Monday, October 26, 2020

First snowy hike of the season


It was meant to be the first snowshoe of the season, but there wasn't enough snow and what was there was pretty packed down. Because we meant to snowshoe we picked a pretty short trail to get the kids used to their new, larger snowshoes. Johnson Lake was beautiful, as pretty much everything in Banff is, with picture perfect photo ops right off the parking lot - things we keep in mind in case people are able to travel in the next 2 years and either or both of our mothers visit.

The trail is flat, just circling the lake. The ice was tempting to the kids, although it was clearly not strong enough and the entire center was still liquid. There were minor snowbanking moments, really just getting used to the way we hike in the winter. Some complaining of course, but even that felt perfunctory and not really heartfelt. It was a perfect day, blue skied and crisp - a perfect antidote to the gray relentless snowing of the last week.

The exciting wildlife sighting today was a fox!

After the loop, we popped over to Two Jack Lake where the kids hung out in the car, eating their lunch and trying not to bug each other too much, while Terry and I wandered a bit along its shores. 



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Snow!

 We've had snow on the ground for a solid week now. Alex's days of riding her bike to school are probably over until May (assuming kids can actually continue in-person education until then). I just read this quotation and had to laugh, as we certainly embrace the snow in this family!

If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life 

but still the same amount of snow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Dinosaur Provincial Park


In every adventure we have had since arriving in Calgary, we've left the city and headed west - to the mountains, towards British Columbia. For the first time ever, we went east. For two and a half hours it was a flat and boring as Kansas (not my observation, but the observation of colleagues from Kansas). But then, as we drove to the park's parking lot, the terrain opened up to a surreal, Martian-like landscape. Hoodoos!

I knew the park was large and that we were allowed to climb the hoodoos, unlike in Drumheller, home of the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Fun fact - so many people don't look at maps before heading out that scores of tourists find themselves at Dinosaur Park, thinking they can just pop down the road to Drumheller and are very sad to learn they are more than 2 hours away from each other, that the Provincial Park home page for Dinosaur has a huge notice explaining this fact. 

As the name of the park suggests, many dinosaur fossils have been found and continue to be found on the grounds. Protocol for finding fossils is to leave them alone and absolutely no removing them from the park. We did not find any. There are two fossil displays: in one, the bones, mud and other artifacts of nature are preserved exactly as the first explorer found the skeleton and the second is a replica of a dig site, with the tools, bones, and detritus of human presence (mostly old water bottles). We climbed and descended, lost a member of the party and found him again, and finished the day with ice cream, about an hour later than we had expected to be at the park.

As we drove in, we grumbled that we would never return. An hour into the day, we resigned ourselves to definitely coming back at least once.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A busy weekend


It turns out to have been a good thing that we had already told the kids we'd head out for our Canmore bike ride later in the morning, as we didn't get to bed until after 1am. We didn't sleep as late as we wanted, but we did sleep as late as our bodies and our little Stomp-a-lots let us.  

We got to Canmore around lunchtime, with the goal to check out one of the restaurants we hadn't yet tried. Our original plan was to take the patio seating, but, well, it was pretty cold. Mountains tend to be colder than prairies.

After our fortification, and a stop at the Canmore Visitors Center for maps, we were on our way! We took a route along the river, and headed toward where there was supposed to be an abandoned mine.  We didn't really find the mine, but did find the abandoned coal car to the side of the bike path. What fall colors exist here (shades of yellow and green) were out in full force. We kept stopping to admire the trees, the deep blue skies, and the river.

Next morning I was up early for a hike with a friend. Terry's Sundays are booked with football and Alex hates hiking so I decided to stop moping and get out there. We headed toward an area where there are three major hiking routes within a couple of kilometers of each other - we heard these particular hikes get very crowded so we wanted choices. 

Why these hikes, you may ask, if they get so crowded? Larches. Before you Google that, a larch is a deciduous tree that changes color and drops its needles. They are comparatively rare, and even around here - a haven for them apparently - there are only specific pockets of space where one can find them on a hiking path.

