Almost a year since Maria

As Hurricane Florence leaves its sodden mark on the Carolinas, I feel the anniversary of Maria creeping closer. From the hurricane graphics, to tuning into listen to facebook-live weather report by Ada Monzon, it all brings me back to the uncertainty we felt last year, first with Irma and then again with Maria. 

For our family, things have settled into a new normal. My mother, who we evacuated to Rochester, ten days after Maria passed, spent the rest of the fall and some of the winter with us while we waited for things to normalize in Puerto Rico. She went back this spring. She rejoiced to reconnect with friends, spend time with her church community and she negotiated with the weirdness of the normal and new normal of it all. She documented the flamboyans that survived and flowered again on her instagram. She helped along with her Salvation Army connections to bring needed supplies and other things to communities still hurting around the island. She reported to us how the landscape had changed on her trips to check our apartment on the south side of the island.  

Even though my mother had insurance and the repairs to her apartment relatively minor (new windows and sliding glass doors) we ended up having to wait months to have them replaced and paying for them out of pocket.  I am thankful we had the ability to do so, but I think of all the people who did not have that option, who still a year after Maria are waiting to repair their homes. Every time a family member goes back they note all the blue-tarp roofs still visible from the sky and if insurance is dragging their feet on paying apartment complexes and offering only a fraction of what is needed, it is not a surprise that they must be doing even worse to individual home owners.

After my sister and her wife decided to move to town, my mother, like one of her sisters decided she shouldn't spend another hurricane season in Puerto Rico and instead move close to us. We have put in an application for a apartment not far from my house and are making plans to ready her apartment in Puerto Rico for sale or rental.

My apartment in Puerto Rico is fine, although I haven't been there in a year. My father, who has made his home in Florida his main residence now, will be helping us renovate it this fall and hopefully we can spend part of Christmas or Feb break there soon.

I keep thinking about how blessed we were. Even if the ten days my mother was stuck without water or power in PR, seem like a minor suffering compared to those who had not option but to stay put.  We didn't lose anything, and so many lost so much.

 We get frustrated hearing the Puerto Rico government resist updating the death totals for so long and then president, deny the death totals so casually, when we know how the poor and ill suffered because of lack of preparation and the slow response.  We all watch the weather news in PR carefully, noting each storm, and hoping it veers away or dissipates.

Don't forget about Puerto Rico. A year on, there is still so much to be done.

Heading home


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 in the rear-view, winding down the vacation

The Yellowhead out of Jasper

This morning we said goodbye to the the majestic mountains of Jasper. After picking up breakfast at Tim's we went to see some of the smaller brilliant blue lakes on the outskirts of the Jasper townsite. We went to see Lake Annette and Lake Edith, still shockingly blue despite the gray cloudy sky. They are favorite lakes for townies, and have lovely sandy shorelines. Reluctantly we climbed into the car and set off for Edmonton.

Lake Annette

The drive was beautiful but we once again failed spot any wildlife, not even big horned sheep, not that I blame them from steering clear of the busy road out of Jasper. The terrain changed quickly from foothills to a mixture of forest and rolling farmland. We made good time to Edmonton despite construction for the last hour. We were starving however when we got into the city, and since our GPS wasn't sure where out hotel was we drove the Gigantic West Edmonton Mall, and found food. The mall reminded me of Plaza las Americas, huge, loud and hard to navigate. Stomachs full we went to to the hotel to check-in, except they didn't have our room ready. We ended up camping out in the breakfast room watching the Netherlands/Costa Rica World Cup match.

Proof that we can both be in a picture

After nearly 45 minutes our room was ready and we all crashed for a bit, but when it was time to head back to the mall to meet with Mr. Bratt no one wanted to leave. So I headed out on my own. They finished watching the game and went for a swim in the pool. Mr. Bratt and I discovered that the WEM has more than one Crepe shop, and played elaborate game of Marco Polo, before we met up. It was so much fun to reconnect and catch-up. God has taken us on unexpected journeys, all over the world, to places we would have a hard to imagining 20 years ago. Mr. Bratt meant a great deal to me when I was in high school. My family was in turmoil and books/writing gave me worlds to play in. Mr. Bratt challenged us, and I am so thankful for all that I learned in his class, and the many books he shared with me.

