Payless ShoeSource to close!

LogoI was on the way to Camrose for an eye appointment on Tuesday morning when I heard the news on the radio. Payless, my favourite source of inexpensive shoes, is going out of business!

We first encountered Payless ShoeSource while travelling in the United States more than 25 years ago. From then on, whenever one of our long summer treks took us across the border into the US, we were sure to stop at a Payless store somewhere along the way to buy the children new shoes for the upcoming school year. Needless to say, I was delighted when the first Canadian store opened its doors in 1997.


If I’ve counted correctly, I currently own 10 pairs of shoes, 2 pairs of sandals, and a pair of tall black boots that I’ve worn almost constantly every winter since 2011, all purchased at Payless! Some of the shoes have only been worn a few times, but others I’ve had for years and walked countless miles in.

As soon as Tuesday’s eye appointment was done, I headed across town to the Payless store where the clerk confirmed that the chain had declared bankruptcy and was indeed closing all 2 500 locations across North America, including 248 in Canada. As a long-term employee, she’d had an inkling that this was coming, but she’d only officially received the news herself that morning.

The Kansas-based company, which was founded in 1956, previously filed for bankruptcy in 2017. At that time, the retailer closed about 900 US stores and by restructuring some of its debt was able to hang on for awhile longer. Unfortunately, however, according to its chief restructuring officer, Stephen Marotta, “Payless emerged from its prior reorganization ill-equipped to survive in today’s retail environment.” Liquidation sales are expected to start almost immediately and the company will begin closing stores at the end of March. Some are expected to remain open until the end of May.

If you’re a faithful Payless shopper like I am, you’ll definitely want to watch for those liquidation sales! That is, unless, you’re willing to go much further afield. Payless also has 420 stores in Latin America, the Virgin Islands, Guam and Saipan, and 370 international franchisee stores across the Middle East, India, Indonesia, Indochina, Philippines and Africa. Those stores will remain open.

RIP Payless. I’m going to miss you!


Mission to MARS!

We’ve been on a Mission to MARS this week. I bet you didn’t know that Saipan had a space program, did you? Well, actually it doesn’t. Mission to MARS (Meet A Risen Saviour) is the theme of the Vacation Bible School that we’re directing here at Living Hope Church of the Nazarene.

At 9:30 every morning the big church van rumbles up the driveway and spills out its load of children. I’m not sure how many passengers the van is supposed to hold but it doesn’t seem to matter how many kids there are, there’s always room for at least one more!

We started Monday morning with 19 kids and the number has grown each day. We start the fast paced morning with prayer, action songs, and announcements at Mission Control. Next we follow the zany adventures of Zoom Aerospeed and his sister, Twila, on an interplanetary space adventure, via video, of course! After that, it’s time to split into groups and head off to the four centres: Story Station, Bible Memory, Cosmic Crafts and Galactic Games. We meet back at Mission Control to wrap up the morning and then it’s time for a snack.

Feeding the kids a hearty, healthy snack/lunch is an important part of what we do here. During the school year, they get breakfast and lunch at school but many come from very poor homes and though they aren’t starving, we know that some of them are pretty hungry. Like all kids, they’re also hungry for love and attention and what a joy it is to give them that as well!



Since the advent of the internet, Spam has taken on a whole new meaning. To most of us, Spam means electronic junk mail or any unsolicited commercial advertisement distributed online but here on Saipan, Spam is still canned luncheon meat!

There are all sorts of interesting foods available on the island. Chinese, Japanese and Thai are all popular but the local favourite seems to be Spam! We’ve been to a lot of potluck meals in our time but this summer was the first time I ever saw fried Spam at one of them! I’m not sure if the Sedgewick Coop even sells Spam but on Saipan, the grocery stores have shelves and shelves of it! I didn’t realize that Spam came in different varieties but now I know. In addition to Spam Classic, there’s Hot & Spicy, Hickory Smoked, Oven Roasted Turkey and even Spam Lite. There’s Spam with Bacon and Spam with Cheese as well as several other choices. Yesterday, I even saw Limited Edition Island Spam in one of the tourist shops!

This summer, grocery stores on the island are advertising a special Spam promotion. Sixteen labels will get you a Spam Island Saipan t-shirt! There are also ball caps and other memorabilia available. One of the stores is also advertising a Spam carving contest!

Did you know that there’s even a Spam website? Imagine the possibilities! You can play Spam games, order merchandise or buy your friend a Spam gift certificate! That should make birthday and Christmas shopping easier! You can also learn all about the history of Spam.