Anyway, it was a bit of a comedy of errors relating to the overcorwdedness, long line for bathrooms, difficulty finding parking, and then we hadn't communicated well where we'd meet back up so I was by the bathrooms looking for her, while she found where I had parked the car and waited for me there. All this to say, we actually started hiking more than half an hour later than planned. And then we realized the trail we planned to take (Pocaterra Cirque) was (1) like a traffic jam full of humanity and (2) super slippery from all those feet packing down the snow into ice. Yep, Snow/ice all over the trail. On September 27.

After about 10 minutes we turned around and decided we'd hike a different trail. We made a beeline for the least trafficked of the three (Arethusa Cirque). There were a number of fits and starts there too, many photos taken at the earliest stages of the hike and many references to Alltrails because to be honest, the trail was often not obvious. I was so grateful to have downloaded the route in advance!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Adventures in baking

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, a much preferable holiday to celebrate than Columbus Day, although the coincidence of the dates is food for thought. 

We were invited to an outdoor, socially distanced Thanksgiving dinner.  The kids have been really rocking their baking game, so we set them to be in charge of our contribution, dessert. They decided to bake it today, rather than on any of the other three days that have passed since they last attended school (they do go to school on Fridays, sometimes!)

They were preheating the oven and came to me to see if I could figure out why it wasn't warming up. I tried a few things, then called in the actual engineer-type in the family. He also could not discover the reason, but we did confirm there was nothing that was easily troubleshooted (troubleshot?) We had a couple of options and had to decide how to proceed. The broiler would turn on, so whatever the problem was, it was at the bottom of the oven. We didn't want to disturb our landlord on Thanksgiving, and no repair person would be working today anyway.

One option was to ask a friend to use her oven. I would be driving her to the dinner, so figured if there's any risk of COVID or transference we'd already be taking risks with her. We decided to hold that for last resort.

What we did do, and didn't seem to go too badly, was to use the broiler to our advantage. We'd turn the broiler on to heat the oven and placed the oven thermometer where it was easily visible (note: the extra chore Zoltan did a month or so ago to clean the oven door was definitely paying off!) We put the cookies in and stationed one family member to keep an eye on the cookies/the oven thermometer, turning the broiler off/on or opening the oven door as the temperature wavered more than 10 F degrees in either direction. A few cookies got a bit browner on the top than ideal, but nothing burned and they all tasted as good as ever.

Creative problem solving for the win!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Chasing the aurora

When we lived in St Petersburg, we took an Arctic vacation in Lapland to cross off the one item on Terry's bucket list. We saw an aurora borealis. Turns out, that only whet our appetites for more.

Within the first month of our arrival in Calgary, we were directed to a Facebook page (yes, that is still around) for folks who check out scientific data, make guesses about where good viewing might be, and head out in the middle of the night in hopes of catching a view. People even do this on a work night! We were super stoked, pumped up to be just like these dedicated individuals whose stunning photography we would marvel over the next day.

But there were always hesitations. It is the middle of the night, usually, and we had work the next day. Plenty of times folks would post about going out and never finding her (Aurora). What would we do with the kids? If no sleep on a work night was a dicey proposition, no sleep on a school night is a hard "No." So we spent our first few months just watching and reading. We learned a few things, like Bz going South is good but if it goes North you may as well go back to bed (except that it can suddenly plummet South at any moment, you never know, Aurora is a fickle one). After October there really weren't any more auroras near Calgary, although to the way north it was still a nearly nightly occurrence. We learned about solar flares and solar minimums and lots of reasons why the aurora was probably going into hibernation. 

We got sad and worried we had totally missed our opportunity. 

Turns out 2019 was a solar minimum, which means we are now on a 5 or 6-ish year cycle toward the solar maximum. So things can only get better!

Back to Friday night. In the evening there was chatter that conditions looked good for an aurora, so after the kids went to bed I was back on Facebook seeing what people had to say. Some were already posting photos of the aurora from locations within 30-45 minutes of our very house! We got excited. I installed Facebook on my phone so I could track where people said they saw stuff while en route. We took the general advice that is given every time a newbie asks "Where to go?" - which is "head north to get out of the city, then go east or west." Folks were posting photos from due west and from due north, so we started off with a goal in the northwesterly direction. 

