Going to the dogs…

Winter relaxed its grip on Alberta long enough for us to make our eastern dash. The drive through the Prairies was uneventful, and kinda boring (as usual 😑). But the weather was cold, but fine for the drive, and we soon found ourselves back in Kenora, ON. That night we checked the weather, and it hinted at snow heading our way, but the prediction was for late the following day, so we didn’t rush…

The next day we took our time taking in the beautiful sights of Northern Ontario towns like Dryden 😂, but the forecast kept getting worse. We made the left turn at Thunder Bay, heading east along the Trans-Canada, and were soon caught in a rapidly intensifying snow storm.

By the time we were past Nipigon, the snow was getting heavy and wet, and roads were becoming treacherous. At one point we ended up being shepherded by a snow plow as it took a long line of vehicles up and over a pass. We pulled into Cathie & Joe’s place near Rossport just as the roads were becoming impassible.

The snow kept coming… We ended up spending the next few days clearing the snow, doing it multiple times because it just kept coming. The forecast called for at least 50cm, but it felt like we got even more.

Despite all the snow, we had a glorious time hanging out with Cathie & Joe and Piper. What a great place to get stuck for a few days!!

All too soon we had to hit the road once again. We had to get to our next farm-sitting gig in southern Ontario, and time was getting a little tight. So we said our goodbyes, and headed off once again. But winter wasn’t done with us yet. We only got as far as Wawa when the snows started in again. Added to that, the highway south was closed for 12 hours due to a nasty crash.

The next day dawned clear and snow-free, and the accident which had closed the highway (pretty much the ONLY highway), had been cleared. We headed south once again, making one more overnight stop in Parry Sound — a pretty little town in Georgian Bay. From there it was a few more hours down to our new temporary home near Chatham, ON.

We arrived Jane & Phil’s place by late afternoon, and within a few hours were feeling very much at home. Their small farm is located a short distance outside of Chatham, on a three-acre slice of land. The space is encompassed by stunning old trees of all sorts, and includes a house, garage, barn, and a few other out-buildings. But best of all, it came with dogs… lots of dogs.

Roni, Ollie & Tiley,
with a weird critter in the middle

Not only dogs… two small horses, as well as a couple of barn cats.

The number and variety of animals was one big attraction, but each animal has their own unique story. Most of them are “rescues” in some way. From Tiley who lost a leg in a car accident, to Buttercup the blind pony, they had all suffered hardships in the past, and have all found a safe and wonderful home with Phil & Jane. But this meant we had big shoes to fill, which is why we arrived a couple of days early so we could learn the routines.

Jane & Phil actually have four dogs, but the original plan was for us to be foster-parents to only two of them. One of them (Callie) has special medical needs, and Tiley doesn’t easily trust people. She’s a sweetie, but because of her past traumas, doesn’t let many people get close to her. The plan was for her to be housed at Phil & Jane’s daughter’s place, where Tiley had spent time before. But after a couple of days we got a somewhat frantic message saying Tiley wasn’t settling in with Ainsley. She wasn’t eating or drinking, and was generally stressed, so we agreed to try her back.

Happily, she took to Ann right away 😀 — me… not so much ☹️.

We settled in to the daily routine and sorted out the best way to divide all the tasks. As usual, we shared most things, although Ann did the dog-walks, and I did most of the outdoor work; mostly poop-scooping, horse food prep, and lawn mowing.

After about a week, my mom and sis joined us on the farm. We had arranged for them to visit while we were there, so Kathy drove them down from Ottawa to spend the week with us. It was a great visit, including being there for the total solar eclipse. We were right on the edge of ‘totality’, so that gave us about 40 seconds of complete coverage. It was… out of this world.

It was great having Mom & Kathy visit. The two of them did some exploring of the area, and we all ended up in the town of Erieau, on the shore of Lake Erie, for “the world’s best fish & chips.” It was pretty good, although Newfoundland’s versions still win. But mostly we just hung out at the beautiful farm.

After a week Kathy had to get back to work, so she and mom headed for Ottawa, leaving us to settle back into our farm/chore routines. The animal’s constant needs forced a nice rhythm to each day. Mornings involved releasing and feeding the horses (after giving Noah his oral medicine via syringe). The dogs would get their breakfast at the same time. Late morning I would go out to clean the stables, feed the cats , and set up the horses’ food for the evening — always under the watchful eye of Noah .

Ann would usually take Roni for her walk around midday. She even started taking all three on short pre-walks around the yard, which was pretty funny. Sometimes they would visit me while I was mucking the barn. Roni could smell ‘cat’ as she stuck her head through the cat-door.

The days ticked by. We had arrived at the farm at the tail end of winter, but pretty soon the weather turned warm, and sometimes quite wet:

All the warmth and rain also brought the grass to life — and they have a lot of grass! Luckily, they also have a “zero-turn” ride-on lawnmower that made the job a lot easier, and almost fun. But even with this fancy mower, it was a full-day job cutting the acres of grass. Luckily, we only had to do it twice. This left lots of time for just hanging out, and enjoying the wonderful place, and space, and most especially, the dogs, who fell in love with Ann.

They hated when she left, and were always excited when she came back home.

The time seemed to go so fast, and all too soon our homeowners were back, and we were saying our goodbyes. Parting is always such sweet sorrow, but it was tempered by the knowledge that we’ll be back next winter. Until then, we’ll just have pictures to remind us of the place, and all the sweet animals:

Almost like coming home…

We arrived to a warm greeting from Carol and Pete, who live on the outskirts of Cochrane on their small farm. Good thing the greeting was warm, because the temperatures were bone-shattering cold! In fact, they’d been that way for over a week. Records were broken, teeth chattered, and Lil’ Black froze solid — we had to push him into the garage to bring him back to life.

