Coat of arms of The District of Summerland

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Summerland, British Columbia is a place that’s name says it all. It’s a place that lives in the warm months and hibernates the rest of the time. Orchards and vineyards dot the landscape. Fruit stand every 100 metres and wineries nestled in any available nook or cranny.

Sitting along Lake Okanagan between another aptly named town, Peachland, and the retirement/summer playground of Penticton, I’ve only really seen summer there once. Most of our visits have occurred during late fall or winter when brown colours and cold air dominate, and even the local inhabitants seem to have snuggled in like bears for the duration.

In an attempt to make our hastily scheduled trip for G and G’s wedding more of a get-away than an obligation, Rob booked us into one of the nicer resorts on the lake, a place that is cost prohibitive in the high summer season.

Whenever possible we go for the suite option because it allows us all some space and Dee is no different from Rob and I in needing space.

It was a lovely set-up. One of the nicest kitchens I have ever seen in a suite with a full range, large fridge and a dishwasher. The cabinets were fully stocked with any type of dishware, pot/pan or utensil if cooking was a must, and the bath had separate tub/shower and an awesome vanity that stretched nearly the length of the room with an equal sized mirror and under the vanity a light that was motion sensitive for night-time use.

It also came equipped with two televisions.

TV is one of those weird things that while I don’t miss not having it on a daily basis, I do tend to check out when we travel.

Mostly, I channel surf. A few minutes here, twenty minutes there or just flipping at the speed of sound. I seldom watch anything from beginning to end because nothing is captivating or creative enough to compel me to do so.  And so much of it is horrifying anyway.

It appears that most television is some sort of reality themed show where the objective is to find the most objectionable representatives of humanity to showcase for entertainment purposes.  One such show – which I had no idea existed or that there were people in the world desperate enough for attention to agree to be a part of – is called Hoarders.

Part extreme intervention with a touch of home improvement via organizing, the show finds people who are steps beyond an Oprah moment in an attempt to help them reclaim their homes from mountains of crap and possibly direct them toward mental health services. The latter is, I suppose, noble. Every person they highlighted had severe OCD in addition to an alphabet soup of other issues ranging from personality disorders to dysfunctional family or intimate relationship problems.

I couldn’t watch more than 10 minutes or so at a time, but I kept coming back to it in my meandering in the same why you’d like to not look at the accident on the side of the road but you slow down, block traffic and size it up anyway.

The houses were nightmares. Not an inch of bare floor with all manner of items piled and mixed with garbage. Most of the people had animals, which totally contributed to the unsanitary conditions with their food and waste droppings.

One woman had two small children whose rooms she took over to store her “stuff” which forced one to sleep with her because his bed had disappeared and her daughter to sleep on the floor with her Dad in a child’s size sleeping bag. She was the one who thought there was nothing wrong with cat crap on the kitchen floor and a fridge stuffed with rotting food. Rotting. And she got all up and snarky when the psychologist insisted that she clean it out herself to see what was in it and understand why it was a hazard to her kids.

And that lady wasn’t the worst one the show highlighted.

“We need to clean,” I told Rob as we watched.

“We are not that bad,” he replied.

“Yet,” I countered as I thought about the box of cards I have yet to sort and Dee’s desk in the office which is the repository of anything that doesn’t have a home.

Granted. We are short on space because of the renovation. But the storage room in the basement, which we were able to walk through in the summer is now impassable and I can totally see how people can allow clutter to become hoarding, which flows like lava through the house, solidifying and turning to the emotional equivalent of stone.

My dad was a minor hoarder of tools, car parts and paper, but I didn’t grow up in a house where the floor disappeared for extended periods of time or the sink choked on dirty dishes until we were eating off paper plates. Even the rooms of my siblings and I never reached tornado strewn disaster level like Dee’s does though she isn’t as bad as she was when she was little.

She inherits her laissez faire attitude from her late father, who grew up with a hoarder mother.

One of the issues between my former mother-in-law and I was the perpetual filth and growing mounds of “stuff” in her home. By the time Will got sick, I wouldn’t even sit down when I visited – often because there was no place to sit – but mostly because the house was disgusting.

