sunset), we overlooked the town of Surfside – an older communitity that is yet to be fully gentrified. So the buildings were low, the streets narrow, and the roof tops intriguing. We spent some time just sitting on the balcony – watching Surfside slowly – very slowly – settle down for the night.

The room was set-up quite differently from any other hotel room I’ve ever been in. Like most hotel rooms – it was long and thin, but instead of two beds – it had a king bed near the sliding glass doors to the balcony, then a huge full sized bathroom with a giant walk-in shower, then a sofa facing a huge TV (there were 2 TVs in the room – one to watch while in bed, one to watch sitting on the sofa. And here’s the oddest part – a 2nd bathroom. The 2nd bathroom featured a nice sized shower (glass walled of course), a toilet, and one of the smallest sinks I’ve ever seen. Before you start thinking we had a suite – we didn’t! This was a standard sized room. We didn’t get to peak into a suite – but I did look into other rooms – and they were similar – although some of the balconies I could see had not only 2 or 3 chairs and a table – but also a hot tub and a palm tree.

The number of staff was simply inspiring. There was staff – lots of staff – everywhere. And they were very friendly. Not fake friendly either – there was a delightful honesty to everyone I talked to – from the grand-mother making the waffles, to the young man from the Ukranie who served us breakfast. These were nice people.

So why don’t I like Miami?

For starters – I’m not a fan of the weather. Generally it’s either unseasonably cold, unbareably hot, or incredibly muggy. And the AC is always, always too cold. Setting a room temp to 65 when outside it is 90 is just insane.

2nd – it’s insanely expensive in the nice places, and kinda ratty in the not so nice places. I tend to have trouble finding the inbetween stuff – if it’s been gentrified, it’s astronomically expensive, and if its not gentrified, it’s scary.

There seems less and less middle ground every time I come to this area of the world.

Using our GPS – we drove around several different sections of the city – either on our way to the airport, to a restaurant, or to the hotel. We saw massive brand new hotels being built with 4 floor high water walls, and we passed trailer parks with trailer crowded so tightly together that there was barely space to walk between them. There were signs of the times – “We buy your home – no matter the condition”, “Been hit – call us first”, “Try your hand a shooting a machine gun at Lock and Load gun range”, or “Lottery – 135 Million”. At the beach, there were toned and shaped bodies in string bikinis – and religious women swimming in the ocean while dressed from head to toe. Miami is certainly a mixed bag – and that never makes me feel comfortable. I’m much happier in places where everyone seems to share the good times – not hog them.

But it’s hard to deny that it’s fun to just mellow out on a beach.

So – that’s Miami from me in a nutshell. Signing off – The Soup Lady

A tale of 3 Hospitals – Canada Medical vs US Medical – a winner is declared


We talk a lot here in Canada about our medical system – how long it takes to be seen, how inexpensive it is compared to the US version, how our doctors compare. But until push comes to shove – it’s all highly theortical.

I have been lucky – or unlucky depending on how you see it – to be up close and personal with 3 – count’m 3 – hospitals in the last 4 weeks. Which is about 3 hospitals more than I normally see in a year! So I feel uniquely qualifed to pontificate on how an unwitting participant in the medical world feels about the going on’s.

My first hospital was St. Mary’s – here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. I’d always heard really good things about St. Mary’s – so when my husband was scheduled to have his full hip replacement there – I was pleased. Then we found out that cut-backs at St. Mary’s resulted in the death of a man taken there – incorrectly it turns out – instead of to the new ‘Glen Site’ hospital. Unknown to the amulance folks, St. Mary’s had had it’s ability to perform vasculary surgery taken away. So despite the fact that a surgeon capable of doing the work was standing in the emergency room when the amulance drove up – the patient was sent on. And he died.

oops.

No one was all that happy of course – but consider the point of view of scheduled patient. What happens if something goes wrong with my surgery – and I need that specialty. Do they take me out of the operating room and transport me to the other hospital? Yikes.

But my husband is the braver of the two of us – and he really seriously wanted his hip done and the pain gone. Plus he liked his doctor. So St. Mary’s it was.

