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

Parting Shots – Goodbye to London


I’m on my way back home to Canada – but I can’t help but leave you with a few more true stories of the strange things I’ve seen here in England.

Homeless Dog Sitter – we were outside of the V&A Museum (wonderful museum – highly recommend it), there’s a nice pedestrian area there that makes for very pleasant walking. It was right around 6:30 – and we saw the absolute strangest thing. An apparently homeless man was sitting with his arms around a large brown dog, holding a sign. “Just a man and his dog – Please be generous”. Ok – seen that before. But here’s the odd part. As we watched, another man, wearing a nice coat and looking quite established walked up to the man – no words were exchanged – but the man took out from under his coat a leash, a harness, and a dog jacket – proceeded to put the jacket on the dog, add the leash and harness – and then walked away. The homeless man turned around, and flipped over his sign.

What do you think that was all about?

Ok – Subway manners. In Korea they have signs indicating the locations sections of the metro cars designated for the older, the pregant, or the infirm. If someone sits in one of these sections by accident – the proper occupants will hiss at them to move away. Totally works. In London – it’s a bit different. The seats nearest the doors are all marked as special seating – it’s emblazoned on the backrests – and sometimes on the the window. But you don’t know where the doors will end up, so you are often trying to guess where to stand. But that’s not the subject of this story. I need a seat on the subway – the jerky motion makes my knees ache – so I always try for a seat – and I don’t mind asking someone who looks young and healthy – but has decided to sit in the special seats to get up. Not everyone who needs a seat is that forceful however – and we boarded a subway car with another older woman. I asked a young man to get up – which he did. Across from him – also sitting in a seat designated for older, pregant, or infirm – was another younger gentleman holding a briefcase. He made eye contact with the other older woman – and proceeded to shut his eyes and clutch his briefcase to his chest – faking sleep.

Really – you can’t be bothered to get up – and you are willing to fake sleep to aoid it?

Ok – Subway manners again. Remember that the special seats are for older folks, infirm – or pregant. But how do you know a woman is pregant? When I was in the market stall at Fenchurch Station – I noticed young women – some obviously pregant, some not so obvious – sporting a button that said – “Baby on Board”. I thought – that’s funny that they all bought the same button. But my daughter tells me that I’m wrong. In fact – Doctors give their pregant patients these buttons – which are distruted by the transit authority – to allow them to claim those special seats.

How cool is that!

One last story – then I’m off to a new adventure.

Brits are amazingly polite in general. I worry for the newest generation – but generally speaking they don’t like to say no. So when I was giving out samples of Crown & Queue Sausages (curedmeat.london), if they didn’t want to buy something – they would fake an excuse. “I don’t get paid till tomorrow”, “How late will you be here – I’ll come back after work”, “I’m going to tour the market and then come back”. The last actually wasn’t a clear no – often they did come back – which they would announce! “Hi – I’m back – and you have the best sausages”. Actually – we had just about the only air-cured dried sausages – but I agree they were awesomely good. But here’s my favorite way for Brits to say – Thanks but no Thanks. “Will you be here tomorrow/on Monday/next week?”. At first I’d honestly tell them – Yes. But I quickly realized that was just another way of saying no. So I finally started to say either “No – today is our last day”, or “We aren’t sure yet – if you want sausages – you should get them now”. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that it is possible that some people – having been called out on their polite rejection – perhaps bought a sausage. Who knows for sure!

Ok – that’s it for my report from London. I had a really great time visiting with my daughter – albeit the sleeping arrangements weren’t always the very best. We managed to spend 3 weeks in extremely close company – and didn’t kill each other. We didn’t even have a fight. Must be a record of some kind.

We did have some laughs – did some Christmas Caroling – some organized – and some in the Market Stall, and we shared a lot of meals. But most importantly – we had plenty of bonding time to talk about this and that. It was fun.

Signing off to head home,

The Soup Lady

Exploring the Gastro Underbelly of London


I’m here on a very strict budget – no high end, fancy restaurants this trip. Instead I’ve been looking for the discount options with portions large enough for my daughter and I to share. And bottom line – we’ve eaten very very well!

The least expensive options have been food stalls – and since we’re ‘market folks’ sometimes the meals are free! Finding time to enjoy the food of course is the big challenge – but as for taste – there are some amazing options out there. At Fenchurch stations – we had 3 different meal options – all only available for lunch unfortunately – but surprisingly good. My favorite of the 3 – hands down – was the ‘Asian Fusion’. Starting at around 9:30 – they would set-up and start cooking. They were making stir-fried meals of several different options – including my personal favorite – a fried chicken nugget wonder made with chilis and green peppers. The peppers were crisp – the nuggets yummy – and sauce delicious. I never did find out the price – they always gave me free tastes at the end of their day. It was yummy.

