Sicily- part 2

To pick up where I left off in part 1, we were just leaving Taormina (the world’s prettiest town).

We had a long drive from Taormina right across Sicily to our next stop in Palermo (3+ hours), so we decided to break it up with a small side trip to the Canadian War Cemetery in Agira.

While back in Catania, we had a visit to the Sicilian WWII museum. It concentrated on the Allies’ Operation Husky (the invasion and taking of Sicily) and the bombing of Sicilian towns. It was a great museum but less than one-third of the exhibits and displays had English translations. We got the gist and it was very humbling to see it from the Sicilians’ point-of-view: they appreciated the Allies helping them break their ties with Hitler, but they took heavy bombing and casualties, too. For a few weeks, we Canadians were ‘the bad guys’.




However, once the Allies won the island, the Sicilians were then glad to see the Nazis gone and didn’t mind having the Allies around for the next couple years of the war.

So now while we were driving across the island, we took the bumpy and windy 15km detour to the beautifully situated Agira War Cemetery. Agira was the Canadians’ largest battle and where they took the heaviest casualties. There are 490 men buried here, on a hill overlooking valleys, a lake, and with the mountain town of Agira on the horizon. We took our time to pay our respects.

We then continued on to Palermo but now sort of wish we hadn’t. Every trip has a low point, and Palermo was ours. Palermo is Sicily’s largest city and the one that tour guides like Rick Steves say not to miss… But there were little redeeming qualities in the city for us. It didn’t help that it was raining and cold; a Sunday, so a lot was closed or inaccessible; and we had just come from the world’s prettiest town, so our standards were set high.

Palermo was full of garbage, everywhere in the streets, litter. And shit, literally. Excuse my language, but there’s no way to delicately describe the heaps of smelly dog shit on the side of the road. I’m not talking about the little piles here and there like you encounter in Paris and most other European cities; but we passed one unpaved part of the sidewalk where a tree was growing, about 2m x 1m of no pavement (dirt, or ‘grassy’ area) and it was overflowing with dog poop. If someone tried to scoop it all, it would be 3 big black Hefty bags full, and the stench was utterly overwhelming.

We were down to our last pairs of socks and underwear but couldn’t get our clothes washed because laundromats don’t open on Sundays and our hotel didn’t accept laundry on a Sunday. We were going to do a bus tour but they barely ran on Sundays (only 2 times, not all day) and wouldn’t be worth the cost, we took cabs instead (and one cabbie ripped us off). Restaurants were hard to find that served food, not just drinks; and in the end when we got in the car to leave, our gas seemed awfully low- we think it was siphoned off!

So we didn’t love Palermo, but we got around and saw some of the bigger sites, even if just from the outside. The one place that was open and we could actually go in was the Capuchin Catacombs that Sophie read about in her kids’ Atlas Obscura (a great book for any kid interested in geography and/or seeing the world!) and wanted to see. It certainly was interesting to see but of course we couldn’t take any photos inside and we respected this rule (though again, it seems like we’re the only tourists who know how to respect things like religion and the dead).

However, please enjoy some other photos of Palermo landmarks from the outside.

The Opera House
The large cathedral. It was Sunday so there was mass. It doesn’t look anything like we’d expect inside. All white sheetrock and paint and no stained glass and stone arches like we’re used to in France and England, even older cathedrals in Canada.
The theatre near our hotel.

Those 3 photos are about the only redeeming sights and parts of Palermo I can show. We left by 9am on our check-out day and didn’t look back. The drive south-east was perilous, hilly, and full of switch-back, winding bends; but we knew we were going in the right direction to leave Palermo in our rear-view when a rainbow came out in the Sicilian countryside.

Our next stop was the tourist destination, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. These are Greek temple ruins built in 400-200BC on a high mountain ridge with expansive views of the valley below and the sea beyond.

This showed how they made wheels with the stones and moved the even larger stones.

It’s a long walk along the ridge and you spend a few hours there. When we started it was windy but the sun was warm. About 2/3 through, it clouded over and started to rain and just became miserable. I didn’t care then how ancient or special it all was, I couldn’t feel my feet, I could hardly walk, I just wanted to get to an exit and get out!!!

After our time in Agrigento we got back on the windy road and headed to Modica, where our agriturismo B&B (farm-stay) was just outside of.