The whole thing flowed perfectly. We arrived on a Friday morning at 6:30 AM – and parked right across from the front door. We signed in, went up to pre-op – and my husband walked himself into the closed pre-pre-op room. Next time I’d see him would be in his room on the 6th floor. (also the top floor – if you are counting.).

I sat in the small coffee shop (not the most comfy seats in the world, but the food was reasonable and not too $$), did email and got nervous, until it was time to go upstairs. The 6th floor is divided into 3 sections. The orthopedic wing where my husband would be, the general surgical wing, and of all things – the Kidney Dialysis section. Naturally – that section was only in use during the week. On the weekends – it’s was closed up tight. In fact – the entire hospital was very quiet on the weekend.

But the doctor came by Friday after his surgeries were fiinished, and again twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday. So we didn’t lack for opportunity to ask him detailed and proably pretty annoying questions.

Most of the rooms on the 6th floor are doubles – and although my husband asked for a private room – he was quite clearly informed that he’d be sharing. The private rooms were being held for patients that required isolation for some reason – and he clearly did not. Opposite his bed was a ‘white’ board that held various symbols – and as his ability to move freely improved, different symbols were circled to clearly indicate what he was considered capable of doing – only stay in bed, get out of bed with 2 helpers, get out of bed with one helper, get out of bed on his own.

Missing from the board were the names of his nurses – and since they were constantly changing – it would have been really handy had they been recorded there. Because it was the weekend – every shift he had someone new, and I never really caught their names, although a very accomplished nurse from the Philipines stood out.

His roommate was a bit of a sad case. An older woman in the early stages of dementia, she had fallen and broken her hip – which is what had brought her to the hospital 2 days before my husband’s arrival. But in her case – she still required significant help to get out of bed. She often clearly knew where she was and why – but then would suddenly become highly confused and bewildered. We gave her the flowers one of our visitors brought on the day we left – and her graditude was heart-wrencing.

In the 3 days we were there – only once did she have a visitor – her son showed up on Saturday night for an hour. He brought her a deck of cards – and it wasn’t until mid-day on Sunday that she unwrapped them – before that she proudly showed all the staff that he’d spent a whole $6 to get them for her.

On friday – the halls of the 6th floor were crowded with patients, food carts, linen carts, laundry recepticals. By Friday night, everything was cleaned up for the weekend, and the halls were relatively empty. Plenty of room to walk – and walk we did. On Saturday, my husband was allowed his first walk, on Sunday he was climbing stairs and wandering down to the lower floors of the hospital, and on Monday we checked out. Daily parking charge – $15.

This would have been plenty of medical for me – but on Easter weekend my mother-in-law, who spends the winters in Florida, suddenly became ill. I rushed down to Florida from Montreal on Sunday – flying all day to arrive in the hospital after closing hours.

She had been taken to the Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach – and what a hospital it is. Wow. Double Wow. Even closed up tight it was impressive. The lobby looked like a 5 star hotel, marble floors, high arching ceilings, and scrolls honoring donors decorating the walls. One section for donors of over a million dollars, a 2nd section for donor of over $500,000 – and a third much larger, but with much smaller type – for those who donated over $250,000. It felt like a very fancy theatre – albeit a bit medicianal. Daily parking charge – Free.

We had to walk around thru the Emergency section to get into the hospital proper, and we were immediatly shown to the elevators that wisked us up to the 4th – and top – floor. Unlike St. Mary’s – most of the rooms were private – with only a few with double occupancy. My mother-in-law had a room to herself – large enough to hold her bed, a bed for me, 2 visitor chairs, plus a reclining chair for her use. Her bathroom was as large as mine at home – and featured a full walk in shower in addition to the requsite toilet and sink. There was a stack of clean towels and wash cloths for her use, plus back-up clean hospital gowns. And of course a bit of storage.

The most remarkable things were in the technology area. Everything that could be done using a computer or a cell phone or an ipad was done using technology. When the doctors came in on rounds – they consulted their ipads. When the nurse finished changing an IV bag – she turned around and used the computer terminal (flat screen monitor of course) in the room. The work room for the doctors (yes – I peeked in) had computer stations. The Charge Nurse had a private room with lovely dark wood furniture. The nurse’s station was manned 24/7 – and the nurses never seemed to go on break.

