Saturday, August 16, 2014

UK Trip: Setting off, and a Review of Airbnb

5:45 am at Kelowna International Airport
The first day of travel is always a crazy mix of excitement, fatigue, and worry that you forgot something important. There is entirely too much sitting and waiting, or standing in long lines, not to mention the disruption to normal eating patterns.  It can be and exhilarating but exhausting day!

On July 4, the date of departure for our 3 week trip to the UK, Erik and I were up at 4:00 am to catch our 1 hour flight  Vancouver, followed by a five hour layover while we waited for our afternoon flight to London.  Happily, we were flying to Gatwick Airport this trip which, in my opinion, is a much nicer and more efficient airport than that zoo they call Heathrow.

We were to arrive at 7 am London time (11pm our body time), and since it would be too early to check into a hotel, we opted to immediately catch a train to Glasgow.  We hoped to be able to doze a little on the five hour train ride  and arrive at our "flat" by late afternoon.

As always, it was a long day that involving several forms of transportation: car, two airplanes, three trains, the London tube, and a little walking. I was only able to catch a few unsettled hours of sleep on the train, so by the time we picked up some groceries, had eaten a light meal, and crawled into bed around 8 pm in Glasgow, we had been awake for about 28 hours and we were completely exhausted.

However, as tired as we were, we were very happy with our accommodations. Instead of staying in a tiny hotel room downtown, we were able to book a one bedroom flat through Airbnb in a quiet neighbourhood for about the same price. Our flat was only 3 km from the downtown core, right on the bus route. Having a kitchen meant we could buy some groceries and eat at "home" once in awhile which saved us money and time, and we had more space to spread out and relax when we were tired of touring.

We used several sites to reserve accommodations for our trip (primarily or direct from the vendor), but this was the first time using Airbnb and we were very happy with the entire process.  If you've never checked it out or are hesitant to try it, here are a few things I have gleaned so far.

A Few Suggestions for using Airbnb:

* Set up your account and complete as many of the verification procedures as you can.  Your privacy is ensured so although you may include phone number and driver's licence info etc, the details are hidden from the public.  Take the time to write up a description of you (and your spouse/family) and include a closeup photo. People are much more likely to rent to you if they have an idea of what you are like.

* Always read the description and look at the photos of the place you want to rent carefully to ensure you are getting exactly what you want.

* Read all the vendor's reviews. Be cautious if they don't have any reviews. If they have any bad reviews, consider whether the complainers are similar to you.  I have occasionally seen people complain about things that would never bother me, so not all bad reviews are necessarily something to worry about.

* Check the vendor's verifications - the more, the better.

* If you can get an address, check google street view and 'walk' around the neighbourhood to see what it's like. If even if you don't have the exact address, you can still check out the area.

* Check to see if there is transportation, grocery stores, restaurants etc nearby.

* Find out what their cancellation policy is. Airbnb has several levels of cancellation - can you live with that?

* Check to see if the unit is available on any other site (i.e. their own personal site) for a better price. Sometimes it's cheaper to rent directly from the vendor if they have their own site and avoid any additional fees.

* Send the owner a message to ask for more info or to find out if the nights you want are indeed available (even if the calendar says they are available).

When it's time to leave:

* Clean up the place before you leave as if it were your own home. Take out garbage, wash dishes, tidy up etc.

* Leave an online review as soon as you can. The vendors will leave you a review as well. Neither of you gets to see the others' review until they are both completed. Then both reviews will be posted on the website at the same time. Getting a good review as a renter lets other vendors feel more confident about renting to you.

* Send the vendor a private message if you have any suggestions that will help them in the future - these are things you don't feel are big enough issues to complain about publicly.

Finally, if you decide to try Airbnb, use this link to sign up and you and I both will receive a discount ($27 each I think?) on your first reservation. Not a bad deal.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Angel - September 17, 2003 - June 25, 2014

We got Angel as a cuddly little puppy on Dec. 21, 2003. She was 3 months old.  She was lively, energetic, and as smart as a whip.  She did very well in puppy school except she loved to jump up on people to say hello.  I guess we weren't as vigilant as we could have been because she continued to enthusiastically greet people right up until the day she died.

