When we booked our tickets for Nicaragua, we chose a return date to Canada at the end of February. We kept the option of extending our stay for another month if it turned out there was no work for me at the Regina refinery annual turnaround (maintenance shutdown) this spring. There had been some management changes there at the end of the year and my job status was still up in the air near the end of February but we decided to take a chance and return to the frozen north. Once we got back I heard more and started the police check process locally. It turned out that should be the last time I need to do that. The new process does it on line.
Shortly after I learned I could have the job there if I wanted it, I was offered the choice of two other jobs by another former employer. Going back to last summer’s job until early May (no living out allowance and a two-hour daily commute) or running 1” stainless steel hydraulic tubing in Regina. Both the alternatives were expected to end in early May.
Officially, we never are promised more than “about four work weeks” at the annual turnaround but one of my ten terms there lasted six months. Scuttlebutt said this was a big shutdown and would “last until June” so it seemed the best economic choice. As the work progressed a number of planned jobs got cancelled.
My lay-off date became April 28th.
Two days before that I tore a hamstring muscle 50% in a non-work-related ill-considered move. My universe shrunk to a four inch square area and off I hobbled for imaging and ultimately physiotherapy. The doctor said the leg would feel fine enough in a month that I would then do something stupid and have a setback but by six months it should be mostly back to normal. He knew of what he spoke.
Our pad rental at the RV park was paid until mid May and my leg was not up to a seven-hour trip towing the trailer so we stayed in Regina for a few weeks more. In between physio appointments we went back to Meadow Lake, got the summer tires on the car and went to Nebraska to visit Leonard and Karen Cook who have retired from SOWER projects after doing more than a hundred.
The day after I tore the hamstring in my right leg, I tried driving the truck around the loop in the RV park. It could be done by using the left foot for braking, but it was pretty choppy and definitely not pain free. By May 13th things were better enough to manage the drive home with the help of a few rest stops and lots of vitamin I (Ibuprophen).
We (mostly Juanita) drove to BC for my sister Sydney’s surprise birthday party in Burnaby on May 19th. I don’t know why it was a surprise. She has a birthday every year and last year she turned 79. A good time was had by all. We stayed in Airbnb’s for the first time, both in Burnaby and the following week in Powell River. Normally we stay with my other sister in Powell River, but she and her family were in Las Vegas while I was trying to contact them about whether it would work. The Airbnb’s were really good experiences. We’ll probably try them again on future trips.
Then it was back home to putter around the property. Rebekah and her family left for a 53 day road trip (four kids and two adults) and we went and stayed in their house in Edmonton for a few days and bought new tires for the truck and trailer. Then back home to lick those financial wounds while puttering carried on and reading got caught up on.
It has been nice to be home this summer.
Not too exciting to write (or read) about but pleasant. The unexciting summer is described in much more detail below. There are a few pictures as well.
Back To The Frozen North
While we cavorted in the sun and warmth of Nicaragua, winter prevailed in Canada,
Winter is an abstract concept while one is in Nicaragua but reality intrudes when you arrive back in Canada. Son-in-law Nick picked us up at the airport with our winter coats in his car. We needed them. They weren’t frozen. They were warm from the car.
I still remember the look on the faces of a family fresh off a cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale that morning arriving back to minus thirty Edmonton. The dad ran out to the car and got it started and left it warming up. He retrieved the winter coats from the truck of the car and brought them into the park and ride building and distributed them to the wife and kids. The kids recoiled in horror at the unyielding outerwear frozen into grotesque shapes like crushed earthquake victims. When the dad deemed the car warm enough the family trooped out, the kids clutching their arms akimbo jackets to their tee shirt clad chests.
Our wait in the pick-up zone for Nick’s arrival was relatively brief, but we lost no time putting on our flexible coats. No grotesque shapes for us.
After a brief stay in Edmonton we headed to Meadow Lake. We arrived home and Willie MacAmmond had plowed the driveway. All that was left was to pick up the police check form for the refinery job, clear the snow off the top of the trailer and enough snow around the trailer to hook-up and pull it out of the slot and we were ready to go to Regina.
