Friday, August 7, 2020

Failures in Sourdough

More accurately, "failure" as it has only been one attempt. We decided to play around with dehydrating the starter just in case we go away for more than a week and are unable to get the thing fed when it gets hungry. The drying was super easy! Just smear a bunch of the discard on a piece of parchment paper and leave it out until it's all dried. Calgary being what it is, that took about a day. Just kidding. But it wasn't long.

The next step of course is trying to re-hydrate it. This is where things got a bit rocky. Mostly because we didn't follow instructions and didn't actually measure/weigh anything. We were just adding water and flour all willy-nilly. It started out looking like it might work, and eventually became clear we had sludge.

Back to the drawing board!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Welp, we have a new (to us) car

In all our years living overseas, we have always had exactly one car. In the U.S. there are always many, many justifications that ensure we always had two vehicles, but overseas it seemed superfluous. And sometimes clear impossible.

Then came COVID, and some unknown issue with our car, and closed-down auto mechanics. Actually they may have been open, but we weren't interacting with anyone we didn't live with or were otherwise required to interact with (for example, when Terry had to go to the office). The hiking trails opened up before most businesses did, but we did not go because we were not sure the car would make it.  We realized we didn't want to have to give up the mountains that we only got three years to enjoy.

So, the problem with the car was fixable and we were back on our feet - or technically off our feet - and the search for a second car began. Did we want another SUV (mountains!) or a sedan (commute!) Would we require the customs and EPA stickers that ensured we could drive this car back to the U.S. at the end of the tour, thus narrowing the potential make/model options? Did we want a nice car we'd want to keep, or a beater car we just hope lasts the two years we still have here?

After a couple of months of dithering and Terry running hither and yon test driving cars, we chose a used RAV4.

It is now sitting in the garage until we can call our insurance company and get them to add this one to our policy (tomorrow) then go to the registry with the proof of insurance and bill of sale to obtain a license plate. This order of events seems a little bass-ackwards compared to what we're used to, but Canada has continually been deceptive on what's just like home and what's nothing at all like it. And we are very happy to have the garage, because an unregistered car certainly can't sit on the street so that would be a whole new set of logistics to work through. Terry is very motivated to get this accomplished so  he can have his shop back - otherwise known as the garage. He's almost finished with our new TV stand, or rather, accoutrements-to-the-TV stand.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Troll Falls: the difference 6 months can make


One of our summer plans was to revisit the frozen waterfalls we hiked this winter now that they are flowing. We finally got around to visiting Troll Falls this weekend.

In the winter, the little one complained incessantly about the bulky winter gear and being so tired he needed to stop and "snowbank" practically every 10 meters. In the summer, it was mosquitoes and the heat that absorbed his negative energy. On the flip side, the "hike" took the practically no time at all I was pretty sure was its true nature.

Something unhappy must have happened in the last six months, because there were a ton of downed trees on the sides of the trail and clogging the stream (river?) There were bridges that had not been there in February as well as a barrier between the lookout area and the falls itself. Signs warning of rock falls and the closure of the route to the upper falls completed the sense of doom and gloom.

Acknowledging that it was likely quite foolhardy at lunchtime on the Saturday of a long weekend, on the way home we decided to try checking out Barrier Lake.  Silly us, there was no way to get to the lake with anything less than a mile's walk. Meh. We turned out attention to any picnic area where we could eat our lunch outside the car, and thus stumbled onto the Widowmaker Trail.

Parking lot practically empty? Check. Picnic table that stood in at least a sliver of shade? Check. Bathrooms that didn't smell? Check!

After a quick lunch we decided to find the source of rushing water we heard from the other side of the trees. And there it was, a stunningly blue patch of river with small whitewater peaks and a few little "coves" of calm water. It made me really regret not having acted on my impulse to leave a few beach towels in the car through the summer, although Zoltan was happy to have brought his water shoes. Glacially cold, but refreshing in the relentless sunshine. We merely dipped our feet and watched the water flow, while also keeping an eye on the group getting rafts prepared to launch (Zoltan wanted to watch the rafts launch, but they seemed in no hurry so we eventually gave up).




Friday, July 31, 2020

Summer vacation days 6-8 - Lower Lake and Sibbald Lake campgrounds



A short while before we pulled into our campsite at the Lower Lake it started to rain. We thought to unload the car and realized that would be a bad idea, better to sit it out and hope it ended soon. When the first break in the clouds came, we raced to put up the tents like it was a game show. Within 10 minutes we had both up including ours wrapped in tarps. Yay!

This was, hands-down, the best camping experience of the trip. We have learned some hard lessons about choosing distances to water and bathrooms, walk-in vs. pull-in, and campground amenities. This one had drinking water, and it was right by our campsite. Our site also had a tiny creek running through it, which was both pretty and a nice source of white noise. Terry and I took a few short walks to various points around the campground - this one had several hikes that started from the grounds - and admired the lake and the mountains. The campground next door had showers (!!!) and for next year we want to aim for that one. Right now I think my tolerance for not showering is about 3 nights, during this trip we only had two consecutive campground nights so we didn't push that threshold.

Although we have become expert on the speedy tent setup, the other efforts of putting together a campsite and making it livable have led us to swear that in the future we will only camp if it is at least 2 nights but preferably 3-4. Excepting our next camping adventure, as it is only one night and the campground has no availability the day before or after. Oops.

It stayed dry enough for dinner and s'mores, but started raining a bit before bedtime and this is when the downside to having two tents really showed itself. The going back and forth for goodnight rituals became a big wet pain. The sound of the rain on the tent was nice, and things only got a bit wet on the edges or where things touched the outside of the tent. We hadn't staked the rain shields because of the gravel pads we had to set up on - next trip we will carry better stakes and a hammer or mallet to drive them in - and if they has been held away from the tent body I am pretty sure things would have stayed a bit drier. As it was, it wasn't a big deal.

The next morning was gray and grumpy. We did a short hike that nobody appreciated, broke up camp, and headed out to the next place.

