Saturday, December 27, 2008

We made it here

We had a great trip down the coast, starting with the Cape May - Lewes ferry ride on Christmas day. We got to the ferry terminal late at night and started to settle in to wait overnight. I was checking the engine when one of New Jersey's finest rolled up to roust us out of there. I guess we were some kind of a terrorist threat sitting at the terminal overnight. This country is out of control paranoid about terrorists but that's the subject for a whole 'nuther rant and tonight I'm just not in the mood to rant.

We spent the night in a parking lot across from Mickie D's and were back at the ferry terminal by 6:00 AM. The ride across from New Jersey to Delaware was a little bumpy but a great way to start Christmas Day off. Then we drove along the coast all the way to the bottom of North Carolina. That night we stayed in a KOA - generally we avoid KOA like the plague but we knew they would be open, clean and easy access. The next day we continued on down the coast and eventually turned inland at Daytona, arriving in Winter Haven around 11:00 at night. Along the way we stopped in Savannah, Georgia for a seafood supper. That turned into more of an adventure than we had planned because we ended up taking the bus into downtown Savannah, literally within easy walking distance of the historic Savannah waterfront. For future reference the signs for the visitor centre in Savannah will lead you into the heart of downtown Savannah.

On the plus side once we got parked in the visitor centre we were within easy walking distance of a variety of excellent restaurants. We just wandered along until we found a menu that we liked and walked in. We had a balcony seat overlooking the river from where we ate crabcakes, crab legs, shrimp, clams, mussels, crawfish, crab legs and probably some other sea critters that I have since forgotten about.

And don't forget Chesapeake Bay. What an amazing feat of engineering the bridge across that bay is. We guessed it at 20 miles long and I just checked Streets and Trips - I don't think that is an exageration. The bridge just goes on forever out in the middle of the bay. It feels like you are driving across the ocean. There's 3 incredibly long bridge spans supported by concrete piles. The bridge spans connect four artificial islands which serve as the starting points for tunnels that allow freighters to transit up the bay. They charged us something to cross the bridge - maybe $35 but it was easily worth it just to say we have seen it. We were in too much of a hurry coming down the coast but we will definitely go back that way in the spring. If we take about a month or 6 weeks to travel up to New Jersey that will make a very enjoyable trip. We'd like to spend some time around Savannah and around Charleston. Probably around Chesapeake Bay as well. There is so much history along that route. Its the area of North America that the Europeans found first and that still shows in the architecture and layout of the roads.

Today we moved on down to Arcadia. The rally here doesn't officially start until Monday but there are already about 40 busses here. Jack is expecting over a hundred coaches so there will be a lot more rolling in over the next couple of days. Our little incident was closely followed by many of the people who are attending the rally so we got a royal welcome when we arrived. We even got a power site despite our late registration. I didn't want to have them hold a site for us when we weren't sure that we would get out of Luke's shop. When we finally did get on the road again I sent Jack an email and he said that after all we had been through they would find us a power hookup.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Things are looking up

I wouldn't want to guarantee that we'll get out of here tomorrow but all of a sudden it looks at least possible. These guys are great. I've had the privilege of knowing a few truly great mechanics and Bill is definitely on that (short) list. I was telling Marilyn last night about watching him put the bearings in the caps for the rods. He took each individual shell out, turned it over, scrutinized the back of it and then carefully lined it up in the rod or cap and pressed it into place. He went through all 8 pistons and didn't change his speed or his routine from the 1st one to the last one.

This morning they put the head back on the left side of the bus and just a few minutes ago the new head went in on the right side. This new one speaks Spanish - its a new Detroit casting but it is stamped with Mexico so it must have been cast somewhere down there. They've still got a long way to go. The blower housing is the only remaining large item that will be tricky to mount and they are waiting for an exhaust manifold to arrive from Detroit. One of the ears was broken on the old one. There were several little things like that which lead me to believe that this engine didn't have as good a rebuild the last time around. I'm willing to bet that the cracked head has been there as long as we have owned the bus. Its a hairline crack between two valves and there is the beginning of another crack on the other two valves on the same cylinder. That would explain the water loss that we have experienced ever since we bought the bus. I could never figure out where it was going. My samples told me that there was nothing going into the oil and the engine ran too well to believe that it was burning water but it must have been.

The plan is still to get us out of here tomorrow afternoon. That's still a major stretch but it is starting to at least look possible. There is a plethora of lines to hook up, the valves need to be set, everything needs to be torqued and the rack needs to be set. We also plan to warm it up and then dump the first oil and do a complete oil change to make sure that we flush all the glycol out of the block. That will all take time. Tonight after Bill-1 and Bill-2 go home I will go underneath and set the clutch up so that we will at least be ready to leave in the event that they get us mobile tomorrow.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Brokedown in Vineland

So we were tooling around the bypass at Syracuse with not a care between us, on our way to supper with Will Sill and his wife in Tunkhannock. The bypass comes back onto 81 via a steep, narrow, single lane on-ramp. About halfway up the ramp I had to drop a gear because we seemed to be running out of power. I glanced in the mirror as I went to make the shift and saw smoke at the exhaust. As I pushed the clutch the engine died. When I touched the starter nothing happened. Sez I to myself "Self - this is not good". Then I sweated my way to the top of the ramp incline. Fortunately we crested the incline although just barely and then we started back down towards 81. We eventually rolled to a steaming stop just onto 81.

We got out the flares, put on the flashers, generally made things secure and then tried to do some basic troubleshooting. Obviously we had overheated but the reason wasn't so immediately clear. This old girl has used a bit of water ever since we bought it. By "a bit" I mean something in the order of 3 or 4 gallons annually. I would occasionally think "I should check that rad" and discover that it took a lot of coolant to bring it back up. But there was never even a trace of glycol in the oil samples so I never worried about the loss. In hindsight I expect what was happening is that the o-rings on the liners had been previously cooked and were letting a bit of water out the exhaust ports. When I added coolant I was likely often ending up with an air pocket in the system that would further exacerbate the cooked o-ring situation. Too late now to worry about that now - it was a combination of previous owner abuse and current owner neglect that led us to the sorry state we are presently in.

We spent the weekend in a hotel in a place called Cortland, about 30 miles south of Syracuse. After we let everything cool down and I tracked down some coolant we refilled the rad and ran another 30 miles Friday night. We blew prodigious clouds of steam on startup and for about the first 2 miles but then the fog cleared and we ran more or less clean down to Cortland which was really our first opportunity to get off the road without turning around and going back to Syracuse.

I talked to a variety of mechanics and busnuts about our situation. Ultimately our options came down to letting the local yokels pull wrenches and hang parts on an engine that they clearly knew nothing about or getting the hell out of Dodge on the hook of a wrecker. So I called Luke at US Coach in Vineland. Luke is a legend in the bus community. He has been fixing busses for 35+ years and is known across North America. He and Don Fairchild out in California are without question the two premiere 2-stroke diesel shops in North America. As it turned out Luke was also about 300 miles from where we were broke down.

Now here's the part that I can't understand. On Luke's recommendation I called Flanagans Towing and got a quote to move us to Vineland. They came back at $950 plus tolls. Ultimately that turned out to be a total of $1010 to tow us to Vineland. I would have thought seriously about driving the half ton on a round trip of 600 miles let alone supplying a monstrous boom lift wrecker and the fuel to tow this old Prevost 300 miles but that's what they did. Steve Flanagan himself turned out to be our tow operator and he was a true pro. We were well looked after and were in Vineland in Luke's yard less than 12 hours after I originally called Luke.

On Tuesday the guys here pulled the bus into Luke's shop and started pulling pieces off. It wasn't until yesterday afternoon (Weds) that we knew for sure what the problem was and it was only this morning that I got an estimate of the total repair bill. My stupidity is going to cost us something north of $11k but we will have essentially a brand new engine with 100% Detroit parts inside it. It turns out that there were a lot of jobber parts in this engine, although that alone isn't necessarily a bad thing. I have always suspected that this engine was a truck engine transplanted into a bus and Luke confirmed today that is the case. We're getting a few other little items attended to at the same time and the guys here swear that we will be out the door before Christmas.

Tonight we are going to drive down to Washington and spend a couple of nights there. I've got some people that I want to see there and Marilyn is going to make like a tourist for two days. I'll join her in the Smithsonian on Saturday and then we'll drive back up here. I've got an appointment with a grease gun underneath this beast on Sunday when I won't be in the way of Bill Sr. & Jr.

Never a dull moment. And I thought our big problem was going to be getting out of the snowbank west of Ottawa.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Is there really anybody out there?

We sent out our Christmas letter to a mass mailing list but it occurred to me that some of the readers of this weblog might be interested in it as well so I am going to post it here. This weblog is like radio - its hard to believe there is anyone out there listening. But in case there really is somebody reading this, here's the Christmas Letter . Read it or don't - I'll never know.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I'm preparing dinner in that snow covered bus. The insulation is better than I thought it was judging by all the snow on the roof. Ottawa was supposed to get 30 cm of snow overnight - that seems like a bit of a stretch but there's a lot of the miserable white stuff around this morning. The guy that owns this campground has a more or less full time job pushing snow and he seems to enjoy it. He says they got 18 feet here last winter. Apparently they keep all the trails open so people can access their park model trailers and they host weekend events through the winter.