All this brutal temperature made it nearly impossible for our homeowners to get their RV ready, so it took a few extra days before we said our goodbyes, and finally moved in. When we did, it was very much like coming home — this is the fourth time we’ve looked after their place, afterall.

This odd lifestyle of ours has us visiting new places, and living in different spaces, all the time. But it’s always nice to come back to a place we know and love. Most especially, we love all (OK… most) of the animals here — and there are a lot!

The weather started frigidly cold, but soon see-sawed to unusually warm. With the disappearing snows, we got the covers off all the outdoor critters, and contended with a yard that turned increasingly mucky. Lots of mud, mixed with, well… you know 💩.

The inside zoo was full of all the animals we knew and loved. But one change from previous sits was the birds were both free to roam, AND still had their flight feathers intact. This meant they could fly around the house — which they increasingly did. Jade decided he liked me the most, and while Merlin occasionally ended up near me, he (happily) chose Ann to be his new best buddy.

The aftermath

The birds are much happier being free, which means they are a lot less squawky, which means we are much happier. This is definitely better for everyone. But Merlin insisted on being with Ann almost everywhere she went, including in the kitchen. This made for awkward times while trying to do things, like bending over to reach a pot. I came back from barn duties one morning to find all the animals in a kerfuffle, Ann nowhere to be seen, and blood all over the floor.

Merlin had grabbed a hold of Ann’s nose, leaving torn skin, and a bloodbath in his wake.

Merlin wasn’t trying to hurt Ann — if he had wanted to, he could easily bite right through her nose. He was on her shoulder when she bent over, and started to fall. So he just grabbed the biggest thing he could find 🤥. But after this, and following one more incident where Merlin did the same thing with my ear, we decided to block the kitchen so he couldn’t fly in. But he continued to seek out Ann in the living room whenever she was around.

While the indoor adventures kept us busy, the outdoor critters also needed attention. Carol has gained one extra horse since last we’d been there. So this makes for three horses and two donkeys. In reality, the outdoor animals were easy to manage, even with Tucker’s special food/medicine needs (he was on a special diet). What was less easy was the huge temperature swings, along with a few good snowfalls.

When we first arrived, the temperatures were dropping deep into the -30ºC overnight. Then it warmed up with daytime highs into the mid +teens. Then a it went back down into the deep freeze for a week, then back up. Up, down, up, down... All the while dumping snow quite regularly. Welcome to the new normal of weather in a world of a rapidly changing climate.

One of the joys of being at Pete & Carol’s farm is that we are close to Calgary, and can share our temporary home with family and friends. Happily, we had a few visits from ‘the fam’, with Monique, Phil, baby Olivia, and Granny Donna coming out. This was followed by a visit from Peggy & Phil (Sr.). Later on Peggy & Phil came back, bringing grandkids Vida and Theo with them. Cailan made a trek out to see us, and we even hosted a dinner with nearly the whole extended family showing up. It was great.

The days on the farm take on a certain rhythm. We soon established the pattern of Ann doing the morning Tucker feeding, horse releasing, and barn & area clean-up. She would feed the donkeys more straw if needed. I would then go out to clean up the yard, including the donkey area, and make sure they were well stocked with straw for the day. Then I did all the pooper-dumping onto a pile that grew, and Grew, and GREW! The evening ritual saw me bringing in all the horses in from the outer field, feeding Tucker his special slop, forking more straw for the overnight, and generally rearranging the electric fencing to keep them all close to the barn.

Rinse, and repeat… It gave us plenty of time to spend with the outdoor animals, which was really lovely.

The days moved on and all too soon our home-owners were back, and we had to say goodbye to all the critters. It’s always a bit sad in departing, but it’s very likely we’ll be back … someday. For now, we headed to Calgary for what we’d hoped was a quick stop, but due to a snowstorm, turned into a few-day layover. Somehow, Ann got through it, with a ‘little’ help.

We left Calgary in-between snow storms, and we headed east towards our next home/farm sit in southern Ontario. On the way though, we had to stop in on our friends near Rossport. But more on that in the next post.

Mike at the Medicine Hat COSTCO! Hotdogs beckoned

Kitties and Kiddies galore

Our first full day, or rather night, at our Medicine Hat house was spent fending off little ghosts and goblins from the front door. Hallow’s Eve! Ann had fun handing out treats, and avoiding the tricks, while the kitties and I mostly stayed hidden.

Coming back to Gail & Pat’s place was easy and relaxing. The house is lovely and simple to manage. The location is beautiful in that surprising desert kind of way, and the kitties seemed to remember us. Allie, who is the more cautious of the two, warmed up to us right away .

Sasha… well, all you need to do is give her treats, and open the door for her occasionally, and she’s happy. But don’t leave her outside, because she’s kinda wimpy.

While it’s great exploring new locations and visiting new houses, coming back to a place we’ve already been always feels a bit like coming home. It was easy to settle in for our month in The Hat. Ann quickly found her way to the swimming pool, and I got back into river walks, and food dehydration.

Although winter was scheduled to arrive, we never saw much of it. There was the occasional dusting of snow, but mostly the weather was warm and dry. No snow shovelling required. Mostly, we just hung out with the cute kitties, and made sure everyone was warm and happily fed on time.

As usual, the time went by quickly. Too soon, we were saying our goodbyes and heading off for a short stay at Donna & Sam’s place in Calgary. It’s always great to see them, but the major attraction was, of course, the new kiddy OLIVIA! Ann went into serious speech-path mode right away, which is really just about playing, and having fun with little ones.