We did pull over on the side of the road once because there was something hazy and we weren't sure it was anything. Nothing green was visible to the naked eye but when we looked at the photos later it was unmistakable.  But that's nothing to stay up all night over, so we kept hunting.  At a crossroad where we were about to turn, we decide to pull over and check out the sky. And there she was.


Saturday, September 12, 2020

Last camping trip 2020: Jasper (part 3)

 

On our last morning I woke earlier than anyone else and couldn't sleep. But it was of course in the 40s and that doesn't work for me. So I did something for the very first time - built the campfire! I don't care that the kids learned how to build a fire during their survival camp and the oldest is 12. I had never built the fire myself before and I am super proud of how it turned out. Another fancy thing we tried this time was making pancakes. We had the wets mixed in a jar in the cooler, and the dries in a larger jar with the other nonperishables. We figured we could just pour the one into the other, shake it up, and voila! It actually did turn out pretty much like that. Our homemade blueberry syrup on top and hot beverages for everyone ... it was a great start to the day.

For our return trip we planned to take a number of short stops - essentially just stepping away from the car park, snap some photos and get back in the car.

Stop 1: Athabasca Falls. There is a relatively short hike into a canyon and by "potholes" created by the rushing water. We did not take the hike. We mostly wandered from viewpoint to viewpoint, and were rewarded with a rainbow produced from the mist of the falls. The falls are reported to freeze in the winter, so I see a second visit in our future!

Stop 2: Sunwapta Falls. I can't remember what made these falls seem particularly spectacular in my research. They were nice but when you're made checking out all the local waterfalls a priority, you start to get a bit jaded. I believe these were the falls where people made their way to the rocky edge just by the waterfalls for their photo ops, and I did mutter to Terry "And this is when we get to see someone go over the falls. I can't watch."

Stop 3: Athabasca Glacier. There was a lot of uncertainty, given the information we could find online, about whether we could actually get anywhere near the glacier without buying the Columbia Icefields package where they bus you over and you walk on the glacier. (when driving away, we saw the private drive for the tour). It was a bit of a hike to get to the point where the path to the glacier is roped off - and between the rope and the glacier was a summertime river so really we were never getting anywhere near the thing. We could still photograph it of course, and make plans to allow time for the tour next trip. The other interesting although disheartening thing is that starting from where you'd turn off the road (2.2 km from the parking lot) and the entire drive-then-walk to the general glacier vicinity, are signs proclaiming where the glacier was in the past. It would have met the turnoff in 1935, and the ropes are where it was in 2014. That's a lot of melt for one (admittedly long) lifetime!


 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Last camping trip 2020: Jasper (part 2)

 

The next morning was not as chilly as I'd expected, or perhaps I am getting used to nearly-freezing sleeping temps.  We had decided on a lazy morning, and Terry put the new dual-burner camp stove to good use with eggs and bacon sandwiches on bagels, as well as coffee, tea and hot cocoa. We prepped sandwiches, apples and granola bars (homemade - Zoltan got the recipe from the kayak guide featured in our last vacation) for the bike ride. Wapiti campground has a bike path leading directly out of the site and up to town or to a series of lakes. As none of us are particularly energetic or skilled bicyclists we really had no particular idea of how far we would get. It also turned out my new bike has a different valve than the other bikes so Terry was not able to add air to my tires. I really felt it on the ride. 

The path winds through woods and spends part of its time just off the road. Alex noticed an elk in the woods down a bit of a ravine from the bike path, so we stopped to gawk at that. Right around the time we needed to stop for lunch we stumbled onto a rocky riverfront, so we took a break and broke our bread. Terry and I also had a discussion about whether to head toward the lakes - the original, optimistic plan - or just go to town. Town won out.

This is where I sing the praises of Vicious Cycle in downtown Jasper. They loaned me their bike pump and showed me what I was doing wrong with my valve and pumping.  What a difference a tire full of air makes!

I then met up at Terry and the kids hanging out under a tree by the information center. Very cozy. We hit the candy store and the grocery store before starting the ride back to the campsite. Other than lagging way behind because I don't like to go fast on the downhill, there were no incidents or mishaps (yay!). 

Dinner was baked potato, steak, and some raw veggies. My brilliant move of the day: the apples we'd brought for snacks were mealy and not tasty. So we cut them up, I sacrificed some of the sugar I brought for my tea, and we threw them over the fire when we pulled dinner off. Just in time for dessert we had yummy baked apples.