Anyway we're connected thanks to the colander that I adapted to be a wifi booster. Its one of those fold up stainless steel jobs and it seems to give the wifi enough of a boost to get connected here. I thought it was pure bullshit but I built it anyway while we were still in Nipawin and today it seems to be helping to keep us connected.

We're also connected in another, possibly more important way. This post was prompted when I picked up mother's porcelain salt shaker out of the little red metal basket that it has lived in as long as I can remember. For a lot of its life it sat on top of the stove, sometimes in a cupboard near the stove but now it lives over the sink above our stove. It lives across the way from grandma's little yellow china bowl with the handle. The same one she and I used to microwave vegetables when I lived with her what seems like a lifetime ago. Down below me some of grandpa's tools that came to me through father wait an opportunity to be useful. We may be wandering around North America but we are still connected electronically to the present and spiritually to our past.

Meanwhile Jorgito has discovered that he likes soft cat food from a can. This shouldn't be a big discovery for a cat - in fact every cat I have known actually PREFERED soft cat food from a can to dry food from a bag. But not this one - at least not until about 2 weeks ago. He had to go on a regime of medicated cat food for reasons too unpleasant to relate here. That food came in a can, smelled as foul as canned cat food usually does and was distressing in the extreme for his little cat brain. He licked it dry when we first put it out and then held out for a whole 24 hours, firm in his little cat belief that we would break down and feed him some of his favorite crunchy stuff. We didn't. Eventually we figured out that he really didn't know how to eat soft food. It is too big to take whole pieces into his mouth and his little mind couldn't comprehend tearing off chunks the way every other cat on the globe seems to instinctively understand eating. So we would periodically stir up the little mound of moist food that he had licked into submission and he would commence to licking at it again. Sometime in the last 48 hours he has figured out how to eat soft food and now he would actually prefer that we stop wasting his time with that old fashioned dry stuff.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

So the Libs are getting their act together. This Ignatieff guy just might have a shot at the big time. It was a lot of fun watching the three stooges led by Ding-Dong #1 but that phase looks to be over. The only flaw in the plan to take over the party without a leadership convention is that the Liberals stood to make a lot of money from the convention. But something tells me that Michael has probably thought that one through as well. Harper had better be on his guard - this one's got legs.

We got to Ottawa late last night, just ahead of the big storm that blew into town today. We're settled into a park south of Arnprior for a few days. We finally got our water system thawed out. It was good until we left Brandon and then froze up during the day. We tried to thaw it out on the road but the heat loss from the travel was just too much to overcome. And we couldn't stop because we just had to get the miles behind us. This country is BIG - really big. Years ago I remember father saying "you drive and drive and drive until you get to Thunder Bay and then you realize that you are only half way there". We also had the fortune to run through some incredibly bad roads. So bad that the little truck was absolutely filthy this morning, even including under the hood. It wasn't full under the hood but there wasn't a lot of empty space left either. I ran it through an automatic carwash today and its still dirty but not as bad as it was.

Today I drove into Ottawa for a meeting and then got caught in the early exodus from the city this afternoon. It took me 3/4 of an hour to go in and 2-1/2 hours to come back. Tomorrow the poor bastards will have to cope with a winter storm plus a public transport strike. Fortunately we don't have to travel at all tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Porcelain cats

One time when we took George II over to Victoria Park to visit mom & dad he got very concerned about what I think is a remarkably UN-lifelike porcelain cat that lives outside the apartment across the hall from theirs. Many of the Vic Park inmates have some trinket outside their door. It serves to ornament the spartan hallways and distinguishes their door from neighbouring doors that would otherwise look identical. When mom & dad moved in their concrete cowboy quickly moved in after them and has been standing guard outside their door ever since.

So when we encounted an old girl in the lobby and she announced that she lived "across the hall from your parents", it seemed perfectly logical to me that she must own the porcelain cat, and I said something to that effect. She drew herself up to her full 5'2" of height, pushed out her chest, thrust her jaw forward and said "I CERTAINLY DO NOT HAVE ANY HORSES & CATTLE." She then started to walk away but turned back to mutter something to the effect that father must be going crazy if he thought she had horses and cattle. After that she stomped off.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Morbidly obese, grouchy healthcare workers

What is it with these people? They of all people should know better. Yet there they are, overweight - and not just a little overweight - slouching around the hospital and then sneaking outside to grab a nicotine fix.

I spent too much time today in Regina General Hospital waiting so I had plenty of time to observe. And what I saw was not pretty either literally or figuratively. I think they did a reasonably good job of caring for father but you have to wonder how somebody who cares so little for their own personal health can be trusted to care for someone else's health.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

So unless somebody blinks we're gonna have PM Ding Dong, Finance Minister Rae and Minister of Foreign Affairs Duceppe. Didn't we just have an election and return the Conservatives with more seats than they had before and the Libs with (substantially) less?

Steffie was able to sit on his duff through numerous confidence votes for close to three years but now he's all of a sudden discovered his backbone? This has everything to do with losing the public dole to support parties that can't raise their own money and nothing to do with the economy. If I wanted to support Elizabeth May's whacky ideas I'd send her a cheque. If Steffie wants to support her he should do so but he's gonna have serious difficulty going to the electorate after the honeymoon with Smilin' Jack is over. Remember all those times we told you that voting NDP was the same as voting Lib? Well its true!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

In Regina again

We moved back to Regina on Thursday. The week was pretty much a blur but by Weds. evening the house was empty and clean. We still had some running around to do on Thursday morning but we got on the road before lunch. On Friday father and I went to Agribition. I doubt that he has missed an Agribition since they moved to Regina until last year. We wandered around the barns, found the Horseshoe E crew, had a good visit with Lane and Paula and made our way through most of the ag display area. We gave the slicer-dicers and vegomatic area a pass though.
My sister did most of the heavy lifting to get mother's affairs cleaned up during the week she was out here so our efforts are more in the order of housekeeping and support for father. We've still got a few things to clear up and mainly we're trying to assess how well father is coping.

We've got one more hectic work week coming up and then a week of hard travel before things start to let up. This week we have to be in Saskatoon on Wed for doctor's appointments and on Friday so I can speak to Merv Berscheid's commodity meeting. Saturday we are going to get as far as Brandon where we will stay in Mark & Donna's yard overnight. Then we'll pull a couple of really long days to get around the north end of the lakes. I've got a client to meet with in Ottawa before we get to Quebec for my training session on the 12th. After that we can relax a bit.

It turns out that Marilyn's sister & her husband are going to be in New York right about the time we are going by. Since they live in Tokyo its pretty much of a coincidence that we would both end up that close together at the same time. So we have booked into a campground with a view of the Statue of Liberty and we will spend a few days visiting with them before we move on down the coast. I'd like to stop in Washington, D.C. as well but we'll see how the time goes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

We're done

We haven't left the yard but we are SO ready. When we signed the deal I thought it was flat impossible that we would be ready to leave by now but we are. Today we finished moving garbage out of the house and Marilyn shampooed some of the rugs. She is going to hire some Manpower types on Wednesday to give the house a thorough cleaning. I still have to dung the shop out but that won't take long now. RJ raided the remaining tools while he was here yesterday. He also took some furniture, the waterbed and the canoe.

It was very nice of Craig to leave his little skid loader here. We got busted using it yesterday but he said he didn't mind so we used it again today. It works great for ferrying stuff to the little barn. And we used it to move a couple of loads to our free garage sale at the end of the lane. We moved the fridge out there yesterday, having been unsuccessful in our efforts to sell it. Today some "disadvantaged citizens" drove up the lane and asked if we would haul it to town, since we had a truck and they didn't. Fortunately Marilyn had gone outside to talk to them because I would have been a lot less understanding than she was.

And the weather has absolutely been cooperating. Other than that one miserable night when the water froze up after we first moved back here the weather has been great. We were wandering around the yard today in shirtsleeves. It has to get cold soon but so far we have really caught a break. This time last year we had already had close to a month of winter, Denton had plowed the yard already and it was dipping to -30 at night. There's no way this old bus will handle that kind of temperature with water in the lines so this year's weather has been a major break.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Less than a month

One short month ago we still thought we were going to spend the winter in Nipawin fixing the place up, mother was still chugging along looking after father, Anne was in the hospital or just back home and looking like she might die any minute. Now we're a few days away from leaving this yard forever, mother is gone and Anne has staged a remarkable recovery (at 101 and one-half). At that age the 1/2 year is just as important as it is to a 3 year old. After we held her 100th birthday party she said "I don't suppose you will do this again next year, will you?" I think she's on track for the 105th celebrations now.

The property sale is proceeding apace. We signed a bunch of stuff today and Sandy says she has the money already but can't turn it over to us until Dec. 1 because we set Nov. 30 as the closing date. We thought that was a pretty aggressive date when we set it but apparently she has it through Land Titles already. We've had next to no interest in the furniture we're trying to move so there will be some really happy travellers over the weekend when they see it sitting out at the end of the lane. RJ is on his way up here to pick up some food, the canoe, some books and my big recliner. We'll try to palm some other stuff off on him too but there isn't a whole lot left.