It was a short stint in Calgary, but long enough to have some fun playing pool , and squeezing in celebrations for the older baby. Happy Birthday Annnneeeeeeeeeeeeee!

After a short week of fun in Cow-town we headed off to our next house-sit, this time in Canmore, AB. The town is nestled in the crook of the Bow River, and surrounded by mountains. Our temporary home was minutes away from the river, with an amazing view of the craggy peaks. But best of all, it came with three adorable kitties.

As is true for all cats, each one had their own unique personality. They all loved to climb, and sleep up in high places . But while Big and Little Cat were a bit cautious, and took a few days to fully trust us, Indie, or as house-owners Andrew & Julie called her: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), was immediately into everything we owned. She wasn’t shy to take ownership of us right away.

Our time in Canmore was short, but so very wonderful. Our temporary home was incredibly beautiful. It’s a wood home, with a great kitchen, outdoor hot tub, and funky pantry. But the centrepiece of the whole house was a massive fireplace, which we made good use of. The whole house, and the surrounding area, was an absolute delight.

One day during our stay we were visited by some of the Calgary crowd. It was great to see Donna, Sam and Monique. But let’s be honest, the true highlight, without a doubt, was (and always is) little ‘Liv. She fell in love with the monkey table.

Sadly, our time in Canmore went all too fast, but happily, this meant heading back to Calgary. Sam and Donna graciously took in us vagabonds once again, and we got to spend the holiday season hangin’ with the family. Christmas dinner saw Tash home and Peggy and her gang (Marc, Connor, Cailan, including Phil-Senior), come over for some good time and good eats. We all chipped in to make it a relaxing afternoon/evening.

We get to linger here in Calgary, and likely down near Pincher Creek at the Beauvais Lake cottage, while we await our next house-sit over in Cochrane. We are returning to our hobby farm, which we’ve come to know and love. The three horses, two donkeys, two parrots, two cats and one little dog will keep us hoppin’. But that’s always great.

Olivia lent me her cool sunglasses

Fit for a new adventure

So, it turned out, we could have stayed a couple of extra weeks in Newfoundland. It only took us one day of actual looking, to buy our new (old) car. So we got to spend the next few weeks hanging out in Ottawa, relaxing and easing into our coming fall/winter travels. There was still lots to keep us busy. There were:

Poker games to play

Faucet to replace

Hammi to watch lounge outside

and Fred to help

go on adventures.

The time passed quickly, as it so often does, and we soon found ourselves loading new(old) Fit for our travels north, then west. Having bought pretty much the same vehicle, we knew our life would fit … into the Fit (HA!). So we said our goodbyes to Mom, Hammi and Kathy (aka the bratty sister), and headed off.

Lil’ Black performed perfectly. No issues, and kilometrage seems on par with Lil’ Red. We made it to our first stop in Thessalon, which is a lovely town with a nice motel on the shores of the North Channel. We once sailed past here on our way south, and our friend Chester used to have his summer home in the community RV park. So it always feels right to stop here.

The next day we passed through the Sault, and turned north for the stunning part of the drive along Lake Superior’s shores. The weather was great, so we made quick time, driving past our old haunts near Marathon. This included passing by the Hemlo Gold mine. The operation has shifted largely to an open-pit mine, and the tailing mountain gets bigger and bigger each time we pass by. It’s kinda scary…

Our first house-sit stop of our winter sojourn was to be at Cathie & Joe’s place near Rossport, a village of a few hundred people. Their house is actually in a place called Selim, with a population of perhaps a few dozen, making it the suburbs of Rossport. We often stop here for a few nights as we pass by, but this time we had been asked to stay for nearly two weeks, while Joe & Cathie travelled to Quebec City.

This trip is just the latest in many excursions taken by Cathie and Joe, along with Cathie’s brother Duncan, and sister Margaret. They’ve chartered a canal boat in France, taken a small boat cruise in Norway, and stayed in a village overlooking the Isle of Skye.

Our friends sure know how to live! But so do we, because we got to look after their beautiful home on the shore of Lake Superior, while looking after the cutest dog alive: Piper!

We arrived a couple of days before the gang was to depart on their trip. While we’ve spent time at their Shangri-La house in the past, we were always just guests. Living a life off the beaten path is glorious, but sometimes more challenging. There was plenty to learn about generators and water systems, about maintenance and the garden, about newspaper delivery and garbage day, and most of all, about Piper.

We also got to spend time getting to know Margaret and Duncan. We’d heard so much about them both over the years, so it was great to finally put real faces to all the antics. As expected, both Cathie’s siblings are sweet, incredibly smart, and a joy to be around. We had a grand time just hanging out with them for those couple of days.

We finally saw the gang off, and were left to manage pup and home. Piper was a trooper, and seemed to accept us right away. She kept us busy, with all the walks and regular feedings, and of course daily ball time.

The time passed all too quickly, which happens when you’re constantly busy. In addition to all the Piper walks and plays, we did some minor work around the place. Ann did some cleaning, harvested a bit of the garden and I managed to split a bunch of firewood. We lived well, enjoying the fruits of Cathie & Joe’s gardening labour.

Sadly, our time came to an end all too soon. Cathie, Joe and Duncan returned safe and sound (Margaret flew directly home from Quebec City), with more grand stories to share. We spent one more glorious day hearing about their latest adventure, and then we packed Lil’ Black up, and said our goodbyes. Happily, we know we’ll be back in a few months, so the parting was not so sorrowful.

With some weather coming in, we decided to give ourselves an extra day to do the 2,000km drive. Lil’ Black performed admirably, but with only all-season tires on, we carefully planned our stops to avoid the worst of the wintry weather.