We stayed at the Nacalino Agriturismo which simply blew us away. It is a beautiful little olive oil farm, they also grow their own vegetables and fruit (there’s a lemon tree in the courtyard) organically. Our host made us a 4-course Sicilian dinner every night with fresh, local produce. Things that didn’t come from their farm came from the neighbouring farms (there were a lot of cows around, and the next farm over looked to specialise in ricotta and mozzarella). Everything was so fresh, so authentic, and so tasty.

One of our 4-course meals. Always an antipasto plate, then pasta, then meat, then sweet.

The grounds were so lovely as well. There were friendly cats and an old golden labrador that Sophie and I liked to cuddle. We liked to walk around and explore. We had full use of the common rooms with fireplace, and we could finally get our laundry done (in fact, Tina, the proprietor, did it all for us, for free!!). I’m sure the place would be really stunning to use in the summer with the outdoor pool under the palm trees. However, being there when the pool is closed also means we get the off-season pricing.

Breakfast was a buffet just as impressive as our dinners. Fresh-made cappuccinos, oodles of home-made pastries, freshly squeezed juice, local meats and cheeses, and everything else one gets at breakfast buffets.

The food is delicious, however breakfast buffets are a ridiculous amount of work for a type-1 diabetic. The breakfast she has pictured above looks great, then we calculated it to be about 120g of carbs. Her first bolus was 17 units of insulin (at home on a regular day she usually doesn’t go over 35 units for her entire daily dose!). This was only her first pass of the buffet. I think she went over 200-250g of carbs by the time she was done breakfast. And why not, she’s in Italy, enjoy! (Just bring extra insulin!)

On New Year’s Eve day, we headed in to the old town of Modica, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was full of Baroque architecture built into the cliffsides of a gorge down to a valley. The churches were like the others we’ve seen in Sicily, so beautiful from the outside then white, painted, and overdone inside.

One of the smaller churches in town, the Church of St. Peter
We were finally in a Sicilian church without a mass going on, so we grabbed a photo. They are still beautiful, but not the same beauty we’re used to.
Sophie and me on the 250-stair climb up to the next cathedral. You can see the town carved into the cliffside behind us.
We finally made it up 200+ stairs, halfway up the cliff, to this church, Church of St. Giorgio

We stayed at Nacalino Agriturismo for 3 nights, our longest stay in Sicily. We knew there wouldn’t be much open on New Year’s Day and we’d been tired, so we happily took a day to rest and stay around our room and the estate. We took walks, we read, played games, watched TV, and Sophie and I did a little photo shoot. Here’s one photo but you can see a carousel of 7 in my Instagram links below this post:

We were sad to leave the agriturismo, we so enjoyed our stay, but it was time to move on east to Siracusa, which I’ll outline in Part 3.

Happy New Year 2020 to all!

Sicily, an enchanting island (Part 1)

While living abroad in the UK, we are currently choosing our travel locales based on some pretty basic criterion: cheap and direct flights from Bristol; southern and warmer during winter months; and northern and cooler in the summer months.

So, that’s how we came up with the idea of exploring the island of Sicily over the Christmas break. There are about 2 or 3 cheap flights a week from Bristol this time or year direct to Catania and once we’re on the island, because it’s the off-season, hotels/AirBnBs are pretty cheap (but it’s still warm to our thick Canadian hides).

We planned out an 11-day tour of the island. We got an inexpensive car rental and are able to get ourselves from town to town (going anticlockwise around the island).

After celebrating an early Christmas at home, we flew out on 24 December. We got in to Catania around 7pm. Sophie was under the weather (having woke up with a fever that morning, we even contemplated cancelling altogether!), so we just decided to get to the hotel, order dinner off the snack bar menu (which included sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas) and get to bed early.

After an early night to bed, we were able to get up, medicate, and go, and start to see Catania in the daylight. We viewed all the churches from the outside but there were so many masses going on we didn’t go in them. The Sicilians are very Catholic and mass was being held hourly all day. The churches were packed. The one time we did manage to peek in, we even saw a line-up for the confession booths!

It was a beautiful 19°C out so we were walking around in T-shirts. This immediately branded us as tourists because all the locals were in winter coats and/or huge, heavy sweaters. However, we were fine with this in order to enjoy the sunshine and weather. We also figured the sun and air couldn’t hurt Sophie’s cough.

We went to a Roman amphitheatre right in the middle of the city. It was originally built by the Greeks then when the Romans took over they continued to build it up. However, as the current, modern city was built up, they built houses right over it. It was only in 2006 that they started excavating the ruins.

You can see apartment buildings built right into the edge of the ruins.

