Winding down: The Summer Wrap-up

 

Our summer was fun, busy and wetter than we expected. After our travels out West, we came home to a week and half of family visits. Papi and Rosalia stopped in for a 24hr whirlwind visit, dropping off a car for me (I know I am terribly blessed!), before rushing back home to Florida. We had just a long enough break from torrential rains to enjoy the visiting the American side of the Niagara Falls together. Hot on their heels was my sister Rosie, her wife Kendall and my Mami, who came to visit for the week. We toured around Rochester, walking down Park Ave, taking a boat tour of the Erie Canal and sharing a lot of wine and stories. We closed out that week with a big birthday party for Chris's 40th birthday. His Aunt Sue and his cousin Jackie dropped in for the party, and we had fun even though it drizzled the whole time.

A. went off on her first sleep-away summer camp. She spent two weeks on the campus of Houghton College taking part in the Cshey School of Music. She returned to us very much a teenager. She made tons of friends and already made plans to return next summer. While she was gone, Z. took part in RMSC's Wilderness Survival day camp. She learned how build a fire, basic orienteering skills and most of all for the first time in her life was at camp without any friends and family around. She made friends and had a fun time, and grew up just a bit more.

I took most of July off from book reviewing, and I have spent the rest of the summer trying to catch-up. I have also dug out boxes and boxes of items to be donated from our crawl space in the basement. It is was liberating to get rid of so much, even if it is only a portion of what we should get rid off. I caught up in all sorts of other household projects, so hopefully the house will tolerate being ignored for another year when the school year starts again. I have started working on my fall lesson plans, planning and registering for fall conferences, and buying our Feb Break plane tickets.

Chris had a good summer. We enjoyed his Sunday evenings off together, and took advantage of the extra time to go visit his family. We loved visiting with his mom and siblings over Civic holiday weekend in London. We love giving our girls time with their cousins. We also went up last week to Cambridge to visit with his a Dad's side of the family. The family had gathered to say good-bye to his uncle Bert who passed as few days later. Again we were blessed to spend time with with aunt, uncles and cousins. Even though everyone's hearts were heavy, we enjoyed each other's company, and seeing the smiles on the little toddlers too you to know why everyone gathered. Chris is on his way now to Brampton so he can join the family for the funeral service tomorrow.

Even though gray clouds fill the sky right now, we are doing well. School is around the corner and we are getting ready. There is of course as much anxiety as hope in our hearts as we look ahead, but we trust that with God's blessing we will have a good school year, A.'s last at RCS.

So please pray for us, that Z. and A. have a good school year, pray for our friends battling cancer (Carolina, Jennifer and Bill), the Fluits as they mourn, and for my Mami as she settles into her new life in PR.

 

 

 

 


Home...now to re-enter our regular schedules again...

Sunrise in Calgary

Whenever I end up setting my alarm for some un-godly hour so we don't miss our flights, I have to remind myself that I wouldn't have done it unless there was a very good reason. I book all our travel and spend days researching the best connections and flight times so I don't end up spending $100 dollars on airport food to save $20 on a fare. I love the travel search engine, Hipmunk with its Agony tab, that uses a algorithm to rank flights on the best times, layover times and cost. Helps me a ton. But it is still a small consolation when I wake up at 3:45 am.

This morning we all woke long before the alarms went off, forced down some breakfast and gathered our things. We all had some sniffles or blahs, but we climbed into the car in the dark and set off for the airport. Zee was faring the worst, and while she got sick while we were trapped in the customs/security line labyrinth, we made it to our flight and she slept for about 4 hours between the gate and the flight, and was much recovered by our afternoon arrival.

We read, slept and had fairly pleasant flights and just enough time to dash from gate to gate. Blessed to have on time departures and early arrivals.

We were very thankful to have arrived home safe and to have our friend Walt give us a ride home. At home we were greated enthusiastically by our cats, who were obviously well cared for by our friend Ginny and her daughters, since the cats were happy to see us, but not angry at us.