 


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Last camping trip 2020: Jasper (part 1)

Every experience is an opportunity to learn new things. On this last trip we made sure to have extra blankets, our camp chairs, a proper spatula and a whole list of things we have learned we do actually need. We also realized some things we didn't need and could leave at home (if we brush teeth and wash our hands it is a good day, no need for shampoo, lotion, or a host of other toiletries!)

We missed our first chance at Jasper last winter when the year's only massive storm that closed the Icefields came on the day we were to drive it, which was also the day after Terry nearly cut his finger off and needed semi-emergency surgery.

Needless to say, we were super excited for this trip. Not even trying to fit all our gear in just the back of the car, we hoisted the car carrier onto the roof and filled it to brimming. Then largely filled the back of the car. Then got the chance to take our new-to-us bike rack out for a spin. The last minute re-reading of our camping permit information educated us that we were in fact not permitted to bring our own wood for the fire and instead would have to purchase a fire permit for a price way lower than the normal price for buying wood. That did cut down on some of the load (three bags of firewood we planned to take!)  But honestly, having to bring so much extra keep-us-warm gear means we'll never truly go bare bones.

Friday our plan was for one big stop on our way to the campground, and a big stop it was. Bow Glacier Falls was another spectacular Rocky Mountain experience. We finally broke our 8km barrier on hikes (10km round trip!), and got to spend some time goofing off around the waterfall. Apparently, the Bow River  - the very same one running through Calgary - begins here. The first part of the hike skirts the shore of Bow Lake, more glacial surreal turquoise water. It then cuts away through rock and a more seeping water, so those of us without waterproof shoes had to pay a bit more attention where we stepped. The waterfall itself isn't particularly roaring, so we were able to climb right up. And play a bit of peekaboo with ground squirrels.

By the time we reached Wapiti campground it was very close to dinner. We got the tents set up, shed the bikes, and headed into town for dinner.  On our way back into the campground we stopped by the firewood heap and picked out a bunch of wood then got right to work on the fire.

Not long after the campfire was started, we heard some really weird loud sounds that Terry identified as a bull elk bugling to the lady (cow) elk. Love was certainly in the air, and in the woods about 10 meters from our campsite. We saw the cow walk by, then the bull a short while later. When we had entered the park we were told by the staff it was rut season for the elk and to be cautious and give them space.  It is very important not to get between a bull and a cow.  Happily, they continued on their way and did not linger by us. It was hard to get a good view because of all the trees, but these are large animals so we were at least very certain what they were.  We are also happy to report no bear sightings. The longer I hike and camp the more I realize I don't feel any need to view a bear up close and personal.



Friday, September 4, 2020

Frank Slide, Lundbreck Falls, and Beauvais Lake

We had an adventurous weekend planned, and it ended up being almost idyllic.

First up: packing the car. We realized packing for just an overnight camping is a whole lot like packing for 2-3 nights, perhaps even more. Tents, sleeping bags, a cooler for food, etc etc are all necessary no matter how long you're gone. We did avoid using the roof rack, largely because the roof was already in use with our new (to us) canoe!

First stop: Frank Slide. Back in 1903 Turtle Mountain basically broke off a huge chunk and in 90 seconds it slid down, burying everything and everyone in its path. Luckily it was on the outskirts of town, so fewer than 100 people were killed vice closer to a thousand if it had been through the center. There is still debate today on the role the mining operation going on under Turtle Mountain played in creating the elements that led to the Slide. Hm, sounds familiar.

These days there is a very informative interpretive center with lots of information about the town, the geology, and the event. There is also a vast expanse of rocks to climb. It is as close to the Felsenmeer I think we will ever get without going back to Germany.

From the Slide we ventured to Lundbreck Falls. What started as wading around no farther than the knees became full-on dunkings by the kids. The whole waterway around, under, and by the falls is relatively shallow, with varying heights that include some rocks sticking entirely out of the water and with a current that can be some work but not dangerous. In sum, a great time was had by all, although it would have been better if the kids were in their bathing suits. Alex actually got within a couple of feet of being right under the falls.