On the wall opposite my mother-in-laws bed was a clearly visible white board with the names – and cell phone numbers – of her nurse, her charge nurse, and her PA (Patient Assistant). Every staff member had a cell phone – and every patient had a cell phone enabled hand held key pad to control the lights in the room, the bed position, and to call the nurse. No pressing a button and hoping someone responses. You called your nurse – who answered immediately – letting you know where she was – and when she’d be able to be by your side. If she couldn’t react fast enough – she’d call the orderly (I sit corrected – PA).

The IV’s were all dispensed by electronic dispensing equipment that monitored flow, and sent a beeping signal directly to a large display board opposite the nurses station. On the display board was the name of the patient, their doctor, their status, discharge notice if known, information from the IV equipment, and if the patient had pressed their call button – that information was also displayed. I was very impressed.

A bit like St. Mary’s – the 4th floor was cleanly divided into two sections, each with it’s own nurses station – the oncology and gastro section where my mother-in-law was located, and a much quieter, much calmer section clearly labeled as Hospice. Since my mother-in-law was doing a lot of walking to try and help what was ailing her – I got to see the 4th floor quite a bit. And even on Monday – the halls were kept clear and open. There was a place for everything – and everything was in it’s place.

The same could be said about St. Mary’s – it is just that some of the places were overflowing – and at the Bethesada – there was tons of room everywhere.

On the bad news side – we quite quickly ran into insurance challenges. The canadian based health insurance of my mother-in-law refused to pay the price of surgery at the Bethseda. Instead – they insisted that she be flown by air ambulance back to Montreal.

Consider for a minute what that says about the cost of the surgery at Bethseda. It was CHEAPER to use a small airplane, a pilot and a co-pilot, a special ambulance, and two medical professionals to fly my mother-in-law home (a 5 hour flight each way) – than it was to do the surgery in the US.

That’s seriously scary stuff you know.

Anyway – 24 hours after I arrived, my mother-in-law was taken by stretcher down to a special ambulance. There was an official transfer of information, the sweet folks at Bethseda being careful to be sure that the medical folks from the air ambulance people knew everything that they knew about my mother-in-law. Eventually the ambulance drove with my mother-in-law and the 2 medical techs to the airport in Fort Launderdale – and from there they flew to Montreal. Waiting for her in Montreal was another ambulance – which took her and the 2 medical techs to the General. The staff there was expecting her – and she was wisked into her private room there. The 2 medical techs flew home of course – so a total of 12 hours of travel time to save the cost of 1 small simple operation in the US.

In the space of that 6 hour (one way) trip – my mother-in-law went from 2016 modern to 1935 circa halls, walls, and patient facilities. The Montreal General is a huge – and very old hospital. There are banks of elevators – some of which only go to the 6th floor – other’s of which go all the way up to the 19th floor. My mother-in-laws room (better described as a large closet) – was on the 18th floor. Again – the floor was divided into two wings – only one nurses desk served both sides. The most remarkable difference – aside from the drastic room size reduction – was the amount of stuff in the halls.

There is clearly no storage anywhere in the General. I say this because there was stuff everywhere. Dirty linen, Clean linen, Walkers, Crutches, food carts, stands for holding bags for holding dirty linen and dirty paper gowns, you name it – it was in the halls. What there wasn’t in the halls were visitor chairs. Rumor has it that there were visitor chairs in a ‘sunroom’ located at the far end of the hall – but the same rumor said that the chairs were bolted into place to prevent visitors from moving them. The windows were cracked and dirty – and held together by duct tape. Prominent everywhere were hand wash stations. The amount of hand sanitizer used in a day must be enough to float a large battle ship.

Unlike my husband, my mother-in-law had a private room – just barely large enough to hold her bed. I sat on the narrow window sill when I went to visit, and other visitors had to share her bed, her one visitor chair, or a step-stool. IV drips were controlled by old fashioned plastic rotary clips – no electronics in sight.

To get a nurse – you pressed a red button. If you were lucky – and often you were not – a disembodied voice would boom over the speaker – asking what you needed and promising to let the nurse know. The bathroom had no shower of course – it barely had room for a sink and a toilet.