I've been plotting our route and checking it against people we know along the way. Other than the time we will spend in Washington, D.C. I don't think we will pay for a parking spot after we leave Quebec and we've got one spot lined up on the way out to Quebec. I'm not looking forward to the night around Thunder Bay because I doubt there will be any alternative to a gas station parking lot and it will be COLD. It seems like the furnace is working but I still remember how it let us down last winter so I'm not 100% sure it will get us out of the country without trouble this time. Once we start heading south on the east side of the lakes there may be a lot of snow but it should be noticeably warmer but getting there will be the challenge. Mind you, anything has to be an improvement over the deep freeze we are enduring here now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Endings and beginnings

My mother died on Tuesday and I have been avoiding writing about it yet knowing that I must eventually. How could I honestly write an account of our ongoing life on the road without writing about such a climactic event?

We knew when we came out in August that she didn't have much time left. That was a large part of the reason - perhaps all of the reason - for their move into Victoria Park. They got settled in there and she slowly let go of some of the responsibility for caring for father. She never entirely let go of that responsibility though. She went into the hospital last Thursday - I last spoke to her on the phone Sunday night and she was still worried about how father was going to cope. She was very much at peace with her own destiny but concerned about how father would manage without her. And that's an open question. There is no doubt that he is better off in Victoria Park and that they will do their best to look after him but there are a lot of pieces to his life that he will not be able to keep together. Fortunately he seems to realize that and be willing to give up some of the authority and responsibility for his own well being so perhaps it will work out.

I'm sure at some level mother knew this summer that there was something seriously wrong with her health but I don't think she knew until she went into the hospital this time just how imminent her death was. She seemed genuinely unafraid of her approaching death, not eager to leave her friends here but ready for whatever came next. She spoke repeatedly about the phrase from the United Church creed which says "God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God". She also spoke of seeing the hand of God in the people who surrounded her at the end - the palliative care doctors and nurses, her friends and her family. We could all take some lessons about facing our ultimate destiny from her example.

The sale of our acreage meanwhile is progressing at breakneck speed. Sandra Carson is working her magic with land titles and we expect to close on or before the end of November. We have been blessed with some excellent weather for clearing the house out although I understand that things have taken a turn for the worse in the past few days. We left Nipawin the morning after Mom died and moved the bus to Regina to be with father for the interim. We will need to go back to Nipawin, finish up there and then get to warmer climes before this old Prevost freezes up solid. Fortunately the ProHeat which gave me so much trouble last winter and this spring appears to be working well now and we have managed to stay warm at night. Its really pushing the envelope though to live in an RV in this kind of weather and we can't expect to do it forever. The sooner we can get to a lower latitude the better it will be.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What a difference a week makes

So last Saturday we arrived back in Nipawin in the dark. I dropped Marilyn off in P.A. where her car was and we met up in Nipawin. We got parked on the driveway in front of the garage and settled in for the night. One week later, almost to the hour and its hard to believe all that has happened in seven quick days.

Monday morning Craig came to look the place over. He hadn't much more than left when the idiot appraiser showed up. She might as well have stayed under whatever rock she crawled out from for all the help she ended up being but that's a whole 'nuther story. I can't remember when we gave Craig a price but I know we were still arguing with the appraiser about whether it was reasonable to use mobile homes sitting on their wheels as comparable properties. Craig came back out with his mom and dad and then he made a counter offer which was really pretty close to our asking price so we accepted it.

Since then the race has been on. We had already got Glenda (Karla's friend) started taking some of the furnishings that we knew were going to be surplus. Until we were sure that the place was sold we didn't want to get rid of too much stuff just in case we ended up spending the winter here but as the week went on it became increasingly apparent that it wasn't likely that we would be here much longer. Now that we have a deal Glenda has gone into overdrive hauling stuff away.

I got a construction roll-off garbage bin dropped here on Monday and we have it pretty well full. I hope its going to hold everything. There seems to be no end of junk that has to go into it but surely it will stop at some point. We've arranged with Craig to continue to use the little red barn for storage for one full year. We'll also leave the boat in the metal shed over the winter.

Craig has purchased most of the tools in the garage. I'm going to add a few to the bus complement and keep a few in storage for whenever we finally come off the road. I may even take some extra tools with us in the summer. Bernie has a little workshop at Whispering Pines where I might be able to make some sawdust in return for fixing the occasional picnic table.

We've got some really busy weeks coming up now. We both have contracts that we are working on during the day. In the evening we have been packing. So far the weather has cooperated but it will get to be a serious challenge if it gets really cold. The bus is good to about -15, maybe -20 but anything past that is going to be a big problem.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

a sad day

There will be a lot of people disappointed over the next four years. Last night glitz and glitter triumphed over substance. To anyone who has ever bemoaned poor voter turnout, yesterday should demonstrate that there is no more dangerous weapon than a ballot in the hands of a stupid person.

The black guy has an insurmountable challenge. There is no way he can meet even half the expectations that he has built for himself. Serves him right.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Went over to the dark side

I finally broke down and joined the crackberry addict group. And I can see why they are addicted - this thing is GOOD. My last "smart"phone was a Motorola Q and what a mournful excuse for a phone/PDA that thing was. I bought the Q because I thought Blackberries were ostentatious and meant for people who wanted to advertise how trendy they were. In order to uphold that dubious principle I got 2 years of misery trying to make the Q function. It was an OK phone, when it was working. Lately it had developed a habit of randomly shutting itself off. Sometimes it would go a whole week without one random shutdown and other days it would shut itself off four or five times in an afternoon.

I'd been trying to talk myself into spending the money on a new phone for several months and finally broke down and did it this morning. I actually tried to do it last night but ran into such a case of terminal stupidity that I just couldn't go through with it. This morning I found a really helpful pirate (Hallowe'en today) in the Telus booth and a very knowledgeable young man in the Sasktel Jump.Ca store. Much as I would have liked to ditch Sasktel they ended up being the most economical solution so that is where I stayed. Apparently now I can take my phone number with me if I decide to switch to some other carrier so it is a lot more realistic to switch.

I think we are finally going to get back to Nipawin tomorrow night. We have both pretty well wrapped up all that we need to do in Saskatoon so there is no reason to stay here any longer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just me and George

Well Marilyn is in McArthur River. I couldn't even find it on a map but I finally located something on some of my Garmin maps. Cameco must be worried that I might be a terrorist because they sure don't have much helpful information on their website about where the mines are actually located. Its a long ways away from Saskatoon - that's for sure. Marilyn said it was a 2-1/2 hour flight.

It sounds like they have pretty decent accomodations and a good dining room. She is in a room that two other women share on a week in - week out basis. For some reason neither of them is there this weekend so she gets their room, complete with their TV and all the pictures of their kids.

George is such a fair weather friend. He's all cuddly with me now that Marilyn isn't here - and that will continue for a few days after she comes back but eventually he will revert to being her mama's boy. For the weekend though he and I will be close buddies.

We're parked on the Flying J parking lot on the north side of Saskatoon - the wifi at the Husky appears to be permanently down so I came back here after I picked up the trucklet today. Tomorrow the Nipawin Exhibition Association is hosting some kind of a hoedown at the Western Canada Fairs convention and they have invited all the old warhorses to attend along with the current board so I will go downtown for that and leave Georgie alone overnight.

When we arrived at the Flying J on Wednesday night the place was dark. We soon discovered that they had just finished extinguishing a fire in the dining room. I guess a fire at a gas station is a pretty major event - everything was shut down but they were still letting trucks in and out of the parking lot. When we pulled in there was truck leaving complete with a large trucker broad who was frantically waving "No" at us. I'm not sure what she thought we were going to do at that point - likely she didn't think that much. Later in the evening they turned the lights back on and Marilyn went in to buy some milk. She got talking to the manager who told her that they had just passed their first franchise inspection in the morning and then lit the kitchen on fire in the afternoon. Some days are like that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grande Prairie in the rear view mirror

I had a meeting with the management team at Neufeld's this afternoon and then about 5:00 we left town. We would have stopped sooner but couldn't find any place that appealed to us so we ended up at a Husky truck stop on the west side of Edmonton. There's a LOT of trucks in here tonight. We're sandwiched in between a load of Super B load of pipe and a flatdeck of mixed freight. Apparently we passed a hotel on the way off the highway - I didn't notice but Marilyn did. We are stealing their internet now to check our email and post this.

And now its time for bed. Tomorrow - Saskatoon and Thursday Marilyn goes nuclear.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The morning after

We were just talking about how confusing it must have been for Steffie Ding Dong when he watched the newcasts today. All through the election the media was so careful not to hurt his delicate feelings while they pretended to take his nonsense view of the world seriously. But this morning the gloves came off and they all appeared in a panic to say what any sane person has to have known since he won the Liberal leadership. Namely that he isn't and never will be prime minister material and that he constantly demonstrates that fact in a multitude of ways.

And how about that Harper guy? Remember him? He's the conservative idealogue with a radical right wing agenda that would prevent him from ever reaching a compromise consensus with enough right of centre parliamentarians to ever hold power. What a difference four years makes.

Yesterday was a good day for Canada. The only thing that would have made it better is if a few less bloc-heads had voted the way they did.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Grande Prairie

We arrived up here Thursday afternoon. After a bit of an ordeal locating the campground we got moved in. Then we had a bit of an incident involving the sewer hose and had to get the camp host to come turn the water on but eventually we got settled. Yesterday I spent the day at Neufeld's getting oriented and figuring out what the project up here really is.