Knowing that setting up camp takes time and that Terry wanted to try some fishing in the afternoon, we aimed to get to our site as close to checkin time as possible. Thus, my drenched and dripping children, and I, walked the 7 minutes to the campground while Terry drove the car.  When we saw our site we were delighted. Our spot was just steps away from the Crowsnest River, and the back end of the site opened onto a riverbank path. We watched a hawk across the river. In the getting settled stage, we had ample opportunity to try out our new, stronger tent stakes that supposedly work well even with gravel pads. And they did, superbly. 

The campground isn't even in a particularly "dark sky" area, but as the sun now sets at a reasonably hour we watched stars appearing, and then flooding, the sky. We could see the Milky Way with our naked eyes. Terry tried a second round of night photography by the water and then from a field in the campground.

As we fell asleep, I thought to myself "This was practically perfect. We need to come here for a longer stretch next year." 

Then the first nighttime train came whistling and roaring through at 11-something-ish. I thought "we are never coming back here." The next train was what felt like 3am, but I didn't open my eyes so who really knows. At the 5:30am train I got up to use the bathroom and also to curse my life. Probably fell asleep a bit before 8am, to get about half an hour of sleep.

Sleep deprived tempers were not on best behavior that morning. We changed plans and instead of a lazy morning we headed out to take our inaugural canoe paddle.  We had been deciding between two places, and ended up settling on Beauvais Lake - which has horsepower restrictions and I don't think any motorized vehicles was there while we were.  The kids were very disappointed when we told them they could not jump from the boat and swim around, but we promised to find a spot where we could dock the canoe and get out. We found a peninsula (weren't actually sure at the time, could have been an island) and Alex hopped up and ran into the woods. Because, of course, hiking is the worst torture on earth but exploring is fun! I did not share with the children the fact that the very fresh looking pile of dung on the path looked exactly what bear scat is supposed to look like, but I did make sure to chatter nonstop as we followed the route. Happily we never saw the source of the scat.

While paddling around, in addition to the ubiquitous Canadian geese, we also saw and heard a loon with a couple babies, sea gulls, and enormous bright blue dragonflies. The kids swam until they got cold or tired. Terry and I enjoyed the paddling. Had the trains not run through the night, we would have called it a most perfect weekend.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Summer Vacation Part 2: Lake Louise

The day was absolutely not over yet! Due to our several stops, we managed to get to the hotel just a bit over check-in time, which meant we could go straight to our room. The hotel is old and kind of dumpy, but the room was BIG and the hotel was basically right on Lake Louise (we did feel a bit smug as we drove right into the hotel parking lot while others on the same road were turned back due to the full public parking lot).  The Fairmont hotel next door has a couple of somewhat more casual dining options, so we put on nicer clothes and wandered over in the blazing (80 degree) sun. Things feel a lot hotter here, I am going to blame altitude.

I bear a massive grudge right now against the Fairmont, because when I called to see about reservations the automated line said they only took walk-ins for those who weren't hotel guests. But at every possible entrance to the Fairmont grounds, there was a sign saying only hotel guests were permitted. By the time we got back to our hotel we were very hot, very hungry, and very grumpy. At check-in we had been told the hotel restaurant was booked but we could try walking in. The server who waited on us was very surprised when we told her that. There was no problem with the seating. The dinner was surprisingly delicious.

Feeling much better, we decided to see if Moraine Lake was less hectic in the evening. It was around 8pm or so, still an hour before sunset, when we headed out.  It was an awful attractive nuisance, all those fun-to-climb looking rocks and all the signs saying please don't climb on the rocks because of the fragile plant ecosystems living on and among them. We hung out for a bit, hoping for sunset colors that never materialized. By the time we got back to the hotel it was way past the kids' bedtime, but Terry was feeling fired up and after the kids got to bed he went outside for his first taste of nighttime photography. 

We had planned some hiking for the next morning but hadn't decided what. I really wanted to try the Lake Agnes or Plains of Six Glaciers tea house hikes, but after our Emerald Lake experience we realized we did not want to venture towards touristy places in high season. We instead chose a short hike that roughly paralleled the lake to a beautiful viewpoint. It was a nice little walk in the woods. But it was the return trip that really sparked the joy. Rather than return down the trail we took up, we made it a loop by taking a different path down to the lakeshore. On the way down we hit a rockpile the kids could climb on - which was the highlight. Although Alex wants to be very clear that she did not enjoy any minute of the hike. 