This was how we spent our Christmas Day in Catania. We ate amazing food; we walked around the city seeing the piazzas, churches, and lights; and we toured ancient ruins.

On 26 December, we checked out of our hotel in Catania to make the drive to Taormina. The car we rented is a manual transmission and though Eric knows how to drive one, it’s been 10 years or so. He’d been doing okay on the relatively flat streets of Catania the couple times he drove. But now we had to go to a cliffside mountain town. This was what Eric was dreading more than any other driving on this trip.

However, the roads are in excellent condition, and we made it in one piece! He did great and never stalled out on a hill. We got to the parking lot in Taormina and happily left the car for 2 days. (You don’t drive your car into Taormina, you park and a free shuttle takes you into town).

We had originally booked an AirBnB for Taormina but it was cancelled by the owner a week ago due to ‘family emergency’. Luckily, it’s the off season and Taormina has hundreds of places to stay so we booked another hotel. While this new hotel meant we had to all share one room, we ended up quite thrilled with the location, right in the heart of Taormina’s main pedestrian street with a balcony view of the Mediterranean.

From our balcony patio

We dropped off our things, threw the insulin in the mini fridge, and immediately went back out on the street. We couldn’t wait to explore this beautiful town.

My sunglasses broke as soon as I got to Sicily, and Sophie didn’t bring any. So we found a street vendor to buy some from in Taormina.
In the narrowest street

We didn’t do anything specific except eat good food and walk around the town enjoying the sights and people-watching.

We had the whole day to explore Taormina the next day. We woke up early and headed to the ancient amphitheatre. It was originally built by the Greeks in the 3rd century but like the last one, taken over by the Romans when they took Sicily.

It was just huge, and we could walk around and in it. It also had great views of Mt. Etna.

We also did a lot more walking around and exploring this beautiful town.

Orange trees everywhere!


We took the gondola down the mountain to the water


Eric and I dipped our toes in. Sophie didn’t want to get her feet dirty… *Eyeroll*….
The waterside part of the town was completely dead and we were so glad our AirBnB cancelled on us and we ended up in a hotel on the main strip!

Taormina was just about the prettiest town I’ve ever seen. The restaurants were all wonderful, the people were friendly, and we couldn’t get enough of the views. The prices of things like food and souvenirs were more expensive than in Catania, but we could see why, in this tourist town.

That’s all for now. Next we are heading to Palermo and then an agriturismo (farm-stay B&B) near Modica in the countryside.

Ciao, bellas!

Travelling with our diabetic child

Updated February 2020

Well November is coming to a close, so in honour of World Diabetes Month, I thought I would make a diabetes awareness post.

I know that after Sophie was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time on the internet, searching everything – including how to travel with her. I found it best to read personal accounts from people who have done it – not just generic lists or tips off websites like Diabetes UK or JDRF Canada. I mean, those were helpful, but not exactly what I needed. I needed to hear from someone who had made mistakes and figured out best practices by actually doing it.

So I’m here to share our tips and tricks, so far. We’ve only done a handful of trips; some big, some small, but we learn a little something each time.

Pack extra, and then a little extra more

You may think it’s ridiculous, especially when you’re only going away for one night, or a week-end, and you see the enormous amount of supplies in front of you, but just pack them all.
Our rule of thumb is pack 3 times what you plan on needing. If you plan on needing one pump site change and 200 units of insulin for it – you bring 3 pump sites and 600 units of insulin. See? sounds ridiculous.
There’s a few reasons for this.


One: Because you need to split up your supplies into 2 bags. Never carry all of your supplies in one bag – what if it’s lost? or compromised? Then you’ll have at least what you need and a little extra in a second bag.

Two: Life happens– duh. A pump site fails. Or heat ruins some insulin. An insulin vial breaks. A CGM sensor falls off while swimming….

Three: Your child (or you, whoever the T1D is) cannot LIVE without those supplies, why the heck would you scrimp on them? “Oh I want to bring an extra dress so I think less insulin pump supplies this time…” If these are your priorities, give yourself a shake!

And yep- most trips, you’ll find yourself bringing home 85% of the supplies you packed- cool! I just take out the insulin and keep the bags ready to go for the next trip. But every now and then, you’ll be damn glad you have it all there.