There were some staff changes in the hiring process and it took a little time for the new team to get up to speed. But they caught on quickly and improved the process quite a bit. It can be an advantage in not being locked into “well, that’s the way we do things”. They implemented an on-line process for the pre-employment police check. That meant I ended up being double checked this year. However, if I work future shutdowns, it eliminates the hassle of leaving copies of my i.d. at the police station in Meadow Lake in the Fall. Also saves Deborah going to town hall, paying $25 and taking the receipt and my pre-signed form into the police station two weeks before we get back in the spring.
The other change the new team did was to co-ordinate the training schedule so all the instrument mechanics did their safety training together and ended a week or less before their start dates. This meant for us that rather than sit in Regina for a couple of weeks between training and job start we could spend it at home before going south to Regina. I put it to use clearing a swath around the house so the three foot layer of snow was at least ten or twelve feet away.
By the time we headed south the roads were a little bit better. There were still drifts across the highway in a few places between Glaslyn and North Battleford. The truck and trailer tried to go sideways travelling through the first snowy section and I managed to regain control but wouldn’t want to see what my pulse rate reached. Juanita was following in our car and she said it was a bit dramatic to watch. The Michelin tires are not a true winter tire and they are reaching the end of their useful life. Not bald, but obviously not grippy enough. For subsequent patches I slowed right down and threw the truck into four wheel drive. That seemed to work for that trip, but new tires are on the menu before next winter.
The trailer park in Regina was not answering calls. Their voice mail was full. I managed to get the former manager on his cell phone. He said he was selling jewelry now, but gave me a cell phone number of the new manager. Eventually we managed to connect once he came back into the country. On the day we arrived in Regina he gave me a number of a cleared site and said to park there. We arrived. That site wasn’t going to work for anything as long as our rig. The park handyman told us to park in another site that he had cleared. A few weeks later somebody showed up in the office and we paid up to date and beyond. There was only about a foot of snow on the ground. A lot less than some other years. We topped up the propane and I settled in for training. Juanita hooked up with her friend and went back to her volunteer job at the thrift store.
Juanita went back to Meadow Lake for Sonja’s birthday in April while I was working at the annual spring turnaround (maintenance shutdown). My tenth on that site. Everybody said the turnaround (maintenance shutdown) at the refinery would be a huge one and “would last until June”. As it progressed it was obvious that was not an informed opinion. Two days before my scheduled lay-off I blew out a muscle in my leg (see above) and elected not to uselessly hobble around for two days even on double time.
The car still had the snow tires so between physiotherapy appointments we went back to Meadow Lake and had the summer tires installed. Then back to Regina for more physio and off south to Morrill Nebraska to visit Karen and Leonard Cook.
After more than a 100 SOWER projects Leonard and Karen hung up their tool belts and paint brushes and bought a house in Morrill, Nebraska which is few miles west of better known Scottsbluff. They had been working steadily on the house since November. Our visit sort of threw a stick in the spokes and work came to a brief halt. I think and hopefully am correct in thinking that the interruption in work on the house gave them a well needed and well deserved break. They worked so hard on SOWER projects, going off the road may allow them to slow down but they had been working much longer hours than a SOWER project schedule and it looks like they were only a little over half way to where they wanted to be on the house.
Leonard grew up in the area. We benefited from his knowledge as they took us to the Scottsbluff park and museum that chronicles the Oregon Trail. You can still see the wagon tracks from the 1800’s. We dined at a fast food place that serves a sandwich that is only found in that area. Sorry the name escapes me. Perhaps when I have an internet connection I will remember to look it up and update this. (Mission accomplished: name of sandwich and restaurant is Runza)
We went to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and checked out the museum. Some grandparents were there heading out to burn off the energy of their hyper active eight-year-old grandson by hiking one of the loops out to the fossil beds themselves. My leg dictated that briefly hiking on the bluff at Scottsbluff was enough of that for one day.
