I deeply regret not getting in the car and catching the real show somewhere darker.(Photo taken with my phone, so one more reason it's not as spectacular as it could have been.)
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
Sunday, October 10, 2021
As I mentioned in my last post, I spent three weeks in Doha helping with the evacuation of Afghanistan. In the space of just about a month, more than 120,000 individuals left Afghanistan. Roughly half of them passed through Doha on their way to other places: home, for those of dual citizenship; locations set up to process visas and humanitarian parole; in the end most are in the USA or will be. The experience was physically, mentally and emotionally challenging and for all the things that went right, it's the things that went wrong that stick the strongest.
I returned home from Doha and spent about 10 days with my family before heading back out; this time to Boston, where I spent 10 days with my father in the aftermath of his wife's passing.
Oh, and Terry broke his foot back in August so he hobbles around in a special boot. No fall hikes for him, and his ski season will start a bit late.
It's been a hell of a few months.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Sunday, September 19, 2021
I'm back from three weeks in Doha helping move Afghan evacuees from Arrival Point #1 (Doha) to either Final Destination (for American citizens who just needed to get home) or Next Stop (for Afghans who need to be vetted and processed at some other location, like Germany, better suited for long-ish term living before being able to - most likely - move to the U.S.). Still processing the experience, but wanted to mark it.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Wednesday, September 8, 2021
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Part of the mad scramble for campsites means taking what you can get in terms of dates, or in terms of campgrounds. My second priority was to camp along the Icefields - there are so many cool hikes but they are too far to get to from home. So, for this week of vacation we spent 4 days at Two Jack, came home for a night of showering, laundry, and repacking the cooler, then set off for 5 days at Rampart Creek.
First hike: Wilcox Pass. Supposedly beautiful views, and I can believe it. We did spend a bit of time playing in a patch of snow we came across, and when Terry and I took a short detour to a flowing stream the kids watched a prairie dog scamper about. There were pretty wildflowers all along the path and in the distance.
Second hike: Parker Ridge. Similarly probably beautiful, lovely wildflowers, similar extreme smoke.
Bear: There were signs up all over the campground alerting folks that there was a bear in the area. According to the chalkboard by the water source, it had last been seen 5 days ago. But apparently all the good berries are now ripe because between 9:30-10:30am each morning the folks camping in sites closer to the water than us has sightings. One day on our way back from a hike we passed a car with its hazards on, pulled not-quite-over enough on the shoulder a couple of km from the campsite and Terry noted there was a bear the car had pulled over to watch. I only saw a dark blur as we drove past. It's probably the same bear.
Sunsets: It was a lot like Goldilocks' lunch. The first night we waited too long to wander over toward the creek to get a sunset photo and the sun was already behind the mountain by the time we got there. So our second night we went extra early, but got so bug bitten we had to give up before it got the real fiery reds. Third night was just right, and Terry was able to capture some pretty pictures.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
When we were watching and refreshing the Canada Parks web site like concert tickets were about to go on sale, our strategy was clear: we wanted to camp at Two Jack Lake. We've driven past it a million times, wandered along its shores from the Day Use Area and even ice skated across it. As Terry was 6000-something in line, we did not get our first choice of dates, or second choice, but we got dates that we could make work and we were thrilled.
Well, smoke from the wildfires. And even though it's so dry there are the aforementioned wildfires, and a fire ban so we couldn't sit by the campfire at the end of the day, nobody told the mosquitoes. We had very recently bought a screen tent for over the picnic table and that paid for itself during the course of the trip, even if we had paid three times the amount for it. Poor Zoltan looks like he has chicken pox from the bites and that was with the mesh doing a very good job keeping the 'skeeters out.
There was the loon that I swear was mocking us, letting us get almost close enough to see it through the glacial-clear water when it ducked under, but then zipping away before we actually got that close ... and popping up on the other side of the canoe + 50 meters.