As a young dog, we were told Angel would settle down by the time she was 2.  When she reached 2 years old, they said she'd settle down by the time she was 4. By 10 years old, we were still waiting.

Angel was 2 1/2 when Gabe (and Erik) came to live with us.  Gabe was a 4 year old male Chocolate Lab but Angel was definitely "Alpha" in our household.  Even though they were both neutered, Angel would often "hump" Gabe as soon as they went outside.  It was both hilarious and embarrassing.   But the two dogs instantly became fast friends and always slept close to one another, often with some body part touching.  With her so blond and him so dark, I often thought they looked like Yin and Yang.

Angel LOVED to stand guard and patrol. She was always asking to go out so she could ensure all was well.  If there were people outside next door, or heaven forbid another dog, she would run along the fence, or crawl on her belly trying to catch a glimpse or a sniff.  During the day, she spent her time alone stretched out behind the blinds at the sliding glass door, or at the front door, so she could keep track of all the comings and goings.

That dog cost us a lot of money and lost sleep over the years because of her love of food.  For years, we couldn't keep any food on the kitchen counter because as soon as we were out of sight, she would jump up and grab it. Many was the time that we came home from work to a torn bread bag and a few crumbs lying on the floor.  Once she ate the remains of an entire supermarket BBQ chicken, bones and all, without leaving a trace.  She threw up a couple of times over the next few days but suffered no other ill effects.

Then one year, on Christmas Eve, she gulped down an entire 6" wooden skewer of chicken.  We were distraught that this sharp object was inside her belly.  On Christmas Day we contacted the emergency vet and over the next 4 days she spent several nights at the pet hospital and a lot of money on tests, special food, and medication.  All the while she seemed to be fairly normal although she did throw up some bloody food once.  In the end, she passed the entire skewer, intact, on New Year's Day.  We were ecstatic, if $1000 poorer. Another lesson learned. For us of course.

With two big dogs, our house was always full of dog hair - tufts of Gabe's straight brown hair, and billows of Angel's fluffy white fur covering everything in the house, even moments after we vacuumed.  Woe was the person who wore black pants to our home.

Angel never really slowed down much until a few days before she died.  In the last year, she was much less interested in going for walks more than around the block and much preferred to wander around the back yard, but she was healthy and happy up until the end.  In the last week of her life, she seemed to sleep a little more, and sometimes came up to me and just looked at me as if she was trying to tell me something.

Then on June 23, she just didn't seem to be hungry for her breakfast, which was extremely unusual for a golden retriever.  She was quiet, and rather lethargic, and as the day wore on, she seemed to be quite thirsty, and drooling a lot.  Later that afternoon, we got worried that perhaps she had gotten into some weed killer we had put on the garden earlier in the week so we took her to the vet for a quick check.  Of course, I fully expected it to be another expensive trip to find out she had eaten something dumb again.

The vet felt her all over and soon told us the worst news.  Her lymph nodes were very swollen and she undoubtably had Lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymph glands).  He explained that it's fairly common with retrievers and he knew what it was without doing a bunch of tests.  He said she'd probably had it for about a month and was only now showing some symptoms as the lymph nodes in her belly began to affect her appetite.  She might live a few more weeks, but not more than a month. He did briefly discuss chemotherapy which would cause her more pain and only extend her life another 6-8 months.  We left in tears, and went home to make a tough decision.

We were devastated.  We had been preparing ourselves for the inevitable loss of Gabe who is 18 months older and looking much more "senior", but we had always believed that we'd have Angel for at least a few more years. Finding out we were going to lose her so suddenly was terrible.

We knew the only option was to put her down before we left on our trip to Europe in 10 days because the vet said she would likely die while we were away. We tried to decide what day would be the best and had settled for either Friday or Monday.  I told my son the bad news, and called the girls and my mom.  Everyone was shocked and deeply saddened.

