Family


With Steve’s 70th birthday coming up this week, we decided to put this long weekend to good use by booking a night at the Kimpton Seafire Resort. It was a great decision! The Kimpton Seafire opened in November of 2016 and is at present the tallest resort along the iconic Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman. Locals protested bitterly at the time at the height and scale of the hotel, but now that the dust has settled one wonders what the fuss was all about.

The grounds have been tastefully designed around the pool with plenty of shade and a generous amount of beachfront. Unusual for Cayman, there is even a boardwalk for strolling along the beach to nearby Callico Jacks on the one side and Tikki Beach Bar on the other. The drive up to the lobby is lined with Banyan trees, which in years to come will undoubtedly be a feature, and the lobby itself is spacious and the staff most welcoming.

We were upgraded to a junior suite, which came with a well equipped kitchenette and a spacious balcony overlooking one of the world’s great beaches. The bed was soft and the room nicely appointed. The bathroom came with a very deep two person tub, which we put to good use, especially since it has been twelve years since we had a decent bathtub in our rental condos. Soon after we arrived, the staff delivered a lovely birthday wish for Steve.

There was a welcome wine hour from four to six and a coffee bar from six to ten in the morning.  We indulged in a lovely dinner while we watched the sunset. By seven in the morning we were camped out on the beach. The towel service includes lounge chairs and umbrellas and the non motorized watercraft, including small sailing catamarans, were included in the room. Lunch at the shoreside Cocoloba Bar was reasonably priced for Cayman and very tasty. Checkout time is noon, but we lingered for a few hours enjoying the sea and no one seemed to mind.

We have decided that we don’t do this kind of thing enough. The resident rate for hotels in the off-season is one-half to one-quarter what it would be if we were coming in as tourists, and we can easily bring our own snacks and drinks to lower the cost even more. Staying locally saves us a bundle on airfare going anywhere else, and the service and food here is always first-rate. What’s not to like? Staycation is the new travel destination, especially if you already live in the Cayman Islands!

We didn’t get home at Christmas and neither did anyone come to visit us over the break. So when we heard that Liz and Greg and Greg’s sister and family were coming by Cayman on a Disney Cruise, we were wildly excited. However, as the day approached, we grew increasingly concerned.

The weather in Cayman was unusually rainy over the break, and there was even a tropical storm, a northwester from Mexico, that slammed into Seven Mile Beach and did a fair bit of damage the week before they arrived. Trusting that the sun would shine on our efforts, we both booked a ‘personal day’ off at work and booked a room at the Westin for a very reasonable resident rate and hoped for the best.

Given that check-in time wasn’t until 4pm, we booked the night before their visit as well so we could have the room for when they arrived. We had a most pleasant evening to ourselves pretending that we could actually afford this kind of life and woke up bright and early to a most pleasant and sunny day.

I went off to work in the morning to help my supply teacher through the intricacies of IB English, but I needn’t have worried. Our friend Tom Hartley came in for me and he had things well in hand before I left. Pam stopped by our condo to pick up a few snacks for the kids and we met up at Margaritaville to wait.

There is a wonderful cruise tracker at http://www.cruisin.me/cruise-ship-tracker/ that we use when people are coming in by boat, so we knew exactly where the ship was and where and when it would dock. I had also brought a pair of binoculars so we could see them coming in on the first tender from the ship.

Finally they walked out through the gate to much hugging and squealing with delight. There were nine of us all together, as Stacy’s husband Mike had taken their eldest son Gavin off to Sting Ray City, so we crammed into our two cars and scooted off to the Westin to get out of the crowds. Our room was on the ground floor, just beside the pool but at the corner, so we were out of view of the curious. We had the fridge well stocked with drinks and snacks, and the glorious Seven Mile Beach was just a few feet away from the back door of our room.

The kids frolicked in the ocean and splashed in the pool the entire day while we adults chatted away. I got a nice visit in with both Holly and Greg, and plenty of Grandkid time. Holly, Stacy and her daughter Georgia left early to get back to the ship with tea with a Disney princess, so we had a great visit with Liz, Greg and the kids by ourselves.

The day was just perfect, and when we took them back to the port we were all most happy and most tired. As a bonus we got a second night at the Westin to ourselves and enjoyed a quiet evening out under the stars on our secluded little patio reflecting on God’s goodness to us. What a wonderful day we had!

We know that our family is not perfect, any more than we are. Our kids have their struggles, as we have, and it is easy in this life to get so caught up in our troubles that we can’t see the blessings. But there are days, and this was one of them, when all the world seems happy and bright and all our troubles are but clouds on a sunny day.