Thursday, August 19, 2021
Lunch included a surprisingly delicious bean and quinoa salad, which was good as the sandwich was salami and I hadn't alerted the camp to any food issues. After lunch we trooped over to the climbing wall. There were two "easier" sides and two harder sides. The harder ones were legit - even Alex didn't get all the way up them. I regret not fully trusting the belay and thus not climbing higher than I did.
Dinner was a full scale BBQ feast. Pork loin and grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, green salad and cauliflower salad. We ate too much so I didn't feel up to joining the after dinner yoga session. We were also in the midst of Master Labyrinth, which is played very, very differently from regular Labyrinth. Alex absolutely swept the floor with the rest of us, showing once again why it is important to not have only one person reading the rules (She who reads the rules, wins. Unless others also read the rules). After some digestion we had the kids teach us GaGa ball. I now understand the name - every time I miss the ball I yell "Gah!"
There was a silly singalong the counselors led "around the campfire" (imagine an atrium with a fire pit at the bottom in front of the stage). Even the moody, jaded teenager was seen to laugh.
Not pushing our luck with the kids, we dropped them off at the tipi when we wandered back to the waterfront - we had wanted to try taking some photos with the real camera as opposed to our puny phones. The haziness was way down - winds must have been blowing the smoke some other direction - and the view was lovely.
On our walk back to the campsite, I was walking in front of Terry when he hissed for me to come back over to him. I figured he saw a deer or something he wanted to show me, and I saw a dark shape move past through the trees alongside the path. Yeah, it was a bear. He said it was pretty small so he wasn't sure if there was a mama nearby and if we continued on we might get between them. Of course, continuing on was the only way to get back to camp. We waited and watched a few moments, then started backing away towards the trail. We were basically at the corner of a wooden walkway that in wetter times crosses some kind of pond or lake but right now crosses a field. As we started over the walkway, talking loudly about how "We're cool, mama bear, don't want anything to do with you and just going to head out now" a bear heads out into the field essentially parallel to us. It was beautiful, Terry and I will forever argue about how big it was, and it is definitely just living its life, not concerned with us. It was definitely the smart thing to do not to stop and take a photo (even though the camera was in Terry's hands!!) but we did regret it a tiny bit once we were out of range and no longer quietly freaking out.
We had seen two people in the frisbee golf area by the waterfront, so we went to the main lodge to tell the counselors about the bears. Apparently other families had seen at least one of them in a similar area in the morning, so this is not a big deal. To the Canadians. For the rest of the trip whenever we went past the area where we saw them Terry and I would talk louder. We still haven't told the kids.
After canoeing we headed toward the Adventure Challenge. They did a great job with boards, tires, sticks, and imagination. Our family was persisting in our last challenge after everyone else had left for lunch.
The last phase of camp was the high ropes course. The first event was basically climbing to the top of a telephone pole that had a see-saw on top. People (kids) climbed up in pairs and were meant to stand on each side of the see-saw. If I remember correctly, there was only one pair that actually made it to the top with both standing. To get down, they lean back in the harness and trust their belayers to get them down. This was nobody's favorite. The last event was like a vertical obstacle course. I'm hopeful Terry posts a photo or video of this as I don't now how else to describe it. Alex was one of the few to make it to the top, and she scrambled up it twice.
We have caught too many smiles on film to take seriously Alex's complaint that it was a horrible time and she never wants to do anything like it again. What can I say, 13's gonna 13.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Alex was supposed to go to overnight camp last summer. She was supposed to go to overnight camp this summer. COVID made a hash of all that. However, the camp does have a "family weekend" that we decided to try.
The trivia was mostly about Canada and although we would have gotten a D if it were for school, we were happy we didn't fail. The main lodge has games, arts and crafts (appealing to the littler ones), bathrooms with flush toilets and a water refilling station. Families are assigned their own tables, and the camp operated like a restaurant in that we wore masks as we moved about the room but took them off when hanging at the table.
We decided to take a walk in the evening and wandered over to the waterfront area where we would be canoeing the next day. There's wildfires raging around Alberta and B.C. and pollution is very pretty.