We gave ourselves a lazy afternoon to just enjoy being home, restricting ourselves to light unpacking, some cleaning up, and cooking, but we are leaving the heaving re-entry errands for tomorrow.

So happy to be tucked in writing this from my own bed and wearing fresh clothes not pulled from my suitcase.

Almost ready for the hosting portion of this vacation to begin!

 


Heading home

Edmonton

This morning we woke bright and early and packed up to leave Edmonton. But we couldn't leave without seeing its skyline and some of it riverside neighborhoods. It is truly a pretty city. We spotted some of the CRC churches in town, drove past Chris's sister Janelle's University and finally got on the Calgary Trail.

Fields of Gold canola?

The lands outside of the city quickly changed from forest to wide open farmland. The fields were brilliant yellow, and despite some awful driving etiquette we made it to Calgary by lunchtime. We had decided at breakfast to bypass the Royal Tyrell Museum and its dinos and instead revisit the Calgary Zoo. Zee had some late decision regret which I think was related to hunger.

The zoo was packed and hot but we had a good time. We particularly enjoyed the Canadian Wildlands section (one that we used to skip) because we had a chance to see Moose, Bison, Cariboo, Grizzlys and Black bears.

I had a great time people watching, so many people were dressed in their Stampede finest. People of all colors, creeds, sizes and ages where sporting cowboy hats and boots. The multi-culturalism of modern Canada was on display and it was beautiful to see.

Over 3 hours later we dragged ourselves to the house of Chris's old Seminary and College classmates the V's on the Northwest side of the city (we can see the old Olympic ski jump from their neighborhood!). Even though they are out of town they lent us their house for the night. It was unexpected and gracious, and saved us having to spend the Stampede inflated prices this weekend. Being in someone's home after a week of hotels is both incredibly nice and discomforting. It is almost like being home, but not quite.

We had dinner at a local neighborhood restaurant Mitillini's, and took advantage of their half-price pizza special. The food was good, the place hopping and everyone we met was very nice.

So we are packed up, wiped out and ready to be home. Hopefully tomorrow we won't be hassled to check our bags, even if they are a bit overstuffed. This has been a great trip. I am so glad we brought the girls out west. And like always I am already dreaming, thinking and planning the next trip.

 

 


Jasper, immense, surprising and conversations about bucket lists.


I've been to Jasper once, about a decade ago, with my dad and siblings. We drove up the Icefields Hwy to the Athabasca Glacier, trudge up the path to it and then turned around and drove back to Banff. My biggest memory of it was how long the drive from Banff was. That memory was the stongest I think because it was our first big driving trip with the girls, and we were trying to figure out how our upcoming drive to BC was going to work out. Chris remembers pushing A in the jogging stroller all the way up to the glacier.

As we walked up to the Glacier this time, the girls joked about how few things they will have left on their bucket list when they grow up. Seeing the Rockies, check, walking up to a Glacier, check, Paris, St.Petersburg, check and check. I responded that there were plenty of places we haven't been to yet, China, Australia, New Zealand, South America and they responded, oh I am sure we are going to get to those. I told them, that this just means they will have room on their bucket lists, for colonizing the moon and visiting Mars, or to add experiences instead of places. Zee told us what is on her list now: Scuba Diving, Sky-diving and mountain climbing. We didn't walk on the Glacier as she had hoped but we go really close.




Post-lunch acrobatics

Leaving the Ice fields behind, driving toward the Jasper townsite, we told the girls this was the furthest north they have ever traveled in North America. We drove past some enormous mountains into wide beautiful valleys. We had the makings of a picnic lunch with us, so we entertained ourselves looking for good picnicking sites. We passed several camping sites, and trailheads, and while they looked lovely, I was feeling picky. I was hoping for a site by water. About a half-hour out of the Columbia Icefields, I saw the sign for the Sunwapta Falls. There was actually a restaurant and lodge at that turn off but we drove past them to the falls. The falls were amazing. At the site the Sunwapta River merges with the Athabasca River which originates at the Columbia Icefields. They pour in together into a narrow canyon, and we had could cross the small bridge and admire the power of the rivers, as they carve the stone walls. We feasted on ham and cheese sandwiches, Doritos and cherries before tossing pine cones into then into the gorge.

