Monday, December 28, 2020


 I made a saskatoon pie yesterday with berries we'd picked and frozen over the summer. We'd tried them fresh - tasted a few in the field - and made jam right after the picking. It was all OK but not worth the heat and the schlep to the berry field. Now I understand the hype. Pie is the saskatoon's forte, its area of excellence. Now we need to plan next year's picking and focus all our efforts on pies, just pies.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Wild Ice

Wild ice is the term used for ice skating on a pond, lake or other natural body of (frozen) water. Technically we have been on wild ice before, last year. But ... Lake Louise grooms a rink and the Bowness Park Lagoon is small and narrow.

Gap Lake is very popular - so popular, in fact, that there have been accidents and the local authorities asked people to stay away. We drove out to Johnson Lake and it was snowy and rough. We figured we'd just pop over to Two Jack Lake and check it out because it  is only 5 minutes down the road. Expectations were exceptionally low, and extraordinarily exceeded. 

Between the volume of cars in the parking lot and the specks of people dotting the surface of the lake, it looked pretty solid. We found parking, grabbed our skates, and headed for the shore. I am not going to lie, the clear ice freaked me out. I preferred not seeing all the way to the rocks at the bottom of the lake.  Terry showed me how to apprise the cracks of ice to tell how far the ice was solid. And of course note the hordes of people skating hither and thither, emphasizing the solidity. There were folks being pulled by their dogs, folks playing scrimmage hockey, pushing their children in strollers ... even a guy on a fat tire bike riding around. There was a whole lake of space!

It was super windy, to the extent that you could be pushed to dizzying speeds if you let the wind catch you. Alex, deeply into her teens, actually admitted to having fun!

The downside is that we have not skated this year at all, and we got cold, tired and achy. We saw a guy grilling out of his truck's bed and realized that was a great idea. Our plan for next time involves coming earlier and bringing some camping equipment to make a hot lunch. That way we can have a morning skate, some rest and regrouping, then a second run in the afternoon. Whenever next time will be ...

Friday, December 18, 2020

Boom Shaka-laka-laka

Saturday we were up and out the door to a well-recommended hiking trail - Boom Lake. It was our longest hike as a family - over 10km. Terry feared Zoltan's sluggishness would keep us from ever cresting that hill, but with the incentives we'd put into place the weekend before he was more than happy to keep trekking ahead. There also were no really huge climbs, so that helped too. We didn't want to throw too much into one experience!

At one point the trail narrows with snow-dusted evergreens on either side, which Alex called the enchanted forest. She's so grouchy and teenagery, and then comes out with things like this! Also, a lot of the snow was more like crystallized flakes. Neither Terry nor I had ever seen anything like it and we've certainly been around plenty of snow. 

When we got to the lake, it was time for lunch. A gray jay thought so as well, and we had to defend Alex's sandwich from it several times (the rest of us kept the sandwich in the bag in between bites). We had done a great job keeping Zoltan's blood sugar up and although it was the longest hike, it was also the least fraught. It felt weird telling my kid "you may not feel hungry, you may feel anxious or angry or grumpy. Just eat." when of course mostly we're supposed to be telling our kids to notice actual feelings of hunger before chowing down. But I digress.

After eating we wandered down towards the far end of the lake, where we could see waterfalls high up in the mountains. We knew that parts of the lake were avalanche territory so we didn't stray too far. The return was pretty uneventful except the trail was definitely getting busier and the parking lot was packed when we left (plenty of spots when we arrived). The one regret of not doing the hike later was that the sun started to peek out and the skies got a bit bluer, which is always nicer for the photos. But avoiding crowds is a worth goal.

After all that exertion, we had a few quiet hours at the hotel and off to our favorite Banff restaurant, Park Distillery. It was as delicious as always, and one funny note is that the table next to us turned while we were there. The first couple had been speaking French and when the second pair started talking, I understood them so my mind said "French." Until Terry leaned over and said "Hey, they're speaking Russian." Oh yeah, they are.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Wintery Banff

November and December being on different calendar pages, it didn't occur to me I was booking two weekends in a row when I looked at the kids' day off from school on December 4 (they have a Friday off every month, and half day Fridays the rest of the month). So the week after we went to Jasper, we went to Banff.

Last year for the holidays, my father bought us a gift certificate for afternoon tea at the Fairmont hotel - we could choose Banff or Lake Louise. We hadn't made it before everything shut down in March and we finally took this opportunity to go. So it was a nice lazy morning, the a drive straight to the hotel. Everything was very beautiful and fancy, the treats were delicious and the kids were finally introduced to scones with clotted cream and jam (a housemade strawberry and rose variety). The kids were delighted by the tea timers - three connected hourglasses, one set to run out after 3 minutes, one at 4 minutes and one at 5, so we could determine how steeped we wanted the tea. The hotel was being extraordinarily careful about spacing - the room has a series of picture windows overlooking the mountains with a table set at the center of each. There was one dining unit at each table by the window, and that was it. 

Sated and warmed, we head to our hotel for an early check in. As most of our stays since the pandemic, we opted for a condo style, with kitchenette and entrance from outside. One treat was the woodburning fireplace, which we employed each evening. We had a starter pile (and matches!) stacked beside the grate, woodsheds throughout the grounds, and kindling available at the front desk whenever we needed more. The kids had their own queen sized beds in the loft, and they delighted in dangling things off the balcony into the living room area. They were oddly uninterested in the outdoor hot tubs or even the heated/hot pool. The hotel was situated by Tunnel Mountain and had trails that ran right from the grounds. It was also near a campsite we were considering for the summer.