We stopped in places we’d not been before. First Ignace, ON , then Portage La Prairie where we drank some good beer (actually, bought near Kenora) , and met the motel owner: Paul. Turns out Fireball Paul is a local folk singer who gave us an impromptu concert, so we could hear his latest tunes.

On our final day, we stopped for lunch at a Maple Creek Chinese/Canadian eatery. I’m sure the decorations haven’t changed since the 1970s! Food tasted like it was from that era as well. Frozen ripple fries, basic burger, old-style milk shake machine. It was all very good… but felt like a blast from the past.

Our next destination for our house-sitting season had us in Medicine Hat, at a home we had first sat for in the spring. Gail & Pat’s place is nestled on the edge of “The Hat”, not far from the South Saskatchewan River. Their house is located in a quiet community, and is very nice and comfortable. They have two little Morkie dogs, and two cute cats. The dogs went with the ‘parents’, so all we have to do is look after the home, and cuddle with the kitties:

In praise of slow

With Ann’s iPhone safely back in hand, we pulled out of the Marina and headed off to join Mark. He had left a few days before, and was tied up at Knight’s Island north, swinging from the club mooring. We tied up beside him and settled in for days of much-needed R&R.

Knights is a lovely, and fairly secluded anchorage. The only negative is that it is close to Exploits Island, with its population of cottagers. This brings a small, but constant, stream of visitors as people motor around in their little boats. Only one stayed a night, and this was a large ketch from some foreign land.

While at Knights we did a little work (fibreglass repair) , and a little play . Ann got out her fancy camera and started taking a lot of Ann-shots : and then she did the dance of the seven (white) veils. . She also pulled out the old tin whistle and serenaded us with her dulcet tunes.

While refugin‘ in Knights, Mark received notice that his boat had a prospective buyer. He had decided to put it up for sale, following his return from his northern excursion. A buyer was on their way from Quebec, so Mark decided to head back into Lewisporte to meet them.

We stayed a couple more nights at Knights before moving on to Fortune Harbour up at the top of the peninsula. This is an anchorage we’ve been to many times, so knew it well. Good thing too, because a nasty squall overtook just as we were getting in. We had barely got the anchor down when we were hit with 30+ knot winds and heavy rains.

Happily, the nasty weather passed quickly, and we were gifted with a beautiful afternoon and evening.

The following day we decided to do some exploring. We got the dinghy out, and hooked up the outboard. We don’t use the engine a lot since we usually row the dinghy, but I do get it running each season. I even changed the oil before we left Lewisporte. It ran great, so it was a little surprising to have it sputter and die just as we motored out of the anchorage.

Luckily we weren’t too far from home, and the winds were light, so we just rowed around, and eventually made it back to the boat. The next day was spent trying to fix the engine. Turns out when I changed the oil, I over-filled it with new stuff. This fouled the spark plug. Ann pulled out the spare spark, and once it was swapped out, the engine ran flawlessly.

The next days we spent exploring the various nearby coves.

After a few days Mark rejoined us in Fortune Harbour. We spent the next few days reading, relaxing, dancing the veil dance, and generally just settling into life afloat.

After about a week we decided to head over to Seal Bay, heading for our favourite anchorage: Gods Pocket. It was one of those windless days, so we ended up motoring the whole way. Mark had left ahead of us, but since we were going to anchor, he let us get ahead of him.

As we headed down the bay we spotted a white dot on the water. It grew as we got closer. Yes indeed, it was an iceberg! We’d seen a few earlier in the season, but that was from land. We’d also seen a couple in the distance when coming into Fortune Harbour, but they were far out to sea. This was our closest ice approach.

We pulled into the very familiar godly anchorage, and went far back to the bottom. Just as we were getting the hook down I looked up and saw…

BEAR!

The bear lingered around the beach as we got the hook planted. It barely took note of us as it groused for mussels, or other critters. It visited us at least once more during our stay.

Now that we were in ‘The Pocket’

the serious relaxing could begin.

The following day we pulled out the kayaks and got them all set up for paddling. It’s no small effort to haul the kayaks out from below deck, and then to get them inflated, so we only do it when we know we’re going to stay put for some time. The gods whispered that this was the place, and the time, so out the kayaks came.

And of course, we have to mention Ann’s Sacred Rock:

Being in ‘the pocket’ lends itself to the easy life. The anchorage is incredibly secure, offering good holding, and protection from all winds. It would take a hurricane to affect us in there. So it’s the perfect place to stay, and stay, and stay… So we did.

On one memorable kayaking day we saw a bald eagle, (nearly saw) a seal, whales, and witnessed the collapse of the nearby iceberg. This last one came in the form of thunder. The berg was about 2nm away, but the sound was like a distant thunder clap. Amazing… and very glad we weren’t closer.

After nearly three weeks time was starting to drip away. Mom and Sis were visiting our area of Newfoundland, and we wanted to be back at Lewisporte to connect with them for some of their stay. We also planned to haul our boat out a few weeks earlier than normal so we could get back to Ottawa and begin our new (old) car search. Lil’ (old) Red has been a great car, but had reached its end. We needed the extra time to find a replacement — at least we thought we needed the extra time (spoiler!).

So we packed away our kayaks , offered our blessings to The Pocket , and hauled up anchor so we could begin the journey back to the marina. Our anchor had been holding both boats for the entire time, it was deeply dug into the bottom. It took over an hour to pull it up. And along the way we found a few other critters had started to call our anchor rode home. This included a starfish, and lots of jelly fish tentacles — yuck!

We left on a favourable west wind, which gave us a nice broad reach towards our destination. We were having such a good sail that we bypassed Fortune Harbour, and pushed on into Bay of Exploits. Unfortunately, as we rounded south into the bay, a nasty squall line caught up to us . The skies opened up, the winds piped up and the rains came down.