True story- when we went to London for just one night, we brought one suitcase between the 3 of us and the regular huge amount of diabetes supplies. We knew Sophie would be due for a pump change that night, so we had 3 pumps with us. I put 2 in the suitcase and 1 in Sophie’s bag that she wears on her at all times. Well, it was incredibly hot that day. So hot that the Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London had to cut their tours short (because they wear very thick, wool uniforms). The pump kits note on their packaging to remain below 30°C and we knew that the pump in her bag was probably boiling in the sun at around 40°C. I wasn’t sure that pump would be good anymore. (It has a battery inside with radio frequency receivers so that’s the part that could mess up). So we were down to 2 good pumps. Then that evening when we went to change her pump with one of the good ones in our suitcase, we filled it full of insulin and set it to prime— and it didn’t prime– Faulty pump set! We then grabbed the third and last one we had, filled it, and held our breath. It worked. In fact, we held our breath until we got home almost 24 hours later. (We kept the one that had been in her backpack but got too hot, we’d use it if we had to).
Everything worked out in the end – but only because I packed 3x what we needed.
Because of that night, when my husband sees the immense amount of kit I pack for our trips, he doesn’t bat an eye. He takes a shirt out of his suitcase to make room. Sometimes he even suggests we need more.

Security

Anyone who has travelled in the past 18 or so years knows that airport security can be a real nightmare- for all of us.
So how do we deal with so much security, a growing line-up behind us, and the huge bagfuls of needles, devices, liquids, and contraptions (above) that can’t go through the x-ray machine?
Oy.
(Tip: Early in your planning stages, contact your device(s) manufacturers and find out what can and can’t go through the x-ray machines. For example, Dexcom recommends its sensors not go through x-ray. Omnipod says their pods and PDM can, but we prefer to just keep the stuff all together and not risk it – sometimes each bag has ~$1000 worth of medical supplies in it, so lets just have those inspected by hand….)

In England, you can get these sunflower lanyards. They identify an invisible illness. How fantastic!!! These can be acquired by going to the service/help desk in any English airport and telling them why you need it.
We got one for Sophie. We also got one for me but I don’t need it as my illness isn’t invisible in an airport- they see me walking with a cane and are usually quite helpful.
However, only British airports recognise these lanyards right now. We hope that one day, this catches on worldwide.

Anyway, with this lanyard, we can take the handicap line through security (again, we would anyway because of me and my cane, but I’m assuming that most people reading this don’t also have someone in the family with MS… though that correlation is a topic for another day).

When we get to the line, we are prepared and we need to be brisk. We quickly self-identify to the nice folks running the x-rays and security lines that we have some medical devices that cannot go through the scanner and need to be hand-inspected. We always have a doctor’s note to prove this, though they hardly ask for it. (We’ve been asked for a note once when we were moving to the UK and had 6 months’ worth of supplies in our carry-on that all needed to be inspected by hand; then we were asked again at the Madrid airport where I was worried that the letter was in English, but he asked to see her passport to correlate the name on the letter, and then let us through to have hand inspection).

The diabetes bags are always packed on the TOP of our hand luggage so we can grab them quickly and pass them to the security officer. Then Eric and I split up. I realise this is easy to do as we are 2 parents with 1 child. One of us always keeps an eye on the diabetes bags (a: to not lose them, b: to make sure they don’t get sent through the x-ray machine, and c: to answer any questions to the security officers about what is in them) and one of us keeps an eye on our daughter. She’s 11, she can handle walking through the metal detector by herself, but because of the devices she wears, she often sets it off, and they have to pat her down, or swab the devices, which they’re not allowed to do without a parent present.

When we’re in a foreign country and we don’t speak the language at all, it’s a whole new ballgame. We are trying to make sure to look up the words for insulin, diabetes, medicine, ‘no x-ray’ and ‘medical device’ in the language before we go. I then make sure that these are on or in the clear diabetes bags so that they can be seen.

This has proven very important to do in the countries where we don’t speak any of the language (Italy, Spain), as the airport security agents aren’t part of the tourism industry and you can’t expect them to speak any English. In both Italy and Spain, we had to point to these notes to get our point across. (In France, Eric is bilingual in French so we were okay). Each time, it was these little words on the notes that saved our supplies.

Bottom line – be prepared. Have the diabetes bags separate, easy to grab, and a doctor’s note from the clinic (I have yet to encounter a clinic that won’t provide this). If you don’t feel at all confident in the language, have a few important words pre-translated and written out to help you through.