Jan. 8, 2019

There are some disadvantages for those who live on a tiny island, but many advantages as well which, fortunately out-weigh the disadvantages.  Within a very short drive of our place we have wonderful, expansive views of the ocean in all directions for as far as the eye can see. Whether it is the early morning glow of a sunrise, a spectacular sunset or the formation and advance of wild storm clouds bringing with them pounding surf and roaring winds; it is just mesmerizing.

In our travels we have a few times stumbled across a rising full moon but we have not yet intentionally gone to the East End to watch the full moon rise over the ocean. Since we are on island and off work, we decided to finally do so. We went to Tukka which is an Aussie owned restaurant with an outdoor dining area on the beach, serving Australian cuisine with a Caribbean fusion.  Although you can try Kangaroo or Green Iguana if you wish, the fresh local catch and seafood of the day are amazing.

We arrived early in time to sip a little wine while we watched the huge frigate birds gather to be fed and swoop down around us to snatch fish from the hands of brave tourists. For a special treat, four pelicans, which are not often seen on the island, came by to spend a little time entertaining us. Two sharks and a number of huge tarpon were there to challenge the frigates and pelicans for any fish parts that hit the water.

The restaurant is not spectacular looking but the staff were friendly, the atmosphere casual and slow paced and the weather absolutely beautiful. As we watched the moon rise out of the ocean we were delighted by the fresh catch of the day; red snapper with shrimp. It was a completely lovely evening and one that we will definitely do again sometime soon.

We kicked off the Christmas music season at the Westin Ballroom, taking in an evening with the Cayman National Choir and Orchestra as they performed a medley of hits at their “Epic Journeys” concert. A packed-out crowd was transported from the Caribbean to Middle Earth via Ancient Greece and space and Back to the Future.

With many of our friends and colleagues involved in music on the island, we took advantage of as many of the concerts and events as we could possibly fit into our schedule. We reflected back on our first Christmas here in 2015 when we attended the lighting of the tree at Camana Bay and several other musical events that ranged from embarrassing to pretty decent. This year every musical presentation was excellent with the National Choir and Orchestra almost doubling in size and the scope of the talent. The addition of Jonathan Taylor as full-time Director has fostered an island-wide coordination of development of programs and growth of talent and caliber of performances. We finished the season at one of our favourite annual events at Elmslie United Church.

The Elmslie Church, is named after Rev. James Elmslie who came to Cayman in 1846 to establish the Presbyterian church here, is built on the site that was the former Anglican Church and was destroyed by a hurricane that struck in 1838. The present building was constructed during the 1920’s by Capt. Rayal Bodden, and has a noteworthy feature. Capt. Rayal being a naval architect designed the roof in the form of a ship’s hull turned upside down, which can be seen in its strength and beauty. The acoustics and atmosphere is the building provide a fabulous venue in which to celebrate the birth of Christ in music.

November 11 is called different things, depending on where you come from and who your parents were. My parents were both born in London, England, and both served in the last war, so you will forgive me if I have no patience with those who would like to see the world move on and forget the two world wars ever happened.

Perhaps because this November 11 marks 100 years since the first war came to an end it seemed to have particular significance for me. Perhaps it is my own aging frame that sees what my parents went through in a clearer, more compassionate light. I am not sure.

Last night I heard a choir sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a song that came out in 1945 just as the troops were coming home from the war. It held particular significance for those that returned battle weary and broken. The lines, “at the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark,” reminded that embattled generation of a famous poem from an earlier war, “… and in the sky, the larks, still bravely singing, fly/Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

I remember my mother sitting quietly on the couch when that song came on the radio. She wasn’t crying. I never saw either of my parents cry at anything. They were far too tough, both of them. But only a fool could fail to see her grief, her broken and shattered dreams of a life she and so many of her generation could never have.

Mom went through the terrible bombing of London, sleeping every night with her sister and her Mom in the London Tube listening to the destruction above them and emerging in the morning to see what was gone and what still remained. It was likely that those three months of nightly terror gave rise to her lifelong anxiety attacks. Partly out of desperation to get out of London and partly to “get back at the bastards,” she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), serving in the south of England in a secret radar installation near Worth Matravers.

They trained the WAAFs to identify the larger incoming blips that were German bombers, and smaller blips that were the British fighters. Mom’s fiancé was a fighter pilot. WAAFs never knew which smaller blip was a close friend or brother when the smaller blips disappeared. It was only when the fighter planes landed that Mom would find out her fiancé, Dennis, was killed over the Channel. They never found his body. Three months later she met Dad, on his way to the war in Africa. They met and married in two weeks. They didn’t see each other for five years. They clung to each other like drowning combatants for the rest of their lives.