Today we have spent a lazy day. I did some work in the morning and Marilyn's friend Lorraine came for coffee. This afternoon we are cooking a Thanksgiving turkey. Ken is bringing a friend for supper. Tomorrow Marilyn is going to Grande Cache with Lorraine to visit Donna. I'll get a full day of work in on some ammonia code of practice stuff.

We're in a huge trailer park - probably 200 sites or more. And its open year round. It must be a real bear here in the winter but they stay open all year. Some of the rigs already have rigid pink insulation strapped to the outside of their slideouts. I can't imagine what it would take to heat an RV with propane at -40 but I guess accomodations are at that much of a premium up here. We have to leave our water hose unhooked at night. We can fill our tanks during the day but they want all the hoses unhooked at night so their plumbing doesn't freeze.

I think we'll probably be up here for close to 2 weeks. Marilyn has to fly out of Saskatoon on the 23rd to McArthur River. She has landed a project with Cameco and has to go to the mine to get oriented. I wonder if she will glow in the dark when she comes back. After that we'll probably end up back in Nipawin. I've got a meeting in Saskatoon at the end of the month but eventually it is going to get cold enough that we will want to have a real roof over our heads again.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Saskatoon and heading north

We're back in Saskatoon for a few days regrouping for a trip to Grande Prairie. I've got some work to do up there and Marilyn has a girl friend that she hasn't seen for years so we're headed north at the wrong time of the year. You'd never know winter was coming by the weather we've had for the last week but I don't expect it to hold as we head north. It should be pretty travelling up there this time of year though. We've got friends at Grand Cache as well so we'll try to work in a visit there but that may get tricky because Marilyn has a contract with a mining company that she just landed. We have to be back here by the 23rd so she can fly into the mine for the weekend. By the time she gets back from the mine it will definitely be time to get back to Nipawin.

Anne got settled back into Hillcrest and staged a remarkable recovery. It was hard for Marilyn to persuade her to leave the hospital. Once she was home she exclaimed about how much better she felt. I think the staff at the hospital were pretty amazed at her resilience.

While Marilyn was getting Anne settled in I spent the week driving back and forth to Saskatoon. I was the lunch speaker at a CAFA meeting on Tuesday and the trainer for a Nurse Tank Safety course on Thursday. I ended up driving to Saskatoon on Wednesday as well because I thought the NTSCC course was Wednesday rather than Thursday but that's a whole other matter. Today when we were driving in with the bus that made the 4th time this week I had made the trip.

On Wednesday I phoned the returning officer to see how we could go about voting. I don't really think that riding is in any danger but I said to Marilyn that we would feel pretty stupid if the idiot Val Mushinski got in by one vote. The returning officer said we could come vote right away. I'm not sure exactly what we voted in - it wasn't the advance poll but it was clearly a poll in advance of election day. They didn't even have printed ballots - we had to write Randy's name in but it's done now. So it was hard to get very excited about watching the debates. We caught the end of the English debate - just long enough so I could appreciate Grant Devine's comments this morning. "Like a pack of four coyotes worrying the old bull on the ranch." Yapping coyotes seems like a great metaphor for that pack of fools.

Marilyn is having fun playing with her new software tonight. She had Dragon Naturally Speaking on her desktop in Nipawin but for some reason couldn't install it on her new laptop. I think the desktop was likely W2K & the laptop is XP so that is likely the reason. Whatever the reason she ordered the software and had it shipped to her here in Saskatoon. We picked it up this afternoon and now she is teaching it to understand her voice. Once she gets it trained it will transcribe her words as well as let her run other software by voice commands.

We're camped at 16 West on the Yellowhead highway just north of the Saskatoon airport. As soon as we got here Georgie and I went for a really long walk all the way around the perimeter of the campground. He always hates leaving for a walk but he is getting to where he really enjoys the walk once it gets going.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Jack's 15 minutes

One of our favorite movies is "The American President" starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening and Richard Dreyfuss. The Dreyfuss character spends most of the movie thundering "My name is Bob Runsom and I'm running for president of the United States" much like Jack has been fond of doing lately.

Jack appears to be a well educated man, possibly a little stupid but well educated. Unfortunately "well educated" and "smart" all too often are mutually exclusive concepts but that's a whole other matter. So Jack must know that he isn't really running for Prime Minister of Canada. I have about as much chance of getting elected Prime Minister on Oct. 14 as Jack does. Neither of us is going to be moving into 24 Sussex in the near future (or ever for that matter). But there goes Jack like a little wind up soldier claiming that he's running for Prime Minister.

The line is so reminiscent of The American President that you would have to think Jack knows where it came from - copied it even. But if so then he must surely also know how that movie ends. For those of you who don't know, it ends with Michael Douglas finally engaging the Dreyfuss character. The Douglas character starts that speech by saying "My name is Andrew Shephard and I AM the president of the United States. Bob Runsom - your fifteen minutes of fame are over." So enjoy it while it lasts Jack.

We've been holed up in Prince Albert for a week now and it looks like we will be here a while longer. Anne is still in the hospital. She's apparently doing well but the doctors haven't discharged her and she probably enjoys all the attention.

I was in Brandon on Wednesday to do some NTSCC training for CAAR and then we both went to Saskatoon on Friday. Marilyn had some meetings and I took RJ out for his 20th birthday supper. Hard to believe that its 20 already. Originally we had planned to move back to Saskatoon this weekend but we'll likely stay here for another week now. It looks like we will then be off to Grande Prairie for a week or so. I'd rather be heading south but its nice to have lots of work lined up if we are going to be here anyway.

We took the boat back to Nipawin on Tuesday and picked up Marilyn's car so that we could both have a vehicle again. I got the boat winterized and stuck in the shop. I always hate doing that - it seems so much like the end of summer and it always seems like we don't get enough time to use it. This year we put close to 60 hours on it. Last year it was barely 40 hours but that says more about Candle Lake than it does about how much we used the boat this year. The best we ever did was one summer when the kids were younger when we put over 100 hours on it. Usually if we can get over 50 hours I count it as relatively successful. We should be able to start to consistently put more than that on it though once we put Saskatchewan in the rear view mirror. When we were in Osoyoos it looked as though we could be on the water to the end of September or perhaps even well into October. If we can start in June in the Shuswaps and finish in October in Osoyoos that would be a major improvement on the 8 or 9 weeks that we have been used to.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Market whiners, fall colours and philosophy

I've been spending a lot of time over the last year trying to learn how to make money in the stock market. And I have to say I've done pretty well. I was doing even better until last Friday. Contrary to what the media would have you believe, the world was not about to end last week. Some of us were playing by the rules and doing just fine. Then the US government changed the rules completely. Which has lead to some whining. But not from me because I think I have learned the single most important rule that every investor or trader should memorize. "Know how much you can lose before you open the position". If everybody did that then one of two things would happen:

  • they would make money because the stock did what they expected it to do
  • they would lose the money that they had determined ahead of time they could afford to lose
Its really that simple. Position size has to be related to what you can afford to lose. If everyone invested that way there would likely still be a lot of whining but there would be no rational reason for anyone to whine. There were lots of us last week who were short the market and who had been short it for a long time. We were making money - sometimes a lot of money. A lot of people were whining but some of us were quietly making money. Then the US gummit stepped in and changed the rules, effectively saying "if you're big enough and in a bad enough mess then you can't go broke". You know the old saying "If you owe the bank $1 million and can't pay then you have a problem. If you owe the bank $100 million and can't pay then the bank has a problem." To that you can apparently now add "If you owe $100 billion and can't pay then the whole world has a problem." I'm not wild about that philosophy and I've got a lot of company in that sentiment but it ultimately doesn't matter. I knew what I could afford to lose going in. I know how to manage the eventual loss and my capital will be intact to trade another day. Its too bad everyone didn't have that attitude because if they did we wouldn't need massive governmental interference in the markets at immense public expense.

Today we moved from Saskatoon to Prince Albert, having spent the weekend at Blaine and Jacquie's after a couple of days at Ron & Norma's. We caused a lot of excitement in Shields. I don't think they get a lot of converted Prevosts stopping in Shields or even passing by Shields. And the internet satellite system was another topic of conversation. It was great to get reacquainted with Ron and Norma - we haven't spent any significant amount of time with them for a long while. They took us to the Hole in the Wall Restaurant on Thursday evening. That was a taste treat to be long remembered.

We moved to Saskatoon on Friday hoping that we would get in some boat time on the river but that wasn't to be. It was too cold yesterday and too windy both days. Today has been an absolute bear for wind. I'm worried that the dish is going to blow over despite the fact that it is snuggled up against the bus in a well treed campground and staked down.

Marilyn has been up at the hospital most of the day. Anne isn't doing well after having emergency surgery for a strangulated hernia last week. She recovered well from the surgery but she has some kind of an infection and today she developed pain whenever she swallows so she hasn't been able to eat or drink. She's a tough old bird but at 101 I guess some of the systems just aren't as resilient as they once were. We'll likely stay here all week. I have to be in Brandon on Wednesday but I can leave from here just as easily as from Nipawin. We have to be back in Saskatoon next weekend anyway because it is RJ's birthday and because I have some meetings there early next week.

I think it is time to go out and worry about the dish some more. I've got one of those things you use to stake a dog out in the yard. Maybe I'll screw it in and tie the tripod down to that.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Golden, BC

We're back where we slept the first night we owned the bus only on the other side of the highway. We got Kerri married off over the weekend, ate too much, visited with numerous relates and left town this morning late enough to miss rush hour. All in all a pretty successful visit.