Sibbald Lake is mentioned here as a good beach to visit from Calgary. It being more in the prairie than the mountains we'd been in all week, we figured it might be warmer and a dip could be possible. It's really cute that the article mentions digging in the sand and there being a beach. We circumnavigated the entire pond. This is not a thing, or if it is a thing it is in the part of the waterfront set aside for the Boys and Girls Club. We did walk through it because we were already halfway through before we saw signs telling us it was private property, so we wandered quickly, but only noticed one sandy bit that could hold maybe 5 people. And a guy was fishing there, below the sign asking people not to trespass or fish. As we were trespassing, I shouldn't really get too judgy.

By the time that jaunt was over it was close enough to checkin time to head to our campsite and set up. As we used our provisions and realized we weren't getting into clean clothing every day, the number of bags and bins we needed to unearth each day got a bit smaller, and setting up camp got a bit faster and easier. The major downside of this campground for us is that we were as far from the bathrooms as we could possibly be. This could explain why all campsites were full except for about 3-4 that flanked us. It was almost a 20 minute round trip.

As our last day on the road, we had an "anything goes" attitude. I didn't make anyone hike anything. And of course there were s'mores after dinner.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Summer vacation days 5-6 - mostly driving, but a little Fernie


We decided not to cancel our hotel reservation in Fernie, British Columbia, when we modified our trip. That was pretty dumb, in hindsight, as it was a lot of backtracking and driving to get there and from there to the next place. We spent one night there. On the other hand,it was informative and we definitely want to go back for a full weekend or more. We decided to take the scenic route driving, so stayed on route 40 rather than the less gravelly and slightly smoother and faster route 22. That was eye-opening and useful because the advice on Crown land camping is often "drive along route 40 and find a good looking spot". We saw a ton of campers and tents relatively close off the road, or further back we'd catch glimpses through a break in trees. Actually seeing where people set up and what the setup looked like was helpful in planning if we ever want to try this ourselves. Crown land camping is basically just total backcountry, go into the woods and find somewhere to pitch a tent camping. Called crown land because it's government land, technically still held by the Crown. I think you need a permit to do this and finding a spot can be tricky - apparently the best spots are way back from the road and some get overrun and you have to find somewhere else. It also appears to be mostly folks with campers, rather than tenters like us.

But I digress.

The hotel in Fernie had an indoor pool with waterslide and when we first got there (about 20 minutes after checkin) the four of us were the only people in the area. I left them to go shower - the first one in 3 days - and apparently more people did come later. When we left later to go to dinner it was pretty full, definitely past the 12 person capacity the hotel requested. There is practically no COVID in BC so often we were the only ones in masks anywhere we went wearing one.

Our neighbor is either from Fernie, or lived there for some portion of his life, and had a list of recommendations we could never get to in the span of time we planned to be there. We dined at a recommended restaurant, then started a little hike but didn't get far, and ended up with ice cream. A number of benches outside various restaurants are actually old ski lift chairs, a testament to the fact that Fernie is apparently more a skiing hub than a summertime destination. Next day we walked around the main street area - 2nd Ave - bought some chocolate - and hit the road. In the nearby town of Sparwood is "the largest truck in the world" and we stopped for photos. Also because it was in the same parking lot as our bank and we needed cash for buying firewood at campsites.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Summer vacation days 3-5 - Etherington Creek Provincial Park


We got to the campsite around 6pm and top priority was simultaneously setting up the tents and getting the cooking started. Oh, and we had opted for the tent-only walk-in section so the site was a few minutes' walk from the car. Terry got the kids started on setting up the tents, he started getting the coals hot and the marinaded chicken onto the shashlik skewers (we had bought a portable shashlik setup either in Russia or Kazakhstan, we forget which. It's pretty awesome) while I shuttled bins and backpacks from the car to the site. Being essentially novice campers we packed both too much and too little. We have now realized that for camping the priority items are (1) tent; (2) sleeping bags; (3) a source of heat; and (4) camp chairs.  We did not have room for the camp chairs and went without the whole week. It was a definite downer.

A number of rookie mistakes dogged this week's camping experience - many relating to attire and equipment. We had no idea how cold it would actually get at night. We didn't realize how cold the air mattress would get. We did not know how great the gap would be between the heat rating of the sleeping bags and the actual warmth it provided at low temperatures - although we did know enough to be skeptical so I guess that's a half point for us. Terry and I probably slept a total of 3.5 hours the first night, having a hard time falling asleep in the first place, then waking to the cold, then thinking to try one thing to get warmer, and dozing off, waking up cold, and thinking to try some other thing. At least we got all the kinks out in one night, so the standard setup every night thereafter was air mattress, with the waterproof-on-one-side picnic blanket between that and the sleeping bags. Then the extra sleeping bag (we did know to bring some extra warmth) unzipped and spread over both of us. Also, it was a summer tent (for camping in July! hahahahaha!) This means it had a lot (LOT) of mesh/venting. Yes, a rain shield, but that is for the rain. Not the wind, not the freezing-or-below temps. We sacrificed three tarps to essentially wrap the tent and create something like insulation.  Note, I also slept in the following: wool socks, flannel pj bottoms, a T shirt, long sleeved T shirt, and thin wool sweater. Some nights I also had my flannel button down and I think one night I also had my fleece jacket. Next time camping I am bringing a beanie hat. With all these modifications it was pretty cozy and we slept decently well. I have alluded to this a couple of times but it cannot be emphasized enough: during the night the temperature dropped below freezing. Inside the tent. We had a little thermometer. If someone said to me, "let's go camping in sub-zero (Celsius) temps" I would have said "hells no". And yet.

During the first night there was a point around midnight where both Terry and I needed the bathroom so we wandered up to the facilities together. On the way back he pointed up ... it was a clear night, the campsite was pitch black and in the middle of nowhere, and I have never seen so many stars.

We decided the next night we'd get the kids up to stargaze. Given that when we went to sleep around 10:30pm there was still light in the sky we decided to have bedtime as usual, and then set the alarm. We figured 11:30pm would be late enough to be sure of darkness. Yeah, this is the downside to northern latitudes in the summer. It was another clear night - the only other one of the trip so we were lucky! We were probably only out for about 20 minutes, but it was magical. We pointed at the few constellations we knew and tried to figure out which blinking bright things were the planets (if any).  Then trudged back up to bed.