That night she seemed to be breathing fairly noisily and in the morning she seemed worse. I went to work and Erik went down to the vet to get some prednisone to see if that would help ease her symptoms.  When I got home, her breathing was very laboured and the medication did not seem to be helping at all. One side of her face was swollen and she was drooling a lot.  She would wander around a bit, and then lie on her side, panting noisily. We worried.  We were scared she might get worse during the night and wouldn't be able to get her any help.  The last thing we wanted was for her to die painfully, gasping for breath.

Finally, at about 1pm, we made the difficult decision to call the vet.  We had decided to have him come to our home to put her down so she would be less distressed.  Slowly, the family began to show up - my two daughters both left work for the afternoon, my son in law came over, my son and my mom were both there.  Each time someone arrived at the house, Angel would get up and go over to say hello.  We all sat outside on the deck for a few hours, taking turns sitting with Angel.  It was so nice to have the whole family around.

The vet arrived just after 4 pm and explained what would happen.  We had the option to leave or stay but we all chose to stay.  He gave Angel a sedative that would take about 5 minutes to take effect.  She wandered around a bit after he gave her the shot and then after about 5 minutes, she walked away from all of us and stood there looking out into the back yard as if she was taking one last look.  Then she came back over to where I was sitting and lay down.  As the sedative took effect, she closed her eyes for the first time all day.

Each family member came over to give her one last kiss, hug, and goodbye, and many tears were shed.  The vet was wonderful at giving us the privacy to say goodbye.  When we finally said we were ready, I sat next to her and held her head, whispering into her ear while he gave her the final injection.

It was a very loving end and I think we all felt at peace after it was done.  I would recommend this to anyone who has to make the terrible decision to put down a pet. Knowing she was surrounded by family and so much love made it just a tiny bit easier to bear.

Angel will be cremated and we will spread her ashes among the flowers in the back yard.

Rest in peace, my sweetheart.


Memories of Angel

* the look of her nose on her paws at the top of the stairs when I got home each day.

* the way she always had to retrieve the nearest shoe and bring it to anyone who came into the house.

* the time she ate 3/4 of a supermarket BBQ chicken and left no sign but a greasy mark on the floor.

* the way she would get so excited when another dog walked by the house that she would almost jump over the deck railing trying to get down to the road.

* her absolute stillness when she first met Zoe, the cat, for the first time.  She somehow knew the cat must be afraid and that she had to stay very still so as not to frighten her.  She just stared at Zoe out of the corner of her eye for about half an hour. It was amazing.

* they way she really learned two commands so well - the hand command for "sit", and the verbal common, "leave it"or "take it".

* the way she could "leave" a piece of food for a long, long time until I said "take it", even if it was sitting on her nose.

* the way should lie down on the air conditioning vent in my bedroom and make it stifling hot on a summer night, while she kept cool.

* the way she came over my side of the bed every morning and rested her head on the edge of the bed, looking up at me.

* the way she always walked perfectly beside me on my left so I could tie the leash around my waist and not have to hold on to it.

* the way she would sit down suddenly when she was "done" walking or running and practically cut me in half.

* the way should lie down in any mud puddle she found if we were out for a walk.

* the way she would patrol the house and yard. She would often lie down by the sliding door, or the front door, in order to stay on top of things and be able to report any action.

* the way she would lie partly behind the blinds of the sliding glass door.

* the way she always helped do the dishes by licking the plates when the dishwasher doors was open.  Erik called her and Gabe the "pre-wash cycle".

* the way she would lie close enough to Gabe so that part of their bodies were always touching, often back to back, yin and yang.

* the way she loved to be groomed and would stand stock still for ages if you brushed her.

* billows and billows and billows of fluffy, white fur. Everywhere.

* the time she grabbed a wooden skewer of chicken off the table on Christmas Eve and swallowed it in one gulp.  The following week included several costly trips to the vet and the emergency pet hospital before she finally pooped it out, in one piece, on New Year's Eve. Oh Angel....