Lows

As you know, hypoglycaemic events (low blood sugars) will happen. Every type 1 diabetic is always on the lookout for them and if they are hypo-unaware, then hopefully they have a continuous glucose monitor or a diabetic alert dog to alert them of falling glucose levels.
However you monitor your child’s low glucose, the main thing is to then feed them glucose to get it back up to a healthier level. We all have our tried-and-true ways of doing this while at home, but when travelling it can be very different.
Something to know before you leave home is how to read nutrition labels in the location(s) you are travelling to, because they’re different everywhere. Know the word for carbohydrates in the language of the country you’re visiting. Sometimes this is obvious- and sometimes you may be visiting a country with a very different language and maybe even with a different alphabet – so knowing what their nutrition label looks like and what word is carbohydrates could be super important!

Photo of my daughter going low in the middle of touring the Pablo Picasso museum in Barcelona… Stuck in a corner downing dextrose tabs because you ‘can’t eat’ in a museum and I thought dextrose tabs were more appropriate for me to say she’s taking medicine….


Sugar can be found anywhere in the world, so it’s not an immediate worry – you will find something to treat lows. But if your child is picky, or you like to be very specific about how many grams of sugar they get for the low, it’s best to come prepared. Don’t assume you’ll find what you want, or even a close substitute in another country.
But no matter what, always, always, make sure you have some on you. If you’re travelling and walking around all day, there may be some unexpected lows, even a lot of them. Having to try and find a store in an unfamiliar area and buy candy/juice/pop in unfamiliar packaging in an unfamiliar language with unfamiliar currency is just not a stress you need at the moment of a low.


Time Zones

This is another aspect of travelling that no one likes, but I never thought of as anything more than an annoyance until we were travelling with a diabetic.
You know how you often have different insulin-to-carb ratios for different times of the day? Or different basal rates throughout the day programmed into your pump? Well, when you just jump 3, 5, or 8 hours and your body has NO idea what time it is; if it just ate breakfast, lunch, or dinner, then you have no idea how much insulin to give it!

Before we moved here and put Sophie’s body through an 8-hour time change, we researched different methods that some diabetics used. Some changed their pump an hour a day. Some stayed on origin’s time for a few days. There were a bunch of options. We went for the rip-off-the-band-aid approach and did it all at once.

When you rip off the band-aid and change the time all at once like we did, be ready for a solid 24-48 hours of wonky blood sugars. But we stuck with it, made her eat on schedule, and they started to make sense again by the second day.

Everyone will have to come up with a plan that’s right for you or your child regarding time changes – it may have to be by trial and error. Start with what you’re most comfortable with and see how it goes.

Eric changing the time in Sophie’s pump by 8 hours as we landed in England.


Those are some of our bigger talking points. Keep in mind, we’re still learning, still experimenting! Below are some more quick tips we’ve picked up along the way:

-Call your airline ahead of time, they can grant you extra hand baggage which can be invaluable when travelling on a budget airline that restricts everyone to one small bag each! If you’re travelling with a companion, you don’t have to pay to select seats together, you can just call ahead and request they are seated next to you as a medical companion. I have yet to encounter an airline that won’t do this.

-Watch the temperatures of your bags. Certainly, keep the insulin in a cooler pack like a Frio wallet, but just as I explained above with our London day-trip, certain supplies shouldn’t get too hot or cold too. These are usually labelled on the packaging. And no, you don’t have to be ridiculously strict about this, but you also don’t want to let your black suitcase sit in the hot sun on a 30°+C day while you sit on the beach and let it bake your supplies.

-If you’re on a longer flight that provides drinks and meals, don’t request the diabetic meal! They’re gross, and a type 1 doesn’t need it, you just have to guess the carb count.
As for drinks, I have yet to encounter a comfort drink trolley that offers anything other than Diet Coke (or Pepsi) as a sugar-free option. If your child wants to drink something other than water or caffeinated cola that they don’t need insulin for, plan ahead and buy some diet pop in the airport (once you’re through security).

-If your child uses a phone for their Dexcom or any diabetes management, know that you do have to put the phone into airplane mode. Airplane mode will first turn off the transmitting function of Dexcom. However, you don’t have to give in and live on fingerpokes. You can go into the phone’s settings and while in airplane mode, manually turn on Bluetooth. If Bluetooth is on, Dexcom will transmit to the phone and alarm, if needed. However, it will not send the data to any followers.

-Don’t forget to pack back-up needles/pens! (So this includes long-acting insulin!) We all know the pump can die completely. Or she could drop it in a toilet! We have to be prepared to always give insulin- always.