Lake Edith

Tonight we are resting, coaxing the girls into one last day of sightseeing before heading home. The girls are about ready to be home, tired of being on the road. So tomorrow we will drive to riverside parks in downtown Edmonton, before heading down to Calgary and the Zoo.


Pyramid Mountain


Lake Annette


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.


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


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.


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.





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.


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.


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.


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.





Prairie and sky
HWY 1 between Calgary and Brooks

About two years ago we started thinking that we really need to find a way to go back and visit Alberta. Our vacation is usually eaten up traveling to and traveling with family, and despite our good intentions the years were passing by quickly. So I made a promise to my friend Rose that we would try to go and visit within two years. That promise kept me motivated to at least purchase plane tickets even when I was overwhelmed with everything earlier this year.

So despite complications we finally landed in Calgary yesterday. The city of course has grown and changed since we were last here. What hasn't changed it just the remarkable and utterly disarming beauty of southern Alberta. As we drove Highway 1 towards Brooks, we kept pointing out some of our favorite vistas to each other and the girls. We laughed we spotted signs for the Brooks Medieval Faire that started when we still lived here. Yesterday we decompressed at Rose and Harry's house, catching up on all that stuff that has happened in our lives that never makes it onto Facebook.

This morning we are heading to church and visit with our friends, and drive by our old house, the hospital that Zanne was born at, or maybe drive out to Dinosaur Provincial Park. The girls have already expressed interest in recreating one of our traditional day trips, by going tomorrow to Medicine Hat, and swim in the a Leisure center there and visit the comic book store we used to shop at.



Heading West by going East

Gardening with Oma

Yesterday was our last full day in Emo. We were lazy bumps on logs. The weather warmed up a bit so we spent the day reading on the back porch, watching the World Cup, introducing the girls to Euchre and helping Oma in the garden. There were things we could have gone out to do, but on the Eve of the second half of our trips we just wanted to rest.

Oma and Opa

This morning we got up and packed up the car. Oma and Opa marveled at our efficiency but we are old pros . We had a great breakfast together, posed for pictures and we headed off. According to our original plan, we would have been driving from Winnipeg to Regina today, but do to the car-rental fees incident we drove back to Thunder Bay. The drive was beautiful again, we avoided all the forecasted thunderstorms, and instead enjoyed the sunshine. We saw float-planes land on Rainy Lake near Fort Frances, we spotted beaver dams and kept our eyes peeled for the ever elusive moose.

We snacked as we drove, arriving into Thunder Bay around 2pm, and stopped to look around at Chris's old grade school. The school has expanded since he left but their playground still had some of the same dodgy equipment that was there when he was a kid. The one serious upgrade the school made was to its outdoor skating rink. The girls wished RCS had one too.

Recess Rink

We then headed down to Historic Fort William. A interactive living history museum, that Chris used to visit as a kid, Fort William used to be one of the major rendezvous point for the Voyageurs who operated the fur trade for the NorthWest Trading company. The girls loved it! We watched a woman stitch together cedar bark for her Wigwam, another fed us fire-baked bread, we chatted with the Tinsmith &Gunsmith, watched a canoe be assembled, walked the palisade, petted goats, toured the banquet hall and the kitchens, used a old water pump and watched a skirmish between drunken trappers and soldiers. We had a great time, and would highly recommend the stop to anyone interested in Canada's Fur trading past.

Fort William

We closed our last night in Western Ontario at the Tokyo House, all-you-can-eat sushi buffet. It was the girls choice and despite the restaurant looking decidedly sketchy on the outside, it was beautiful, clean and modern on the inside. The girls tried lots of new foods and we had a blast. The dinner was pricey but delicious.

Tomorrow we fly off to Alberta and revisit our old stomping grounds. In what was either the best or worst coincidence our visit coincides with the Calgary Stampede, so who knows what that will mean for us.


Petting goats
Lookout tower
Water pump