So where are YOU spending Thanksgiving?

As for me, I’m off to Dallas to see my brother!

Jeff is already in Dallas for his annual corporate conference, and now I’m heading down to join him and to spend the weekend with my brother Russ and his family.

We’re even going to have a go at celebrating the Canadian Thanksgiving together while we’re there!

In fact, I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving at all. (Pumpkin was a strange thing to consider eating, and especially pumpkin in a pie? Isn’t that what apples are for?) My parents were British, and Thanksgiving is a decidedly North American celebration.

Once I reached an age of influence in my home, thinking I was probably 17 or 18 by then, we decided to give Thanksgiving dinner a go, and we found we rather liked it. So, most years since then, it’s become part of my world, too.

Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what Russ’s experience with it is, or how often he has celebrated it in October since relocating to Dallas, his wife Cari’s home. I’ll have to ask him. (We were 28 and 29 when we first met, and it’s amazing how many little details there are to catch up in your sibling’s life when you spent so many years apart.)

Probably the bigger story is that this will be our very first Thanksgiving together! Only took 50/51 years.

I’m pretty stoked.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Love your families, whatever the makeup of the little band of people you consider most near and dear (blood, adoption, marriage, friends…). They’re all pretty special.

Yup, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed! 🍗



I don’t even quite know how to put into words how wonderful it is to spend time with family.

My cousin Lynne is graciously hosting us, and is introducing us to other family members. It’s really a wonderful experience, and I’m excited about the days ahead!

As part of the tour, Lynne took us to meet Mum’s cousins, Joan and Bert, yesterday, in a little town called Ballymena. Joan and her brother Bert are Mum’s cousins on Mum’s father’s side. We talked the whole afternoon, then went out for “tea” (dinner) and carried on talking until we all nearly dropped.

Joan, I should mention, is now 87 years old, and Bert is 80. Joan is only a few days older than Mum was, born on August 13 while Mum was born on August 31, in 1928. Bert is seven years younger, so he doesn’t really remember anything of Mum, but he’s lived an interesting, world-travelling life, and is a lot of fun to chat with, too.

The last time Joan saw Mum was back in 1938, when they were ten years old.

That year, Mum moved from being just around the corner from Joan’s and Bert’s house in Belfast down to Rostrevor to live with her Aunt Minnie, her mother’s sister, after Mum’s mother passed away from breast cancer. Uncle Ray, Mum’s older brother, went too, but he joined up with the navy (he lied about his age when the war started and joined up early), so he was only there for a little time.

Joan never knew what had happened to Mum, and yet they had been the best of friends as young children. She was very interested in the brief synopsis I was able to give her, and it really got me thinking about the value of the communication tools we have now that let us stay in touch regardless of distance or time zones. It was so hard to stay connected with family in other countries back then, and the disconnection that happened seems to have been a very common occurrence. The same thing happened with my Dad and his family in England, too, when Dad moved to Canada.

Not a loss of love; just a loss of contact.

It was quite something to hear Joan saying she remembers when Mum and Uncle Ray lived only a few doors away from her, and when Mum’s family moved around the corner into a slightly more posh neighbourhood. She remembers playing with them, and having all sorts of fun before Mum’s mum died. Everything changed after that.

She remembers her Auntie Annie’s funeral in 1936 (Annie was my grandmother), and later being quite afraid of the awful housekeeper Mum’s dad had hired to look after Mum and Uncle Ray. She corroborated Mum and Uncle Ray’s assertions that Miss Irving, the housekeeper, was a horrible woman, very stern and unkind, and Joan steered clear of her as much as she could. She remembers the feeling of loss when Mum and Uncle Ray eventually moved away to their Aunt Minnie’s place in the country.

Little did any of them know they’d never see each other again.

Funny enough, Lynne and I both feel like Mum and Uncle Ray are hanging out here with us and enjoying the visit, too. Yesterday, a parcel arrived for Lynne with a purchase she’d made, and in it was also a keyring-sized stuffed monkey that came as a little bonus with her purchase. To our surprise, it has a little nametag on it that says “Ray.” Curious, Lynne dug out and looked at another one she’d gotten with another, earlier purchase from the same company, and, would you believe it, it’s name is “Dorothy,” my mum’s name.

That could be almost creepy, but it actually comes down on the side of comforting and amazing!