Perhaps history is the clue to Spam’s popularity on the island. Between 1941 and 1945, more than 100 million pounds of Spam Classic were shipped abroad to feed the Allied troops. That’s a lot of Spam! In 1944, those troops took the island of Saipan from the Japanese. They placed the native civilians in interment camps for their own protection and I suspect they fed them Spam.

What about you? Any Spam lovers out there? Wherever we travel, we like to sample the local foods but so far we’ve avoided this island favourite. After seeing some of the meat that’s sold in the grocery stores however, I’m beginning to see the appeal of something that comes in a clean, shiny can!

Bird Island hike

With this morning’s hike to Bird Island, we crossed the last item off our Saipan Bucket List today! Yes, we actually did write one! I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything.

Bird Island from the viewpoint

According to the atlas, we’d drive to the end of Bird Island Lane and then hike down to the water’s edge. It didn’t look very far.

Isn’t this where you’d expect Bird Island Lane to begin? Me too. Pretty easy. No yellow shorts this time. The only problem was, there wasn’t a lane there. No road of any kind. There was the beginning of a trail though so we guessed we’d have to walk a little further than we’d anticipated and set off. It was an easy, well marked and mostly level path through the jungle. We knew we were going in the right direction because we could hear the ocean in the distance.

Suddenly, after walking for awhile, we came upon a road! Apparently, Bird Island Lane did exist, just not where the sign said it was! Weird! Sure enough, there was the actual trailhead too.  From that point on, it was a fairly steep descent but, like the trail to Old Man by the Sea, there were ropes to help us down the steep, slippery parts.

Soon, we emerged on the beach. The tide was high so we couldn’t get close to Bird Island itself but we walked the narrow sandy beach from one end to the other, explored a small cave at one end and climbed over rocks at the other. What a beautiful spot!


We’re close to the equator here and with the tropical sun beating down on us and it’s heat reflected back at us by the white coral sand, it was really hot on the beach! We cooled off with a dip in the Grotto on our way home. This time we had our masks and snorkels with us so we could actually see the fish and watch the scuba divers deep below. It amazes me that there are lots of people living on the island who have never swam in the Grotto and we’ve been there three times already!

Though this is a tiny island and we’ve explored it pretty extensively, I know that there are still more hikes that could be done and beaches that could be seen. With close to two weeks left, though, we’ve seen and done all the things we most wanted to do which is good because we’ll be busy with Vacation Bible School every day next week. Ministry is, after all, the main reason we’re here!

John in the Jungle

Early in our stay on Saipan, we were involved in a Friday evening/Saturday teen retreat where we were introduced to a hide-and-seek game known as Sardines in the Jungle. The game is played after dark which basically means anytime after 7:00 p.m. here. One player is sent out to hide in the jungle and a few minutes later the rest of the players begin to search for him or her. When someone finds the person who is hiding, they join them. Over time, the group grows as more and more players find and join the ones who are hiding. Crowding closely together to avoid detection, they become sardines in the jungle! Such fun! Sneaking around in the dark, listening for unfamiliar sounds then crowding together and trying to remain silent.

As Richard and I planned the activities for today’s Family Fun Day at the church, we wondered if Sardines in the Jungle would work during the day. Probably not but the jungle all around us just begged to be used for some sort of hide-and-seek game. Rather than playing the traditional game where all but one person hides and waits to be found, we wanted something that would more actively involve everyone who wanted to play. What if we hid something in advance and everyone had to search for it? The initial idea began to grow and this is what we came up with:

I started with a couple of plastic grocery bags

and cut them into strips. The kids have been learning John 3:16 so I wrote one or two words of the verse on each strip, 20 in all. Then, yesterday, we hid them in the jungle.


That was fun. I hadn’t really explored our jungle during daylight before and was intrigued by some of what I saw.


Can you see the plastic strip hidden in the second photo? Or what about the one below? Maybe that one’s a little easier. Did you know that that’s how a coconut tree begins to grow?

After we enjoyed today’s delicious potluck lunch, it was time to begin the search. The skies opened and one of Saipan’s short lived but drenching rains began to fall but that didn’t dampen the children’s spirits any. We’d told them in advance to be prepared to get wet. We hadn’t expected that to happen until we brought out the water balloons later in the afternoon but they thought it was hilarious that God added water to this game too.


Jeran in the Jungle!

When all the strips were found (well, almost all, “perish” is still out there somewhere!) it was time to put the puzzle together and recite the verse. It was great to watch them all working together!

By the time that was done, the sun was out again and it was time for water balloons and the much anticipated slip and slide!