The wedding was at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Jericho clubhouse. In case you don't know the RVYC has something like 9 or 10 locations. The one we were at is at the west end of Jericho beach. It was a pretty spectacular setting for an afternoon and evening wedding. Just at dusk the groom's stepmother took over the microphone for a few minutes to point out that there was an island mirage rising out of the western horizon. We were seeing islands that she said were over 100 miles away and very seldom visible. She should know - she used to race sailboats. Kerri's husband has been a member of RVYC since he was 10 years old. We had a great visit with his father over breakfast Sunday morning. He told us that he signed both of his boys up when they were 10 because that meant that by the time they were 30 they would have put in the necessary 20 year wait to get a moorage.

We left Capilano this morning and got briefly disoriented but quickly got back on course. Then we had to wander around Abbotsford for a while to find diesel fuel but thank goodness we did because it was $1.31 there and as high as $1.45 the rest of the day. We rolled into Golden right about dark and parked by the Husky, thinking that they would have wifi but they didn't. We could see some unsecured sites but the strongest one wanted a password eventually and we would have had to stay in the hotel to get the password so that wasn't on. So we moved ahead a few hundred yards and found another hotel with an unsecured access point. Its really amazing how many unsecured sites there still are. I keep expecting that evenually people will figure out how to implement security and the sites will no longer be available but so far it hasn't happened. So we're stealing a little bit of internet from some place called the Golden somethingorother - can't remember what it is right now.

Tomorrow - Calgary. And then on to Saskatoon and maybe even Candle Lake for the weekend.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kamikaze campaign

The current election campaign reminds me of Joe Clark's kamikaze effort in 1980. Except this time its the Liberals that are going to take the fall. Steffie Ding Dong just doesn't seem to get it. Canadians generally don't want more taxes. A lot of us have this strange notion that we are the best judges of how to spend our own money. It looks like the party faithful are starting to run from the sinking ship too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sunny Vancouver

We got moved to Vancouver yesterday. We arrived at the WalMart in Surrey about 3 in the afternoon, found a quiet parking spot and set out to do some shopping and eat out at one of the Chinese restaurants we could see across the street. Before we did that we thought maybe we should read the one of the big signs we could see on the lamp posts in the parking lot. Sure enough, the signs told us our money wasn't welcome in Surrey. There's a few communities that have bowed to pressure from their local campgrounds and enacted anti-overnight parking regulations. Apparently Surrey is one of them. That was an expensive move on their part.

So far Marilyn has bought Kerri's wedding present in Vancouver and Capilano RV has received an extra night's rent from us. Surrey is out the wedding present and a restaurant meal and we'll make a point of avoiding the place in the future as well. These small minded councillors just don't get it. RVers don't want to wander around looking for a campground when they just plan to spend the night. We'll go where our money is welcome. Our house has wheels under it which makes it real easy to move on when we don't feel welcome.

We went through some PDP (pretty darn pretty) countryside along the way but I think it will be a long time before we come across on #3 highway again. Like long enough for me to forget some of the hairpin curves and 9% grades that go on forever. I couldn't help thinking "what is going to happen here if the Jake brake ever decides to quit?" Fortunately it never did. We've got a lot of weight to stop if we ever had to depend on just the service brakes to come down a mountain. I guess trucks did it before they invented compression brakes but that's also why they have those runaway lanes and I don't want to experience one of them either.

Yesterday after we arrived we went over to Granville Island to get some clams which I then cooked up in white wine with tomatos and onions to make a linguine sauce. It would have been a lot better if I had used 1/4 of the jalapeƱo instead of 1/2. It was pretty hot. We may not get a chance to do it again because it sounds like our every minute is planned going forward but I'm going to watch for a chance.

On the way back from the market we were stuck in traffic on Howe Street. I looked over at the car next to us and thought "that looks like Kerri-Lynne" (the wedding girl) but then I thought "don't be silly - you just think that because you are out here for the wedding." So I looked away and then looked back and it still looked like her so I said something to Marilyn. It was her. We visited for about 1/2 a block and then their lane moved ahead - it always works that way - whatever lane I'm in is never the one that moves ahead.

This week has been very relaxing. Even allowing for the times we were leading a 10 vehicle convoy down a 9% grade and wondering if the Jake was going to hold, it has been a good week. I was so busy for the last month that I had just closed out all my stock positions, which in hindsight was probably the best thing to do anyway. I spent Sunday and Monday catching up on my reading and then bought puts on five different companies. On Tuesday the market tanked and its got worse as the week goes on. Life is good. I've got until January to exercise my puts but it doesn't look like I will need anywhere near that long.

Time to go get shaved so we can go somewhere fancy for supper. I try to avoid shaving more than once a month - its one of the major perqs of our new lifestyle. However I am afraid that I will have to burn up a couple of month's worth of shaving over the next few days. The sacrifices I make!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bears - everywhere we go - bears

So Thursday night we left Swift Current about 6:00 and drove through to camp Wally Mart in Lethbridge. We didn't get a very early start from Lethbridge because I wanted to buy a new camera. Ever since the big Japan trip my little S20 hasn't worked very well and most of the time it hasn't worked at all. I guess it didn't owe me anything any more - technology has moved on. I'd been scouting pocket cameras on the internet - I love my digital Rebel but there's times when its just too awkward to carry it around. If I was going to buy one anyway then I wanted to buy it before the big wedding and buying it in Alberta saved me the sales tax. But that meant we had to wait until Future Shop opened at 10:00. And then we had to navigate the streets to where it is located in Lethbridge - no easy task that either.

Back on the road with $200 worth of new camera and $20 worth of memory - 4 Gig for $20 - can you imagine? I should have bought more than one but I guess they will likely be cheaper next week. Marilyn pointed out that if we fill one of them and put it in the picture frames we won't see the same pictures for a week.

We chugged all the way through to New Denver that night. We hadn't intended to go nearly that far but it was early when we got to Creston so we headed up the lake, missed the 5:20 sailing for the ferry and settled in to wait for the 7:00 sailing. We had supper while we were waiting and Marilyn phoned our 1st choice campground on the west shore of Kootenay lake. It was closed but we could park on their grass overnight and come in to pay in the morning. Thank you but no thank you. So she phoned another place that it turned out we had stayed at the year Michael lost his glasses. We got there at about 8:00 - it was blacker than the inside of a cow and we didn't like the looks of where we would have to get to plus it looked like we would share a 15 amp plug with several other rigs so we kept on going.

Somewhere along the Valley of the Ghosts between Kaslo and New Denver a black bear flushed out of the ditch and rambled across the road directly in front of us. You can't go very fast on that road and that was a good thing for Mr. Bear cuz he'd have been bear-burger otherwise. He kept looking over his shoulder and shambling along the median just ahead of me but finally turned left and got out of the way just in time.

This morning just after we left Slocan there was another bear crossed the road about 100 yards in front of us. I don't think we've ever seen two bears in one summer, let alone 2 days apart.

Today we arrived in Osoyoos and checked into Waltons Lakefront Resort. We stayed here several years ago with the kids but the place has gone considerably upscale since we were last here. Now they are trying to sell the pads for $179,000 per each. For that we get a level pad and a road barely wide enough to back into the site. No thanks to the $179k but its an OK rental at $35 per night.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Grasslands National Snore

We just got back from an 80 km tour around the west block of the "Park". Don't bother. We didn't see anything that I didn't see 40 years ago driving across the pasture behind the farm at Kenaston. There may be something of cultural or historical significance in the east block but there sure isn't in the west block. We saw some fat gophers AKA prairie dogs but that was about it for wildlife. A few long legged ditch rats (whitetail deer) in one spot and the occasional bird but really not that much. There's supposed to be buffalo on this side but we didn't see them.

There's a grazing project underway in the east block with local cattle. Apparently one scientist who works for Parks Canada actually has a brain and has noticed that protecting the park from grazing doesn't actually preserve it. The historic pattern of fire and overgrazing has been disrupted by man's preservation efforts. It turns out that changing the grazing pattern changes the climax species on the prairie -surprise, surprise. One proposed solution is to selectively graze areas of the park with cattle. Of course some of the more radical tree huggers in Parks Canada aren't 100% in favour of that solution but the science supports it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Tree huggers

We stayed 3 nights at Gail & Al Balfour's just outside of Climax. Al was kind enough to pretend that I was helpful as a truck driver while they were combining. We only got in one day of combining because the weather went seriously bad but we had a pretty good day while we were going. We had a great visit with Gail & Al - hadn't seen them for ages. Last night they took us on a road trip to the bar in Turner, MT. I think maybe Al has been there before - everybody seemed to know him. Mind you, there were more Canadians in that bar than there were Americans.

This morning we hooked up and headed east. The road north from Climax is under construction and it wouldn't have been pretty after all the rain they have had. Al's brother and sister-in-law went through it last night and it sounds like they barely made it in 4WD.

We thought we should get out of Al's way so he could get some work done but we didn't go very far. We ended up at a B & B just outside Val Marie, right on the edge of the Grasslands National Park . I think know that the people that own the place are tree huggers but they seem otherwise OK. They are starting to develop a campground behind the B & B and they have one 20 amp hookup. Its more than just a little muddy here so we ended up on the good gravel near the house plugged into the side of the house. They seem to think its a 20 amp hookup but the tea kettle just popped their breaker so there might be a few other things besides us on the circuit.