Luckily we didn’t have to go too far before getting into our anchorage at Samson Island. We grabbed a club mooring and settled in for the night. The next morning Mark headed back to the marina, while we lingered for one more day. Endings are so hard…

The following day was lovely, with a light northerly wind. This gave us an easy sail back home. We lingered for hours, but eventually got going. It was a great way to end the sailing season.

It was a lovely final sail; light steady winds, moving us along at 3-4knots. It was so easy, we let Fred helm for a while 😂. Mark was at the dock, ready to catch our lines. And the expert crew even remembered to put the fenders down this year. A good ending to another fun sailing season.

What was not so good was the state of our car. Old Red started up fine, but the battery was soon dying. No amount of reving helped, as it seemed to in the past. Checking the alternator, I soon figured out it was dead. With the help of Brian at the yard, we soon has a new one on order. And with a little begging, I managed to secure a date for the local garage to install it. We had to wait about a week, but it could have been a lot worse.

Happily, the car was a minor downer. The real fun was not done yet. Mom & Sis had arrived at their nearby BnB a few days earlier, so we planned a little day trip. Kathy drove in and we spent the day motoring (there was no wind) out to Knight’s Island. As an added bonus, on the way back we became peripherally involved in a boat rescue. A small powerboat lost its engine, and had to be towed away from the rocks and back home. We offered to assist, but luckily our help was not needed.

Later, we went over to their BnB to spend a few days being tourists with Mom/Sis. Our car was still on the fritz, awaiting a new alternator, but Mark, ever-the-sweetie, lent us his. What are we going to do if he sells his boat — we’ll be lost!

Sadly, we soon had to get back to boat chores. Haulout was coming soon, as was our already-booked ferry date. And there’s always so much to do to get the boat out of the water, and ready for winter.

Little treasures guarding the boat

Finally all the tasks were done. We headed off in our rattly, noisy little red car. After making an all-too-short stop in Corner Brook to spend time with friends Byron & Paula, we boarded the ferry and sailed back to “Canada.”

It was an easy overnight ferry ride, and I managed to get some sleep. Ann — not so much. Luckily, we had a short drive to our friends Chet & Margie in Truro, NS. Old Red almost made it without mishap, but just as we were getting into the city Ann heard a new, bad sound.

We spent a couple of relaxing nights with C&M and all their many cats . The next day Chet drove another friend to Halifax for a medical appointment, so Margie took us on a short trip down to a park on the Fundy shore. We spent one more night with them before beginning our final push to Ottawa.

Lil’ Red got us back to Ottawa without further… losses. It was great to get back ‘home,’ although it now meant we had to get serious about car shopping. We’d begun the search from Lewisporte, and Ann had already spotted what seemed like the perfect car: A much newer (2013) Honda Fit. Low KMs, and seemingly in good shape. But these kinds of cars don’t last long, so we were surprised to still find it listed by the time we got looking.

Long story short, we looked at three other cars, drove one other, then tested this new (old) Fit. It was the perfect FIT. So we swap Lil’ Red for Lil’ Black.

That sinking and soggy feeling

We arrived back home to Pachina Mia and found she had weathered the latest Newfoundland winter well. Her new winter cover remained intact, and everything seemed pretty good on board. Fred the killer watch dog had done his duty well, so all I had to do was reassemble the electrical system, and we were ready to move on board.

All seemed well… which is always a bad sign in the boating life. And true to superstitious form, we soon noticed a drip coming off the lowest point of our keel. How odd, says we. The boat has been high and dry for months. How could it be dripping?

Turns out our mighty 6-ton keel had somehow taken up a fair bit of water. So now we had two challenges. The first was to get the water out, and the second was to patch the leaking area. Sounds easy right?

Unfortunately, Newfoundland was experiencing the worst Spring on record; cold, rainy and generally crap conditions, making work nearly impossible. Simply put, it’s damn hard to drain a keel in the rain, and you can’t set epoxy and fibreglass when it’s wet, or in the cold.

We had weeks of both, so we spent a lot of time in the clubhouse, staying warm and dry.

But all things must pass, and we eventually got enough semi-dry and semi-warm days to get the job done. This was largely to the great guidance and assistance of fellow boater and good friend Mark, who has earned his doctorate in recreational boating fibreglass by basically building his own sailboat.

Work progressed slowly, but luckily there was plenty to keep us occupied and entertained. We even joined in on various events; some planned and some rather impromptu. There was a big “Welcome Back” dinner put on by the club. And there was great little jam session with two great guitar players: Terry and Eric. Eric, on the right, is a singer song-writer. He has two albums, which he kindly gifted to us. What a lovely gift!

Since Mark was gunning for Labrador this season, he had been working like a press-ganged slave these past few weeks. It’s a long way north, and weather was not cooperating. Undaunted, Mark and his new crew member Michael, shoved off in the cold and rain.

As it turned out, this was not the year to attempt such a journey. There were more icebergs in Newfoundland’s waters than anytime in the past decade (maybe more). Mark made it to nearly the top of the Northern Peninsula and the Straight of Belle Isle, but he wisely turned around at that point. Going further north risked life and vessel.

In the meantime, work progressed on Pachina Mia. We’d get one day of decent weather, and then five more days of crap. But in between all the work, there was this little birthday event. Ann completely surprised me with a delicious chocolate, chocolate, chocolate cheesecake. It was made right under my nose. I was completely oblivious. So much for my dreams of becoming The Great Sailing Detective.

My wish, which everyone knew, was to have my keel fixed so we could get going.

While the icebergs are a serious hazard for us boaters, they are a wonder to see, even from land. Our other new friends, Kathryn & Harald, took us for a road trip to see a couple modest sized bergs that had made their way very close to our marina.