During the day in between the velvet nights, the kids read, roamed the campground, and generally hung out and relaxed. They build a little shelter/lean to out of tarps and some rope and the picnic blanket and a lot of the clothespins we brilliantly thought to bring (Terry's idea, so I can call it brilliant). Due to my chilly and horrid sleep the first night I took a couple of naps in the sun and watched prairie dogs in the field. We roasted marshmallows and ate s'mores. Terry and I sipped from adult beverages by the campfire after dinner. We had no cell phone service. This was definitely the kind of camping experience I had hoped we'd have. Although it would have been better with camp chairs.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Summer vacation days 2 and 3 - Waterton



The next morning we headed out to what was supposed to be the highlight of a trip to Waterton - Red Rock Canyon. Well, our kids have an innate ability to be miserable and fight-y and whiny during "highlights" and this was no exception. The iconic part where most photos are taken was packed with people and we wandered around other parts of the canyon. "We" meaning Terry and me, and to be fair this part was lovely. Thinking to cut our losses, we headed back before lunchtime and stopped at the Copper Mine picnic area to eat lunch (picnic area = tables but no bathrooms). A little creek runs by the picnic area and ... yep. We spent hours playing in the creek and among the rocks, and enjoying the small waterfall downstream. This was probably only 3 miles from Red Rock.

When we got back to town, we wandered to a little waterfall in town that was only a few blocks away. Terry and the kids went to look for a creek to play in while I took a small hike alongside the waterfall. Dinner was the Mexican place in town that was surprisingly good.

I should also mention we saw and enjoyed watching prairie dogs once again. Having seen them in Banff and Waterton and never in Calgary, they seem to be more like "mountain dogs" or "foothill dogs" than having any actual ties to the prairie.

From Waterton we would head to our first camping adventure. We didn't want to get to the campsite before checkin time, because we're still green and thought there were people checking us in and paying attention to such things.

First thing in the morning we retraced the previous day's steps to some particularly scenic spots and tried for family photos. It remains to be seen if any of them came out well. At least we bribed the kids well enough that nobody would look too grumpy in the shots. We tackled the Bear Hump mountain next. It was less elevation than Tunnel Mountain but attained in a fraction of the time, so I was still huffing and puffing and swearing to start running when we got back to Calgary. It was a good trek and relatively short as hikes go. Stunning views from the top and a vicious wind.

As we still had some time after this hike, we checked out Driftwood Beach on our way out of town. Once again, what we thought would be a quick stop entranced the children. Alex decided to put her outdoor camp knowledge from last year to good use and started constructing a lean-to with the driftwood - there were already several along the beach, but she wanted her own. Terry and I looked for the perfect walking stick for each family member until we saw the sign that warned against taking any of the wood from the beach. Darn.

Because the kids were having such a good time we stayed later than planned and thus got to the campsite later than planned. More on that next.

Of note: We have every intention of returning to Waterton, the mountains are as beautiful as any of the other Alberta attractions and it is as cute a town and relaxed an atmosphere as any of the other mountain getaways we've visited.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Summer vacation - a rocky start


Our original plan for a July vacation involved spending a few days in Waterton, then crossing the border into Glacier National Park and making a loop through British Columbia on our way home. As we didn't want to (1) head home immediately and (2) quarantine for 15 days after spending no more than 4 days in the USA, we had to change our plans.

Enter operation do-we-like-camping?

Days 1 and 2 were in a hotel in Waterton. It is a national park like Banff and Jasper, but nobody outside Alberta seems to know about it. I could call that fact a big loss, but then it means it is less crowded when I want to go so maybe that isn't a bad thing?

Our first morning started off terribly. We needed stuff for staying in hotels and stuff for camping. And we have never camped with the kids. In the first packing attempt we didn't even come close to getting everything into the car. We had to rethink, rearrange, and employ the rooftop carrier our friends loaned us for the cross-country trip. Yes, we spent one week with the same amount of stuff we had for a week of driving plus a month or so of living in Calgary.

With that hiccup and leaving hours later than planned, the day could have gone south quickly. But somehow we all kept our good humor. Our stop at Tim Horton's for treats that we ate, after our sandwiches, sitting on a grassy area in the warm-but-not-hot sunshine next to the parking lot of Timmy's probably helped the good mood.

We had planned to drive through the Bison Paddock drive-through on our way into town. When we got there it turned out there were no bison to be seen this season, or at least at this time. Disappointed, we went to the end of the little dirt road to turn around and found a little hiking area that went past a pond and tons of wildflowers. We really hit the jackpot with the timing of this trip, as so many beautiful wildflowers were around everywhere we went (although not quite in sufficient numbers to show up well in photos).

When we got to the hotel the room wasn't quite ready  so we decided to wander around the town - it's cute and entirely walkable. We ended up at the rocky beach where the kids proceeded to entertain themselves for something more than an hour. The rocks were stunning, a rainbow of colors. They were a decent facsimile of the colorful rocks we would have seen at Macdonald Lake in Montana if we had been able to get to Glacier.

After checkin it was time to think about dinner. Of the recommended places two were closed, one didn't allow minors, and with hot dogs listed twice on our camping rotation someone vetoed the hot dog place even though he could have gotten their apparently tasty falafel, called something like the not-dog. Dinner was meh, the ice cream afterwards was the best of the trip.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Socially Distant Banff, part 3 (and final)


After a particularly miserable night's sleep, we packed up and checked out. We decided to visit a couple of Banff's recommended lakes and figured we'd be home for lunch.

Vermillion Lakes puzzled us a bit. There seems to be no actual path along the waterways. COVID restrictions meant we couldn't just pull off on the side of the road by the openings in the trees with views of the water. We saw a number of cyclists race past and a few people launching watercraft. Maybe the draw of the lake is being on the lake? We couldn't really tell.

Onward and upward, they say. On our way to the second stop we passed a herd of mountain goats that seemed unsure whether they wanted to cross the road or not. The babies were pretty darned cute. We pulled over and departed the vehicle for some photos (as did several others. This kind of thing happens frequently in the park).

We had visited Lake Minnewanka in winter, and thus had to make a comparison trip to see whether we preferred its summertime activities. The deep blue of the water and the green of the vegetation is a very different experience compared to the whites and blues of winter. We wandered around the shore and over the rocks, stopping to note just how very cold the water still was. And, as it turned out, we were still there at lunchtime. The number of unoccupied picnic tables spoke to the reluctance of hoards to, well, horde. The parking lot was completely full as we departed, though, so it seems that morning is the prime time to show up. 