The other food options at Fenchurch included an Indian option that had Onion Baji, Samosas, Tikka Masalla and the like. Amazing that they could make such delicious food in basically a 9×9 tent with portable burners.There was also – for just 2 days – a soup kitchen. They brought the soup in pre-made in large plastic bags, and just reheated to serve. It was ok – but not something I’d walk out of my office to get.

The offerings at Allie-Palie were more varied since there were more booths in general. In addition to the Indian, Asian Fusion, Kettle Corn, German Sausages, and Meat Pies – there were these absolutely amazing fish cakes. I loved, loved, loved them – and the price was right – Free! I’m not sure they meant to give it to me free – they were intending to give them to the lady who sells bread at the stall next to ours – but when she only wanted one of the two they brought her – they handed one to me. Oh Yum. Probably my favorite of the Market Stall food I tried.

But it’s not just about food stall food – we also did a lot of Take-out food. Londener’s love take out – partly it’s away to avoid taxes – food eaten off premises is cheaper. But that’s not the only reason for it’s popularity – it’s easy to get food delivered. There’s an app called “Just Eat” that keeps your past orders on file – so you can go ‘same old’ – or opt for something new and fun. My kids and I have ordered in Indian that was delicious – done take-out of Thai that was also yummy – and once even opted for Fish and Chips. The price points are reasonable – under 10 pounds per person – and the portions sufficient to allow for an extra meal or 2!

For in restaurant eating – my favorite was easily Simplicity. This is a cozy local place that has Pork Belly as the speciality – and with a very talented chef in the kitchen. We ordered one dinner to share – which kept the price down – and without even saying anything – they double plated the dinner! It was delicous. Here’s their website (yes – it’s that good) – http://www.simplicityrestaurants.com (obviously – they are thinking of becoming a chain… wonder if that will happen.)

My second favorite was the Mayflower – again because it was just plain fun to sit and enjoy the view.

During our Christmas in Sutton Courtenay – we went to “The Nag’s Head” – so I did a pub meal. Unfortunately we were seated in the restaurant area – which featured an amazing view of the Thames – but none of the completely quaint Pub atmosphere. We did get to see how great it was – lots of big leather sofas and great seating areas. Next time I’m pubbing – I’m definitely sitting in the pub area. Food was delicious – I had a fish and chips dinner – and the fish was big enough for 2. And delightfully flaky. I’m clearly a fan.

Unfortunately – there was a down side – we tried two Japanese restaurants – neither of which I thought was excellent, and one of which I thought was actually horrid. Oh well – one loser amoung so many winners – it was bound to happen.

Things I didn’t get to try:
Peri-Peri Chicken – this has become the in thing in Montreal – and I saw several of them – but we never stopped in one for dinner. The one we did walk into – I walked back out. It just didn’t say – eat here – to me.

Pasteries – I visited a coffee shop every morning for my daily fix of Latte (at 2 pounds – it was pricy – but delicous) – and was such a steady customer that the gal started to make my latte as I walked thru the door – but I never ate breakfast there – so no toad in the hole – or even a muffin. Oh well.

Indian – in a restaurant. We ate Indian take out (well – actually delivery) that was outstanding – the Tandori Chicken was fresh, tender, and delicious, but we never actually went into an Indian restaurant. In fact – there are lots more ‘take-out’ places then actual restaurants – at least around Surry Quays.

Pizza – in a restaurant. Again – did delivery – but never in a restaurant. Again – delicous. We ordered the ‘meat lover’ which didn’t have that much meat on it to be honest – but it was yummy.

So – bottom line – lots of good food – and by British terms – not too much money!

Signing off to continue the search for the ultimate low-cost food option,
The Soup Lady

Gentrification in London – Surrey Quays in particular


We all know about Gentrification – when old neighborhoods become cool places to live – and people with money arrive and take over buildings, renovating them to make them acceptable living quarters – by their standards of course. I’ve read all about – but now that I’m staying ‘long term’ with my daughter – my perspective has changed.

Living in the area near Surrey Quays in London is about living in an area undergoing Gentrification while you watch. The old neighborhoods are still holding on – but just barely. There are betting storefronts, restaurants that have clearly seen better times, and a wonderful brick building with a huge plaque stating that this model low-cost housing was built in 1916 by the good will of William Richard Sutton. In 1984, he left 1,500,000 pounds – a fortune at that time – for the establishment of low-cost housing for the poor of London, one of which is located right where my daughter has just bought a brand new flat.