The tipis are outfitted with five bunk beds and a fire pit in the middle. We didn't understand that we needed to open the smoke flap at the top when building the fire so things got a bit smokey. It was too hot to keep the fire going anyway - such a weird feeling to be in short sleeves at 10:30pm at a campsite in Alberta.
Sleep came late - that massive fireball in the sky keeping things light until after 11pm - and was broken by the sounds of squirrels frolicking all around, inside and out. I gladly jumped out of bed around 7:30am and got myself dressed and ready for breakfast, which doesn't start until 8am.
But we had other plans so we soon headed back to the dock where we shed the lifevests and canoes and trekked over to the archery range. They didn't get a lot of families who owned their own bows so were more impressed than they should have been at the family performance (except me. I haven't shot a bow since my camping days about a million years ago). After a few rounds we tried our hands at the javelins. They had atlatls too, which Alex was excited to see as she had done a report on Aztec weapons last year and had learned about them. We were not particularly skilled here; I am pretty sure it's the kind of thing one must practice to get right.
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
It has been quite a while since I have hiked a mountain where you get to what looks like it will be the top only to find it continues up. Four times we said "almost there" ... four times we were wrong. We passed the weather sensors, which was super cool because these are on the ridge above the slope where we skied last winter, and every time we check the area's weather and I type "Kananakskis" in the search bar, "Nakiska Ridge Top" comes up and that is exactly where I was. We continued along the ridge a while, but between the smoke starting to cause headaches and the understanding that we would have to recreate the hike to get some actual stunning views and some photos of something that doesn't look apocalyptic, we cut the hike a bit short (it's supposedly just shy of 16km total and we got to 11.2km).
On the way back we met this little guy. We took a photo from way back on the trail, then walked a bit closer for a better photo, then realized it didn't seem to notice us at all so we got closer ... we probably could have touched it before it scampered off onto the ledge right beyond where we could see it. I couldn't decide if it's very comfortable with humans, or has had so few interactions it didn't consider us threats.
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Sunday, August 1, 2021
What's not awesome? Returning home from vacation to find the freezer door wasn't properly shut and everything is (thankfully) cold ... but entirely defrosted. All the ice cream is a loss, and now we are dictating what the kids can eat for lunch each day to get the food eaten. I made an emergency cobbler to use up some of the defrosted frozen berries, similarly we'll get a round of fruit leathers going tomorrow. And a massive cook --> freeze session planned for tomorrow. Many high quality meats will be grilled this week. I am very grateful that we haven't lost a ton, and obviously that this is not the only food we have.
But, still, not awesome.
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Our last day in Vancouver, the kids had their afternoon hour-playing-in-the-pool-because-they-can't-hide-in-the-room-all-day-like-mushrooms and even tried to skim a bit off that. When Terry came back from work, he and I had our plans set. We borrowed a pair of bikes from the hotel and set off to circumnavigate Stanley Park. The hotel was right around the corner and the Park is a Vancouver highlight. The hotel estimates that it takes about an hour to bike around (including the stops) and they were spot on. First stop: the series of totem poles - I had no idea they are unique to the coastal Pacific Northwest, ranging from Washington up through British Columbia and a bit into Alaska. We watched a seaplane gain altitude. We caught the statues of the "girl in wetsuit" and Harry Jerome (Canada's fastest sprinter) and the replica ship's figurehead of a dragon. The sun glinted off the sea, the mountains were hazy in the distance. We appreciated the tenacity of a tree growing ontop a large boulder. We passed Third Beach, then Second Beach (where I had dragged the kids all of three days previously). We traveled leisurely, stopping often to enjoy the views.
Thus refreshed, we dined our last night on Terry's "must do" food event, hand pulled noodles. (Mine had been the sushi) The server was definitely skeptical of our choices and tried to steer us towards the house specialties. We ignored her. Zoltan took our advice and was not the Barry. We ordered too much and ate too much and thoroughly appreciated the meal. We stopped by a 24 hour bakery to choose baked goods for the morning's breakfast, as we weren't sure about the time we needed to get ready, finish packing etc and get to the airport.