After a return to the hotel and packing up, it was time to head home.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Summer Vacation Part 2: The road to Lake Louise

 

We had lots of plans for the road between Revelstoke and Lake Louise. First stop, the Giant Cedars Boardwalk. It is technically an easy Revelstoke adventure, but it is also half an hour away and on the road we needed to take anyway. I'm glad we went, and the age of the massive cedars was impressive, but on the whole i think it could have been cut if we were short on time.

Then to the Northern Lights Wolf Sanctuary. They take in wolves that were previously in performances, or zoos that closed, and generally have not been in the wild and wouldn't survive in the wild. We took the "tour", which is really a staff member talking about wolves generally and these wolves in particular. All the wolves were napping, although a few were at least doing so within our eyesight.  We had seen from recent reviews that a wolf puppy had arrived and we could see vague, tiny patches of brown way in the back. The talk was OK and I didn't mind giving the place our admission fees, but the real magic happened afterwards. It was feeding time. So we stuck around.

They fed the wolves in the back cage first, so the ones in the front cage were totally going bonkers - they could hear and smell what was going on. The two adult wolves had been moved to an adjoining enclosure to the one where the puppy, now up and active, was running back and forth alongside the adults across the fence.  The puppy was very new to eating proper food, and the sanctuary wanted to give her a bit of time with the lunch before letting the adults back in. It was comedic when the owner threw the rib cage int the pen.  The puppy was clearly frightened of it, darting towards then backwards. She finally grabbed a tiny bite and ran off with it. This occurred a number of additional times, until she finally understood the thing was dead and would not hurt her. After she had a bit of a snack, the adults were let in. 

When we had our fill of wolves, we had lunch at one of the facility's picnic tables and continued our eastern journey. An hour later was our last stop before the final destination- Emerald Lake in Yoho.  We had heard the rave reviews of the stunningly beautiful lake. And yes, its colors were so dramatic Alex insisted the water was dyed. But it was so incredibly packed with other human beings. Let's just say that social distancing was not possible. We started walking around the lake and after about 5 minutes turned around. It was just too crowded. 

We had an inkling that we might not be interested in summertime hiking in the most popular spots and this confirmed it for us. We did capture a few breathtaking photos of the lake, and then got back in the car for the last leg.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Summer Vacation Part 2: Revelstoke


We discovered when we arrived in Revelstoke two hours before check-in time - a set-in-stone time that would not be amended - that most of what we wanted to do in Revelstoke centered around the outdoors, but we also didn't want to get back in the car to get to any of the hiking trails. So we ended up doing this roundabout wander through residential and industrial parts of town. It was a unique tour.

When we did get into our room, it was time for a quick meal cobbled together from what we'd brought and a change of clothes, because we were heading out to our sunset kayak adventure. We found Natural Escapes somehow online, and it has a perfect 5 stars. We were the only group on this trip out. When the owner Terry heard we were essentially novice kayakers, he led us through a quick lesson and gave us a few options of where we could kayak that wouldn't be too daunting. We had left all electronics and things that could go overboard in the car, so the only photos we got came from him (note, Natural Escapes uploads all the photos from the kayak trips to their site for each group and they can be downloaded for free. A very nice touch). One highlight of the trip was when we looked far into the distance and saw something we thought was an eagle. We paddled as quickly and quietly as we could and saw that yes, it was a bald eagle!  Looking as regal as they do, it watched us a bit then flew away. Magical.

Next day was our (Terry and me, not the kids) much anticipated day at the Meadows in the Sky park. Totally by accident, our trip coincided with the height of wildflower season and we were excited for the beauty and possible photo opportunities. Things started off OK and we even got some family photos. Then they rocketed downhill, right around the time Terry and I ate lunch but the kids said they weren't hungry. (but the grumpiness didn't have anything to do with being hungry and we know nothing. Tween.) We decided to try dinner at Mt. Begbie Brewing Co., even though we weren't thrilled to get back in the car. But, the beautiful view from the well-spaced outdoor seating, the tasty but limited food menu, and the wide selection of cold frosty beverages turned things around for everyone. Terry and I each got a flight of beers, although mine was truly just for tasting as I drove home. Things turned around so well that we stopped at the Sugar Shack for ice cream all around when we got back to town.