To round out our wildlife safari, on our way back to the highway we encountered a couple of herds of elk. They had been way back across a field when we passed them the first time, but on our return they had apparently decided to see what the commotion was all about. Once again we pulled over to get a better shot. When we looked back, one of the elk had decided to cross the road, then forgot what she was doing in the middle. Happily, we were able to get by and continue our journey home.

Still no bears. I'd like to see a bear - from my car.



Friday, July 10, 2020

Socially Distant Banff Part 2


Next day we woke to an overcast sky, threatening rain. Terry and Alex took advantage of the hotel's free bike rental for guests and raced away for their morning adventure with a plan to meet back at the hotel for lunch. Zoltan and I walked over to the Cascade of Time garden, which was certainly pretty but perhaps not quite as spectacular as the mountains.  It may not have helped that the waterfalls into the many pools were not running and various parts were taped off - no entry. We got caught in the downpour on our way back to the hotel and got to test how well the hiking pants dried after a soaking - thumbs up! Zoltan also announced that he had splashed in a number of puddles and the new hiking shoes are apparently waterproof - we had not known that.

With the rain coming down even harder after we ate, the kids got lost in their own pixelated worlds while Terry and I watched the weather worriedly, hoping it would not be a full rainy day inside. And our prayers were answered. Before 3pm the sun was back out....

And thus began our Tunnel Mountain Trail hike. Easily the highlight of the weekend. It has switchbacks and a super steep climb (although the 3 month old beagle we cooed over made it up himself without being carried) and wow are we (the adults) out of shape. It was good motivation for getting into shape. Alex practically ran up the mountain, which made us proud and hopeful as she tends toward the lounge-on-the-couch-and-read-all-day when we let her. Somewhere, somehow, she has developed muscles.

From the top are spectacular views of Banff and the surrounding mountains and the river and the whole valley. There are also a pair of the Parks Canada red chairs looking out at one of the many beautiful views. We caught our breath and ate our snacks at a proper distance from other small groups doing the same, then set off back down the hill.  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Socially Distant Banff, Part 1


Banff needs our tourism. With the reopening of the town and the preferences for staying-in-your-own-province tourism, we were able to snag a somewhat last minute hotel reservation that included two rooms and a kitchenette. Friday was no holiday for Canadians so the town was much emptier at the start of our long weekend than it got as the weekend wore on. As we'd all recently acquired hiking clothing and shoes it was also a good opportunity to start breaking things in before our upcoming epic camping road trip. And celebrate that the kids are now my shoe size, so when they grow out of their (apparently very comfortable hiking boots) they will be MINE.

We started the trip with a short hike around Middle Lake. It was absolutely stunning with the wildflowers blooming everywhere. It was humbling and frustrating to know that there was no way to properly capture the colors and depths with camera lens, so I stared around and willed myself to commit the beauty to memory. There just happened to be a picnic table free just before the return to the parking lot, so we could soak in the view a bit longer while eating lunch. Whatever else happened, it was a great start to the trip.

Our attempt at a second short hike on the outskirts of Banff was dashed due to flooding, so we decided to try the hotel and hope we could check in early. No such luck. We let the kids hang out and read while we took a wander around the hotel neighborhood. We managed to find a little prairie dog village and enjoyed watching them run around.

Dinner was at Park Distillery, and was as yummy as we remembered. We were a bit nervous as it was the very first time we'd eaten inside a restaurant in four months. Not only was the city of Banff accommodating - the main street was closed to car traffic and open-sided tents were set up in the middle of the road for breezy, socially-distant dining but the restaurant itself, where our table was, kept things very distant. We ended up at the very front of the restaurant where the enormous, garage-door windows were open so we were essentially eating outside in the breeze.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Finally back to the mountains


For three months there was COVID. Just when restrictions lifted, we used the opening of the mechanic's to get the car fixed - the problem was OK for us to move around the city (our weekly trip to the grocery store) but potentially not safe enough to drive an hour out of the city. So that takes a couple of weeks. Then a weekend with pouring rain. Then Terry does who-knows-what to his foot and can barely walk.

Because he was still not 100% from that last one, we picked a spot where he could walk or sit as much as he liked. Forgetmenot Pond is stunning. The pond itself is pretty small, only about 15 minutes to circumnavigate it. It was a perfect spot for a picnic, some pretty pictures, and I got to walk a few times around and admire the views from all angles.

On our way back we stopped to check out this ram, just hanging out on the side of the road.

We also stopped to see Elbow Falls. It's a very short walk from the parking lot to the falls, and Zoltan and I took a small adventure climbing up on a side path into the woods a bit.

It was not a particularly strenuous day and yet when we got home we were absolutely beat. All that mountain air, I guess? And the COVID getting-out-of-shape?


Monday, June 15, 2020

Rhubarb

Terry's favorite pie is rhubarb. Not rhubarb and strawberry - that's too sweet. His second favorite is apple and that is what he normally gets, because we haven't lived in places where rhubarb is particularly available. There's a family legend of very young me, and a friend, "helping" a neighbor with weeding and pulling up their entire crop. Perhaps that is the root of my earlier aversion?

In any case, when a neighbor on my local Buy Nothing Facebook page asked for help in reducing her enormous rhubarb crop,I was more than happy to start my education about what to do with this bitter fruit.

First up, of course, was the pie.It doesn't look that bad, but what you can't see is the ocean of liquid. We've been having issues with the oven and I am pretty sure it is not to temp (oven thermometer on order as there are none to be found locally. Probably has something to do with all the baking the rest of the world is just now discovering.) It didn't taste bad, once we had drained out a ridiculous volume, but it was not delicious.

Next up was rhababarkuchen from the German baking book our au pair had given me. In true German form, it was a little closer to bread than cake - only the tiniest bit sweet - but much better than the pie. The dough gave the moisture somewhere to go.

Then, the woman who had the glut of rhubarb mentioned again that she was still pretty chock-full and don't forget you can get up to three harvests from one plant. So back I go. A bunch got frozen for future experimentation, and a pound went into apple-rhubarb sauce. Yum.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Fresh air and exercise

Terry likes to play around with woodworking projects. As previously mentioned, wooden pallets are routinely available for picking. The three-tiered planter featured in the last post is one such pallet creation.