I will however admit that the floors were generally cleaned – although unlike at the Bethseda – I never actually saw a cleaning person.

But it’s not about the looks of the room, or the window, or the halls- it’s about the care. And while the nurses were much more scare, and I never did see a PA (Patient assistant) – the ones I did see treated my mother-in-law with respect and care.

The staff ran tests all day on Tuesday, and then decided to operate on Tuesday night. They did not find a blockage, but they did find a small tear with they repaired, and they could see where issues might have been that caused the problem.

She is now on the road to recovery – although she is still being held hostage in the hospital. Until something moves – she’s at the mercy of the hospital staff at the Montreal General. But the news is getting better and better every day – and today – Monday – she positively sounded bouncy.

So ends my tale of 3 hospitals. If money is no object – I choose the Bethesda. If money matters – then St. Mary’s is a clear winner. If I never return to the Montreal General – that will be soon enough.

Signing off to tell all her loved ones that she loves them (you might also want to do it now!) – the soup lady.

Zastrozzi, Bar Karpra and Bus Stops


3 Plays in 3 nights – color me Crazy! And color me lucky that I live in a city with so much relatively inexpensive live theatre! What fun it is to be able to pay under $15 to see great theatre.

And I’m not even a professional reviewer.

A statement that some of my readers might find disingenuous at the least. But marching on as always – I will attempt to both tease and torture my readers into keeping their eyes peeled for any of these to show up at a theatre near you!

First stop – Bar Karpra the Squirrel Hunter – which is a fringe winner trying way to hard to be a real piece of theatre. Cute for fringe, and not badly acted, and certainly well produced and staged – it’s a play in search of a strong story line. Unfortunately for the audience – it doesn’t find it. I read a review of this play that tried to defend this lack of point by describing it as a poem – well – it’s a badly written one then.

The staging however was quite cool – and I loved how the flowing side screens filled the darkened space with just the hit of forest green and white as the seasons changed. I also found some of the physical tricks appealing – not realizing until the very end that two of the ‘flat’ surfaces in fact were padded. Neatly done. But good staging does not a great play make.

Fast forward 2 nights to Bus Stops. Put on by one of our professional theatre groups – and costing the viewer significantly more than Bar Karpra – it suffered from many of the same ills. And given that the same set designer created both productions – I suppose it makes sense that both should be more about glorious set design than about story.

Too bad I care more about story.

Bus Stops – being far more polished and professional – is perhaps the bigger disappointment. If we pay more – we expect more. And Yes – Bus Stop delivered more – more tumbling, more special effects, more surprising bits and pieces – but still the lack of directed story line was so distracting that it took away from the whole.

Too often I was left wondering – why did that actor just do that? Why does that one seem so angry, that one so bored. We know from the start that there has been a tragedy – but we don’t know until the end exactly what happened – altough there is plenty of opportunity to guess.

And then there were the cute bits of switching clothing. Neatly done and very interesting – but how does dancing with shirts contribute to the story line? Are we to understand that each person is representing several other people? Ok – I get that. But did they have to dance with the shirts to prove it? Weird.

The set of course is another story. It’s a bus that has been bombed – and the frame work provides the actors with places to swing, hang, fold, fall, and pose. As time goes by – parts of the bus are dismantled – I’m guessing to show how the story is unfolding. Neat stuff – but just not quite enough to make up for the lack of a clearly developed and fully realized story.

Ah – but then we have Zastrozzi. Stunning, fabulous, intriguing, stimulating, challenging, exciting, fun, entralling, exciting, and well worth paying to see. As you probably guessed – I loved Zastrozzi.

It is primarly a fight fest – the 5 actors (3 men, 2 women) fight with everything on stage – bottles, fists, palms, whips, rapiers, and knives. There’s sexual tension – including a ‘rape’ scene where the two participants are sitting near each other – but never touch. There are several extended sword duels – with plenty of dramatic flourishes to keep the result of the duels in questions.

The set itself is almost completely empty – a trunk is dragged from side to side to represent various pieces of furniture – but that is all the set there is. And yet the lack of a set is not a problem. It doesn’t distract from the play – it actually contributes to the feeling of emptiness that all the actors suffer from.