There’s another neat piece to the story.

Both Bert and Joan adopted kids, just like Mum did. They clearly consider adopted kids every much a full part of the family as blood relations. They instantly welcomed Jeff and me as family members, practically before we were even in the door; it’s amazing to feel so much warmth and affection from them, towards us who were otherwise strangers as we walked into their home.

How cool is that?

Family is an amazing thing.



Vatican yesterday, Coliseum today!

Turns out that we arrived in Rome at what forecasters predict will be the hottest weather stretch of the whole year! It is Dallas-summers hot, and air conditioning units are about as common as a hummingbird in (a Vancouver) winter: you know they are there, somewhere, but you rarely see them.

In spite of that, and in spite of a crush of crowds that had our guide’s eyebrows raised in surprise, we had an amazing early-morning visit to the Sistine Chapel yesterday.

Photos not allowed. (Bummer!)

That was followed by hours of tromping for miles (ok, kilometers) around buildings and gardens that had astonishing artful creations covering every surface and filling every space.

Then we went into St Peter’s Basilica, and when the guide explained how it is built over the rocky site where Peter was buried, and how Romans and Catholics believe it fulfils Christ’s prophecy about Peter, “Upon this rock my church will be built,” I got goosebumps.

Amazing. I can hardly believe we’re here.

And today, we go to the Coliseum, the Forum, and Ceasar’s Palace.


I just hope we don’t melt!



I’m really online now! Not just “sorta…”

One travel discovery we’ve been making is that wi-fi doesn’t necessarily mean a level of service we can do much with (very, very slow; only one device at a time; a very limited amount of data; no service at all after all for whatever reason (“Oh, sorry, it went down last week and the internet company can’t fix it until next week”); no security whatsoever; etc). I mean, we had no wifi on the TGV train yesterday, all the way from Marseilles to Turin. Can you imagine that? Six hours of beautiful blogging time, gone. So I wrote postcards the whole time, instead, lol!

But now, oh joy, we have a nifty little device an Italian cellphone company has put out to market in honour of this year’s Milano Food Exposition. (Should we adjust our itinerary so we can go? We’ve been thinking about it…hmmm…) They want tourists to upload tons of pictures of the expo, and share comments and experiences about it on social media, so they’ve made a way for it to be easy and cheap for visitors to get online.

I think it’s brilliant!

Actually, being a bit of a data hog, I did two things.

I have a new, Italian SIM card in my phone now (Orange, which I mentioned earlier, is a French company that operates in Spain and France and Ireland but not Italy…of course), with a company called 3. It’s the one that Telus has partnered with here in Italy, so I’m happy to go with the one Telus is friendly with.

That was gigantic step one. Haven’t had cell service since leaving Spain, and it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be.

In addition, we have a nifty new device called a WebPocket. It’s a personal wifi hotspot-maker that allows us to connect up to 5 devices at once, and gives us 20 GB for 30 days of data! For a laptop, that’s not that much, so I’ll have to be sparing still, but for Jeff’s iPad, our Kindles, and both our iPhones, it’s amazing.

WebPocket Mobile WiFi

WebPocket Mobile WiFi

This little device actually is pocket-sized, and the idea is that one family member will just carry this in their bag so everyone in the family can connect their phones to it while visiting in Italy without needing a separate SIM card for each device. (I just know how much I use, and I didn’t want to have to carry the portable modem with me all the time, so I decided to do both.)

The other great thing about it is that it is unlocked, so when we move on to Ireland, at least in theory, we’ll be able to put an Irish SIM card in it and carry on. (Guess we’ll see if it works as advertised.)

Tourists are only allowed to purchase one specific model, but Italians have even better versions available to them, which makes me wonder if/when such devices will come to North America? It would be such a great tool for our trailer, or for Carla and Tom at their cabin…

Bottom line of today’s trip to the cellphone store: We are no longer beholden to the wi-fi mercies of the places in which we stay. I can’t say enough about what a relief that is!


I have to admit, I was pretty pissed off….

I had no idea I had so much French-language coping/ability in me until I got quite angry with a very rude Frenchman today…after a lousy meal…

We had just had an awful meal at a restaurant (thankfully the first dismal failure of the trip). I won’t spell it all out because I’ll just get annoyed again, but the crowning glory of the lunchtime disaster was when Jeff cut into his fish, nicely-enough presented, and discovered it had not been cleaned properly and was still mostly full of guts and gore.