We should not have worried. In typical fashion, we were ready to go early. With a sad "adieu" we promised to return, having only barely scratched the surface of Vancouver's excellence.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
On Wednesday the day started the same. Because I knew in advance the kids weren't doing much in the afternoon, I didn't mind when a call went over my stated end-of-workday. And the call of course led to more work. Another call was scheduled for a time that happened to coincide with pool time, so I took the call outside. All in all it was an almost-full-day at work.
After work we met Terry at a highly-touted Vancouver adventure: Fly Over Canada. The advertising for it is very alarmist about motion sickness. Given that I only learned a couple of years ago that the sick feeling I get on roller coasters is actually motion sickness, it made me nervous. Oh goodness, it's a lot of over-hype! The experience is a lot of fun - you swoop along beautiful vistas all over the Canadian landscape as though you are riding a drone. You're strapped into seats like a gentle roller coaster, because it does move a bit with the direction of swooping. There's water sprays when you pass snow and a few scent sprays. All in all, totally worthwhile and a fun way to spend half an hour.
We finished the night at a Vietnamese restaurant. We recommended to the kids the lemongrass chicken/pork/beef with rice. Zoltan opted for a dish that turned out to be beef in a broth with carrots and radish. Needless to say, he did not enjoy the dish and it was delicious and Terry and I ended up eating most of it. There's a TV show we're watching as a family and in a relatively recent episode a kid in the TV family goes against parental wisdom and orders a meal that is ridiculous for the venue, is expectedly not-delicious, and earns him derision from the family. So now Zoltan has been warned to "Not be a Barry" in future ordering decisions.
We couldn't get a reservation for dinner at the highly recommended sushi restaurant we wanted to try so we settled on lunch. That was Thursday. We discovered when we arrived that, as I had been playing around with different days and times, and with tables for two or four, that I had made a reservation for two. They had no tables for four available. Um ....... Well, the kids had maps in their phones, didn't want fish anyway, and still had a fridge of meats and cheeses at the hotel. We sent them back and stayed ourselves to enjoy the meal. And everyone was happy. On my way back to the hotel I checked out a pastry place and brought back treats for everyone - so even more happiness.
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
[Disclaimer: Anything you think of to do in Vancouver, we probably didn't do it. Terry was working, I was working, we didn't have a car, and many things were still closed. All reasons for a return trip!]
The border between B.C and Alberta opened just days before Terry's TDY (temporary work trip) to Vancouver. Having never been before, the kids and I tagged along.
We flew out on July 5, which was not a holiday in Canada so we were able to do some sightseeing. Being who we are, after dropping off our bags at the hotel we hopped an AquaBus to Granville Island where we ate our own weight and brought some home. In Alberta we're always pining over British Columbia fruit, so a visit to the produce vendor was in order. We followed the crowds walking around with bright yellow Lee's Donuts boxes and decided to splurge on a dozen.Oh. My. I had no idea donuts could be like that. We sincerely regretted buying so few and discussed going back. We also got recommendations of other vendors to visit and decided that in addition to berries, we would stuff our mini-hotel-fridge with sliced meats and cheeses. They also make lovely lunches for the three of us spending our mornings in the hotel room* - Lynne working, kids frying their brains on TV shows and video games.
* Note: Because of Marriott status, our regular room was upgraded in a larger room with an actual desk - critical feature for the one working half days from the hotel room.
The heat was nearly unbearable even with the help of gelato (around 75F ... we are so ruined for living anywhere else in the world), so after our shopping we were wilting and ready to hang at the hotel for a bit. With the relaxation of COVID restrictions, the need to book certain times for the outdoor pool ended the day we checked in so kids and I headed off to the pool to cool off.