As we drove around the area Leonard told stories about his youth and the history of various buildings and businesses.
On the way to Morrill we drove through North and South Dakota, overnighting in Rapid City. South of Rapid City we visited the town of Hot Springs with its Mammoth Park attraction. This was discovered by a developer started to remove overburden for a sub division. The bulldozer started turning up mammoth tusks and skeletons and he stopped work. Eventually someone began to properly excavate the site. Then a building was built over the site and excavation and preservation continues. At some time in the distant past there was a large pond of geologically heated warm water in a sinkhole. Mammoths and other animals would try to drink from the water by standing on the slippery clay and ice sloped edges of the pond. They would slide in and be unable to get enough traction to get out. The water was too deep to stand in. They would eventually tire of swimming. Their lesson in slippery slopes being complete they would drown and sink to the bottom.
A lot of the mammoth skeletons are those of adolescent males. They would have been run off from the herd by the dominant bull and in the way of adolescent males would have either blundered around on their own engaging in risky, unwise behaviour or clustered with other similarly experience-challenged buddies. The only dynamic that was probably missing was there were likely to be no young females to try to impress. They were back with the herd.
On the way back from Morrill we drove through Wyoming and stopped at Devil’s Tower for lunch and a few snapshots.
We overnighted at Rapid City on the way north and then passed through Sturgis. It is the home of a massive motor cycle rally each summer. Large crowds sound awful to me, but to each his own, I guess. We stopped and took a few pictures of an old tow truck and a large metal sculpture on a post in front of a biker bar, but things look pretty quiet in May. The parking lot was empty. Just my speed.
Near the middle of May I finished up with physio in Regina and we prepared to go north to Meadow Lake.
I wasn't up to doing all of my normal pre-trip chores. I could kind of lay myself beside the trailer but with no guarantee I'd be able to get back up and certainly wasn't ready to climb up into the truck bed and grease the fifth wheel hitch. This is how Juanita described things in an e-mail: "Today is Sasha's Birthday and since she is not at home (probably on way back from Calgary) I celebrated it by greasing the RV/Truck hitch fittings and connecting and dumping the black and gray tanks. Yes, I know those are Daddy do jobs but when said Daddy should not even think about bending the wrong way it is time for Mighty Mom to step up the the plate and give it a swing. Success - no gobs of grease every where and no brown stuff where it should not be.
Happy Birthday Sasha !!
I drove the truck pulling the trailer and Juanita followed in the car. It wasn't too bad. I did stop a few times to take a few Vitamin I pills (Ibuprophen) but overall did okay.
We left the truck and trailer at home.
Then we headed to BC.
We spent a day or two in Edmonton at the home of our daughter, Rebekah.
The day before we left for B.C. I drove up to Whitecourt for a couple of hour visit with an old friend. He remarked on their last trip to Vancouver and the “Bermuda triangle of Kamloops”. There is an interchange at the base of the big hill in Kamloops. The Trans Canada and the Yellowhead highways come together. Coming into the interchange from Alberta on the Yellowhead it is easy to miss your lane and to find yourself driving east on the Trans Canada towards Banff or into surface streets in downtown Kamloops as it is to be heading up the hill in your intended direction.
As my e-mail to the friend said, “We left Edmonton at dawn and just checked into the hotel in Merritt BC after successfully navigating the Bermuda Triangle of Kamloops on the way. Leg is doing better today. Juanita did most of the driving. Only stress on it was hitting the brake on the passenger side.”
The evening before the departure to B.C. I went with Nick and Ezekiel to Ezekiel’s soccer game. It was a pretty misty moment to watch him tearing up and down the field with such energy and as much competence as anyone else. He is still on meds for leukemia until next spring, but there was no sign of the pale, bald lad of a couple of years ago.
The trip through Jasper and into B.C. was routine. The highway was busy but not summer vacation busy. It was a clear, sunny day and we had an unobstructed view of Mt. Robson when we stopped for coffee.