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

At least I like logic games

 Disclaimer: this is not a complaint. I am thrilled that my children's schools are doing what they can to start the year off slowly and safely.

The first week of school is going to be massively confusing, especially for people who have left the house at regular times, or not at all, for the last six months.  Return to school activities are to be staggered for small group interactions as they get things off the ground. This is awesome. 

However.  

One child's school is working off an alphabetical-by-surname schedule. One is working off a grade-level schedule. One school is all or nothing - the kids come in for a full day or not at all. The other school will have all children present on Day 1, just at different times.

It's like a logic game ... so it's good that we like logic games.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Summer vacation part 2: B.C. - Kelowna

That's British Columbia. See, the week before our vacation Terry was supposed to TDY to Vancouver. This of course means we were all supposed to be in Vancouver for a week. Then we planned to spend a week meandering around B.C. on our way home. Vancouver is allegedly 11 or so driving hours away.

Before it was even officially canned (only a few weeks ago, because of course) we decided to revamp. So on Monday we hauled ourselves to Kelowna, the beach-y area in Okanagan that was also about as far as we were comfortable driving in one day. Funny story, we stopped at this random rest area for lunch and it turns out to be right where the very last spike of the Canadian railroad was laid and there's a whole  monument. It was cool. We would not have made a special stop for it, but stumbling on things like this are what make epic road trips so epic.

We got to Kelowna right in time to check in, then went to check out the town. At the City Park we let the kids play in the water up to their knees, as we hadn't brought bathing suits or towels. And we were heading straight to dinner afterward. After dinner we tried Moo Lix, the ice creamery recommended by the waitress at the restaurant where we had dinner. My lavender honey ice cream was unique and really tasty, but the homemade waffle cone was too thick and bland.

First stop next day was the kangaroo farm. Folks at work had recommended that and we thought it looked cool but were totally unprepared for how much we would actually enjoy it. In one pen were animals that did not like to be touched, and another pen had the animals that could be pet.  We also got to watch the antics of the parrots, parakeets and cockatoos and learned that if Zoltan were reincarnated as an animal he'd choose to be a macaw. There was a capybara and her baby that we were not allowed to pet, with a farm employee hanging around to make sure nobody got too close. She was holding a joey who looked to  be too big for the pouch anymore, but apparently wasn't, so we all got to get close to other cuteness. She said she was giving the mom a break.

We promised the kids we could spend the afternoon at the beach. There is a playground right by the shoreline at Boyce-Gyro Beach and a zipline that drops you into the water. We were shocked that the kids never tried the zipline, but they said the line was always too long so I guess they do take after their parents a bit. There were also rentals of various watercraft, and Terry and the kids each got on a solo kayak. The kids loved that part, which was good as we had booked a kayak trip on our next stop.

In Alberta, we all know the best produce comes from B.C. and especially Okanagan county. So the next morning we got up and went to the farmers market for local fruit. They also had linden honey, which we had eaten tons of in Russia but always creamed, and this was liquid, and I was fascinated. It is indeed very delicious. Then it was time for the kids to play at the hotel pool. Pool time could have been longer, but we got the call that we were able to get a reservation at the Red Fox Club, restaurant to the Indigenous World Winery. Lunch was sublime, the view was lovely (outdoor seating always prime in the COVID era) and we left feeling very stuffed and happy. We (well, I, because Terry was driving and doesn't really care much for wine anyway) ended up trying only one winery - Rollingdale. It is super small, and the gentleman who handled the tasting was super knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. I don't know what they do to their wined but it was the most unique experience I have ever had, and I bought wines made from grapes I've never liked before. I absolutely want to go back again.

Our hotel was across the street from a German deli/butcher that got great reviews. Knowing that we'd need to have some meals on the go and not wanting them all to come from A&W, we had brought some sandwich fixings, Terry's homemade sourdough bread, and a cooler on our trip. We decided this was a great opportunity to restock. And it was.

Next day was pretty much get up, pack up, and head to the next stop.


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.