Before one can start working with pallet wood, one must first disassemble the pallets to free the wooden planks from all its other wooden plank neighbors.  Crowbars and hammers play a role here.  All the nails must also be removed.  It is a bit tedious when you are talking about removing five planks from each of a dozen pallets.

We have an accumulation of pallets. The weather is beautiful. The kids have a day off from school today (that sounds weird to say, I know, but it means that had they actually been in school they would not have gone today, and the child who does get daily assignments didn't have any for today). Put that all together and we get - Workforce Friday!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Garden!!!

We were lucky enough to get a spot in one of the two community gardens we applied to. Then, after we got that notification Terry found a few spots in the back yard where he thought we could grow a thing or two (it is so shady back there we wrote it off at first).  On Canada's version of Craigslist - called Kijiji - there are often pallets available in peoples' yards for free. It is an entirely contactless experience, if also sometimes a disappointing experience when someone else grabbed the best wood just before you get there. Terry picked up a few and made this awesome planter, which will eventually be mounted into the fence! We're planning a row of lettuce, a row of various herbs, and a row of spinach because one of the children will actually eat spinach (as opposed to chard or kale) ... as long as we refer to it as lettuce. The sacrifices we make for our children's health.

The community garden had a socially distanced tour Saturday morning and Terry went, as this is definitely more his thing than mine and we had a hunch there would be some good tips shared and local gardening in general and the mechanics of this community garden in particular. He came home as close to elated as his stoic self ever is.

After dinner the whole family went down to be introduced to our garden bed - they are all raised beds and each is named for a flower, ours is Aster. Terry and I measured and planned and planted the few cold-weather direct-sow seeds we had - radishes, beets, snow peas, and lettuces. The kids played in the adjacent field, creating some kind of disk golf game that involved their fleeces as "home bases" and Alex's shoes as markers of where the disk last landed.

Look at Terry's super fancy "saddlebag" system for his bike!  He designed it himself, and the buckets handily hold garden tools, seeds, and as necessary - dirt.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Ballad of Broken Glass

We'd been warned before heading to Calgary to save up for a new windshield or two. Chips, cracks, hairline fractures, the traffic kicked up a lot of rock and every single Consulate vehicle ended up with broken windshields. It wasn't whether, but rather when.  One overachiever managed to crack his windshield on his drive to post.

The first crack appeared in November or so. It seemed enormous and dangerous to me at first, starting several inches from the bottom left and moving toward the north/northeast. We called around for quotes and discussed our work schedules to see who could bring the car in, and when.

We marked where the crack ended and tracked how much, and whether, it grew each day. Some days it did, others not so much. We stalled and hesitated. We noted the seeming proliferation in cars driving around with cracks in their windshields. Of the six cars parked closest to us in the Consulate garage, four of them had cracks - and two of them were very nice cars (I don't pay attention to cars much, maybe they were Lexus or Beemers or Audis?) Walking around our neighborhood one day we noticed more than half the cars on one block had such damage. Apparently this is a thing.

We discussed further and reasoned that we were likely to sustain further damage and how many times did we really want to pay for new windshields? The crack did not impede vision, and there didn't seem to be any laws against it like there are for broken headlights.

Some cracks we've seen reach from one side of the car to the other. I think when we get there we may look into a replacement. Or whenever we depart Calgary.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

How do we eat? Turns out, pretty well


For four weeks now (or is it five?), my only car rides have been to the grocery store.  Our shopping list gets longer each week, and each week we seem to manage to eat most of whatever we've bought.

The Canadian stores, like ones in the USA and elsewhere, have been short on toilet paper (which we only notice with a researcher's disinterest, as we are still working off our usual Costco stock) and yeast (this one was becoming a problem - then a friend dropped off sourdough starter and we're working on our first loaf for right after Passover) and flour (I got the last bag of unbleached in the entire store on the last trip).  The line-up-and-wait-to-go-in that we'd seen in photos from the USA have arrived. One visit to our usual grocery store had store employees wiping down shopping carts before handing them off to individual shoppers, another time at the same store the carts were just sitting out with no attendance. Tape marked off at six-foot distances for the line to check out is universal, and cause the lines to snake through a full half of the store's perimeter sometimes. Store hours are universally shortened, 8am-8pm with 7-8am opened for seniors and others who need more social distancing.  The last trip to the store I wasn't allowed to bring my own bags into the store.  It's running 7-10 days to get a pickup spot. We waffle between whether it is better to go ourselves or do the pickup option. We finally decided the employee is in the store anyway, taking our bodies out of the store should be one less possible vector of infection so we have an order placed and ready to pick up ... a week from now.  In anticipation of this we got 2 weeks' worth of groceries, although of course we're getting low on fresh produce.

We're waiting for the day the kinds of severe restrictions on mobility we see in some other countries come here - requiring papers to be outside your home or only 3 hours a day to be outside. Alberta''s spike is expected to start in a couple of weeks, so we expect the harsher measures then. In the meantime we have been building our stores of leftovers and, while not hoarding, trying to have a bit of an extra stockpile. Terry has been joking about scurvy and it is annoyingly sinking in. For those who are also wondering, it takes a month of no vitamin C for scurvy to really start showing symptoms. You're welcome.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Lockdown Passover

Calgary surprised me with the dearth of Hanukkah candles in December, so I was prepared to expect nothing in any store in the way of matzah come spring. Calgary did not disappoint.  Mails shut down before I could ask my mom to ship me  few boxes from the USA, so I called up the old recipe I used back in Russia to make my own matzah! No rabbi would bless this stuff for a number of reasons, but it did get from water-touches-flour to out-of-the-oven in 18 minutes or less so I am calling it a win and moving on.

We have been able to find some lamb, and after searching our bookshelves I have discovered about seven different Haggadot. I first debated between the "30 minute Seder" and whatever we have the most copies of, and it turned out we had the most copies of the "30 minute Seder". Another win.