Reluctantly we climbed into the car and set off for Jasper and the Jasper Skytram. We passed popular and crowded trailheads for the Athabasca Falls and the Valley of the Five Lakes (which I missed read as Fire lakes!) and arrived at the Jasper Skytram by mid afternoon. We bought tickets thankful again for the small discounts packages for families of four available at most attractions. We took a nine-minute ride up to the top of Mt. Whistlers. The top station is about 1.3 km short of the summit, and Z. and Chris made it all the way to the top. A. and I huffed and puffed up 3/4 of the way before deciding the view was impressive enough. We did climb past Park workers who were cleaning out the trail, and moving rocks 2,400 some meters in altitude. I only have the greatest respect for them.






Zee loves dream catchers

Jasper is very compact, pretty town that houses 5,000 year-round residents, but balloons up to 20,000 with seasonal workers and visitors in the summer. It took some work (our gps was baffled) but we found our hotel on the very edge of town. The girls swam in the pool for a hour before we hunted for parking and dinner in town. We had a great meal, while enjoying magestic mountain views and collapsed into bed early.

This morning we are waiting for our resident sleeping beauty (Z) to wake up so we can pick up breakfast, visit a couple of lakes before leaving the Great Canadian Wilderness behind for Edmonton, where I hope to meet up with Mr.Bratt my favorite teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Waterton Lakes, the Cowboy Trail and Banff

The mountains

We set out for Waterton bright and early, and enjoyed watching the rolling prairie transform into hills and foothills as we approached Waterton. The mountains materializing out of the horizon faintly violet is one of my favorite things. Sadly as we arrived at the gates, Chris realized he was missing his credit card. No phone signal to call anyone, we had no choice but to put it out of our minds and hope for the best.

Blaxton Falls

When we visited Waterton in the past we had with us babies or toddlers so had never explored any of the trails always heading to the townsite instead. This time we headed toward Red Rock Canyon and the Blaxton Falls trail. The 1km trail, was gorgeous, full of wildflowers and magestic views. We took less than 45 minutes to get the falls and back. Although a bit early for lunch we headed down to the town, to figure out the ferry schedule. In the past we have gone on the ferry to Goat Head, Montana, the other half to this binational peace park, however we suddenly developed sticker shock at the price. Had we not lost Chris's card we might have done it, but worried about money, we decided to change our plans, and instead head to Cameron Lake in hopes of spotting bears.

Blaxton Falls

At Cameron Lake we spotted not bears, but paddleboats. Unfortunately they were all out of them, so we opted to climb into a canoe together. After laying down some ground rules (Daddy is captain and must be listened to at all times, don't tip or move without warning, and do your best to paddle never ever drag your paddle in the water) we set off for 1hr voyage. We made great time to the far side of the lake, and while we all got splashed at some point or another we had a fantastic time.

Wildflowers

We dried off and piled into the car. Our electronics ban was lifted as we exited the park and readied ourselves for the four hour drive north. Before we got on the Cowboy Trail we stopped at the Bison paddock and spotten some Buffalo cows and calfs lounging in the sun. On the Cowboy Highway the landscape lived up its name, taking us through acres and acres of ranchland, past the historic Bar U Ranch and through the towns of Pincher Creek and Bragg Creek.

We eventually rejoined the HWY 1 past Calgary where the working ranches give way to millionaire mansions on acreages. The drive into the Rockies never fails to impress. These mountains are just colossal. You can only feel small and awed by them. I always marvel at the explorers who scaled them, those who scouted for passes in what looks like a wall holding up the heavens. Blackfoot, Cree, trappers, farmers, miners & ranchers who came later were made of much sterner stuff than I am, sore from a 1hr moderate paddle in a quiet lake.

 

Bison Paddock
Lake Cameron
Waterton

 


Canada Day in small-town Southern Alberta (Fort Macleod and Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump)

Eleven years ago!