I know it all sounds like a lot of check-lists, warnings, and planning, and it is – but we also believe that the opportunities that travel gives our daughter are well worth it. Even though she’s diabetic? Especially because she’s diabetic. Because she needs to see that she has no boundaries in this world, she can do anything, go anywhere – it just takes a little forethought.

Please feel free to comment and leave any tips or tricks on travelling as as diabetic/with a diabetic child. We all need to share the info we learn along the way!

Remembrance Day 2019 (Normandy part 2)

As I said in my last post, Normandy was amazing but our Remembrance Day was just overwhelmingly beautiful, I had to give it its own post.

We checked out of our lovely hotel and left Bayeux in mid-morning. We expected to have a bit of time on our hands and to take things slowly. The Remembrance ceremony wasn’t until 1500h at Juno Beach.

We headed to Bény-sur-Mer, where the Canadian war cemetery is. There are many Canadian war cemeteries across Europe, but this is one of the biggest and the one associated with D-Day.


Unlike the American cemetery, we could walk these rows. We spent an hour or so here, reading the names and the epitaphs on the stones.

It meant so much to be here today, and to be able to reflect. I’m sure it would also feel just as heavy on June 6. I know it is somber on any day of the year, but I’m just saying that today felt different.

One thing in particular that was sad to see, for us, was the number of graves that had no adornment- no flowers and nothing left from visitors. I suppose we can’t expect them all to, but it felt sort of empty.

As we were leaving, I saw a family come in. They had a bouquet with them and were wearing Canadian poppies. I saw them head to a specific grave. They had their quiet moment and laid the flowers. Then they were taking photos of them with it. They were clearly a Canadian family who had travelled to be here and to see this grave. So I headed over to offer to take a photo of all 4 of them together with the grave. It turns out they were from BC and it was the man’s uncle’s grave. They were planning to head to Juno Beach later on as well. We were happy to have met another Canadian family doing their remembering.

Next, we headed on to the Juno Beach Centre. We planned to tour the museum for a while and have a picnic lunch before the ceremony.

The centre is beautiful, with so much information and history included. If you have a loved one who was a part of a Canadian regiment in WWII, especially in Normandy, then I highly recommend you check it out sometime.

As I’ve mentioned (many times), my grandfather was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion (1CPB) and fought in Normandy. Knowing this, I of course gravitated to learning all I could about this elite unit.

(My paternal grandfather was also in WWII, an RCAF aerial photographer. However, I never had the pleasure of meeting him and forging a bond. Also, he was never stationed in Normandy. Though there was a small section about our military in Italy, where he was, and I found it fascinating).

There was one great interactive computer exhibit that I was playing with. It was a large touch-screen wherein you could select any Canadian regiment that was in Normandy and then be lead through a slideshow of their movements through the area after landing. I selected the 1CPB and it started with them helping liberate Pegasus Bridge and fend off the Nazis for many days to keep it. With my knowledge of my grandfather’s battle history and when he entered Normandy, it was at about slide 8 or 9 of about 25. The unit had a week off starting 17 June 1944 and got reinforcements (that’s my Papa!). Throughout this slideshow, there are a few photos and snapshots, not many- mostly of the men in repose or relaxing. About halfway through, this large close-up photo pops up:

It looked somewhat familiar. I read the caption. And then I burst into tears. My Papa spent our whole lives telling us about Andy. Andy was his best friend. They went through training together and then entered battle together.

Andy died in Operation Varsity in the Battle of the Bulge on March 24, 1945.

Papa never forgot. He never let us forget, either. Every year when Papa attended a Remembrance Day ceremony, we knew he was thinking of Andy.

And here Andy was staring up at me at our nation’s WWII memorial museum in France.

I couldn’t help but feel Papa with me. I know how pleased he would be to know that of all the 1CPB soldiers’ photos to be had, Juno Beach Centre shows Andy’s. He will not be forgotten.

After I dried my tears from that moment, we continued on. Then I came across another 1CPB exhibit talking about who they were and what they did and there was a uniform jacket in it. I glanced to the side and saw it was the jacket of one Sid Pass, an old buddy of my Papa’s. They were in the war together then lived in the same city and were friends for many years until Sid died just a few years before Papa. His granddaughter contacted me when Papa died and expressed her condolences. I just feel it’s such a small world sometimes. It certainly was a small 1CPB!

After we toured the museum and had our picnic lunch, it was time to get ready for the ceremony. Easy enough for Sophie and me… A lot more work for Eric. He is supposed to be in full dress uniform for these ceremonies, even just as an attendee.