It needs a name

Lu Min is the Filipino housekeeper who comes every Tuesday. Her husband works on a vegetable farm, hence the bags of eggplant and cucumbers that she’s been bringing me. Cucumbers, I know what to do with but having done most of my grocery shopping at the Sedgewick Coop for the past 36 years, I’m not all that well acquainted with eggplants. What should I do with them, I wondered. And so yesterday my Facebook status read Elaine DeBock has been given more eggplants than I know what to do with! Any yummy suggestions?

As expected, my friends and family came through with lots of great ideas. ” I’ve made lasagna with it before. I use it instead of the noodles. Just slice it about 1/4″ thick and use it as a couple of layers.” said my friend, Janis. Ratatouille, babaganoush, moussaka suggested others. Such marvelous names!

I began searching recipes online and reading long lists of ingredients wondering which ones I’d be able to find in Saipan’s grocery stores. Then came today’s long dreary rain. Definitely not a day when I felt like driving across the island and searching unfamiliar grocery aisles for things that might not even be there. Instead, I wanted to hole up at home with a good book.

As I thought about the various recipes and ingredients, however, and mulled over what I already had in the house, an idea began to take form. A simple idea. And so a recipe was born.

I browned approximately one pound of ground beef with half an onion, chopped. To that I added half a jar of store bought spaghetti sauce. I used Chunky RAGU Garden Combination with 2 servings of veggies in every 1/2 cup because that’s what I happened to have on hand and I thought it would go well.

While the beef was browning, I peeled the eggplants and sliced them lengthwise, about 1 cm thick. I put a layer of eggplant in the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch pan, followed by half the meat mixture and then sprinkled it liberally with parmesan cheese. Next I added another layer of eggplant and the remaining meat mixture.

That went into a 350F oven for 45 minutes. Next I added a layer of mashed potatoes and returned it to the oven for another 15 minutes.


Easy, delicious and there’s even enough left for another meal! The only problem is, it needs a name.

What would you call it?

Oh rats!

It’s early Friday afternoon and everything is ready for the weekend so what do we do with the rest of this dreary wet day? It’s been raining non stop for about 18 hours! Fortunately, I’ve been keeping a list of things to blog about!

With the exception of birds and sea life, Saipan doesn’t appear to have much in the way of wildlife. What it does have, however, is rats! For a girl from Alberta, Canada’s only rat free province, this was a little disconcerting but I quickly got used to seeing the occasional rat scurry across the porch. They weren’t as big and ugly as I expected them to be but when I discovered that they were raiding the cat’s dish I decided to take action. I started bringing the dish into the house after the cat had her morning meal. That seems to have taken care of the problem. I haven’t seen a rat for awhile and the kitty has learned to wait patiently at the door every morning for me to bring her her food.

Though we’re not willing to share the porch with the rats, we’re quite happy to share it with the geckos. After all, these cute little lizards eat insects and they’re really quite fascinating. They actually have adhesive feet that allow them to walk across the ceiling or scurry up a pane of glass! And did you know that geckos chirp? I didn’t. Geckos are nocturnal so we rarely see them until after sunset. I’d noticed the occasional loud chirp in the evenings but it took awhile for me to realize that it might be coming from these tiny critters. Sure enough, according to Wikipedia, geckos are unique amongst lizards in their ability to vocalize. Apparently, they make these chirping sounds to interact with other geckos. If you want to hear what they sound like, click here.

It’s kind of nice when we’re hiking through the jungle to know that we’re not going to round a corner and come face to face with a bear as we might in the Canadian wilds. I suppose a tiger or a leopard might be more fitting but they aren’t here either. In fact, there aren’t even any dangerous snakes. There’s actually a program that actively works to keep the the island snake free, much like Alberta’s rat control program. If you see a snake, you’re supposed to kill it then immediately call 28-SNAKE! Hmm… I hope I don’t see one. I’m not really up on the best way to kill a snake!

By far the biggest animal control issue on the island is the stray dogs. According to a recent survey there are an estimated 10 000 to 20 000 of them and the number continues to increase! The municipality has recently introduced a licensing program for dogs and already pet owners have registered approximately 1000 of them. Apparently, the revenue generated will be use to build a permanent animal shelter but clearly it won’t be able to house the thousands of unwanted animals that wander the streets. Sad.

Another world

Richard and I discovered another world this week and I’m not talking about the soap opera that ruled daytime television for 35 years! I’m talking about the fascinating underwater world just a few feet from Saipan’s shores. Never too old to try something new, we donned masks and snorkels for the first time on Monday and went exploring.

No, that’s not actually us! We don’t have an underwater camera and I probably wouldn’t look quite that good in a bikini but you get the idea!