So one of the issues – do you tear these down to make more of the much more modern flats like my daughter lives in – or do you recognize the heritage value of these old fashioned – but extremely well-built buildings and leave them standing? They have survived two world wars – it seems wrong to trash them because they have no elevators, the flats are small, and the layout hardly the modern style that today’s kids require.

But then – I’ve read that in the 50’s average houses were under 1000 sq feet – today they are over 2000! (don’t believe – check it out here: http://stephencolley.com/trends-since-1950/)

So while the Sutton flats are hardly palaces – should they be replaced just because someone could make more money? Tis of course a question that I’m not going to answer. Interesting one though.

Back to the neighborhood – there’s a ‘high street’ – that’s a main shopping street – and parts of it are quite nice, a lovely fish and chips shop, a coffee shop, two DIY shops that never have what I need, and a local pub. But there is also an area of big box stores – a huge grocery store, a sporting goods store that runs on for several thousand square feet – and of course the requiste huge parking lots. I think it’s the parking lots that seem wrong somehow. Flat expanses of what was once grass – now paved and mostly empty.

Her area is also home to Canada Waters – an extremely upscale section of the city that is built over the tube stop. Now there they have elevators. And surprisingly – or I guess actually not surprisingly – we are hard by the Thames. My daughter took me into the Mayflower – an absolutely lovely pub with great beer – that is actually on the Thames! It overlooks the location of the wharf from where the Mayflower was launched.

Best of all – the Simplicity Cafe and Restaurant – http://www.simplicityrestaurants.com

We’ve eaten there twice – and it’s a wonderful example of a tiny destination restaurant in a crazy location. You aren’t going to wander in off the street – you either have read about it – or you don’t go. My daughter had walked by many times, and since they were open on Monday night – when many restaurants are closed – decided to take me there on my first night in London. It was perfect. Maybe 40 seats total – the chef behind the helm of the ship – and portions so large that even though we’d ordered one to share – we thought they had brought us two!

Again – Gentrification at work. This isn’t a restaurant for the working class – as Londoner’s would define that term. They serve fabulously fussy food – hardly what a guy looking for a quick dinner of peri-peri chicken or fish and chips would enjoy – but the increasing amount of Gentrification in the area means that there are more and more DINKS (Double Income No Kids) family – and they can definitely afford the splurge.

Speaking of kids – I’ve never seen so many fabulously fancy carriages in my life as I have since I arrived in London. Not just in the Surrey Quays area either – in fact I think I’ve seen fewer there. But at some of the markets – the in thing is to take your 2 kids in a huge stroller – one standing in back, the other sitting in front – or in one alternative – one sitting in front and the infant hidden from view tucked into the back basket – for a market stroll.

My daughter is conflicted about the Gentrification. On one hand – she loves areas that have already been gentrified, lots of nicer restaurants, cute shops, cobblestone streets and big sidwalks. On the other hand – gentrification means the loss of the lower cost options – no DIY shops, no inexpensive fast food options, no Thai Box take-aways with one chef and his wife as cashier. You win some and lose some with Gentrification.

My wonder – I wonder where the people who are displaced by people like my daughter go to live? Will they sell, take their money and run to the country? Will they move further away from the city – trading commuting time for living costs? Or will they move in with their friends – creating even more crowded conditions in tiny flats that are valued at far more than they can afford in taxes.

At the heart of my daughter’s area is the real prize – the huge park called “Southwark”. It’s huge – and her daily walking commute to the Arch of Crown & Queue (www.curedmeat.london) takes her (and me) straight thru it. I love that part of my “commute”. I get to enjoy a deep refreshing breathe of green grass and old trees between sidewalks and street crossings.

How do I feel about all this?

I’m glad my daughter lives in a place she loves, and I’m really really glad she has an elevator in her building. And I’m very pleased that they carefully bought a flat that has a guarenteed view. And her location couldn’t be better – there’s a smallish, but well stocked, grocery store about 50 feet from her front door, a tube stop a 10 minute walk away – and the park is under a 10 minute walk as well. I love walking her current ‘high street’ – I find the mix of classes fun to see.

But will this last?

The presence of the big box stores with their huge parking lots is an eyesore – and I’m sorry they are there. And the loss of the ‘working class’ will change the feeling of the area.

Signing off to take a walk in Sutton Courtenay. I hear the area near the Thames is awesome.

The Soup Lady

Happy New Year from the Montreal Madame – 2015 in review


My Blogging Year in Review – as created by Word Press.

Some key stats – I was good at posting in the spring while I was in Russia, Berlin and Brussels – and I was good at posting when I was in London. Not so good the rest of the year. (Oh well – goal for next year – be more consistent!)

Thanks for reading – thanks for being my audience. And most importantly – Happy New Year to all!

The Soup Lady

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.