Before the ceremony, everyone was milling about in the lobby. This also became a bit of a meet and greet. The people present were a mix of French locals and Canadians. Of course with Eric in uniform, it opened a lot of conversations. Some other Canadians came and said hi, and a few French wanted to hi too. One little old lady (and I mean little!) came and told Eric that her father fought with the French Resistance and was awarded a Commander of the French Legion of Honour. Eric told her (as this conversation was all in French) that my grandfather was a Knight of the Legion of Honour because he was a Canadian who fought in Normandy. Oh! She got so excited! She started showing me the papers that showed who her father was and his medal (a photo of it). I showed her photos of my Papa with his medal and him in the war. She cried. She insisted on a photo together (as I had my phone out showing her photos, she told me to take a photo now!).

We hugged and kissed and she even gave me her address! Haha. I’ll send her a nice card. She was so sweet.

Then it was time to start the ceremony. There was a large turnout, including the local mayor and Senator, Chief of Police, and other important locals. They all had wreaths to lay before the ceremony could start inside. Inside there was a local band and bagpiper, too.

The ceremony was beautiful, though I only understood half of it. That’s ok, I got the jist.

Eric was asked to read the Act of Remembrance in English. He did, rather well.

During the ceremony, a woman from Ottawa had a small presentation explaining a project she’s been working on called ‘Flags2Bény’. She explained that on her first trip to Juno Beach, she was so touched by everything that she wanted to find a way to spread the word more at home in Canada. One thing she did was get a bridge near the airport in Ottawa renamed Juno Bridge. She also got schoolchildren to sign messages of thanks on over 2000 Canadian flags and brought them here to Juno today. She asked us to each take some flags and go to the Canadian war cemetery after the ceremony and put them on a few graves.

Well, we went to her after and snagged the last few flags she had! She was worried people wouldn’t participate but instead more people wanted to help than she had flags!! This was French locals and the Canadians alike all wanting to help and honour our dead.

We also then met an amazing, sweet woman who said she was a local girl in the area when the Canadians landed on D-Day and liberated the town. She said she was 11 years old and remembers being friends with the soldiers. Amazing! Eric pointed out that our daughter is 11 now, the same age this woman was on D-Day. We got a photo with her.

I love that 75 years later, she still comes to the Canadian Armistice Day ceremonies to say thanks. (And wanted to plant some flags at the cemetery, as well!).

After the ceremony, they did something so very dignified, so very French- they served delicate pastries and sparkling cider (the cider the region is known for).

Then we went outside to pay our own, private respects. We were asked if we wanted to lay a wreath but I explained that no, thank you, we had different plans.

You see, when my Papa died in March, there was a beautiful flower arrangement atop his casket with a few red poppies in it. The poppies were artificial because the florist couldn’t exactly get real poppies in March in Canada. Family kept those poppies. I have two, and plans to take them to the places I promised Papa we’d go when I last spoke to him.

Today I had one of those poppies and we were laying it at the Juno Beach memorial instead of a wreath. We didn’t want to lay it at the big wreath laying ceremony because it was too important, and people wouldn’t understand the significance of this tiny, fake poppy that looked a little worse for wear after travelling about a 13,000km trip (Brantford to Victoria to Bristol to Normandy).

But it got here, and we laid it in Papa’s memory.

Then we took a few other photos. Eric was here for Remembrance Day in 2006 so we took a photo so we could compare, haha.

Thirteen years ago, that uniform was  barely broken in!

Then because there were a few new things since 2006, including a Naval memorial, more photos:

However, do you think we managed to get a photo of the 3 of us while he was in uniform, or during this special day? I thought of it while I was waiting for him to change into his civi clothes. Sigh. And there were so many people around that we ‘knew’ by then that we could ask, too. But we just never thought of it, and forgot. Oh well, my hair was a disaster from the gale outside so I probably wouldn’t have liked any photo we got anyway.

Then we went back to the war cemetery to fulfill our promise to plant the flags on the graves. When we had gone earlier in the day, we were the only car in the parking lot. This time when we pulled up, there were a dozen cars or so! Wonderful!

When we got to the cemetery, we saw that plenty of people had already been and had and were still planting their flags. One older man in a retiree’s Legion uniform made sure to stand up and salute with every single flag he placed, it was touching.

Flags-2-Bény was a success! The cemetery looked much more loved afterwards and more importantly, the graves were each individually respected.

They were still planting a few flags by the time we left but we had to hit the road.