The dog, which wasn’t even hers, destroyed her backyard to the point that the neighbors were forever calling the city on her in the summer when the smell radiated to street side. When he died in the garage after days of bloody diarrhea and vomiting – she never cleaned it up. It dried and flaked off and as far as I know when the new owners began their renovation (it had to be completely gutted) that mess was still a giant crusted stain on the concrete.

Rob’s sister is a hoarder. The authorities eventually removed her teenage daughter and the girl, who is now a sixteen year old mother, is not allowed to move back in if she wants to retain custody of her son. It’s that bad.

My mother-in-law has a bit of a stuff issue too, but not to the point where her home is dirty. There are too many possession and no space, and one has to wonder why a person needs so much when it sits in closets, drawers and cabinets never to be used and probably often forgotten about.

TV is bad, but ultimately this foray into the kind of voyeurism that makes one want to use a wetwipe on her brain and scrub her eyeballs has renewed my purging purpose.

As some of you may remember, we took off for the May Long Weekend (aka Victoria Day Weekend) for British Columbia. Part of the holiday was spent at Rob’s mom’s place in Penticton, a curiously warm place that would blow away most American’s (not the intelligent or the well-traveled mind you, just everyone else) image of the Great White North as a semi-solid frozen version of northern Minnesota. 

We began the adventure in Jasper. We stayed overnight and ate breakfast Friday morning at the Soft Rock Cafe, which is the same place we ate breakfast on the day of our wedding almost a year ago. I enjoyed revisiting that place and those memories.

Friday was mainly spent on the road. Western Canada is vast. Holidaying by road involves hours and hours of driving. Getting to B.C. means traveling over the Canadian Rockies. I have been on two of the routes now. Over the Transcanada from Calgary and the Coquihalla from Kamloops. I prefer the latter. It is twined and a smoother ride but though it appears to be a safer drive too – mountain travel can be dangerous no matter the time of year. On our way back, we saw the remains of a mudslide that took the Transcanada out of commission for much of the weekend. By the time we hit the area, it was clear and traffic was flowing both ways but Rob didn’t want to tarry (not that you are allowed – mudslides are not photo ops people) because confidence was low that the highway would remain clear for long between the heavy snow melt and the rain.

Riding through the mountains is slowly becoming less of a bum-clenching experience. Canadians don’t do shoulders on their roads as a rule and the mountain highways are no exception though the Coquihalla is a bit better. Between the tight curves and the knee-high concrete jersey barriers to keep cars from tumbling off the road should they hit ice or simply take the corners too fast, it takes a while to get over the feeling that falling is imminent. Couple that with the, um, exuberant, driving of a substantial number of drivers and it would be easy to succumb to hysterical passenger seat driving. As it is, I merely adopt my zen face and phantom brake when the need arises.

Penticton is a retirement/summer tourist town sandwiched mainly between Skaha Lake and Lake Okanagan. The latter is the home of the legendary Ogopogo, a Loch Ness monster relative that I haven’t seen on either of my trips. My mother-in-law is a very sweet and wonderful person who talks more than my five year old and laments her lack of cycling opportunities and buddies. Motorcycling that is. On a Harley. She lives in a over 55 only block of two bedroom condos that is just a few blocks from the downtown. It’s really very nice. A person could walk everywhere and given the lack of anything that approaches a real winter, I could see myself living there easily. Which is what my MIL feverently hopes with every visit we make. She spends a lot of time talking Rob’s ear off about the “wonders” of Penticton.

It’s not paradise though. I did mention it was a tourist mecca in the summer? They swarm and menace like hornets. The town fills to the overflow parking lots and everything that is truly garish, lemming-like and benignly evil flourishes. We could only live there if we lived outside the boundaries and had a Costco membership, so we could supply ourselves to outlast the tourists and not have to venture away from our cozy acerage until school starts up again in September.

There were very few tourists this weekend. May Long Weekend is still a bit early for the hardcore flip-flip and swimsuit as daily wear crowd. But the casino was hopping (yes, casino – what is up with the need to build one of those on every body of water in North America?), and the homeless were everywhere.

On my first visit to Penticton I learned that warmer Canadian climates had large populations of homeless. Penticton is part of the norm in that respect. They are everywhere and honestly, I don’t feel all that safe walking alone through the downtown early morning or evening. Perhaps I should be more charitable but most homeless are so because of mental health issues or addictions and nice as they may be, these are not little things and people have to realize that care must be taken.