Back on the boat, work progressed slowly, which is pretty much the only way we do any work. Launch day finally came and Pachina Mia went in the water — and she didn’t sink! So then we started into all the other projects needed to get our floating home back in shape. There were lots of jobs, both large and small, including the Big Climb up to the top of the mast. Ann does it in the Spring. I do it in the Fall.

Although it was a bit frustrating to still be at the marina, one of the great benefits of hanging around the clubhouse was all the great people we got to meet. Early in June the club hosted a group of European sailors who were preparing their boat, Que Sera, to go through the Northwest Passage. We also met a couple who were planning to sail back to the UK via Greenland and Iceland. And on the other side of things, we really got to know a few cruisers who have more modest ambitious: Kathryn & Harald, Paula & Craig, Roy & Tammy, to name a few. All sweet and lovely people who have been a joy to now call friends.

Coincidentally, all our boats were dealing with problems, meaning we were all slow to get going. Interestingly, three out of four of us had keel problems. This meant we were all making good use of the club’s galley and dining room. During one of our slightly boozy evenings together, the subject of Kraft Dinner came up. Seems like everyone has a different idea of how to cook it.

Somehow this morphed into the first ever:

Great Lewisporte KD Cook off!

Five chefs, one barkeep, and KD of all varieties. What could be better! The results speak for themselves…

Time marched on. We finally did get out for a sail… on Craig & Paula’s boat. They are both new to the life, and to their boat, so we’ve offered what little wisdom we have. They wanted to get out and do a bit of sailing, and to learn how to anchor, so we agreed to go out with them. It was a fun evening of sailing. Unfortunately, just as we were coming to the anchorage, the engine started to sputter. Seemed like fuel loss, so we turned tail and motored/sailed for home. We just got back to the dock when the engine died completely. Sometimes the gods are gentle in their torments.

During those long days we welcomed Mark back to the dock, and slowly ticked off most of the ‘to-do’ list. Just as we were winding up to leave the dock an unfortunate event set us back: Ann’s new iPhone went for a swim! It must have fallen out of her pocket as she stepped onto the boat.

The odds of finding anything down there in the murky, gunky waters of our marina are slim to none. And even if it is recovered, it’s likely the salt water will have done it in. Que Sera, as they say. I had given up hope, but Ann being Ann, was determined to find it.

And she did! The water nymph actually found it!!

Success came the day after the loss. Ann actually dove on it the first day, wearing only her bathing suit and goggles. But we were facing a rising tide, and with water being only about 9ºC, hypothermia set in quickly.

Ann was hell-bent to give it another try, so we waited for low tide the following day. This time she donned her wetsuit and flippers. Friend Mark, who is a SCUBA diver, gave her some diving weights and an underwater light.

After three dives, and against all odds, she came up screeching in victory!

The phone had been underwater for 22 hours, at depths of around 9 feet, with a water temperature of around 8ºC. Amazingly, it was still on when she pulled it out of the drink. We washed it with fresh water, and Ann took it out of the case. It seemed to be dry inside, so things looked hopeful.

It sat for 24 hrs in rice, and then … The patient lives!

Unfortunately, this little iPhone drama set back our departure by a few days. But we still expect to be off the dock soon … unless Neptune decides to have more fun — at our expense.

The long road home

We said our goodbyes to Gail & Pat, and the two kitties Sasha & Allie, and once again headed east. The day before we left Medicine Hat the Prairies had been hit with an early Spring winter storm. It dumped a lot of snow, and closed many roads and highways. By the time we got going things had been mostly cleared out, but we saw the after effects, with lots of snow, and more than a few car & truck crashes along the way.

Leaving from Medicine Hat put us out of sync with our normal driving patterns. This meant we stayed at a couple of different places, before making our way to Thunder Bay. Our first rest stop was Moose Jaw, SK. We found a simple, and relatively inexpensive motel in Moosomin, SK. And then we drove to a place in Vermilion Bay, ON, before making the final hop to our friends’ place at the Lakehead.

Kylo the cat, Ann the ‘we’re not really sure’, and Julie the human

Paul and Julie once again opened their home and their hearts to us wayward vagabonds — we truly are blessed with such good friends. We got to spend nearly a week, hanging out, talking sailing and boats, and being entertained by their two cats: Kylo and Cedric.

It’s always wonderful to hang out with P&J. We ate and drank, and caught up on their adventures, which usually include doing way more work and projects than we could ever accomplish. But we also discussed their pending visit to the Caribbean, where they had put an offer on a new sailboat! Unfortunately that deal fell through, but as I type, their quest for another boat continues. We shall see…

During our time in Thunder Bay we also managed to connect with our younger friends who live in a rural area north of Kakebeka Falls, ON (which is west of Thunder Bay). These kind folks continue to house our storage trailer that contains the remains of our land life. It also houses our second set of tires (winter or summer, depending on the season), which we were able to swap out, before arriving for a wonderful visit.

Ben & Sherilyn are always fun to visit. They are living off the beaten path, but in a very different way than us, so it’s always great to catch up on how things are going out on ‘the farm.’ But most of all, it’s a great excuse to hang out with their Oh-Too-Cute girls: Olivia & Molly.

After a week of Thunder Bay (and area) visits we loaded up the little car and headed east once again. But we only had to go a few hours before reaching our next stop in Selim (the burbs of Rossport, ON). We always love to visit our dear friends Cathie & Joe. In fact, all this friends and family visiting is one of the great attractions of our current lifestyle. Traversing the country each year means we get to stop in on all these wonderful people!