People don’t know about these things anymore. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is now just some song to sing when the blokes are kicking the ball around in Liverpool, or when high school kids walk the aisle to graduate. Everything gets degraded in this meat grinder of popular culture. When you try to share what this all meant to parents you saw struggle and suffer with their wartime grief, you get looks of withering contempt. Who wants to know that stuff anymore.

Well I do. My parents paid an enormous price in the loss of loved ones and the loss of six years of their lives to the war. They paid another price in emotional and psychological damage for the rest of their lives. I do not want my children and grandchildren not to know who my parents were, and the price they paid to bring an end to the barbaric brutality of the Third Reich and its Holocaust.

My parents were heroes. Broken and damaged, yes, but heroes all they same. I honour their memory for I know that we are not likely to see their generation again.

For almost a dozen years now we have lived close enough to the equator that the changing of the seasons, although a reality, are almost imperceptible. The winds change directions, there is more rain, the seas become rougher or the temperatures become marginally cooler in the evening.  While we love the warmer climates, we do miss the uniqueness of each season: the clear, crisp, sparkling of the snow, the vibrant burst of new life in spring, the warm sunny days of summer and especially the brilliant array of fall colours. With that in mind, we opted this year to confine our summer travels to the west and spend our October mid-semester break in Ontario.

We were only off for one week but managed to pack each day to the fullest so that we were able to tie up loose ends in terms of our finances, condo and some purchases that need to be made in London. We were happy to be back enjoying the gracious hospitality of Randy and Sylvia in their cosy grannie suite, which is full of wonderful memories for us. It was an incredible joy to worship at West London, surrounded by dear friends with whom we have shared fellowship and served alongside for many years.

   

It was a whirlwind week, starting with a baby fest meeting six new great nieces; all under the age of 19 months. Spent a lovely evening in the new home of my nephew Jesse and his wife Christyn and had Chinese with three brothers and their wives. Long time friends, John and Bonnie treated us to their signature salad and pumpkin soup and Al and Shelley created an amazing brunch.  Kim made us quiche at her allergy friendly Urban Oven business and we had a nosh of India food with friends Matt and Kate. Made a quick trip to Cambridge area to catch up on the lives of precious and like-minded friends Beth and Stephen. We even stole a morning away in which I had tea with my dear high school friend Jane, while Steve headed to our old stomping grounds in St Thomas to meet up with teaching friends. Still, there were many others that we longed to see but time did not allow.

 

Saturday morning we left early for a three hour drive to meet up with Jon and Nic and the kids in Fort Erie for lunch and a quick visit by the Niagara River. The weather was cold, rainy and the fall colours not yet in full splendour but it was a beautiful drive and a fun visit. We then drove three hours to downtown Toronto to have dinner with Joe and Jane and catch up with the news on Steve’s side of the family. Finally crashed at an airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport at six for our flight home.

When you see people as infrequently as we do, every conversation is intended to share our hearts joys and struggles of the past year. Each conversation is rich, precious and often deeply painful. We went back to work exhausted, with our hearts burdened for many of our friends but rejoicing in the joy of being part of wonderful families and so blessed by the friends with whom we have had the privilege of sharing this journey.

When Liz and Greg welcomed their first baby, Russ into our family, Jon and Nic and the kids made the long drive from Seattle to meet him. There have been many, varied visits family visits and events in the mean time but since then that we have not been all together in one place.

It took a lot of planning and a tremendous amount of effort on everyone’s part to coordinate our schedules but we finally got together again just in time to celebrate Russ’s fifth birthday. We gathered at Greg’s family’s beautiful cabin on Moyie Lake in southern British Columbia. Jon and Nic rented a small but very adequate cabin about five minutes walk away. Dave made the five hour trip through the mountains on his bike to be there with us,

Along with lovely accommodations we had the use of a boat, canoe and kayaks and a cool lake for swimming. We BBQ’d and had great meals together, hung out and played what was for us a new board game, Settlers of Catan, without too many disagreements.

 

The weather was spectacular with cool, clear mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. Steve had a great time teaching Ben and Abi to paddle the canoe and they were both steering quite competently by the end of the week.

We moved to the Caribbean so Steve could continue his ministry in teaching and yet still be close enough to our family to be able to have this kind of vacation. This time on the lake certainly brought home to us home much we love to be with our children and their children.

It is a great thing to be around your adult children and see them and their kids all getting along. For Canadians is like something in our DNA that this is most enjoyable outdoors. The Cayman Islands have lovely beaches and warm weather year round. But they don’t have the kind of beauty you see in the Rockies.

The lake was cold, but not unbearably so. All of us went in the water at one time or another, some as a result of going too fast in the raft, but always with a great deal of laughter. It was the nicest summer we have had in many a year.

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