The kids had a huge fight that left one child refusing to come down when it was time to Seder ... until Terry worked his magic. Wine and grape juice were drunk, matzah was eaten with horseradish and charoset (although I keep telling Terry he isn't doing it right because he likes the horseradish), and yes we opened the door for Elijah. He didn't touch anything.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I thought I was a "6 months of winter" person. Turns out I'm a "5 months of winter" person

It has snowed nearly every day during the last two weeks. Without the office to go to providing an incentive to leave the house, the daily walks are getting a bit sluggish. Once I force myself outside I'm glad to have gone, but that first step is very, very hard. The super cold, brightly sunny days of deep winter are gone and in this uncertain time the color of the day, ever day, is gray.  This photo was the world outside my front door yesterday. Today there has been melt so the dominant colors are brown and gray. No worries, snow is expected this afternoon.

One day this week I did not leave the house at all and Terry only left it to go to the garage to tell Alex lunch was ready - she was practicing fencing with a duffel bag Terry stuffed and rigged up in the garage for her. Zoltan has gone out there a few times to use the bag as a punching bag.  This weekend we will probably watch some Learn to Box videos so nobody gets injured. Going to Canadian Tire to buy an actual punching bag and sets of gloves for the family seems simultaneously inappropriately frivolous, and also somewhat life-saving. No decision has yet been made, no trip to Canadian Tire yet planned.

We got the good news that we were able to score a garden plot at the local community association. So far gardening hasn't been cancelled, and it seems really clear that schedules can be developed to make sure it doesn't get too crowded that I am cautiously optimistic we'll be able to garden this summer. The earliest planting date is end of May, so we have plenty of time to plan and dream of the day we can walk without hesitation into Home Depot and get bags of fertilizer and plants to grow (not knowing if we'd get a plot, we started nothing indoors). It may be a year of lettuce and radishes otherwise!

* Note, Terry had nothing to do with this photo and probably disapproves of it.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Kids and COVID-19 new normal

The kids and I started our isolations at the same time and we're finishing our third week at home together.  We do get outside most days; during the first couple of weeks the many scavenger hunts offered online were a great way to give them something to do while outside. The first week of isolation, when all this seemed a bit of a lark and tempers were even, Zoltan even taught Alex some soccer and Alex taught Zoltan some fencing.

The kids wear street clothes about once a week. Normally they just go from pajamas to pajamas - usually daily but let's be real, sometimes it's every other day.

Last week was "disastrous spring break." Trapped in the house with working parents and no set schedule resulted in more yelling, screaming, stomping and hitting than usual. It took until the middle of this week to have our first day without fighting.  It was also Wednesday of this week when their teachers sent out the first assignments for them to do. The schools have been wonderfully reasonable - Zoltan will have about 5 hours of assigned work per week and Alex will have about 10 hours - the difference between elementary and middle school. The daily schedules we set for them when this all began, and what we're roughly keeping, include:
  • 1/2 hour daily for math - Khan Academy or whatever the teachers send home
  • 1 hour for social studies/writing - any English Language Arts schoolwork or doing the curriculum that came with their U.S. History in a Box sets, there are a lot of "read this and write a paragraph on it" type exercises
  • 1 hour daily for programming - we got them each Raspberry Pies last year and a growing stash of Python books and figured it can't hurt to let them play with coding each day
  • 15 minutes of music practice - Alex plays trumpet in the school band and Zoltan started piano lessons last fall. There is some computer program her school uses where she can play the music and it tracks whether her notes are correct and whether the timing is too fast/slow or OK. He is continuing his lessons via Skype. This is one of those "thank goodness for technology" moments.
  • Two 15-minute "chores" sessions - the kids do a large chunk of the dishes and laundry these days
  • Two "be outside" and/or "be active" sessions
  • Lunch and two snacks
  • 1 hour of "science" which has been either (1) doing some of the science kits their wonderful aunt got them for Christmas, (2) baking, or (3) watching documentaries. Nova has 47 seasons!  We started with episodes on things we knew they were doing in science class, like the outer planets for Zoltan, but now we're pretty loosey-goosey.
  • There are also blocks of time for reading, for doing "maker space" (projects, some examples have been Lego building or writing and recording poems they have been sending out to the extended family), and a daily period that will become their "catch up on whatever assigned schoolwork they didn't manage to finish during the allotted times". 
There's a lot out there on the web about letting the kids be kids and not having any schedules, routines, or expectations. We tried that during spring break. If that kind of thing works for others, awesome!  Did not work for us. Some kids need to know what to expect, what comes next, and find comfort in the stability of a schedule. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Corona in Alberta

COVID-19 has not made the same deep inroads within Alberta that it has in other places. We have been watching the rest of the world, making plans, stocking up on food and books and waiting for The News. Kids' spring break was supposed to be at the end of the week and of all the places in the world we could have planned to visit for the very first time ... Seattle. So we cancel those plans and instead think about where else in the neighborhood we want to hike. Outdoors is pretty good for social distancing and keeping sanity.

My home office in DC is down to skeleton crew and I started teleworking this week. It's a little funny because of course I telework every day, but from an office rather than my house.

The kids' school was finally cancelled Sunday afternoon, along with all other schools in Alberta, so together with my telework we need a plan to keep the kids from fighting outside the door to the study between 7:30am-4:00pm.We've put together a schedule that includes everything from Khan Academy math to practicing their instruments to doing chores, getting outside, and reading. And a documentary every day - it's TV time, so they are pretty happy about it. Day one went spectacularly well, and I was reminded of how much my children crave structure and predictability (some experts will say all children need this, some parents will argue not their kids). In any case, Alberta Board of Education is doing a rollout of how learning is going to go for the next three months that starts with high school, then middle, then elementary last. Alex got some assignments when she went to school to clean out her locker - all students has certain days and times to go, based on their last names, to avoid a crowd. We're heard essentially bupkis for Zoltan but he's still in elementary and Khan Academy has 5th grade math all ready for him.

On day 3 of learning from home, the kids baked chocolate crinkle cookies for "science".

We are so incredibly fortunate. We can telework, and if we can't we have leave, and if we run out we have savings. We are healthy and secure in our jobs. Our kids are old enough to not need our constant supervision so we can actually work while working from home. We have internet, heat, clean water - and sufficient toilet paper for about a month - and we can easily get outside even if we can't get near other people.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Finally Snowshoeing

Our very first snowshoe adventure was in Finland, back when we were posted to St Petersburg. It was amazing, magical, so very much fun. We were younger, fitter, and tired kids could be pulled on a sled thing that attached at Terry's waist. We decided we'd snowshoe at the cabin in the winter, so we went ahead and bought ourselves a bunch of snowshoes.