Totally and completely gross.

Fortunately, he’s a fisherman and has gutted many a fish in his life, so he a) knew how to remove said guts (he was really hungry and the meal had taken forever to arrive) and b) knew what parts to eat and what not to eat…

Horrified, I took a picture of his plate-side pile of guts, to Jeff’s gentle-hearted dismay. (Don’t worry, I won’t show it to you. You’ll just have to imagine it in your own mind’s eye, if you must.)

Then it took forever for the bill to come. In Portugal, Spain, and now in France, we’ve learned, we have to ask for the bill or it will never arrive. I asked for it, en français. I asked for it again, again en français. Finally, we got up and went over to the till, which is a slightly aggressive move but one we have seen others do when they were in a bigger hurry than the restaurant staff, so I knew it was within the limits of acceptable behaviour.

Then a man pushed in past me to stand ahead of me at the till. Little did he know how elevated my mood already was, courtesy of the gross grub.

I sort of glided past him again — I didn’t push — to stand at the front of the till again.

When the server finally came, the man pushed past me again and the server responded by looking after him instead of me, whom he had seen standing there for a bit already.

Now, I was really pissed off.

I turned to the man and told him off…en français… To my surprise, it just kind of bubbled out of me. Chances are, it was closer to gibberish than real French, but my message got through clearly enough, and he fired back in high-speed French that this was his country and it was his right to go first, and additional stupid words to that effect.

So I said back, I think probably with a little bit of haughtiness when I reflect back on it, that I was a visitor and I was there first.

He went on a tirade about Americans (sorry to my American family and friends), and I just cut him right off and simply said, I think rather scathingly (I’ve been told I have a pretty wicked stink-eye, although I’ve never seen it myself), “Je suis Canadienne.”

For a moment, that was enough.

He just stopped dead for a second and stared at me. Like, as if he were thinking to himself, “She understood all that?” (I didn’t, but I got enough to get the point.) Or, he might have been thinking, “Canadian? I thought all Canadians were nice. What’s with her?” I dunno. I don’t care, actually. I stopped him cold for a moment, and that in itself was rather satisfying.

Recovering himself, he started in on more jabbering, and I just said “C’est fini” and turned my back on him. He tried to say something else and I just repeated myself, with all my “I’m really pissed off at you” attitude.

Then I said, to no one in particular and everyone in general, “How rude,” in plain, clear, emphatic English.

It wasn’t until I saw the slightly alarmed look in the server’ eye that I realized the pair of us had been making a bit of a scene, and so I took advantage of that and dumped on him, next.

I told him the fish was disgusting (in a mix of English and French, my French was close to exhausted by then), and showed him a picture of the pile of fish guts on Jeff’s plate.

With great haste and much deference, all of which had been lacking up until that moment, he offered to remove the charge for Jeff’s fish off the bill. I accepted, we had the bill cut almost in half, paid it promptly, and left. I think he thought he was glad to see me go, but that was nothing compared to how glad I was to be gone from there!

I think dear, sweet Jeff was slightly embarrassed, or at least felt rather awkward, as things unfolded. But, when all was said and done, I think he was so pleased at the effectiveness of the final result of getting his meal credited when we had great doubts that it would be possible, that that assuaged at least a little of his discomfort.

And then I replayed it all in my head, and realized everything that had just transpired…in French.

I had no idea I had that much of it in me to be able to have an argument with a jerk in a restaurant. I’m not sure if my teachers in school would be proud or horrified, but I have to admit that I was pretty darned pleased with myself when I thought about it all afterwards! It takes a lot for me to dig in my heels like that, but together the restaurant and the pushy guy succeeded in getting me to that point, and there I was, with my Irish ire on red alert and, to my astonishment, my high school French flooding back onto my tongue and into my brain.

What a jerk…and what a disappointing meal.

But you know, they actually did me a favour: I feel so much more confident about coping with basics in French now. I really had a lot of fun with it at our dinner meal, where I’d been nervous about trying to say anything in French before that, so that’s kinda cool!

Now I *really* want to learn French, for real…

And so, once again, all’s well that ends well. 🙂