And yes – there is a story. It’s not an easy simple story, and I’m not going to even attempt to summarize it. Enough to say that all the fights make sense within the larger pictures. And isn’t that what we want – things to make sense when seen as a whole.

Zastrozzi is not a new play – it was first performed in 1977 – so I suspect that it is likely to end up being staged elsewhere. But for now it’s on at the Mainline until March 20th, 2016. If you miss it – you will be missing something grand.

Signing off to see even more theatre – The Soup Lady.

12 Best Free Stuff at Deer Valley Ski Resort


Yes – It’s hard to imagine that a Ski Resort would offer free stuff – but trust me – Deer Valley definitely does – and it’s pretty good free stuff too!

1. Newspapers in the restaurants. Hard to imagine with the incredible skiing going on – but sure enough – you can get your daily dose of the news – while everyone else is blasting thru the snow piles.

2. Condiments – Ok – I know – everyone offers stuff like ketscup and mustard – but Deer Valley Dining has bowl of cut up oranges, lemons and limes – free for adding to your water, your meal, whatever you want to do with them!

3. Hot and Cold Water – and not just at water fountains either. You can fill up with plain water at the soda machines (Snow Park even offers a choice between plain and seltzer water). And they provide real cups, not just paper cups. And that hot water is super handy – because you can bring a package of oatmeal, hot chocolate, or even Rama Soup.

4. Mango Chutney – This stuff is addictive – I should know – I never eat lunch at Deer Valley without a cup of this stuff to add to my flat breads.

5. Flat Bread! – Yup – you read that right – they give out free bread and free flat bread. The bread is just slices of Baguette – but the toasted flat bread is the truly yummy free stuff. Grab a stack – add mango chutney – you’ve eating the Deer Valley way – and it’s free. Also free – butter and jam in case Mango Chutney isn’t quite your thing.

6. Cell Phone Charging – This isn’t that unique – after all Park City Ski resort has do it yourself charging stations for sure at the Cloud Nine Restaurant and at the Miner’s Camp. But at Deer Valley – if you want your cell phone charged – you go to Guest Services – where they not only charge your cell phone – they smile!

7. Free Ski Storage – both during lunch – and over night. Why is that important – because you can leave your skis right at the lift – protected by locked doors – and all ready to grab when you need them. And you don’t have to worry about something taking your skis. And even better – you can keep two pairs! So I have both my ice skates and my powder skis easily available. It’s the best. And it’s free.

8. Free Overnight Boot Storage – during the day they charge $5 for a basket – but at night the basket room becomes Free Overnight Boot Storage. It’s warm, it’s dry – and so handy.

9. Boot heaters – Why haven’t other resorts figured out that people love to warm up their boots before putting them on in the morning. This is so user friendly – I love it. You put your boots on the heater – push a button – hot air blows into your boot for about a minute – and then – voila – warm boots. Wow. You can also use these to warm your gloves, or to dry your boots before putting them in overnight storage.

10. Greeting from every employee – and not just hello either – conversations – jokes – Questions – They enjoy working for Deer Valley – and their joy in doing their jobs – even if it is just holding a chair lift seat for you – is contagious. You have more fun skiing when the folks there to help you are having fun too. My favorite employee story – I skied down to a lift – and the lift operator was on one knee in the loading area. As I skied by – I said – sorry – I’m married. It took him a moment – then he called out with his arms open wide – If you ever change your mind – Call me! I laughed all the way up the ride on that lift.

11. Loaner stuff – Yes there are stores where you can buy high priced gear of the best quality – but Deer Valley goes a step beyond that. If you’ve lost a pole – there’s a collection of single ‘lost’ poles at the Empire lodge ski check – just ask and they will hand you one for the day. Lost or forgotten gloves or a face mask? Check lost and found. If you claim it – it’s yours for the day. And when you are done – you can just return it. No questions asked. But the best free loaner stuff? The Rosignol Yurt! They will fit you to the newest Rosignol skis – adjust the binding – and send you off to test the gear. You can try various sizes, different shapes, and then put your own skis back on to compare. It’s awesome.