After a bit of Googling, we settled for dinner on a yakitori place not too far from the hotel. It's been more than 20 years since Terry lived in Japan, so with our assuredly altered palates we deemed it not only delicious (it was) but authentic (it definitely seemed so).
The next morning breakfast at the hotel consisted of eggs Benedict, bacon for Terry and smoked salmon for me. And the eggs had the darkest most orange yolks I have ever seen, and we've been buying our eggs straight from a farm. Thus fortified, Terry headed out to the Consulate and I to my desk.
Not gonna lie, working off a small laptop with sticky keys and no mouse is not as productive as working off my home setup.
I had grand plans for the afternoons but the kids defeated me. I did make them accompany me across Stanley Island to Second Beach - one of Vancouver's many inner city beaches and recommended as one of the nicer. They boycotted the water, opting instead to read under a tree just beyond the sandy area. I gave up and we headed back, although we did take the long way and linger a while by Lost Lagoon ("look, we found it!"). All future afternoons were spent by the kids inside reading or outside by the pool.
We finished the day with a delicious dinner at Joe Fortes and began my streak of eating fish daily while in Vancouver. Mmmmmmmm.
Friday, July 16, 2021
Amazing Terry made a bird feeder from old pallet wood scraps and the plastic siding of Costco cashews. It hangs from a tree in the front yard and my view of it sits perfectly between the two monitors on my desk. This morning, a poor squirrel - beautifully acrobatic but sadly unknowing that the feeder is empty - has been trying to get to it. The first attempt I only caught out of the corner of my eye as the creature went flinging back to the earth. For the she second attempt I watched it ready itself from the steps, spring into action, and cling for a few pregnant seconds onto the wooden roof/top before falling back.
I desperately wish I had caught that on video. It seems to have moved on now.
I take that back. Squirrel just tried again. And apparently managed to knock a few grains off, as it has been nibbling in the ground under the feeder these last few minutes. Wandered off again. Will it return?
Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Sunday, July 11, 2021
When all our beautiful B.C. dreams fell through because the border was not in fact open the way we thought, we cast about for something else to do over the long weekend. Still having never visited the province's capitol, we decide to use some of the Marriott points burning a hole in our pocket and head up for a weekend.
The kids begged for a trip to Canada's largest shopping mall, the West Edmonton Mall - home of stores, of course, but also an indoor amusement park, an aquarium, and a water park. Having visited an amusement park the previous day, we settled on the water park. And it was a delight! We took no photos so this will have to do. By the time we ended our day and checked into the hotel we were beat.
Next day was what Terry and I had wanted to see in Edmonton - Elk Island National Park. To try to draw the kids in, we downloaded the geocaching app and found a couple of caches ... but the kids were not into it. Oh well. We also had planned to go in the water at the beach, but it was super silty/dirty and cold so that was also a bit of a bust.
On the wildlife side, though, it was a spectacular home run win.
We then found a picnic table where the kids could hang out and read while Terry and I took a little stroll to a lake ... that didn't actually have any water. We went on a different path where the butterflies were continually taunting us with being really pretty but never stopping long enough to focus the camera lens. I guess they eventually got tired of that because a few did stop and let us take the pictures.
Last stop in the park (which by the way is not an island) was the beach. It reminded me a lot of the beach club near our cabin and was only slightly larger. Zoltan went in for about 5 minutes, Terry and I stood ankle deep for longer, chatting and feeling the sand and pebbles under our feet. Then we decided to go for a wander, taking a few different trails and again leaving the kids behind to their own devices (but not electronic devices).
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
In a conversation about how awful we are as parents for forcing her to go on vacation, Alex gave an example of a small town where there is nothing to see or do but a few mushrooms. I told her that in 20 years I will remind her she compared Vancouver to a small mushroom town and she will apologize and buy us drinks.
Friday, July 2, 2021
Alex likes having a particular place in the fridge to put her things for the next day's lunch, so she can just grab the stuff, pack it up and go. She put a little note at one small corner but the sanctity of the space was often violated. So she put up the fridge equivalent of an orange cone.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Super heat wave in Alberta, so what outdoor adventure makes the most sense? Taking the canoe out, of course! We had been by Vermillion Lakes once before and realized the only way to really experience its beauty is being on the water.