We'll spend a couple of nights here getting some work finished off. I've got four reports to deliver close to Mankota plus another one up by Swift Current and a couple over at Moose Jaw. I've got most of them printed off and bound now; I'll get the last one wrapped up this afternoon and make some phone calls tonight. The rain should give me a chance to catch these guys at home and get this all done in one day. Marilyn may have to make a trip to P.A. so we'll try to coordinate that with my trip to Moose Jaw. With any luck we'll be on our way west by Thursday or Friday. We've got a reservation in Vancouver for the following Thursday so we still have lots of time but we'd like as much time to look around on the way out as possible.

Its been pretty dry down here. The hills are all yellow. I expect they will green up one last time with this rain. I don't know what they've had here but I think Al & Gail are probably getting close to 2 inches by now. Just what they need for harvest.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pond scum

Look up Tony Merchant in the dictionary and there should be a picture of a rat or some kind of virus. What a slime bucket. Maple Leaf has gone so far beyond what was required of them or even what would be reasonably expected of them and now here comes the king of sleaze with a class action law suit. If he had one ounce gram of human decency he would be suing CFIA. Not that they have done anything wrong either but if Maple Leaf has done 2 or 300% of what is required by CFIA then surely it is them that is at fault, not the company.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Same old for the past couple of weeks

Not much excitement in our lives lately unless you count a trip to Nipawin or a thunderstorm. We've been hanging out in Regina, working and occasionally doing some cleanup in Mom & Dad's old apartment. Yesterday was a big day at the apartment. Mother & father came over and went through the last of the closets and drawers. Now we have a plan in place to distribute the remaining furniture to family. The remaining clothing will go to charity along with some of the food. I think it was a hard day for mother saying goodbye to possessions, as it was for us too but everybody just put their heads down and got on with the task at hand. Broadway Terrace management has come up with a new tenant for the apartment starting October 1 so now there is a deadline on getting the remaining stuff out of the place.

We're leaving here next Friday to start working our way west to Vancouver so we need to get as much done this week as possible. I'm not 100% sure we'll get the place completely empty before we leave but we should be able to get close and we'll be back in Regina before the end of September anyway. It should look a lot different by Wednesday night - Marlan & Michael are coming on Monday to pick up some furniture and then on Wednesday Mary is coming for the kitchen table and the deep freeze. Right now the place still looks full because there is furniture scattered randomly around every room but it will look a lot different once the big stuff is out of the living room and bedroom.

Last week we made a quick trip to Nipawin. We picked up the mail that Quint has been collecting for us but weren't able to go into the post office to pick up the mail while we were there. Some kids apparently set the garbage cans at the back of the post office on fire the same day that we arrived in Nipawin. Radio Norm commented that it was pretty short sighted of them to light a fire at the post office since that is where their family welfare cheques arrive. You tell 'em Norm!

The yard was a mess but not nearly as bad as we had expected. Our lawnmower man failed us completely so we had hired another guy to mow the yard in mid-July but it hadn't been attended to since then. The ditch didn't actually look that bad. There were a few alfalfa plants that were pretty big but the rest of it was acceptable. The back of the yard where it hadn't been mowed since late May was pretty wild and the "garden" was its usual joke self. Its been so dry there that the raspberries hadn't amounted to anything. It was probably pretty optimistic to expect anything off them this year anyway. They got hit hard by the May frost last year. There's some pretty decent canes there now for next year but we won't likely own them by then so it won't matter. We did get some cherries though. They were pretty tart but would make excellent pie cherries. They were edible raw and there weren't anywhere near enough to make a pie but there is hope for next year. I think that's four years now since I put the little sticks in the ground for the ones that are bearing.

This coming Friday we're going to pull up stakes here and move to Climax, to Gail & Al Balfour's yard. We'll stay there a couple of days while I deliver some FCC reports in the southwest and then we'll start working our way west across the south route. Many years ago before we discovered Mara we spent some time with the kids in the Kootenay region. We had a lot of fun there and our memory of the area is that it hadn't suffered the runaway development that the Okanagan Valley has. We want to check out the current situation to see if that is still true. We really liked Kaslo and New Denver so we will definitely check out both of those communities. Our plan is to go right across the south route to Vancouver and then come back through the middle - probably up the Okanagan to Vernon and then across through Lumby, Needles, Nakusp and New Denver to Kaslo. Depending on available time maybe we'll go out through the middle.

We've got a reservation at Capilano RV park which is right downtown in North Van. Kerry's wedding is on the 13th and it sounds like a bunch of the family is going to congregate starting about the 11th so we will get there in time for all that and hang out until everybody leaves. It feels like we got our summer in BC cut short so we are looking forward to getting back out there for the end of summer. I think I'm looking forward to the trip through the interior just as much. There's some really neat communities in there that date back to the silver rush in the late 1800's. We're not sure where we're going to settle but it might very well be one of those communities.

Steffie Ding Dong is on the TV right now claiming that he doesn't feel an election call is necessary right now. Wanna bet that Steven gets him backed into a corner and he caves (again) while the Conservatives continue to implement their agenda? You all remember that this is the idealogical government that was too rigid to last two months as a minority when they got elected.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Are we really that stupid?

Steffie Ding Dong says we need economic growth with environmental sustainability. Let's pretend for a minute that he actually has a clue what that means and that it's not just a friendly sounding Lib election slogan. Does he not know that the history of development tells us that the best environmental security comes from development? Look at North America, look at western Europe, then look at China, India, eastern Europe. The fact is that developing economies are hard on the environment and developed economies protect the environment. The best security for the environment is therefore economic development. So what have you got in mind Steffie? What great economic platform have you got that will catapult us to the next level of economic development and in the process give us the surplus resources to protect the environment? Hot air and mangled words won't do it. Or will they?

"Green" used to mean inexperienced, unknowing, lacking knowledge. Perhaps the current "green" population fits the earlier definition better than they would like to admit. Perhaps Steffie's nice sounding hot air is all they really need. And all they can really understand.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who the hell cares?

The media is all abuzz about Canada's dismal showing so far at the orgy of greed that the "modern" Olympics have degenerated to. Personally I think the less medals we win the better. If medal count is indicative of money spent (and it clearly is) then less medals means less money wasted. I mean - who really cares which country has the fastest bicyclist? We've got cars, busses, trains - its nice that someone likes to ride their bicycle but what difference does it really make who can do it the fastest? And beach volleyball - there's a concrete indicator of a country's international standing. Wouldn't everybody rather have the world champion beach volleyball team than - oh, I don't know - maybe a growing GDP or strong balance of payments or low interest rate or .....

And how about that hippy freak draft dodging SOB that is going to get deported next month? Three years he has been in this country SINCE THE DEPORTATION ORDER WAS ISSUED!!! He's been sponging off the taxpayer and manipulating the legal system to dodge his responsibility in the US for lord knows how long but at least three years since an immigration court said he should go back to the US. Just imagine how long somebody who really was at risk in his home country could manipulate the system. No wonder this country is a shining beacon for every lowlife from every corner of the globe.

Some days I really wonder about our priorities.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back in Regina

Well we left Whispering Pines Tuesday morning and drove through to Maple Creek that night. RJ was at a ball game in Vauxhall and Marlan was having a shower when we tried to phone him so we didn't stop in Medicine Hat other than to pick up the micro-truck. RJ had taken it when he left Monday afternoon. It was hard to leave Mara but we will be back there next summer, probably for longer so we have that consolation.

We had a pretty busy last week at the lake. RJ arrived on the bus the day after the beheading but fortunately still had his head when he arrived. He wanted to spend as much time on the water as possible and that was no hardship for us. The weather wasn't great on Friday but it was glorious through the weekend. Sometime shortly after he arrived he picked up Jessica in the campground so we had her along in the boat most of the time. She was a real pleasure to have around and a quick wakeboard learner. By Monday she was ripping like an old pro. RJ bossed the boat around on the end of the rope like he always does. I'm always amazed by the difference in feel depending on who I am pulling. No doubt some of the difference is simply size but its more than that. His technique is aggressive and assertive and I can feel that in the way he pulls the boat around.

On Monday Dan & Marilyn and Bryan & Dean showed up for a late lunch and then we took them on the water for the afternoon. RJ, Jessica and I had been out most of the morning so that was a busy water day for me. RJ left right after lunch and it sounds like he had a pretty hairy trip out, including seeing the gas station at Revelstoke burn down. I haven't seen any news footage for that fire but it sounds like it more or less started in front of his eyes as he drove into town. There's no evidence of firetrucks in the pictures he took so he must have been there pretty well from the beginning. He said there was a mad scramble as the cars in the station parking lot tried to get out once the fire started.

Now we're settled into Buffalo Lookout, east of Regina on the Trans Canada highway. Mom & Dad's big move is scheduled for Monday. We're paid here until the 1st week in September. After that we'll see. Our current plan is to take the bus to Vancouver for Carrie's wedding in the middle of September and do some property scouting in the Kootenay region either on the trip out or on the return but right now everything is pretty fluid.