12. But the very very best free stuff at Deer Valley are the Host guided tours. Offered twice a day – at Expert and Intermediate levels – these are beyond compare. The absolute best way to ski. The Intermediate level tours are generally (but not always) restricted to groomed blue runs. These are incredibly informative – the hosts that lead them love telling tales about Deer Valley – and it’s hard not to pick up something new every time you take a tour. The Expert tours are a completely different thing. These are high speed Bumps, Chutes, Powder and Trees experiences. You race down behind the host – exploring territority you might never ski on your own. Sometimes it’s more challenging that you might like, and for some experts – it’s way too easy – but it’s a lot more fun then skiing alone – and a whole lot safer. Every other ski hill I’ve visited will offer tours – but they are always restricted to groomed runs and a scheduled circuit – no where I’ve ever been takes the wild and wooly approach like they do at Deer Valley – and that makes all the difference. It’s the best.

Signing off to go on a Ski Tour! The skiing Soup Lady

Consider the Perfect Ski Day – Deer Valley Utah


For those to whom downhill skiing is either an unknown joy, or a fearful journey into the cold and wet – this particular blog entry is not for you. But do read on if you ski – or have always wondered why people would wake up early, strap their feet onto long boards and plunge down mountainsides.

I’m not going to be discussing how to keep your feet warm (although that is very important), how to pick a ski hill, or even how to decide what skis to wear.

Nope – I’m just going to describe a day on the Mountain – Deer Valley in Park City Utah to be exact – and try to explain why I had such a perfect ski day.

I’m a pretty good skier for my age and lack of ski days. I wasn’t a racer when I was young, I didn’t do a few years as a ski bum after college, and I actually only saw snow after I turned 21. So – yes I’ve had 46 years of skiing experience on paper – but starting late and missing a few years and having 3 kids – adds up to my being a pretty good skier, not a great skier.

But I love the feeling of standing in a field of trees and snow – with nary a track of another skier to be seen. I love the smell of the crisp air at a ski slope – generally located, once you are past the main area – in a building free zone of white snow, frosted trees, and complete quiet.

And I love my ability to swerve between trees – moving down thru the silence, snow, and trees eventually ending – as all downhill ski trails end – at a chair lift.

So – on to my perfect day!

As I said – I’m staying in Park City, Utah – and it’s Sundance. That means that the hotels are full of people who are not skiing – they are all going to the movies. So the ski hills are seriously empty. No lines, no waiting, no seeing other people among the trees.

This is good – but not why my day was perfect.

Nope – perfection comes from all of the above – plus a base depth of over 60″ – and over 8″ of fresh powder. Followed 3 days later by another 5″. Add it up – and if you know where to ski – you will find billowing mounds of white powder – just crying out for someone – anyone – to create curved tracks thru all that snow.

Something I’m so very happy to do!

I started the morning off on the far western side of the resort – on groomed runs that had been covered by snow overnight. That creates a carpet of smooth snow – no bumps, no lumps, no tracks! It was amazingly fun to glide down the carpet – not another skier in sight.

Eventually of course other skiers appeared – and the trails became cut up – not terrible you understand, but not that perfect untracked perfection.

So time to switch to the woods. Many skiers won’t go into the woods – fear of hitting a tree, fear of getting lost, fear of the unknown. I’m not sure why folks don’t love the trees like I do – but I know they don’t. Which is fine by me – since often that means that I can ski into the woods even 2 days after a snow fall – and still find powder puffs to call my own.

We started in Triangle Trees – a large wooded area that stretches between 2 runs – and most importantly – between 2 lifts. Effectively we are sking a ridge line, and eventually must choose to go left or right to get to one of the two lifts. We almost always choose to go right – the ridge faces north at this point and the snow skis much better on North facing slopes. It gets colder – and feels dryer and ‘fluffier’. And it was perfect.

I stop once to admire the woods – and am reminded of the Robert Frost poem – “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening”. “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”. I’ve read critisim of this poem that implies that it is simplistic, trite, and even laughable. But my thought is that those critics have never stood in a snow covered woodside – alone, listening hard to the endless silence.

There is a curious truth about skiing in the woods – even if only 2 turns seperate you from your buddy – you can’t see or hear them. Trees absorb sound – and so of course does powder snow. There is a silence in the snowy woods that is unmatched elsewhere. Deep, profound, and beautiful.