It’s been the most amazing day of reflection, introduction, pride, and enlightenment. We all loved our day and will never forget it.

Thank you for letting me share it with you.

Terry Fox Run 2019

As some of you may know, Sophie (and us, her parents, by default) does the Terry Fox Run every year.
(If you’re not from Canada and don’t know who Terry Fox is or why we run for him every year, click here for his amazing story).

Thanks to generous family members sponsoring her, Sophie has raised thousands for cancer research since 2013 when she first started her annual run. This year would be her 7th year running.
The Terry Fox Run is held all over the world, but we looked it up and there is no run in England this year. We couldn’t let a year go by without running for Terry, and Sophie didn’t want to miss it!
So we decided to take it upon ourselves to do it solo – but also make it spectacular! Sophie put out the call for donations and raised $475 CDN this year….

….And then we went to Stonehenge…..

At the start of the 2km walk to the stones

Stonehenge is about an hour’s drive from us in Bristol. We made plans to do this on September 15, the day that Terry Fox Runs are held all across Canada. We would have done this rain or shine, but were blessed with gorgeous weather the day-of.

We bought an annual family pass to English Heritage (https://www.english-heritage.org.uk) because with this pass, we get admission to hundreds of sites across England, and (due to a small discount for Eric being in the Forces) it pays for itself within 2 visits to larger sites such as Stonehenge and Tintagel Castle. With this pass and advanced-booking, we got to skip the general admission line and get in much faster, as well as get free audio tours, and free parking.

So back to the Terry Fox Run. Eric did it with Sophie, as he does every year. Due to my MS, I can’t walk that far (1 km uninterrupted is usually my max). So I took the shuttle bus to the stones while they walked and I met them there. But Eric took photos of the walk and I got photos of them nearing the finish line!

Walking through the fields to the stones
That’s them coming across
And here they come up to the ‘finish line’ (ie, the bench I was sitting on waiting for them)

After their ‘official’ walk to the stones, we then got to go see Stonehenge, which is a bit of a walk in itself! (Well, I was tired from it!)

Omnipod insulin pump on full display— Type 1s walking for cancer survivors!!

Right when we were halfway around the stones, we hear Sophie’s Dexcom alarm. She was going low (despite us carb-loading her before the walk with a £3 granola bar from the snack shop in the visitor’s centre!). Luckily, we’ve always got oodles of bars and low treatments on hand (she has some in her bag and I have extras in mine, Eric carries some on his key-chain). She had a granola bar and a few dextrose candies, suspended her insulin for 30 minutes, and she eventually got back up to a better level.
Sophie is in the habit of apologising for having to make us all stop and tend to her as she gets things out of her bag, fiddles with her devices, etc. We always reassure her and have patience. It’s not her fault, diabetes isn’t her fault. We are never mad that she’s gone low or needs medical attention! Even if it is an inopportune moment or time, we’re all okay with taking the time to step out of the way at Stonehenge, sit down on the grass, and tend to her.

Smiles once the BG is stabilising at a healthy level


After our time at Stonehenge we went to lunch and then decided to go to Salisbury to see the grand cathedral, since it was so close and such a beautiful day.

Britain’s tallest spire


Salisbury is a medieval city built around this stunning, huge cathedral. The cathedral houses an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta (one of only 4). We viewed it – it looked old and indecipherable (my ancient Latin is pretty rusty). But I guess I can say I’ve seen it now.

Can’t take photos of the Magna Carta, but this is the beautiful Chapter House where it is kept


What impressed me more, is that the church also has the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, in use since 1386. There we were, watching it tick away, as it had over 4.4 billion times.

Sophie, with the clock behind her.
Sophie in front of the church Close

The town of Salisbury was adorable too, with bunting everywhere and medieval highlights throughout. We could have stayed for hours or even days, but it was getting late and we needed to start getting back toward Bristol for supper, as it was a school night and we were all getting quite tired from our busy day.



I’m hoping that next year maybe there will be enough interest from other Canadians posted here in the UK for me to organise a Terry Fox Run myself for everyone. They do it at the detachment in Germany and Brussels, but this year I didn’t have it in me to do so soon after moving. But Terry Fox wasn’t in it for the fanfare and the big fame – he just wanted people to do what they could – and I think we helped Sophie honour his memory this year and do the name Terry Fox proud.

Thanks to all who donated to her campaign this year and if you missed it but still want to donate to this amazing charity, you can do so here: http://www.terryfox.ca/sophiepoulin .