We plan to leave at 10am. I run an errand that has me home around 9:15am and Terry informs me he can't find the essential strap for ensuring the car holds the canoe securely. We split up and continue searching. Still no dice. I let my fingers do the walking and go online to see if a store nearby has it. The closest Canadian Tire does not but a different one across town has five in stock. We decide it's also time to get the kids life vests that fit (last year they were under 90lb, if only barely) so I grab Alex for trying them on if there are different sizes and we set off. To make a painful story shorter, there were zero of this strap in stock. How? I dunno. It's still tender when I think about it. With Alex in the car I wasn't doing anything other than heading home and regrouping.
We decide on the next best thing - find a beach! Many of the lakes and rivers around here are glacial or otherwise deadly to try to swim in so we find one that's 1.5 hours away, and should be tolerable to immerse in. We re-pack for swimming rather than canoeing, and off we go!
Ninety minutes later it's the worst, most crowded beach "strip" area and zero parking within the ZIP code. We can see the beach and it is wall-to-wall people there too. It's also past lunch. Grumpiness all around. We drive past all that, find a place to pull over and figure out our options. There's a Provincial Park up the road with a campground! At the very least we can expect a day use area with picnic tables. Off we go!
After lunch we're all feeling a bit better. Checking the map, there is definitely water nearby - the only question is whether there is a way down to it. After a couple of fits and starts, heading the wrong direction and righting ourselves, we find the water! There's no beach, the hill basically ends a couple of feet before the water begins, but there's a bit of dry space for our stuff and a few other groups of people along this "shoreline" to proclaim that this is a legitimate access point.
Unfortunate for our late start, we could only stay a couple of hours. The water was pretty chilly despite being probably the warmest beach around - Zoltan kept getting blue lips and we had to make him get out and warm up. But we splashed around, swam a bit, and looked for rocks in every color of the rainbow. And although she'll deny ever saying this, even Alex had fun.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
Just today, we pulled up a bunch of radishes partly because they were ready and partly because dinner called for them and we didn't have any (oops). The one on the bottom right is the biggest radish I think we've ever grown. Some salad greens are also ready to pick.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Saturday, June 19, 2021
Something I have pretty much never done before - taken a random day off from work to do something fun! A friend was celebrating her 50th birthday and wanted to do a hike followed by a lunch with a view.
Lake Louise view from the trail
Lake Agnes lies above Lake Louise (you also pass Mirror Lake on the way up) and you start the hike from the Fairmont Lake Louise. Several other popular hikes start from here, and the parking can be impossible on weekends and/or in summer. Thus, a weekday before schools let out was the perfect time.We also had the perfect weather, bright and sunny but not too warm.
While sitting on a bench at Lake Agnes, soaking in the view, a very cheeky chipmunk scampered onto the bench right next to me ... then into my lap! I held my breath while mentally telling the chipmunk "please don't bite me"... when I did not immediately put food in its mouth it scampered back off. Whew!
We finished the hike at the Fairmont, with lunch on the patio overlooking the lake. Somehow I took no photos there but be assured it was stunning. The water is still the same turquoise blue that Alex swears is a result of dye.
Three hikes in one week! Woooot!
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
As said before, the family vetoes hikes with an incline. So, a little nervous about the possibility of bears, I clutched by bear spray tightly and embarked on one of the most popular hikes in the area: Prairie Mountain. I can see why folks love it - it is only an hour outside of Calgary and 7km round trip. It also covers 700m of elevation, or nearly 2300 feet, of elevation in that time. It is not for the faint of heart.
I tried my best to take many beautiful photos and they all look fake. They also don't nearly capture the view. This happens when all you have is a crappy phone camera because your husband, who wields the fancy (and heavy!) camera, decides not to join.
Moose and mountains, is there a better way to spend a day?