Fast forward to being back in the USA. We realize that winter visits to the cabin are a bad idea - arriving near midnight with kid who either did or did not fall asleep in the car and in any case need to get to bed RIGHT NOW but the cabin is below-freezing temps inside, other than in the furnace room, which is a "roasting" 50 - nothing good comes from this. So, no showshoeing that year.

Fast forward to Kazakhstan. We do go snowshoeing once. It was bitterly cold, below -20 without windchill and massive wind that nipped at any exposed flesh. We turned back very early.

Now we are in Canada where everything is glorious. In our introductory hikes we tried to instill in the kids the love of outdoors and hiking so we focused on really cool things like ice falls. Having hit every one in a two hour radius of Calgary (other than Fish Creek, which is within Calgary city limits), we decided it was time to break out the 'shoes.

Our plan was to hit a highly recommended, easy trail that was almost two hours away. Around the hour mark of our drive was a visitors' center we knew would have indoor bathrooms - winter is no good time for the porta-potty type toilets at most trailheads, which have doors that let a lot of outdoor air circulate.  During the stop we had a quick conversation and re-orientation and decided to do the easy trail that left from the other end of the parking lot.  That was a very good decision, as it was a richly fact-finding experience for us. Fact #1: Snowshoes really are a double workout compared to hiking (as in, you get exhausted at what would have been the halfway mark on a hike). Fact #2: Although the children are still technically under the weight limit for their snowshoes, the 'shoes are legitimately too small. They post-holed a number of times when playing around in the deep snow to the side of the trail. We need new-to-them 'shoes before our next trip out. Fact #3: 10 year olds can not be trusted to account for all of their gear before departure and must be reminded.  "I thought I had it so I didn't look", and "I told you so you should have reminded me" are apparently valid excuses. Fact #4: The deep snow is way more fun than the trail.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Bowness Park Lagoon

Looking for open ice places to go skating, I stumbled upon the Bowness Park Lagoon. Having no idea at all what to expect, we packed up our skates and headed out.

There is a section of open ice across a wider part of the river. Two firepits lined one bank of the river and a hoarde of very young kids congregated in that general area. At one cleared end was a pickup hockey game, at the other end was the entrance to the "skate along the canal" portion. I thought it would be like the town in Quebec I've read about, with kilometers of trail and hot cocoa stands along the banks. It was not that - it only took a few minutes to get to the end of the cleared portion of the trail, but it was still very fun. My highlight was the woman on skates pushing her stroller along the canal. I later saw a couple of other parents with their strollers on the ice.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Human Bonspeil



Across the street from the Consulate in Olympic Plaza there is a fountain that is made into an ice rink in the winter.  It is free to use assuming you have your own skates, but who doesn't have there own skates in Canada.  For people without skates, there are also rentals.  So once a year there is a charity event to raise money for KidSport Calgary.  The organization helps kids without the financial means to play in organized sports.  The fundraiser is a Human Bonspiel competition.  What is bonspiel? you may ask.  It is normally a curling competition (curling: winter sport mainly in Canada played with brooms on ice. Has a horseshoe/bowling element of throwing something heavy down a lane and attempting to hit a bulls-eye). The human bonspiel is similar, except instead of a stone thrown down the lane, players jump on intertubes and they are the stones.  There is also no sweeping.  Officials measure how close you are to the "button" (the center of the target).  Teams of four compete, with each throwing themselves down the ice.  The goal is to get the lowest total measurement of all four teammates.

I was on a team with three other Consulate members.  Due to the skills of other players on my team we did manage to get through the first round of competition.  Because we made the top three for the day we went to the finals.  Monday through Thursday were the initial rounds.  The top three from each day continued on to the finals on Friday. We performed better than the first day a team but we had much stiffer competition with 12 teams competing for the win. Unfortunately we did not place, but I did have a ton of fun and we raised some money for charity.  Above is short video of me sliding on the ice.


Monday, March 2, 2020

More Emergency Room - Canadian Rockies version


Our low key Monday was meant to focus on a ski slope in Canmore that had a sledding hill and skating rink. We figured we'd have some winter fun, cut it short when Zoltan got cold (his boots didn't dry completely), lunch in Canmore and head home in the early afternoon.

We got to the slope and parked at what turned out to be the far end from where we were. When I asked a woman in the parking lot where the sledding hill was, she pointed the way then said "just follow the bloody noses". Confused, I followed the direction and found the hill shortly.

The kids took a few runs, which were longer but a gentler grade than they had gotten used to. On the side there was a steeper grade, which also included a curve and a pretty steep drop off if you missed the curve.  The kids regularly missed the curve, although at first they veered off after already entering it.

Then came the run when Alex missed it practically from the top. The drop was probably four feet or so. We saw her stand up, then seem to crumple down. Terry first, then I raced down to check on her. She said it hurt to breathe and she was having trouble gathering her breath. She could move all fingers and toes so we were slightly less panicked but had her rest a while. When she still complained, we called a local clinic to be sure they were open on this holiday and let them know we were coming.

Have I mentioned frequently enough what a relief it is to have universal health care? We could worry about whether Alex was OK and not what the visit would cost. In the end she was perfectly fine, just a bit bruised and very shaken up. By this time we were hungry and she was OK so we hit a local restaurant for lunch.

Graze was well reviewed and conveniently located to where we could find parking.  The food was tasty, the owner roamed the floor to make sure everyone was comfortable and well served. I was particularly impressed when he came over and said the meal had taken longer to come out than he preferred and our beverages would be comped (it did feel like the kitchen was oddly slow, and I was very impressed and touched at the gesture. We'll be back).

All's well that ends well.

Friday, February 28, 2020

More ice falls - Lake Louise



Our plan Sunday was to do all there was to do at Lake Louise. It was our first time out there, and again Alex whined and complained until we got to the waterfall. We knew it was at the far end of the lake and we saw the line of ants in the distance making it impossible to lose our way, but we didn't realize until we got there that the falls were behind the stand of trees we had been tracking during the walk (thus we never really knew how close or far we were from our destination).