Monday, July 28, 2008

P I G hogs ............ and cats

On Saturday morning we went to Salmon Arm with 3 bags of dirty laundry and a shopping list. We stopped on the east side of town at a U-Pick orchard that we go to every year. Marilyn took a big stainless bucket into the cherry orchard and I headed down to the raspberries with two ice cream pails. One hour and $28 later we were on our way with about 2 gallons of cherries and maybe a little less raspberries. Hard as it may be to believe, we have managed to chew our way through most of that fruit already. We've got less than a combined total of a gallon of cherries and raspberries left. They were WONDERFUL. The cherries are big and juicy. The raspberries were just barely ready to pick which actually worked out well because they are keeping, although they won't have to keep much longer.

G-II is getting to be well known around the campground. We now walk the perimeter of the campground (probably 35 acres) at least once a day. He goes and hides if he realizes that I am getting ready to take him for his walk but the silly part is that he really enjoys it, once we get out of sight of the bus. He is almost impossible to drag away from the bus but once we get away from it then he turns into Mr. Sociable. He rubs up against everyone we meet, including all the dogs. He gets lots of attention from all the little girls in the park. He watches squirrels and cowers whenever we meet a "big noise" (car or truck). But most of the time he just puts his tail up in the air and drags me along about as fast as I can walk. Once he gets back close to the bus then he really starts to drag me and when he gets back inside he usually collapses next to his water dish and pants for about 15 minutes.

Yesterday we took a couple and their 3 kids on the water for ski lessons. Two of the kids were pretty little but they got a feel for skiing on the boom. Mom & Dad had a great time - we got him up on skis and she skied first and then wakeboarded for her first time. That's probably what we enjoy the most about being out here - taking kids that have never done anything other than sit on a tube on the water and teaching them to do something athletic that they will then be able to do for the rest of their lives. This couple is here for another week so we will take them out again. We find that it works best if the kids get a day on the water, then sleep on it and then go back again. Somehow our brain gets all the new motor skills sorted out over night and the 2nd time always goes much better. Even when they don't actually get up the first time, they seem to learn from it and the 2nd time goes way better.

Marilyn has stopped calling wakeboarding the sport of fat old broads but she still gets amazed looks from the young punks on the wakeboard boats when we pass them or when we go under the Mara bridge and they are looking down from the top.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Long time - no post

I guess we must have been busy.

Marlan was out here for a week with his friend Mitch and his family. He mixed his time between them, us and all of us. They had their boat out here too but didn't use it much because I think they liked ours better. The boys spent as much time as they could manage about 55 feet behind our boat. They are both really strong wakeboarders so it was fun to watch them doing their thing on the water.

Marilyn has also turned into a wakeboarding fool. She gets out every chance she has and doesn't want to come out of the water once she gets over the initial cold shock. It hasn't been really warm out here until the last week or so which leaves the water temperatures a little below what we are used to out here. The river is also still higher than usual for this time of year but it is starting to drop fast now.

Last week I went back to Saskatchewan for a few days to meet with some FCC clients in SW Sask. I had a quick visit with Mom & Dad at the same time. Marilyn took me to Kelowna and picked me up there. We had supper with Fred and Shawna when I got back. We hadn't seen Shawna for several years but we did see Fred at Anne's 100th birthday last summer.

Jorgito has a new friend. There are a couple of families here now that we know from previous trips out here. They have a collie pup - maybe 2 months old. It is an absolute cutie and I think George even likes it a bit too. Despite the fact that its favorite thing to do when they get together is chew on George's tail. He puts up with that for a while and then smacks it but I'm sure he realizes that it is a puppy because he is pretty gentle when he disciplines it. Last night I was over visiting the pup's owners and their young daughters took George and the pup for a "walk". It was a walk in name only because George really only walks for me and the pup clearly doesn't have a clue about walking on a leash yet. I think most of the time both of them were getting carried except for when George thought they were headed for the bus. On those occasions he led the way.

Our days are full - we try to work a full day on Sask. time and then play well into the evening on BC time. Yesterday I took a couple of hours off in the morning to take the puppy's owners and girls out on the river. We got mom up on skis and the youngest girl (6 maybe) up on skis. Her older sister and cousin got up on the boom but couldn't master the short line so the little girl was pretty proud of herself. I'm always surprised by the difference in what kids master and at what speed. Before we went on the water I would have bet that the little girl wouldn't even get up on the boom. The smallest skis we have are clearly too big for her and little kids usually don't have the coordination to manage floating in the water, controlling their legs and skis and keeping their arms out for long enough to get started. She did that with flying colours while her older siblings just couldn't get it all together. I told them we would take them out again on Thursday so that they can practice what they learned. I find that kids generally do much better the second time out. It seems as though sleeping on the new skills allows their brain to process what they are doing and the second time out it becomes much easier for them. The little one is convinced that she can get up on the long line now and she may just be right. We'll see. Meanwhile mom is hooked on skiing and can't wait to get out again despite getting two big bruises on her thigh and somehow managing to smash her knuckles between the ski and the handle - I'm not sure what was going on there - she was explaining it to me last night but I still don't know how she did it. It certainly hasn't dampened her enthusiasm so I guess it can't have been too bad.

It sounds like we will be changing our travel plans. Mom & dad are going through a bad spell so we will likely end up back in Regina for August. We're are still semi-expecting RJ out here for the August long weekend but after that our plans are fairly flexible.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


This guy Turner (not that Turner, the other one) needs more publicity. It shouldn't come as a surprise to any sentient Canadian that the Libs have an agenda to steal from western Canada and give back to Bay Street but this guy actually enunciates the agenda:

"As for Dion, he will move from Calgary to Edmonton, where he’s to have an open, Town Hall meeting on his climate change plan. You might not agree with everything the man says, but you have to admire this about him. He stood up once to the self-aggrandizing, hostile, me-first, greedy, macho, selfish and balkanizing separatist losers in Quebec. I guess he can do it again in Alberta."

You go Garth! Tell 'em like it is. You keep it coming and we'll help you get the word out.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Organic garbage food

We generally avoid buying anything that has an "organic" label on two accounts. First because all of it is ridiculously overpriced and second because it is generally of lower quality than high yield production. Nowhere is that more obvious than what we just experienced with new potatoes. Of course the left coast is in love with the supposed eco-benefits from low input production. (I refuse to submit to the eco-terror that has perverted the meaning of the word "organic"). When we go to the farmers' markets out here every stall claims to be low input and even the grocery stores are increasingly succombing to the public hysteria.

So we bought a couple of bags of new potatoes because among the other traits I have inherited from my paternal grandfather, love of new potatoes is probably the strongest. The problem with low input potatoes is that they have no natural disease resistance and by definition can't have any artificial protection. So they start out scabbier than I would like but they quickly deteriorate in storage from the growth of mold and fungus. Today I peeled more than 25% of the material off the remaining rapidly decomposing new potatoes and boiled them so that much will at least survive. Marilyn is going to Salmon Arm tomorrow where she will search Safeway and Overwaitea for some healthy new potatoes.

I expect that 100+ years from now people will look back on this time and view it much as we now view the dark ages. We have foresaken the benefits that science and technology has brought us and we are embarked on a path of ruin based on emotion and feelings. The pendulum will inevitably swing back to science but not until we have killed off a substantial number of people for no reason whatsoever other than that society as a whole is too stupid to understand the science that we have spent the last 100 years developing.

We had a great weekend in Medicine Hat / Airdrie. On the way east we stopped up in Rogers Pass to take a picture of our newest son. We have pictures of the other three taken in the same spot so we wanted to make sure we got a picture of Georgie there too. Karla has never been by there so she is our only child that we don't have a picture of taken under those arches. When I had father's slides scanned I'm sure there was a picture of us taken there when we were kids. Someday when I have nothing better to do I should round up all the pictures and make a Rogers Pass collage.

George very much did not like the hotel room we had in Medicine Hat so we only stayed one night there. Thursday when we arrived we more or less went straight over to the hall for the graduation exercises. We got there almost an hour before they were due to start but that wasn't anywhere near soon enough to get good seats.

We hustled back to Airdrie after the supper Friday night and spent the weekend sort of working and helping Camiel and Alison get ready for their big party Monday night. I hope Alison didn't pay a damage deposit on those white linen tablecloths she rented! It gets pretty exciting when you dunk 15 steaks into 35 litres of hot oil in a 40 litre pot. Maybe it was only 30 litres of oil. The crowd was a little nervous when I fired up the torch because it sounds like a jet warming up. It takes a lot of heat to bring 30 litres of canola oil up to 400 degrees. And it takes a lot of heat to hold it there when you keep dipping cold steaks into the oil every 5 minutes or so. I love the moment when the first steaks hit the oil because everybody is nervous already from the noise of the torch and then when the steaks hit the oil and the fire leaps up you can almost hear them say "I knew it!". We didn't lose any tablecloths but Alison probably won't get her damage deposit back on one of them if they check it carefully. Marlan and RJ showed up around 5:00 on Monday so I ended up with some pictures of the evening - thank you Marlan. RJ went to some beef hoity-toity seminar with Alison on Tuesday. Now he'll be able to name drop when he gets back to Saskatoon this fall or maybe even argue with the occasional prof - "that's not what Dr. Hoity Toity from the University of North Carolina thinks about that!!!"