While Joe & Cathie are the main attraction in Selim, they were somewhat upstaged by the newest member of the family: Piper!!

We spent five days “refugin” in the bosom of C&J’s Lake Superior sanctuary. We spent a little time on chores, and a lot of time eating, drinking, talking, and playing with Piper.

It’s always hard to say goodbye, but the road beckoned, and we know we’ll be back in the Fall (this time, for an extended period), so we packed Lil’ Red and headed off once again. We had a quick overnight in Thessalon , and then we washed up once again to the warm embrace of Mom and Sis in Ottawa.

We spent a few relaxing weeks just hanging out. We did a few odd jobs around the place, including Ann doing some body work — on Kathy’s car, not herself 😄. And I did some bread baking (of course). One night we went to a Jill Barber concert at the National Arts Centre , and we spent a little time with Colleen and Connor, which is always great .

Oh, and Hammi is once again an outdoor cat. He now gets to go outside — under supervision, of course. Apparently he’s become a bit of a demanding monster … good for him, I say 😼👍.

Time ticked away. Various health checks were made, renewed licenses arrived, vaccines were got. So we held our final pub night, and headed off once again. Instead of our normal Edmundston, NB stop, Ann found another even better, and cheaper, place just a little east in the Quebec town of Cabano. It’s a simple little motel, but overlooks Lake Témiscouata. It was great — this is likely our new normal.

Another new normal, at least for this trip, was fixing the car along the way. Sadly, our little car is nearing its end, and is literally falling apart. Before leaving Ottawa, part of the exhaust piping broke apart. I fixed it using the wizardry of scissors and glue (actually it was epoxy putty and high temperature amalgam tape), but we had to keep repairing it all the way along.

One great thing about this vagabond lifestyle is that it lets us visit our far-flung friends all across the country. Chet & Margie are now Nova Scotia folks, so we pulled into their yard to spend a couple more days, relaxing 😁, and fixing the car again ☹️. It was a great time. We stayed at their new house, visited an old grist mill, met all their cute cats.

With our car repaired (once again), we said our goodbyes and headed off towards the ferry. We’d been getting used to the unseasonably hot weather throughout our travels in the Maritimes so far, but this came to a freezing end once we got out of the car at the ferry terminal at the end of the road in Cape Breton. On the plus side, the forest fires that were raging in around Halifax were nowhere to be seen.

So we stopped for supper, boarded the ferry, and went up to our luxury cabin for the overnight crossing. This was the first time we’d taken an actual berth; normally we just stick it out in oversized chairs. But this boat had none of those, so we had to upgrade to a full cabin. It was very nice…

We drove off the boat, into the pouring, cold rain, and headed off towards Corner Brook. A short way down the road, while dodging all the potholes, we were greeted by Newfoundland’s unofficial land ambassador: Moose!

Lewisporte is across the island, on the NE side. But instead of driving directly there, we were warmly greeted by our friends from Corner Brook. Byron and Paula have been grand friends since we met them during our time at the Bay of Islands Marina in Corner Brook. We hadn’t been able to visit them since before pandemic days, so it was great to be back in their company. In so many ways, it felt like no time had passed. The beer and the yarnin’, poured easily. It was so great to catch up on their adventures, and swap stories about all our future plans.

Alana, Mark, Byron, Paula, Me

Our final goodbyes given (for this season), we jumped back into our noisy, rattle car, and drove the final few hundred km of the long road, back to our floating home. We found her looking pretty good, with cover fully intact, and Fred and our treasures still guarding Pachina Mia.

So now comes the hard times — on the hard. The cold and damp weather that greeted us in North Sydney has stuck around, making it hard to get a lot of work done. And unfortunately we’ve discovered a keel problem which is taking a bit longer to solve. But we hope to be in the water soon. All we need is a few days of sun and warmth.

Little house in the desert

We said our farewells to Carol and Pete and the gang of critters, and headed over to our final house-sit in Medicine Hat. We made a quick stop in Calgary at Donna & Sam’s — just long enough to help celebrate Phil (Jr.)’s birthday, before making the short hop to “The Hat.”

We were warmly greeted by our homeowners, Gail & Pat, and we spent a lovely evening together, swapping stories and getting to know the house and animals. Although they have four critters in total, they had decided to take the two small dogs with them to California. This left their two sweet kitties in our charge: Allie and Sasha.

Every cat has its own unique personality, and these two are no different. Sasha is easy going and immediately accepting of everyone — especially if you give her treats. But Allie needed a little more convincing. At first, she greeted us strangers with growls and little hisses. She made it clear that she didn’t know us, so didn’t trust us. Happily, this only lasted until about day three. After that, it was all purrs and cuddles.

In the end, Allie became completely connected. She wanted to be close to one of us most of the time. She would sleep beside me through the day in the office, or curl up on Ann’s lap. Allie would constantly do the leg rub thing, seemingly just to say hi. And she was so engaged visually. She’d lock eyes, and purr, and reach out with her paws. She was soooo sweet.

Meanwhile, Sasha just continued to be her purry, cutie self.

Our house here in Medicine Hat was located on the edge of town. It wasn’t quite rural, but it was in a pretty small subdivision. Even better, the house was located not far from an oxbow in the South Saskatchewan River. There were plenty of walking trails right outside the door, and a short 10-minute walk got us down to the river’s edge.

Medicine Hat’s climate and geology is fascinating, and very beautiful — in a dry, dusky sort of way. It’s actually a semi-desert, with dry prairie grasses, badlands and hoodoos (or nearly so). One big surprise for me was to discover all the cacti that grew along the bank of the river. I haven’t seen cactus growing in the wild since our motorcycle trip through the deserts of the American south. But here I was, nearly tripping over some, here in Canada.