Eleven years ago we took my mom to the Fort Macleod Musical Ride on Canada day, and it was such a wonderful day, we thought it would be a great way to celebrate Canada Day this year with the girls. How much more Canadian can you be than Mounties. Turns out that due to flooding the Fort had been closed for several months, had just been completely refurbished and July 1st was their grand-reopening, so they were offering free admission to all. Free admission though was balanced out by having to listen to several local and provincial dignitaries talk about what Canada and Alberta mean, and what makes them so special. Thankfully most of them were brief.

Fort Macleod Riders

The Fort looked great, and the Fort Players did a great job with their dramatization of First Nation and early settler folktales. The riders (not actual Mounties but young men and women from the Fort Macleod area, who perform traditional RCMP precision riding tricks) were just fantastic. The girls were hugely impressed with the youngest, who at only fourteen years of age, impressed with her poise and determination even when she was unseated on the very last trick.

Fort Players

We skipped the BBQ lunch at the Fort and instead headed to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This site deserves every accolade and recognition it has received. The design of the site, built into then cliff face is respectful to the landscape and the exhibits are interesting and informative. You can't leave without being impressed with it. We enjoyed a lunch of Buffalo chili & stew with Bannock on site, before heading back to Lethbridge for a pool break.

Teepee

The girls enjoyed the pool while I followed the US-BEL World Cup game on twitter. I survived the strong chlorine smells at the pool because they were enjoying it so much, but I was thrilled to finally go up to get ready for dinner.

We met one of our former parishioners, Janet and Marlene who live in Lethbridge. They hadn't been to be at church on Sunday, so I am glad we didn't miss them all together. We had a great time catching up and they gave us great recommendation on what trails and sites to see in Waterton Lakes National Park.

The jump

Chris got the car ready for our big drive (Waterton to Banff) and accidentally abandoned his credit card at the pump. Thankfully no one had used it by the time we called in a reported it late yesterday. It is a hassle to be without his chip & pin card, as most gas pumps or ATMs won't accept chip-less American cards. Thankfully most of our big expenses are behind us.

 

 

Running

 

Happy Canada Day

 


Medicine Hat: Reenacting Memories

One of the things the girls have heard of the most about their time in Southern Alberta was our Friday family trips to Medicine Hat. One hour to the east of Brooks on the HWY 1, Medicine Hat was the closest city to us. It boasted of a multi-plex (we had one screen theater in Brooks), a mall, an aquatic leisure center and most importantly a comic book store.

Erosion

Our original plans for this trip did not include a trip to MH, but when we asked the girls what they wanted to do, they both excitedly told us they wanted to go to the pool in MH and relive our old trips.

Wildflowers

But first we drove out to Dinosaur Provincial Park again, so we could explore it, minus the rain. The girls played on the playground they used to love, met a girl from Australia and we went on a hike into the badlands. There were wonderful erosion patterns, wild flowers, sage bushes and spiny cactus on the trail. The campground was packed,and it reminded us that we really enjoy camping. I regret not choosing to rent a RV and touring that way.

After our hike we set out for Medicine Hat. The girls finally understand how we were able to pack them in the car for hours and hours without them ever getting car sick...the endless straight/flat roads.

Cactus

Our first stop in MH was the Saamis Teepee. It has the honor of being the largest teepee in the world, and showcases an art installation explaining the history of the plains Indians that settled in Alberta, the Cree and Blackfoot. The best part of the visit however was interacting with a prairie dog colony that has set up camp around the Teepee. A. played a great game of chicken with one, getting as close a foot and a half.


 

We went to lunch at one of our old favorites, Montana's before calling up Brett at Comic Readers to confirm the shop's new address. The shop has expanded in the new location, but remains as friendly and welcoming as it always was. Brett even recognized Chris when he walked in. We had a nice time chatting with him, catching up, and we all walked out of the store with something new.

My prize was Wonder Woman action figure for the amazing price of $2!