Sunday, June 29, 2008

great excitement in Airdrie

We arrived here at about 11:30 Friday night. The ceremonies Thursday night went as long and were as boring as we feared. There was something like 300+ kids to process so it went on FOREVER. By the end of the evening we were beginning to really appreciate the stupid kids. For the smart kids the introduction went something like: "This is Johnny Smartkid who is graduating with honours. Johnny is receiving a scholarship from Boring Woman Teacher's society for excellence in 300 level German studies by maintaining an average over 90%. The bursary is for $250 based on academic achievement and student need. Johnny is also receiving ......." and on and on and on.

On the other hand, when a stupid kid got to the head of the line the introduction went like this: "This is Suzy Stupid". Next kid. So, by the end of the evening we were looking for the stupid ones and dreading the smart ones. Of course they went alphabetically so about 1/4 of the way into the evening we had really no further interest in any of the kids at all.

On Friday night we went to the banquet and sat at the family table which posed a whole new set of challenges but everybody was on their best behaviour and all went well. We had warned Marlan that if he noticed that we were missing not to come looking for us because we would be on our way to Calgary. At around 8:00 I all of a sudden realized how late it was getting and we left at about 8:15. They were still midway through an extended video of the kids' progress from baby pictures through to high school. It was really well done. I couldn't help thinking what a change in technology has happened in one generation. The visual effects and techniques that they were playing with and taking for granted didn't even exist when I graduated.

The Sunstrum/Huisma household is fully engaged in getting ready for the big party tomorrow night. I cleaned my fork this morning, discovered that I have lost the o-ring that I need for the tiger torch this afternoon and have otherwise tried to stay out of the way for fear Allison will find me a job. Tomorrow I have to go into Airdrie to mail some stuff so I will track down another o-ring at that time. I'd like to test fire the torch before things get critical but I guess it will likely work. How much can go wrong with a tiger torch anyway?

Jorgito did NOT like our room in Medicine Hat. That was the main reason that we only stayed one night. It would have been a lot easier to stay a 2nd night but we were in a pet room and there were just too many strange smells there for his liking. He really likes being here. I'm not sure he actually remembered the place but he has settled in nicely. Kiwi thinks he is pretty neat and follows him everywhere when we take him out for a walk. Most of the time he sleeps on the bed in our room. On the few occasions when he and Miss Kitty have come face to face it has not gone well so we try to avoid those situations.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going for a walk

George is going to miss our walks for the next few days while we are in Alberta. I think he actually enjoys them. He lies down a lot along the way but tonight we went more or less around the whole park. Once we get to the far side of the park and he thinks we are heading home then he is moving. His little tail goes up over his back on lock and he almost drags me along.

Tomorrow we are headed for Kelowna to get a bit of work done on the boat and to visit with Dan & Marilyn and Bryan & Dean. Then early Thursday morning we have to leave for Medicine Hat for Marlan's grad. The ceremonies are Thursday evening and then we're going to hang around for the banquet Friday night. That should be entertaining but we're not going to stick around too long because we want to get back up to Al & Camiel's that night. Monday is the famous pitchfork fondue so we'll have the weekend to get ready for that. I'd like to be back out here for the fireworks on July 1 but we will see how that goes.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Goin' for a walk

Georgie and I just got back from our morning walk. Its very difficult to walk a cat. I started out with a fresh cup of tea but that was gone before we got done with the squirrel in the tree. We went for a long walk around about 1/2 of the campground. For a wonder, micro-brain even recognized the way home despite it not involving retracing our steps. He got to that stage at Noble's Point (Candle Lake) so perhaps there is hope that he will get to know how to go for walks here as well. You have to be REALLY patient to walk a cat. He had to chew grass, chase the squirrel, watch several dogs, roll in the road, smell the garbage cans, rub the doors to Bernie's shop, among other important activities.

The sun has finally come out here. I stopped looking at Environment Canada and started looking at the Farmzone forecast and it appears to have resulted in better weather. Environment Canada still has rain on for today but Farmzone said it would be sunny and sure enough, there's the sun. Its kind of an agricultural area here so that likely explains why Farmzone works better than Environment Canada.

There's a mid-sized family reunion happening up the hill from where we are parked. Lots of tents and a few trailers, a bunch of really fat women and many kids. I felt sorry for them last night in the rain but today they are having a grand day.

Andrea and Mike are supposed to be arriving here for dinner and then we will take them out on the water. Andrea is Dan's daughter; Marilyn's niece in other words. She and Mike are vacationing at Sorrento which is about an hour northeast of here, on one of the arms of the Shuswap Lakes.

The boss says it is time I started making dinner.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Settled in for the summer

We spent last night in Banff with Alison & Camiel. They took us out for supper last night & I made them breakfast this morning. Then we headed west arriving in Sicamous around 3:30. We went straight to Moose Mulligan's for fish and chips - that's our ritual as soon as we arrive in Sicamous. Then we followed the lake south to Whispering Pines.

There's hardly anybody here despite the highway being relatively busy today. There seemed to be a lot of rental RVs on the road today. It seemed like there were an inordinate number of rental RVs in Tunnel Mountain last night - most of them driven by Europeans. Maybe they are taking advantage of low season for rentals. There's probably 8 occupied RVs here tonight - maybe another 6 seasonal ones with nobody in them.

We moved into the site that Sharon thinks is our favorite and we think is the one that we usually end up in. I had been worried about whether we would be able to get an internet signal from it and sure enough, we could not. The trees here are so high and the foliage so dense there was just no way. We wandered around the campground scouting out some possible sites and then tried to phone Sharon. We had to leave a message the first time but Marilyn caught up with her around 8:00 and arranged a switch. Now we are way in the back of the campground, along the creek so we can fall asleep listening to the sounds of the creek. We're also very well shaded which will come in handy when Bernie's marginal power isn't adequate to run the air conditioner although I discovered tonight that we are right next to the power panel so I think I will spring for a new breaker for Bernie. The one we are on feels pretty weak so I'm thinking a new one might be in order.

We got both dishes set up so Marilyn has her TV and we have the internet. George likes it here too. He was outside on his leash for a while during which time he met a Lassie dog and his mom. I think he will be pretty happy because we are buried in the trees so there will be lots of birds for him to look at and chase.

The night before last George was making a big commotion outside the bedroom door. That's not unusual for him in the early morning. I finally got fed up and closed the bedroom door. A while later I got up and went up to the front to drink my morning tea. He seemed unusually obsessed with one of my feet and started pawing at the bottom of my slipper so I lifted my foot and realized that I had absent mindedly plopped my foot down on his mouse. His formerly alive mouse. The commotion he was making turned out to have been him catching his first mouse. We're not wild about the fact that we had a mouse in the bus but on the other hand he now knows what they smell like and how to catch them so that has to be good.

Time to go to bed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I'm getting sick and tired of rain

We left Candle Lake because mainly because we didn't like the lake but partly because it seemed like it rained constantly from the time we set up there. This summer is starting out the same way. They still aren't getting any rain in the northeast - which I guess is a good thing because it means our lawn won't be growing out of control - but it sure has been raining wherever we are. Maybe we are rain gods??

We got to Medicine Hat late in the afternoon yesterday and set up at Ross Creek on the east side of town. I ran around town looking for a 50 amp shore cord. After our incident at Prince Albert (where I let the smoke out of the junction box) I decided that I was going to fix the power the right way. We've had half of a 50 amp service for the 4 years we have owned the bus and it has absolutely never been a problem but it might as well be done right if I am going to fix it. Or so I thought. I had no idea it would turn into the ordeal that it did. I went into no less than three major RV dealers with huge parts showrooms who tried to tell me that:
a) I didn't need a 50 amp service
b) their 30 amp cord was a 50 amp cord
c) 50 amp 250 volt service was really 110 volt
d) 50 amp cords were too expensive (that part was certainly true but I'm not sure what solution they proposed)

Finally yesterday I walked into an RV parts room in Redcliffe (west of Medicine Hat). There lying on the floor was the cord I needed so I picked it up. At about the same time the partsman showed up and asked if he could help. I told him "no, I've found what I need". Then I said "you aren't going to try to tell me that I don't really need this, or that it won't work or that it's too expensive, or something else are you?" He looked puzzled so I explained. Of course it has been raining steadily since we got here so I haven't tried to hook it up. We've got lots of power without it but it just isn't the same when you know it isn't done right. He wanted $385 for his cord compared with $495 for the same cord that another dealership in town was prepared to order for me except that they wanted to argue about whether it was a 250 or 110 volt cord & that left me wondering if they were actually ordering the right one. I hate stupidity but you sure run into it a lot.

Speaking of stupidity, the apology that Stephen Harper is making in the House today is the stupidest thing that his government has done. I understand why he is doing it but it is a HUGE mistake. He's doing it because the Indian lobby is too strong to ignore anywhere in North America. While we're at it why don't we apologise for our Prussian and Roman ancestors' mistakes as well. The big mistake regarding the residential schools was that the Canadian government of the day didn't completely subjugate the Indians. We allowed them to maintain the illusion that the treaties were between equals when we should have forced them to face the fact that the Indian signatories to the treaties clearly understood - they were defeated. Why else would they have agreed to give up all this land that they now claim they once had dominion over? They were a defeated people and their ancestors clearly understood that they were defeated - they were defeated socially, economically and militarily. The current generation of Indian leadership maintains the fiction that they were never defeated and uses that to justify any number of extortions from Whitey but the fact is we won and they lost. The sooner we all get accustomed to that reality the better off we will all be. Harper standing on his hind legs and grovelling isn't going to help that process one iota.