When we checked into the hotel in Merritt the desk person remarked on our home address and said “There were some people from Meadow Lake who checked out this morning. They came and stayed a night and then went to Vancouver intending to stay there and sightsee for a couple of days. They were back the same evening to stay here before heading home. Vancouver was too busy for them.”
We went to Mary Brown’s for supper. Mary Brown’s is a Newfoundland based chain of chicken restaurants that also sells a selection of groceries produced on The Rock. This one was run by a middle eastern man. We had chicken wraps which use tortillas. I love it when cultural appropriation works out so well.
There was still lots of light after dinner. We drove around and looked at the flooding in downtown Merritt before heading to Walmart and back to our hotel, both built on high ground.
The next morning I did the driving over the Coquihalla Highway. We stopped for a while in Chilliwack and hung out at the McDonald’s to use their internet connection and give my leg a bit of a rest. Arriving in Coquitlam we drove around to get our bearings and figure out where we were supposed to be at one. We had been admonished not to get there too early or too late. Shooting to arrive at the Goldilocks moment involved finding the address in an area that we were not familiar with and then going for lunch with the confidence we knew how long it would take us to arrive at the party locale.
After lunch we got a call from my niece saying we could come early and didn’t have to park hidden on a nearby street, but they had acquired a parking spot from a neighbour in the condomaze. Not sure I like cities and their concept of parking spots being rare and precious.
We had a good visit with my nieces and Bonny, my sister’s friend who was hosting the party. A few more family members showed up and then the party girl, my sister, Sydney. She was quite surprised when she got to the top of the stairs in the condo and her husband had his hands full to prevent her from stumbling backwards and falling down the stairs. Now that would have been a memorable surprise party.
A good time of visiting, reminiscing, and gift opening was had by all. There were some games and quizzes as well. After the party wound down we went in search of our very first Airbnb. The hostess met us and pulled up a traffic cone so we had somewhere to park. I already grumbled about city parking so I won’t say anything more.
The room was clean and as pictured on line. The bathroom was not integral to the unit as we had understood from the listing, but we were alone on the second floor so the out the door of our room and into the bathroom was not much of a hardship.
After getting settled we went out for a drive and for dinner. With some searching we found a Whitespot restaurant to buy a gift card. It was busy. We waited about twenty minutes to be seated at a table. We had been planning to dine but looked at the menu and realized we weren’t particularly hungry, were not inspired at the choices and less inspired at the prices.
I don’t mind paying extra for a meal we want, but have a hard time wanting to pay extra for a meal neither of us want. We bought the gift card and left.
We ended up driving down to Marine Drive and stopping for a snack at McDonald’s and then driving the Marine Drive loop out through the University endowment lands and back into Kitsilano before heading back to Burnaby and our digs. A lot of the through roads in Kits have been “calmed” for traffic. Used to call them dead ends, but I guess you can’t get much calmer than dead. With some backing and filling we managed to navigate them. Near Jericho beach you could see people setting up their stealth camping vans for the night. I used to find the idea appealing. Less so with each passing year.
Some things have changed since we lived on the coast. One of those things is that BC Ferries have added a reservation system. There is a fee. The fee is higher the closer it is to planned travel date. We reserved a relatively early ferry a couple of weeks prior to remove risk of sitting through several sailings before getting loaded on the ferry to Langdale. The system works well.
Got to PR.
Found key for Airbnb under the green flower pot. Self contained one-bedroom basement suite with all you need for snacks and breakfast. Perfect. Way better than somebody’s couch or them disrupting their sleeping arrangement to provide you with a bedroom. Quiet time in evening and morning with no need to be social. One block walk to the beach so one of us can go visit old friends and the other can have something to do.
Our best man, Claudio and I drove out to Palm Beach and flew the drove a bit.
Our last time in PR was two year’s ago for the 50Th high school reunion. The time before that was on my own while Juanita was tied up. It seemed over half the people I visited were sitting around waiting to die and I left in a funk. Fewer old friends sitting around waiting to die this trip. Those other people died.