Our next stop – the Black Forest – also an area between two lifts – and while not as large from side to side – it makes up for that in steepness and darkness. The trees are more pine than aspen – and pine trees create a dark envirnoment. They also lose branches easily – so a bit more care is needed to avoid having your skis get entangled. But proper powder skis that ‘float’ on the snow, and sufficient snow depth takes care of most issues – and an eye out for the occasional log pile means the skiing is safe and untimately beautiful.

22 Runs, 18,741 Vertical feet, 21.7 miles of skiing – as the Deer Valley Host quipped – was I driving a car… – it was an incredible day of skiing.

Best day ever.

Ok – Maybe it’s safer to say – Best day so far…

Signing off to ski some more off-piste powder…

The Soup Lady

Complete Unknown – Sundance 2016


Imagine walking into a dinner party and coming face to face with someone from your past – but being told they have a completely different name, different history, different life.

Complete Unknown puts Tom (Michael Shannon) into this exact position – and forces him and the audience along with him to examine not only their current happiness – but what it means to ‘be someone’.

Alice (aka Jennifer, aka 8 other people) is played with convincing sincerity by the lovely Rachael Weisz. An over-the-top brilliant young woman with incredible talents – she has come to realize that life can be boring – and one way to eliminate the boredom is to become someone else.

Which leaves the audience to wonder – would I be happier/more fullfilled/less regretful if I just re-invented myself. Is it even possible to just suddenly decide to be a nurse, or a doctor, or a research technician – and after carefully doing the required research – pass yourself off as same to an unwary world?

Would we – the unwary world in which Alice swims – even recognize the foolery – or do we make decisions about folks without doing the hard double checking? Do you really know who were the guests at your last dinner party? How would you re-act to a new person coming to dinner – would you accept them at face value – or wonder if they really were who and what they said they were.

Talented director Joshua Marston sets out to ask us to reconsider the enigma of humanity – and in doing so creates a completely engrossing and challenging film.

It seems easy to think that we’d be smarter than Tom’s family and friends – but I’m not so sure. I think I for one could be easily fooled – and if the ‘fooler’ was determined to carry on the charade – I’d probably go along for the ride.

And here’s a stunning thought – is being a re-enactor so very different from what Alice is doing? When I introduce myself as M. le Docteur Jean Vivant do Clairmont – am I not inventing a past and a career that of course has nothing to do with reality.

Something to think about surely!

Our plan – when the film comes out on DVD – as it surely will – we’ll organize a dinner party – and challenge our guests on the topic. When are you sure you really know someone – and when do you get surprised?

Signing off to see even more movies… The Soup Lady

Hunt for the Wilderpeople – Sundance Must See


No Joke – I laughed till I cried at the outlandish things that happen in this run-away comedy by Taika Waititi. It’s an absolute must-see – and it’s playing 4 more times here at Sundance before it hits the distribution circuit – If you are also here in Park City – Go Check It Out! Otherwise – keep your eyes peeled for this film to hit a screen near you.

The plot is pretty simple – its the twists and turns and great acting that will totally rock you. As a member of the audience pointed out – it’s a buddy film – complete with a car chase. But this is only the frame work on which Taika has hung one amazingly wonderful film.

A 13 year old boy – called “A really Bad Egg” by the hare-brained and wildly offensive Social Worker – is delivered into the hands of a tacturn husband and his overly gragarious wife living at the edge of the New Zealand bush – nothing but glorious trees and vines and roots for miles and miles and miles in all directions. Naturally the boy is hardly happy to be there – but the wife of the family is willing to go the distance to help him get settled in. Bounce forward past some hilarious scenes including boar hunting – and the wife suddenly dies, not surprisingly leaving the husband (played to perfection by Sam Neil) on the run from an increasingly outrageous cast of characters – and of course that wild and crazy social worker.

It’s funny, it’s endearing, it’s delightful – and you will be quoting scenes – particularly the bits with non-so-psycho Sam – over and over.

One of the reasons one comes to Sundance in the first place is to see films that you’d never get to see in the real world. But this film is going to be distributed widely – so when it comes to your ‘art house theatre’ – Go!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Remember it.

Signing off to go to more films – and do much more skiing – The Soup Lady