The climb to the falls is practically straight up. None of our photos sufficiently represent the steepness of the grade, which is a great shame. I went up half the distance and the kids raced all the way to the base of the falls. The fun for them was in sliding back down on their butts. The incline was so great a couple of the adults who got a bit off balance raced so dangerously fast we feared they would plunge into the thin ice at the bottom of the hill - there was actually some water at this point so the lake itself was absolutely a hazard.  The kids loved their ride so much the went back up and slid down again.

This warranted some hot cocoa, which we found at the Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise. I do have to give the Fairmont credit, it is very well set up for all the day trippers who are not spending fantastic sums of money to stay at the hotel. On our way to the car to pick up the ice skates - the hotel clears a pretty good sized portion of the lake for two rinks, one for pickup hockey games and one for ice skaters - the kids discovered a massive pileup of snow they could not resist. They spent the next hour building a massive fort within the snow mounds while Terry and I skated and admired the mountains.


We also discovered around this point that Zoltan's boots are not at all
waterproof and his socks were soaking and his feet cold. I gave him my socks and went barefoot in my boots, because that is what mothers do. Especially when they wear the same size socks. His boots are too small for me or I probably would have switched those too.

Next up - sledding. Yeah, we really weren't done yet. We debated staying long enough to catch the sunset but dry socks in wet boots soon become wet socks.

Dinner was a disaster. We originally wanted to get back to our fave Park Distillery and hadn't figured on Banff being so crowded there was nowhere to park within a reasonable walking distance from the restaurant. So we forged on to Canmore. Where our 20-30 minute wait to be seated (reasonable) became an hour wait (unreasonable). Zoltan was famished and freezing so I worried a bit about him. when we finally got back to the hotel he actually did not complain about having to take a shower, looking forward to the prospect of lots of hot water. Bedtime came quickly that night. We worried whether he was getting sick from the exposure (yeah, yeah, cold weather does not lead to colds. However, I had a scratchy throat that day and with his defenses down - from being so cold for so long, as well as worn out and late on eating - he could have caught it). In any case, we planned a much more low key Monday before driving home. And that was lucky for us.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

More ice falls - Canmore


We celebrated President's day with our first overnight in the Rockies. We stayed in Canmore, at a hotel that was 15 minutes away from one of the hikes we planned: Grotto Canyon.  When we pulled into the parking lot - having scored the very last spot - we discovered that we were missing one set of ice cleats and Zoltan had no handwear.

So we decided to see if we could check in early. It was fully booked the night before, it was just checkout time, and therefore no. The gentleman behind the desk very helpfully mentioned that Canmore does boast a Canadian Tire and they sell ice cleats and gloves and mittens. Off we go!

With shopping done and our eyes still on that prize, back to Grotto Canyon we go. As we had hoped, folks who had gotten there earlier were starting to leave and we were able to park the car. Alex did her usual tween thing of whining and complaining and reminding us of how much she hates hiking.  Until we got to the river.

The cool thing about this hike is that it is literally impossible in the summer, as much of the hike is on top of the frozen river and alongside the falls. I kept staring at the waves of ice underfoot - it was as if the river instantly froze in the process of flowing. (I was also very happy we decided to buy another set of cleats, as my bright idea of me and one child each wearing only one cleat would not have worked well).  The cleats we found were a tiny bit too big so they kept slipping to the side during one particularly slippery and steep part of the river, so I did not adventure quite as far as the rest of the family. Zoltan, even with his sturdy cleats, managed to slide down part of that steep, slippery river. It was terrifying to watch but he said it was exciting and just a little scary.

The hike was sufficient adventure for the day so we went back to the hotel, checked in, and let the kids have a run at the hotel pool. We dined at the Iron Goat, which is fun to say, and hit the hay in preparation for a long Sunday.

Monday, February 17, 2020

An Ode to the Ice Cleat


So, I'm not really writing an ode. Although it would rock. We have had experiences with Yak Trax but it was nothing like the joy the ice cleats brought us during the recent hike through Johnston Canyon in Banff (not to be confused with Johnson Lake, also in Banff, but currently closed for the season).  On a number of occasions I would look at my fellow hikers holding on for dear life to a railing or a side of the cliff and wonder why they were being so dramatic. At one point Terry showed me the sheet of ice that covered the path I just tromped down. I had not skidded a millimeter. Oh, ice cleats, why have I only discovered you now?  And, for added joy, they are one of the few items that are actually less expensive to buy in Canada!

All the tourism literature and bloggers compare it to Narnia/a winter fairyland and it is a pretty fair comparison.  I've now officially made it a personal goal to find and hike all trails that involve frozen waterfalls in the two-hour radius around Calgary.

The trip to the Lower Falls is about 1/2 mile and to the Upper Falls another mile beyond that. If it weren't for the fact that you pass directly by the Lower Falls I'd say give it a skip. The Upper Falls were absolutely breathtaking. We watched an ice climbing crew preparing, and a few individuals summiting the frozen waterfalls.  One family with a toddler and a dog looked to be preparing their own climb and we were very interested to see how they managed, but things were proceeding slowly and we moved on.  Side note: Terry disagrees about which waterfall was nicer.  He enjoyed the lower falls and the cave you could go through to get a better view.  The photo at the end is from the lower falls. Side note: Lynne would describe the "cave" as a hole in the rock that one passes through with one large step.

A decent section of the trail is an open-grate catwalk with railing. Just before the last catwalk to the Upper Falls, there is an option to head off the main trail and head down toward a smaller falls.  This was the ultimate discovery and a highlight of the trip. Not only was the frozen fall spectacular; not only could we walk within a few feet of a deep blue pool being constantly refreshed from an apparently (but obviously not entirely) frozen fall; but also we were able to sneak behind a different frozen fall and catch a glimpse of the world from that unique angle.

We created a new verb during this trip - "snowbanking"- which means throwing yourself into a snowbank and taking a rest.  The hike did have its strenuous moments and Terry and I really felt how out of shape we are, so the kids' requests for snowbank time were honored about half the time.  The photos show each kid "snowbanking." They asked every 5 minutes or so, and for a three mile round trip they probably snowbanked a dozen times or more. Towards the tail end we got a bit nervous about getting out of the park before the sun went down.  So the request to "snowbank" were honored a little less often.