My mother said at her hundredth birthday that she didn’t know what she did to be punished by living to a hundred. She said all her friends were dead. I mentioned that only one in ten thousand lives to a hundred so she needed to have cultivated twenty thousand friends. She was still sharp enough to get the joke, but it is no laughing matter. Even at seventy, outliving one’s friends is getting to be old.
Billy Graham said if he knew how old he was going to get he would have cultivated younger friends. Not sure even that is enough. I have some sick pretty younger friends. Pretty selfish viewpoint isn’t it? But it’s hard not to be affected by death. Not so much my own death. I have the assurance of going to heaven and if I’m wrong in one way I won’t know any better and if wrong in another way will get what I deserve. It can be hard to outlive others though.
Well, back to the visit. Saw some old friends. There was a supervisor I used to visit in PR. He is 88 now and has forgotten much of a lot of things and is living in a home for the bewildered.
At the urging of his son I picked him up one day. He was cheerful and well dressed and humourous and not entirely sure who I was, but pretty sure I was somebody he used to know. We went for coffee. He banged his head getting into my car. Periodically on the drive to Starbucks he would rub his head and say, “I’ve hit my head!”. I was careful to make sure it didn’t happen again.
As we waited in line at Starbucks he hit on all the young women. They appeared to love it. Harmless, safe flirting I guess. Old enough to be no threat. Way old enough to be beyond creepy.
As we talked over coffee and treats a lot seemed to come back to him about who I was and what we had done together at work. He mentioned a few other people. I suggested we visit one of them. He was all for it so off we went to Stan’s place out in Paradise Valley.
I drove up the driveway and parked near the house and went up the stairs to the door. There was a wheel chair lift there, but I thought nothing of it. Stan’s wife answered the door. I asked if Stan was home and she looked a little surprised I would ask, but said he was. I said I had Cliff with me and could we come in for a visit. “Of course! Bring him in!”
It was a shock.
Stan had gone in for a “minor” operation at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
There are no minor operations.
St. Paul’s is probably no worse than any other hospital, but I am biased against it. My mother was convinced they killed my brother. I am convinced they tried to kill my father. A girlfriend interned there and said they would minimally treat injured homeless people and kick them back onto the street before they died so the hospital stats weren’t hurt. A co-worker bled to death from a nosebleed across the street from St. Paul’s waiting for treatment but that was more a 911 screw-up and I digress.
Back to Stan.
Stan is locked in. His brain is fine. An untimely blood clot broke the connection between his brain and the rest of his body. Prognosis after the glitch from this minor operation was dead within three months max and never able to move any part of his body or speak again. They were planning to give him a wheel chair that he would navigate by blowing in a straw. That was two years ago. They didn’t know Stan. Many people started building ferrocement boats in my home town. Most didn’t finish them. Stan did. Stan survived one of the nastier divorces I have seen close up and came out of it a lot wiser. He gave me advice based on that experience that saved our marriage when my wife and I both thought it was done for.
Stan is heroically better than the prognosis. He moves his hand enough to operate his wheel chair and can shake your hand and speak. He is hard to understand, but getting better. If anybody can break out of being locked in it will be him.
Cliff was compassionate and held Stan’s hand and said nice things. I sat there and tried to process the change in Stan. The last time I dropped by it was with a friend to be shown around Stan’s collection of classic cars that he restored. What a step change.
I took Cliff home and lead him through the security doors and keypads into his own lockdown.
The next day I dropped by for one more visit with Cliff. His face lit up when he saw me.
“How are you? I haven’t seen you in a long time!”, he said.
“No you haven’t”, I said.
He queried, “how long has it been?”
We both laughed.
I brought him a printout of his regimental emblem. He remembered a lot more about his time in the regiment in the early 1950’s than stuff a lot more recently. He got misty and starting talking about he would like to get back involved with them and help them out and pondering how he would go about that.
What do you say?