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about getting up close and personal with the fish but it was absolutely fabulous! Totally silent but for the sound of my own breathing and amazingly relaxing. Of course, it helps that the water in the lagoon is crystal clear and bathtub warm!

On our first outing, we saw all sorts of tiny fish just feet from shore so we were a little disappointed when we first entered the water at a different beach yesterday and didn’t see any at all. Our objective was to swim out to a partially submerged tank, just one of many remnants of World War II that litter the island. When we reached the tank and swam around it, there they were… tiny brilliant blue fish flashing through the water. We soon discovered many others including a couple of bright yellow ones. They seemed totally oblivious to our presence. I even followed a whole school of little fish that looked something like this.

Our time on the island is quickly winding down but there’s at least one more beach that we have to try as we’ve heard that it’s one of the best for snorkelling and I really want to go back to the Grotto one more time now that we’re better equipped to view the wonders below the surface.

Interesting but also disappointing


When we came to Saipan, we didn’t expect to be invited to meet with members of the Municipal Council and we certainly didn’t expect to see our picture in the local paper but there we are! Municipal Council Chairman, Ramon Camacho, is one of the prime movers behind the new Saipan Neighborhood Watch Task Force and it was his idea to invite the leaders of the various churches on the island to become involved in spreading awareness of this new initiative.

Neighborhood Watch is a program that is designed to reduce crime and to instil a greater sense of security by putting the “neighbor” back into neighborhood and involving individuals in making their community a safer place to live. Petty crime or “mischief” as Task Force adviser, William S. Torres, called it is increasing on the island. He attributes this, in part, to the present recession which has hit Saipan particularly hard.

Though bringing the program to Saipan has been in the works for some time, it’s introduction is particularly timely given the fact that the most heinous crime in the island’s history was committed just over two months ago. Early on the morning of May 25, 10 year old Faloma Luhk and her 9 year old sister, Maleina, disappeared without a trace while waiting for their school bus. The FBI were brought in to participate in the search, as was a search and rescue dog from Hawaii, but not a thing was found that would lead them to the girls. Their faces stare at us from posters and banners all over the island but the search has pretty much come to a dead end. People are definitely ready for anything that will make the island a safer place for their children.

Though it was neat to see our photo in the paper, we weren’t at all happy with the reporting. During the meeting, Rev. Pete Miral of the Christian Bible Church mentioned that it would be difficult to get people to report suspicious activity if they didn’t have confidence that the Department of Public Safety would follow through on those reports. He said that his church was burglarized a year ago but the DPS has yet to solve the case. Knowing that there is general unhappiness with the DPS on the island and knowing, of course, that headlines sell newspapers, the title of the article became “Religious leaders disappointed in DPS” which in no way reflects either the purpose or the focus of our meeting!

In addition to being unhappy with the reporting, we were also very disappointed by the poor turnout from the churches. We were particularly surprised to see no representation from the Catholic church which holds most of the islanders tightly in its grip. Camacho emphasized the important role that religious leaders play in the community and the powerful influence that they can have for good. I’m sure he was just as disappointed as we were.


Mount Tapochau

This morning we stood at the highest point on the island of Saipan, the top of Mount Tapochau (pronounced top-a-chow). Rising 1554 feet (474 m) above the coastline just a few miles away, the lookout point at the top offers stunning views of the entire island and the azure ocean beyond. This amazing vantage point made it a strategic location during World War II. Several informative plaques at the summit describe the views below and explain what occurred in June of 1944 when the Americans captured the island from the Japanese.

Unlike our climb up Mt. Fuji almost exactly 3 years ago, we were able to drive most of the way up Tapochau. Sixty-five cement stairs took us from the small parking area to the top. I’m glad we waited until we’d been here awhile and had explored the island quite extensively before venturing up Mount Tapochau as we were able to identify many of the sights spread out below us.

Looking south toward the airport with Tinian in the distance

Lao Lao Bay on the island's rugged east shore

Looking north

The western side of the island is lined with sandy beaches and an offshore coral reef which creates a large lagoon. Beyond the lagoon, you can see US Navy ships on stand by. A concrete statue of Jesus overlooks the western shore.

There are a number of beautiful homes along the dirt road that climbs Tapochau. The road is in very rough shape but I’m sure that the spectacular views make up for the difficult access. One would hardly know it but approximately 55 loads of coral were hauled up the mountainside this spring to fill potholes and prepare the road for the annual Good Friday procession to the peak. Deep gouges are the obvious results of recent heavy rainfalls but I reminded myself that at least they never have to deal with snow! Once again, though, we were happy to have the use of a 4-wheel drive vehicle!