Between the casino, the few clubs and the homeless, the downtown smells like urine. More so now that it is warming up. All the more reason to take off one’s footwear when entering homes. The soles of our shoes are veritable toilets. 

Katy’s first beach visit was to Skaha Lake this weekend. She throughly enjoyed it. Ventured farther out into the water than I was comfortable and chafed herself good burying herself (with Rob’s help) in the sand.

“I am not going to bury myself again, Mama.”

Rob spent much of the visit hanging things and installing things and fixing computer issues. Number one son stuff and I have promised him that the most taxing thing he has to do when we visit my parents in June is hang out with my dad (and maybe help him sort through his menagerie of tools that have taken over the front of the garage since he fell ill almost three years ago now.

After Penticton, we headed up to Three Valley Gap near Revelstoke. It’s a family type resort of the non-stressing variety. There is a ghost town on site that boasts the largest roundhouse in North America with an accompanying assortment of decomissioned train cars including the infamous “finger car”. There is also quite the cool collection of mint condition cars dating from about 1903 to 1929. Fords mostly.

Nearby there is a place called the Enchanted Forest which was the brainchild of a woman who liked to create fanciful creatures and nursery rhytm characters out of concrete and place them in the wooded area around her home. Her husband bought the acreage area where they are set today and they created this fantasy land for children to wander about in, complete with tiny houses that my daughter delighted in to no end. There is a tree house that probably reaches a good three stories up and scenes from nearly every Mother Goose story I know. The only thing about the place that both Rob and I found odd was how surreal and creepy some of the creatures looked. Do you remember H.R. Puff n Stuff? Like that.

Aside from a bit of rain and mudslide alerts, the last leg of the holiday was good. However we all have sore bums and are glad to be home. (Oh yeah, and I smell like ass so I need to post this and hit the shower now with my apologies for not having all my links in yet. I will get them in the morning.) 

Friday night after ballet, we drove down to Calgary to get a jump on the long drive to Penticton which is in the Okanagan in British Columbia. Rob’s younger sister and her family live just outside of Calgary and we spent the night there and left just before lunch for B.C. Rob’s mother relocated to Penticton recently.

Calgary is a big city. About one million and it’s probably the biggest city per square mile in North America. It took a while to drive through. Rob, Shelley and the girls lived there for about eight years. First while he was in engineering school and then when he was working at a refinery nearby. Rob’s younger sister, Sheila and her husband and their girls live here now and Rob’s younger brother and his family do as well. We had a nice time at Sheila and Kevin’s, but we didn’t see Ryan and his wife, Natalie.

The mountains can be seen from Calgary without any problem. They are about an hour from the city with nothing but prairie leading up to them. Once in the mountains, they rise and fall alongside, disappearing up into the clouds, falling down to disappear into tree thick valleys.

Our first stop after leaving Calgary was Canmore which is just outside the Jasper National Park. Rob told me to take a good look around. Canmore is an example of what happens to mountain towns that lie outside national park land. Overgrowth without restriction. Some would argue that it allows people an opportunity to live in beautiful areas like the Rockies and that government regulation hampers growth, but the truth is that towns that like Canmore are blights that are no different than the mountain pine beetle that is ravaging the old forest growth in B.C. There are some that go as far as to argue that man is an infestation on the planet and when you contrast the ugliness of a place like Canmore, you might be inclined to agree.

At the first high pass beyond Canmore, we encountered snow. Real snow. Heavy wet flakes driven at the speed of sound by the wind, they looked like giant moths caught in a wind tunnel.

White knuckle driving. I know this because Rob let go of my hand to take the steering wheel with both hands. He always holds my hand while driving, so when he lets go and takes the wheel, it’s bad.

As quickly as it came up, we were coming down and the skies began to clear.

We stopped again in Golden after crossing this bridge, but not before encountering wildlife.

Mountain settlements slow travel in addition to not being as picturesque as they lay claim to being. Sometime well after dark we finally reached Kelowna, and I am glad it was dark. As I told Rob, I wouldn’t want to be able to see the mountains around. The city is obscene enough in the dark. Spreading out and out like a retail Vegas with every chain name you can imagine. It wasn’t even pretending to be quaint and scenic.

Penticton has turned out to be a little nicer but still, a city is a city and there is a natural opposition between civilization and the wild with the former not bending much to accommodate.