Our last stop in MH was the Aquatic Leisure center. It was as cool as we remembered it. The pool was in great shape, and we had a blast in the wave pool and slide. The most amazing thing to me was that after 7 years they still had the same pool toys, and they looked great.

We reluctantly pulled the girls from the pool after a couple of hours and packed up and headed down the Crowsnest highway to Lethbridge, our second base of operations.

 

 


An Emotional Return, back in Brooks after 7 years.

Brooks Christian Reformed Church

Almost twelve years ago Chris and I took a chance, and moved out of our comfort zone to a small town in a rural Alberta. We arrived with high hopes, and one year old baby. While there we had a second, and we both were apprentices to the lovely people we came to know and love. There I learned to garden, sew, can, quilt and knit. Chris learned a lot of what it means to be a pastor there, he has fantastic people to work with and we were loved well by them. We walked our girls all over town, and we cemented ourselves as a family, building traditions and practices we still keep.

Almost seven years ago, Chris accepted a call from Rochester Christian Refomed Church. When we then moved three weeks later. The move to Rochester was a great one for us a family but we never have stopped loving, praying for and thinking about our first congregation.

It was so wonderful to be able to walk into Brooks CRC, and see the familiar faces and hug old friends. It was a blessing to catch up on all the stuff that doesn't make it to Facebook (both the hurts and blessings). We sort of hoped to meet the new pastor there, but were thrilled to spot on of Chris's old seminary buddies, an university chaplain in Calgary was the guest preacher. It let us enjoy signing with our former congregation without even a hint of awkwardness. They are his take care of now, but we still love them.

Our girls did well with the difficult dance of having lots and lots of people know who they are. While this is a common thing for pastor's kids this was the first time they had ever experienced having a church full of people know them without being able to recognize them back. They roamed the church, pulling up the faint memories of having spent their babyhood & pre-school years there. After church we drove by our old house. It looks like it is being used as multi-family home now, and our front garden was sadly neglected. We decided not to intrude and just drove by. We pointed out landmarks to our girls, the parks they played in, the spots they used to visit.

 

Old friends

We the spent the afternoon with some of the families that we had been the closest to while in Brooks. We caught on their news. The girls had a chance to play with old friends.

Both Chris and I had a emotional day. For Chris sitting in church and hugging people in the church basement brought up the feeling for me is was saying goodbye again.

It was a gift to be able to come back, and let them know how much we still think of them and how precious they are to us, even as we love our home and church in Rochester.

 

 

 


Geography of my Heart

Kaministiquia River
Kaministiquia River

As we drove west out of Thunder Bay, Ontario across the rugged terrain of the Canadian Shield I found myself thinking of the places that anchor us. We are traveling across Western Ontario to go visit Chris's Dad, who relocated here after retirement. Chris spent a good chunk of his childhood in Thunder Bay, but has only been back three times since he left as child. We drove the girls past his childhood home, pointed out to them the corner store he used to spend his money on candy and baseball cards at. As we drove he shared stories of bear sightings, sauna & lake dipping, cadet campouts on rocky islands. Some of these stories were familiar, others were new prompted by the reminder provided by the landscape.Thunder Bay house

Chris's Dad and Step-mom relocated to Emo after decades near Toronto drawn back to the familiar geography of her childhood. Her siblings, nieces and nephews are there. The area feels remote, a small community west of town of 10,000, north of International Falls, Minnesota. It is beautiful lake country. Yet as much as I was blown away by the beauty, my mind whirls with the complicated travel scheme necessary to get here from Puerto Rico. It was then that it sunk in how even 20 years after I moved away, Puerto Rico is still my anchor, the center I circle around.

I am thankful for how frequently I get to Puerto Rico, how familiar our kids are with the geography of my heart. That they see the mountains, and sea of Puerto Rico as their second home.

I am eager to take my girls back to Alberta to see big sky, and the expansive prairie where they spent the early years of their childhood. What memories if any will it trigger for them? Rochester undeniably is their hometown now, but what do they remember from those early years?

 

 
The old Thunder Bay house