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Slow is Good

When I first started cycling regularly in 2006, I really enjoyed seeing a whole new view of the same roads I had been driving for years simply because I was outdoors, and moving at a slower pace. In the car, I rarely paid attention to the sights as they flew by. I certainly recognized that there were houses and parks and pathways, but I didn't see the details, just the blur of movement at 60 km/h. Now on my bike, I suddenly saw houses I'd never noticed before, and quiet pathways, peaceful parks, curious signs, and of course, all kinds of fauna and flora.  It was almost as if I was seeing my town for the very first time, all over again.

 A few years later I began running, and interestingly enough, I started to notice MORE things on those same roads and pathways - things that I'd hadn't seen when I was flying by on my bike. How had I missed that cool bench? Or that log house?  Or that tree that curved up in an S shape? And what was that pretty red flower that always comes up in the Spring time?

But as slow as I was now moving, I was still strapped to a Garmin, which controlled my movements, and my mind. What was my pace? Was I meeting my goals?  What's my heart rate? How far have I gone?

Oh certainly, as I ran,  I would notice flowers, and trees, and lovely creeks bubbling under a bridge along the way, but to stop and take a picture would mean throwing off my data so I gave them all a quick glance and kept hurrying along my way.

This year, for the most part, I have all but stopped biking and running.  Instead, I have strapped on a backpack, grabbed my trekking poles, and started hiking.  I still wear my Garmin, although I rarely look at it, and I no longer worry about my pace, or my time, or even my distance. I just pack up and I go.

And at walking pace, I find I can experience the trails and pathways in all their glory.  I have time to stop along the way to look at an insect crawling along the ground, to smell a pretty flower, or to take a picture of an amazing view.  I have time to breath the air, time to smell the hot pine needles underfoot or the scent of the wild roses along the path, time to listen to the sound of a hawk or the babbling stream, or time to just to stand still and watch a deer looking back at me in equal wonder.

It's like the "Slow Movement" of  exercise and yeah, I'm liking it. A lot.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

1st Annual Jason St Pierre Memorial Ride

Ride organizer, Brent Prokop, did another of his excellent cycling videos.  He set up Jason's son, Evan, with the GoPro chest camera and put together this video.

We had a good turnout for this ride - thanks to everyone who participated on this cool showery morning.  We know Jason would never have bailed because of a little rain, right?!

After the group ride on the Greenway, Brent, Jaegan and Evan went for a mountain bike ride in the hills.

Thanks also to those who sponsored my ride in order to help support Jason's family. It's not too late to donate, just shoot me an email and I will ensure your money gets to the right people.

Thanks again!

1st Jason St. Pierre Memorial Ride from Brent Prokop on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

In Memory of Jason St. Pierre

Next Saturday, May 3, 2014, I will be participating in the 1st Annual Jason St. Pierre Memorial Ride. I met Jason and his family through my podcast a few years ago, and I would often see him at local events as a runner, a cyclist, and amazing photographer. Anyone who has listened to my show will have heard me talk about him. His positive energy and enthusiasm for life will be missed by many, in particular his young family.

Jason passed away suddenly at the age of 41, on April 29.  He was on a trail ride with some friends and he began to feel unwell.  They stopped to rest and he collapsed.  The men began CPR while they waited for the EMT to take him to hospital but all attempts to revive him failed.  I believed he suffered a brain hemorrhage due to a genetic disorder.

Anyone can participate in this ride - anywhere, any distance - just collect your pledges and ride on May 3rd. 100% of the money raised will go to Jason's family - he leaves a wife, Karen, and 2 sons, Evan and Kai, who has Down Syndrome. I will be joining Karen and her boys at the Ecco Centre at 10:30am on Saturday to ride the Greenway.

If you would like to make a pledge for my ride, please message or email me ( as soon as possible and we can arrange the best way to donate your pledge. If you are from afar, you may like to simply donate money online (see link below), and mention it's a pledge for my ride. If you donate online, please email me and let me know so I can keep track of the total.

Online donations:

Ride link including pledge forms if you'd like to participate:

Thank you for your support.