After a quick change into hiking gear, we took a short walk/hike to a trail we'd been meaning to check out. We were losing the light so didn't go as far we wanted, but the good news is that trails have not yet been closed generally so we can easily go back.

Friday, December 11, 2020

We saw a moose!

We dedicated Saturday of our Jasper long weekend to Moraine. Moraine Canyon is about 15 minutes outside Jasper, with Moraine Lake another 30 minutes past that.

We knew an ice hike to frozen falls would not be possible because of the lack of frozen-ness but had heard the loop around the canyon is still a nice hike. I am SO glad we decided to go anyway. There were actually several spots where we could climb down to the bottom of the canyon, some of which was dry and some had water in both free-flowing and frozen varieties. Not very concerned about bears this time of year, we downloaded trail maps to the kids' phones and let them loose. They were still very eager to collect steps and thus treats, so they left us in the dust, although they did sometimes double back to check on us and gain more steps. One of the most fun stops was in a cave that had what looked like ice stalagmites rising from the ground. The kids got behind it, and the glow from one of the phone flashlights through the ice looked ghostly. It was lovely. We also got to see waterfalls both frozen and running, and falls both far away and ones we walked right up to. 

After the hike and some lunch, we headed toward Moraine Lake. The hike we ended up choosing was called the Moose Lake Loop, and it leads from Moraine lake to Moose Lake. The signs that have been features in social media advising folks not to let moose lick their cars - we passed that sign and it gave us hope for a possible moose sighting. 

It was supposed to be a decent snowshoe, but we are learning that either this just isn't the year for snowshoes or trails generally get too packed down. Within the first 500 meters or so Zoltan had a total meltdown and removed his snowshoes. Alex soon followed. Even Terry eventually decided they weren't working for him and took his off. There was a woman and her son that were following the same trail at roughly the same pace - we'd stop for something and they would pass us, then a bit farther up vice versa. They saw two moose on the road on the way in, we must have just missed them. Awww!

Things definitely perked up once the family has shed their snowshoes and we got some beautiful views of mountains across the lake. On the drive back to the hotel we finally crossed the last Alberta wildlife off our bingo sheet - there were moose!  One in the road, and one off on the shoulder. They looked like a mom and baby. We got a couple of photos from my phone - we were not about to stop and have Terry go around back to get the good camera. 

For dinner we tried the DownStream. My smoked duck was extraordinary and was even more delicious as a sandwich the next day. All the other meals were decent but nothing to write home about. All in all, it was a very satisfying day.

The trip home the next day was uneventful, with a few photo/leg-stretch breaks but no hikes. I took lots of mediocre photos through the dirty windshield of stunning mountains, then a new set of stunning mountains. There is a reason this is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Jasper: Take Two

It is (1) our second successful trip to Jasper and (2) our second attempt to visit Jasper in the winter. So for both of these reasons we should give thanks.

We skipped out on Thanksgiving and instead took advantage of the outdoors still being available to us despite some (necessary) tightening of COVID measures in Alberta.

Conditions on the Columbia Icefields - the main road between Lake Louise and Jasper - can be changeable and it is strongly advised not to be on the road after dark. Thus we kept our stops to short bio breaks and a couple of leg stretches. We did take a slightly longer break at Athabasca Falls, to see them partly frozen, but by that point you're practically in town anyway.

We got to the hotel slightly before check-in time and were able to get directly into our room. We had looked at a few Jasper restaurants and honed in on some top contenders. We were hungry pretty early on, so had no problem getting into The Raven Bistro. Everything was excellent and we both recommend it and plan to go back. The major highlights were the Spanish spiced wings and the Mission Hill Vineyards Chardonnay out of Kelowna. My bison short ribs were equally delicious as an open faced sandwich for a later lunch.

The hotel had a "to go" style breakfast with yogurts, granola bars, etc. And egg and cheese on English muffin. I'll be honest, those were inedible. On the other hand, the kids fought over the chocolate muffins, so it was a win some, lose some situation.

Sad to learn the lakes were not frozen enough for any ice skating, we still decided to head toward Pyramid Lake for some hiking. Terry and I are in different teams for the Consulate's Step Challenge (teams of 5 "walking" to the North Pole by end of the year) and we decided to incentivize the kids to do more hiking, less whining, by bribing them with sweets for the number of steps they take. We created monsters, but we also took in our fastest family hike times ever due to the aforementioned reduction in complaining and (for Zoltan anyway) a decline in "I'm so tired I need a rest! My feet hurt! I can't go any further!"  

We returned to the hotel ready to lunch on leftovers, but there was no power at the hotel at all. We decided to eat lunch out but there was no power anywhere in the town of Jasper.  So we returned to the room and gave thanks for the bread, peanut butter, jam, fruit and other snacks we had brought. Minimally fortified, we decided that sitting around a dark and gloomy hotel room (gray day, no lights) was not a great way to spend the vacation. We decided on a hike that started from the Fairmont Jasper Park. As we drove through the gates of the Fairmont, we were stopped by the staff who did temperature checks and asked COVID questions. They said if we just wanted to hike/stay outside we didn't need to do anything but if we thought we might stop in for a bite to eat we'd need the checks. The Fairmont had POWER!?!? Stowed that thought away for in case the problem wasn't fixed before dinner, because other than the Fairmont we didn't know of any electricity between Jasper and the next town, Hinton, an hour away.  The hike was short, and not too strenuous, and a much more pleasant way to spend an hour or two. Upon our return to the parking lot, I poked into the hotel and learned there's a bar, not a cafe, and probably no hot cocoa. So I called our hotel Jasper to learn that yes power is back on!  So we headed "home."