Our time in Medicine Hat was very relaxing, and easy. The house was the most luxurious we’d had this winter season. Kitties are always easy. There was an excellent swimming pool nearby, so Ann could continue her dolphin evolution. She also kept up with her online exercise class, much to the amusement of the cats.

I spent time drying more food for our coming sailing season, and walking the river paths nearby our house. On one of my walks I watched a bald eagle swoop down to the river, grab a large fish, and then fly right past me on the river’s bank.

I managed to get my camera out for the last part.

During our time, Ann was able to reconnect with a dear old friend from Pincher Creek days. Tammy lives in a smaller town outside of Medicine Hat, so when she came into the big city, the two got together.

Our time in Medicine Hat went all too quickly. Happily though, we’re planning to be back next fall, so we’ll get to reconnect with our lovely homeowners, as well as those two sweet kitties.

Feeling like Dr. Dolittle

After saying our goodbyes to our Smithers folks, we made our way down to Cochrane, AB. But first we had to make a quick Calgary stop to see little Olivia! … and also those other not-as-cute family folks like Donna, Sam, Monique & Phil (Jr.) 😃. After that, it was off to the next farm.

Our Cochrane friends have a small farm that houses a rather large collection of different critters. Inside are three cats, one dog (two, but one travels with the owners) and two parrots. Outside there are two miniature donkeys, a large Tennessee Walker horse, and a new miniature horse. It’s quite the collection.

This is our third time sitting for Carol and Pete, and it felt a bit like coming home. Sadly, they’ve lost two cats, and now one horse, since we first began sitting for them. But on the fun side, they now have a very cute, and rather mischievous, little miniature horse. His name, Snoop, suites him well, because he’s often getting into trouble.

Tucker and Snoop make a real odd-couple pair.

Another new development is the free-range birds. The parrots have always been rather … annoying. They easily get bored, and then start to squawk and Squawk! and SQUAWK!! But Carol discovered that if they are given more freedom, they are far happier — and so are we. So the birds now get to roam where they please.

With so many different animals, the demands on our time are pretty constant. There’s constant cuddling , and holding , and carrying , and sleeping with . Oh, and of course there is poop management… that was mostly my job:

During our stay the weather went from warmish and dry, to:

Very Cold!

Then icy

Then snowy.

The snowblower was also a new addition to this farm life, and a darn good one. The weather turned pretty snowy for Alberta, with dump after dump after dump… Normally we’d get a chinook in between the snow falls which would blow and melt it all away, but not this time. The snows just kept coming, so I made good use of the blower.

At least the cold, crisp skies, and snowy fields delivered some stunning morning images:

One of the joys of being at this place, is it puts us close to the family in Calgary. Sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, and now a grandniece! It also allows us to give a little back by hosting, instead of always being hosted. And so we did… First playing host to Donna & Sam, then Peggy and Phil paid a visit. And then the big event: nearly the whole motley crew showed up for dinner and zoo time.

Unfortunately Monique and Olivia took sick so didn’t make it out for the dinner. But they came out a week later, along with Niq’s friend, Abaigeal, her daughter Astoria, and baby Hugo.

Although we were at the mini-zoo for over a month, the time went fast. Ann kept busy cleaning, and swimming, and video exercising , and cuddling (with the critters, not me, of course) . I passed the time ukeing and drying food , and of course, pooper-scooping . In general, we just enjoyed the comfortable space, and spending time with the critters.

As always, our time here ended all too soon. But it looks like we’ll be coming back next winter, so it is goodbye, but not forever. For now, we move onto our final house sit of the season, over in Medicine Hat, AB. This is actually a house house-sit, with only two very cute cats to look after.

Allie & Sasha

It’s a farmers life for us

Life on the farm, or more accurately, the ranch, moved on. We celebrated the new year by keeping an extra close eye on the calves, most especially our rolled-over victim, L5. Happily, his recovery was swift, and within a few days he was as fit as the rest.

By now we’d settled into a regular routine, with two or three calf walks on the ‘off’ days, punctuated by the major effort of feeding every third day. Jasper the dog was a constant companion, and always up for a “cow walk,” but soon Shamus the cat decided he wanted to be part of the daily action too, and started coming with us on our morning walks.

Shamus would even come out on the snowy days… although he didn’t really like it.

Our days revolved around cow walks, water checks, basic house maintenance, the occasional snow ploughing, and then the big feeding day every three sleeps. This was actually the fun day, because we got to use the tractor. As always, we took turns, and each got the same amount of time behind the wheel.

Although the calves all look the same, they each have their own personalities. It’s a bit dangerous letting yourself get to know them, because, well… 🥩. But we really did start to make connections with a few, especially the “M” group. M7, M3, M2, and most especially M9 would often come over to us and start to sniff and lick, which is apparently what cows do with those in the same group, or family. It was all rather touching, if a bit disgusting because cows are snotty, poopy, slobbery creatures.

In between cow and house duties I found time to do some food processing and dehydration in preparation for the coming sailing season . And Ann kept busy with her video exercise class, along with plenty of cross-country skiing, which Jasper was always eager to help with.

Our time indoors was mostly spent being entertained by the two critters who lived with us. We’re sure going to miss them both:

The remaining time passed relatively uneventfully. No new (major) problems occurred, and all too soon we were picking up Les & Chris (the homeowners) at the airport and saying our goodbyes. One of the harder parts about this life is the departures, but with each one of those comes a new (or renewed) arrival.

And so it is here where we move from one farm house to another; in this case back to Cochrane, AB. This is the small hobby farm we have sat for before. We only have 10 animals to care for here: three cats, one little dog, two parrots, two donkeys and two horses. Should be easy 😉.