Juanita caught up with a few of her friends from when we lived there. We visited with family and enjoyed a family BBQ with us as the honoured guests.
I drove out toward Lund and visited with an old friend from work and with another old friend from my childhood. We all seemed to start talking from where we left off from years ago.
We left Powell River and drove out to an early ferry at Saltery Bay on a Wednesday.
We didn’t make reservations. Mid-week, even after a long weekend, I figured there would be no problem with ferries. First ferry, that worked fine. Second ferry, not so much.
We stopped twice in Sechelt. Once to get a muffin for my sister’s birthday. A second time to buy some window cleaner and a cloth to clean the windows while we waited in the ferry line at Langdale. Here’s the cost of complacency. The ferry arrived and started loading. It ended loading and we were the very first car in the line for the next ferry.
I guess the ferries are busier than they used to be and I have become too complacent. Enjoyed walking in the sunshine and reading our books, but cancelled any thought for dim sum in Vancouver and had just a brief visit with my sister on our way through Burnaby.
We had a long, but uneventful drive out the Fraser Valley and up into the interior of B.C. to Clearwater, a couple of hours north of Kamloops. The next day we drove to Edmonton.
A Quiet Summer Back Home
I am writing this well after summer. That’s a sign I didn’t do much writing this summer.
I did a bunch of reading, though. I finished all the Lee Child, Jack Reacher novels I had not read and a few I had read before. I also read a number of books considered more worthwhile than Jack Reacher and a lot of books less so.
Some windfalls got cut up and split and stowed in the wood shed.
I flew my new DJI Spark drone a bit. Especially trying to get a heading on the line of sight to the local high speed internet tower.
The bone yard next to the sea can finally got moved to its new spot. I was inspired to do this after reviewing some of the drone footage I shot playing with my drone. It was like looking with new eyes and shamed me into doing something about my mess.
I took the truck to the dealer for a thorough going over before the end of the warranty. That cost somebody a new intercooler. I am glad it was not me.
The workshop got a little tidied and a shelf unit built.
In June our daughters and kids came over for a BBQ lunch one day. The lightest adult in our extended family managed to sit on the corner of the picnic table and it broke due to hidden rot. In the next month I did the George Washington’s axe treatment to the picnic table. (“This is George Washington’s original cherry tree chopping axe. It has had the handle replaced five times and the head twice”). All that was left of the picnic table when I was done were the top and the seats. All the other wood has been replaced with pressure treated wood. In a year or two I guess it will be time to replace the top and the seat wood.
Speaking of repeating repairs…
I repaired the surround on the back of the fifth wheel trailer a couple of years ago. It came with a top piece and two side pieces made of white, lightweight blow molded ABS plastic. They had started to crack in several places. I tried to track down replacement pieces through the successor company to the selling dealer of our trailer. They tried but couldn’t help me out.
I phoned the original manufacturer of the ABS pieces to find they had destroyed the molds and could make no more.
Forced to repair them I worked on the inner side of the pieces reinforcing the cracks with fiberglass cloth and ABS cement and used a bit of body filler on the outer side. I painted them and reinstalled them on the trailer. They didn’t look too bad. For the first couple of years. Eventually the drying ABS caused stresses on the inner side of the pieces and the U-shaped pieces tried to become C-shaped. And the cracks came back.
I wrestled with all sorts of alternatives but ended up removing the two side pieces and fighting with them for weeks, heating them and trying to get them into their original shape, repairing cracks, reinforcing them with epoxy resin and fiberglass cloth and covering the cracks with long strand body filler before painting them. I installed plywood arches to try to prevent them going back to a C-shape. I am not happy with the repair. Neither how long it took or how it looked when I was done. A few weeks later it started looking fine. Just have to remember not to take drone pics of it.
During the summer the tires on the truck got replaced in Edmonton. On the same trip we bought new trailer tires which got installed before we left for Peru.
We attended the end of season gymnastic event of our Meadow Lake grandkids.
We attended a sixtieth anniversary of some fellow church members and a baby dedication.